A story of an immigrant making it to the land of the free.
I realized he brought me a Broncos hat, and I became insta famous
It was 1998 when my soon to be stepdad came over to visit us in my hometown of Feodosia. It is right on the Black Sea in the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. He walked through the doors of our 3rd-floor apartment lined with wallpaper that resembled the padded room of an insane asylum. To make things worse, it had tiny rips on the little square pads from our old cat running on the side of the walls…true story. As he walked in, he handed me a bag. When I opened it, I realized he brought me a Broncos hat, and I became insta famous on my street. This was before Instagram so it just means I became very popular instantly for those youngsters that cannot understand that word for any other meaning besides the social media site. I came from a simple place, so something American was very rare. That was the beginning of my introduction to American culture to pair with my previous expert MTV knowledge.
My home was built on honor, but one with not a lot of money. We had everything I needed when I was growing up as it was provided by the communist party, but it did not come with a lot of cash or ownership of things. I do not know if there was an advantage to my father being the Communist version of a mayor of my city, but life felt good. We had a car, we had a driver, we had a second property, we had an insulated apartment…to many of you this does not make sense, but when your heat regularly does not function in the building, having an insulated apartment was a prestigious thing in concrete buildings.
All that did not last as the Soviet Union fell apart and the stability of our family went away. My father, no longer in politics, ran an insurance company, but he was still the same remarkable leader there. He ended up passing away from Lymphoma a few years later. I believe it was the stress of his life that took him at 45 years young. This is one of the biggest reasons why I believe in taking care of our physiology starting with stress management. So my mom was left with an 8 and a 16-year-old and no savings to speak of. She took over running the Insurance company and worked very long hours to make ends meet. This is when we definitely became poor. I remember many nights in a row where we would have potatoes with, well, potatoes. She worked her butt off to give us a good life, and she is my hero for how she got through everything.
A few years went by, and she fell in love again. He was a good guy, and they seemed happy for about a year. We were going to move across the country to go live with him, but he ended up dying from a heart attack due to being one of the workers in Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. This left my mom devastated yet again. I do not remember her talking to any men for a while after that until one day she started getting emails. They were emails from some men on a dating site…my mom was a fox even in her early late 40’s. She did not know what was going on and she asked the women she was working with what this was all about. As they giggled, they explained that they took the picture off her desk and created a dating profile for her on the internet.
I could not even take a couple of chugs without feeling the burn of carbonation in my throat
She chatted with a few men from a couple different countries, but nothing was serious until she met my stepdad. He was an amiable and polite American man from Colorado. He took great care of himself and even though he was a bit older than my mom he looked her age. There was just one big problem…he only spoke English, and my mom only spoke Russian. This was well before the advancements in translating technology, so my sister who was fluent had to help out as well as use a poor translation service. All of this still ended up working out, and my new, future stepdad was standing in our living room.
About 4 months later we were set to move to the United States. It was not easy to leave as I was leaving a big shot at playing soccer behind, but who gives a crap I was going to America! When we got to Kiev, after an overnight trip on the train, we went to the airport and there stood in line for my first taste of McDonald’s. The line was almost an hour long so, please do not fool yourself thinking we were just grabbing some fast food. This was planned. At that time, McDonald’s was like a fancy dinner out than just a quick bite to eat.
Then after a long trip, I landed in Chicago where the sister of my future stepdad and her family came to see us at the airport. Mom and I did not really speak English so my older sister had to do all the translating as she studied English at her advanced school. My sister is pretty freaking smart…and beautiful and kind and a pain in my ass sometimes, but I love her with all my heart. I have had some soda before, but when I saw how fast my future cousin drank a Pepsi blew my mind. Back then, I could not even take a couple of chugs without feeling the burn of carbonation in my throat. I was apparently not used to soda.
I remember to this day landing in Denver and seeing all the bright lights of the city. I thought it was the most beautiful site in the world until I saw my own room. Yes, I had my private room…how cool is that. Next day I woke up and while trying to read the paper, more like look at pictures, had to ask my stepdad what in the world it was all about. It was 4 days after the Columbine High School shooting and I just could not understand. Why would this happen in a country where people have everything they need? I could not understand what kids could be so unhappy about that they go an do something so horrific. We had bullying growing up, but we would just solve it in a fist fight typically. I still wonder what is going on with us here that these gruesome incidents keep happening. That morning was my first morning in the US of A and I have been blessed ever since.
This was the journey that brought a wild Russian kid to the land of the free and the home of the brave.