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Yesterday, as usual, I was sitting on my bed talking on Skype with Sergey. I’ve been tutoring him in English nearly every day for the past five months, and I’ve started to think of him as a good friend. He is hilarious and awesome without even realizing it. He grew up in the Soviet Union and is now the successful CEO of a Russian beverage company, splitting his time between New York, Moscow, and Kiev. In some ways he can be very much a serious business man who’s used to calling the shots (that’s a phrase I taught him), but mostly he is just sweet, funny, and philosophical. We talk about everything from our favorite animals to movies he’s seen with his daughters to our thoughts on the meaning of life.
We read books together to help him with his vocabulary and fluency. We recently finished Holes by Louis Sachar, and we have just started on A Wrinkle in Time. Sergey had read some on his own the day before, so we were discussing it to make sure he’d understood what he’d read.
“Zere was one word which I cannot find translation for,” he said. “I do not understand it – tesseract.”
I laughed. “You’re not supposed to understand it yet. We’ll find out what’s going on with that after we’ve read a little bit more.”
“Ok, fine.” Sergey seemed annoyed. He doesn’t like not understanding. He opened his ipad and was about to start reading from Chapter Two when he looked up at me. “Oh, zere is one sing I want to ask you about first.”
“I would like for you to work wis my daughters.”
“Sure. What did you have in mind? A few days a week after school?”
“Well… How important is it for you that you live in Cape Cod?” he asked.
“Because I sink is better for you to live in New York wis us. Zen you can write your book in mornings, and at three you get my daughters from school and stay wis zem from three to eight. We pay you five-hundred dollars a week. What do you say?”
“Oh gosh,” I told him. “I would love to, but I can’t see myself living in New York.”
“Why not? It is good city. I sink you will like it there.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think I could live there permanently.”
“Well, you sink about it,” he said.
I promised him I would.
But I’ve been thinking about his offer for different reasons. I’m so flattered that Sergey wants me to, essentially, be a part of his family. And, of course, I’m amazed at his chutzpah. He thought nothing of suggesting that I move to his city, simply because it would be convenient and pleasing for him.
The thing about Sergey is that he’s used to being in charge. He’s used to saying, “this is how I want things done.”
I always think that Sergey and I are so different. He’s a middle-aged successful Ukrainian businessman. I’m an early-thirties American ex-math teacher living at a friend’s house trying to write a novel.
The thing is, though, we might not be as different as I think.
* * *
One summer, when I was twenty-one, I was working as a teacher at a summer school for disadvantaged pre-teens. There was another teacher who acted like he had a crush on me, so I flirted back, but time went on, and he never asked me out.
One Friday, a bunch of us teachers went out for a work social-hour, and he offered to drive me home. Finally, I thought. He’s going to put the moves on me, and I’ll know for sure what’s going on between us. One thing I hate is not understanding what’s going on.
We got to my house, and I sat there in the passenger seat, waiting for him to kiss me or ask me out or something.
“Well, see you on Monday,” he said, tapping at his keys with one finger.
“I just have a question for you,” I said.
“Do you want to date me or what?”
He looked startled. It’s possible that I sounded aggressive. “What? Uh—no, no.” he stammered.
“Are you sure?” I said.
“Well, I mean, yes, I do, but if you don’t want to then we can totally just be friends.”
“I do want to date you,” I said. “That’s why I said something.”
“Oh, thank god,” he said nervously. “Because I really like you.”
Then I leaned over and kissed him.
In fact, something very similar to this happened quite recently with a certain okcupid pen pal. What can I say? When I want something, I go for it. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
Of course we’ll never get all the things we want, but it rarely hurts to ask. Sergey understands this.
Asking can open up a dialogue. It can plant a new idea. It can make things happen. I’m already thinking about spending a few weeks in New York City, hanging out with Sergey’s daughters. It would be fun and different.
Next week I’m going to be spending a few days with Paul, my okcupid penpal, who is quickly becoming something else – due in part to my asking a few (somewhat demanding) questions of him.
I told Sergey that I was driving to DC next Monday and wouldn’t be able to have a lesson.
“Will you do trapeze again?” he asked. “I sink it was so amazing and beautiful and impressive.”
“Maybe,” I told him. “If I do, I’ll send you another video.”
“Yes, please do.”
A little while later, for some reason or other, we were discussing whether or not Sergey had ever gone scuba diving.
“Yes, of course I have. Two times,” he said.
“Of course,” I teased. “I should have known. You love snowboarding, and you’ve gone bungee jumping. Of course, I should have known you would have gone scuba diving, too.”
“Yes,” he said. “I like to try everything.”
“I think you’re a daredevil,” I told him. “Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, I sink I know,” he said. “And I sink you are one, too.”
I laughed. “Maybe. Maybe I am.”
Sergey and I, we’re two peas in a pod. I’ll teach him that phrase tomorrow.
Think about something you want. Then ask for it!