When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Friday, December 07, 2012

With the season greeatings, it's family thoughts.

I miss my sister. I miss my sister so much, she is the closest person to me when it comes to blood relatives. It's funny, kind of, because she is 10 years older than me, and while she basically raised me (baby-set would be more correct as it's not that she was actively raising me, rather having to stay home since my dad was on active duty 24/7, and my mom worked full time plus some insane hours, or dragging me around with her). Apparently, I was a nasty little brat (I was 4, remember?), and I would tail-tell on her if she was with boys (we are talking early 70's in Soviet Union here), or cry and not go with her to see her girlfriends, so she can't. I was also constantly sick, like, strep throat with high fever, bronchitis, pneumonia, and all kinds of respiratory nasty stuff, and she'd be staying home making me hot chicken bullion and trying to feed me medicine.

Then I was 6, and that summer she turned 17, finished high school, and left our tiny Belarus military village to go to Saint Petersburg (former Leningrad) to be admitted to a University. She was (is) a smart creature, and very hard working. We always wondered how is that all her straight "A's" came because of "butt studying" and mine - because I was kind of gifted and it was easy. So unfair...

But she left, I started school, and we hardly saw each other but holidays and summer breaks. When I turned 10, she got married (normal age for a normal Soviet woman, you know) - and for the first time somehow I felt like someone really close is slipping away from me. That I don't "owe" her anymore, some weird dude I've never seeing before came and took her. I cried a lot at that wedding, loosing something very special. She hugged me a lot, but had to entertain the guests and her new in-laws...

There was a short re-connection, and a pay-back of sorts, when by next summer she gave birth to a boy, my nephew, and since she still had a year at school left (and refused to take time off), after first 4 months of his life the baby came to live with us - my parents and I - and she would take an overnight train (Soviet Union, remember? cars are only for special people) every other weekend to see him. I just turned 11 when he moved, and now I was the one who can't go play outside, as my mom arranged her work schedule the way that she'd stay with him half a day, then I come from school and take over - and she goes to work from 2pm to 10 pm. So, my year of 5th grade was full of bottled milk, dropping baby on the floor, wiping rags off his poop and piss (no diapers!!!), and pushing stroller through the snowy road, trying to not run it off the road into a side ditch (it's heavy, you know...)...Looking back, I wouldn't have changed it for the world. My baby nephew died in a car accident 8 years ago, when he was 24...

But back then, when she finally graduated, her then husband (a navy doctor) was assigned to a North Division submarine, and they moved all the way to Murmansk, close to the Polar circle, where the day lasts 6 months - and so does the night. And I didn't have to do the babysitting duty but twice a year - in the winter for a month, when she and her son would come escaping the darkness of her tiny military village to Moscow (to which we had moved by then as my father had gotten a new position in military headquarters) while her husband was under the water for 6 months, or in the summer, as their whole family would drive across the country from North to South (Black Sea, where her in-laws lived), and they'd stay for a month with us.

One winter, my last year of high school, I got to visit her during a winter break. Since not everybody can get into a closed military division, after flying to Murmansk, I had to take 2 buses, and the last one I took under some woman's name, all dressed up in lots of fur up to my eyes and holding wrong passports in my hands. It was an adventure for me, if a scary one. I came through OK, and when I finally arrived - I had never seen that much snow at once and so much darkness - and I've lived in what you know as Northern Newfoundland winter all my life - and so much hauling winds, that we had to walk a couple of times holding onto a rope stretched out between buildings. That was the first time we clicked. We set in her tiny kitchen of an apartment and smoked cigarettes and talked about life...

That summer I graduated, and as a present to myself took a train down South to visit her while she was at in-laws in Black Sea area. On the train I met some folks, and upon arrival talked he into letting me go stay with them instead for 2 weeks. She covered my ass for my parents...

I visited her once more up North, when I was in my second year of medical school, just short of age 18, in September, and this time we had enough time to make official documents for the entry. It was beautiful as we traveled to Karelia lakes and made campfires and cooked shish-kebab - and the nature around was burning in all kinds of beautiful colors...

When my life gotten nuts (in not so good way) for a year after that visit, and I flunked my winter mid-term and was not given a stipend in medical school (even though re-took the exam and got a "B"), she was the only one in a family who knew - and since I was relying on my stipend (on top of my salary I was making as an EMT nurse during nights) and my parents did little in terms of financial help (I stayed in my room), she would send me 50 rubles, the amount I was getting prior as a stipend, to me every month, carving it from her own budget without letting her husband know. I will forever be in debt to her for that...

Things gotten busy after that, even though she still had been coming on the same schedule, at least twice a year, and I always loved spending time with my nephew - not so much with her, she was having marital problems and was doing her best to patch things up, and I had a full time Medical school and a full time job, and then I was in love...

A year after I got married - my dear sister got divorced. She spent a year in that tiny military village inside the Polar circle fighting for her (and her son's) life trying to make ends meet, and eventually she couldn't - and she moved in to Moscow.

This is Soviet Union. My parents lived in a 2-bedroom apartment (which we call "3-room", as there is no really such thing as specious living room, or dining room, or hallways, just 3 rooms and a bathroom and a 20 sq feet kitchen). My then husband and a year old baby lived there as well, and when Tanya and Misha moved in, it was as crazy as it gets.

And looking back - I wouldn't have changed it for the world. We still didn't have diapers, and the constant hand-washing (!) of baby sheets and cloth diapers was non-stop, along with all of it hanging in the kitchen to dry. The baby food had to be cooked and mashed, Alex cried all the time, I went to school still full time and worked full time at nights as well, and so did my husband, and my parents worked, obviously, too - because I had too much pride to ask my mom to take a year off. And there she was, trying to patch her (and her son's) life back together...

Times were changing, and via some connections my dad was able to move "up the line" for a co-op apartment, and somehow I scribbled and borrowed enough money to pay for it (all up-front, no credit companies in Russia!) - and soon after, 6 months of a chaos, my family moved out. Things were settling in.

Another year and half passed by, and I was packing a suitcase to US...hoping to come back home soon. Had I known next time I'll see my family it would be over 3 years later, with a new baby on my arms, and things completely different...

That's how it went for the last 19 years. After that first long break, I always tried to go and visit every year. After Misha had died, for the first couple of years I did it twice, for support. I had felt far removed, more and more. They'd be times we felt separated not only by thousands of miles, but by emotional canyon as well. I was changing, my old country was changing, and we couldn't have a "feel" for how to hold it together.

But throughout it all, through my older son's Alex fall-out with drugs, boarding schools, leaving the house, prison, through my divorce and financial struggles, my new move - my sister was always there for me. With time we stopped asking extra question and give extra advice. We allowed each other make mistakes. We realized that things might be so different for us we will never fully understand them. And yet we always knew that we can find each other's support regardless what we think of the situation.

And we talked. We talked so much, I just have to be grateful I found a 5c/minute calling card! And as with a good friend, we could always pick it up where we left off.

This is the year I am not going to visit. It's complicated, and it is related to bureaucracy, and I won't go into details, but I am not. And as the Holidays approach, the sense of missing out on this hits harder every day. This is a tradition. I have to be home, wrapped into a blanket, on a couch, or in the kitchen with a cup of tea - and my sister across me, and we talk. And laugh. Because regardless how far apart we are in age, how we didn't really grow up together, and how the last almost 30 years we never lived close, and that neither one of us thinks or acts like our parents - we are one and the same. We can finish each other's sentences, and predict what the other would do in any case, guide, and hold hands, and breathe the same air...

I was going to write about my older son, too, who is yet another person I love so dearly it hurts - but my thoughts of my sister ran rather long. Another time. Alex, you are always in my thoughts, kiddo. This last visit was "what the doctor ordered", for both of us. Sometimes hitting the bottom is a blessing in disguise. I hope this time was the last one. We pray for you.

I and my sister Tanya.


  1. Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts & feelings in your blog. I appreciate how honest you are with us about your life and your family/running relationships & your struggles/successes. May this holiday season find you wrapped in a blanket of happiness. Warm wishes from one of your regular readers'. I look forward to more of your posts. - Kimberly

    1. Thank you so much, Kimberly, for reading all these rambling and caring enough to leave your own thought. To me it's either honestly or nothing...I can't be any other way. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Best to you and your loved ones for these Holidays too - and for years to come.

  2. Wonderful reading a bit about your background and family. You have a great story, Olga. My sister and I also have a very special relationship. While we are closer in age and much closer in proximity, we don't see each other that often since we are sort of at different places in our lives. However, when we do get together it is just like old times. Last time we stayed talking until we were surprised to find the clock sitting at 5am.

  3. I loved reading this! I have a dear sister, too, and while our lives are very different, they are also very similar, and while we may not see each other, or talk often enough, we will always be best friends, in the way that only sisters can be.

  4. There's nothing more important than family. I'm sorry you won't be able to see your sister this year, but glad you can still maintain that connection.

    My brother and I are extremely different in many ways, but we also can talk for hours on the phone. And when we see each other in person there's an undeniable bond that's apparent despite our differences.