The October 3, 1993 was a beautiful day in Moscow. The sky was blue, the streets were busy, and the air was fresh. I was an American paralegal living my best life at 23, with a head full of dreams and a job in an international law firm.
I grew up in New Jersey and then in rural Pennsylvania. In college, I studied Russian politics and studies, and took a course on American and Soviet relations. I was fascinated by these two countries at odds.
In 1991, I spent a term in St. Petersburg to learn the language. I fell in love with Russian life and moved to Moscow when I graduated. I rented an apartment near the Russian White House. Moscow was then like the Wild West: there was a lot of money to be made. Politically, he was on the verge of a constitutional crisis.
That sunny October evening there was an air of commotion. Parliamentarians were stranded inside the White House, which houses the government, in an attempt to overthrow President Yeltsin. That night, the public stormed the national television center and the station ceased broadcasting. Russia was on the verge of a coup. I called my parents to tell them not to worry.
The next morning, transport broke down. My boss lived in my building, across from the American Embassy. He called from the office, asking me to watch his wife and children. I went there, so stayed for pancakes. Afterwards, their 16-year-old son John drove me home.
He told me about the great view of Parliament from the rooftop, so we climbed up. Other young people were there too. Then we looked down. The road below was lined with tanks starting to come out. Troops flooded the streets and machine guns blew up the White House. The roof started to shake. I was afraid. Then I was shot. Twice. In my leg and my abdomen.
I couldn’t feel the pain, just the need to survive. The shooting continued as I crawled up to the fire escape. I got down halfway before my body gave up. John helped me and some neighbors took me to his apartment to wait for an ambulance. I only remember the chaos. Later I found out that the buildings around us were full of snipers.
Three weeks before I was shot, my mother had come from the United States to visit me. When she returned, two days after the shooting, my condition was so critical that she was told to drive straight to the hospital if she wanted to see me alive.
I had undergone surgery, and lost gallons of blood. The doctor and nurse gave me theirs while they were operating. Everyone in my law firm had donated too, but it was not enough. Hospitals were dirty, with poor standards (unless you were a diplomat), so I had contracted a fatal infection.
I needed to go to a western standard hospital to survive. With my mother, I was put on a small plane to Helsinki, Finland. Medics performed CPR for the entire 90-minute flight.
By the time I arrived, my lungs were full of blood. The doctors discovered that I also had liver damage and that I no longer had a right kidney and gallbladder. They operated again and I stayed in Finland for 10 days. Before I left, a phone call came from President Clinton. He had heard what had happened and wished me good luck. I was taking so much morphine that I barely remember.
I was repatriated to the United States, where I spent two months in the hospital. As soon as I was fit to fly I returned to Moscow; I was determined that a random sniper wouldn’t derail this great life I had made. I stayed six more years.
Sometimes my story comes up at dinner parties, but I often forget it. I have a stomach scar on my back, but I never dreamed of what happened; it doesn’t haunt me. The shooter has never been identified. I think it was hit and miss, but there were too many people – the military and civilians – shooting guns that day to know it.
Two years later, I was working for a human rights organization when President Clinton visited. He gave me a handshake with both hands and said it was good to see me well.
I live in Fife, Scotland now, but ended up in Russia on the 20th anniversary of the siege. Hearing the commemorations of the hundreds of people killed or injured made me think. I have often been told that I have a Russian soul. Sometimes I wonder if what I do for a living justifies this amazing thing that I survived. But really, it was only a moment in time that I collided with a piece of history.
As said to Deborah Linton
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