Broken Dreams”

By Angela Rabatin

Dedication…

Carolyn:

Thank you for being the inspiration in my life. You have always been there for me, even when I didn't think you were. I can't tell you how much you mean to me. I'll never forget when I told you about this story. You looked at me like I was crazy, but you still supported me, as you always have in everything. You were my hammer when I needed fixing, and my ear when I needed listening. You never hesitated to give me a perspective check either.

You never let me skate on thin ice alone, nor did you ever let my dreams break without giving me a hammer and nails, or even glue at times, to fix them. For that I thank you. For everything you are, I thank you.

For Louise, Senka, Davey, Freddy, Aliz, Marsha, Sasha, Elena, Katie, my brother David, John (or Jay, you know who you are), Ruby, Maria, Aunt Betty, Lanie, and everyone else who helped with the writing or encouragement of this manuscript.

For Mrs. Lindey: Thank you for letting us slack off that day. Clearly I put it to good use.

This is for my English teachers, without whose teachings and guidance this would never have been written.

For the real skaters I know, and those I have simply admired from afar, especially Davey: May your dreams never break. Hope to see you in 2010 or even 2006. Go for the gold, reach for your dreams. You will get there.

Most importantly, this novel would not be possible without the life of the skater who inspired it. I will not reveal his name, due to my utmost respect, love, and admiration for him.

A Reflection…

I have hardly ever read a foreword before, let alone written one. I wasn’t even planning on writing one for this book. Then reading the foreword to the classic The Fellowship of the Ring by the magnificent Tolkien, I realized how important a foreword is. It gives the readers a glimpse into the mind of the author. It gives them an idea of what the writer is like as a person, away from the ink and paper. People sometimes wonder, why did the writer write it this way? Why didn’t they have something else happen? What made them come up with this? Some people say, I would have done things this way instead of doing it the way the author did. A foreword is the reader’s chance to see what made the writer write the upcoming story, and why they did things the way they did. Ironically the authors I read I in no way resemble, at least in my opinion.

I didn’t always want to be a writer. In truth I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I assumed that I would live like a zombie or robot, doing what I was told with no questions, comments or complaints. But when the day came that I did “grow up,” I found myself absolutely oblivious to what the “real world” was like. I had planned on going to college, but that was just because most everyone else in my class was going. I was always sort of a tag-along, doing whatever everyone else was doing because I had no idea of how to make my own decisions. I truly had no idea why I wanted to go to college, what I hoped to accomplish. I didn’t know how to explain my feelings, so telling people seemed to be useless. I did know one thing, however: I wanted to be proud of myself for whatever I was going to do, and hopefully make my family proud of me as well.

My mother was, so it seemed, not supportive when she found my interest in writing, but she had kept a roof over my head and food on my plate for years. I owed it to her to at least try to do something that pleased her, but I always came back to the seemingly selfish thought, What about me? What about my happiness? During senior year I thought that it didn’t matter, as long as she was proud of me, which is probably why I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to accomplish in life.

On February 10, 2000, I had one of those days where everything went perfectly for me. I had a speech to give in class, and I was nervous. Thankfully I did fine, but what happened afterward is more memorable to me. The school pulled a surprise inspection on us, and we weren’t allowed to go out till they were finished. It took a good three hours. During that time there was nothing to do, since we were about to go to the library but before we could get out of our seats the announcement was made. I had no one to talk to really, so I just started writing. I had dreamed of meeting my favorite figure skater for three years, so I imagined him coming to my school as a student and me befriending him. A typical teenage fantasy and a strange idea for a novel as dramatic as this, but surprisingly that fantasy resulted in this book. Why I kept working on it I’m not sure; there seemed to be some force guiding me.

In early April the French and Spanish students went on a trip to Quebec. In the hotel rooms while we were supposed to be resting, I spent time working obsessively on the story. I worked on this story practically day and night afterward. While others were watching movies in class I kept writing. Once I finished my work for the class I kept writing the story. I believe I even took time out during a test in order to do so, but the grade on the test was still almost perfect. By the time May came around my story was sixty notebook pages long. I remember someone in my Humanities class asking me what I was doing, and how long it was. When I told her the length she was stunned. She was even more stunned when I said that it was not for school, but for fun. Actually all of my classmates were stunned. When the story was finished, I believe it was ninety notebook pages long. I still have this rough draft to this day.

Of course the story was nowhere near publishing material. The first person I asked to help me revise it was a dear friend of mine who was Russian. We had talked over the Internet, against the “concerns” of my computer teacher. He thought it was dangerous to talk to people online. Well, I certainly am very much alive, and if I hadn’t gone against his wishes I never would have gotten this story off the ground, though I do understand and appreciate his concern.

I relied on my friend's critique especially, and tried to mold the story by his suggestions. The first thing he told me was that it was naïve. Criticism is a writer’s best friend, someone once told me. So I accepted it, and used his critique and friendly advice and comments to help me out, and I took his hint and did what many American writers should do when doing a story that involves Russian characters: research on all aspects of Russia, especially about last names and patronymics. Strange how I am so much younger than these people, yet they very seldom get the endings of last names of Russian girls right, and they almost never use diminutives correctly.

Of course in the development stages I found myself creating a totally fictional character, who simply had a few things in common with my favorite skater (whose name, due to my respect and love for him, I will not mention, but fans of him, and skating fans in general, may know who I’m talking about anyway). As I learned more about my favorite skater by following his career at the current time, the more I noticed how much he truly had in common with my character, and those things had to be remedied so as not to offend the real skater.

In addition to research on Russia, I also did research, as I should have, on skating elements, how they are learned, and by what age they are learned. I joined a few skating mailing lists and talked with friends who were interested in skating, as well as real skaters who were either up-and-coming young skaters, or just starting as adults. I hope I did them justice.

As I made friends with skaters, I made friends with a young man who turned out to be a big help here, especially in the training areas of the story. He told me the little mistakes helped me with the formation of the main coach into a truly complex and realistic character, and also told me little mistakes like my writing for the Lutz takeoff involved looking over the right shoulder, not the left, when the skater is right-handed. He also said that the training for the triple Axel was incorrect. I appreciate his help immensely. I thank him for his help.

I posted the story chapter by chapter on Internet message boards for writers and waited for e-mails and critiques. One man had given me excellent advice for the plot, though at times it contradicted what I had heard from previous sources. But his advice is greatly appreciated, and he did enlighten me with a few things in the plot he brought to my attention. I appreciate his help and thank him for his encouragement, and for the confidence he gave me whenever I felt that this story would never be accepted.

When I sought to get this story out after its first revisions, I turned again to the Internet. I sent it to people who I thought would enjoy it: writers, skating fans; primarily women. Of course I also sent it to friends in general. I wanted to entertain them. That was my entire purpose, to entertain. I like to see people smile, put on edge, hanging on every word they read in books, or every scene they see in a film. I hope I please those who are reading now.

I try to put myself into the characters’ positions. Each one has a different personality, and somewhere along the line I discovered the theme, the very point I was trying to make. Dmitry wanted to live life without any changes; he always wanted stability, as do many of us I think. When he started to lose his stability, he longed to be back in the comforts of the past. What he failed to understand, or accept, is that life doesn’t work that way. You can’t keep wishing you were in a stable life, because life is never stable. One faces challenges, one cannot run from or ignore them. They must be dealt with, one has to fight to get anywhere. As the last few sentences of the prologue explain, one must face the challenges and problems of life. If not, you could miss out on the good things that go along with the bad.

Prologue

My name is Dmitry Alexeievich Stanislavsky. My family had chosen the diminutive Mitya. I have short dark blond hair and dark blue eyes. I am thin, with not so broad shoulders, a firm chest and stomach, and arms and legs like a dancer. According to my calculator, my height in the American system is a bit more than six feet, quite tall for a figure skater.

I am 19 years old. If you or someone you know follows figure skating, then you’ve most likely heard my name at least once, depending on nationality and what discipline you follow.

Ever since I was thirteen, I wanted to live in the past. Now, I see how silly that wish was. You can’t live in the past, no matter how much you want to. If your mind is stuck in the past, you’ll miss out on things that could be very special to you… that are very special to you.

Chapter One: Goosebumps

It was my first day of school as an American immigrant. I had just turned seventeen and the date at this time was Friday, September 8, 2000. I was supposed to be there at the beginning of the term, but I had a lot of affairs to set in order before I could begin. I was so nervous! I prayed my English would be good enough, but I still had great doubt, as I had only learned several months ago, and my lessons were sporadic due to my skating and other factors. English was so difficult! Would I manage to get by without confusion? Normally I have confidence in myself, but this was too foreign to me. I had traveled to America, but never intended to live there permanently. How would I be received? I wasn’t very popular here as a skater, at least that's how it seemed…

My first lesson had something to do with public speaking, at least that’s what I was told. I dreaded having that class. I suppose I’m not good at being formal. Sometimes I get carried away and ramble. My coach insists on being as brief and comprehensible as possible when speaking to reporters. I don’t understand why. I was an athlete, not a politician! Besides, I wasn’t skating anymore.

I walked into school through a metal detector. The idea of a detector in school was strange to me. I understood the need for such a thing of course. But still, we never had to deal with such a thing in Russia. It beeped as I went through it. I nervously stepped back and took off my ring and necklace. I was a bit hesitant to do so, because they were valuable in a way more precious than price. The ring, which had a cross in small diamonds on it, I had given to my girlfriend, Elena. My Orthodox cross, a cross in white gold and a single ruby is in the center of it on a delicate gold chain, was given to me at baptism by my godfather, my maternal grandfather.

Once I got through the detector and took my jewelry back, I looked around at what would become my permanent school. It wasn’t a bad place, this Pittsburgh school. They certainly seemed to encourage athleticism. The halls were decorated with blue and yellow streamers, balloons, and beautiful banners and signs about what I assumed were star athletes in the school (I certainly couldn’t translate words like Becker and Roberts), as well as drawings of basketballs followed by sayings like “Bears Rule!” or “Go Lady Bears!” There were even decorations on some lockers; one of them said “Holly,” another said “Zach.” All of these were blue and gold, except the drawings of the balls, which were in their natural colors. Beautiful combination, actually, especially considering Russian schools were never decorated this way; they were always, how you say, drab, and dull.

A hand-painted banner that said “Clay’s #1!” was hanging above a row of lockers. The letters were in dark blue, the sign itself was light blue, and the letters were outlined in gold glitter.

A girl walked by in a blue shirt and black skirt, the opposite way where I was going, talking with one of her friends.

"Isn't Clay's jersey number one?" she asked with a laugh. The girl next to her nodded with a laugh.

"That's the point. He's so funny."

He's terrible, though!” she said quietly. Her friend giggled.

A kid my age walked past me wearing a pair of dirty, brown, and far too baggy jeans, and a blue hockey jersey. The number on the jersey was one.

Good luck, Clay, with this game,” I said, hoping my English and assumption were correct.

I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut, but I figured if he was important enough to have his name on the wall, he could be my friend and I’d get to be as popular as he was. Maybe I would try to join a sports team. I was pretty good at football, or as Americans prefer to say, soccer.

The guy looked at me with raised eyebrows, and smiled. He turned to his friend beside him, wearing a basketball jersey and baggy pants, and whispered something. His friend burst out laughing.

What, do you know him or something?” the one in the basketball jersey asked. He sounded like he was trying not to laugh more, then once he finished his sentence snickered, and turned to two girls who were standing nearby.

These girls were gorgeous. They were both incredibly tall, slim, and wore tight clothes. One of them had brown skin, big almond-shaped brown eyes, and shoulder-length silky black hair. She reminded me of a Filipino girl. She was wearing a striped tank top that looked far too small for her, and a pair of too tight blue bell-bottom jeans, which sagged in the middle and showed her bellybutton. The other girl was dressed basically the same as the other, only she had strawberry blonde hair with blonde highlights, tan skin, wore a light fluorescent green shirt, and her emerald heart-shaped pendant brought out her oval-shaped green eyes perfectly.

Anyway, the kid told the girls, and they looked at me and started laughing too. Soon everyone in the whole hall was laughing, or maybe that’s just what it seemed like. My face was as red as a beet, and I didn’t know what I had done wrong. Maybe it wasn’t this Clay, or maybe my English was wrong. Maybe my accent was too thick to be understood. I couldn’t know… What I did know was that it probably would have been better if I had just kept my mouth shut.

Sorry,” I said as I rushed past everyone, not caring about the fact that I had no idea where I was rushing off to, or if I knocked into someone or made someone drop their books.

I sped out of the hall as quick as I could. But I had no idea where I was going. I knew what room to go to, but being in a new environment I had no idea how to get there. My muscles were so tense they hurt. Just then I saw the girl from before. Perhaps she could help me.

She had shoulder-length light blonde hair and cool, sparkling light blue eyes. She was wearing a gorgeous silk blue shirt and a velvet black skirt that went just below her knees. She looked so friendly, I thought she was a good person to ask for directions.

E- excuse m- m- me,” I stammered nervously, hesitant, “but could you tell me how to get to room…” I paused, and took out my schedule. “221?” I was hoping that my interaction would turn out all right with this girl. I didn’t want anything like what happened in the other hall to happen with her.

What a coincidence! I’m headed there now!” she said cheerfully.

I was thankful for that, but then I remembered how cruel some American high school students could be. I hoped that she wouldn’t point me in the wrong direction on purpose.

May I join you then?” I asked, just as friendly as she was.

Sure!” she replied with a giggle.

As we walked to the classroom, I decided to strike up some conversation. I would get to know her and practice my English at the same time!

So what is your name?”

Marie. Marie Perkins.”

I smiled. Pretty name!

It is nice to meet you, Marie. I am Dmitry Stanislavsky.”

To my surprise and concern, she gasped, putting her hand at her mouth. “I thought you looked familiar!” she exclaimed happily.

I looked at her, even more surprised. She knew me? I was never recognized when I was in America outside of touring ice shows before.

You’ve heard of me?”

I’m a great admirer! Congratulations on your spectacular season, and doing all those amazing jump combinations. Really impressive. Good luck with this season. You might need it. Andrews is looking good. I don't care for him much though, he doesn't have any art in him whatsoever. If he ever wins Worlds or Olympics, the Four Horsemen will soon follow.” She laughed.

I smiled, blushed and chuckled.

Thanks, but I’m not skating anymore.”

Marie’s jaw dropped in astonishment.

How come? You’re magnificent! You’re amazing, you’re stupendous, astounding! You’re crazy to quit like that!” She giggled as she named all those synonyms, like a barker at a fair, but frowned after she was finished, looking at me incredulously.

My smile broadened on instinct, even though I did not intend it to. I blushed some more. I wasn’t that great… just sometimes the competition wasn't it's best.

Yes, well, thank you for that, but I think I’m just going to devote to my education.”

Pulling a Michelle Kwan, huh?”

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess so.”

But she didn’t quit skating altogether,” Marie pointed out.

I thought for a moment. I hated to disappoint my fans… “Well, I might change my mind." I wasn't sure if I meant that or not. It certainly was doubtful.

We went on our way up two halls; both basically decorated the same as the first, then up three flights of stairs to the second room on the right. The room itself was pretty easy to find once we got to this hallway. There were only three rooms, and there were three windows on the other side. The hallway wasn’t nearly as festive as the one I embarrassed myself in; it had no decorations at all except for two of the classroom doors, and it led to a – how do Americans say? Something like a lifeless place? A vacuum? No, that doesn’t sound right. Let me think for a moment… The only way out was the way we came in, unless you counted the fire exit at the other end of the hall… Oh, that’s it! A dead-end! How silly of me! I don’t think I’ll ever understand this language…

I chuckled at the irony. “Back to Russian schools,” I muttered with a smile.

Marie said nothing, but smiled.

Hey, Mrs. Stone, you know you got a new student?” Marie called as she walked in with a cool and confident stride.

I bit my lip as I stood near the doorway, hesitant to go in. I wished I had as much confidence as Marie did. It seemed like I stopped breathing. Why did she have to shout that? Didn’t she have any idea what it was like to be placed in a completely new environment in which you are barely familiar with the language, let alone the people and places? How could she do that to me? Not only her, but Lena! If she were here right now, I’d…

Then I thought again. Mitya, I thought, this is your chance to show your classmates what you are like; you are representing Russia here, go on, go in!

I walked in, and grew nervous again as I saw the room full of new faces, their eyes staring at me, some of them seemed to laugh and snicker at me, others were passive and others were confused. Strange how I had performed without being nervous in front of thousands of people each competition, yet here, I was getting goosebumps in front of my new classmates! I laugh now thinking about it, but then again, I suppose I did have good reason to worry, after all…

What if I forgot my English? What if I said something that made no sense? What if I spoke Russian instead of English? What if my English was so bad no one could understand me? What if I insulted someone? Or worse, what if I couldn’t make any friends? What if I embarrassed myself like I did before? The whole school probably thought I was a stupid foreign communist trying to overthrow the government! I took a deep breath and tried to relax and tell myself that everything would be okay. You're overreacting and over-analyzing things, Mitya, I thought. Just calm down.

Then I saw the redhead with the highlights. Oh, great, I thought. Just what I need, someone to tell everyone how stupid I was.

Gospodi,” I said softly, and prayed in my mind for strength. I’d need His help in this…

Ah, yes, you’re Dmitry Stanislavsky? Did I say that right?” the teacher asked in a friendly manner.

I smiled, stifled a laugh and shook my head. Americans! Even after three years of competitions, they still couldn't say it right!

Is close enough,” I said, my heart pounding so fast I was nearly breathless. The teacher smiled, blushing.

All right. I’m Mrs. Stone. Why don't you have a seat there,” she said pointing to a seat near Marie, "and perhaps Marie will be so kind as to give you her notes to copy."

Mrs. Stone brushed a small strand of yellow-blonde hair out of her eyes. She had good fashion sense; dressed sensibly, with a white blouse and a tan skirt that went down to her ankles. She was quite short for her age, which must have been in the twenties. Her voice had a tone I was quite familiar with thanks to my homeland’s teachers and especially my coaches. It was a tone that made it clear to everyone that she would not put up with any nonsense. I liked her already!

You need to do a persuasive speech convincing us to feel a certain way,” she continued. “We’re finishing them up now, so pay attention; that way you can get examples of good and bad speeches, as well as some ideas for potential topics.” I shook my head. She was speaking too fast! “Then we’re going to the library to do research on a famous person you happen to be interested in. I would like to know who you’re planning to do for that one before you begin your research. You have to-”

Wait, wait. I am sorry, but could you slow down, please? I am not American.” I felt strange interrupting an instructor… She probably thought I was a disrespectful urchin! The teacher stopped and stared at me, embarrassed but concerned.

Oh, I’m sorry. Would you like me to repeat any of that?” she asked, somewhat slower. It was good enough.

No, just slow down. My head translating, you know, and I don’t know many English. The speed you are talk in now is good enough, just don’t go too faster, please. I am sorry to ask…” I added quickly, so she wouldn't think I was a brat.

It's quite all right, Dmitry," she said with a reassuring smile. "Well, you have to do the speech as if you actually are that person, and you have to either dress like or have a prop of some sort relating to that person. For example if you’re doing Michael Jordan, you can have a basketball. Or if you’re doing George Washington, you could wear a three-cornered hat. It’ll be due the Monday after next, so you don’t have to rush. Just get the other speech done when you can.”

Okay. Got it. Thank you.” How I managed to understand all of that I don’t know… I guess God was behind that.

I went to the seat beside Marie. I was still nervous, but I needed to calm down and concentrate on my studies.

Class, this is Dmitry Stanislavsky,” Mrs. Stone said.

I shook my head, smiled and relaxed. The way she pronounced it was far from what it really was! The way things were going, they would probably make the errors, not me!

Hey, Dmitry! Where’d you get that accent, Sesame Street?” asked a boy about my age, using a mock-Russian accent. Mrs. Stone glared at him. Nothing more was said from the boy, but I grew worried. What was wrong with my accent? Was it too thick to be understood?

He’s going to stand up now and tell you a little about himself.”

My heart stopped after I translated this, and my eyes widened. I was going to what? Couldn’t she have asked me first? What would, or rather, could, I say?

Are you sure I should do this, Madame Stone?” I asked softly. “I’m not good at being formal…”

Don’t worry. That’s what this class is going to teach you. And you don't have to be formal, just talk casually,” she comforted.

I tried to protest, but my voice trailed off. How could I explain my feelings to her?

I stood up and went to the front of the class, shaking. The students’ eyes gazed at me, an uninterested but expectant look in their eyes. My voice quivered as I was about to begin, then I calmed down, taking a deep breath. I convinced myself that this was just like a new school in Russia… that would turn out not to be as good an idea as I thought…

Minja zovut- Oh!”

I cringed as the Russian words flew out of my mouth naturally but unintentionally. Everyone looked at me and laughed. Well, it seemed like everyone. There were a few, including Marie, who did not laugh but looked at me with understanding in their eyes. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I would have to bird this, as Americans say.

Excuse please. I am not American. I am Russian. I was born and lived in a town called Ekaterinburg. I…”

Hmm… Something about myself... What more could I say? I could give them basic information about my background in Russia, involved with some of the most famous Russian athletes in winter sports, but that might be a little boring for them. Maybe I could tell them about my figure skating. On the other hand, how would they react to a male figure skater? They might jump to conclusions. Unnecessary conclusions, if you know what I mean. I didn’t want that, nor did I need it. I was -- am -- totally "straight," as the American expression is… I think...

Of course, nothing is wrong with being homosexual. But I wasn't, and I didn't like people thinking that I was.

Any questions for him?” Mrs. Stone asked, expectantly.

Did you have to ski to school?” asked a boy in the back.

I translated this in my mind. “Did I have to ski to school… No,” I replied. “Ekaterinburg is city.”

What do you do for fun?” asked a nice-looking girl with red shoulder-length straight hair and black eyeglasses.

What do I do for fun… Well, I like dance, listen music, computer, tennis, swimming, and other sports.”

There didn't seem to be any more, so I went back to my seat and sat down. I was surprised at and glad for the interest of the students, but I didn’t know enough English to go into much detail with things. I hoped they could understand and forgive this limitation.

Okay,” Mrs. Stone said after a dreadful moment of silence. “Let’s get these speeches done so we can go to the library.”

After the speeches, Mrs. Stone said, “All right, everyone, let’s go to the-”

May I have your attention please, all students and staff are to remain in their classrooms until further notice,” a voice boomed over the loudspeaker.

What’s going on?” I asked confused.

Elena kept telling me how free this country was compared to Russia. If this country was so free, why couldn’t students leave the classroom to do research at the library? Perhaps something dangerous was going on…

I had toured in this country, and in Canada, with ice shows for a few years. But I did not actually live here. I had everything I wanted, and needed, at home in Petersburg. Why would I want to give it up? Why did I give it up?

Oh, man! They’re searching lockers for drugs and cigarettes and stuff like that!” said an exasperated girl with straight shoulder-length red hair next to Marie.

Can they do that without our permission?” I asked in surprise.

If this country was so free, surely, we had a say in this!

Believe me, our school has a big problem with drugs, and yes, they can do it without our permission,” she replied.

That hit a sour note! Oh great. Pittsburgh is a city of drug addicts! This was how this country’s citizens expressed their freedom? What have you gotten me into, Elena? If it weren’t for you, I’d be back in my real home right now!

Is this the only day we can go to the library?” asked another redhead with ear-length curly hair on the other side of the room.

Yes,” Mrs. Stone said through clenched teeth. Then she softened, shrugging it off. “But I’ll see if we can get in on Monday.”

No, not Monday! Our party!” she said aghast.

Oh, that’s right. Tuesday, then.”

I raised my eyebrows. A party? In school? This was definitely freer than I was used to, if you could have a party in school! In Russia, every bit of time was devoted to our studies. We never got a real break from things. We even had to go to school on Saturdays, which is hard for some Americans to imagine, let alone deal with.

Since we appeared not to be doing anything, I decided to get started on my speech. I tried to think of a topic first. Since I am Russian, I was occasionally thought of by foreigners, especially Canadians and Americans, as a communist and an atheist, but it wasn’t true. Perhaps I could do something like that. Then there was another idea… just because I am a figure skater, I am automatically thought of as gay. That too was not true. It took me a while to decide what my topic would be. Finally, I decided on the sexuality issue.

It took me about a half-hour to complete a first draft. I looked at it and began to revise it. It took fifteen minutes. When I was finished, I turned to Marie.

Would you like to hear my speech? Just to see if I have it right.”

Okay.”

I gave her the speech.

Well?”

Watch the eye contact, be careful about being too repetitive, and be sure not to use so many space-fillers. Space-fillers are like ‘uh,’ and ‘like,’ and ‘you know.’ Very bad for speeches, and you had a lot of ‘uhs’ in there. Got it?”

I nodded gratefully.

"Thank you. You are very kind," I said with a smile.

Marie smiled.

But what about the content?”

I must have said the wrong thing. I wanted to know whether or not my English was correct. Even so, she answered what would have been my next question…

The content of the speech is wonderful. You bring up some good examples of how many people are led to believe things just by stereotypes, like how some of the skaters you know are gay, but don't have some of the stereotypes that 'identifies' gay people. I never knew that Fedisov was gay. Never would have suspected it, actually.”

I blushed at my mistake, but smiled at her gratefully for her compliments.

Thanks. Ah, don't spread that around though, he does not want anyone to know yet... Maybe I should take that out. But my English? Is it correct?”

Marie hesitated.

C- considering that you’re a foreigner, and you’re just learning, I think you do quite well at English.”

I nodded thoughtfully, thinking of how to make my speech better… or make myself feel better about my speech. I made a note to myself to look at a translator and make sure that my English would be absolutely perfect for this speech and the speeches to come. I guess I don’t like to make mistakes… Even on the ice I was always a… how you say, what is the word? Perfectionist.

Just curious, but who are you going to do for this new speech?” I asked out of the blue.

I’m thinking of either Anastasia, Evita, Pocahontas, or Helen Keller.”

Helen who?

Hmm. Good ideas. Do you think if you do Anastasia, I could appear with you and do Tzar Nicholai?”

At least there was one person I knew about that she was doing… I knew about Evita only from the musical, but I never had a real desire to do a report on her.

Marie smiled.

I would like that very much. And if I do Evita, you could be Juan Peron, and if I do Pocahontas, you could be John Smith. And how about Louis Braille if I play Helen Keller?”

All of those sound good to me, but I don’t know anything about Peron, Smith, or Braille. I don’t even know this Helen person.”

Marie laughed.

Don’t worry. That’s what the research is for. Anyway, you don’t have to appear with me. You can still do Nicholas II if you want.”

Okay. Thank you. I think I do this.”

The redhead party girl suddenly gasped.

Who’s going to bring in what for the party?”

I rolled my eyes. Did this girl care about anything else?

Everyone shouted what he or she would bring in, and they all shouted at the same time. Ice cream, a big birthday cake complete with lighted candles, salsa and tortilla chips, a vegetable tray (finally something healthy!), pizza, and doughnuts were among the strange (to me, anyway) items mentioned. Only problem was that the redhead could not remember or keep up with the items that were being named, and who was supposed to bring them. She solved the problem by walking up to the blackboard and writing on it. But Mrs. Stone did not think that was such a good idea. I couldn’t blame her. After all, who was the teacher, Mrs. Stone or this party girl? Why was she allowing this party anyway? I didn’t mind the party concept, but there were studies to learn! Didn’t these people care about their education?

What are you doing, Kassie?” she demanded.

Writing down who’s bringing in what for the party,” Casey answered nonchalantly, her back facing her.

Oh, no, you’re not!” she exclaimed.

Why not?” the girl asked, as if she honestly had no clue.

I have class in here!”

The girl paused, as if she had forgotten that. Goodness, you'd think it would be made obvious!

Oh, that’s right.”

I laughed. An American would probably agree, I think this girl’s head is full of air!

What is this party for, anyway?” I asked.

It's Singles Week and it’s Brandi’s birthday on Saturday,” Casey replied, gesturing to the young woman a few rows across from me. She gestured to the girl Brandi, who smiled at me.

Singles Week?” I inquired.

It's a week where people who aren't dating try to get dates,” answered Brandi, the girl who the previous girl gestured to.

Oh, I see. Happy birthday,” I said to the tall, slim brunette with catlike green eyes and a sexy kitten-like voice. She was wearing a tight, yellow dress with big black and green zigzags all over it. She certainly looked good in it! It showed just the right amount of cleavage, maybe a fraction more. She was definitely different than any girl I’d ever met in Russia! My heart sank as I came to my senses. I bowed my head, ashamed. How could I feel such a way? I tried to push away my sadness.

Not to change the subject, but why did you come to the States?" Marie asked, as if it was actually my obligation to tell her. "You promised never to leave Russia.”

My heart sank further into my stomach, which at the same time felt as if it had been punched. Of all things for her to say… What right did Marie have getting into my business anyway?

It’s quite complicated,” I said, hoping to avoid the issue. “I don’t know if I can explain it in English, and I doubt you would put up with the length of it.”

This was true. I could not explain in English. She saw what happened earlier, when she ever so kindly put me in the spotlight. It was painful for me to talk about anyway. I have not led an easy life.

That’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said reassuringly.

Thank you,” I said gratefully.

Marie turned and started talking to her friends about some guy Dave she went out with the night before. I just sat there, debating whether or not I was brave enough to go talk to others in the class. They all seemed to have their own worlds to live in… It appeared that to be popular or at least have some friends, you couldn’t expect to do it in one day…

I could tell that the redhead next to Marie was getting restless. She seemed nice, yet kind of outspoken, the type to say exactly what was on her mind, which I suppose is expected of some Americans. If she didn’t like you, she would make certain that you knew that, or so it seemed. I don’t know why, but I felt intimidated by her… I suppose that I didn’t want to get into any trouble or mishaps on my first day… I had no intention of starting anything, but still, this was a girl who seemed to have a lot of anger inside her. I’ve had to deal with that for enough of my life; I certainly didn’t need to put up with it now.

We have twenty-five minutes left in this class. We need to go to the library!” she whined.

Calm down, Danielle,” Marie said. “There’s always Tuesday.”

The girl with the highlights I saw in the hall pushed a nearby button on the wall.

Sh!” she said, “I’m calling the office!”

Yes?” a woman asked over the intercom.

Hi, this is Mrs. Stone’s room calling. I have us scheduled to be in the library this period. Are the dogs gone yet?”

I raised my eyebrows. Did she actually expect the woman on the other line to believe that she was Mrs. Stone?

Uh, no, no. You have to stay in your room,” the woman over the intercom answered.

Okay,” she replied, disappointed.

As soon as the sound of a click came, everyone laughed.

She knew it was you, Jentri!” Kassie said. “You could tell!”

Jentri… Odd name, yet it was beautiful, friendly. She looked that way, too. She had a kind face, and a friendly smile. But I couldn’t help but be reminded of what a dope I was before…

Well, that’s because you sound nothing like me,” Mrs. Stone said, once again stating the obvious.

Everyone laughed, including me. I guess it takes a little more than one day or even a few months for that matter, to decide if a place is good or bad… I could tell I really needed to think about what was good and what was bad about this country, and then decide if this was the place for me or not. I didn’t know, and you can’t make such a decision in just a few months. But it was definitely not Russia, and nothing could replace her. Nothing.

I went over to this “Jentri” girl and asked quietly, “I’m sorry, but what was everyone laughing about in the hall? Forgive me, but I’m not American, and I’m new here. Please tell me what I did wrong.”

Jentri stifled a giggle.

Clay doesn’t play football! He plays basketball.”

Oh,” I said, wanting to kick myself. Well, at least it wasn’t my English.

But you got the joke; his jersey number is one!” she said smiling.

Well, that’s good to know,” I said, chuckling at my mistake.

Jentri smiled devilishly.

As a matter of fact, he was the one next to the guy you thought was Clay!”

Oh,” I replied, and we both laughed at the irony.

We have ten minutes left in this period! Who knows? We might not have second period!” Marie said when I got back to my seat.

I laughed. Another hour and a half?

Oh, I don’t think so. They should be finished invading our privacy any minute now.”

May I have your attention please, all students and teachers are to remain in their classrooms,” said a voice over the intercom.

Told you,” she said laughing.

Fuck!” Danielle screamed.

I raised my eyebrows and looked at her, shocked. First it’s parties, and now it’s swearing. What’s next? Sleeping? Things were never like this in Russia!

Did your family come with you yet?” Marie asked outside the blue, as you say.

I let out a small sigh and I felt like my face just got slapped.

No, I’m afraid not, and I’m afraid they won’t be either,” I said quietly, looking away. I couldn’t talk about my family troubles with a complete stranger. I just couldn’t! Besides, I didn’t think my English would stand it…

Sorry to hear that.” She sounded so sincere, so kind. It was sweet of her to offer her compassion and companionship. I would gratefully accept them. I smiled sadly.

Me too.”

Anyway, what class do you normally have this period?”

I looked at my schedule.

Humanities. Then I have European History, then French.”

Aaaaaah!” Marie cried.

I blinked in surprise. As if I didn’t get screamed at enough at practices and competitions, I thought. Didn’t she know how absolutely annoying it was to be fussed over? Sure, it sounds nice, but I’ve lived life in the spotlight for quite some time now, and let me tell you, after a few years, the lights start to burn, particularly because of the journalists getting into your personal business. That is one reason I was glad that I was retiring from it.

You are in all of my classes!” she cried.

That's great!” I was so glad to have someone I knew in all of my classes. Hopefully the teachers would let me sit near her, and work with her perhaps.

I hope Whitmore will put you in our study group for European. You and I will make quite a pair when it comes to Russian history.”

I raised my eyebrows, smiling. An American interested in Russia? How rare was that?

You’re interested in Russian history?”

I’m considering doing my speech on Anastasia Nicholaievna, aren’t I?” she said coyly, winking.

I raised my eyebrows, amazed. I could only stare at her. I couldn’t believe it. It was the most astounding thing I’d ever heard! Someone American finally said her name right!

True. Well, what a pair we will make.” I thought for a moment. “Would you like to show me around sometime? I’d like to see more of what Pittsburgh is like. I’ve been here for a few months, but lately I’ve been so busy I’ve forgotten things.”

Sure, no problem. After school?”

Fine by me.”

Marie smiled at me. I smiled back. She was pretty nice. She reminded me of someone I knew. Someone from my homeland, someone I missed terribly, someone I was straining to get over desperately… I closed my eyes in agony as I thought of her sacred, majestic name. Why was she taken from me? What had I done to deserve this punishment?

My mind flashed back to the first day I came to St. Petersburg and the events leading up to my moving there.

Leaving

I was eleven years old when my figure skating school closed down in the city of Ekaterinburg in November of 1993. I began skating when I was three, because I saw it on television and wanted to do the things the skaters did. My coach remained with me for the entire eight years. His name was Igor Vassilievich Taratovsky. He was like a second father to me. He helped me with my problems both on and off the ice, and in some ways helped forge me into the skater I am today. When he told me that the school was closing, I was devastated. What was I going to do with my time now? Skating was my life! I couldn’t give it up without a fight. Luckily he came up with a way for me to continue skating, at least for another few months.

If you are willing to make the sacrifice,” Igor Vassilievich warned.

Of course,” I answered, ready to do anything he asked.

You must go to St. Petersburg.”

A chill ran down my spine and my heart sank. Me? Go to St. Petersburg? Why so far away?

Are you sure, Igor Vassilievich? It’s such a big city, and so far away. Must we go there? What about my family? Wouldn’t it be better just to go to Moscow instead? You could get me enrolled in the Army Sports Club, or Dynamo Moscow-”

There, you will take a special test which will decide if you are Palace material,” he continued as if he didn’t hear me, as he usually did if I interrupted him.

I gasped.

Karilyevsky Ice Palace?”

Igor Vassilievich nodded and I realized how serious things were. If I was going to continue skating, and if St. Petersburg and Karilyevsky were the only ways I could go, then I knew I had to work harder. Karilyevsky was the school where the greatest athletes (for ice sports anyway) in all of Russia trained. Sure there was the Army Sports Club in Moscow, but that was nothing compared to the results that Karilyevsky produced. They were the standards to follow in all aspects of skating. Even my idol trained there before! I had always wanted to be placed mentally among their skaters, and now I had the chance to train with them! But I could only get there if I worked hard. Was I truly capable of training at Karilyevsky?

I will talk about it with my parents,” I said softly, realizing the sacrifices I would have to make if I were to go to St. Petersburg.

I decided to tell them that night. I dreaded their reactions. Sure, they had always supported my skating before, but would they really be willing to move over a thousand kilometers to such a big city for me?

Mama?” I asked while we were making dinner.

Yes, Mitya?”

I have something to discuss with you. Would you consider going to St. Petersburg for my skating?”

She turned from the potato pancakes and stared at me.

For how long?” she asked, puzzled.

Indefinitely.”

She looked at me as if I was insane.

I know what you’re thinking,” I continued before she could protest. “But I have good reason for wanting to move. Igor Vassilievich thinks I have what it takes to become a member of Karilyevsky Ice Palace.” I stressed the name of the club on purpose. She knew how prestigious and exclusive that club was.

Her expression changed to pride.

You’ll have to ask your father. But you know I have no problem with it, and I don’t think your father will either.”

I went outside where Papa was returning from a walk. He didn’t particularly like the idea of me skating when I first started. He thought it was a silly girl's sport, if it was even a sport at all. But he grew to accept and even be proud of my skating. I told him as much as I could.

Your mother may go, but unfortunately I must stay here and take care of things. You have to decide if that is what you want. Now go to your room. You’ve got some thinking to do.”

Yes, Papa.”

Like any good son, I did as I was told. I sat on my bed wondering what Vassily Filipenkov would do in the same situation. Vassily was my idol. He grew up in a poor background, just like me, and he won the Olympics when he was 20, on his first attempt, in 1988. That’s pretty impressive.

I always wanted to be like him. He was an expressive skater when I first saw him, as he skated his short program for the 1988 Olympics… Every time I stepped on the ice, I tried to think of how to interpret the music theatrically. It was my biggest virtue, and I suppose that was why Igor Vassilievich thought I had potential enough to train at Karilyevsky, which is where Filipenkov had trained when he won the Olympics…

My problem was this: I desperately wanted to continue skating, and everyone thought I was an excellent skater, capable of dominating the world, but in order to continue skating I had to leave my father behind. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again. I had to decide what I was going to do. It was something any child would dread. If I went with my mother to St. Petersburg it was like saying I loved my mother more than my father. That wasn’t true; I loved both of my parents equally.

Finally I went downstairs with my decision.

"I want to go," I said. "But I don't want to separate you. If things work out, I will stay in their dormitory."

Mama started crying a little. “Are you sure?” she asked.

I nodded. “I want this. And when I get enough money, we can all be together again.”

For the next three months I trained vigorously day and night. My father tutored me in my studies. My mother helped me stretch my legs at the couch three times a day; this helped me perform the Biellmann spin, which is rare for a boy, and I still do it to this day. I did ballet exercises three times a day also, and practiced my programs twice a day. Thankfully the school was able to stay open when Taratovsky forfeited his small salary to keep it open, at least for a few months.

Igor Vassilievich met me there every day and watched me skate. The day after I told my parents what happened I told him my decision.

Wonderful! I will accompany you both to St. Petersburg, and there, Metrenkov will have a look at you and decide if you are worth the school’s investment.”

I felt a limp in my throat and my heart skipped a beat.

Alexander Metrenkov?” I choked out. I was stunned. Metrenkov was one of the finest teachers in the world! If I were to train under him, my future was the brightest it could be! “I must work harder, then.”

On the contrary, your current pace is just fine. We must impress Metrenkov when he sees you, not before. It will never do any good to overtrain.”

Yes, Igor Vassilievich.”

Mama decided to go with me, for the first few days at least. It was naturally hard for her to let me go. We packed all that we could for me, and then traveled over a thousand kilometers to get to St. Petersburg in March of 1994.

I was so excited to be there! The city was so beautiful, so alive with activity! The cathedrals, the palaces, the museums! Such fantastic architecture! So many people, so many diverse people! The very name of the city conjured up greatness. And the history, the sports achievements that were accomplished here… And now I was going to be a part of it, hopefully permanently! My adrenaline was pumping faster than ever as I went closer and closer to the rink. I couldn’t wait to see Metrenkov.

Once we arrived there, we went to some friends of ours, the Kuznetisov family.

I’m so nervous, Igor Vassilievich,” I said on the way to the rink on the day of the test.

Just remember what I taught you, Mitya. I know you can do this. Your progress is better than most Russians your age. Your best attribute is your expression. Your jumps are fantastic. Soon you will learn the triple Axel. I’m sure that Metrenkov will give you good marks.”

I’m still nervous,” I said quietly, looking out the window watching the sights pass me by. Igor smiled, sighed and shook his head. Truly, Igor Vassilievich's words only made me more nervous.

We walked into the rink, and while Igor Vassilievich told the receptionist who we were and why we were here, I watch the skaters practicing.

There, I saw the standards I would have to live up to in order to keep up the school’s reputation. Male skaters much older than I were practicing perfect triples of every jump. Female skaters were working on beautiful spirals and layback spins. Pairs skaters were learning throw triple jumps, backward inside death spirals, and ice dancers were working on their advanced choreography. I grew even more nervous when I saw a young boy about a meter and 20 tall with brown hair and green eyes only about two years older than I practice a perfect triple Lutz, followed by a triple loop. I froze, staring at this magnificent athlete. How could I possibly compare to him? I couldn't even do a Lutz, let alone a combination.

Mitya!” Igor whispered angrily. I snapped out of it and obediently followed him to Metrenkov. The hazel-eyed, gray-brown-haired, somewhat stout but tall older man seemed pleased to see me.

Hello there, boy. What’s your name?”

Dmitry Alexeievich Stanislavsky, sir,” I said, growing shy.

My heart was pounding hard and racing fast, my hands were sweating and my knees were trembling. My voice was shaking, and I was praying that I would do well with this test.

Mitya! Very good. We’ve heard many good things about you. I will be judging your performance to see if you are talented enough to train here. Go on and warm up.”

I nodded and put on my skates.

I skated out onto the ice, taking deep breaths and practicing my moves a little. My hands were shaking, but then I remembered my mother’s advice that would always help me to calm down no matter what: you must have faith. After a brief warm-up and skating around to the point that I was comfortable with the ice, I took a deep breath, waited for my music to start, and began my program.

I completed five triples and three doubles, some of which were combined for jump sequences or combinations, three spins, a spin combination, and two footwork sequences, one of which included a catch spiral, rare for most male skaters. It could have used some improvement, but it also could have been worse. My spins were actually better than my jumps. In the entire program I most likely messed up noticeably about three times. My landings could have been a little cleaner, but I was too nervous to notice. When you’re skating, you don’t have much time to comment to yourself about how you’re doing; you’re too busy concentrating on what comes next in your program, and how to do the moves, particularly the jumps. It looks easy, but that doesn’t mean it is. In fact, it is much harder than it looks. If your body is in the wrong position at the wrong place, the wrong time, you could end up in serious trouble.

When it was all over, I thanked God for letting me do as well as I did, and then the judges gave my scores. They could have been better, but I showed enough potential (barely) to get in!

Metrenkov led me to a training room. My muscles were so tense they hurt, but now was not the time to be nervous, or even thinking for that matter, on anything but ballet. There was another teacher in the room. I grew disappointed. Metrenkov wouldn’t be my teacher? Why not? I could be good like his students were… I could even be better! But only if Metrenkov was my teacher! Without him, I was nothing! I was… just another student!

Metrenkov went to the teacher; a younger, blonde man with a goatee named Arcadii Ivanovich Kerensky. He whispered to him, and the students continued their grand pliérs. Arcadii Ivanovich nodded and Metrenkov gently pushed me inside.

These students were much older than I was. They were in their late teens, even early twenties! And they still trained with an assistant? I had mixed feelings about this. If these students were as talented as I was, or vice-versa, then that could be either good or bad. It would be good because that would mean that I showed enough talent to fit into this age group. But it could be bad because my program wasn’t clean. Perhaps that was the only amount of talent I showed…

From the distance, I saw my two rivals that would shape my future as a skater: Mikhail Fedisov, the boy I saw earlier performing the triple-triple combination, would soon become my greatest rival on and off the ice. Alexei Ugarov, nine years older with brownish-reddish hair and hazel eyes, about a meter and 80 tall, would be entered in the Olympics four years after I came, as well as Fedisov. He would turn professional after that, but before he was one of my toughest competitors on the ice. Off the ice, however, things would be quite different. Alexei would be the only real friend I would have there.

I took my place behind Fedisov. He shot me a dirty look. We were not permitted to talk, but he would have words with me soon enough.

I took a deep breath and joined them in their exercises.

During lunch, there was only one table with an extra seat at it, so I had to sit there. Ugarov and Fedisov were there, as well as some of the other older students, and a girl who was my age.

When I placed my things on the table, Fedisov laughed.

The kid thinks since he’s training with us he has the right to sit with us too!” Ugarov looked at him as if to scold him. Misha became silent.

Misha, give him a break. He’s making a lot of sacrifices to get where he will be in a few years. And believe me,” he said to me, “it will all be worth it.”

I was silent. I did not like this Misha. He seemed too arrogant, too conceited, and too competitive to appreciate the art of skating.

How old are you, kid?” Alexei asked.

Eleven,” I said shyly.

Oh! This is my sister, Elena! She’s ten, and she’s a skater too. Perhaps you could teach her a thing or two,” he said smiling. I smiled too. “My name is Alexei Sergeievich Ugarov. I came here when I was fourteen. I’ve been here for six years, so I can show you the ropes. This is Mikhail Fedisov; he arrived a few months ago.”

Six years and you still train with an assistant?” I asked. If this were true, I would probably never get to train with Metrenkov! Then I remembered my manners. “I’m Dmitry Alexeievich Stanislavsky, by the way.”

Alexei nodded, impressed.

Ah, yes, they’ve been anticipating your arrival for months now. You must have been who Metrenkov was testing today. I train with him, but obviously he wasn’t able to teach this morning. He’ll be able to teach the second half, though.”

When did you first get to be his student?”

When I was seventeen.”

Is that the typical age?” I asked eager to learn all I could of his teachings.

It has nothing to do with age. It has to do with talent. Misha, for example, is already training with him, and he arrived here only two months ago. Metrenkov will test you once in a while to see how you are doing, and if you do well enough then you’ll train with him. If you have some talent, you stay with the assistant, but depending on the amount of talent you have, you might have to pay for everything. If you have no talent, or not enough, you’re out permanently.”

A chill ran down my spine and I almost choked on my water. Permanently? That couldn’t happen to me… could it?

That’s scary,” I said.

Alexei laughed.

Oh, believe me, if you are as talented as they have heard you were, you’ll be coached by him in no time.”

As soon as Alexei said this, Misha narrowed his eyes and left the table.

I don’t think he likes me,” I said looking after him.

Oh, don’t let Misha get to you. He’s young. He has a competitive spirit. Quite normal for his age.”

I hope I never get like him,” I said.

Alexei laughed.

Everyone gets a little macho once in their lives, Mitya. Enjoy it! You’re young. Live your life! Try not to be so serious all the time!”

I smiled and blushed. I guess I did tend to be serious a lot lately, didn’t I?

After lunch, we practiced on the rink. I’d never been so nervous before. Arcadii Ivanovich had to ask me questions before I was allowed to skate.

What jumps do you know?”

Toe loop, Rittberger, flip, Axel, Salchow, falling leaf, and the waltz.”

How many revolutions can you do with these jumps?”

I can do double-double combinations. I can also do triples, but none in combination.” Then came the hard part. “I also can’t do the triple Axel, and I don’t know the Lutz yet, even as a single.”

Kerensky took a deep breath.

Well, as soon as you warm up, we’ll see the jumps, as doubles, so we can see what we need to work with in your technique. Then we’ll see your spins that you know, and maybe teach you some new ones. Perhaps you are flexible enough to do a cannonball. We'll work on the Lutz soon enough,” he added.

Yes, Arcadii Ivanovich,” I stammered, and went to warm up.

I skated near Ugarov and Fedisov.

He’s going to teach me the triple Lutz,” I said quietly and nervously.

Misha stifled a laugh.

You mean, you don’t know how to do a triple Lutz, and you’re here?”

I sighed as Misha burst out laughing. Alexei smiled at me gently, like a big brother watching out for his little brother.

It’s not as hard as you think it is. The more you practice it, the more naturally it will come to you. But no matter what, don’t forget to concentrate. If you don’t concentrate on an element that seems natural to you, typically you mess it up big time. Keep your shoulders directly in line with your hips. Do not move your left shoulder back, or even look over your left shoulder. You’ll lose rotation. That’s the key to any jump. Got it?”

Thanks, I’ll remember that,” I said, still nervous. Alexei laughed.

Don’t worry. You’ll fit in here faster than you can say ‘Ivan the Terrible.’” I raised my eyebrows and laughed. Alexei laughed too. “Just trust me and stick with me. I’ll help you out; I’m a real veteran here. I have to practice at three this afternoon, would you like to join me? We’ll see how your jumps progress.”

Okay.” Arcadii Ivanovich blew his whistle. I cringed. I knew I shouldn’t have talked…

No talking! You are here to skate, not to chitchat! Mitya, come here now!” My first day at this great school and I was already getting scolded! I was lucky that he didn’t do that sooner! I was also lucky that I didn’t get kicked out for that… This was Russian classes, not your softhearted American classes. I bowed my head and skated over, ashamed.

I certainly hope you didn’t act this way in Ekaterinburg,” he said seriously, as if he truly hoped that wasn’t true.

No, Arcadii Ivanovich. And I’m sorry. It will never happen again.”

See that it doesn’t. Now, if you’re ready, we’ll begin working on getting the triple loop, triple toe loop, and triple flip. You must learn how to make these jumps flow. That’s what matters in skating. I see from your tapes that you are a strong jumper. You just need to get more flow out of them. I shall teach you this. We’ll work on the harder jumps tomorrow.”

Yes, Arcadii Ivanovich,” I said relieved. The Axel had to wait another day…

It took some time, but I finally reviewed my triples. They were fine, but hardly like those of a Russian. With Arcadii Ivanovich’s help, I was able to master the jumps with just the right mixture of grace and power, just like a Russian. It was good to know the triple loop, even though it was a basic jump.

When you first learned the Axel, how did your coach teach it to you?”

He had me do waltz-loop combinations,” I explained. Arcadii Ivanovich nodded.

Exactly. Well, once you know the triple loop, you’ve got the triple Axel down perfectly. Try a few waltz-triple loop combinations before practice tomorrow.”

Yes, Arcadii Ivanovich.”

That afternoon, Elena, Alexei, and I skated around the rink.

Has Arcadii Ivanovich taught you the basic preparation for the triple Axel yet?”

He told me to do waltz-triple loop combinations,” I said.

Right. Let’s see them.”

I skated out and did a waltz, then tried the triple loop. I two-footed it, then fell backwards. I was disappointed, but Alexei nodded, almost as if he expected that to happen. I didn’t understand his reaction. Didn’t he know how good I was?

It gets that way for beginners. You have to remember you’re not doing singles or doubles anymore. Don’t forget about the shoulder alignment, and use your hips to rotate.”

Okay.”

Behind me, Elena was practicing double Salchows. I was quite impressed with her; and I suppose I was impressed, and even drawn to, more than her technique…

Gorgeous, Lena. Now think of the character you’re portraying in the music. Let the audience feel the same thing your character is feeling. Use your body to tell the story. That’s the whole point. Let the character wrap itself around you.”

I thought of this good advice. I decided to try it, using a triple flip. My arms flowed outward, reaching out to the crowd. I was barely able to stop the rotation, but I surprisingly made it. It was quite unusual for me, but Alexei liked it.

Excellent, Mitya. You’ll be on Arcadii Ivanovich’s good side in no time, with the talent I see here.”

You think so?” I asked in the middle of my preparation.

I did the waltz and was pathetic at it. It looked like a terrible attempt at a cartwheel. Alexei couldn’t help laughing at my bone-headedness. I just screwed up the easiest jump in the world! How pathetic was that? I couldn’t help laughing, either.

Don’t forget to concentrate. Remember, skating is 80% mental, 20% physical.”

Okay,” I said, and tried the waltz-loop combination again. I two-footed it, then fell flat on my face. I got up, snow covering my face. Alexei tried not to laugh.

Well, that was better, but you must work harder if you want to truly master this. Anyway, that’s enough practice for now. I’ll see you tomorrow in school, okay?”

Okay.”

The next few weeks were a chore. The school was kind enough to provide my mother and I with money for food, clothing, and any other essentials we needed, including a room in a shared apartment. I was to stay there with my mother. They said they would do anything and everything to keep me there. I guess that proved that I was as talented as they thought I was! Still, I couldn’t help dreading the moment of truth, the test that Alexei had told me about. My muscles tense up every time I think about it, even to this day…

As soon as I passed the school’s test, I had a lot of organizing to do. The school had me sign a contract asking for a “future return on the school’s investment.” I was puzzled and worried about this. Figure skating is undoubtedly one of the most expensive sports of all, if not the most. It’s even more expensive if you are an eligible skater, in the juniors or seniors. This “future return,” how soon was that future? And when that future came, what if I couldn’t return the favor? Skating at Karilyevsky was something that I had to take into extreme consideration… yet it was also a decision that seemed like there was only one right answer to…

I’ll do it,” I said boldly, and signed the contract. Mama smiled approvingly.


I sat at my desk reliving these memories when Marie’s hand gently touched my shoulder.

Are you okay? You look sad.”

No, I’m all right. Just thinking.” I sighed.

You want to talk about it?” I paused. Maybe it would help if I talked to someone about my troubles. But would she understand? Even I was confused about it! I also hoped I could explain it in English…

It’s quite strange, I warn you. I miss my homeland, but I want to forget all about it. I can’t explain why… My English is not advanced enough.”

I’m sorry. Anything I can do to help?” I smiled sadly.

No, I’m afraid not.”

Just then a voice over the intercom said, “May I have your attention please, we are now finished with the inspection. We have found that some students are using drugs before they come to school.”

You mean, they just figured that out?” Marie said, pretending to be stunned. I laughed. I couldn’t help it! Danielle laughed too. After a few more words, we were told to go to our lunch and study hall periods.

I sat with Marie for lunch and study hall. Both were a half-hour. Then we went to European History class.

Just curious, but are we ever going to learn anything in European history?” I asked on the way, hoping I could get her mind off of my history and onto the class of European history.

Depends on how far we get. Mr. Whitmore said we would be lucky if we get to the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Besides, whatever few things about Russia that we study are going to be a review for you anyway, right?” I laughed. She was certainly naïve, wasn’t she?

Depends on what the instructor plans to go over, and what the government let us study.” Marie laughed and nodded.

Good point.”

Two hours later, we walked into French class trying to wake up. As soon as I walked in, I did wake up!

This classroom was beautiful, so festive! This was probably the most decorated room in the whole building! Replicas and pictures of the Eiffel tower were everywhere, as well as the Arc de Triumphe replicas and pictures. A large French flag hung on the wall in the back, the first thing you saw as soon as you walked in. I was stunned! Fleurs de lis hung at the tops of the blackboards, and cardboard and paper shields made the room complete, hanging around the room from the ceiling. Somehow, they did not seem out of place, even though they were not French shields.

What’s with the shields?” I asked in awe of everything.

Mrs. Shotsky teaches French and Humanities. The shields were a project that her students for Humanities had to do.”

This room is beautiful! I’ve never seen so many decorations in a classroom before.”

Yeah, I know. If they held a decorating contest, I guarantee that she’d win!”

Yeah. The other rooms are so boring compared to this one. Like last period. That room was boring, completely lifeless; it reflected the class. I never thought I would sleep during class! If I had done that in Russia, I wouldn’t be here! I would’ve been kicked out of there faster than lightning!” Marie laughed.

Believe me, Whitmore’s so boring that anyone can sleep during his class! And the best thing about it is, it’s easy to get away with!”

I laughed.

So what are we going to do in here?” I asked sitting down. I had a feeling that this was going to be a fun class. With decorations like this, you’d think that the teacher was excited about her subjects that she taught.

Nothing, probably.”

My heart sank, disappointed. I always wanted to learn French! I think it drives girls wild! If I could learn French, that might give me a chance with that Brandi… if she was available…

Okay, what do we usually do in here?” I asked, praying that the answer had something to do with work.

Usually anything we want. But once in a while we work, when it’s important or mandatory to.” I was exasperated. This teacher actually put up with that?

When do we learn?” Marie laughed. She didn’t think I was joking, did she?

The class put on a movie and two small groups of about six students each were playing cards. I sighed as I watched the “true” Cinderella story. It was rather interesting, but my vocabulary was not advanced enough for a two and a half-hour movie. I could hardly understand what they were saying. Sometimes the lead actress sounded like she was crying. She was good at acting, but I couldn’t understand a word. And I could not deal with watching a movie when there were studies to learn! We never watched movies in school back in Russia. And we definitely didn’t play cards! We just worked. My classmates in Russia probably worked more in one month than these Americans did in one year! I sighed.

I guess I have to get used to the way things are done in this country,” I said sadly. “Since I’m moving here.”

Zdrastvuitje,” she suddenly said cheerfully. She spoke Russian? Could this be true?

Zdrastvuitje,” I replied, confused. Perhaps this was too much to hope for… I asked her if she spoke Russian fluently, and she replied that she learned the entire language from her babushka (grandmother). I complimented her on her accent, which was quite good for an American her age.

Spasibo bolshoe!” she replied.

Why are you doing this?” I asked, agonized.

Sorry. I just thought it might help you feel more at home.”

Well, it’s a nice try, but I’d like to just forget about Russia, if that’s okay.” Marie looked upset. “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. I had not meant my words to hurt her as much as they had.

No offense taken,” she said quietly, and turned away, writing in her notebook.

I felt terrible. She was just trying to help me feel better! How could I be such a rat!

Marie spoke Russian quite well for an American, but I wanted to be among my own people, with my own language. Marie’s accent was fine, her grammar was perfect, but it was her tone that I didn’t like. It was so… artificial! It was like she had only a small idea of what she was saying. Back home, I didn’t have to deal with that. Besides, sooner or later I knew I would have to return to English. I didn’t want to abandon everything I loved. Still, it was nice that she was trying to help me feel better. I had been in a sad mood all day, and besides, she probably felt the same way about me!

Marie had been writing in her notebook all day. She seemed infatuated with whatever she was working on. Perhaps it was some school project…

What are you writing?”

Just a story.”

What’s it about?” Marie rolled her eyes. Apparently she was still angry with me. I couldn’t blame her.

It’s about a boy who comes to the US from the Ukraine after his parents’ deaths. He goes to live with his brother, who he thought was dead because he defected. The government kept that secret from him and his family. And the older brother had no contact with his family for ten years. None at all.” Hmm. Perhaps she was not as naïve about Russia as I thought… Such a scenario was quite realistic.

Sad story. Is it true?”

I hope not, ‘cause I don’t want to get sued!” she joked.

I laughed.

I mean, did you get the idea for it from real life events?”

Oh! No, I just made it up.”

Ah. Is it for a class or is it for fun?” Marie smiled, blushing.

It’s just for fun. I want to be a writer.”

I smiled. Someone American was interested in the arts! I had a feeling that she and I would get along just fine…

I thought of the story she described to me. It reminded me of my relationship with my father. I didn’t stay out of touch with him for that long, but it was like an eternity just the same.

The Test

Thanks to Lyosha and Arcadii Ivanovich, the triple Axel was my strongest and most beautiful jump in my repertoire. Mama got a job working as a doctor’s assistant, barely making enough to buy the few things we needed that the school would not cover. Alexei was like a big brother to me; we would meet three times a week for practice after school. The practices were something that I really appreciated, and enjoyed. If it weren’t for Alexei, I could never have learned that triple Axel. Arcadii Ivanovich helped as best he could, but it was really thanks to Alexei that I got the whole concept of the Axel down. He gave me suggestions that no one else did. I learned not only when to know that I had just enough height to do a triple, but also how not to over or under-rotate the jump! I learned how to keep my body aligned perfectly and control my landings with great flow. If by chance I would step out of it, he taught me to just act as if I was turning, use my strength to keep my leg from going down too soon, and use my arms expressively. At the same time, he would help Elena do her routines. I smiled one day as we were watching her. She was in a beautiful but plain blue dress with sequins and glitter on it. She did a beautiful forward spiral, and I was drawn to her. She was so beautiful doing the spins; she was just about as expressive as I was…

You know, you’d make an excellent coach,” I said to Lyosha. “Look what you did for me, and your sister’s progress is coming along wonderfully. Think you might want to do something like become a coach or choreographer after you quit skating?” Alexei laughed.

I have no intention of quitting anytime soon,” he said. “I’ve won almost every competition that I have been in, but there are a few that have always eluded me: the Russian Nationals, the European Championships, and the Olympics. I want to win these before I retire, not to mention turn pro on a high note. I want to leave when I am unbeatable, and considering the amount of time I have, I think I’ll be able to do it.”

Well, good luck,” I said. “I can’t thank you enough for helping me. Thanks to you, I’m sure I’ll pass Metrenkov’s test with the colors soaring, whenever he throws it at me.” Alexei grew concerned.

You can’t let the thought of the test get to your head. It’ll get you so nervous that you’ll start messing up things. Trust me, I know. I’ve seen it happen with a few people when they first come here, and usually they lose everything. They have potential enough to be stars, but because they are so afraid they are unable to do it. Skate for the thrill of skating, not Metrenkov’s test.” I appreciated his advice, but I sort of let it go in one ear and out the other. I would live to regret that for a long time.

I did not count on the test coming so late after I arrived. It was two years after I first came to St. Petersburg. I had just spent five hours practicing and learning how to do the Lutz. It’s not as bad as you might think. That amount of time included regular ballet warm-ups and stretching, which took one hour, working on my programs’ choreography, which was one hour per program, and then I started working on the Lutz. I thought that was the hardest jump, even as a single. It seemed to be impossible for me to do. I knew it could be done, but I didn’t think I would ever be able to get it right.

Head up, Mitya!” Kerensky cried from the stands. “Shoulders back, right shoulder ahead of your hips. Keep the left shoulder right where the hip is. Do not let it go before or after the hip. You can use your hips to help you rotate, just like any other jump.” I held my head up and put my shoulders back. I leaned forward, put my right leg in back of me, my right shoulder forward and kept my left shoulder where it should be, and took off using a back outside edge. I thought my height was good enough for a double, but apparently I thought wrong.

I’ll never get this right! I thought after I fell. I had an urge to shout that, but I knew better. Things were so strict that if I barely whispered something like that, I would be out of there permanently before I could say “Stop!” Behind me, Misha Fedisov did a triple Lutz flawlessly! I narrowed my eyes, envying him. Showoff! Why was it so easy for him? Kerensky rolled his eyes.

You’re not giving it enough force, Mitya! Wait until if feels right! Trust the ice!” I sighed and tried again… and again… and again. Finally, Kerensky shook his head and said, “All right, Mitya. That’s enough for today. You should not overtrain. It will only make things worse.”

Yes, Arcadii Ivanovich,” I said, and went home. I was not exactly paying attention to that advice, which did not seem like advice to me at the time, but I would learn the hard way that it was probably the best piece of advice I would ever receive.

Instead of resting, I took care of some things that needed to be done. I dusted, made dinner, cleaned the walls, and vacuumed. Just as I was finished vacuuming, I heard the telephone ring. Igor Vassilievich had said that he would tell my father to get in touch with me, so I thought it was him. I rushed to the phone and almost killed myself tripping over the vacuum cleaner cord.

Hello?” I asked breathless.

Dmitry Stanislavsky?” The man’s voice was unfamiliar to me.

Yes?” I asked confused.

There’s two men and a woman here to see you. Shall I send them in?”

Who could it be?

Certainly, thank you.”

I opened the door, a big smile on my face to greet whoever it was. As soon as I saw them, my smile fell.

Oh, Arcadii Ivanovich, come in. Happy to see you.”

You don’t look it,” Kerensky pointed out. He missed nothing, did he?

Well, I’m just tired, that’s all. I had a pretty long day today.”

Dmitry, this is Irina Pavlovna, the manager of the school,” he said, motioning to a woman dressed in a blue business suit. “And of course you know Alexander Metrenkov.”

Dmitry, we were beginning to wonder whether you are worthy of our investment that we have in you,” Irina said. My heart skipped a beat. What? “We feel you aren’t measuring up to our… expectations.”

I couldn’t believe this. After all that I’d worked for? All that I’d done? Was it all going to be thrown away just like that? This was bad news, all right. My situation was precarious. I hadn’t forgotten what Alexei Ugarov had told me, about the tests.

My performance? It isn’t good enough?”

You have been slipping a lot in practice, Dmitry,” Metrenkov pointed out. I didn’t understand. How could he know about my practices?

You were watching my practices?”

Arcadii Ivanovich is one of my assistants, Dmitry. He has told me of how you have been…” he paused as if trying to find the right word, “… progressing lately.” I cringed as I thought of all the mistakes that I had made that day. Was I really such a failure?

If you can even call it that,” Arcadii Ivanovich interrupted softly. “I must admit that you have much greater potential than what we are seeing.”

Well, I’m just tired! I can do better! I will do better! Just give me another chance! Please don’t send me away.” I said that last sentence out of impulse. I realized after I said it that just because I wasn’t doing well lately that didn’t mean that I would be sent away. But it was too late to take such a statement back…

We need you to take a test to see if you are still worthy of our investment. You have three weeks to come up with three programs containing all of these elements,” Irina said, handing me some papers. “If the judges think you are talented enough, then you may stay.”

Thank you.”

Madame Pavlovna and Alexander Nicholaevich left. As Kerensky was about to, I stopped him.

Arcadii Ivanovich, help me. Please.”

I will do what I can to keep you here. But it can not be done without sacrifice and hard work.”

Yes, Arcadii Ivanovich. I will do whatever you ask.”

He and I laid the plan. I had three weeks to create, practice, and perfect three different programs. We decided that I would do ballet exercises three times a day, take half the day for classes (from eleven in the morning till twelve in the afternoon) and then from twelve-thirty in the afternoon to six o’clock at night, I would work on the programs. I also promised myself (and I kept this part secret from Kerensky) that I would get up at four-thirty in the morning stretch, exercise, then go to school, and when I got home I would do exercises again and practice my programs’ dance moves in my apartment. Then I would sleep. Another thing I kept secret from him was that I would eat a piece of fruit for breakfast, lunch at school, and when I got home from the rink for the night, I would have a small dinner. I didn’t eat a lot to begin with, but I decided to cut down anyway. This school was strict.

I started promptly the next morning. My alarm went off right on schedule and I groggily wondered why I set it for that time. I was about to go back to sleep when I remembered. I got up, took a shower, got dressed, and began stretching and warming up. My apartment wasn’t really my apartment; it was shared with others, who fought and drank. I hoped I wouldn’t disturb anyone when I got up, but most of them were probably too drunk to notice anyway.

I did pliérs, grand pliérs, and relevées. I practiced some other moves as well as a few arabesques. I exercised for as long as I could, taking a few breaks in between to catch my breath and rest for a few seconds. At about six o’clock I heard my mother get up. I put some dishes in the sink and washed them, even though they were already clean.

Aren’t you eating, Mitya?” my mother asked.

I already ate, Mama,” I lied. Mama was puzzled and concerned, but she shrugged, believing my lie.

That day I went to school. During the afternoon I felt so dizzy and lightheaded. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. It didn’t last long, so I ignored it.

That evening, I went to practice with Alexei and Elena. He knew something was wrong.

You’ve been very quiet today, my friend. Is something the matter?”

Metrenkov wants to test me. I’ve been so awful in practice. I don’t know what to do. Am I really as awful as they make it seem to be?”

Alexei smiled gently at me, just as he had when he first met me.

Just because you don’t train with a great coach doesn’t mean you’re not a great skater. It’s all about true talent. I believe you have this talent, and I believe Arcadii Ivanovich sees this too; otherwise, he wouldn’t have put up with you for as long as he has.”

Yes, I suppose that’s true,” I said thinking of this. “But still, the pressure!”

No one ever became an Olympic champion by slacking off. I don’t think there’s a sport in the world that doesn’t require some type of hard work, and I believe that figure skating is one of the hardest. Pressure? Well, you can see it as a sign that you need to work more on a certain aspect, or, and this is the part I see most in young skaters, you could see it as a way of telling you that everything is wrong. I guarantee you that that is something you don’t want. It will be your downfall before you even start to become a star. I know. I’ve seen it happen. That is why competition is so tight. There are only a few young skaters out there with true talent. I believe that you are one of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you go as far as I believe you can. As the Americans say, the sky is the limit.”

I should have listened to him… I did listen, but I didn’t follow his advice… I should have though…

I would practice with Alexei and Elena for three times a week. The first time after I started my new training schedule wasn’t so bad, but the second time I wasn’t able to concentrate. My mind told me what to do, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. Finally I told Alexei that I was tired, and I needed to rest, which wasn’t a lie.

Certainly,” he said understandably. “The last thing you want to do is overtrain.”

I went home and rested. I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up with a cold cloth on my forehead. It was the middle of the night, and my mother was sleeping nearby on a chair. I felt so hot. I looked at the clock. It was three-thirty. I groaned softly as I thought of waking up in an hour. I fell back asleep in no time.

When I woke up it was daylight. I hardly had any strength. My mother came over and knelt beside me.

What happened, Mama?”

You have a fever, darling. It’s nothing too serious, but I don’t think you should be going to practice or school today.” My mother held me down gently but forcefully as I tried to get up.

But I can’t afford that! I need to skate!”

Don’t be ridiculous, Mitya. You don’t even have the strength to get out of bed. Kerensky can wait. Now rest.”

Kerensky can wait, but the test can’t! I thought, panicked. I knew she had a point, but my life was at stake!

A few days later, I went to practice. I still wasn’t feeling 100% better, but this couldn’t wait. Arcadii Ivanovich scolded me as soon as I walked in.

What happened, Mitya?”

I was sick for some reason. I’m okay now, but before I was unable to move.”

Well, let’s pick up where we left off. Now, how about the spread eagle into triple Axel?” I nodded and skated into it. My triple Axel turned out to be a single, two-footed. I could tell he wasn’t pleased.

Again,” he commanded. I tried five more times, and I never got the triple. I got two doubles, all two-footed, and three singles, one turn-out, the other two tow-footed.

All right, Mitya. Let’s see the Lutz-loop combination.” I did a double Lutz with a half-rotated loop. That was something I had never done. Arcadii Ivanovich narrowed his eyes. I could tell he was furious.

Mitya! Come here!”

I skated over, my head bowed and aching. Despite the coldness of the ice, I was hot, almost burning.

Are you 100% better today?”

Not really,” I admitted reluctantly. It just wouldn’t pay lying to him.

Then go home. I don’t want to see you get worse.”

But I’m well enough to skate!” I protested. “I need to work on these programs. Please!”

No! You must not skate when you are not healthy. Come back when you feel better.” I sighed and did as I was told. It was no use arguing with him; I knew he had my best interests at heart.

I went home and rested. After a few hours I was much better. I went to the rink to practice with Lyosha. To my great confusion, surprise and happiness, Elena was there, but Alexei wasn’t.

Where’s Lyosha?” I asked.

He’d never missed a practice. Was something wrong? Little did I know that I would be thanking him for not being there. This was my chance to spend some real time with Elena…

Oh, he had some things to take care of with Mama. He said you didn’t have to practice if you didn’t want to.”

Oh, that’s okay. I think I’ll stay and practice. I need the conditioning. Maybe I can help you, too. What are you working on?”

Triple flips.”

Oh! I know how to do them. How are you coming along?”

It’s very confusing. Can you help me?”

Certainly!” I gave her the same advice that Igor Vassilievich had given me when I was in Ekaterinburg. Then I demonstrated.

What do you think?”

Elena tried it, but she two-footed it, then fell.

It’s okay. It gets like that at first. Come on. I’ll show you the entrance. What kind of approach are you using?”

Three-turn.”

I nodded. A typical approach, but Lena needed something more to enhance her presentation…

That’s good enough, but have you ever tried a bracket turn?”

Elena shook her head.

Well, it’s like this.” After showing her, I showed her a reverse bracket, then a triple flip.

Wow! No wonder they say you’re so good! That was gorgeous!”

I blushed.

Thanks.”

What other jumps do you know?”

I blushed even more and shrugged modestly.

Well, I know all of them, but the Lutz is my most difficult one. Want to see my triple Axel?”

Elena smiled. I went into it and did a solid performance. Out of pure instinct I placed a double toe loop at the end of it.

Oh, that was so beautiful!” Lena marveled. “I bet you can do a triple Lutz if you just put your mind to it,” she dared.

I thought for a moment, and took my approach, slow and shaky, then stopped.

I can’t,” I said simply. “I’m afraid I’ll get hurt,” I confessed. That was the first time it escaped my lips. That was why I was doing so poorly? Because I was afraid? I narrowed my eyes and sped into the entrance, picking my right leg into the ice. I turned in the air, once, twice, finally three times and landed on one foot! It was shaky, but it was a miracle to me! I suppose I amazed even myself! I realized then that I could do any jump as long as I relaxed and concentrated! This test would be a breeze!

When I was doing a flying camel I got so dizzy that I had to stop. It was like I had no energy at all.

I’m sorry, Elena,” I said reluctantly and weakly, “but I’m just so weak right now. I should go and get some rest.”

Okay, go ahead. It’s not good to strain yourself.”

There was that advice again. I don’t know why I didn’t listen…

I went home and ate a small dinner. Mama was concerned about something.

Darling, are you sure you’re feeling all right? Arcadii Ivanovich said he was worried about you. And you do look rather pale. Are you getting another fever?” She felt my forehead. I smiled.

No, Mama. I’m fine. It’s all right.”

You know you can count on me if there’s a problem, right?”

I nodded.

Of course, Mama.”

I decided not to get up as early as I did before. There was just no reason to. I got up at quarter after five instead of four thirty. I just did basic ballet warm-ups. I still ate fruit for breakfast. I did not eat much lunch or dinner. I had no problem with it. Things were going fine… until a week later…

I was in school and my friend Ivan Kleemovich, a Jewish figure skater, and I were talking excitedly about the upcoming math test.

I can’t wait,” I said. “I’ll nail it!”

Ivan smiled.

Yeah, me too.” Then he looked at me strangely, as the hallway seemed to spin around faster and faster. What was going on? “What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

I’m fine,” I said weakly. “I’m just a little lightheaded and dizzy, that’s all.”

Should we tell the nurse?”

No, I’m fine,” I said, trying to remain standing.

Okay,” he said, and walked away. As soon as he was gone, I stumbled to class. I hoped he didn’t see me, but I had a feeling he knew what was “wrong” with me…

One day, Alexei asked if I would join him and Elena for dinner after practice. I accepted enthusiastically. It was good to spend time with the both of them off ice, especially Lena. Once we got to the restaurant, I noticed how fattening and greasy the food on the menu was. I ordered a fish sandwich and French fries. I ate about half of what I ordered, and let the rest sit there. But the way I arranged the food it looked like I ate a lot more than that. After dinner, I was about to go home when Alexei stopped me.

You’re a fantastic actor, you know?” he said emotionlessly.

What do you mean?” I asked.

Alexei looked so afraid for me. What was he talking about? Was something wrong?

Mitya, why aren’t you eating?” My heart skipped a beat. How could he know? He wasn’t watching me, was he? I tried not to panic.

What are you talking about, Lyosha?”

You’re only hurting yourself by not eating. Food is the source of energy. Didn’t you know that?”

You can’t tell me what is right and wrong! I know I can pass the test this way. You’re wrong!”

Net, Dmitry. You are the wrong one. I’m telling you, if you do not take care of yourself, I guarantee you’ll be sorry!”

Yeah, right! You’ll see!” I cried, and stormed out. I would regret that for a long time. I still do.

The next day, my secret was out. Metrenkov called me into his office. I felt so nervous! Only for serious instances did anyone get called to his office!

Dmitry, a reliable sourcre has told me of your eating habits. Do you care to elaborate?”

He’s lying,” I declared. “I don’t know why he would be, but he is. Alexander Nicholaevich, I eat just like the other skaters do. Full, healthy meals. Ask my mother! I eat a big breakfast with her every morning, and dinner with her at night. I eat a full lunch at school, and a snack.”

Really?” he asked, unconvinced. “This test coming up, how do you feel about it? Are you nervous?”

I hung my head.

Who wouldn’t be?” I admitted. “Of course I am. Look at me. I’m a total failure…”

That’s not true. You have great talent on the inside; we just need to figure out how to get this talent on the outside. You do tremendous triple flips, and your triple Axel is phenomenal. You are elegant and graceful, powerful, and your expression on the ice with your programs is such that I have only seen with Vassily Filipenkov. You wouldn’t be here without these attributes. You are a much better skater than you think. One of the most important things in skating or in anything for that matter is confidence. Achieve that, and you can achieve anything.”

Yes, Alexander Nicholaevich.”

Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be... He did have a point, at least…

During practice, Arcadii Ivanovich paid more attention to my skating than I ever noticed before. I didn’t know why, but I had a feeling… I did my best, but things were shaky. I hoped he wouldn’t give me a lecture… I’d had enough lectures for one week…

When I came home, Mama was waiting for me sternly.

Have you ever heard of Karen Carpenter?” she asked when I walked in. I almost laughed. Who?

No. Why? Who is she?”

She was a singer in the ‘70s. She was in one of the biggest-selling bands in history.”

Has she flipped her top? Why the sudden interest in her?

So do you want a CD of hers or something?”

Mama’s eyes narrowed. I could not understand her reaction. It was just a guess!

No. I want you to know about her life, not her career.” She handed (more like shoved) me a book. “Read.”

I didn’t understand, but I didn’t want to risk my mother’s wrath either, no matter if she was acting strangely. Why she wanted me to read about this unknown and unimportant (to me anyway) person I didn’t know at the time, but I would soon find out. I read this book and a chill ran down my spine. Anorexia? You can die from anorexia?

That was the biggest warning I had received, and I still didn’t obey it. It wasn’t that I didn’t listen, or that I didn’t want to eat. It was like this was a part of me, I was addicted to id! And I was afraid. I was afraid that this disease would consume me just like it did the Carpenter woman. I did the only thing I could do; I got help.

That day, Alexei was having practice with Lena. He was angry with me for lying to Metrenkov; he wouldn’t let me practice with him anymore…

I walked into the rink and went over to Alexei.

Lyosha, I’m sorry. You were right. I need help. I can’t go on like this. Please tell me what I can do.”

Alexei was not facing me.

You think this makes up for what you said?”

No,” I answered before he could finish. “I need help. I don’t know what to do. It’s like it’s becoming part of me. Please, Lyosha. If you don’t help me now, then I’ll end up like Karen Carpenter!”

Alexei laughed.

Who’s Karen Carpenter?” he asked puzzled.

I smiled and shook my head.

I’ll explain later. I didn’t know who she was either. I didn’t care who she was. But I do know that I need some type of help. Please.”

Giving up not eating is harder than you think, Mitya. You might have to go to counseling… or worse.”

I hung my head. What type of mess did I get myself into?

I don’t care what type of help I have to get. But I need help.”

Talk to Arcadii Ivanovich, Alexander Nicholaevich, and your mother. Together, you will all decide the help you need.”

Thank you, Lyosha. I’m indebted to you for the rest of my life.”

I was about to walk away when Lyosha stopped me. He looked me in the eye and hugged me gently.

I will support you, also,” he said.

Watching, Lena skated over to us. I blushed as I saw her eyes sparkle when she smiled. She hugged me too.

I can’t bear to see you hurting yourself.”

I went home and got something to eat. I simply made myself a sandwich, and picked at it. But I forced myself to eat the rest, trying to forget the addiction I had. As I ate this food, I realized how much I needed it. I felt ready for anything! Lyosha was right; food was the source of energy. I don’t know what I was thinking before, but that book was a real wake-up call for me. I realized then that if I was going to perform well on ice, I had to make sure I took proper care of myself off the ice, like the other skaters did.

But the trouble was, I didn’t want to be like the other skaters. I wanted to create a name for myself. I wanted to prove to the world that I could be the best there ever was and ever will be. I wanted to win as many competitions as possible. I wanted to leave my mark in the record books. I was so worried that I wouldn’t measure up to the school’s expectations, and that I wouldn’t be as talented as everyone thought I was, or hoped I was. My goal in life was simple: I wanted to win as many competitions as possible. That way, I could buy a place to live. The apartment my mother and I lived in was small and shared with others, who were just awful to my mother and I. They drank and fought, and they actually expected us to clean up their messes! There was so much shouting… I couldn’t stand it… I cried myself to sleep the first week I got there. The bathroom and shower facilities were shared with the others. It was not a life I was proud of by any means. Still, it was a place to live - better than the streets, anyway. But renting an apartment of my own was my goal in life. I didn’t want to become an astronaut, or a famous politician; I just wanted to buy a decent place to live.

My mother came home with reddened eyes. I was in the middle of dinner when she came in.

Oh, darling! You’re eating!” she said, as if it were a miracle.

I let out a laugh, even though I knew it was very serious.

Yes, Mama. I’m eating. It’s not much, but it’s difficult. I can make you a sandwich too if you want.”

Thank you, dear.”

No, I should thank you. You opened my eyes. Lord knows what would’ve happened to me if I had not known about that addiction. For that, I thank you.”

I trust this will not happen again?” she asked knowingly.

You’re right, Mama. It will never happen again.”

Thank God!” she said, and embraced me.

Were you crying?” I asked worried.

I was at the hospital. Just to visit the children. They suffer so much!”

I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t know you had an interest in charity,” I said.

Well, I have a lot of interests, Mitya. It is a big world.”

Why don’t we go there together sometime, Mama? They might have heard of me, and if not, when I’m famous they’ll remember the day they met me and be happy!”

Mama paused.

Uh, no, Mitya. I don’t think it’s a good idea right now. I’m going to be very busy in the next few weeks. I doubt we’ll have much time together, and when we are together, I doubt you’ll want to be with me.”

Why?”

Just trust me.”

I didn’t understand, but I just shrugged and forgot about it. Later, I would find out what was wrong with her, but there would be nothing I could do; it would be too late.

I talked with Arcadii Ivanovich, Alexander Nicholaevich, and my mother, just as Lyosha had suggested. It was decided that I have some sort of help since I was not completely healed, and there was a chance of this happening again. We all agreed that counseling was the answer. I would go to meetings once a week, and tell the people there about how I was doing. It wasn’t just about eating habits, but about other things too; school, skating, anything I wanted to talk about that was bothering me. I was eternally grateful for that. In a way, I already had that type of person in my life; actually two people like that: Alexei and Elena. Especially Lena. She was my salvation. I guess I didn’t like to admit it at the time, probably because I was so young. But I could talk to her about any of my problems, and feel completely relieved. Lena and I would become so close it was as if nothing could separate us, not even death.

Ever since that day when we were alone at the rink, I knew I wanted to spend more time with her alone. It was as if God himself had willed it. I wasn’t old enough to think of anything but friendship at the time, but I suppose deep inside I knew that this was the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and even longer than that.

I told her that I would like to help her more with her routines. I doubted that I could choreograph, because I was so young, but I was sure that I could help her with her moves. It was a joy for us both. So she would tell me what moves she needed to work on, and I would help her. We would get her practice that way. I loved to spend time with her. I would buy a house next to hers if it meant that I could see her everyday. Sometimes I can almost hear her voice…


Time to go,” Marie said, dissolving my memories.

I sighed. Why couldn’t I stay in the past for the rest of my life? Did I have to go on? I saw no real reason to, not after what happened…

We went to our lockers and I asked Marie if she would mind holding off the “tour” for a little bit.

I have to do that big homework packet for European History,” I explained.

No problem. Here’s my phone number just in case you change your mind, or if you need help with finding the answers. Call me anytime, if you need something or if you just want to talk. I may be of more help than you think. Okay?”

That’s very kind of you. Thank you, Marie.”

You’re welcome,” she said, and we went our separate ways.

I went to my new home and tried to do my homework. It was so difficult to understand! Perhaps I should wait for a while… My host family would not be home for another four hours, so I was on my own till then. I had no problem with this though. A guy can get used to being alone. It wasn’t like I needed constant attention.

When I moved to St. Petersburg, I was able to bring a large photo album full of memories of my life in Ekaterinburg. When I came to America I brought this album with me. When I got home from school I pulled it out and looked at it. I smiled as I looked at all the wonderful memories I had enclosed in this book. I smiled as I relived the experiences of my childhood: the wonderful scenes of Easters, Christmases, birthdays, and many other special occasions were played out before my eyes. I stopped and frowned as soon as I saw a picture of my mother and I in front of a cathedral in Petersburg, and memories rushed to me about the times I had with my mother there, and I remembered a day that every child dreads...

A Sad Goodbye

I went to counseling once a week for several months. After that, I did not need any more, which was good news indeed. I still kept in touch with them once a month though. I was taking better care of myself, eating right, and trying not to work as hard as before. I still practiced with Alexei after classes, only not as intensely. Elena and I would meet three times a week for practice alone, and we would help each other with our moves. But sometimes we would just skate for the fun of skating. It was one of the times when it seemed like nothing could bother me. I hoped and prayed that we would stay friends and that someday our friendship would turn into a romance. It was a desire that no one knew about until later.

They had the test right on schedule, a week after we got everything straightened out, and I passed it with - how do you Americans say? Soaring? Oh, that’s it. Flying. Yes, I passed it with flying colors. The school continued to do anything and everything to keep me there. I knew my programs off by heart, and I practiced them once a day. Unlike most Russians, we actually did full run-throughs. I was still taking classes with Arcadii Ivanovich, and I was growing more and more anxious to train with Alexander Nicholaevich. The way things were going, I wouldn’t be able to train with him for a long time, or at least that’s what I thought. My mother decided to spend more time at the hospital with some of the children who had no one to visit them. Lyosha and I would play soccer with a couple of other students, I would go to the movies together with Elena, Ivan, and Alexei, and I loved to see the museums, palaces, churches, rivers and bridges in Petersburg. I especially enjoyed spending time with Lena the most. Sometimes I would go to her house or vice-versa and we would dance the night away. It was like time had no meaning when I was with her. She was my angel. For one kiss I would defy eternity… Of course these feelings were not for a few more years, shortly before I turned fifteen…

My mother and I were still living in the old apartment, and I was getting sick of our treatment there. I wanted out of there so badly. I was able to bargain with the school to buy my own apartment, just for my mother and I. That worked, but my father was still stuck in Ekaterinburg, and I missed him terribly. I wasn’t even able to talk to him…

My mother and I were adapting very well to our being stuck there, so to speak. We took part in many activities, and we would even travel to Moscow together when it came time to compete there for the Russian Junior Nationals. But she seemed to be spending more time with other children at the hospital than with me. At times she would even spend the night at the hospital, which I found quite odd. I got tired of cooking for two and watching the other plate of food be untouched as the hours flew by…

Then one day about June of 1997 a miracle occurred. Mama was off work, and I didn’t have to go to school! It was a rare opportunity to spend some real time with her! I wasn’t going to miss it for the world, but I didn’t know about my mother…

Um, sweetheart, I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do it. I’m very tired. I think I need to rest today.”

I sighed.

You’re always tired. You never spend time with me anymore. I miss the mother you used to be. When can I be with her again?”

Mama softened, putting her hand on my cheek.

I’m sorry, sweetheart. I guess I have been a little sidetracked lately… All right. Whatever you want to do, we’ll do it together, today.”

It was wonderful news, and together we laid the plan for our day. First we would see a museum, then, we would have a picnic in a park, and together we would go ice skating, just for the fun of it, not worrying about Lutzes or Axels or Salchows or flying camels or butterfly spins. We would just skate.

We had the time of our lives! I had a lot of fun at the museum, telling my mother all that I’d learned from school about the various artifacts. The picnic was wonderful, just the two of us spending time with each other. We were able to be updated on each other’s lives again… But I left for a minute to get something, and when I came back, my mother had fainted.

Although she was in the hospital, she insisted to me that she was fine, and none of the doctors would say anything. I was concerned, but I let it go. I shouldn’t have done that… I should have demanded that the doctors tell me what was wrong with her. I should have done something.

One day I came home from practice and saw her leaning over the kitchen counter. I was disturbed by the painful expression on her face. She looked so tired and so pale.

Mama?”

Mitya… I have something to tell you.”

Here, Mama, please rest,” I said, leading her to the couch I slept on. I made her lie down.

You’re probably wondering why I’m so tired all the time.”

It’s natural, Mama. You’ve always been like that, ever since I was little. And I’m sorry for complaining.”

I have leukemia, Mitya. They found out that day after I gave you that book to read.”

What?” I didn’t understand. Then I remembered her crying, the trip to the hospital that day, and the days afterward. She wasn’t there for the children! “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I couldn’t bear it,” Mama replied. She paused. “I was in the hospital all that time not just to visit the children, but to receive treatment. I couldn’t bear telling you. I just couldn’t. I love you so much; you don’t need to worry about me. There’s something I want you to know.”

Mama, rest now. Please. We’ll talk more later, when you feel better.”

I love you, Mitya. I want you to know that, and I want you to know that I’m very proud of you.”

Tears filled my eyes.

Please rest.”

Mitya…” Mama closed her eyes. She never opened them again.


I stared at the picture with tears in my eyes. That picture was always wonderful for me to look at, but ever since her death I could barely look at it without grief. Yet I could not find the heart to get rid of it. It was the last photo of her that was ever taken; the last memory I had. She was never able to tell me what she wanted to say. I guess that happens sometimes. I was no stranger to this concept. It remained with me all my life, ever since Mama’s death.

I remember the call to my father telling him of my mother’s death. It seemed like he was taking it rather well; actually, it seemed like he had no emotion at all.

Trouble

Hello?” my father said on the phone.

Papa? It’s me, Mitya.”

Mitya?” Papa sounded shocked. I couldn’t blame him. It was almost three years since we spoke last.

I have some bad news, Papa.”

What is it, my son?”

Mama is dead.”

Dead?” he asked, shocked.

Leukemia.”

Leukemia?”

Yes, Papa.”

Papa was silent for a few moments. Again, I was not surprised. Mama and Papa were happy together. They loved each other. He was probably in more grief than I was.

Are you all right?” he asked.

I blinked my tears away.

I suppose.”

What are you going to do?”

Well, I can either stay with someone from the school, or I can go back home.”

Well, I would suggest coming to live with me.”

But, Papa, I want to stay here and continue skating!”

And just how do you plan on doing that?” my father asked.

Well, my friend Ivan said I could stay with him. If not him, I can always stay with Alexei Ugarov. He’s like my best friend. He’s very kind to me.”

My father was silent for a moment. I could tell what he was thinking. He didn’t like the idea of me staying with anyone but family, even if they were very good friends. Besides, my father hated people who were religious, as he was an atheist himself, and what he didn’t know was that “Ivan” was my Jewish friend, Ivan Kleemovich. If he found out about that, my father would take me out of St. Petersburg faster than lightning.

My mother’s funeral was almost unbearable. I went back to Ekaterinburg for it. I met my father there. It was very emotional for him too, but he held himself together for my sake.

When we began the ceremony, I was physically exhausted, because I was emotionally stressed out. I had a lot of thinking to do.

I’m happy that you’ve done so well for yourself, Mitya. Your mother would be proud of you.”

She said she was,” I replied softly. I bowed my head as a tear slid down my cheek. Papa kissed my forehead and held me close.

What else did she say?”

She loved me.”

Is that all?” he asked, hesitant.

Yes.”

Did she say anything about having means to support you?”

Good God, Papa! Can’t you just let me grieve? I don’t need to worry about money for now. As long as I skate as well as I do, the school will pick up all of my expenses.”

Yes, but-”

But nothing! Just leave me alone! Can’t you?” Large tears filled my eyes and some spilled over. My eyes were narrowed and my lip was quivering. Papa embraced me and I cried with his arms around me.

During the ceremony, my father turned to me and asked gently, “Have you given any thought to what I said before? About moving back here?”

I could not face him. Why couldn’t he just leave me alone to grieve? My grief was bad enough without having to worry about the future right then and there! Besides, I had already made my decision. I dreaded his reaction…

Yes,” I said softly. “I want to stay in Petersburg.”

Very well,” my father said. “Don’t even think about coming back here.”

Please, Papa, let’s not fight. I just lost Mama, I refuse to lose you.”

Papa softened.

All right, Mitya. I’m sorry, you’re right. This is not the time or the place for an argument. We’ll work something out.”

Thank you,” I said gratefully.


About a week later, I was packing my last few things to move to Ivan’s when a knock came at the door.

Yes?”

The door opened and there stood my father.

Mitya?”

I rushed over and embraced him. I wasn’t going to take his presence for granted. I had no problem staying with Ivan, but to be staying with my own family, that’s what I really wanted. Why he changed his mind I did not know, but it was a wonderful thing.

I missed you so much, Papa. Will you stay?”

If you want me to.”

I do. Very much.”

Papa smiled and I knew everything would be all right.

Papa went out that night and did not return for several hours. When he came home, I was sleeping and Papa didn’t come home alone. He was with another man, sort of scruffy as you say, fat, bald, and drunk. I hoped it wasn’t the case, but in my heart I knew that my father was drunk too. I remember how I resented the smell of beer, blood, and vomit. I guess I had to accept my father’s metamorphosis into an alcoholic. But it certainly wouldn’t go unchallenged. I had seen more than enough people suffer from being drunk to last a lifetime. I would not put up with it now.

They were sitting at the table, each with a bottle of beer. They were laughing about something. I got up and peeked into the room.

What a bitch!” my father said laughing. “I swear, she’s such a stupid bitch! Sometimes I wonder why I married her!”

It wouldn’t have anything to do with money, now would it?” his friend asked knowingly. He laughed, then took a big, long drink of beer.

Yeah, I know. She works so hard to earn money, she has a fortune saved up in the bank. If I divorced her, I wouldn’t get a kopeck! Thank god she’s dead now. If I had to live with her much longer, I’m the one who would’ve ended up dead!”

So how much do you get now that she’s dead?”

Not a damn thing. The money goes to her pathetic son! Oh, what a kid. You should meet him sometime!” My father’s friend laughed.

Yeah, right. So if he has it, how are you going to get it?”

Oh, I can always find a way. I got here, didn’t I? I had to close the business, but that’s okay. I can live with that money for the rest of my life!” They both laughed. “The good thing about it is I don’t think this kid knows about the money! I could steal it away in a minute and he won’t even miss it!”

Tears filled my angry, confused eyes. I didn’t know what to make of this. I closed the door and went to my bed. I put my head in my hands and thought of everything that had just transpired. I prayed for God to give me strength. It appeared to me that my parents were as happy as anyone could be. I guess I was wrong. This was all just too much for one night. My father married my mother simply for her money, which I didn’t even know about, and he was going to find some way to make that money his! As much as I resented it, he was still my father, and I loved him very much. What was I going to do?

I decided I’d find a way to see through any of his disguises to get my money. Not only that, his drinking habit had to go. I would not put up with it, no matter if he was my father or not.

The next morning, I found that I could not face my father without hate. He was in his bedroom sleeping, and just before it was time for me to leave I went in, prepared to give him a piece of my mind.

Papa, I want to speak with you on a very serious matter.”

Hmm?” he said groggily.

I have a rule here that I insist be obeyed. No drinking, drugs, or smoking. I don’t want this to happen ever again. Is that understood?”

Papa was silent.

Well? Do you understand?”

I leaned closer to him, concerned.

Papa?”

Without warning, Papa slugged me. I fell back and my head hit the dresser corner. It hurt a lot, but I was okay. I just felt a little woozy, that’s all.

I got along fine at school that day, but then at lunch I was walking very casually when I fainted. I woke up instantly, my friend Ivan beside me.

Are you all right now?” he asked.

I think I’ll go home and rest,” I said, my voice weak and almost a whisper.

I went home and rested. Papa was still asleep. When it came time for my figure skating practice, I was well rested. Arcadii Ivanovich came to me. He was extremely concerned.

Ivan told me that you fainted this morning. What happened to you? Are you all right?”

I’m fine,” I said as I was lacing up my skates. “I tripped and fell earlier this morning, and this happened.” I motioned to my head.

Should I get any help?”

I smiled.

No, I’m fine, thanks.”

Arcadii Ivanovich was still concerned, but he left me alone.

Three days later, I was sleeping when I heard Papa come home late. His breath smelled of beer, vodka, and wine mixed. He was drunk even worse than last time. I remember how I always resented that awful smell. I got up and walked over to him.

Papa? I’m just curious, but do you remember when I talked to you earlier this week? Do you remember what I said? You were never like this when Mama was alive.” It was a phrase I would soon regret but never forget.

Without warning, Papa grabbed me and shoved me against the wall. He just kept beating me and punching me. He slammed my head against the wall three times before everything went black.

I woke up about three hours later. I was bleeding everywhere, and I had stab wounds on my back. My father was sleeping soundly. I called an ambulance. I was taken to the hospital. The next day, an assistant nurse named Natasha Chekov came in and cleaned my wounds.

These cuts are awful. Who did this to you?” she asked.

My guess would be my father. But I don’t remember him cutting me. I must have been unconscious.”

I lay face down on the bed, trying not to struggle against her. It was very difficult to hide my pain. I grimaced, clenched my fists and tried not to let the tears flow from my eyes as the hot water touched my cuts.

You’re lucky he didn’t kill you.”

Papa would never do that… Not willingly, anyway,” I said, thinking again. I soon realized that I should have said, “Not when he’s sober.”

As she continued, I thought of these statements. Natashaa was right. Papa did almost kill me, and I did nothing to deserve it… right?

I stayed in the hospital for three days, then I returned to my apartment. Papa was nowhere to be found. Then early the next morning, Papa came and awakened me.

And just where have you been the past few days?” he asked, looming above me.

I was at the hospital, getting treated for what you did to me on Monday,” I said boldly.

Monday? Monday will not even compare to what I’m going to do to you now.”

Without warning, he grabbed me and threw me to the floor, kicking and punching me. All this time he was shouting, asking if I had any idea about how worried he was about me, and what right did I have to speak to him so boldly. I tried to protest, but there was nothing I could do to stop his wrath. He held me down and grabbed a nearby knife.

No, Papa, please!”

As Papa stabbed me, I tried to struggle to get away. As hard as I tried, it only made the knife go in deeper. I pleaded for him to stop. I couldn’t take it, literally. I was still recuperating from the last time! I stopped struggling and just lay there, wondering if the pain would ever end. Then I got an idea. I pretended to lose consciousness, thinking that if I did he would stop. My plan failed. Papa continued to hurt me, kicking me and slamming me against the wall. Then he just stopped and fell over, unconscious. A lamp was knocked over on a table and crashed on my right arm.

I lay there on the floor, too weak and too scared to move. I prayed for death to take me away. I lay there, about five minutes before there was a knock on my door. Arcadii Ivanovich walked in and rushed over to me when he saw what happened to me.

Mitya! Dear God, what happened?”

My father. My- my father!” I moaned.

Arcadii Ivanovich called an ambulance. Within minutes, I was on my way to the hospital… again. My hands were shaking the whole time the paramedics were examining me.

I had to stay two weeks. One day, Elena came to visit me. I could tell it was extremely hard for her to see me like this.

You’re lucky you’re alive, you know.” I sighed.

Elena Sergeievna, I have been told that ever since I got here. I don’t need to be told again.”

I can tell you don’t want this to go on.”

I rolled my eyes, annoyed.

What are you getting at?” I asked, knowing very well what she was getting at.

You know very well what I’m getting at. Why don’t you tell the militia?” she begged shrilly. I caressed her hand and kissed it gently.

Because I’m sure he must have some justifiable reason for what he’s done. I’m sure I must have done something, and I must be punished for it. Besides, give me one good reason why the militia would listen to me. I’m just a child.”

You don’t deserve to be punished like this. Besides, I seriously doubt you did something to cause him to do that. Your father needs help. He’s crazy.”

What are you, a psychiatrist or something?”

No.”

Then shut up.”

I regretted saying that, but I couldn’t stand to hear such ludicrous. Although Lena did not say any more, my conscience would not stop chattering, and I would not let go of her hand. I could not be apart from her.

Papa wouldn’t attack you for no reason. You must have done something. You deserve what you got. It must have been because you left Ekaterinburg in the first place. Simple.

Or it could be Mama’s death. He’s so broken up about it he’s taking it out on you. You’ve done nothing. It doesn’t make sense. He’s crazy.

Never.

Something’s wrong. Remember how he acted when you told him about Mama’s death?

The other part of my mind was silent. I lay there, thinking about the phone call and the unexplained strange tone of my father’s voice. At first, I was glad that he did not feel that much remorse. But then I realized. It was like he didn’t even care, like it meant nothing to him that the woman he loved so much was dead. Then I remembered his conversation with his friend. Maybe the real separation came long before my mother and I moved to Petersburg…

I’m sorry,” I said, caressing her hand and touching it to my cheek. So soft…

It’s okay. I shouldn’t have interfered. It’s just that if you don’t tell the militia he would be free to hurt you again and again. I only feared for your safety. I didn’t mean to hurt you like that. But with all due respect, your father could hurt you much worse.”

It’s all right. I didn’t have a right to treat you like that. I’m sorry. You were just trying to help, and I spit in your face. You do have a point. I’ll see the militia, but I doubt it will do any good.”

Lena did not say anything. She just hugged me, and kissed my cheek.

Thank you.” I held her in my arms, tears streaming down her cheeks, stroking her long silky brown hair.

The next day, I went to the militia. I told them what was going on, but they didn’t care. I knew it would happen that way. They were “too busy” to deal with such things.

So Alexei came with me the second time I tried to get the militia to do something about my father’s abuse. This visit did as much good as the last one.

Papa was still drinking, of course, and at times he would make me pick out things that he said he would torture me with. Most of the time, he gave me choices between a wrench, some sort of bat, and a knife. Being that I didn’t want to lose any more blood, I chose either the wrench or the bat. I had no choice but to choose one of them; I know, I tried.

There were some nights when Papa was just out of control. He would beat me till I was black and blue all over, sometimes even worse. Which is why I desperately needed it to stop. It would not stop for three months.

I lay in bed after one of these nights, staring up at the ceiling. My body ached so much; I wanted the pain to end. Papa was sleeping, and I went out to the kitchen. I got a knife and placed it on my wrist. I took a deep breath, tears in my eyes, staring at my wrist. I took a deep breath, and looked up. That was when I came to my senses. I saw my salvation then, in a photograph of Elena and I, together after one of my victories. She had her arms around me and we were both holding a bouquet of roses that she had given me, and a gold medal was around my neck. I remembered then as I grasped the knife tighter in my hand everything that I had devoted myself to for thirteen years. I remembered my desires in skating, how much I wanted to be remembered and known. Was I really going to do this? I stared at the knife, which still lay on my wrist. I remembered how so many celebrities in the world were on a list that said, “Gone too soon.” Was that something I wanted? Did I really want to throw everything away? Did I want to be remembered as a coward? I removed the knife from its place on my wrist but didn’t put it back right away. I stared at the blade, wondering if I was making the right decision. A voice inside me seemed to say, “Mitya, don’t do it!” I placed the knife back where it was and sighed with relief and exhaustion.

All right, Lena,” I said softly, and went back to my room.

One night, Papa had beaten me so badly that I was unconscious. When I woke up, Arcadii Ivanovich was by my side, a cold cloth was on my forehead, and my father was nowhere to be found.

What happened? What’s going on?”

Your father again. Today, you and I are going to tell the militia about all of this.”

They already know, they just don’t care. It won’t do any good.”

Well, I intend to give them a piece of my mind. You can’t go on like this much longer. You really need help.”

Kerensky and I went to the militia, and Elena was with us also. They both did the best they could, and the militia said they’d “look into it.” I knew that in my heart it would take weeks, maybe months or even longer, for them to do that, but my salvation was yet to come.

Resentment

Because of what was being done to me by my father, I was beginning more and more to resent him. He was still my father, but it was hard to think of him as I had before Mama died. At times I wanted to make him feel the pain I was feeling, just so I would get a second’s worth of happiness.

But my luck was about to change. One night, Papa was out and I was asleep. Suddenly, a knock came on my door. I got up and answered it. It was the militia.

Dmitry Alexeievich Stanislavsky?”

Yes?” I asked groggily and cautiously. Was I in trouble for something?

Something’s happened to your father, I’m afraid.” I remember thinking, Oh, God, I hope it’s not too bad.

What is it?”

I’m afraid your father had a little too much vodka.” I almost laughed. So what else is new?

And?”

Well, he got into a fight, and killed the man he was fighting.” My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it. My father killed someone. What was going to happen now? I wanted to see him, but it was very risky to take a trip with the militia; or rather, it was risky to go anywhere with the KGB. Perhaps the militia would take me to him…

Can’t you take me to him?”

As you wish,” they said.

They took me to the station, where Papa was bloody and beaten. I knew it wasn’t from fighting.

Papa,” I said, holding his hand. I gasped. It was ice cold.

Mitya, I’m sorry for everything. Look at what I’ve done to you. I’m so sorry. Listen to me. I want you to go somewhere where you can stay and be happy. You don’t deserve someone like me for a father.”

Don’t be ridiculous, Papa. You weren’t thinking right. Something was wrong, but you can get help. You'll be fine. We’ll be back to normal in no time.”

Net, Mitya, I’m afraid not. I want you to be happy. I can tell that you are not happy with me, and I don’t blame you. I am an awful father, and I deserve what is coming to me.” I didn’t know how to react. I was confused. Was this some sort of act, or was he really sorry? And would I really be able to accept my freedom from his tortures, or did I have some sort of attachment to him? After all, he was the only family I had…

Your time is up, Stanislavsky,” the guard called.

But, I-” I could not just leave him there! I reluctantly surrendered and went to the militia.

So when is his trial? What do I do in the meantime?”

Can you stay with a friend of yours until things get straightened out?”

Certainly,” I said, and as soon as I got back home, which was about four o’clock in the morning, I called Alexei.

Huh?” a man’s voice asked groggily.

Is Alexei there?” I asked timidly.

Who is this?”

Dmitry Stanislavsky, sir. I’m a friend of Alexei’s. I know it’s late, but it is quite urgent.” There was silence for a few moments, then another voice spoke.

Hello?” I bit my lip in embarrassment. He sounded as tired as his father. Perhaps I should have waited…

Lyosha, I know it’s late, but I have something to tell you.” I told him everything that just happened, and asked if I could stay with him till the trial was over, and during my father’s sentence, if he was proclaimed guilty. Permission was granted by him, and by his parents!

Meanwhile, my skating was at an absolute peak. I had never been in better shape, strangely. I suppose my father’s beatings made me stronger, even if it was only in the mind. One day, Metrenkov dropped the bomb on me.

It’s time for another test,” he said casually. “If things go right, you will become my newest student.” I was shocked. Everything I’d worked for, striven for, almost killed myself for, was going to be on the line for ten precious minutes.

I’ll do my best, Alexander Nicholaevich,” I said nonchalantly. On the inside, I was fired up. I couldn’t wait for this test! I was going to pass it with more soaring colors!

Can you believe it?” I said to Alexei in lunch. Alexei laughed.

It is a wonderful thing indeed, my friend,” he said. “I knew you could do it.”

He hasn’t done it yet,” Misha said. My smile fell.

What, you don’t think I can?” I demanded. “Or is it that you don’t want me to do it, so you’ll be able to be in the spotlight for the rest of your life?” Oh, he makes me so angry!

Misha got up and left the table. I threw up my hands in exasperation.

What is his problem? He’ll always be Metrenkov’s favorite. Why is he so threatened by me?” Alexei smiled sadly.

He’s always been like that. It’s nothing to get upset over.”

Really?” I asked unconvinced. Why was it that we couldn’t get along? He never liked me since I first got there! What was his problem? Was he jealous? I thought of everything that happened in the rink ever since I first got to Karilyevsky. That must be it. He was jealous!

I went over to him.

Why are you jealous?” I asked boldly.

It seemed like it took everything that Misha had not to burst out laughing.

Me? Jealous of you? You train with an assistant! Give me one good reason why I should be jealous of you.”

You have hated me ever since I got here. If jealousy isn’t the reason for it, then I sure would like to know what is!”

Misha sneered.

You are a boy who is hardly qualified to train here period, let alone with Metrenkov. You come here, and you’re accepted, yet you don’t know the triple Axel, or a single Lutz? Yet you still train here. If I were Arcadii Ivanovich, you would not even be here. How is that for your reason?”

I was shocked. He was right. Everything he said was right. Why was I here if I couldn’t do the technical elements? I went back to my seat with Lyosha and sat down.

Am I here for some reason other than my jumps, Lyosha? Think about it, when I first came here I was hardly advanced enough to train here, yet they let me. Why? Why would I be permitted to train here when I didn’t even know the Lutz? Countless others who do know the Lutz and try to get in here are turned away without a test. Do I have some hidden attributes that I don’t know about?”

Lyosha looked at me, as shocked as I was.

Who told you that? Was it Misha? Look, how many times do I have to tell you not to let him get to you?”

I mean it, Lyosha.”

Lyosha sighed.

Look, you may not have been as advanced as other Russian skaters your age, but you showed potential enough that you can become great someday very soon, with the right training. That is important. Your coach in Ekaterinburg saw that in you, and I am telling you that not everyone here has that precious gift. You just need a little tweaking here and there, and the Lutz and Axel are two of those points where you need occasional tweaking. But with Metrenkov as your coach, you will truly become a great athlete.” Alexei saw my expression, and smiled gently, just as he always had. “No, Mitya, you are not getting special treatment. No one is allowed that. It doesn’t matter who you are. You are no better than anyone else when it comes to the testing process. If you do well, then, depending on the amount of talent you have, you are placed in a certain skill level. You know that. Arcadii Ivanovich teaches the intermediate levels. Metrenkov is of course the most advanced.”

But I am hardly the most advanced. That’s my point! Ivan, for example, has a killer triple Lutz. I can barely do a double, let alone a triple.”

But you have more than jumps to your credit. Your spins, for example. You do magnificent sit spins and camel spins. I haven’t seen illusions or butterfly spins like that since Filipenkov. Not to mention you are one of the few men I know who can do the Biellmann spin. But that’s not all that you have that is good in you. Think of the programs you have performed so far. You may not have choreographed them yourself, but your expression that you added was phenomenal. Think about it.”

I did. I certainly took the characters I was playing into consideration… My facial expression reflected exactly what my character was going through. It was natural for me. I was always that way, ever since I first started skating. I blushed as I remembered this. He was right.

Okay, you’re right. I do have a lot of expression. I guess that still counts for something. And I guess my spins are okay.”

Of course it does, Mitya,” he said. I smiled. “Presentation counts for two-thirds of the score! Now relax and go to class with your head high. Don’t even think about what Misha thinks. He’s competitive. Surely you know that by now.”

Yes,” I replied. “I know. I don’t know why I let him get to me…”

Alexei smiled.

You are almost as competitive as he is,” he pointed out.

I laughed. This was true, as much as I hated to admit it. I suppose that I was the one who was jealous. But then again, didn’t I have a reason to be? I was always in his shadow. He was always making me look bad! Every time I did something impressive, he would do better! Didn’t I deserve a place in the sun too?

Dinner for Two

Just then, the phone rang, and I jerked up with a start.

Hello? Karlson’s residence, Dmitry speaking.”

Mitya?” I perked up at the voice. It was Alexei!

Oh, Lyosha, how are you?”

I’m fine, just calling to see how you are doing. What happened today? Did things go well?”

Yes. I had my first day of school today. It went okay, but it’s difficult to speak the language. I totally made a fool of myself this morning.” I told him everything that happened. Alexei laughed. I couldn’t help laughing myself, considering my predicament.

It gets that way at first. You’ll get used to it. And I’m sure you’ll make tons of friends.”

I hope so. How is everyone? Mama? Sergei? Lepa?”

Alexei laughed.

We’re all fine here. We miss you, especially Lepa. She’s so lonely without someone to chase her around the house anymore.”

I laughed.

I wish I could be there.”

It was your decision to stay, Mitya, not ours.”

I know.” We were silent for a few minutes. I suppose it was painful for us both to even think about it.

Well,” Alexei said, “I’m getting some rest. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Yes. Keep in touch.”

Poka.”

After this phone call, I looked around, realizing how lonely I was. The house was empty, and how I longed for someone to talk to. As I made myself some potato pancakes, I felt something fall out of my pocket. I picked the piece of paper up and looked at it: Marie’s phone number.

Call me anytime for anything, even if you just want to talk,” her voice echoed.

I dialed the number without hesitation.

Hello?”

Marie? This is Dmitry Stanislavsky, the Russian student from school?”

Hi!”

Listen, I was wondering if you would like to come over, to have dinner and talk a little, and maybe you can help me with my history homework. If you’re not too busy, that is.”

Sure, no problem. Just give me directions and I’ll head over.”

I gave her the directions and waited. It took her five minutes.

That was really quick!” I said happily, opening the door for her.

That’s what friends are for, right? Besides, I found from your directions that I don’t live too far away from you. So anytime you want to talk, or if you want to see me, I can fly over here in a jiffy!”

I was silent for a moment, confused. What a strange time and sentence to talk about peanut butter! Or did she mean the gas station? Well, it was strange either way…

Yes, well, sorry for calling on such short notice. I just wanted to talk to someone. The house is so empty, you know?”

Oh, I see. Lonely?”

Terribly,” I admitted. “I miss St. Petersburg. I miss my friends I have there...” My voice trailed off.

I wish I could help.”

You are, just by being here.” I put my arm around her, and we leaned toward each other, our eyes closed, ready for a kiss…

Just then, the phone rang - again. Drat.

Yes?”

Mitya, I’m afraid I have bad news.”

I rolled my eyes. Alexei again? He’d better have a good reason for calling now!

Lyosha, I’m a little busy right now,” I said, my teeth clenched. “I know you said you’d talk to me soon, but this is ridiculous! This will cost you a fortune! Why can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

Your father. Something’s happened.”

I stopped and felt my blood run cold.

What?” I could not move or say anything. I was frozen. As cruel as Papa had been to me when I was in St. Petersburg, thirteen years before that, he was a wonderful father to me. If I lost him I would not have any family. Sure, I still had Lyosha’s family, but… “I don’t understand. What happened? Is he-“

He’s dead, Mitya. Killed in a shipwreck just minutes ago. He got caught in a horrible storm. Crashed onto some sharp rocks. I just found out, and my first instinct was that you should know.” Alexei’s words were sympathetic, full of pity. He did not know how those words twisted like a knife in my heart. “Are you all right?”

Do I sound all right, Lyosha?” I asked, trying to hide my emotions for Marie’s sake.

Is there anything I can do to help?” That was very kind of him, but unfortunately there was nothing he or anyone else could do.

No, I’m all right. I have to go now. I hope to talk to you soon.”

Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow, then.”

Okay.”

I hung up the phone and memories of Papa and I together came flooding to me all at once, the happy times we had; fishing, skiing, New Year’s… He would even celebrate Easter with my mother and I, although he was an atheist.

Are you all right?” Marie asked.

I’m fine,” I replied, still reliving these memories. I did not let her know what my real emotions were. On the outside, I was trying to act like nothing was wrong. Inside, I was tormented. I felt her gentle hands on my tense shoulders. She messaged them gently.

What happened?” she whispered with a gentle kiss on my temple.

My father is dead.” I could barely say that, let alone any more. I put my head in my hands, crying. Marie’s gentle hands squeezed my shoulders and she pulled me close.

I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

I shook my head. I could not say anything for a few minutes. She hugged me and I stayed in her arms for a while, tears flowing from my eyes. Then during dinner I calmed down enough to talk.

My father was not exactly kind to me when I was in Petersburg.” I told her briefly of the abuse.

That’s awful! And there was nothing you could have done?”

I told the militia about it, but they wouldn’t listen to me, or my friends, or even my coach. He tried to push the militia, but it didn’t do much good. Finally, my father got into a bar fight with one of his drinking friends. He ended up killing him, and the militia put him in prison for a while. My friend, the one who just called, his family decided to adopt me, and my father went back to my hometown. He sort of came to his senses then.”

I can’t believe you just let him push you around like that. Before he was arrested, I mean.”

Looking back I shouldn’t have. But I guess I was just… afraid that I would lose him. After my mother died, I had no one. Papa was my last chance, and look how it turned out. After worrying so much for so long, I ended up losing him anyway.”

Marie took my hand and held me close.

We eventually lose the ones we love somehow. It’s hard to get over. We don’t want to lose those we love, but death is a part of life. We have to accept it. I know how hard it must be though, and I wish I could do something.”

Just talking to you makes me feel better. You’re very kind.”

Just then, the clock on the wall chimed six.

I have to go now. I’m so sorry about your father.”

I’m all right. Thank you.”

Remember, if you need anything, you know my number.”

Yes. Thank you so much. Goodbye.”

Marie hugged me and kissed my cheek. Then she left. I felt an overwhelming grief for my father. He may not have been the same father he was in Petersburg as he was in Ekaterinburg, but he was still my father. He clothed me, cared for me, and loved me. Now that he was dead, I had no blood relatives left.

People have said that his wrath was caused by suspicion of my mother having an affair. In fact, in confirmation to my original suspicions, there was fighting between them nearly every day, only not while I was around. Or perhaps I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to see it. They’re dead now. There’s nothing I can do.

Released

After Papa was arrested, Alexei Ugarov and his family decided to try to adopt me. If my father was imprisoned, and if I got lucky (which I thought to be very unlikely at this point and time) the Ugarovs would be my “new” family.

The Ugarov household was quite small. It consisted of Lyosha of course, his parents Sergei and Marina, Lena, and Lepa. Lepa was an adorable gray tabby cat with long whiskers, a soft pink nose, and curious little green eyes. Alexei and I loved to play with her. But the Ugarov apartment was very small, and the only room with enough room for me was Lyosha’s room. But it was no problem; after all, we were best friends. Her parents put a small cot for me to sleep on, and I would sleep in there. I stayed with them for one year. The adoption process went through perfectly, and the Ugarovs were my new family as of February 1998. It was like having a family all over again! It felt good to have loving people around me. I was content to spend the evenings at home with them, when I wasn’t practicing. My father was happy that I was in better care, and he apologized for all that he’d done to me. I accepted it, and went on with my life, while my father went back to his. I regret it now, but I never kept in touch with him since that last day, just after he was released. He was going back to Ekaterinburg, and he would not be coming back.

You will always be my son, no matter if you are a member of their household or not,” Papa said. “I’ll miss you, but I’m glad that you will finally be happy.”

Yes,” I said, anxiously waiting for him to get out of my life. Then I remembered everything that we’d been through, before Petersburg. “I’m sorry for everything too.”

Well, I have to go or I’ll miss the train. Goodbye, my son. You will keep in touch, won’t you?”

Of course, Papa.” I had every intention to keep that promise. I honestly don’t know what happened. I suppose we kept in touch for quite some time, but we suddenly stopped. I suppose I got sidetracked with things: my skating, my education, Lena…

During this time, Lena and I were seeing each other. We had been seeing each other for about six months before Papa’s arrest. We enjoyed each other’s company so much! We would practice, eat dinner, watch movies, dance, and do all sorts of things together. Lena was especially fond of the ballet, which I enjoyed also. She would accompany me to all of the competitions and special events that she could. She loved all of the skating, not just me. She would love every minute of it, even when I lost! Even when I turned out a pathetic performance, she was always there to cheer me up. I wanted her to be there for me forever…

Meanwhile, the test was still on its way, and I was excited about it more than ever. My skating was at a peak; I had mastered the triple Lutz! I was so proud that I had managed to do that at last. I was going to pass this test flawlessly! I couldn’t wait for it to be over…

I skated out onto the ice reviewing the order of my program in my mind: double Axel-triple loop, circular footwork, butterfly spin, triple toe loop, straight-line footwork, flying camel, sit spin, Beillmann spin, all in one combination, triple flip, flying sit spin (which became my specialty), serpentine footwork, triple Salchow, illusion spin, triple Lutz, triple Axel-triple toe loop, glide to finish. I was so nervous I could barely remember how to do the jumps. I was praying that things would turn out all right. My breath was short gasps, and I was shaking all over. It was a flashback to my first day there. But this time things would not go as bad as before. I was determined to give the best performance I had ever given. I couldn’t wait to do this.

I warmed up, stretching my legs and getting my balance right. Then I performed. It was spectacular! I had never given a better technical performance in my entire life! Metrenkov would have to be my coach now! My expression, for that matter, was perfect, better than normal! But it was the most physically draining program I’d ever done. After I took my bow and received almost perfect scores, Metrenkov had words with me.

Congratulations, Dmitry Alexeievich,” he said. “I will be your new coach starting today. Take a short break, then we will begin working on things.” I nodded, still stunned that I had done so well, and breathless from concentrating so much. I closed my eyes and as I took a drink I saw my future…

I knew that with Metrenkov as my coach I would win everything that I could possibly come up against. I knew that I could be the greatest champion ever. I would defeat everything, anything that I would ever come up against, on and off the ice…

A Joyous Occasion… or is it?

The next day, Alexei and I went to Karilyevsky Ice Palace for lessons.

Everyone,” Metrenkov announced, “Alexei Ugarov and Mikhail Fedisov are going to the Olympics.” I was shocked, but not really. They were both excellent skaters, and the fact that they were going to the Olympics did not surprise me that much. What shocked me was that my friend, my big brother, Alexei Ugarov, could be the next Olympic Gold Medallist!

This was wonderful! They were so lucky! I prayed they would do well. Yet I also felt envy that I was not able to go, to compete for the honor of my country against the best in the world, and technically some from my own country, for the highest honor in the entire sport of figure skating. Oh, how I longed to be a part of that. Oh well. I suppose I would have to wait my turn. Still, I would’ve given anything to be there.

During lunch that day, I sat with Alexei and Misha. I was still in Misha’s shadow, despite Metrenkov’s continuous effort to shape me into a real Russian skater. I did a triple loop; he did a quadruple Salchow. I did a triple Lutz; he did a triple Axel. The girls were always saying how great he was, how handsome he was, and how artistic he was. I could be like that too, but with him in the way it was extremely difficult. When would I get the attention?

Congratulations, Lyosha,” I said casually, trying to hide my jealousy. “Are you nervous?”

Nervous? Of course not!” Misha answered for him. “We’re excited and proud to be Russian! We cannot wait for the chance to snatch the Gold Medal away from those crazy, stupid, ignorant Americans! We are the best in the world, and-”

Cut the speech, Misha,” Alexei said annoyed. “You act like you’re talking to a reporter. Or a politician.” I laughed. As much as I hated to admit it, he did sound a little “over the top.”

I’m practicing,” he said quietly. I laughed again. He was actually nicer now than he was before… somewhat…

So do you think you’ll do well against this ‘Michael’ guy?” I asked. Strange person, that Michael Wilson…

I certainly do,” Misha boasted. “I’m going to be the next Gold Medallist!” Alexei laughed.

You know, you really act a lot younger than you are. Loosen up. It’s only a competition.” I laughed. Only a competition? Was he serious?

Yeah, the most important one!” I said. “I’d give anything to be there with you and you act as if nothing’s happening!”

I’ve competed against these people before, Mitya. Both of us have. And we’ve both beaten them at least twice before. It’s nothing different.”

Yeah, right,” Misha said, and left in a huff.

I don’t understand him,” I said looking after him. “He’s getting all the attention. Why should he be unhappy?” Alexei smiled sadly, then shook his head.

Go easy on him, Mitya. He hasn’t been feeling well lately. He’s been having shortness of breath and dizziness a lot. I tried to get him to see a doctor, but he doesn’t want to miss the Olympics. I just hope it’s not too serious.” A chill ran down my spine. Something wasn’t right with Misha at all. He had been eating right; at least I thought so. What could be wrong?

Are you sure he’s eating right?” I asked, remembering what happened to me.

He’s fine, it’s nothing to do with diet or exercise. I don’t know what is wrong.”

Could he be eating, then throwing up? The people at the counseling center call that bolemia.”

Oh, I don’t think that’s it. He’s not the type.”

Neither was Lady Diana,” I pointed out. Lyosha glared at me, and I said nothing more.

A few weeks later, Alexei’s family and I were watching the Olympics together on television. Misha was about to perform his long program. Michael Wilson from the US was in the lead, as everyone had predicted, followed closely by Kaspar van Schmidt of Germany. Alexei was in third place; there was no hope that he would win. He pathetically flopped his long program. He fell on three of his eight triples, two-footed his doubles, and his spins were not very clean. Metrenkov yelled at him the whole time. I felt so awful for him. Truthfully, I wondered how he ended up in third! Russia’s only hope was Misha, to my great disappointment. We all sat in suspense waiting to see how he would do.

He was about to take off on what would have been a killer triple Lutz when he fell. He did not get up. He looked as though he was in pain. The commentators did not know what to make of it. It was at this time that I remembered what I said to Alexei the day that he found out he was going. I was shocked at my words. Maybe I would’ve given anything to be there, but never something that would hurt Misha, even if he was a snob! I prayed for God to forgive me, and that Misha’s injury wouldn’t be too bad.

As it turned out, Misha had a heart attack, though not a very serous one, right there on the ice! He “finished” the Olympics landing in eleventh place. It was a devastating blow for us all. We had all been hoping he would do well, make Russia look good, and this unfortunate event occurred. But no one wanted him to win the Olympics more than himself. When Misha came home from the Olympics, he was extremely depressed.

I have a dangerous heart condition,” he said during a visit to Alexei and I. “I can never skate again.”

Surely you don’t intend to take that seriously,” I said. “The man is probably just lying to get some sort of revenge or attention or something. Get a second opinion. Who knows? Maybe he’s what the Americans call a ‘quack.’”

I have gotten a second opinion. And third and fourth and fifth opinions, all from specialists in the field. They have all said the same.” I was shocked.

I don’t believe it.”

I know.”

I’m sorry, my friend.”

So am I.”

I began competing the next season in the seniors for the first time. I had just won the Junior World Championships, now it was time to see how truly good I was…

Just after my sixteenth birthday I began training vigorously with Metrenkov’s other students. After a few warm-ups and practices, it came time to compete in my first competition: Nations Cup.

Just remember everything I taught you, and don’t be afraid or nervous. You are not under any pressure. Just act as if this is a junior competition,” Metrenkov advised. I nodded, adjusting my left cuff and buttoning the top button of my red shirt. I took a deep breath, then went out to skate.

I nailed all three of my triples and even my quad toe loop for my short program. It was amazing even for me! My spins were as good as anyone else there, if not better, and my expression was at its height. When I received my marks it was revealed that I was leading! My nearest rivals were Misha, but what else is new, and the American Alexander Andrews. I was exhausted from my performance and I went to the hotel to rest for tomorrow’s long program.

The next day I went to the rink to practice. I was the first one there, as I liked it to be that way. I always like to be the first person there and the last person to leave. I ran through my long program twice, then warmed up on my spins. Within forty-five minutes the rest of the skaters came, including the women, pairs and ice dancers. When it was time for the others to practice I did one last triple toe loop and skated off.

When it was time for the long program I skated last in a group of six. Misha skated right before me, and before him was Andrews. Both of their performances were good but sloppy. Misha clinched the lead before I was about to skate. It was the moment of truth. The winner could either be me or Misha. I doubted I could match him, but the gold medal wouldn’t get away from me so easily.

I actually threw in two quad toe loops, and landed them both flawlessly. I did the rest of my moves perfectly, with great force. But my expression, my greatest tribute, was not as good as it had been when I practiced it. For this I received 5.8s and 5.7s. I still won, but I didn’t think I deserved it.

I came home from Germany and went to Alexei, who had turned professional after the Olympics, having never won the Russian Nationals or the Olympics. He was okay with this though; he accepted it.

We’re all proud of you,” he said gently.

Thanks. Where’s Lena?”

In her room studying.”

I walked in to tell her the good news only to have my good mood ruined. There she was, studying hard for an English exam. She looked excited, anxious, and even interested in it!

You mean you actually want to learn that language? Why?”

I’m going to America this summer, Mitya. I have to lean it. You can come too, if you want.” I almost laughed. Certainly she wasn’t serious!

You don’t ‘have’ to do anything. You can get around fine without English. I have. Anyway, you know very well I would rather die than willingly visit that horrid country.”

Why?” she asked, already knowing my reasons why I didn’t like America, or Americans. I must have told her a thousand times. I rolled my eyes and sighed. You’d think she would know this by now!

They’re corrupting our politicians, they’re destroying our culture, and they’re just plunging our country into further ruin, just like theirs. Can’t you see that?” Elena sighed, exasperated.

You’re hopeless, you know that?”

I hung my head and bit my lip, ashamed. I did not mean to hurt her. I felt bad for what I said. I put my arm around her and nuzzled her ear.

Lena, I’m sorry. My love, please forgive me, ah? Lena, I never meant to hurt you. Please understand that. My mouth has been running away with me lately.”

It’s the Americans’ freedom of speech that’s done that to you,” she said, laughing through her tears. I couldn’t help laughing myself.

If it is what you want, my love, then I will gladly stand by you. I might like America.” I doubt it, I thought again, but I kept my thoughts silent. I didn’t want another argument.

I wasn’t demanding you come, Mitya. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

I think I will go. If you will allow me.”

I would like for you to come very much.” She smiled and kissed my cheek.

I took the book out of her hand and caressed her. Before we knew it, we were making love.

You know,” I said holding her when we were finished, “this is the first time in my life that I am truly happy. I have never felt so much joy before.” Lena was silent. I looked, and saw that she was sleeping. I was so lucky and blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life.

I was not exactly on a, how you say, burning streak, but I was winning a few competitions. Most of them I either got silver or bronze though, which disappointed and aggravated me a lot. I would soon be competing in the European Championships in February of 1999. Was I really capable of winning?

If you work hard and believe in yourself,” Alexander Nicholaevich told me. I knew I could do this, but I was still nervous. This competition would make history for me. I would be the youngest man ever to win this competition. Could I do it?

I was talking to Lyosha about this when Lena came over and timidly asked, “Mitya, could I have a word with you?”

Of course, Lena.”

I followed her into her bedroom. She slammed the door shut and locked it. I stood there, my eyebrows raised. What was going on?

Mitya, I’m late,” she hissed. Her beautiful blue eyes had great big tears in them. She looked so frightened, so paranoid.

What?” I didn’t know what she was talking about.

I’m late,” she stressed. My eyes widened. Now I knew.

Have you tested?” Lena shook her head, tears in her eyes.

You know how expensive those things are!”

Well, I’ll chip in. I’ll pay for it all.” Then I remembered. “Lena, you and I, we-“

Used protection, I know.”

So how can you be-“

Sometimes these things happen. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to turn out like it has.”

Might have, Elena. Might have.” Lena paused.

What are we going to do if I am?”

I don’t know. Your parents will kill you, and they’ll never forgive me.”

I want to have the child if I am, Mitya.”

I could tell she was serious. I hoped she knew what she was getting us into.

You’re sixteen,” I pointed out. I knew she was responsible enough to take care of a child, but was I?

I know. But I’ll manage somehow.”

I took her hand and looked her in the eye.

We’ll manage. I won’t leave you.”

You promise?”

I promise. I swear to God, I will never leave you.”

Elena got tested the next day. Now what we had to do was wait.

I came home from school a few days later and found Elena crying in her room. Her parents weren’t home; they just went to work. Alexei was playing basketball with his friends, which left just us two

What’s wrong? Lena,” I embraced her from behind, “please tell me.”

I’m pregnant.”

My heart stopped. I was not ready to be a father. I was not. In fact, I wondered if Lena was ready to become a mother! But we had nine months to learn.

I’m so frightened. Mama and Papa said they’d help, but I’m still scared. I’m not ready for this, Mitya. I’m just not. I don’t know what to do!” Elena cried, her eyes full of despair. I held her close.

Okay, okay. It will be all right. I’ll stand by you. I’ll be here for you. Okay?” I nuzzled her ear and kissed her cheek. “I will always be there for you, I swear it.”


I kept looking through my photo album as I remembered these events, seeing pictures of Lena, Lyosha, Ivan, Marina, and Sergei and I at different places. Then I saw a picture of Lena and I in a snowball fight in a town outside Petersburg. The snow swirled around us like two people in a snow globe. Her brown hair blew in the wind, snowflakes were caught in it. I held her hands in mine, cherishing the moment. Tears filled my narrowed, angry eyes. Why is life so harsh? I regretted leaving. I wanted so much to be there in St. Petersburg, with my friends and loved ones, all who I’d left behind. It was then that I remembered why I was there, why I had left, and I forcefully turned the page.

The Reason

It was one month ago and Elena and I were going to America as planned. She was four months pregnant. We planned to stay in Pittsburgh for five months.

I’ll never forget that first day…

This is going to be wonderful,” I said as we walked into the terminal in Pittsburgh. I truly meant what I said. I could see from the city outside that we were going to have a wonderful time there. I got my things and we looked around for our exchange parents.

Elena!” a woman called. I looked and saw Holly Karlson, our exchange mother. She had shoulder-length dark shiny blonde hair and glasses. She had a pleasant smile, which was hidden for that moment by a look of nervousness. I chuckled. She was as nervous as I was! A chill ran down my spine as I thought of my poor English… Well, Lena could translate for me.

Hi, you must be Holly?” She blushed, and nodded. “This is my boyfriend, Dmitry. I thank you once again for letting us both stay with you. I am only sorry that he doesn’t know that much English.”

Oh, it’s no trouble at all, dear. My husband is waiting for you in the car. We can help you learn if you like,” she said to me.

Th- thanks from you,” I said barely understanding what she said.

We followed her out to a beautiful black Mercedes. When I saw it, I froze, stunned at this fantastic work of craftsmanship. What a car! I had not learned how to drive yet, but I wouldn’t mind!

Hi, kids,” said the man in the front seat. “Hop in.” I was puzzled, but Elena understood. I got in beside her and sat down.

“’Hop in’?” I asked in Russian softly. Lena giggled.

I know,” she whispered back. What a strange person this American was!

The car ride to the Karlson’s home was not very special. All we did was talk about who we were, where we were from, what we did… But the sights were what interested me. So many skyscrapers! Tall skyscrapers! All around the city! Beautiful architecture! This city’s architects were certainly fond of arches! One building was made entirely of glass! We could only see it from a distance, but the sun shone on the top, making it have a nice glint. Amazing! There were so many bridges! The rivers were beautiful! Even the stadium and hockey arena were beautiful! I knew I was going to like it here.

When we got home, I went into Lena’s room to help her unpack. She brought everything but the kitchen tub, as you Americans say!

Did you bring everything you own, Lena?” I teased. “Are you sure you didn’t forget anything?”

Yes, I did bring everything I own, Mitya,” she answered seriously. I could not do anything but stare at her.

What are you talking about, Lena? Why?”

I’m defecting,” she said softly. My heart skipped a beat. Was she kidding?

What? But Lena, I-”

And you are too. Nothing you can say can make me change my mind.” I could not believe this. Why would she keep this from me? Then I realized why. She knew that if she had told me I would not have gone. Not only that, but I also would have prevented her from going! Lena was the type who, if she wanted something bad enough, she would do whatever she had to to get it! If she wanted to defect, that was her decision. But why bring me? Then I remembered my vow. I promised to stay with her and support her always, in the name of God. But defecting meant that I would have to give up everything I’d worked for! I could still skate, but I would have to represent America! I couldn’t do that! I hated this country! Then I remembered my friends. Lyosha. Ivan. Misha. Our family for God’s sake! Our language! It would all be given up! Defecting was a big mistake. It wasn’t right! I would not break my vow, but I could not let her ruin my life like this, either. I had five months to convince her that this country was wrong, and that we (or I if necessary) belonged back in Russia…

I have to admit when I’m wrong, and I’m wrong. This Pittsburgh was anything but the pits. We spent many days going to the symphony, brass band concerts, plays, ballets and musicals; it was certainly better than I expected from America. We even grew to like the hockey team! Jagr was some player! One day, Lena was excited about a surprise that she was going to take me to, or rather, I was going to take her to…

You’re going to love it, Mitya! It’ll be a blast!” I laughed. Okay, I agreed to her surprise. I wanted to get all that I could get out of this country, before we (or I) left for good.

Steve and Holly had taught me how to drive, so I drove us to Lena’s destination with the help of her directions. It wasn’t long before we came to an amusement park. A large roller coaster loomed above everything else.

The tallest and fastest steel roller coaster in the world,” she said in awe. “It’s called the Steel Phantom.”

It’s amazing,” I said, also impressed. “Let’s try and see if it’s as good as it sounds, okay?” Lena smiled and we went into the park.

On the way to the “Phantom,” as people called it, we went on all of the rides that were there. The line waiting wasn’t so bad; we were used to waiting in lines for things. After all, we were Russian! The rides were mostly fast, which was just my speed, but some were slow and romantic. The Old Mill, for example, was like a- how do you say? Love tunnel. Meanwhile, the Racer roller coaster was fast, with many hills. I have to say that my favorite ride was the Steel Phantom. It was amazing! There were parts on the ground where you could touch the tracks, but you wouldn’t dare to! The roller coaster was indeed like a phantom: the first obstacle was a drop about 225 feet, according to a sign that was there as you were lining up to get on! Then, once you got past that, you had three loops in a row, then a- what do you call it? A corkscrew turn. Then after another loop, you were finished. It was short, but it was very fun! As soon as you went down that hill, your speed (according to the sign) was exactly 80 miles per hour! I was not used to such speed, but it was fun!

Lena was very happy that I liked the trip.

So does that mean you will stay?” she asked on the way home. I tried to control my temper.

You actually think that was supposed to make me change my mind about staying here?”

But you had fun!”

Yes, I had fun, but how many times can you do that? It would get so boring after a while you would never want to go back.”

I thought you were happy here, Mitya,” she said, looking out the window.

I am happy!” I screamed, and reached back my hand. Lena braced herself, terrified. A tear slid down her cheek and I shook my head, coming to my senses. What was wrong with me? I’d never raised a hand against her in my life! “I’m so sorry, Lena. I try to control it, really I do. Sweetheart, please. Come back to Petersburg.”

I’m not happy there, Mitya. What will it take to make you realize that?”

But I don’t want to leave you. And I never planned on staying here any longer than we had to. Think of our child. Please.”

I do,” she said quietly.

I sighed softly. I suppose having to convince her would have to wait another day…

That night, as she lay in my arms fast asleep, I realized how selfish I was being. All I cared about was my happiness. I never even bothered to think about Lena’s. But then, she was being the same way! There appeared to be no way to say who was right and who was wrong. It was a dead end. We both had our opinions, which were completely opposites! If I was going to get help, I needed to get it from someone else. I kissed her forehead and went to Steve and Holly.

Can I talk to you?” I asked Holly, who was watching the news.

Sure, Dmitry. What’s wrong?”

Lena wants to defect.” I explained everything that happened as best I could, all the talks that we’d had. It took a while, but she finally gave me some advice.

Think of the child.”

We do, and I suppose we both want different things for him… or her. Who are we to judge what is right and what is wrong for the child? I suppose only God can be such a judge, but I have been praying and praying and I have not gotten any answers. What would you do, if you were us?”

Holly paused, thinking for a moment.

Well, I’m not sure. I think you should try to rationally talk with each other about what is good and what is bad about this country. I’ll help you both as much as I can. I won’t be biased. I’ll just tell the truth.”

Thank you, Holly.”

You’re welcome, Dmitry. Good night.”

It was about two months before we had to leave, and Elena’s host family was like a second family to us both... But in my case, I suppose it would be like a third family…

Anyway, as much as I dislike America, it was extremely difficult not to like our host family. They would do almost anything for us. Holly even learned how to cook Russian food for me!

Still, this country was not for me. Or the child. Something just gave me a horrible feeling that coming here was a big mistake. We both had to get back to Russia. How could we hurt Lyosha and the rest of her family like that? Never seeing our child? It wasn’t right!

We were driving home from shopping and we stopped at a red light for a moment. I pleaded with Elena one last time to come back to Petersburg. I had only brought it up at least once a month, randomly… okay; maybe it was once a week… But this was the last time. I wanted her happiness, and if defecting and giving up everything I held dear was the only way I could obtain it, then I would have to deal with it. I was being stupid for acting so selfish. It was wrong, and I would deal with staying here permanently if we had to.

Darling, must you bring this up again and again?” she asked, annoyed.

I’m just saying, I don’t think this country is right for the child.”

And I suppose Russia is.” Elena said, looking out the window.

I tried to control my temper.

I didn’t say that. I’m just saying, I think we were better off not coming here. This country has false promise. They tell you it’s the Land of Opportunity, and what opportunity is there, ah? What? Anyone can do anything here, and that’s not necessarily a good thing! Think of the crime, the poverty! It’s worse than home!”

I suppose you’d rather the government control every aspect of our lives.”

I took a deep breath.

That’s over, now, Lena. We’re a democracy now… sort of. This isn’t the ‘80s, for God’s sake!”

I suppose you’d rather us live in poverty.”

We can survive,” I said, my eyes narrowed but still on the road. “My competition money will provide for us.”

I suppose you’d rather our child suffocate because of the pressure from the government!”

What pressure?” I muttered emotionless. What time period did she live in anyway?

You may think that this country is full of false promise, but let me inform you that I know for a fact that you can actually become very prosperous here. Much more prosperous than in Russia! Even if you won the Olympics, you would barely be able to afford an apartment in Petersburg. Here, you’ll be able to buy anything! But you can’t get there without hard work! You can’t expect them to just give you freedom! It’s like in the French Revolution. The majority of the participants could have made a good life for themselves, but they had to work for it. The reason why they had a revolution is because the people in the cities didn’t want to give themselves a better life. They had no desire to-”

I slammed my fist on the steering wheel. She was completely missing the point!

Goddamn it, Lena, will you just listen to what I have to-“

Look out!” Elena cried horrified.

I gasped and looked just in time to see a delivery truck making its way across the road. I swerved, zigzagging, trying to remember what way to turn in an American car, and my side hit against another car.

What are you, crazy?” the woman cried.

I swerved the other way, and went headfirst into a Buick, shattering the windshield. Lena was taking deep breaths, and I was trying to stop the car. The breaks simply wouldn’t operate! I feared for Lena, whose body was stabbed with small pieces of glass from the windshield. She looked so frightened! As we were about to be broadsided by the truck, I clutched her hand and gently told her, “You’ll be all right,” and did my best to shield her.


I woke up in the hospital. I could not find the strength to move. My head was bandaged and strapped down, and I had tubes in my nose and down my throat. My blurry vision was able to make out distorted figures resembling Steve and Holly. Holly was holding my hand stroking my hair.

How do you feel, Dmitry?” Steve asked from the corner.

I strained to look at him. My head hurt like crazy. How did he think I felt?

What happened?” I asked, and paused, surprised at how weak my voice was. I tried to move, but Holly stopped me.

You were in an accident. You were in a coma for three weeks,” Holly explained. It took some time but I finally remembered what happened. I gasped.

Lena,” I whispered, alarmed. How was she? Where was she? God, please tell me where she is!

She’s dead.”

I looked at her, silently begging her to tell me it wasn’t true. With tears in her eyes, she nodded.

Nyet,” I whispered so softly no one could hear me. I closed my eyes and two rivers of tears came flowing out, stopped by Holly’s gentle soft fingers, drying them as they fell. This couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t. Lena, my love, my reason for living, she couldn’t have died. She just couldn’t!

Tears continued to flow as the last few moments of the “accident” flashed through my mind over and over again. My fault. It was all my fault. Elena and our child were dead. I killed them, simply by expressing my thoughts. It was me. My fault. I was driving.

My life stopped that very moment, and I have never recovered from this. I wanted so much to tell Elena how sorry I was, how I wanted her to forgive me. I could never forgive myself for what I had just done. Never.

I went back to Russia for the funeral service. I had never been so sad before in my life, despite everything that happened. The hardships that I endured before were nothing compared to this. I said nothing as the ceremony was conducted; I just cried. Once she was buried, I stayed there longer than anyone else. I stood over her grave with a bouquet of pink carnations in my hand. Forget red roses. If you wanted to please Elena Sergeievna Ugarova, pink carnations were the way to go. I stood at the grave not knowing what to say or do. I wanted her forgiveness more than anything, and since Elena was gone for good, I had no way to obtain it. Tears fell from my eyes as hard as I tried to hold them back and I placed the bouquet down. Tears sprinkled the precious soil that she was buried under as I whispered my last farewell to her.

I’m so sorry, my love. I’ll love you forever.”


As soon as I arrived in Petersburg, everyone tried their best to comfort me. It didn’t help much. I was in too much grief. After all, she died because of me, because of my greed, because of my temper. I stayed with the Ugarovs and they were surprisingly gentle towards me, especially Alexei.

Thanks for letting me stay here again, Lyosha.”

Alexei smiled.

Mitya, it’s no problem at all. You’re family now. You have been for a long time.”

I know. But I feel terrible about what happened.”

Don’t feel that way. It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done.”

She was your sister. You trusted me with her life. Yet you don’t hate me for what I’ve done.”

Because you haven’t done anything. You had nothing to do with it.”

I sighed.

You think so…”

I know so. Why would you do that to Lena?”

I killed her. It was my fault. I was driving!” I cried. Tears streamed from my bloodshot eyes.

You didn’t crash on purpose, Mitya. It was an accident.”

An accident caused by my mouth! Lena and I were arguing! I wasn’t watching the road. I know I should have been, but I couldn’t keep my temper under control!” I sighed and bowed my head. “And now I’ve lost her.”

Alexei’s eyes narrowed. I looked at him. For the first time in years, he was furious at me.

You talk as if she belonged to you and you alone! You seem to have forgotten that she was my sister! How do you think losing her makes me feel? Not to mention our parents! Lena was sixteen!”

I shook my head and sighed.

Lyosha, the last thing I came here for was to fight with you. You’re far too dear to me, and I don’t want to lose you.”

Well, it seems to me that you should try to realize that you are being selfish! Lena did not belong to anyone! She was free. Independent. She was always that way.”

I know,” I said. “But when I was with her, it seemed like nothing else mattered. I didn’t care about all the pain I was having, the stress I endured. You know? I’ll never have that again, Lyosha. Never.”

Alexei softened.

Well, I suppose it does take time. You’ll get over it. In the meantime, you have to start getting ready for this season. Alexander Nicholaevich has been asking for you ever since he heard you arrived.”

I’m not going to skate this season, Lyosha.”

What? Why not? Because of this? Mitya, this isn’t like you!”

I don’t want to stay here anymore. I don’t want to skate. I just want to be alone,” I said quietly. My lip quivered, and I went to my room, which would have been Lena’s if she hadn’t died.

I lay on her bed crying. I felt something fuzzy moving my hand. I looked and saw Lepa. I picked her up and stroked her, scratching her ears. She purred contentedly. It was nice to see her again. I missed Russia so much, but it was unbearable at the same time. Lepa and I both fell asleep, and she stayed with me all night.

Soon after I went into my (which was still Lena’s to me) room, Marina came in and hugged me tightly, crying.

Mama, I am so sorry, I am. I know how much you hate me, but don’t worry I won’t be here long.”

Of course I don’t hate you, Mitya. You’re like my own son. How could I hate you?”

You don’t know what happened, do you?”

Of course I know. You’ve told me a thousand times. It won’t bring her back.”

If only I could apologize…”

You have, more times than you know. Every action, every thought now is a memorial to her. That doesn’t mean you should give everything you know, everything you love, up. She wouldn’t have wanted that.”

She acted that way. She wanted to defect, for God’s sake. I didn’t want her to, and I guess I would have stopped at anything to make sure that we would be in Russia, but she wasn’t happy here. She never was, and I am blind for not seeing it.”

Mama sighed.

Mitya…” She pulled me close and we cried together for a few minutes.

Dinner will be ready soon,” she said after a while.

Do you need any help?”

No, it’s all right. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”

Morning, Mitya,” Sergei said the next morning.

Good morning, Papa. How did you sleep?”

Better,” he said with a shrug. He had been having some medical troubles lately, though nothing serious.

I’m sorry,” I said. “For everything. I have ruined your life. I don’t deserve you as a family.”

Don’t be ridiculous, Mitya. Things happen. Sure, we are all upset, but it was no one’s fault. There must be some other important reason why she was called to Heaven early.”

It’s not fair, though. She didn’t deserve to be taken away so soon. I miss her so much.”

We all do, Mitya. We all do.”

Whenever you’re ready, Mitya,” Mama said softly, tears in her eyes.

Okay,” I replied. I was in such agony, but I had to be strong for Mama’s sake.

Alexei had not spoken to me ever since our “fight.” I could tell he wanted to, but something held him back. Obviously my words hurt more than I intended them to. After the ceremony I finally went to him. He was talking to Vanya.

Lyosha, I’m sorry,” I said interrupting his conversation.

Alexei sighed.

Well, it’s all right. You were in grief. We both were. When you’re upset it’s easy to say and do things you don’t mean. Are you sure you won’t skate?”

I nodded.

I’m not going to skate anymore as far as I can tell. I have no desire to. It’s not the same anymore.”

Vanya smiled sadly.

We’ll miss you, drug moe,” he said. “The way you’re acting you’d think you were a pair team like Katia Gordieva and her Sergei.”

I smiled sadly and blinked my tears away.

We sort of were,” I said softly, remembering the times when we would skate forever, just for fun, and when she would help me with my moves when I had my down points, and vice-versa. She was there for me…

Things happen, Mitya. You can’t necessarily change them, but you can change your reactions to them.”

I knew Ivan meant well, but his words were not comforting to me at all then. I just wanted to leave. Without Lena, Russia seemed unbearable; a place of utter and complete blackness, and it was as if I would never see the light again.

I went back to America and decided to apply for immigration. Steve and Holly were kind enough to take me in. I wanted to just live my life as a normal teenager in America, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

Lament

Just then, I heard the door open.

Dmitry, we’re home!” Steve called.

I hid the photo album under my bed and tried to hide the expression of my loneliness. My heart felt like it weighed a hundred kilograms. I ignored it, put a big smile on my face, and went out to greet them.

We’re going to the Iceoplex to skate. Do you want to come?”

Skating? Me? Now?

No, I think I’ll just stick around here and take care of things that need taken care of. I have homework anyway.”

Steve sighed and looked at me piteously. He sat down on the couch and motioned for me to sit down too.

Dmitry, I know it’s been hard for you this past month, and I know how much you loved her. But don’t you think it’s time you moved on?”

I can’t,” I said sadly. How dare he tell me when to stop grieving! “It happened so recently, I just can’t go on yet. Not for a while. I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry to hear that. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

Thank you.”

Are you coming, Dmitry?” asked Holly, just coming in.

I rolled my eyes and was about to say no when for some reason I found myself saying “Why not?”

I went with them to the Iceoplex. I ended up not having the will to skate, as I expected. I just sat on the bleachers and watched Steve, Holly, and a few others frolic on the ice. As I watched Steve and Holly skate, I saw a vision of my love and I back in Russia performing a pairs routine I made up. I loved to perform with her. I wanted to do that again… I wanted Elena back.

Mitya,” Lena called from the rink, skating towards me, her voice sounding like the wind.

Lena,” I whispered back, wanting to reach out and touch her.

What?”

I gasped, shook my head, and looked again.

Oh, Marie, I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”

What are you doing here? Going to practice?”

I’m done with skating. I told you before.”

Marie was shocked. I could understand why. After all, she had no idea of what I’d just been through…

You mean, done completely? As in, never again? Never?”

Yes.”

Why? You’re at the peak of your career! You are rich, and you have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of girls who want to meet you! You can buy just about anything you want. Is there something I am not getting?”

It’s true, I do have many female admirers, but I am not as rich as you think I am. I can buy a few things that I want, but there is something I want more than anything, and unfortunately it is something I cannot buy.”

What’s that?”

Forgiveness,” I said, sighing.

Forgiveness from who? Why?”

I killed my girlfriend and our unborn child.”

Marie was taken aback. Again, I wasn’t surprised.

How did they die?” she asked softly.

I told her about the accident (which, to me, was not really an accident). She seemed relieved! What was she thinking? What did she expect?

Sounds like the only one who needs to forgive you is you.”

I managed a sad smile.

You have the heart of a poet, Marie.”

I am a poet, Dmitry. You’ve seen how much I write. I know these things. Now come on, let’s go skate.”

No, I’m sorry, but it’s just too soon.”

Okay then, I won’t push you.”

At least someone won’t.”

Just don’t blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”

I was driving.”

Don’t worry. She’s forgiven you.”

There’s so much you don’t know.”

Well, why don’t you tell me so that I will know?”

I told her of the argument. Her expression changed to uncertainty, only she did a good job of hiding it.

Still, I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

If only I would’ve looked, she would still be alive. Elena will never be able to forgive me. How can she? She’s dead.”

So now the only one who can forgive you is God.”

I thought of this. It was the closest I could get to redemption…

Maybe you’re right,” I said, and went to Steve and Holly.

Confession and Redemption

I went to a cathedral and sat down in the confessional area.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been a long time since my last confession, I’m afraid.”

Tell me about yourself, my son. What would you like to confess?” the priest asked from the other side of the screen.

I took a deep breath and got right to the point.

I killed my girlfriend and her unborn child.”

The priest paused.

Tell me what happened,” he said, clearing his throat.

I told him everything: about the child, Elena’s desires, and the “accident.”

My son, there was nothing you could have done. An accident cannot be controlled.”

Please, Father, let me redeem myself. Please.”

He gave me penance and I went to the altar and prayed. A moment later, the priest came out and stood beside me.

How old are you, my son?”

Seventeen.”

Very young to be dealt such a blow.”

Yes, I suppose so. My girlfriend and I loved each other very much. I have led a rough life anyway. Please forgive me.” I was not facing him. My head was bowed in prayer and shame, my face hidden by my clasped hands.

You were right in coming here. The Lord has forgiven you, but more importantly, you should forgive yourself. It was not your fault.”

Then why do I feel so bad?” I asked, part of me already knowing the answer.

Because you loved her so much. You feel you should have done something when there was nothing to be done. God has forgiven you, but don’t forget to forgive yourself also.”

Thank you, Father. You’re of more help than you know.”

Take care of yourself, my son. God bless you.”

Thank you.”


The next day at dinner, I announced, “I would like to go back to Russia as soon as I can.”

Why, Dmitry? I thought you liked it here,” Steve said.

I do, but I miss Russia and all of my friends. I want to go back to skating, back to my homeland. It was nice staying here, but I need to have my life back.”

If that is what you want,” Holly replied reluctantly.

It is. America was a nice country to visit, but it is not the place for me. I’m going back to my real home. But whatever happens, I will always think of you, and I will keep in touch.”

I went to school the next few days and, to my great surprise, we actually worked! We watched a movie in Humanities class, but at least it had something to do with the class. I waited till the day before I was leaving to tell Marie; that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about her trying to change my mind.

I have something to tell you,” I said quietly, at the end of the movie Crime and Punishment.

Huh?” she asked, too preoccupied with her writing, as usual.

I smiled. Only Marie… I was going to miss that…

I’m leaving, and I’m leaving for good. I’m going to go back to Russia, back to skating, back to my friends, back to my language, and everything else I left behind.”

Marie stopped writing and looked up. A smile was on her face, but her sparkling blue eyes looked shocked.

You talked to a priest, didn’t you?”

Yes,” I replied.

Marie embraced me and kissed my cheek. I almost drew back. What did she think she was doing? Trying to replace Lena? Nothing could replace her. Nothing! On the other hand, it was nice to feel such a gentle touch again; it was nice to have a girl in my life again.

Well, I’m really happy that you’re happy to go back. But I’m going to miss you. Can you give me your e-mail address, or I can give you mine?”

We exchanged addresses, and once again we went our separate ways; only this time I would never see her again… or so I thought…

Home’s Hardships

I arrived in Petersburg the next morning. I went back to the Ugarovs, who welcomed me back with open arms. Alexei was the happiest of all.

Now that is the Dmitry I know,” he said happily when I arrived. He kissed my cheeks.

Yes. I know that Lena’s death wasn’t my fault, and I know it was no real reason to stop skating. I truly can’t wait to see Alexander Nicholaevich and go back to the rink.”

Alexei stopped. His face fell.

You mean, you don’t know?”

Know what?” I asked.

I could have sworn I told you.” Alexei paused. “I think it would be best if we go there together.”

We went to Karilyevsky Ice Palace, which was, to my great shock, not in its greatest condition. In fact, it was practically falling apart. There was hardly any ice in the rink, but it was absolutely freezing, and the bleachers were a complete safety hazard.

What happened here, Lyosha?” I asked, still surveying the damage.

It is ruined. Nothing can be done. They have no money. The athletes weren’t performing well, the few stars kept sustaining injury after injury, I was professional, and you were gone. Nothing was left to do. Many of the assistants, including Arcadii Ivanovich, left to teach in other countries. I do believe Arcadii Ivanovich is in France now, coaching ice dancing as well as singles. They had to close. They hope to reopen in two years or so, if they have the staff and enough students to study. Many of them have chosen to leave Karilyevsky and skate in other cities, even other countries. Vanya is now training in Finland; he’s getting more respect there anyway. A few others have left for miscellaneous countries, including, unfortunately, America.”

Lyosha, I can perform well. I can turn the school around. I can make Karilyevsky great again.”

It’s too late. Nothing can be done.”

I will pay for the repairs myself,” I offered.

The money you have is not nearly enough to pay for all of the repairs that are necessary for skating. You barely afforded your plane tickets here and back for Lena’s funeral and now.”

Then I will pay for what I can.”

I think it would be best to speak to Alexander Nicholaevich about this first,” he said, and we went to him.

We told him everything. Metrenkov sighed.

If you think it will do any good.”

I do. And it will. I promise. We still have a fighting chance.” I said determined.

A Fighting Chance

I had a wonderful and brilliant plan to get finances for the school. My plan was to get as many former students as I could. Together we would show St. Petersburg what Karilyevsky Ice Palace had done for the children in the city. We would have a recital, sort of. A celebration of figure skating, held not in Karilyevsky Ice Palace, but in another rink due to the conditions of the ice. I asked Misha, who had left to find work in Moscow, for help in choreographing routines for everyone. He couldn’t skate because of his heart, but he could help me with the routines. Since Lyosha was so advanced he would also help me with the routines. I had it all worked out. Everyone would have two routines, at least. Stars (like me, Lyosha, and Vanya, who I was able to get in touch with and convince to come back and skate if only for this performance) would have one solo routine, and then one special routine. For example, if I were choreographing a special routine for Lyosha, I would add in the part of a skater who was just as talented as he was, but maybe not as famous. If I was choreographing a special pair or ice dancing routine, I would add in a part for either an ice dancing or pair team. I was a pretty good choreographer, at least I thought so, but I wanted to make these routines truly something to remember, and for that I needed help. I told Marie about this over e-mail, and she said not to worry; she’d help me.

I was making some tea in Alexei’s home when there was a knock on the door.

Come in,” I said in Russian.

Privet, Dmitry,” she said.

I froze as I heard the voice. It couldn’t be her, could it? I turned.

How did you afford to come here?” I asked, stunned to see her.

My mom chipped in, I used some from my savings account, but my grandparents gave me most of it.”

I embraced her.

I thought I would never see you again,” I said almost crying.

I know, I thought the same. I missed you.”

I’m glad to see you, but I’m sorry you paid so much for coming here.”

It was worth it.” She kissed my cheek.

I kissed her, and felt ashamed. Lena would not have wanted it like this, would she? I backed away, tears in my eyes.

What’s wrong?” she asked confused.

Nothing,” I said. “So what are you doing here?” I asked.

Marie smiled devilishly.

Choreographing was one of her hobbies, she had said, and it would be an honor for her to choreograph for me and with me. She perfected the routines Misha and Lyosha and I created, and she added some routines. There was a routine she created that featured a pair team, and I was the “surprise guest star,” as I liked to call it. The only thing left was to create a finale featuring us all. Marie was extremely excited about this part.

I picture you guys skating to a medley of music from Anastasia. I think this music shows that the school will somehow rise again, just like the Grand Duchess Anastasia. So I think this music is perfect. Now, as all of you have seen, most of my programs are theatrical. The finale is no exception. I’ll need time to think of exactly what the routine will be like, but I’m sure it won’t take long.”

It took her two hours for her to come up with a twenty-five-minute routine, and what a finale it was.

A short music box-style ballet began the routine, followed by a traditional Russian dance, then a Viennese waltz for a few minutes. Then one pair team, four single women skaters, and two male single skaters (including yours truly) would pretend to act out scenes of happiness, fear, destruction, and despair, while the rest of the skaters would skate in circles around them. Then we would all continue to skate together as if in mourning, but then our heroine (one of the single ladies from the beginning) who had acted as if she had died would rise again and there would be celebration on the ice. It was a very theatrical routine indeed, intended to capture the public’s emotions.

The admission for the recital would be used to finance the school’s repairs. We were also planning a little fundraising, as well as out-of-public help. By that, I meant that we, the skaters, would pay for whatever we could to keep the school open.

I was holding her in my arms one night watching television when a tear slid down my cheek unexpectedly.

What’s wrong?” she asked in a dreamlike way.

My chest ached in anguish. I felt like my eyes could never be opened again. Marie sat up, concerned.

Mitya, have I said or done something to offend you?”

No,” I replied gently, smiling at her. Marie? Do something to upset me? Never. “It’s just…”

What?” she prompted. She hadn’t the vaguest idea what she was asking me to say. On the other hand, would it help?

Lena,” I whispered.

Marie held me in her arms, just as she had when my father died.

I miss her so much. I don’t know what to do.”

Marie kissed my forehead, and began stroking my hair and caressing me.

It’s all right,” she cooed.

Stop,” I pleaded.

Marie did stop. We faced each other. At first she was confused, but then once she saw the tears in my eyes the light dawned on her.

I just can’t, not like this. Not after Lena.”

It’s all right, Mitya, I just tried to comfort you. I don’t know how, but I know what you’re going through.”

I just… can’t love again, Marie. That’s all there is.”

Marie smiled.

Yes, you can, and you do. Think about it. If you had no capacity to love, you wouldn’t be so nice.”

You want to bet?” I said, and stormed to my room.

I was only in there for a second when I came out. There was something inside me that said, What are you, crazy? Go to her! I realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in seclusion, away from people. It was just not like me!

Marie was putting on her coat.

What are you doing?”

You don’t want me here,” she said quietly. I could tell she was crying.

No!” I cried desperately, running to her and taking her hand. I stared into her eyes. “Marie, of course I want you here. I just can’t do anything too serious right now. It’s not right for Lena! As a matter of fact, I feel like I can’t bear to be apart from you. I am pleading, begging, imploring you, please don’t go. Please stay.” Oh, God, please don’t make me lose her… I sighed and looked away. “I know I have hurt you, and I can’t be sorry enough for it. I truly don’t blame you if you don’t accept my apology. I’m not forcing you to stay; I want you to be happy.” I felt relieved as I said this. It was like saying the same thing to Lena in America. That was what I should have said to her… or what she could have said to me.

Marie’s hands touched my shoulders, as gentle as they had ever been. She kissed my cheek.

Don’t worry,” she whispered softly in my ear. “I could never leave you. I’m happy when I’m with you. I love you, Mitya, and you deserve more than giving up love altogether. I agree you need some time, but we can still be friends, right?”

Of course,” I said. We embraced and she stayed with me as long as her visa would allow.

Marie’s visa allowed her to stay for two weeks. Our practice for this was three weeks. It was so short because we literally couldn’t afford any more time. Marie stayed for two weeks and attended every practice. That last full day of Marie’s presence was something I think all of us dreaded, but we had a surprise for her…

Instead of practicing,” Ivan said, “we are going to perform for you as if it were the night of the real performance. That way, you can see the finished product before anyone else does!” Marie smiled, tears in her eyes.

We performed everything, just like it was the real thing. To me, it was the real thing. We even had our costumes! She would never see these routines again, but with my video camera she would be able to treasure them forever…

That night, I helped her pack for the next morning’s flight.

I’m going to miss you,” I said embracing her. “I wish you could stay. Are you sure you can’t? I’m sure I could do something.” Marie smiled, tears in her eyes.

Sorry. I really have to go back where I belong. Russia is so different from America. I’m not used to this place, especially the cold. I miss my family, and I miss my friends. Surely you understand.”

Yes, sadly, I do. Well, at least we have tonight.”

Marie spent the night in my arms, and I realized as I was watching her sleep peacefully how much she meant to me. I wished I could do something or say something to make her stay with me, permanently. I thought of taking her around the city and showing her the good things this city had to offer. Then I realized that Elena tried to do the same with me, with America. Had she done that for the same reason? Out of love? It took a while but I realized that yes, she did do it out of love. She wanted what she thought was best; I know that now. I want what is best for Marie, and if she is happier in America, then I will support her as much as I can. It broke my heart, but I wanted her to be happy. And if being happy meant that I had to give her up, then that was all right with me.

I drove her to the airport the next morning, in the middle of practice. There was no sense making her wait three hours at the airport until the plane came.

Here, before I forget,” I said trying to be strong. I handed her the video.

What-”

It’s the video from our little ‘dress rehearsal.’ To remember us by.” Marie kissed my cheek.

Thank you so much.”

I wish you could stay.”

I’m not leaving for good,” she said laughing.

I mean, I wish you could stay permanently.” Marie frowned.

You know I can’t do that,” she said.

I know. I just wish. It would be nice.”

Well, not for me. I could never get used to this country. The language isn’t my own. I mean, sure, I can speak it, but I like English better. There’s more freedom in America. Plus, my family’s there. How do you think they’d feel if I gave them up?”

I know, I know. I know your reasons for wanting to go back, and I don’t blame you. I was just thinking, could we ever have a relationship?” Marie smiled sadly.

I don’t think so,” she said. “At least not for a few years,” she added, and walked off to catch her flight.

Tears in my eyes, my heart turned to dust. I knew she was right. Financially speaking, we couldn’t have a relationship, then. It was hard for me to accept, but I had important things to deal with. I said a prayer that she would be safe from harm and went back to the arena.

That night, Lyosha and I were working on the technical process of this recital. Lyosha was rummaging through papers when I suddenly said, “Why can’t I find love?” Lyosha stared at me.

What are you talking about?”

Why can’t my relationships ever work out?” I sighed. “Why do I lose everyone I love?”

This wouldn’t have anything to do with Marie Perkins, now would it?” Tears littered my eyelids.

It’s not just her, it’s Lena. And my mother, and Papa. Everyone I have ever loved in my life is gone! And it’s because of me, no less!”

Get back to work. The recital is in one week. You’ve put this off long enough.”

Now where’s your good advice, Lyosha?” I said dryly. “When I was upset before you would leap to comfort me. Now all of a sudden you’re speechless? I’m sorry, tovarishch, but you’re no help to me when I need you.”

Take that back,” he demanded. “Where do you think you’d be right now if it weren’t for me? Working in a factory, if not unemployed. Without me, you’re nothing. Nothing!” I laughed.

Yeah, right,” I said, and went back to work. “I knew how to skate even before I came here!”

Sure, you knew how to skate, but how do you think you would have managed here if it weren’t for me? Not just on the ice, but off the ice.”

Lyosha, forget it. Just forget it.”

No, let’s not forget it. What did you want me to say? ‘Oh, your heart has been broken so many times, I am so sorry?’ Well, I hate to disappoint you, but that is not the kind of advice I give. I don’t tell people things that they want to hear. I tell them things they need to hear. Do you understand? You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. So Marie wasn’t the right one for you. Move on. For God’s sake, you can’t wallow in grief forever.” I hung my head, realizing that every word that he had just spoken was right.

I know, I said agonized. “It’s just that it’s so hard.”

I don’t doubt that it is. Why do you love Marie?”

What do you mean?”

I mean that you should really think about what draws you to her so much that you want to spend your life with her? Is it the way she throws her hair back, or the way her eyes sparkle when she’s excited?” He paused. “Or is it because she reminds you of Lena?”

Of course that’s not the reason. I just-”

I just don’t want you to break Marie’s heart, that’s all.”

I could never break her heart. I love her too much.”

What about Lena? Does she mean nothing?”

Of course not; she is still a big part of my life. But I can’t stay married to memories, now can I? You are right. I cannot grieve forever. It will take some time, but I will move on. I know I can; I just have to want it.”

That’s it, my friend. It is time. You have been in grief far too long. You have to go on with your life.”

Yes. I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to be so angry. I did need advice though, and you wouldn’t say anything!”

I know, and I am sorry for it, but we really need to get to work.”

I know, but I love her so much. We’ll never be able to be together. Never.”

Just relax. You’ll find the right one.”

But if Lena wasn’t the right one for me, and if Marie isn’t, why should I risk my heart being broken anymore to find out who is?” Lyosha frowned.

You have a point, but still…”

I just can’t bear losing anyone else. My heart won’t take it.”

What will you do, Mitya? You can’t give up love. Love is a part of life. It’s a necessity. I know it’s hard, but you’ll find someone.”

I tried my best to hold back the tears as I continued my work, ignoring Lyosha’s advice.

Before we knew it, the day arrived to show St. Petersburg what good the rink was. We performed for nearly the entire city, three performances a day for three days. It was well attended each and every time, and for each of the nine performances we were practically flawless.

But all of this was to no avail. Sure, we had a lot of money made by the admission, but the performances cost us more than we made. We needed to pay the people of the rink for the time we spent there, plus we needed to pay the personnel for concessions, lighting, costumes, etc, plus we needed to pay for costumes, lighting equipment, and music equipment. To make things worse, the economy in Russia was so bad that the worth of the ruble nearly lost its entire worth. The money we had made minus our debts was now worth only one third of what it was. Our fundraisers were making pathetic profits, and because all of my money was invested in Russian banks I ended up having to take out some loans in order to pay for the repairs that were needed for the school, and even then I could only pay for the repairs that were necessary for skating. The same was true for the other skaters who invested. I barely managed to pay for a Zamboni and a new heating system. All this time I tried to keep up with my lessons.

Because of the poor conditions of the school that were there before I came back, many of the coaches left to coach in other countries, including, unfortunately, America, our biggest rival. But I was experienced enough to teach the younger students the basic essentials of skating, not just moves or steps or techniques, but how to behave, how to perform. Things like smiling and how to act towards the competition were essential. It was certainly a miracle that there were still some people who wanted to study at the school. If anything, the recital made more people want to study at the school. That was not necessarily a good thing.

It took a few months, but Arcadii Ivanovich returned to Petersburg, and with him came some of the greatest ice dancing teams in the world. I tried to get Ivan to come back, but he refused. It was nothing personal; it was just that he had more respect and more time in Finland.

Things were pretty much back to the way things used to be. It was the year 2000. I was now in my third year of amateur competition, and as you Americans say, third time’s the trinket! Or is it charm? Oh, you crazy Americans!

Of course I had competed in the same competitions before, and I either got first, second, or third place. Why was this season different? One word should tell you why: Olympics. That’s right, this year was an Olympic year. It was the Olympics after Alexei and Misha had been entered. I was determined to do my best. But I wasn’t in yet. First I had to qualify…

You must win at least three Grand Prix events in order to qualify. Nations Cup, Cup of Russia, NHK Trophy, and Trophée Lalique are all on your agenda. It is imperative that you do your absolute best. You must train; you must be ready and prepared. But above all, you must have confidence in yourself. Am I clear?”

Yes, Alexander Nicholaevich.”

Nations Cup is your first competition. Short program is Saturday at three, practice is the night before at eight, and the next morning at nine. Long program is Sunday at five, practice is at eleven thirty. Be ready about fifteen minutes before these times, and you’ll do just fine.”

I went back to the Ugarovs, and told them the news.

Can you believe it? I’m so nervous! Do you think I can do it?” Alexei laughed.

You’ll find that many of the skaters you’ll be competing against now will be the same ones at the Olympics. It’s nothing different.”

Nothing different, ha! I don’t believe you! You act as if this is nothing! I could win and be the gold medalist and you wouldn’t be happy for me at all! Maybe that’s what happened when you competed! You botched it on purpose just to prove that there was nothing different. Admit it!” Alexei looked at me, his eyes narrowed.

I will not admit something that isn’t true. I did not ‘botch’ it, as you say. I wasn’t feeling well then. And if anything I’ve improved because of that loss. Everyone needs to lose once in a while. Losing equals learning.” He lowered his eyes away from mine. “And of course I would be happy if you won,” he said softly.

Sorry,” I said. I didn’t mean to say such things. I don’t know what got into me, but I knew that just saying “sorry” wouldn’t make up for it.

I wanted to win as much as you wanted me to, you know,” he continued.

I know, Lyosha. I regret saying that. I honestly don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry. I never meant to accuse you like that.”

It’s all right,” he said.

Well, I had better practice my dance moves. Nations Cup is in three days!”

Homework,” he called as I went to the barre room. I sighed.

I know, I know.” I went to my room and did my homework.

Mitya!” Sergei called. “Some American is on the phone for you.”

I picked up the phone that was newly installed in my room.

Hello?”

Mitya?”

Marie! Oh, honey, I’m so happy to hear your voice. Guess what. I am trying to qualify for the Olympics!” Marie laughed.

That’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. I wish I could be there with you.”

Me too,” I said longingly. We talked for a few minutes but the call made me miss her more. After this conversation, I went to Lyosha.

How much do I get if I win the Olympics?” I asked. “Enough to move to America?”

Again? Why do you want to move there again? How do you know you will be happier there? You weren’t happy before, no matter how much you tried to hide it. You really need to think of where and with whom you are happiest with, and if you do it by trial and error, as they say, it will be very costly.”

This is for a different reason than before.” I took a deep breath. “I’m in love with Marie.” Lyosha stared at me, shocked. Tears filled his eyes as he smiled.

You finally moved on.”

Yes, I suppose I have. I can never forget her though.”

I understand that, but does Marie?”

I think she does, a little. But Lena would want me to go on with my life. It’s not like me to give up love completely.”

Of course not,” he replied.

So if I win the Olympics, will I have enough?” Alexei smiled sadly.

Net, Mitya, I’m afraid not.” My face fell. I was sure that an Olympic Gold Medalist could do anything with the money he/she earned. Then I realized that I was just fooling myself. I knew all along that winning wouldn’t be rewarding that much financially. Even Lena knew this. It broke my heart. I loved Marie, but would we ever be together?

Friday: Nations Cup practice and registration. I was more nervous than usual, but this was an ordinary competition. I’d competed in it twice already, and won it twice. Once I registered, I went to the rink and began training. I looked at the other male skaters skating around doing their triple and quad jumps. These skaters were in top condition, hardly what I was in. I nervously handed my duffel bag to Alexander Nicholaevich and tightened the laces of my right skate. I took a deep breath and skated around the rink. I did a triple loop to warm up, then did all of my triples, including four triple Axels. I did my routines twice, emphasizing on my footwork and spins. Meanwhile, the other skaters were doing triple and quad jumps, even a quad and triple in combination! A few skaters were even doing a quad, triple and double, even a triple at the end! My biggest rival was Alexander Andrews, the American from Chicago. He had three quads planned in his long program alone, two in different combinations. As I was taking a break, I looked at Andrews’ moves, and studied his jumps. He got sort of a half rotation on his Lutzes before he even took off. He turned his picking foot to the side, on every Lutz he practiced. It was allowed, but how could I compete with that? I had always done the Lutz the right way, with my picking foot straight. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult.

He’s good, isn’t he?” a voice asked from behind me. I turned wondering who this man with the thin Russian accent could be.

Yes,” I replied, stunned to see him.

He’s my student,” Filipenkov continued with a light, kind smile. “I hear you train with Alexander Metrenkov at Karilyevsky Ice Palace. It’s certainly good that you came back to skating. Too much talent to waste if you didn’t.”

Yes, I have been at Karilyevsky for seven years now.”

Yes, I have been following your career for the past four years. I used to train there, but Metrenkov was too demanding, in my opinion. At least for my taste and experience. Actually, the whole country was demanding. Everything had to be their way. I skated however they wanted me to skate. It was like I was being molded into shapes of other skaters who came before me. I didn’t like that. That’s why I defected.”

As soon as he said those last two words, I lost all of my respect that I had for him. How could he have done that to his family? And his country? Why? What did his “adopted” country have that Russia didn’t?

When did you defect?” I asked casually, pretending to have some respect for him. “Where?”

Oh, I was probably nineteen. I won the Olympics right after I defected, to Detroit.”

My heart stopped and I could not say anything. His defection was before the Olympics? That would mean that this magnificent Russian artist that I saw in 1988 was winning the Gold Medal for America? I could not believe it. The fantastic master that was standing before me was a criminal! He betrayed his country and his heritage! How could he have done such a thing?

Then I remembered the day I saw him skate. I was only four, but I had always wanted to be like Filipenkov. He was truly theatrical on the ice. His program from that year was to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. It was simply fantastic, both artistically and technically! I realized that even though he won that Gold Medal for America, he was still the best skater out there, even better than the other Russians, and he wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t been. I laughed at myself. I vowed never to be so prejudiced again.

But some people belong with him; some skaters like yourself need guidance,” Filipenkov continued. “You’re too young to think of much else besides skating. You will have all the time in the world to create a name for yourself.”

What about love?” I asked without thinking. Immediately after I said this, I felt like kicking myself. Of all things for me to say, to my idol no less! I hardly knew him! Filipenkov stared at me.

Love?”

I was in love once, and she died in a car accident about six months ago. Now I’m in love again, but we can never be together. She’s American; I am Russian. Even if I win everything I’m entered in, I wouldn’t be able to afford moving there.”

Are you sure you love her?”

Of course I love her,” I answered immediately.

How do you know? What is it like?”

I paused. “Well, every time I think of her I feel like I’m floating. I feel like nothing in the world can bother me. I would do anything to get to her. I would cross mountains, canyons, seas, oceans, just to see her.”

What about her? Is she in love with you?”

I bowed my head.

I’m not sure. I am afraid to ask.”

If you love her, tell her. I’m sure she’ll tell you the truth.”

That’s what I’m afraid of, I thought. What if she didn’t love me? What if she hated me? What if my heart broke again? I couldn’t bear another loss. It would surely kill me…

Pay attention, Mitya!” Metrenkov cried from the bench after I did an “okay” triple Axel.

I sighed. I thought it was all right! I blushed as I thought of Vassili’s comment about Metrenkov being too demanding. I suppose he did have a point. I really had no say of what I would skate to. If I didn’t like the music, that was all right; we would conpromise, but otherwise I skated however he wanted me to skate. Sure, I added the expression, but I really had no say in the choreographing process. I tried the Axel again, and turned it into a double.

Mitya!” he scolded.

I sighed. Metrenkov always wanted my jumps to be perfect, meaning no flaws. That was impossible! Nobody’s perfect! I did triple Axel after triple Axel, each time doing just fine. Metrenkov was satisfied, but I could tell he was still mindful of what happened before. Oh well. You need to be perfect in this sport, I suppose.

Although I won the short program, I had some flaws in my technique. It was nothing serious; I almost turned out of a triple Lutz, and I two-footed my quad toe loop. Normally that would mean a deduction, but my two-foot was so slight that only one judge caught it! My presentation marks were through the roof! I received two 6.0s and five 5.9s. The other two were 5.8s.

Well done,” Metrenkov said to me. “Just don’t let it happen again. Remember, you lose the short program, you lose the competition.”

I went to my hotel room and slammed the door.

Good God!” I cried frustrated.

Why are you so angry?” asked my temporary roommate, Sasha Karilyevsky. “You’re the one who’s winning. I lost! I was pathetic!” He sighed. “I will never win the Olympics. I have failed my country.”

Sasha had been given the duty that every skater dreads: going first. He who goes first is the one who gets the lowest scores. No matter how one skates, if he goes early, he is gypped because the judges must leave room for the other skaters. It’s one of the many policies that I don’t like.

He was quite younger than I; only fifteen, with quite a lot of potential. He was a member of Dynamo Moscow. Quite a fantastic artist I believe. He will surely become a great skater someday.

Seeing him so sad made me sorry for him. I let my problems go for a moment and tried to comfort him.

Hey, you didn’t fail. You still have a chance.”

Yeah. Right. I have let my mother down.”

I frowned.

Your mother will always love you, no matter how you skate.”

I meant my Mother Russia.”

Don’t be a fool. Those days are over.”

Not for my coach.”

I smiled at the irony. “I know the feeling. My coach is demanding also. You saw my performance. He wasn’t satisfied.”

You’re the one who skated, not your coach.”

True, but what does he want from me? Nobody’s perfect!”

Maybe he thinks that you can do better.”

You could be right,” I said thinking about it. I realized that he was right. Metrenkov wasn’t strict because he wanted me to be perfect. He was strict because he wanted me to be all that I could be, and he was good at making people become what they could become but never thought possible. “Thanks, Sasha. I feel better now.”

Sasha smiled.

I do too, listening to my own advice.”

Good. Good luck tomorrow.”

The next morning things were much better between Metrenkov and I. I gave him respect; he gave me confidence. I knew that I could win Nations Cup if I put my mind to it.

I was in my hotel room doing ballet exercises when the phone rang.

Allo?” I asked, somewhat out of breath.

Mitya?” a voice asked.

I knew that voice, but there was something different.

Were you crying, Lyosha?” I asked worried.

You’d better sit down.”

I did, grabbing a water bottle and taking a long drink.

I just got a call from Steve. I know long program is tonight, but I couldn’t hide it from you.”

Hide what?” I asked.

Lyosha paused for a long time.

Well, it’s about Marie.”

What is it?” My life had just begun to go right; surely it couldn’t be that bad…

Well…”

I sighed with exasperation.

Lyosha, either you tell me what it is, or you’ll just have to wait until I come back from long program! I can’t be on the phone all day you know! I have to prepare!”

Something happened.”

I sighed again.

Lyosha, will you just tell me what it is so I can get back to my ballet?” I said annoyed.

She’s hurt.”

What?” I asked, my voice soft.

She was in a car accident. Steve knew how close you were to her, and he called here asking for you.”

The water bottle fell from my hand and onto the red carpeting. I could only stare at the floor as the water spilled out, like a stream of blood. Marie’s face entered my mind, and my heart ached as I put the two images together.

Is she all right?” In my heart I knew the worst was true; it would only be my luck that she had died instantly in that crash, thinking of me.

She’s in a coma now. We’re all praying for her, but things don’t look good.”

No,” I whispered. I hung up the phone with a shaking hand. I put my head in my hands, messaging my head and running my hands through my hair. Tears fell from my eyes as I remembered Lena. Why did it have to happen this way? Why Marie? Why did it have to be Marie? I slammed my fist against the wall. I looked heavenward, and with a sob cried, “Why? Why do you hate me? I am a devout Orthodox Christian! I go to mass, I pray, I do everything thinking of you! Why am I being punished? I have committed no sin!”

You’re only on the second floor,” Sasha said, walking in with a shopping bag from his sightseeing trip. “I doubt very much that He heard you, with all the prayers He must be getting about world peace and hunger and all.”

He heard me,” I said angrily through clenched teeth, still looking up at the ceiling. I lowered my head looking at the boy. “He just likes to see me suffer.” I sighed and sat down. Sasha joined me, concerned.

Your coach again?”

Good God, do you think everything has to do with skating?”

I was just trying to help!” he protested.

I would never ask for your help. You? A fifteen year-old? Ha!”

Fine!” Sasha said, and stormed out, taking his shopping bag with him.

I sat there and angrily wondered why God hated me so much. Then I thought of Sasha. What did I just do? I went out to Sasha, who was just about to leave.

Sasha, please, I am so sorry. I didn’t think. I was just angry and upset. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

Sasha smiled. “It’s all right, my friend. I understand how upset you must be, but hiding it won’t help. What’s wrong?”

As best I could, I told him of Marie, my feelings for her, and what happened. Sasha was silent, most likely thinking. Finally he spoke.

My friend, you are very young to settle down yet. Give life a chance. Worry about skating, worry about school, but don’t worry about relationships yet.”

Well, I just wanted to say no hard feelings, and I’m sorry.” I went back to my room, ignoring his advice. He was only fifteen. What did he know about life?

I was tense all day. By the time it was my turn to skate I was a wreck. All I could think of was Marie, and how scared she must have been. A tear fell from my eye as they announced my name and I went out to skate. To say the least, I was not in my best form. I had nine triples and two quads in my program. I turned my first quad into a single, the second was noticeably doubled and two-footed. I planned two triple Axels. My first was doubled with not a lot of flow, and fell on my second. I leaned on my first Lutz, and fell on my second. My toe loops and loop were doubled, and my flips and Salchow were halfway between double and triple, which therefore caused unfortunate landings.

My spins were slow and shaky, and my footwork was also slow. My music was fast, but I was too busy trying to figure out how to do what when. I gave it my best shot near the end, but it was too late. I wasn't even close to a medal...

"Eighth place," Metrenkov said quietly from behind me when I was putting on my coat. I sighed and bowed my head. "Eighth place!" Metrenkov screamed. I turned to look at him, and he slapped me across the face. "Would you care to tell me just how the hell you went from first to eighth?"

I’m not proud of how I did, Alexander Nicholaevich,” I said quietly. “I had a lot on my mind. I know it is no excuse, but—”

But nothing! You think I taught you all these years just so you could humiliate yourself when it counted most? And me? How dare you! You were pathetic out there! Flopping around like a fish out of water. How dare you! You just ruined whatever chance you had in the first place to have a perfect season. I am disappointed in you! Never in your entire eligible career have you ever done anything like this! Why, Mitya? Why?”

Look, normally, I—”

Normally? Normally? This is the Olympics! Of course it’s not normal! What did you expect?”

A friend of mine is hurt, and—”

That doesn’t matter!”

It matters to me!” I cried, and stormed out.

It was in the hotel lobby that I saw Filipenkov congratulating Alexander Andrews. The gold medal hung around his neck. I glared at him enviously.

Then I thought for a second. Metrenkov was always too demanding, in my opinion…

Filipenkov stayed downstairs a while to talk to some people, and once he was alone, I approached him.

Are you for hire?” I asked. Filipenkov stared at me and laughed.

You’re kidding, right?”

I’m thinking of changing coaches. You are my first choice. What do you say?”

Absolutely not!”

Why not? I’ll pay you whatever I have to.”

I’m sure Alexander Nicholaevich would love that idea. You’re his best student.”

I sighed.

The answer is no, I will not be your coach. Ever.”

I sighed and walked around the city, restless. I just couldn’t get to sleep, and I had no interest in sleeping anyway. I stopped at a bridge and stood there just staring into the water with my head resting on my hand. After a few hours I decided to go back to the hotel. Metrenkov was waiting in the lobby.

I was waiting for you all night,” he said, much calmer than he had been. “Lyosha told me what happened with Marie. Are you all right, Mitya?”

Yes, I’m fine. I’ll be all right. It will just take time for me to get over this. I wish I could visit her.” Metrenkov shook his head sadly.

I’m afraid you can’t do that. If you do, you won’t be able to afford to go to your next two competitions. If you withdraw from them there will be no hope to qualify for the Olympics. And if you don’t qualify for the Olympics then what is the sense of you even competing this season?” He sighed. “You can’t let a woman come between you and your career. There will be other women, but what if you were to get an injury that ends your career? You’d regret not competing when you had the chance. Now get some rest. Tomorrow we fly back to Russia, and then you have to keep training and practicing. Two weeks from now is Cup of Russia. You won’t have to leave home for that of course, but then a month from that is NHK Trophy, and then we have Nationals, Grand Prix Final, Europeans, and then Olympics. After that is World Championships, then you are going on the American tour. Then when you get back you have to start training for the next season, and—”

Alexander Nicholaevich, please. I can’t really think about the future right now.” I sighed. “Marie is very important to me. I need time to pray for her, and get my priorities straight.”

Metrenkov’s eyes narrowed.

Priorities? Your number-one priority has been, is and always will be skating!” Although his face was angry, his voice was still calmer than it had been before.

I’m sorry. But now that Marie’s life is at stake I am starting to see things differently. This is not the Soviet Union. I am not a child. I have changed, but I see that you have not. I am going to change coaches.” Metrenkov was so furious you’d think smoke would blow out of his ears.

Leave me? After your performance this evening, what coach would be stupid enough to take you as a student?”

I would,” said a voice.

I turned and my mouth hung open. Metrenkov gritted his teeth.

Vassily Arcadiievich, this is not your concern.”

Actually, yes, it is. Since he is my student and all.”

Your student, ha! I won’t have it!”

Alexander Nicholaevich, please. Let’s put our differences aside," Filipenkov protested.

You rat!”

What do you say, Dmitry Alexeivich?”

I thought for a moment, very carefully. Metrenkov had been very good to me on and off the ice. He helped me when I needed him the most. But that was all in the past. I needed to think about my future now. Train, train, train. That was all my life was. I occasionally wondered what it would have been like to be in a normal school, with normal lessons, normal students, etc, but I never got a chance to experience them. Skating was literally my life. Leaving that seemed easy, then I thought of the Ugarovs. They were my family! What would they think? And Petersburg! It was my home! I thought of what I could have if I went back to America. I could have money, a better home (a house!), better training facilities for when I did train, and a schedule revolving around other things besides skating. Most importantly, I would have Marie. It was a shame to say it, but…

Alexander Nicholaevich, we have been through a lot together. You have shaped me into what I am now. I will never forget you or stop respecting you for that. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think the best thing for me to do is to just move on to a new allotment in my life. Everything that we’ve been through together, that is all in the past. I can’t live in the past forever. I will suffocate if I do so. I’m truly sorry.”

Metrenkov’s eyes darkened.

You bring a curse to Karilyevsky, a curse to me, and a curse to yourself if you do this. Dosvidanje.” With that, he stormed out.

I shuddered. What did he mean by that?

That took a lot of guts, Dmitry Alexeivich,” Filipenkov said quietly from behind me.

Thanks,” I replied, just as quiet. “What do we do now? When do I move to Chicago? When can I go to America?”

After Cup of Russia we will move you into my house. You can stay there until you find your own place.”

It’s been so long since I’ve been to America, I forgot that you can actually own your own house.” I paused. “Did I do the right thing, Vassily Arcadiievich?” Filipenkov frowned thoughtfully.

It may not seem like it now, but it will soon.”

Where will I train until Cup of Russia? I can’t go back to Karilyevsky; Alexander Nicholaevich would never allow it.”

Make arrangements with another ice rink. I’m sure you’d have no problem finding one that would accept you.”

I hope you’re right, I thought.

Metrenkov flew back to Russia that night. I went back in the morning, as planned, and went back to my apartment. Lyosha was there waiting for me, his arms crossed.

What happened, Mitya?”

I hung my head.

It was my first event. I still have three others. If I win those I can still qualify for the Olympics.”

I meant what happened with you and Alexander Nicholaevich! Change coaches? Mitya, why?”

He had no feelings whatsoever when I told him I was worried about Marie. His exact words were ‘That doesn’t matter.’ I couldn’t help it. I had to choose.”

And just how do you expect to train for Cup of Russia? Alexander Nicholaevich has given you the dishonorable discharge. You can never go back to Karilyevsky. Ever. You need to win this competition. So how can you do it?”

I’ll look around. Karilyevsky isn’t the only rink in the city you know.”

How do you know that Alexander Nicholaevich won’t prevent that from happening? He has his ways you know. When you make him angry, he comes back at you with a vengeance. He’ll be out for blood.”

Then I’ll go to Moscow, I don’t care! I will stay there for two weeks, I will get up and take the early morning train. I don’t care what I have to do, but Lyosha, I can not go two weeks without training, especially when there is a competition I need to win in order to qualify for the Olympics!”

You have really screwed up this time, Mitya. I’m disappointed that you didn’t consult me on this.”

You think it would have been easier if I had, Lyosha? Do you think I want to give up Petersburg? And you? Do you think that’s what I want?”

You made the decision. It certainly seems like it.”

I sighed and sat down.

What do I do?”

Try it your way first, then if things don’t work out by tomorrow, apologize to Alexander Nicholaevich.”

Apologize? To him?”

You never know, it might work. Just say you were wrong, you screwed up, you need his guidance, and you need his teaching. Then, once Cup of Russia comes around, dump him, if you are sure that is what you want.”

Really? You’re not going to object to me leaving?”

Of course not, Mitya. We all have to take different paths in life. Your path is

obviously in America… with Marie.”

Marie…” I said softly, and sighed contentedly.


I went to a few rinks in Petersburg to see if I could train there. None of them were in very good conditions, very common throughout Russia, but none could accept me, whether it was for a spoken or an unspoken reason. I made a lot of calls to rinks in
other cities, and they all said that they lacked ice time for me, which was understandable since every eligible Russian was training to qualify.
"Well?" Lyosha asked when I told him the news.

I sighed.
"All right, Lyosha, you made your point, you don't have to gloat about it!" I replied exhausted from that day's searching.

The next morning I went to Karilyevsky to apologize to Alexander Nicholaevich. I took a deep breath before knocking on his office door.
"Da?" he asked.

I opened the door and slowly stepped inside.
Alexander Nicholaevich's eyes narrowed.
"The Prodigal Son returns," he said through clenched teeth.
"Yes, Alexander Nicholaevich. I've been selfish."
"No, that's where you're wrong. You're not selfish. You're greedy. You want to have everything. You want to be successful and have a lasting love life. Pick one or the other."

I stood there silent, unsure of what to say. Was this a rhetorical question?

"Your choice, Mr. Stanislavsky," he repeated, louder.
I bowed my head. What would my life be like without skating? I could still skate under Filipenkov, but I would lose training time and be unable to qualify for the Olympics. What would I do if I couldn't qualify? I couldn't even visit America, let alone move there! I closed my eyes. I had no real choice, and Metrenkov knew that.

"I'll train under you," I said.
"Wise decision. Get to the ice and warm up. We have a lot of work to do."
I nodded and left the room.
"Look, it's Mitya!" some of the students said in the locker room. "Hi, Mitya! How are you?"
"Fine. I'm sorry everyone."
"It's all right; we can manage," one of them, Evgeny Konstantinov, said. "How is your friend? I hope she's better."

I shook my head. "No, unfortunately she's in a coma now."
Everyone looked at me piteously, and a few gasps and "ohs" could be heard. A newcomer named Viktoria, who was my age, came over and gently kissed my cheek.
"She's a wonderful person. She'll be fine; God will take care of her."
"Thank you, Viktoria. I appreciate that."
"All right, everyone," Metrenkov announced. "Please remember you are here to skate, and to skate only. No chitchat! Now, warm up!"
We went to the ice and warmed up. Since I actually didn't miss any training, I wasn't that messed up in my technique. But I was missing my quad jumps, which was a big disadvantage. I had only begun doing quads recently; and during the year I took off I had skated occasionally, but watched it a lot, and I noticed that things were advancing rapidly. Skaters were doing quad toe-triple toe combinations, even a few skaters could do quad toe-triple toe-double or even triple loop combinations. They also could do a quad Salchow, and in some cases combine it with a triple toe or triple loop. Andrews was even attempting quad Lutz in competition! He had never landed one yet though. I could barely do a quad at all, let alone in combination. I needed something special if I was going to make it to the Olympics. I would never be able to place in the top ten there without a quad combination, so I needed one of those. Three jump combinations were allowed in the long program. I needed a quad-triple, perhaps even a quad-triple-double or triple, plus a triple Axel in combination with either a toe loop, a loop, or perhaps a triple Axel into a half loop into a triple flip or a Lutz even, which neither had ever been done before.

But of course with too much work too fast, injuries were sure to come. I could not risk a serious injury if I wanted to make it to the Olympics and to America. I made a promise, that if I were to get injured, I would not let anyone know about it.

Metrenkov worked intensely with me on my quads, spins and artistry, and we worked on some combination jumps. I could do a quad toe-double toe, but it wasn’t enough, in my opinion. So we worked with the harness and the floor to turn that double into a triple, and added a double loop at the end. It put a lot of strain on my legs and groin to do this combination so much in practice, but it would surely be worth it.

I contacted Filipenkov to tell him what was happening. After what Metrenkov was doing for me now, I couldn’t possibly leave him yet.

Perhaps after the Olympics?” Filipenkov asked.

I don’t know,” I replied sadly. “I mean I worked so hard to keep the school opened, it would be terrible if I left again. And everything that Alexander Nicholaievich is doing for me now, it’s just wrong of me to leave.”

What about Marie?” Filipenkov asked gently.

I don’t know,” I replied sadly.

I respect and agree with your decision,” he said.

You do?” I asked surprised.

Filipenkov laughed.

Yes. It would be disrespectful to leave now,” he said. “Best to come later, after the Olympics… if you come at all, that is.”

I thought for a moment.

I don’t really know. I’ll let you know before then what my plans are.”

Since the news of Marie’s accident all my energy for prayers went to her. I couldn’t bear to lose her now… I couldn’t bear to lose her ever. She was my salvation, my life. I had to keep calling to make sure everything was still all right. The doctors were being gracious to me, giving me updates when there were any, but there weren’t many. Just a few blinks from her every so often. There was a time when I didn’t think she would ever wake up… and if she did, would she remember me? Would she be all right, or have brain damage? That didn’t matter, I would take care of her myself if I had to.

Just before Cup of Russia, Alexander Nicholaievich came to give me some last-minute advice.

How are you coming along, Mitya?” he asked as we walked around the city.

Very well I think, the quad toe triple toe is looking good,” I answered. He nodded.

You know, Mitya…” He sighed, and pulled out a box. “Anya wanted you to have this.” He pulled out a gold chain with charms of a white and gold ice skate, a gold medal with straps of blue, and a brown and gold teddy bear. He placed it on my neck and smiled, like the father I once had.

Thanks,” I said quietly, touching the charms. For the first time since she died I realized how much I missed her, and longed to have her back.

Tell me… are you happy, Mitya?” he asked. I looked at him.

Yes, of course I am,” I replied quietly, not sure if I was lying or not.

You’re lying,” he said with a smile. We walked along the streets, and he patted my shoulder. “Nothing wrong with missing her,” he said quietly. “She was a big part of your life. A mother always is.”

I bowed my head. I didn’t want to think of how important she was to me; it only made me miss her more.

I don’t blame you for being sad,” Metrenkov continued. He smiled. “I would actually be worried if you weren’t. It’s something tough for all to bear.”

But it happened years ago, why am I sad about it now?”

Death is hard, or easy, to understand for a young one,” Metrenkov replied. “For the first time, you realize that she really can’t be with you anymore. When she died though it was easy then to understand. One never fully realizes until they need them again that they can’t have them.”

I nodded, my head still bowed. Alexander Nicholaievich stopped, and looked at me concerned.

Mitya, are you sure you’re all right?”

I glanced at him, then back at the pavement, saying nothing. I felt his hand on my shoulder.

Something troubling you? Is it that girl, that Marie?”

My heart ached as he said the name. “No,” I replied quietly.

It wasn’t exactly a lie; there were other things troubling me. Like why did she have to get hurt in the first place? And Lena too? Why was she taken from me? Then I realized why. I had taken her for granted. I did not treat her well, I expected her to always be there. Then Fate stepped in and made me realize how special she was, by taking her away for good. But with Marie, I didn’t take her for granted, at least I didn’t think I did.

Then I realized that yes, I did take her for granted. Because my mind and heart were still grieving for Lena, I didn’t pay as much attention to Marie as she, or I or Fate, thought I should have. But she wasn’t gone for good. There was still a chance to “mend my ways,” so to speak. The only way I could think of was to give up skating, for now at least, and move to America to be with her. But that same sort of sacrifice was done before, and it was unbearable for me. Did my happiness matter? Did anything I valued matter?