I Dated Bernie Sanders. This Is What It’s Like Watching Him Run for President

Editor's note: The following blog item is being reposted (and translated the original Russian) from Yekaterina Kusnetsova's VKontakte page without permission. 

HORLIVKA, Donetsk People's Republic—On an afternoon in January, I crouched behind what was left of a rotting horse, digging around in my pockets for chewing gum and amphetamines. I found the letter instead. As much as I'd wanted to after reading it, I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. Inside the internationally postmarked envelope was the official letterhead of a Prague-based private detective working on behalf of a powerful American oligarch, Neera Tanden. The subject: "Bernie Sanders." My love of a lifetime long past. My Bernychka.

The detective hadn't listed any contact information, or even a return address. He just said he'd "make contact" in the coming days, and so he did. That's how I found myself in the strange circumstance of sitting in on the veranda of the guest house at a CIA black site on a late-winter afternoon, recalling—with a heavily armed stranger—life in my early 40s, and what it had been like for Bernie and me to fall in love.

Over the course of our 16-hour interrogation, I talked about the barrio flophouse Bernie and I shared in Havana in the late 1950s, the dog-eared copies of El Estado y La Revolución we used to read aloud together after too many coffees, and the musk hogs we used to shoot to hone our rifle skills, and how I'd almost always let him win. That was before I'd told him about my service in the Great Patriotic War, as a young sniper hunting Nazi officers in the ruins of Stalingrad, and later as a honey pot assassin on the streets of Berlin.

Being driven back to Mariupol in the truck of the detective's rental car brought those long-unvisited but still-familiar memories into greater focus. Watching the failed coup at Bay of Pigs unfold on a grainy television set during a jai alai tournament in Buenos Aires. Getting swept up in revolutionary fervor, and surrendering to lust in a disused potting shed at one of Che Guevara's legendary garden parties, where we'd first met. The way Bernie's eyes would light up when he talked about bagels, and the youthful passion with which he decried the seemingly endless flavor varieties for sale in the capitalist cesspool that was New York City, where he'd promised to take me, but never did.

After the War in Donbass erupted in 2014, I wasn't able to keep up with the news. But I'd hear the rumors. That my Bernychka was running for president. That his life could be in danger, because his candidacy threatened the maniacal ambitions of another unrelenting American oligarch, Hillary Clinton. That the impassioned ideologue I once knew had been corrupted by the "American Dream" fallacy, and was but a shadow of his former self—a socialist in name only, a communist without conviction.

When I heard Bernie was running again, I couldn't help but smile. He was nothing if not stubborn. I remembered the time we drank rice whiskey out of coffee mugs and argued for hours about Stalin's land reforms. Nothing I said would ever have convinced them that collectivization was ambitious enough, or that Comrade Stalin was anything more than a "spineless putz" who'd sold his soul to the West. I got upset and threw a bottle. We grew apart, and started seeing other people. I requested a transfer to Angola, and he went back to Brooklyn to attend college.

These days, when I see Bernie Sanders held up as a symbol—of progress or of left-wing radicalism, of the utopian future or of the Cold War past—part of me might think, he's not those things. But for many, he is. All these years later, it's not for me to judge. I've come to accept the fact that, no matter how familiar, Bernie is no longer the wide-eyed revolutionary I knew so well.

I've never told him this, but I saw Bernie years after we parted, at a Sandinista rally just outside Managua in 1979. I thought about approaching him, but couldn't muster the courage. I was married, he was divorced and single, or so I'd heard. We had both aged so much, and in any event I couldn't think of anything to say. He looked devitalized, like he hadn't held a firearm in years.

I realized something before losing him in the crowd that day. That he'd always be my Bernychka, but only in the realm of cherished memories, where a restless young kid and his older, war-weary lover can exist forever, gorging themselves on ham from greasy skillets, exploring their bodies in search of perfect pleasure, kicking up dust to see which way the wind is blowing, and charging headlong in the opposite direction, following their hearts, driven by conviction and a sober understanding of human progress: Never given, always earned.

Yekaterina Kusnetsova is a professional tourist and holidaymaker currently visiting eastern Ukraine. She is at work on a memoir titled Head Shot.