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One Day, Three Dead Men

Oh, Russia

The concierge told me it was the hottest June day on record in Moscow. In front of the National Hotel, the air was thick with a million floating seeds from the poplar tree. The Russians call it “summer snow,” and in the heat, the white fluff stuck to my neck, shoulders, and legs as I drifted through the streets of the city I once had known well but now, barely recognized. I was back in Russia after a long absence and after three days, I was still hopeful I would see what I had traveled all this way to find.

It was a homecoming of sorts. Twenty-eight years had passed since I first traveled to the then-Soviet Union. I had arrived there in June of 1982 with Mom, Dad, and a brand new degree in Russian Studies. I was a wide-eyed Cold War baby who had spent the last four years reading deeply—very deeply—into the tortured Russian soul. It had been an obsession since tenth grade, when I won a school essay contest. I have no memory of the topic, but I do recall the prize: a collection of novellas by Dostoevsky. It beats me what a fifteen-year-old public school cheerleader found in The Gambler, but I began to devour those dark tales, and soon began to study Russian during weekends and summers.

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