It has been more than a month since Irina McClellan got a call in the middle of the night from her husband, a professor at the University of Virginia.
"Hurray," she recalls Woodford McClellan shouting into the phone, "we won!"
After 11 years of waiting, that was the first that the 47-year-old Soviet woman heard that Soviet authorities intended to let her leave this country to live with her husband in Charlottesville.
The message, transmitted through the State Department and taken as a gesture of good will, came five days before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan held their summit meeting in Geneva.
Today, Irina McClellan, feeling the promise of the November phone call to be in jeopardy, sent a letter to Gorbachev asking him to keep his word.
McClellan did receive official permission to leave the Soviet Union last week.
But she was told that her daughter Elena, 26, would have to wait "maybe one or two months" for a decision, and McClellan is determined not to leave the Soviet Union without her.
"With one hand, they are uniting my family, and with the other, they are once again dividing it," she said in her letter to Gorbachev.
McClellan, an English teacher who met her husband in 1972 when he was on a tour of the northern Caucasus, said she does not know whether this latest obstacle is intentional or simply bureaucratic.
She says she and her daughter, a dressmaker, have applied together for exit visas ever since they began the process in 1974, after her marriage to McClellan, a professor of Russian history.
Since then, she said, her daughter has suffered as Soviet authorities withheld permission, without any explanation. According to Irina, her daughter -- the child of a first marriage -- was discriminated against in school, developed an ulcer and has undergone two operations.
"After all she has suffered, how can I leave her?" she asked. "Children go with their parents. If she had her own family, that would be one thing. But she has no one else but her mother."
Her mother admits there were times when her daughter did wonder privately whether the troubles were worth it.
But says Irina, those doubts never stopped Elena from making joint application with her mother.
"This means that we have been living under glass," Irina said. "How else would they know what my daughter was thinking?"
The McClellans are among about 20 Soviet-American couples who have been divided because the Soviet spouse has been denied permission to leave. Annually, about 100 Soviet citizens marry Americans and most are given permission to go.
Irina McClellan was on a list of nine cases that Soviet authorities said last November would be decided favorably. So far, at least two of the Soviet spouses have gone to the United States and others have had word that their visas are pending, according to friends.
One man on the list, Abe Stolar, was born in Chicago and is recognized by U.S. authorities as an American citizen. Stolar, 74, moved here in 1931 with his parents, who were members of the American Communist Party, and he has been trying to leave with his family for the past 10 years.
Twice he and his family have been granted Soviet exit visas. The first time, in 1975, he was turned back at the airport. Early last year they were again offered visas but Stolar, his wife and his son refused to go as long as the son's wife was not also given permission. This time, the Stolar family again refused to leave unless they could all go together.
Irina McClellan said she has never known why her applications have been turned down. Once she was told it was because she had information, another time because it was against the interests of the state.
"Why?" she asks. "Who am I?"
Like others in the divided spouse group, she has had to recognize that her marriage -- which took place when McClellan was here on an eight-month exchange program -- will have to begin all over again. But she says she is buoyed by her husband's enthusiasm and hope.
But even after so many years and so much bitterness, she finds leaving hard -- and expensive. World Airways has offered to pay airfare to Baltimore from Frankfurt, but she has to find money for the first leg of the journey, plus about $500 for Soviet visas.
Also, there is the Soviet bureaucracy, which follows its citizens right up the exit ramp. For instance, emigrants have to get a certificate from the main telephone office proving their bills are paid up.
The delay on her daughter's case has put Irina McClellan's plans on hold one more time. It is a delay she says she finds excruciating.
"Now I am interested in leaving as soon as possible because you never know what to expect," she said.
Like millions of other Soviet citizens, Irina McClellan last night watched the televised exchange of New Year's greetings between Reagan and Gorbachev and listened as the Soviet leader spoke of the need to reestablish trust between nations.
"Yesterday they were making such beautiful statements," she said. "But it seems there are some people who don't want to have that good will."