To Russia, with Love

Why one woman traveled to Moscow to introduce the man she married to the man he never met: his father.

by Deborah Copaken Kogan
COMRADES: The Kogan clan (from left: Paul, Sasha, Deborah and Jacob) at Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square.
Photograph: Photographed by Katherine Wolkoff

Meaning, I thought, we can move forward. I suddenly saw the entire arc of our 19 years together projected inside my head like a silent film in fast-forward, as if all of it, every wonderful, difficult second, had been a prelude to this moment.

The elephant in our marriage . . . was gone.

A FEW DAYS LATER, Paul had to head home to New York to start his new job at an online gaming company and reclaim our toddler from friends. This left Sasha, Jacob and me on our own to explore. We took the newfound cousins on the roller coasters of Gorky Park, a place I had once dreamed of bringing my as-yet-unborn kids; we ate at Café Margarita, the quaint restaurant across from Patriarch’s Pond. And we visited the street near the parliament building where protesters had collided with Soviet tanks as their father and I documented the melee.

“There it is, that’s the spot,” I said to my kids, pointing to the place on the newly chic Novinsky Boulevard where I’d lain in a puddle believing I might die. There, in the presence of my two eldest children, in the place where their father and I and, therefore, every future generation of Kogans almost ceased to be, I found myself suddenly gasping for breath, past, present and future collapsing in on themselves until my eyes were moist. I’m as guilty as the next person of complaining about the burdens and mundanities of marriage, work and family life. But there in that spot, I felt such gratitude for my children, my husband, the 42 years I had with my father, I started to weep. And I wondered how Pavel, who had missed the love and the narrative threads of his long-lost son for more than four decades, could have even remained standing the day the two finally met.

OUR LAST NIGHT, we had a farewell dinner with Pavel, his daughters and his grandchildren. We exchanged e-mail addresses, promising to stay in touch. Then my daughter stole one last hug with her grandfather, which caused him to cry anew. We’d told him the trip had been Sasha’s idea, that she’d wanted to meet him before he died.

“Do vstrechi,” he said to her, kissing the top of her head: Until we meet again.

Deborah Copaken Kogan is the author of Shutterbabe, Between Here and April and Hell is Other Parents.



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