The Short Life of Viktor Matthey

Olga Tulimova, Viktor's birth mother, looks through her tears at the photo from America. Her three beautiful boys, dressed in crisp white shirts, dark blue vests and pants, smile back at her.

She points first to Vladimir, one of the twins, and whispers, "Volodya," the diminutive form of the name. Her finger moves to the other twin, and she mouths his name, Yevgeniy.

Her eyes go to Viktor.

Tulimova squeezes her eyes shut but the tears roll down her cheeks anyway. She turns away.

She is sitting in an acquaintance's small apartment in Svobodniy, the eastern Siberian city where Viktor lived in an orphanage before being adopted by the Mattheys.

At 44, Tulimova looks half again as old, each year carved in her face. Her complexion, the leathery red of a hard drinker, is marked by deep scars.

It is mid-May, and Tulimova has agreed to meet with a reporter and photographer from New Jersey. Though Viktor has been dead more than six months, Tulimova has only recently learned of it from the local newspaper.

Looking at the pictures of her boys, speaking of her own life and the events and decisions that had brought her to this place, she continues to cry softly.

Yes, she says, she and her husband Sergey, now dead, had been alcoholics, and that's why she lost her children.

Later, standing outside the block of flats in Svobodniy in the disappearing light of a late spring evening, waiting for a car to take her the four hours back to Busse, she asks to send a message to her twin sons in the United States.

"Tell them their mother is here and sends her best wishes," she says. "I can't say everything is okay. If they stay, it should not be in old hands, not with that family. And it should be with the condition that they know they have a mother and sister here in Russia."

Her ride pulls up, a battered Russian Jeep-type vehicle, the only kind capable of handling the rough road home. Olga has one last request:

"If you can get me some earth, some soil from the place where Viktor is buried," she says. "If you could send it to me ..."