One Day, Three Dead Men
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.