The Ring of the Queen

Part V

The mother/daughter relationship is one of mankind's great mysteries and for womankind, it can be hellaciously complicated.

Melissa Gilbert

I'd done it. I'd registered to take a class at Moscow University. There was only one problem, and that was my mom. Mom had almost lost her mind the previous year when my father, brother, and grandma had died suddenly. I remember the weeks after my grandma passed when my mom really fell apart hard. One night, I'd found her sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with a knife. It didn't seem like she even knew who I was. I tried to talk to her, and finally had to call 911 for help. The ambulance came and the EMT's took her to the clinic's emergency room in town. Shortly after she arrived, they hit her with some tranquilizers of some sort and sent her to the psych ward at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne. They kept her there for two weeks. The doctors said that she'd had a full blown nervous breakdown.

Since that time she'd been a source of smothering to a teenage girl. Especially to a teen age girl that had just inherited a house in town. I was all excited to have some freedom and a chance to be more of an adult. My mother took it as reckless abandonment and texted me and called me constantly. The result had been a somewhat strained relationship. My mom only lived five miles away in Servia on the other side of town, but I hardly ever saw her voluntarily. I told her I was busy all the time.

I did feel guilty about neglecting my mom, but I was an adult in my mind, and I craved independence so desperately that I couldn't get my mind to give in and think of her. Mom said that I was just a selfish teenager, and she was probably right. But wasn't I supposed to be? Weren't teenagers supposed to be selfish and thoughtless? Deep down inside I knew that I was wrong, but I kept convincing myself over and over again that I was right.

I had to find some way to break the news to my mom that I was going to spend three weeks in Russia. I had to find some way to make it sound like a good idea. I knew I needed help with that. I knew that I needed someone that my mother respected to help me convince her that I should go and do this for my future career as a history professor.

First thing Monday morning I was sitting on the floor outside of Dr. Al's office. Dr. Albert Kleinschmidt was an old friend of the family. He was about three years from retirement as a world history professor at Manchester University. I'd gone to school with his granddaughter and my mom had gone to school with his son. The whole family was like an extension of our own. I thought that if anyone could make my mom understand why I had to do this, it was Dr. Al.

"You could call my phone," Dr. Al said as he stood over me upon arriving at his office.

I stood up. "I needed to talk to you in person."

"It's 7:30 am."

"I know, sorry."

He unlocked his office door and motioned me to come inside. I sat down in front of his desk while he took his time to put his things down, hang up his coat, and finally sit down in his desk chair. It was a stereotypical history professor's office. The desk was cluttered. There were shelves of books that were terribly over filled all around the tiny room. There were some old looking knick knacks scattered about that may have been artifacts, or may have been personal souvenirs. It was hard to tell which. The room did smell musty, and I thought that he could probably use a housekeeper. I would have mentioned it, but it hadn't been that long since Dr. Al's wife had died of cancer, so I decided to let that go.

"Now, what's so important that it got you over here at this hour on a Monday?" Dr. Al asked. "Don't tell me it has to do with the flyers that I saw in the Student Union Lounge."

Oh my God, he knew. "How did you know?"

"I saw those things, and I knew you would sign right up."

"I didn't even see them."

Dr. Al looked at me sideways for a moment. "Then what are we talking about?"

"Virgil talked me into it."

He sighed. "That boy should look out. I know his family too."

"He meant well."

Dr. Al didn't say anything for a moment. It always made me nervous when he was thinking about what he was going to say before he said it. Dr. Al was an imposing man, well over six feet tall. He was almost completely bald, but he had what I called a Santa Claus beard. He wasn't a thin man either, so had he worn a red suit instead of his usual tweed, he would have looked just like Santa.

"What do I need to know, why do I need to know it, and what do you want from me?" he finally asked.

"I signed up for the course, because I want to know more. I want to see what the place is like. I live in a Russian museum and I want to learn more."

"Noted. How are you paying for this?"

"I have money. Grandma left me well off."

"You'll need a passport."

"I filed for it Saturday morning at the Post Office."

"Is Virgil going with you? I don't recommend that you go on your first trip abroad alone. You know, we have trips from here that go to many places during Jan Term. You could take one of those. Dr. Apfenbahm is taking a group to the Czech Republic. You could get your feet wet on Eastern Europe there."

I'd heard that tone in Dr. Al's voice before. It was his unique way of redirecting me, instead of just saying that he hated my idea.

"I want to do this. I didn't plan on going with Virgil. He's going to Costa Rica to look at tan men in Speedos."

"I don't think you should go alone. Russia is not the kind of place where you want to find yourself with no one you know for thousands of miles around."

"I'm going with a good friend of mine at Boston College."

"How do you know someone at Boston College?"

"The internet."

He rolled his eyes. "Look, I know that you kids meet everyone on Facebook and have thousands of friends there, but you don't really know someone until you spend time breathing the same air. That being said, at least tell me it's not a guy that you've fallen in love with online. That would worry me."

"Her name is Tania Turin. She's a first year student at Boston College. She's a history major who wants to become a professor, and she loves Russian stuff. That's how we met. We had those common interests."

He watched me. I could tell he was choosing his words again. "She doesn't think that this is a date, does she?"

"No! She's hetero. Trust me. She wants to do something big like I do. This is great for us. What better experience than going to the country to learn the stuff we so anxiously want to know?"

"How long have the two of you been online friends?"

"Since August."

"Well, that's something. What about Visas?"

"The University is going to handle that."

"Do you have any idea how dangerous it can be over there right now, especially for you?"

"What do you mean 'especially for me?'"

"A young American girl from a small town. It's a huge city. It's a foreign country. It's a country that doesn't appear to like Americans right now. It's cold. Do you have any idea how cold it gets in Russia in January?"

"It's an adventure, it's run by a Russian University, and it's educational. What else do I need? It gets plenty cold right here in January. A little cold doesn't scare me."

He bit his lip. "I guess you have this all figured out. Except the cold. It gets cold here, but it's damn cold in Moscow. You have my number if you need me, right? You are taking a phone that will work outside of the U.S. right?"

"Of course."

"Fine, then I guess there's nothing I can say that will change your mind."

"Why would you want to?"

"It's hard to explain, so I won't even try. Now, what do you need from me? That's the question you haven't answered."
"What are you doing for dinner Saturday night?"

Dr. Al grimaced. "I am not going to convince your mother that this is a good idea."

"Please, Dr. Al." I begged. "She will freak out ten ways from Sunday if I tell her this. I need you. I'll have her make her Lasagna."

"If you think my favorite dinner will make me do this, you're nuts."

"Please, do it for me."

He looked at me for a moment. "You have absolutely no idea what you could be getting yourself into."

"You sound like a character in a spy movie. It's just school."

"Isn't there anyone else that you can ask to talk to your mother?"

I stared at him.

"Fine, I'll come to dinner. But I will not promise that I will talk her into this nonsense."

"That's something. I'll see you Saturday night at six at mom's."

I got up and stepped to the door, turned the knob and opened it to leave.

"Are you going to do this, regardless of how your mother reacts?"

"I already signed up. I already promised Tania so that she doesn't have to do it alone. What kind of person would I be if I backed out on a friend?"

"Fine," he said, obviously exasperated. "I'll bring a bottle or two of wine. Maybe if I get her drunk, she won't have a stroke."

"Thank you!" I shouted as I ran out the door.

There was no way in the world this would work, but I thought it was worth a try.