“Significant others”, is what my Dutch step-mother used to call serious relationships, without marriage. I never had any real interest in “one night stands” and, I think I mentioned earlier, whenever I commit to a person I lose objectivity. I want to believe in the person and to believe in happy endings.

Sandra Paays van Gent

There are some memories that find difficulty to be classified, but none the less, they exist. After my divorce from Carolyn, alone in the Netherlands, separated from family and country, I was a stranger in a strange land, and I found many wonderful things including Sandra. My relationship was wonderful, but confusing, contradictory, pulling me in, and then casting me out. Extremes of happiness followed by unpleasant events.

Over time, the reason for these unpleasant events were revealed. They had little to do with me; they originated from Sandra’s childhood and early life experiences. When I was exposed to these situations, I found that they were beyond my experience. At the beginning of the relationship, I was captivated by Sandra and we were happy and growing together. Then these difficult events started to occur, and after one particularly bad evening, I left the flat to live with a friend and I probably should have given up at that time. But to give up would mean failure. I wanted a happy ending. So I could not leave, nor could I stay. It was a no-win situation for us. So I began to withdraw from the Netherlands and started moving to Russia– first in my head. It was not possible for me to just close the door in the Netherlands, because it didn’t stay closed. Ultimately, the worst events happened after a mutual agreement to close the door. I should write a story about the Netherlands period, maybe I will. But I’ll make it a novel.

Sandra was abused as a child by her father. Then, in a classical scenario, her first husband also abused her. Sandra learned in her life to hide the abuse and tried to put it behind her back, out of sight and mind. But the depth of her experiences could not be eliminated; as I understood, a part of her was always ready to fight anyone who wanted to control her– even to the smallest degree. At the beginning of our relationship, it was not apparent. Over time, I saw behavior that I could not understand and as trust between us developed, she began to tell me of her past.

Sandra described scenes with her first husband, including soon after she delivered Denise. They were abusive and physical. By the time that we met, she had established an independent life, trying to forget her past. Under a kind exterior existed a woman who was ready for a battle to the end.

I was traveling back and forth to Russia, returning to the Netherlands and Sandra. Towards the end of our relationship, I had moved all my things out of Sandra’s flat. In my mind, I was telling her that we had to finish. But like an idiot, I could not play it hard. To me, it was obvious that I was saying that the relationship was over. I had discussed marriage with Sandra, about a year earlier. But when I told her that, as a Baha’i, we would have to seek the permission of her parents, she refused to ask her father. Then, one day, she told me that she would ask her father for permission. I was shocked. I did love her– but I was already separated from her emotionally. The fights we had destroyed any possibility of staying together. The fights were mostly about bedtime. And, in my opinion, they are directly linked to her abusive relations before me.

Towards the end of our relationship, we were invited to a wedding of friends in the UK. Sandra helped me to buy a suit, and we traveled together. But my mind was elsewhere. After returning to the Netherlands, I asked Sandra to meet for a discussion at a favorite restaurant in Arnhem. We agreed to separate. So I thought everything was ok. Sandra often used my car and had the keys to my flat. One day she heard that I was meeting Olya in Moscow. So, she went to my flat, trashed it, and destroyed all our memories together, including my pictures, and threw jewelry that I had given her in the toilette.

At Sandra’s flat with Denise and Aileen.

Olya Grigoreva Nafikova

Maybe 10 years later, at the end of my marriage with Olya, I was travelling from city to city giving lectures about corporate culture and the importance of values. It was a special time in Russia, immediately after the fall of the soviet union. One of the cities I visited was Ufa, in the Urals. The local Baha’is set up lectures, one of which was at the small business support office of the Ufa city govenment. There I met another Olya (Grigoreva), a deputy in the city council, and that started a series of meetings both in Moscow and in Ufa. 

When we first met, she was in a relationship, and I was married. The two couples met and we did things together, both in Ufa and Moscow and even Abramskoye. Olya and I collaborated on activities (social activism). Olya and I had a lot in common, e.g., yoga and interest in spiritual matters— activities that have been part of my life for 40 years.  Olya was also a massage therapist. Over time, Olya and I became very close, even discussing starting a project together and even thinking about a life together. But, then I decided to move to Ukraine. She helped me to get settled in Kyiv and start in a new life. Ultimately we decided her children and life in Ufa, and my moving to Ukraine, did not give us the chance for a long term relationship, and a simple distance friendship was not enough for either of us. The pictures of her marriage a couple of years later make me happy, because she looks so happy.

I once told Olya that, of all the people I knew, I would want her by my side when I left this life. She was involved in mystical and spiritual activities, and her aromatherapy and massage were very popular– she was highly sought out. I firmly believe that our relationship was more spiritual than physical. 

Уфа, Степана Злобина, дом 9