Weekly Writing Challenge: Russian Bridge over a Frozen River


I left California, U.S.A. almost 2 years ago because I could not find a teaching job in America.  I had spent 8 years getting my Master’s degree in English from San Diego State University, and I had 12 years’ teaching experience.  But because of the bad economy, I couldn’t even get a part-time substitute teaching job at a high school.  I tried for 15 months, sending out over 300 applications all over America.  So I took a flight of faith (or recklessness) to Russia where I spent 6 months and a long, lonely winter–teaching English.  By the banks of the frozen Volga River in Samara, above Kazakhstan, I wandered through the snow and wondered where my life was going.

I left my 2 teenage children with my ex-husband who had custody of them (and the mountain house, cars, and all the furniture) because I had run away to New Zealand with them and lost a big court battle.  I missed them terribly in Russia, not knowing when I would see them again.  I had bought only a one-way ticket.  Read part of my story, from my new book “Fire and Ice”:


Living flowers the grieving mothers put on top of the snowy bridge

I keep walking by the frozen river toward the bridge.  The wind picks up, and a sudden storm of slowflakes whirls about me as the clouds let loose their burden.  The mitil (blizzard) comes again, howling, lashing my cheeks with wet snow which falls as powder all around me.  It is not very cold; the wind is more spring-like than I have known it here, on the very edge of freezing instead of -20 centigrades below.  The wind pushes me toward the bridge, and I nearly stumble on a pile of snowdrift as I step up on the concrete ledge.

The ulitsa passes here, and cars rush by me, headlights barely glancing over me as I walk up the long and curving bridge.  I pause at a wreath placed upon the metal rail.

“Are those real carnations?” I ask aloud, reaching toward the red blossoms that are half frozen in a sprinkle of snow.  I feel the petals bend beneath my touch.  I know their story.  They were placed here by the mother of a teenager, one of five who were killed at this spot my first week here in Russia.  Early on a Sunday morning, their truck combined the speed of curves with rain and alcohol and crashed through the railing into the river.  We saw this on the way to church; people pulled to the side of the road to stare at the vehicle in the water and this spot on the bridge with a missing rail.

The rail has been replaced, and for five months the mothers have brought flowers here and tied them to the metal.  I lean over the rail and stare at the ice below me, brushed with snowdrifts and tracks from snowmobiles, and docks with boats like toys thrown carelessly on their sides.  And for a moment—only a moment—I wonder if my body would fall through the ice or land upon it if I slipped from here.

The tears that have been pushing at me all day finally find their way out, and I weep over the memorial to lost children on the snowy Russian bridge.  This very day, five years ago, I packed my treasures and my children off to a distant land where I would lose them among New Zealand mountain passes, lakes, and glaciers that were not far enough away to hide us.

“Oh, God, make this loneliness and lack of family end.  Let me be a wife and a mother again!” I cry to the wind that sweeps up my words and carries them, among the swirling snowflakes, heavenward.


What do you think?  Have you ever felt so lonely, homesick, and out of place that you thought about dying?  Have you ever lost a child–even temporarily?

After Russia, I did not go back to America.  There was no job or home or car for me.  I flew to Turkey to teach English.  It’s been almost 2 years now, and I still haven’t been home to see my 2 teenagers.  Read the rest of my story in “Fire and Ice” and look for my new book (which I will try to post in chapters here on my Blog) called “Adventures in Anatalolia (Trouble in Turkey).”



The place where the Russian teenagers’ van drove off the road and into the river, looking upward toward the sun


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