СЕРГЕЙ ВЛАДИМИР ФЕДОРОВ
I met Sergey Vladimir Fedorov in the Green Room of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre after the American Ballet Theatre performance of Giselle. He was mobbed by well-wishers, and deservedly so. His performance was not only technically flawless, it was the joie de vivre he interwove with every movement which struck the hearts of everyone in the audience, including mine. And yet, there was a sadness about him I could not shake loose of.
He was in his early twenties and at the top of his game so to speak. No one that young had ever achieved the status of principal danseur masculin in this ballet company or any other company as far as I knew. He should have been bubbling over at the praise he received. Apparently, at least from my point of viewing him, he was gracious in accepting the praise but rarely gave forth a genuine smile.
He caught me staring at him from a distance while I was thinking those thoughts; I believe he somehow understood what I was thinking. How he understood, I cannot be certain. Perhaps it was the caring, sympathetic expression on my face. As the audience in the Green Room drew to a close, Sergey came up behind me and touched my elbow as I chatted with acquaintances.
“Sergey. How very nice of you.” I took his extended hand and held it firmly. The strength of this man’s body became immediately evident in the way he held my hand. “I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have witnessed your performance.”
“You are most kind. And you are …?” he smiled devilishly at my oversight.
I laughed, “Forgive me, I’m J.T. Higgins, at your service.” I withdrew a card from my vest pocket and handed it to him.
“[email protected] ... ah, you are a writer.”
I smiled, “Of sorts, yes.”
“And what do you write about, J.T. Higgins, if I may ask?”
“I write short stories and novels about all sorts of people, their lives, their happiness, sadness, their loves or lack of love, but all my stories have happy endings,” His genuine interest in what I had said made me smile.
“Ah … happy endings. Something I’m not familiar with. I would very much like to read something you’ve written, Mr. Higgins.” He gazed into my eyes with such intensity, I found it unsettling. It was almost as if he were asking, perhaps pleading, for help.
“Please write to me and I’ll be happy to send you a short story I think you may enjoy.”
“You are very kind. Please excuse me, I must leave you now.”
“Yes, of course. Have a pleasant evening.”
He took my hand again and held it firmly, “And you as well, JT. Ciao.”
He nodded to me and my friends, then moved away so quickly with his entourage, I did not have an opportunity to comment further on his performance. I was impressed with his personal attention, his polished European etiquette. I hoped, at least for a moment, his interest might be more … but dismissed the thought as wishful thinking. At the ripe old age of thirty-seven, I found myself alone in this great city of Chicago, but not necessarily lonely.
My friends invited me to join them at a nearby restaurant where theatre folks gather after the show. We were seated on an elevated level, giving us a view of the main dining room where I was able to watch Sergey from a distance without being noticed. However, one of my companions did notice and asked me what I was looking at.
“What? … Oh, I’m sorry. I was watching Sergey. I couldn’t help but notice the amount of alcohol he’s consumed since we arrived – seems excessive.” I was surprised at the responses. It seems Sergey had the reputation of a bad boy party-goer. It was said in a light-hearted manner but I wondered about it. After observing him in the Green Room and here in the restaurant, I got the impression this high-life partying was merely a cover for something deeper – perhaps loneliness, perhaps not.
The evening ended pleasantly and I all but forgot the incident until about a week later when I received an email from Sergey. He recounted my offer of a short story but requested that he be permitted to pick it up personally rather than having it emailed to him. I thought it unusual, but I was flattered and wrote back that it was possible and he should let me know when he would like to pick it up.
He wrote back almost immediately, suggesting the following afternoon at three. I confirmed the time and continued to wonder why. I had intended to send him a PDF of a love story I particularly like but decided to give him a copy of the book, With All My Love, in which this story was published along with nineteen other short stories. I signed the flyleaf to Sergey and set the book aside for his arrival.
My doorbell rang precisely at three the following afternoon. I buzzed him in, left the door ajar and returned to the kitchen to finish preparing refreshments. When I heard a soft knock at the front door, I hollered, “Come on in.”
I looked up when I saw his shadow in the kitchen doorway, “Sergey, hi.”
“Good afternoon, JT.” He moved into the room. “What are you doing?”
“Just some refreshments for your visit. Please, have a seat. And, here’s one of the books I’ve published. It’s filled with love stories including the one I had intended to send to you … they all have happy endings.”
He smiled, sat down and picked up the book. “This is very nice,” he looked up with a pleased expression, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I set a tray of cut fruit on the table and sat across from my guest. “The story I had in mind for you is entitled The Crystal Ball. You’ll find it listed on the content page.
He opened the book to the story and was silent a few moments as he read. He looked up, “Remarkable ugliness? This doesn’t sound like a happy story.”
“Ah, but it has a happy ending. The path to true love is not always an easy one. Coffee or tea?”
“No, water will be fine, thank you.” He placed a few pieces of fruit on his plate and paused, “Is there a path to true love?”
“Yes, of course. I guarantee it,” and laughed good-naturedly.
“Perhaps in your writings, but in real life? I wonder. I saw you watching me in the Green Room.”
“Ah, you noticed. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It was not my intent.”
“What were you looking for?”
“I noticed you didn’t appear genuinely happy to be there. You hardly smiled and when you did, it seemed forced.”
He chuckled, “Was I that obvious?”
“No, of course not. I’m sure no one else noticed. I’m a writer and I’m always observing others. Was I right?”
He was silent and began eating a watermelon wedge.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. It’s none of my business.”
“You are correct, it is none of your business … but you were right.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not very happy. Haven’t been for a long time.”
“Sergey, why did you suggest coming here today? I could just as easily have emailed the story to you.”
He swallowed what he was chewing, “I have no one to talk to. I know that may sound strange, but I truly have no one.”
“I am so sorry to hear that.”
“When I saw you in the Green Room I felt I might be able to talk to you.”
“Well, I’m glad you did. Of course, you can talk to me – about anything you like. And I promise not to write it down.” I grinned in an effort to softening the moment.
“I feel like I’m in a goldfish bowl all of the time. I’m thinking of quitting the ballet.”
“Sergey, I’m so surprised. You’re the best in the business. You’ve got the world by the tail.”
He smiled and then laughed. “I’ve never heard that expression before.”
“You have a beautiful smile. You should do it more often. I’m a great believer in laughter. I try to do it several times a day. However, it is somewhat embarrassing when I’m out in public alone and think of something funny and begin laughing.”
“I envy you. I agree with you on laughter; we should all do it and do it often.”
“I still don’t understand you wanting to leave ballet. You obviously love it. It’s so evident when you’re dancing.”
“I do love it, but …”
“I’ve never had a personal life. I don’t know who I am … I’m lost except when I’m on stage. That’s the only reality I know, but it’s not real. It's pretending.
I wasn’t sure what to say, then decided to jump off of the cliff which is my wont to do now and again, “This is probably very personal and definitely none of my business, but I ask it anyway.”
He looked at me, waiting.
“Have you ever been in love?’
“You mean sex?”
“For heaven’s sake, no. Sex is just the dot on the ‘i’ of loving someone.”
The sadness I had observed earlier overshadowed him again.
“I take it the answer is no?”
He nodded but did not look up. “Have you?”
“Have I …?”
“Been in love?”
“Yes, but I threw it away.”
He stopped eating and sat up, “What do you mean?”
“Loving someone is a 24/7 labor of love. The one you love must have priority over all else. I didn’t realize it at the time, and he finally left me. I tried to reconcile the relationship, but it was too late. I still suffer remorse over my carelessness.”
Sergey whispered, “I am truly sorry.” He continued to stare.
“You said, he left you.”
“Yes, I did.” It dawned on me he hadn’t realized I was gay. I said nothing more.
“I’ll be away for a few weeks on tour. When I return, may I visit with you again?”
“Yes, of course. Anytime. I’m always here.”
He told me about the tour and then confessed that dancing was not his choice. It was his mother’s choice, one which she pushed him into from an early age. As the details of his life unfolded, I began to understand part of his sadness. He knew little else than the dance. The feeling of being trapped turned into desperation and eventually the idea of quitting. I remembered the large amount of alcohol he drank at the restaurant that evening and decided it was probably another way for him to forget, to escape.
In his mid-teens, he forbade his family from attending any of his performances. The reason was not yet clear to me but I suspected defiance.
He apologized for burdening me with his troubles for which I quickly chastised him. “I said you could talk to me about anything and I meant it.” He thanked me for my kindness as he took leave of me and promised to write as soon as he was settled into the tour routine.
Over the next five weeks, a friendship developed which surprised and delighted me. He was intelligent, had a quick wicked sense of humor matched only by my own, and enjoyed sparring with me on any number of subjects.
His comments on each story from the book I gave him were honest and sincere. Sometimes a little too honest but I didn’t care. It provided further insight into this remarkable creature. He began to reveal more and more of the sadness he kept hidden. He didn’t come right out and say it, but I read loneliness between the lines of what he did write. I made few comments other than to encourage him to speak freely.
I wasn’t exactly sure when he would return to Chicago until my doorbell rang one Saturday morning. I pressed the intercom, “Yes?”
“Sergey! Come in.” I pressed the entrance buzzer and stood there wondering what I should do. The apartment was a mess, I was still in my pajamas, unshaven for days and probably looking worse than I felt. I opened the door a crack and went into the kitchen to make coffee.
He didn’t knock or say anything. When the door clicked shut I knew he was seconds away. I switched on the coffeemaker and turned toward the doorway.
When he appeared, I said, “Please forgive my appearance. I’m a total mess; I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
He offered a genuine smile, “You look beautiful, JT. I’m so happy to see you again.”
He moved toward me, I met him halfway and we embraced. I had forgotten how strong he was and was about to gasp for breath when he released me.
“I only have coffee or water. Which would you prefer?”
“Coffee, please. Our plane arrived this morning and I haven’t had much sleep so, I need something to wake me up.”
He remained standing in my personal space and obviously had no intentions of moving. He’s a little taller but not enough to make eye contact awkward, “Sergey, what is it?”
He hesitated and looked somewhat frightened, “Would you be offended if I kissed you?” He stared unabashedly into my eyes, waiting for an answer.
The request was so unexpected, I lost my balance a little and backed into the kitchen counter for support. My sense of humor was never far afield and came to my rescue, “Where exactly did you want to kiss me?” I gave him a big grin.
He grinned and chuckled, “I’ve grown to know and like you so much during the time I was away. I feel like expressing it in a way other than words.”
He was so serious and shy about it, I could not possibly refuse him. “That is so beautiful. Thank you. But, no, you may not kiss me.” I paused a few seconds to milk the moment. “Please, permit me to kiss you.” I slowly moved closer to him, put my hands on either side of his beautiful face and kissed him on the lips.
As I pulled back I could see the tears welling in his eyes, then he began to fight back sobs but lost control as they overtook him. He grabbed me, pulling me into an embrace that knocked the wind out of me as he buried his face in my neck and sobbed uncontrollably. God only knows what that simple kiss released within him. The convulsions of his body pressed up against mine invoked unintended sympathetic sobs from me.
As his passion subsided, he began to pull away, “I am so sorry JT. I …”
I held his face and kissed him again, “No, Sergey. It’s all right. Now, I want you to sit down and tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”
He dutifully seated himself at the kitchen table while I poured two cups of coffee and sat across from him.
He wiped his eyes, sipped his coffee and blew his nose into a napkin, “I had no intentions of doing that.” The puppy dog expression on his face melted my heart down into my slippers.
“But you did, and I’m glad you did. Now, fill me in on what’s going on.”
“I feel so differently toward you than when I first met you. I’m not sure myself what’s happening. I hope you weren’t offended in any way.”
I sat back in my chair and chuckled, “No, Sergey, I’m not offended. I enjoyed it as much I hope you did.”
“You did?” he was truly amazed.
“You’re a very attractive man, Sergey. Anyone with two brain cells would be honored to have you in their arms. And it’s not just about sex. You and I have gotten to know one another so well, I look upon you as a brother now. What goes on between your ears is very attractive. At least it is to me.”
“A brother?” He looked down in shyness and almost whispered, “I’m afraid I had something else in mind.”
I reached across the table and took hold of his hands. “So, did I.” He looked up with such an angelic smile I could have wept for joy.
We talked for another hour until I noticed his eyes flutter. “Sergey, when is the last time you slept.”
He shook his head, “I don’t remember. I should probably go.”
“No, you should not go. What you should do is take a shower while I make up the daybed in my office unless you have other plans.”
“No, nothing until class Monday morning.”
“Good. Follow me.” I lead him to the bathroom, turned on the shower and went to make up the daybed. Twenty minutes later he staggered into my office and sat down on the bed.
“Thank you, JT. I really am tired – more like exhausted.”
Except for a towel barely covering him, he was naked as a jaybird and I had all I could do to keep my hands off of him. I gently pushed him down onto the pillow and covered him with a sheet and light blanket. “I’ll wake you in a few hours.”
He smiled and whispered something as he fell asleep.
I could have watched him sleep until it was time to wake him but decided to make better use of my time. I had difficulty believing this beautiful, talented creature was asleep in my bed. But, it was kind of sad to realize that everyone loved him, but no one – loved him. I wondered if I might be a candidate for the job.
I showered, shaved and made myself presentable, then went to my desk and continued working on a story I had been writing. He began to snore softly as he drifted into a deep slumber which endeared him even further to me. I paused occasionally and looked at him to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
It was around three in the afternoon when I heard him stir. I swiveled around in my chair and watched him come awake. He yawned, stretched his arms, and quickly sat up when he realized where he was. I laughed at the gesture.
“JT. What time is it?”
“Just a little after three.”
He sighed and lay back on the pillow, looked at me and smiled.
I could not resist, “Would you like another kiss?”
His smile grew even bigger as I came over and sat next to him. He took hold of my face and gently pulled it down to meet his. He kept his eyes open when our lips met and lingered. It was like looking into the soul of an angel.
I ran my hand over his blanket covered body and realized he was fully aroused. Without hesitation, I gently pulled the covers back and delighted him to his surprise. I replaced the blanket and kissed his eyes, his nose, and his mouth.
“I never want to leave, JT,” came an almost pitiful plea.
“Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But what about the dance. Are you still planning on quitting?”
“May I continue to come and visit with you?”
“Yes, of course. As often as you like. Consider this bed yours.”
“I hope we will continue to be friends.”
“I think we will always be friends, but I have a feeling we’ll become more than friends if you keep looking at me that way.”
He laughed and grabbed my hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it. I finally coached him out of bed and suggested we go out for a bit to eat. His hesitation told me he preferred to stay in the apartment and enjoy the privacy he so desperately sought after.
I lit the gas fireplace which delighted Sergey. After collecting different foods from my supplies, we settled down in front of the fireplace with wine, a block of cheese, and a loaf of sourdough bread. I had to laugh at the scene.
“What are you laughing at?” Sergey was all smiles.
“Something Omar Khayyam wrote long ago.”
“Yes, yes, I know which one you are thinking of … A loaf of bread, a jug of wine …”
I took his hand, “… and thou.”
He leaned against me, “Yes, and thou.”
I looked at him, “You never answered my question about your decision to leave the ballet.”
He smiled and laid his hand on mine, “Perhaps I was too hasty.”
We drifted into a comfortable silence until daylight waned into a golden twilight. “I know you have class in the morning, but would you like to stay the night with me?”
He must have been thinking the same thing and replied without hesitation that he would like to stay. We decided to go for a walk before retiring; he reveled in the brisk cool air and gently bumped into me as we strolled along. A gesture I appreciated.
We consummated our relationship that night which has lasted these many years. We kept it to ourselves in the beginning but the change brought new life into Sergey’s dancing. His balance and elevation were flawless accompanied by his new joy in living. It was so apparent that folks he danced with began to figure out what had happened. When he finally admitted to his new found life with me, they conspired against him with a celebration that knocked me out for the caring they exhibited for him and for me.
I knew his strength would eventually begin to ebb but when it began to happen I was so pleased with the valiant way he acknowledged it and began making plans to teach everything he had learned. All of his greatest dancing accomplishments had been recorded and now served as the teaching tools for the next generation of dancers.
He still takes class several times a week and remains as alive and energized as always. He also continues to give occasional guest performances, acknowledging that the brilliance of earlier years is no longer available to him. His audiences, however, remain as enthusiastic as ever for his presence and the joie de vivre he exhibits with each movement he makes.
My contribution – very little though I’m sure he would heartily disagree. I provided him with nothing more than the opportunity to love and to be loved in the truest sense of the word.