Life is so much wilder and wiser than our fantasies. Looking at my sisters and friends, whose journeys started out closer to home but led to equally unexpected places, I see that I could have married the boy next door and woken up next to a stranger. (Plenty of rock 'n' roll romances have ended in divorce in the 30 years my stranger and I have been growing closer.)

We've gone back to the Donbas twice more. In fall 2000 we brought winter coats to Dusya and Marusya (whose husband had died) and we found Nina—the Russian girl Jacques had been offered a chance to marry. Nina sobbed as she remembered the pity she had felt for Vanya, and the sunflower seeds and cornbread she'd slipped him behind the guards' backs.

Last February, Jacques's wish to brave the Donbas winter had to be deferred when a snowstorm made the drive to the mines impossible. Gifts for his old friends had to be left with the two Sashas. But the sight of a rusted old coal car in Donetsk once again tore a hole through time. Right there in the capital city, "J insisted on going to McDonald's," I wrote in my journal, "with a childish stubbornness that exasperated me." And then it dawned on me: "He was grasping for a piece of America to pull himself to safety." Stepping under the new golden arches spanning then and now, here and there, him and me, together we took the starving Vanya for a Happy Meal.

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Annie Gottlieb is the co-author of Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want and Dear Patrick: Life is Tough.

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