Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's a Sign!

Whenever my younger sister Kelly wanted to know the answer to a life-changing situation, she asked for a sign.  She wanted something “visible” to know for sure if she was making the right decision.  I often teased her if I found a strange item on the ground—“Look, Kelly, it’s a piece of broken green glass, with rounded edges.  It’s a sign!  It’s a sign!  What does it mean?”  She always took the ribbing in stride.  She knew if she asked for a sign she would get it.  I always thought she must have a special sign Angel. 

I remember an incident that happened several years ago at a family beach get-together.  During a quiet girls-only stroll along the beach, Kelly spotted a beautiful sand dollar.  It was nestled among the thousands of piled up, broken sea shells that had washed ashore.  For some reason the fragile sand dollar was still intact.  It was perfect.  Kelly immediately snatched up the sand dollar and hugged it to her heart.  “I asked for a sign just a minute ago,” she said, “and here it is.”  It turned out that Kelly wanted confirmation that her boyfriend was “the one.”  It must have been the right sign because she later married him. 

I am probably more skeptical about signs but I admit that I have never found a whole sand dollar either, even though I have searched hundreds of times.  Something happened just recently, however, that made me think twice about signs.  I was waiting in a long line when I couldn’t help but notice the woman directly behind me.  She was slightly older than I am, attractive, and very distinguished looking.  Her beautiful Russian fur hat set her apart from everyone else.

I seldom start a conversation with strangers, but I couldn’t help myself.  I had to ask her about the hat.  “Yes, it’s from Russia,” she said warmly.  “I bought it forty years ago.”  I did detect a slight accent, but she said she was not Russian, she was Dutch.  I really did a double take when I heard her key words . . . “Russia, forty years ago.”  What were the chances of hearing those words from a stranger?  I was drawn to this lovely lady, and told her I was writing a book about a Russian that I had met forty years ago.

In the back of my mind, I could just hear Kelly’s voice laughing over the miles:
“It’s a sign.  It’s a sign!  You are supposed to tell your story about Sergei."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Safe With Me

Whenever Sergei Kourdakov and I walked alongside each other, he always threw an arm over my shoulders, pulling me closer to him as if shielding me from any harm.  He towered over me with his muscular physique and broad shoulders, overshadowing my petite frame.  “You are safe with me,” Sergei would assure me with an easy smile, as his arm rested on my shoulders.

Below is an excerpt from A Rose for Sergei. 

“We were excited to get started on our shopping trip, so we headed right out to my car.  I handed him the keys to my Mustang and asked if he wanted to drive, which was a big thing to me since I never let anyone drive my car.  I didn’t think he was the type of guy who wanted to be a passenger in a car driven by a female.  He declined and settled right in, leaning his bucket seat way back to enjoy the ride. 
When we arrived at the shopping center, Sergei was quick to hop out and run around to open my car door.  He had a big smile on his face, gave me a hug, and then threw one arm over my shoulders.  He pulled me close to his side as we proceeded to walk through the parking lot.  Some guys like to hold hands, some like to link arms when they walk—he liked to casually drape one arm over my shoulders and hold me close, my head almost leaning against his chest and tucked in safely under his arm.  Although I didn’t feel I needed to be protected in broad daylight in the middle of the parking lot, it was comforting anyway.  As we walked, we fell into an easy rhythm as Sergei naturally adjusted his steps to my shorter strides.  It felt as if we had known each other for a long time . . . .”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fitting In

I remember when Sergei told me about becoming “King” in the children’s home at Barysevo.  He explained it briefly to me, intentionally brushing over the details.  He said the children started their own society within the orphanage and there were three different categories:  the slaves, the lieutenants, and the king.  He told me he eventually fought his way to the top to become king.  That was all he told me...end of story.  He did not go into specifics about his former life in the Soviet Union because he never wanted to frighten me.  He made the right decision.  Once again, I am reminded of how different our lives were.

From Sergei’s book:

I remained a slave for only a short time.  When I became a little bigger and a little stronger, I challenged a lieutenant and beat him up and took his place....  I was determined to become the strongest boy in the home, and eventually to become king.  That was my goal, and no one...was going to stop me from reaching it!

There were four other boys who wanted to be king.  One by one, I took them on and beat every one of them.  Only one gave me a hard time, but I was able to finish him by smashing his face in.

Soon it was very clear who was the new king.  We had fought by the rules of our society, and I had won.  If at any time some lieutenant thought he could whip me, he had the right to try.  But for now I had won, and I was crowned the new king at Barysevo.  For a fourteen-year-old, that was not bad!

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor, Chapter 7, pgs. 69-70

* * *

When I was fourteen my family moved to the Washington DC area.  My father was a pilot in the U.S.A.F. and his new duty assignment placed him at the Pentagon.  I was upset about the move because I left all of my friends behind in Colorado, and I missed them.  It wasn’t long before I realized that living on the East coast, in a big suburb, was very different from the laid-back ways and friendliness of rural areas in the mid-west.

I soon discovered the meaning of the word clique at my new school.  It referred to the group or circle of friends you hung out with.  There were many levels of cliques.  One of the friendlier, popular boys in the ninth grade was my neighbor, Mark.  Sensing my “new school” nervousness, he explained the ins and outs of the various cliques.  If I wanted to fit in with the popular group, all I had to do, apparently, was buy fashionable East-coast-style clothes so I didn’t look out of place.

Wanting to fit in is everyone’s wish, no matter your age or your circumstances.  Sergei did what he felt he had to do in order to fit into the society of his children’s home.
If only the answer to fitting in was as simple as buying a new outfit.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Have you ever watched the television program, “Touched,” starring Kiefer Sutherland?  The premise of the show captured my attention and I was an instant fan.  It’s about a father and his son who has the ability to make connections with unrelated people around the world.  It shows the interconnectivity of people, how actions, seen and unseen, can change the fate of people across the world for the better.

I remember one such incident that unfolded recently right before my eyes.  I had just walked out of a restaurant with a revolving door that spilled out onto a wide sidewalk—directly in front of a busy street.  As I stood at the edge of the sidewalk, and waited for traffic to stop, I watched a child gleefully skip out of the restaurant door and run towards the street.  Her parents were caught up in the revolving door, still chatting with their friends.

In seconds, the child was beside me, about to step in front of an oncoming car.  I automatically swung my arm down, like a crossing guard, to block her path.  I barely touched her.  I felt the light fabric of her coat graze across my arm.  In that split second she stopped and spun around.  She ran back toward her parents as they sprang free from the door, and called happily to them, “Hi Mommy, hi Daddy.”  The little girl never knew the danger she was in.  Her parents each took a hand and strolled away, with their daughter in the middle, completely unaware they almost lost their child that day.  My actions changed the fate of that family and they would never know.  Our lives touched.

The fact that people from all over the world are interested in my book, A Rose for Sergei, encourages me.  Aside from the United States, the next largest group of people following my blog lives in The Netherlands.  Quite simply, I am touched, and I thank each and every one of you.

We are all connected.  Our everyday actions touch someone’s life somewhere . . . whether we know it or not.