How He Found Me

by Delia Ephron
Photograph: Illustration: Eduardo Recife

Delia: This is a story about my college roommate.
Susan: Me?
Delia: Yes, it’s about you. And how romantic you are.
Susan: I’m not romantic.
Delia: I know, you are so not romantic. And yet. When I first met you, it was 1961, I had just arrived at Connecticut College, and everyone was wearing round-collared blouses—Villager was the brand. They were wearing Villager blouses with little flowers on them, and you were wearing Israeli army shorts and an Israeli army shirt. You’d spent the summer on a kibbutz, and your dark brown hair was flying around in a frizz. You wore large glasses with black frames. You wore unusual sneakers.
Susan: Supergas.
Delia: Yes.
Susan: They had thick rubber soles and bright colors.
Delia: Everyone else was wearing Bass Weejuns, which were brown penny loafers that took a year to break in. The other girls were all blond, blue-eyed preppies.
Susan: I was a slightly overweight girl from New Jersey.
Delia: But you had great breasts.
Susan: I still do. I never wanted to get married.
Delia: I know.
Susan: I couldn’t figure out why anyone did. I had zero interest in children.
Delia: Which is why what happened in your life is even more remarkable. When you went to Moscow, what did you wear?
Susan: I don’t remember.
Delia: Jeans?
Susan: I was traveling with my parents. It was during the Cold War. I didn’t wear jeans. I probably wore an A-line skirt with a scoop-neck blouse. I know I wore a kerchief, a little red Western one that you tie around your neck. Very jaunty. Vladimir thought I was French.
Delia: What was Vladimir wearing?
Susan: Stiff shirts with short sleeves that were too wide. That’s what all the Russian men wore. Clothes from another era. Like out of a movie. And shoes like they made you wear in
elementary school.
Delia: Lace-up oxfords?
Susan: Yes. I met him on a bus. I had snuck out of the hotel, away from the Communist guide. You weren’t allowed to go anywhere without one. Vladimir was cute. Stocky and cute. He spoke perfect English. For the rest of the trip, I pretended to be sick and then snuck out of the hotel to meet Vladimir.
Delia: So you lost your virginity to Vla­dimir in Moscow.
Susan: In his apartment on a bed so hard you could feel the springs, and cotton sheets as rough as sandpaper.
Delia: And you gave him a present.
Susan: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. I was going to read it on the plane back home, but he didn’t have any books in English.
Delia:
You were very generous. You gave him Steinbeck and your virginity. And you came back and brooded for months. We shared an apartment, and I remember you weeping, missing him, sitting in your bedroom in the dark. And then you went to work at the U.N.
Susan: I used to write Vladimir letters. It was difficult then because they censored everything, so one of the Russians I knew at the U.N. used to take my letters to Russia and mail them there. But then the Israeli war broke out, the one that lasted six days, and after that there was no way we could communicate. With the international situation and all. Relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were at an all-time low.

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