“Do you smoke weed?” she asks. “No, I don’t, it’s not worth losing my CDL or my job over,” I explain. “My favorite memory of Veronika,” she begins telling her mom and brother, “Oh no,” I said aloud, “Is when she went away somewhere and wasn’t supposed to be back for a few days. I decided I was going to paint the room. So I started painting the room and was half way finished with all the plastic sheets still on the floor, when I went to smoke some weed.” She turned to me, “I came back and you were standing there with a friend in the middle of the room, with that look on your face. You were like you’re going to finish, that right?”
That’s not at all where I expected that story to go with a “do you smoke weed” lead-in, but OK, I didn’t even remember that. I continued sipping on my tea, musing over college life with my senior year roommate. I haven’t seen her for almost ten years, and here we were, a bunch of Russians, drinking tea at an Irish Bar in the Colorado High Country on New Year’s Eve. Ten years, I kept thinking, holy crap! It’s a small world, and she has travelled it, and I have a little bit too, and we were now hanging out, thanks to Facebook, as she was just passing through with her family.
Ten years ago, I responded to a craigslist ad while looking for off-campus housing in Jersey. It was pretty neat to find out that my new roommate was from Moscow, as I was from Moscow too, even though Russians are a dime-a-dozen back East. Finding another Russian where I am today is almost like finding family. “Remember that time when we all went into the City, and Pink managed to parallel stuff her car with like an inch to spare on each end, and we were walking to some party, and she got checked out by some celebrity dude?” Turns out she didn’t remember that at all. Maybe we were both making crap up. We caught up on the last time we’ve seen or heard from so-and-so, and asked intermittent questions about each other’s work lives. When we were in school, I was for sure going to be a journalist. That’s what I was studying, and I was positive it was only a matter of time before I was travelling and writing for National Geographic. She had no clue what she was going to do. I do remember her waking up one day and saying she wants to go to Dubai.
I went to Wyoming immediately after graduating, and took a seasonal lackey job as a horseback guide in the Tetons. She actually went to Dubai. That is where our paths were switched. She continued travelling and writing, and living abroad for a while. She survived living in Moscow (again), and covered the Sochi Olympics- worst job ever, she told me. I continued jumping from job to job in the mountains. “No, I’m not a ski cop,” I explained to her brother, “I’m more like a ski lifeguard”. In the hour and half we were there, I got some text messages from family on both coasts wishing me a Happy New Year, as well as from the in-laws. Then a text from a friend in Philly, reminiscing about how drastically different her New Year’s Eve was now with kids. We agreed to each celebrate the following morning with a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts, our favorite place and pastime growing up.
The old roommate was explaining her current career, when a friend walked in. “Yeah, so I get a call at like six in the morning from my boss yelling at me to go to Jersey because some guy killed his wife and kid, and then hung himself!” She is now a crime reporter for the Post tabloid, as well as an English professor at a college. She described her Post job, as well as everything else she’s done with her life so matter-of-factly, I began to think it’s all normal. “Then we were doing this stakeout outside of this one guy’s house because the preacher was caught using church collections to pay for a male dominatrix.” I asked her if it was awkward just staking out someone’s house to then attack them with questions and photographs. That’s when my friend sat down with us. “No, it would be a little weird if he was using his own money,” she continued, “the church’s money, that’s another deal.” I wanted clarification. “You waited outside the preacher’s house?” “No, the dominatrix. But he wouldn’t talk to us when he came out.” My friend proceeded to introduce himself as if the current conversation was normal as well.
Before long, the group had to leave for Denver, so we began our prolonged Russian goodbyes. After resolving to hopefully see each other again soon, they left and I hung back with more tea to keep my friend company while he had a few beers. Some guy started yelling at the sports on TV, while my friend was wondering about Schrödinger’s crab legs. He left them thawing on the counter, and the dogs may or may not have eaten them. But until he goes home, the seafood is both eaten and uneaten. I decide to call my mother. She and my grandmother were at my aunt and uncle’s house with the rest of the Philly family. It’s loud where I was, and loud where she was. We chat a little bit, and I get incredibly sad that I can’t be there, especially with her 60th birthday coming up. She puts me on speaker, and the whole family starts yelling over each other to say hello. I can’t hear a damn thing, but I miss them and it made me smile. My friend and I talk a bit about what’s next – for him in the long term, and for Hubby and I, as big changes may be coming with the New Year. Soon, I leave as well.
Russians celebrate New Year’s the way most people celebrate Christmas. There is an evergreen tree with lights and decorations, and presents on New Year’s morning. Santa is called Grandfather Frost, but I can’t remember if he has reindeer or not. Earlier in the evening, Hubby and I finally found the cord for our 18-inch fake little Christmas tree that has lights and two goofy decorations. I go to turn it off before bed, but then decide that tonight, the little guy should stay on, as I commemorate those who were and are a part of my life.