Duff ‘n Stuff: Serendipity, Chekov and a misguided Russian in Boston

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BY PATRICIA DUFF, Aug. 19, 2013

Here’s a little literary turmoil that has nothing to do with Whidbey Island.

About three years ago, one of my sisters, who lives in Boston, sent me a new purse as a birthday present. Inside one of the many compartments of the bag, I found a dog-eared letter from a son to his mother (written in somewhat careful cursive on lined, notebook paper). I shared it with my sister, my husband and some friends, who were all as intrigued by the letter as much as I was. I thought it might play some part in my writing life – a play? – a screenplay? – an inspiration for a work of fiction?

Here is the letter, which continues to haunt me:

January 4, 2010

Dear Ma,

I’m too stressed and miserable to plead with you. You don’t understand what I’m going through. Every waking moment is total misery. I don’t want to rehash the past; I’m getting too sick. If you don’t love me and want to help, then Boetcher and all involved with him need to help me get out of the country.

I’m not bluffing. I’m too hurt. Any attempts to send me to a nut house will only make things worse. I want to return to Russia for life. I should have been left there. If Cindy had any heart or feelings, she would get me out. $5000 would get me out and I would make payments for the rest. If I am forced to stay here, I will not. I have done nothing to deserve to be in jail. I have been set up by guilty people, who want to rip me off and cover up what already has been done to me.

I told you my feelings toward Olga and you should respect that. If she told the truth they would harm her. You don’t understand a lot. I feel I have no one; no friends and I hope you and Dad still love me. I did nothing wrong to either one of my parents in my life. God says to love thy parents; mother and father, and I do! I know he has a place for me; I’m sure of it.

I think of Nana a lot and I feel guilt. Cindy hates me and has prior to any of this. That’s why it all went bad. My heart was not in the right place and I trusted all – see what it got me.

Bob Dellamano could get the $5000 very easy if he wanted, but I guess I’m not worth it. He won’t answer the phone for me. People forget – I robbed Star Market back in ’87 to bail him out for $2000, and I got sent to prison for the crime. I am so hurt and feel so spit on and shit on by all. I want to go away from here to Amsterdam and Russia. If that’s not possible then I want to be with God. I am not a coward and refuse to stay here and get sicker and more depressed. Help me. Talk to Cindy and Boetcher.

Love, Greg

A post-script written hastily on the margins includes the Boston area phone numbers of Boetcher and Bob Dellamano. Olga’s was also listed and appears to be located outside the United States. I briefly considered calling these people.

An antique edition of Fydyor Dostoyevky's classic work, "Crime and Punishment."

A New York: The Heritage Reprints antique edition of Fyodor Dostoevky’s classic work, “Crime and Punishment.”

The echo of this letter lingers with me, not only as a mother, but as a storyteller. It has all the ingredients for high drama (Is it not strikingly serendipitous that one of these names sounds like “the butcher!” I mean, you can’t write this stuff any better.) and could be read as a sketch for a new Russian-American soap opera, or a feature film about a young Russian immigrant who is betrayed by his Boston mob-connected parents to take a fall so that they can get away with some bank heist gone awry or a bad mob hit orchestrated perhaps by Whitey Bulger himself.

I’ve read this letter about 20 times and each time my heart goes out to this young man, who I realize might be some maladjusted and somewhat derelict member of society, but who still reaches some part of me that says he got a bad rap from his degenerate parents. This is no Dzhokhar or Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon runners in April. This is some kid who made a series of bad mistakes involving petty crime, and who reaches out for some scrap of familial love.

I think about how Gogol, Turgenev, Pushkin or Dostoyevsky would treat this story. Chekov would certainly find the humor in it, thus emphasizing its bigger tragedies. I go back to the some of the stories of these authors and look for the key to writing a Russian story. I conclude that the key most likely is tied with actually “being Russian.”

Suzanne Kelman is a local screenwriter (WLM blogger “Sue the Screenwriter”), who holds classes in the craft of script-writing. Perhaps it’s time to put poor old Russian-born Greg’s story to the test. I might have to call Bob Dellamano after all and get the scoop. I’m definitely not calling “the butcher.”

From my Russian fiction-loving heart,

Patricia Duff

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