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–1– For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors -­ When I was a very young woman, I spent many months working and traveling in the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War would soon take many people by surprise. I was far from my mother and from everyone else who mattered. In the Soviet hinterlands , I met a woman I’ll call Nadezhda. She treated me like a daughter. She had none of her own. She clearly wished she did. Reader, I married her son. ————— There was more to it than that, of course. I met the son first, and, in the usual way, he brought me home to meet his parents. And the son was actually delightful. When he spoke, he grew irresistible . Small children (there were many in his extended family) were especially susceptible to his charms. They would wrap themselves around his legs when he stood up from a chair to keep him from leaving. Those months spent in another language, an experience both freeing and confining, the tectonic historical shifts I witnessed at close range—these things changed me. That the changes might –2– fade with time was unthinkable. I needed a way to bring it all back home. I was too big to wrap myself around his legs the way the children did. ————— I hopped over to the States to take care of some personal business, then circled back to Nadezhda, her son, and the rest of the family in those hinterlands I mentioned, which were in Soviet Georgia. Nadezhda had just become a grandmother by her other son, who was the younger by four years. The household now consisted of Nadezhda and her husband, the baby and its parents, the older son (my intended) and me. Julia, the baby’s mother, complained to me about what I could see for myself: the family did not welcome her. The pregnancy had been an accident, their second. I say their second, but both mistakes were of course seen as entirely hers. This time, the second time, Julia had headed over to see the family straight from the obstetrician’s office. Nadezhda told me this part; it happened before I came to stay. Her coat still on, Julia made her announcement: the doctor had said that a second abortion would forever disable her for childbearing. If she didn’t have this child, she would never have one. A wedding was cobbled together, with a dress, a white one, a popular model that was designed to conceal and to be let out as the big day approached. That Julia had no father and a minimum of education only bolstered the family’s view of her as a climber. It did not aid her case when, a few years on, late one night after a glass too many, or perhaps more, her mother let slip that the story about the irrevocable damage a second abortion would cause was something the two of them had cooked up together, without input from any specialist. By then, of course, there was no going back. Is there ever? –3– ————— None of this had any direct bearing on me. I flew in, as I always did back then, with enough birth control and other stuff— dental floss, contact lens solution—for my sojourn, a suitcase full of extra everything, just in case. We planned to settle in the States, Nadezhda’s older son and I, so late one afternoon, I repacked the suitcase (its contents now much diminished) for the trip to the West. Julia, in her uniform of bathrobe and slippers, leaned against the doorframe, watching. The baby was lodged on her hip; everyone else was out. Her eyes locked onto a flattish, flesh-­ colored plastic box among the things strewn across the bed. “Can you leave that with me?” she blurted, pointing to it. “You can get another one when you get back to America, can’t you?” Diaphragms were a rarity in the Soviet Union. And when they were available, they were not fitted by a doctor in the privacy of a medical office. Indeed, in a bare Soviet pharmacy I had once seen a diaphragm for sale—huge, like a baby bonnet—in a locked vitrine, unpackaged, exposed. Julia seemed oddly familiar with the little box and oddly aware of what was concealed within it. “It might not be your size,” I said. Her gaze did not waver from the object on the bed. I was reduced to stating the...


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MARC Record
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