The French Class: Part 4



Natasha was from Russia. She was a very tall girl, about 5’10”, with long brown hair and sad brown eyes. She often sat in class with a tissue in her hands wiping tears from her eyes. The few Russians I have met seem to have a melancholy nature, and she certainly did. She often seemed bored in class and she, along with Yoko and Mary had a bunch of colored pens which they colored in our language books with. I didn’t think she would be interested in joining us on any of our outings, but she always did.

“How did you meet your husband?” one of us asked.

“He was doing business in St Petersburg and we met.”

“Is he French?”

“Yes.” They spoke mainly English at home. (On an interesting sidenote, she could speak with and understand the Polish girl in our class.)

“How long did you date before you got married?”

“Almost three years. He wanted to marry earlier but I didn’t want to leave my family. He was also taking me for granted. He would be in St. Petersburg for several days and then show up my place expecting me to be glad to be with him so I started telling him I was busy. That’s when he started wanting to marry me.”

He finally wore her down and she did marry him. She spent several months with a private tutor learning French and I always felt like she was miles ahead of the rest of us in understanding French and she had a wonderful accent. Angela wanted her to move to a more advanced class but after one day she came back saying it wasn’t as much fun as ours.

After a few coffee dates we found out why she was so unhappy. Her husband was a lawyer and had a very busy practice. Once he had won the hand of Natasha, his work was over. He had her in his home where he wanted her and he started back to work and often wasn’t home until 11 or 12 at night. She told us, “He loves his work more than me.”

Victoria and I said, “You know, maybe your marriage was a mistake. You could always tell him that you made a mistake and were going to return to Russia. It’s not a sin to make a wrong choice. You can go back home and be with your family again.” But she didn’t even give what we told her a thought. She told us that first she wanted a baby. And then, if things weren’t better, she would go back.”

She was one of the ones very interested in me and my life in America and always had questions for me. She seemed to enjoy my American sense of humor.

Like some of the rest of us, she spent many boring meals with people who only spoke French and came to dread any business dinners, not to mention family ones. Her husband was divorced and I only found out months later that there was his 14 year old daughter living with them. I asked Natasha if she got along with her and she replied with one word, “No.”

One day she came to class and looked radiant. The night before had been their first anniversary and her husband had taken her to dinner and the opera. I think it must have reassured her that he cared. That morning was the first time I ever saw her wear her wedding ring.

She was very superstitious, another Russian trait I’ve run across before. She had recently been to a funeral of a family member of her husbands’and was appalled at how the whole thing was carried out. She said in Russia a type of wake was held at the home of the deceased and someone sat with the body at night and this went on for several days. There was eating and drinking and talking about the deceased and his life.

She said she never drank milk because of her grandmother and an old Rusian tale. It was about 2 frogs. Each fell into a bucket of milk. The first frog was a pessimist and decided that no one would ever rescue him and that he might as well give up,which he did and drowned. The other frog wasn’t going to give up without a struggle and started kicking for all he was worth. His kicking turned the milk on top into butter which he was able to sit on and live. Natasha said that her grandmother kept her milk in a bucket that was lowered into a well to keep it cool and that there was often a frog in the milk. To this day Natasha can’t drink milk.

I noticed that Natasha started dressing better and better with what looked like expensive clothing and wearing Channel sunglasses so maybe she had decided to take advantage of her husband’s income. At least as we neared December, she stopped crying. My husband had told me to tell her that the first year of being in a country can be very difficult and she just had to give it some time, that things would get better.

She was going to miss the whole month of December as she was going back to Russia to be with her family. She was so happy and was busy going around buying Christmas presents.

We didn’t see her for a month. When she came back she looked pale and unhappy.

“How was your trip, Natasha? Did you get to see all of your relatives?”

“It was wonderful. Everyone loved all of the presents that I bought for them. It was so great to see all of my relatives, especially my mother.”

“Did Frank go with you?”

“No. He was too busy, but he did come for one day to see me in the hospital.”

“You were in the hospital? Are you all right?”

“Yes.”She paused. “I was pregnant before I left and I had a miscarriage.”

Oh, Natasha. I’m so sorry.” I gave her a hug.

“Before I left for Russia, after I lost the baby, I kept having pain and I told Frank but he told me it was nothing, all in my head, but it was worse when I got home and my mother took me to the doctor and he put me in the hospital. I had to have a D&C to remove some tissue that had been left when I had the miscarriage.”

“Are you all right now?”

“I think so.”

“So, Frank only came to St Petersburg for one day?”

“Yes, he brought the plane ticket to show me how much money he had to spend to make the trip.” She had a disgusted look on her face.

After class our group went out for coffe and she told me that she had been talking to Frank and told him she didn’t think their marriage was working and that she thought they should get some counseling. She had done some psychology studies in Russia before she left.

“So, did the session help, Natasha.”

“No. It was a woman psychologist and she sided with Frank and told me I was the one with the problems. A few weeks after we had been going in separate meetings with her, Frank told me that she had ‘made a move on him’. She was interested in him.”

“How unprofessional. In the States you could lose you license doing something like that.”

A couple of days later our group went out for lunch. Natasha and I were sharing a caraffe of wine. She poured me a second glass and then one for herself.

“Whenever I have more than one glass of wine at home my husband always says, ‘Are you sure you should have that?’ It makes me feel like a child.”

“He says that and he’s a Frenchman? My husband always pushes me to drink more. Tell Frank that you are a grown-up and you can drink as much as you want. Does he think you are going to become an alcoholic or something?”

“I don’t know. Probably.” (I have since found this trait to be very common with many French men. They think you are on the verge of becoming an alcoholic if you have a glass or two of wine in a bar but a kir-champagne mixed with a little cassis-is ok. Go figure.)
I would love to find Natasha again and see what happened in her life. I had her cell phone number but when I tried to call it wouldn’t go through and no e-mails were ever answered.

5 thoughts to “The French Class: Part 4”

  1. As a writer and a storyteller like you I find that acquaintances such as Nastasha stick in my mind and I too sometimes wonder what’s become of them and if they ever managed to be happy. I’ve been curious enough on occasion to contact a few such friends but usually found that they’re not nearly so inquisitive as I am and don’t really understand why I’ve sought them out.

    One such person was my college roommate, a girl from Athens, Greece, Aristea,whom I agreed to room with because she knew little English and as a student of languages, I was asked to teach her. It was a huge challenge since that really stretched both my imagination and cultural horizons and we became, I thought, fast friends, rooming together for a few years and remaining close for several more years until I married and moved away.

    Many times since I’d told stories of this special friendship to family and new friends, especially highlighting hilarious adventures in comparing languages and cultures with Aristea and her instantaneous love of American slang, referring to me always as “Honey Baby.”

    Twenty years on, I managed to find Aristea in her law practice in New York City. I called thinking she would be astonished and pleased to hear from me, the person who spent so much time teaching her English between meals and classes, often late into the night. I thought our commiserations on American versus Greek student lifestyle must have a fond place in her heart. It was soon clear she didn’t remember me, not even my name, let alone the years of supposed friendship. So I was the astonished, and somewhat embarrassed, one.

    I think it is a certain type of person, the pensive observer of human behavior and emotion, who feels so connected and remembers the enormous cast of characters met in a lifetime with such warmth as you do Linda. I have found that most people just go on and place no importance on people in the shadows of the past. But I have to wonder, if these associations in life are simply discarded, forgotten by most people, then what on earth DO they remember?

  2. I really like that photo, btw.
    Classes provide you with cross-sections of peoples’ lives in such an interesting fashion. Everybody has a story.
    I love that frog tale — never heard it before — honestly, I probably would’ve been wary of milk too if there were really frogs in the milk — YUCK.

  3. Ah, the cast of characters in our lives! I often think of the folks who we knew during our first two years in Nice then lost touch with after we moved to Antibes, just a mere 25 kilometers down the road. I was amazed that such a short distance along the coast led to such distance among friends.

    Hope you are enjoying Arizona. I worry about the horrors of the fires in southern California and all those folks displaced or newly-homeless. Were you in that area?

    Thanks for keeping us posted on your past and present adventures!

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  4. Wow, this was really, really sad…were the email simply unanswered? Or did you receive an error message? I wonder why she would simply not write back?

    That was a really vivid, sad story…

  5. How terribly sad. I hope she’s happy now whatever she’s doing. Lawyers are difficult. My sister was a lawyer for three or four years and finally couldn’t take it. The hours were insane, really insane. But that doesn’t excuse his outrageous behaviour towards her. Unfortunately some people enjoy the chase of the courtship more than the actual relationship.

Comments are closed.