TODAY STARTED badly. I am wide awake at 5:30 a.m., as nervous as a cat. I'll never get everything done before we leave for Moscow, where my husband is to be the U.S. News & World Report correspondent.
The house insurance needs increasing; the plumber called to fix dripping washers; I have to buy seeds to plant in the window box of the Moscow apartment, a year's supply of shoes for my son, electrical transformers, batteries, films. I reach for the yellow pad by the bed and start making lists. Writing lists calms me down, gives an illusion of control.
There have been farewell parties every night this week -- wonderful, warm occassions which make me think we are crazy to go to Moscow for three years.
I remember the dog tag. It must be written in Russian. Caleb, our 11-year-old son, will have enough to cope with in Russia, what with leaving his American friends and starting a Soviet school, without having his beloved dog lost on the streets of Moscow. I sit up and reach for the yellow pad. "Find Russian engraver." I write.
It's no good, I can't sleep. What really upsets me is that my husband can. "In two days you are leaving," I bark, nudging him in the back. "The gutters need fixing, the garage cleared out and the holes in the living room walls left when the pictures came down plugged." He calls me "pushy" and I accuse him of leaving everything to me while he has lunches downtown. I can hear myself being a bitch and apologize grudgingly.
I spend the day in my third-floor office sorting thorugh files. I am looking forward to writing from Russia. I make a note to call the National Institutes of Health to send me material on Soviet science and medicine.
We have dinner with Sam Jaffe and his wife, June. Sam is coughing and looks awful. "A touch of pneumonia," he says. Life has treated him roughly since we first met him in Moscow 20 years ago when he was the correspondent for ABC. Since then people have accused him of working alternately for the KGB, the CIA and the FBI.
As a result he hasn't held down a good journalistic job in 15 years -- a pawn in the East-West game of "I Spy" and a reminder of the hazards of working in Moscow. As we drive home, I wonder why someone like Sam displays such warmth and vitality amid the sufferings of abroken career while other, more successful journalists turn sour. Monday
My husband calls the Soviet Embassy to find out if our visas have arrived. "Mr. Daniloff," Boris Davydov, the consular officer, tells him, "You must understand we have other priorities than your visa."
Afghanistan. Poland. I bet you do, I think angrily. Friends are now beginning to suggest that the holdup is political tit-for-tat stemming from the State Department's recent refusal to extend the visa of Georgia Arbatov, the Soviet official who was scheduled to appear on the Bill Moyers TV show. If we don't get a visa by Wednesday, my husband's detour to London to visit my family is out.
I go to Georgetown to talk to Marilyn Worseldine, a graphics designer, about stationery. We decide on a business card in gray with red lettering in both Russian and English -- something to startle the Russians. The I drive over to have my Russian lesson with Olga, a young woman who left the Soviet Union five years ago. We get into an argument over law and order. Like many recent immigrants from the Soviet Union, she believes the United States is morally flabby. She is against welfare and thinks we should arm ourselves to the teeth against thugs in the streets of America as well as in the government of the Soviet Union. "It's the only language they understand," she insists.
Afterward, I have lunch with Carol Simons, an editor at the Smithsonian magazine. We discuss ideas for articles from Russia and the problems of mothers and teenage daughters. Tuesday
Still no visa! Pepper Martin, the U.S. News man currently in Moscow, sends a telex message confirming that the Foreign Ministry has approved the visas. Instructions, the Soviet authorities claim, are on the way to Washington. They said that 10 days ago, too.
The Russians can send a man into space, but get a message to Washington they can't. That is, of course, unless they are deliberately harassing us.
We call the travel agency to cancel the flight to Londan tomorrow evening. Then I call my sister to say Nick won't be through London After all.
In the afternoon, I spend $245 at Rodman's for nothing but depressing items like toothpaste, shampoo and Kleenex to take to Russia. Then I drive my son to his gymnastic lesson at the Bethesda Y.
Caleb can't wait to go to Russia. He dreams of being trained by the Russians and coming back to the U.S. Olympic gymnastic team. Again, in the car on the way home I try to prepare him for what is bound to be a rude awakening: "No more TV; no more junk food; no more goofing off in school; George Washington will be depicted as a terrorist." Wednesday
Still no visa!
"Why does everyone hate the Russians?" Caleb asks over his Rice Krispies. "David says communists make everyone dress alike."
I reassure him that, apart from his school uniform, he can wear what he likes. Then I attempt to explain Afghanistan and Poland and how our two countries have different ideas about how society should be organized. "That doesn't make them bad. The people, you'll see, are wonderful."
"Why don't they give us our visas, then?" he asks.
I pick up medical forms from the doctor, call the lawyers to delay the signing of the lease with our future tenants, rescheduile the movers, take Caleb to the dentist, stuff to Goodwill and field inquiries from friends about the visas.
We rebook a flight for Sunday.
In the evening our daughter, Mandy, calls from Chicago, where she is in her first year at Northwestern. She is still somewhat annoyed at us for moving to Russia. My stomach clutches as I hear the strain in her voice. She is exhausted. She has real doubts about majoring in drama. Her roomate hasn't changed her bedsheets in six months ans last night she only had four hours' sleep because of rehearsal.
I feel helpless, gulity about leaving. Home is an idea as much as a place and now we are renting it to a bunch of strangers. "I really don't understand why you guys wat to go off to that place. It will be the ruination of Caleb," she says. "Maybe you'll never get a visa." Thursday
No visa! Call back tomorrow.
Rhoda Baer, a photographer friend, comes over to help dismantle the darkroom and compile a list of supplies to take to Moscow. As a writer, I am appalled by the amount of equipment photographers need and how much it costs. We discuss a number of story ideas we want to do together if she comes to Russia next year.
Later, I call up several electronic dealers to ask about a videocasette machine to take to Moscow so we can see Western movies. Each answer is different. It's all to much for me to grapple with in my current state of impatience. I decide to wait till we get to Moscow to see what kind of equipment other people in the foreign community use.
I spend the rest of the day working in the garden. The bulbs I planted last fall are starting to bloom No city compares to Washington at this time of year. We have a comfortable life here and will miss it. Yet I can't wait to go. The thought of doing the same thing for the rest of my life panics me. Friday
"We do not have any instructions from Moscow," says Valentine Kamenev, the chief press man at the Soviet Embassy, when my husband calls. "You must be patient."
We cancel the flight and reschedule the movers.
This can go on forever. Could it be something against us personally? The Russians dislike the administration; they are not too enthusiastic about the magazine; maybe they hate us too, and we'll never get a visa.
I begin to dredge up small incidents from past times in Moscow and build them into reasons why we will be refused a visa.
There was the time my husband accompanied Henry Kissinger to Moscow for SALT talks and shot a question to Brezhnev in Russian and the Soviets complained to the American Embassy. Or could it be the time when we inadvertently drove into a zone closed to foreigners, or when a vigilant Soviet citizen arrested my husband for taking a photograph of a hospital?
We make an appointment with our tenants to explain why we can't sign the lease. I fear they can't wait any longer, which means we are back to square one on renting the house.
Pepper Martin telexes from Moscow that it is too late to cancel the welcome party for Nick next week. It will go ahead without him.
At 1:30, I drive down to U.S. News for a farewell party given by the foreign department. Roy Hansen, the foreign editor, doesn't seem concerned about the delays, but the uncertainty is gettin to me. Suddenly I am hit with an enormous lethargy. I buy a pint of pecan ice cream at Swensen's and curl up under the bedcovers with a mystery. Once I get to Moscow, I will go on a diet, I vow. Saturday
I drive Caleb to his Russian lesson at the Orthodox church in Fairfax. For a kid who would rather be playing basketball, he is extraordinarily enthusiastic about learning the language "Ask me questions in Russian," he insists.
I get home and call Mrs. Morell about driving Caleb and Julie to a roller skating rink in Georgetown this evening. Six months ago, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Caleb would say a "virgin gymnast." Girls were "Yuk." Now he wants to go skating with one and is crazy about loud music with suggestive lyrics. "My first date," he says with a glint in his eye, testing my reaction.
I start to clean the windows, but discover that most of them are stuck fast since the house was painted last fall, so I turn to the garage -- all the half-empty paint cans, bits of wood, old flowerpost, bicycle tires that we have hoarded over 15 years with the idea that one day we might need them.
That evening, we decide to go to a movie: something amusing to keep our minds off the visas. "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" has been billed as a comedy, but turns out to be heavy, intellectual French stuff.
Afterward, we drive to Georgetown to pick up Julie and Caleb. The music is deafening as hundreds of pre-teens tear around the rink, flushed and perspiring. God I hope we get those visas soon. At least, in the Soviet Union kids don't grow up so fast and the rock lyrics are censored.