We ended up in the outskirts of Caracas, in a home of a family with whom we’d been friends since Austria, by the name of Isbarenko. There were two sisters and a brother; the old man and my father had a good time together drinking and singing, and the old man played the accordion. The lady of the house was a typical Russian matuchka, a country farm woman. Theirs was a happy home, but somehow they were different from us; the girls and the boy were older and they didn’t exactly want a younger girl like me hanging around them.
They rented a piece of land not far from their home and were farming tomatoes. I loved those vegetables, the sun and open space, so I went with them to help with the crop. But Anatoly went back to the gold and diamond mines, and Galina went back to her husband on the Isle of Pearls, as it is known in Spanish (La Isla de Las Perlas, Margarita), so I felt very alone and insecure.
We were broke, so father sold the truck and dismissed the chauffeur, and we finally rented a small one-room place with a bathroom and kitchen. Father turned the countertop and refrigerator into a butcher shop in the morning, at night we slept in the floor in the same room. Poor Father could only drink down his disappointments in life, and the alcohol was beginning to take its toll on him. Somehow he found animals to buy, a place to slaughter them, and meat to sell. Mama would work hard right next to Papa, and I would walk for miles down the highway to a store that sold the spices we needed to make the homemade kielbasa sausages. When I think back on how I watched a great strong man like my father turn into a beat-up, broken old man, my heart still aches and a painful feeling comes over me.
The Isbarenko girls were not too far away from our new home, so once in a while I went with them to the movies, I suppose when they felt sorry for me and would tolerate my presence. Their reluctance to hang out with me didn’t stop me from having fun, because I was always happy with very little. Some Sundays we would all go down to the river, but it had a big rushing current and since I did not swim, I just hung on to a tree branch and dangled my legs in.
The days ran on and on; I was growing up—in fact, I looked older and more developed than I really was. One day, I heard the Isbarenko girls were going dancing the weekend after Easter. I wanted desperately to go along, so I begged Papa to let me go. Mama had nothing to say against it, so we girls went to a night club and I got my first glimpse of another world. How incredibly fantastic it was to me–twinkling lights, music playing, people laughing and dancing and drinking. Everyone was so happy and gay; I don’t remember what we ordered to drink, but it made me happy to just be there. Then the band was playing “Siboney”! Oh what a romantic sound, moving just like the waves and wind by the sea. We were sitting across from a table with five guys and, naturally, the flirting started. One of them, a tall, handsome young man, asked me to dance, and it felt so natural to me–I just melted away in his arms!
Soon they were all making plans to meet up at the beach the next day, and I just knew I had to go too! The girls had brought me home and dropped me off on time, so father had no objection–after all it was just the beach. The next morning we all left at 9 am, and on the way we were singing and talking about the night before. I was dreaming about seeing that same young man (who was really much older than me) as I walked alone down the beach and played with the waves and water, but the group of guys from the night before, including the handsome prince who had danced with me, never showed up.
That was probably my first disappointment from trusting a man, but the real lesson of love’s disillusionment only came much later in life.