Every time I hear Aleksei Navalny’s name it brings me right back to my college days.
Going into my sophomore year I chose where I wanted to live based on location, not friendships. I was determined to live in this hippie vegetarian co-op based in an old defrocked fraternity house where none of my other friends wanted to live, which meant that I would gain myself a new, unfamiliar roommate, whom, since we had both chosen this alternative lifestyle, I assumed would become a fast friend.
Not so much.
Her name was J and she was something else. Physically she landed somewhere between adorable and sexy with her perfect skin, bright blue eyes, and turned up nose.
This may have been my first real experience with “don’t let looks deceive you.”
She was a spoiled little girl who had never been told “no.”
She got to school a few hours ahead of me on that first fateful day of our second year. When I entered our room, which at some point had been a master suite, I was blown away by how much space we had, and by how much shit she had.
Including a giant Isabella Rossellini spooning with a python hanging over our fireplace.
We got along well in the beginning, despite her lack of housekeeping skills (or interest), her bossiness and entitlement, and her weird habit of piling up dirty dishes on the floor behind the bathroom door.
Men loved her. Between her looks and her ability to make a man feel immensely small and insignificant, she was irresistible. They came ’round practically begging for just a few minutes in her abrasive company.
I didn’t get the appeal but I did enjoy having so many cute boys around.
She had a couple of close girlfriends who I didn’t particularly like and vice versa, and whom I often saw crossing the quad wearing my clothes.
J decided that year to take Russian. The language.
She dove head first into the culture and mastered the language like she’d been raised in Siberia. Personally, I don’t like the Russian language; I find it harsh with rough edges.
To me it sounds bossy, which is perhaps why she loved it so much.
To keep up, I decided to take a Russian class too. I had failed miserably in life with German, French, and Italian, so for some reason, I thought I could get a handle on Russian.
I dropped it and instead took a philosophy class in which we read Charlotte’s Web under a tree.
Much more my style.
With J’s growing obsession with all things behind the Red Curtain, she spoke fewer and fewer words in her native language and started dictating my life with words I couldn’t understand, but whose meaning came across loud and clear.
She also decided that to really be Russian, she needed to start incorporating vodka (Stoli, of course) into her daily diet, starting each day with a shot (or two) from the bottle in the freezer of our tiny dorm room fridge. This did nothing to maintain the thin thread of friendship that we attempted to maintain since we shared a roof over our heads.
We often argued; she was mean to the nice boys with whom I had become friends. Her friends continued to sport my favorite items of clothing on campus, in bars, to frat parties where they ended up with too much vodka in their systems which in turn ended up all down the front of the sweater that my mom had knitted for me.
And when we argued, she pelted me with words that made me feel small, chastised, and relatively stupid for not being able to grasp more than one syllable.
Needless to say, at the end of that year, we parted ways never to speak another word to each other – in any language.
I heard that after college, she moved to Russia, married a local, and continued to drink Stoli for breakfast. Is it true? I have no idea.
Is she living in the Kremlin right now?
Don’t know. Don’t care.
I haven’t really given her a second thought in years, but when I listen to Navalny’s fellow countrymen (and women) my stomach starts to turn. I shudder at the harsh, guttural, utterances of language that I so hoped to forget.
I imagine that giant python crawling it’s way up my naked body – not in a sexy way but in a creepy, slithery kind of way that makes me want to run.
Or drink a lot of vodka.