June 26, 2007
Roman flew back to Russia a week ago, today, and arrived safely last Thursday– 18 hours in the air, and about that many in airport layovers. He arrived back in Orenburg at 3AM. He called me on Friday, and I’ve had emails from him. Yesterday I bought a phone card and called him– midnight my time, 10AM his time. He said he’d been having trouble sleeping, and wasn’t interested in eating. As far as I recall, that was the way he felt the first week he was here- and I’ve always heard that jet lag is worst going COUNTER-clockwise around the earth. He’s also feeling depressed, he says, because his friends have changed in some ways that he doesn’t like. And Russians, he says, seem rude and mean compared to Americans. So I think he’s feeling some homesickness for Franklinville.
I’ve been putting off posting some of our last activities together, at first because we were so busy getting him ready to go, and then because I’ve been adjusting to not having Roman around , myself. My house certainly does seem bigger and quieter without him, and his friends.
He didn’t have to take exams (though he took pre-Calculus anyway, so he would have the practice when he takes it at home this summer), so he spent much of the last week of school taking pictures of Eastern Randolph to share with his Russian schoolmates. He also documented my house , and my livestock , and Mother’s house.
On Thursday the 7th, Roman had to be at Graduation at 4:30, and Mother and I went at 5:00- it was very hot, and very crowded. I had already spent the morning doing the History of Randolph County class for the 33 people in the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Randolph, so I was already wiped out. Graduation was on the football field (appropriate for the state champions, I guess!). Elizabeth Mitchell, her god-daughter Nikki, and Maxine Wright came to watch.The band played, the graduates marched , and the valdictorians spoke. Roman was given a present by the senior class (a set of #24 Jeff Gordon beer glasses- something to remember NASCAR by, no doubt). It was a happy time, meeting his teachers and seeing his friends and their families. We made it to the Mexican restaurant in Asheboro in time to get served, and Charlene Edgerton, the district representative of the exchange program, met us there to give Roman his certificate of completion and his airplane tickets home. Another kind of graduation present.
That Saturday Roman went to Lake Jordan with Tyler Milliner and his brother Gary and their boat. Roman evidently learned to water ski pretty well for his first time out. They and their friends had a LOT of fun, if only gauged by their Class A sunburn- both Roman and Tyler being too macho to put on sunscreen. The next Tuesday Roman went to Carowinds with his band friend Andy Augustyne and his family, and they really loved that. Roman took loads of pictures of the rides and roller coasters to show his friends back home. the one ride he thought was scary was the “Drop Zone”– and ironically, that’s the one that was shut down this week, after a similar ride in Kentucky seriously injured a teenage girl.
Wednesday afternoon I decided on the spur of the moment (nothing important being on the work calendar), that we’d drive down to Jill’s house at Morehead City so he could have one last beach experience. I had to be back Saturday to speak at the Magna Carta luncheon at the country club, and he had to pack, so it was a long whirlwind trip- and we were back Friday night late.
There were a lot of ‘last times’ the next few days, as there eventually had to be after so many first times this past year. His last night at my house was actually Sunday night, as we spent Monday night at our friends Alex and Kay Rogozhin, so that we’d be near the Raleigh airport in time to eat breakfast and get him through security. It was hard for me to watch him go; we waited through all the bag searches and shoe searches and etc., until he turned out of sight walking to the gate. Alex and Kay got me to spend the day with them, to cushion the separation anxiety, but it was still hard to know that my year of fatherhood was at an end. It was a great experience for me; for us both, I think. My friend Greg said that both of us “won the lottery” in this exchange- I got a student as smart and flexible and open as could be asked for; he got a father who’d treat him like a son, not a tourist, and show him everything great about America.
For weeks everyone has been saying I’d be looking at feeling the “empty nest syndrome”– lost, depressed, dislocated from our old routine. And that has been true. But I guess that’s the price of investing 100% in the experience, and I certainly don’t regret that. I just hope I’ll get to Russia some day, and that he’ll come back to visit some day. For now, I just look forward toward feeling like going back into Roman’s side of my house! I haven’t even opened the door there since he left- it already feels lonely enough.
May 13, 2007
[Don’t give up!– The photos are near the bottom!]
My year with Roman seems too quickly to be winding down. A month and four days from today Roman will leave Franklinville and fly home to Russia. But one of the biggest milestones of the Eastern Randolph school year is tonight- the Junior-Senior Prom.
I wasn’t even sure he wanted to go, or was even thinking about it, until about 6 weeks ago when he told me he’d asked Erin Trogdon, the youngest daughter of Dianna Trogdon who runs Quotables next door to my office. Erin might have been the first girl Roman met in Randolph County last August, when we first ate lunch in the restaurant. He has gone with her several times to her church’s Wednesday night youth fellowship meetings, but they haven’t ever dated or anything- she has always had boyfriends. In fact, she had one when he asked her- but he goes to school in Guilford County. She’s a sophomore, so this will be her first prom, too.
It sounded like their mutual friends put them together, and coached Roman on asking her. He was clueless about the protocol of asking a girl to the prom, and it evidently took several of her cheerleading squad friends and several of his soccer team friends to clear the path and set it all up. Roman said just didn’t understand why he couldn’t invite her by cell phone or text message- but the other kids were firm, it had to be face-to-face! He finally made the reservations with the school, got tickets, and paid for them himself. I never knew anything until it was all over- not that I could have offered much in the way of coaching.
Once the trauma of the invitation was over, Roman quickly went into denial. I tried to explain about the tuxedo, the flowers, the dress, the dinner, and even the limo– all vital parts of the experience which many young women have come to expect. But no– dances in Russia are not so formal, he said; a young man can attend with several women, and dance with them all equally, without attachment. That’s how it should be here.
Except it isn’t, I said. As the weeks passed, other county schools began to have their prom (Southwest Randolph a couple of weeks ago; Asheboro last week), and the buzz grew stronger at Eastern. In fact, according to him, it was all anyone talked about last week.
Behind the scenes Dianna and I plotted out dinner reservations and flowers and etc., since Roman didn’t want to talk about that. Even before the trip to Washington we went to Big Deal with Tyler Milliner and ordered Roman’s tuxedo. This past Thursday afternoon after school we went back and picked it up, and before Roman went to the band awards dinner at Pinewood that night, he tried it on- a perfect fit.
Today he got up early- 10 AM, early for Roman- so I knew that something had come between him and 12 hours sleep. I called Dianna and got the instructions on where to rendezvous- a house just a few blocks away in Franklinville, the grandmother of Brittany, another cheerleader, whose escort DJ was driving the group to dinner and the prom- held at the furniture market ‘Showplace’ in High Point.
We were to meet at 4PM, but at 3:00 it started to rain buckets. The weather radar said it would continue to rain buckets, maybe all night, but for the moment it was still clear in High Point. So he started to dress, and I helped with the hard stuff like suspenders and tie. When he was done, I didn’t like the black on black on black look, so I found a special tie pin- a Russian flag pin Alex gave me when we first met, which of course was a totally appropriate flourish. As a final point, for the boy who has never carried a wallet and hardly ever has his ID or his debit card, I let him use a Fossil billfold that Alex also gave me. So at least he’s set for the night- especially since an anonymous female admirer the other week gave him $100 to be sure he had money to pay for dinner (another thing he was in resistance to- Russians go dutch, evidently!
In the event, the rendezvous was delayed half an hour, as the crush of girls having their makeup done in the mall was throwing them very late. We were sitting rather uncomfortably on grandma’s couch when they finally came, makeup and hair professionally done, and hurried to the bedrooms to dress.
But at last the event was recorded for posterity, and the rain ended so we could see them to the car. Then they were off, with last minute permission to stay out until 2AM, so they can have breakfast as well as dinner. Dianna told them to call and tell us what their plans were, but I already knew Roman would- he is particularly good at calling or texting me so I always know where he is.
No big night out for me- I decided to stay home, read, write, watch “Good Night and Good Luck” on DVD, and think about how my temporary turn at fatherhood is coming to an end. Today is a good example of how it has caused me to look again at my own teenage years. I know somewhere mother still has those prom pictures of me: junior year, when I went with Jo Carol Wrape, and wore that wine red crushed velvet tuxedo; and senior year, when I went with Vickie Richardson, and sported the electric blue crushed velvet tuxedo. Basic black just wasn’t the thing back then, but the seventies color scheme hasn’t aged well.
Roman has asked several times why this is such a big deal in America. He knows it’s not just here in North Carolina- tonight is also his special friend Kristina’s prom in Indiana, and his same-named buddy Roman’s prom in Pennsylvania. Perhaps not by coincidence is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on HBO tonight- the TriWizard’s Tournament Yule Ball, with all the kids in “dress robes” and formal gowns… Formal dances are some kind of rite of passage in western society- I don’t know whether it goes back to the Cinderella story, but we still have debutantes “coming out” into society at their balls, and that in a sense is what the Junior/Senior Prom represents- a teenager’s social coming-of-age.
There have been so many ‘firsts’ for me this year with Roman; now it seems like every first is also a last. I guess that’s way of parenthood- responsibility end for the adults, as it begins for their children.