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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Unhappy Internet Marriage to America

On a recent flight from Moscow to Washington, I was seated next to an attractive woman in her early 30s. She appeared nervous and was constantly flipping through the pages of an English-language textbook.

After she saw me reading an English newspaper, she turned to me and said shyly, almost whispering: "I have a huge favor to ask. I speak bad English. Could you help me hail a taxicab from the airport?"

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A woman flying to the United States, speaking poor English, unable to hail a taxi and with nobody to meet her at the airport, struck me as strange. But what I was about to hear puzzled me even more.

Tatyana was a single mother earning about 1,500 rubles ($50) a month and trying to raise a teenage son in the Perm region.

With no apartment or house, they had to live in a dormitory.

Wanting to provide her son with a better life, Tatyana applied to an Internet marriage agency.

"There is no work and no pay where I live," she told me. "I was desperate."

Through the agency, Tatyana became acquainted with Tom, a 46-year-old American programmer living in Maryland.

For about a year they communicated via e-mail, exchanging photos and getting to know each other.

"I didn't care that he had four kids, that he was much older than me and that I didn't find him attractive," she said. "If only he could love me and my child, that would make me happy."

After visiting Russia and meeting Tatyana in person, Tom took her and her son to the United States, where they got married.

What followed was a fairly typical marriage agency story, although, as Tatyana said herself, not the worst. "At least he didn't beat me, as happens to many others," she said.

Tatyana lived in Tom's house and took care of his four children. Her own son lived in the basement.

"I would stay at home all the time doing the cleaning and cooking, and he would never let me go anywhere or take me any place," she said. Her only entertainment was grocery shopping on weekends.

During the year Tatyana lived with Tom, she said the only places her husband took her were to a public museum in Washington and an Orthodox Church. Moreover, Tom didn't let her apply for authorization to work, so she couldn't get a job. "He wanted me to stay at home all the time because he was afraid I would gain some independence," she said.

But Tatyana was most worried about her son, who was being abused psychologically by his stepfather.

"Tom would constantly complain that my son ate too much and that he grew too fast and needed new clothes," she said, adding that Tom wouldn't even give him a room to live in.

"When he took his own children out to eat or to the movies, he never took me or my son," she said. "We were like slaves."

But Tatyana said she would never forget her son's initial excitement when she got married. "The poor boy was so happy that he would finally have a father," she said with a bitter sigh. "I guess not -- not this time at least."

One day Tom "simply got bored and tired" of Tatyana and her son, bought them two plane tickets and told them to return home to Russia. "He just handed me the ticket and said, 'Go!' and I had to obey," she said.

When she had left Russia with Tom, Tatyana had quit her job and lost her spot in the dormitory. So on her return, she found herself without a job or a place to live and without any future prospects -- but still with a teenage son to raise.

"America could have saved me," she said. "If only I had a Green Card, I could find a job there.

"Don't you understand? I don't want help from anybody, I am capable of raising my child on my own. I just need a job."

By the time she returned to Russia, Tatyana still hadn't received a Green Card, and her U.S. visa was about to expire.

"And then I said to myself, 'What the hell!' This is my last chance," she said. "I am still his wife legally and officially. He cannot kick me out. I have to fight for myself."

So Tatyana took out her last savings, bought a one-way ticket and flew back to Washington. This time she left her son with her parents because "it was too much for him to endure."

"Tom doesn't even know that I am coming," she said.

"I was afraid that he would do something to stop me. I am sure he will be surprised to see me, I wonder what he will say or do. I am afraid. But I am his legal wife and he cannot force me to leave."

Tatyana knew what kind of life awaited her. She knew that she would be humiliated and abused. But according to her, it was the only possible way.

"I just have to clench my teeth and try to survive one more year or however long it takes to receive the Green Card," she said. "That's my only chance."

As I tried to talk her out of this adventure, describing to her how horrible her life with her husband would be, she looked at me in amazement. "But don't you understand," she said. "It's not the man, it's America that I married."

When the flight was almost over, Tatyana told me that she had changed her mind and wanted to call her husband before going to see him. "Will you translate into English what I will say to him?" she said.

After claiming our suitcases at the airport, we sat down on a bench and Tatyana gave me a piece of paper and a pen. She asked me to write out her little speech.

Surrounded by her luggage, I obediently looked up at her and began jot down the following words that she dictated to me: "My dear Tom! I love and miss you so much. I can't go on living without you. I am your wife and it is my duty to be with you. Here I am in Washington. Will you pick me up at the airport?"

After I had written down the speech, Tatyana murmured: "God, I hate him so much!"

At that point, I had to leave her, wishing her good luck and moral strength.

As I thought of how desperate she must be to voluntarily come and live with a man who would treat her like trash, all my own grievances and concerns faded away.

Maria Danilova is a graduate student at the Central European University in Budapest. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.