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04 May 2009 @ 10:07 pm
In depth Berezhnaya article. - p 2  
Cont. from ptichkafs.livejournal.com/43158.html, Orig at http://mamalena.ru/admin/scanpages/scan50.jpg through http://mamalena.ru/admin/scanpages/scan56.jpg
“…Lena, how’re you doing?” asked Moskvina at the morning practice.

“All’s good, Tamara Nikolayevna.”

“You remember what we talked about yesterday?”

I nodded.

Moskvina is a good psychologist. Every day, she’d repeat that I couldn’t go on living like that.

Slowly, I was acquiring a different worldview. Figure skating was no longer the whole life, but only its part. Friends I acquired when we moved to train with Moskvina helped me see it that way.

Peter[1] school was the complete opposite of CSKA. Everyone was calmer and more welcoming. Of course, sometimes people would yell and get all agitated – it is, after all, a sport. But getting physical on the ice? There was none of that here. I wondered at the “Yulibejni” skaters – they smiled and supported each other. They in turn wondered how I could put on with Shliakhov’s behavior. It was too scary to change anything, though. Under the watchful eyes of the psychologists, Oleg at least stopped getting loose with his fists. Who knows what would happen if I tried to get more independent! The pain of his fists was all too vivid in my mind.

Shliakhov didn’t like me acquiring friends. He forbade me from seeing anyone without him. I guess he was too scared to lose control over me. Oleg was especially incensed that Sikhuralidze liked me.

Anton often met up with me in the hallway after practice, would joke and not let me go until I smiled. In a car, he’d be driving, and I’d be in the back with the others. Anton would chat, but watch me in the rear view mirror all the time. Oleg got angry, but didn’t dare show it with everyone there.

I liked Anton but just marveled – what does he see in me? He’s handsome, he could have anyone in Petersburg; what does he need me for?
In the morning, Anton was the firt one in the bathroom. I went in after him. On the mirror, I found a note - "I love you". That's how he told me.

We all trained together, up to eight teams on the ice at the same time. Anton skated with Masha Petrova with coach Velikov. They didn’t get along. Anton was a trendy guy who liked to show off his businessmen friends and his car. He also liked his freedom and was often late for practices, whereas Velikov needed his skaters to do nothing but train. They argued viciously all the time, though of course it was nothing like Oleg and I. Peter skaters were shocked when they saw what Shliakhov was capable of.

Oleg kept up his model behavior for half a year, and then again dropped me from the lift. This, however, wasn’t Riga where no one would dare say anything, and neither was this CSKA where fighting was the norm. This was a place of civilized people. The guys jumped to my defense.

“Are you crazy?”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Don’t you dare!”

Oleg just got more riled up. “Don’t defend her! It’s her fault – she’s one making mistakes!”

That was the first time I “revolted”, “You are the one who’s making mistakes!” Then I surprised myself by hitting Shliakhov with my little fist.

He was shocked. He was used to having his partner stay quiet through all kinds of abuse. He didn’t even say anything then, but kept it inside and the next practice found some fault with me, hit me, and yelled, “I’ll kill you!”

Anton was the first to jump in, “You again?”

They almost had a fight. That night, Sikhuralidze gathered his friends together. They waited for Shliakhov. They wanted to explain to him what the rules of behavior were in Petersburg. Oleg, though, is a coward and ran off right after the practice.

Peter skaters like to stay civil, so it didn’t grow into a real scandal, and Oleg did not get the silent treatment. He was still treated like a normal person. For a little while, he even managed to control himself.
Partner Anton Sikharulidze became her first love

Anton really wanted to help, but he saw that you couldn’t approach Shliakhov with brute force. So he devised a plan. He asked some friends to invite Oleg over. Shliakhov left, locking me in like always. I was sitting there, when there was suddenly a knocking on the window. It was Antoha with a friend. They helped me out the window; luckily it was just the first floor. We walked around, laughed, and had some ice cream. Then they helped me back in the same way. Oleg got back, happy and content, to find me at home like I was supposed to be. I was ecstatic to see you could trick Shliakhov!

Yet the new season was approaching, and Oleg was already getting more aggressive. No one could do anything – not the skaters, not the psychologists, and not Moskvina. Then he dropped me from the lift again – fly on, little birdie! It was a huge scandal. Anton and his friends caught him and explained things to him in his own language. “You touch her one more time, and you can forget the road to Peter!”

Oleg quieted down, seeing his antics just wouldn’t cut it here.

I got bolder and said I wouldn’t go back to sharing the apartment with him. Moskvina supported me and got the leadership to provide me with my own room! I was living alone for the first time. I could decide myself how to spend my free time and where to go with whom. It’s standard for people that age, but it made me so happy! I also had reservations, though.

I really liked Anton. He felt the same way. There was nothing yet between us except for long tender looks, shy kisses, and light touches.

The explosive mixture of worrying was literally ripping me apart – the first real feeling of my life with the awful fear of losing everything at once – my newfound freedom, Anton, and figure skating. Both teams could fall apart if anyone found out about out. We were, after all, rivals.

We had to be very careful. At first, we’d sneak out to take a stroll through the city or go watch the Peterhof fountains. Oleg, though, spied us out. We only found out later, as back then he managed to never get noticed.

Soon enough, we went to a championship in France and decided to sneak in a stroll with Anton. We were walking, holding hands, watching the shop windows, and the mood was just great. And then suddenly we see Oleg, his face all twisted with hate. Fear paralyzed me, and I yanked my hand from Anton’s as if we weren’t together. He just whispered,

“Don’t, just take my hand.”

Oleg said haughtily, “Come here, Lena, let’s have a little chat”

Anton responded calmly, “Talk to me.”

“Not you. I need her.”

“You don’t want to talk – fine.”

We turned back and walked away. My legs were wobbling.

I don’t know how Anton put up with all that without giving me up. I was like a knot of nerves, always scared. He, though, could always make me giggle. It was easy to be with him. Then, though, I’d go to the practice where I’d meet Shliakhov. He was now always gloomy and angry, though he no longer gave his hands their freedom.

October eleventh was my birthday. After practice, we went to Anton’s rented apartment. We had so much fun! We danced the night away! I was already tired after the practice, and just fell asleep as the party went on. Oleg wanted to wake me up and walk me home, but they didn’t let him. He left.
A famous director said, 'I'd flush that medal down the drain!' Antoha relied, "You do it to your Oscar first!'

In the morning, Anton was the first to get up. I did so later. In the bathroom, there was a paper on the mirror – “I love you.”

That’s how he told me of his feelings. We then decided to stop hiding. Let the dice fall however they may. We saw each other every day and didn’t want to separate. Oleg watched it with eerie calm.

One time he approached me after the practice, “Pack up, we’re going to the Israel competition, and then to Riga to get ready for Europeans.”

“Why?”

“So we don’t have to go here and there needlessly and lose time.”

I didn’t argue. I wanted to do well at Europeans. I counted the days – we’d spend three weeks in Riga.

Anton got upset when he found out, “Lenka, don’t go. Just dump him!”

“What do you mean? I can’t just not go!”

I knew I shouldn’t go, but I was still too dependent on Oleg, and too afraid to draw it to a close.

Anton and I spent the whole night walking the Peter streets. He hugged me tight and didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to leave him either. Yet in the morning, I grabbed by bag and Anton drove me to the train station.

The second Shliakhov and I were alone, he started recounting all of my “sins”. Using Anton’s absence, he said things about him that made my fists ball up. Oleg was baiting me but I didn’t say anything. It was meaningless to protest, so I could only wait. I was counting the days until getting back to Peter and breathing free again.

We competed in Israel, came to Riga, and again settled in with his mom. Now, though, it was even harder on me then before. I changed and could no longer stand it.

I called Moskvina when Oleg and Svetlana weren’t at home, “It’s awful here, I can’t stand it anymore!”

“Just hang in there, Lenok, just until the Europeans. We’ll figure something out after that.”

Two weeks remained until Europeans. Everything in me protested with a feeling of impending doom. But I gritted my teeth and decided that if I already put up with so much, a little more wouldn’t kill me.

The sixth of January came. One week remained to Europeans. We came to the morning practice. We started the warm-up. Then, suddenly, I saw Shliakhov’s blade really close. I wanted to yell, “What are you doing!” but there was no time. A hit in the temple, and I fall. A scarlet puddle grows on the ice…

There was no sharp pain, I was conscious and watched it all as an outsider. A whole crowd gathered.

“Lena, are you OK?”

“Say something!”

I tried to respond, but couldn’t say a word. Oleg grabbed me and carried me to the medical center. The crowd followed.

The ambulance came. Oleg and Svetlana came with me. On the way, they kept saying, “No big deal. Don’t worry.”

I didn’t. I just thought – that’s that. Finally. No more figure skating, no more suffering, and no more fear. I’ll go home, and won’t ever need competitions or victories again.

In the hospital, the doctors asked, “What’s your name?”

I was silent.

“Don’t worry, it’s just shock. It’ll pass!” They sewed up the wound and got me admitted to a room.

Sometime later, a neurosurgeon stopped by.

“Do you remember what happened?”

I was silent, but blink my eyes.

“Do you understand me?”

I blinked – yes, I understand.

“And you can’t say anything?”

I blinked again. Immediately, she yelled, “X-ray immediately! Get the OR ready!”
Anton was shocked to see me - thin, pallid, bandaged up, and bold. I could hardly walk, let alone talk. He hugged and kissed me.

It turned out that the blade, cutting through the right temple, damaged the speech center. That’s why I couldn’t talk. I needed immediate brain surgery.

The nurses came to ask for consent for the surgery. I was just apathetic. They were shaving my head, and I was just thinking – do whatever you want with me!

Oleg and his mom showed up the next morning. Shliakhov sat next to the bed, his voice and his hands were shaking. “Forgive me; I don’t know how it happened. I know you’ll get better. We’ll get ready for the Worlds. Europeans is no big deal. We still have time.”

I just wanted to laugh. No, pal! I won’t have no more championships with you!

Svetlana took my hand, “I talked to the fortune teller, and she says you’ll be fine. Oleg and you will soon become Olympic champions.”

If I could talk, I’d scream at her a hundred times, “No! No! Again no! I won’t ever skate with your son again!”

Mom and Moskvina came five days later, bringing with them toys, flowers, and boxes of chocolates. That was from the Peter friends, while Anton sent heart-shaped earrings and a huge stuffed dog.

I was sitting with my mom when Oleg came by. She told him we’d be leaving soon.

Shliakhov got angry.

“What right do you have to leave? Do you have any idea how much money we put into her! You’ll never pay it back!”

Mom shot back, “I’ll see you in prison for what you did to her!”

For Oleg, of course, it was a catastrophe. I was gaining my freedom as he was losing his footing. There was nothing he could do about it.

I am sure Oleg didn’t do it intentionally. An injury is an accident, and comes from a technical mistake. It doesn’t matter if it was his or mine, but it changed both our lives.

If not for the sport, perhaps they'd still be together.

I spent a month at the hospital, and mom visited me every day. She talked to me and read me books. I still couldn’t talk well and had difficulty reading – I’d recognize a letter but not remember how to pronounce it. I still have some residual effects of the injury. When I worry, I can’t get a word out, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

When Oleg and his federation realized they couldn’t keep me, I was moved from a double into a common room. The ten beds were occupied, so they put a folding bed for me in the hallway near the door. That’s how Anton found me.

I opened my eyes and so him in a white coat with a bag in his head, “Hi, Masjanya.[2]

The poor soul, he must have been terrified to see me. I was thin, pallid, and bold; I could hardly walk, let alone talk. He didn’t let on, though. He hugged and kissed me, and talked to me just as before.

He was a pro in getting my attention away from my troubles. We’d go into a nearby café, and he’d tell me about our friends – who went where and who bought what. He kept telling me jokes and making up outrageous lies. Anton was the only one I really wanted to talk to. I could even forget I wasn’t very good at it yet. Sitting on my folding bed, Anton would read aloud to me and then leave to sleep in his hotel.

In the last few days at the hospitals, doctors showed me off to the students. They asked me to stretch out my hands and hold them parallel. I did, but the second I closed my eyes the right one would fall.

After I checked out, Oleg kept watching me. He couldn’t come to terms with losing me! Just as we entered our hotel room, there was a knock on the door. Oleg’s friends! They came to find out how things were going, and how long I planned to spend in Riga. I said a few more days, but we bought the tickets and left that same night.

Sitting in the train between mom and Anton, and kept saying like a vow, “No more Shliakhov! Freedom!” I was so happy, I didn’t even think of the tomorrow.

     *     *     *
I only spent three days in Petersburg before going to Nevinnomyssk with mom. I wanted to rest to see what to do next.

I arrived to find a whole house full of relatives. My uncle and aunt died, and their three kids moved in with mom. Despite the constant noise and clatter, I was happy there. I was surrounded by my people. Uncle Misha came to visit me – he and mom have divorced by then. “So”, he asked. “Was it worth it?”

Anton soon came as well. He left his coach and was now free. We moved to Pyatigorsk to stay with his grandmother, and spent a whole month there. We were now tied by a whole new set of feelings. It was real love, strong and mature. We were each other’s bedrocks, and so decided to come back to Petersburg together. I figured my legs and arms were moving, so I should be able to skate. I’ll come to Tamara Nikolayevna, and she’ll figure something out.

The most difficult thing in Peter was to find myself among friends again. I was still talking very poorly, always feeling that the tongue couldn’t quite twist the right way, and the words came out really slow. The guys thought it was a joke. They’d horse around – “Say something else!” Sometimes, I’d sit there, and get all ready to say something, and then not be able to do it. It was terrible. I could have lost faith in myself if it weren’t from Anton. He can be an airhead, but he was very sensitive. He talked to me as before, not paying any attention to the speech impediment. That helped me not get too introspective. I don’t know if I could have learned to talk normal without him.
We realized our feelings transcended love. Anton smiled, "We should have gotten married right away". I added, "And never skated together".

We lived in his rented apartment while I visited all the doctors. One of them said, “The sooner you’ll get back to what you were doing before the injury, the better.” So Anton and I started to skate together to warm up. Then Tamara Nikolayevna put us together as a team.

A little later, there was no longer any money for rent, so we moved in with Anton’s parents. It was just a regular two-roomer, no palace. Toha and I shared a room with his older sister while his mom and dad slept in the other one.

It was cool despite being so crammed. Perhaps this was the first time I saw what a real family looked like. I saw people who loved each other, waited for each other, were interested in each other, and were happy for each other. The house was always noisy and fun.

We still didn’t know that sport and family life don’t mix. There is no pair that skate together and has a good life together.

By May, Anton and I were doing difficult elements and lifts; in the summer, we went to the training camp at Colorado Springs; by the start of the season we decided we were ready to compete.

It then turned out that we took on something important and it was too late to back out. The real work began. Three hours of practice in the morning, three more in the evening, and then you go home or go out. We were known to lose patience at practices, but not at each other. Each one would get angry at himself. Anton would yell,

“Figure skating can just go to hell! To hell with competitions! I’m done!”

I, too, would worry,

“It’s all bad! The program isn’t good! The music is all wrong!”

That’s how it’s supposed to be in a functioning team – each one blames themselves for all the problems. That’s the paradox. You’re in a team, but you’re still alone. You have to do your work yourself.

Half a year later, we came third at the European championships, and that was a huge victory for us. I bought an apartment, and Toha and I rushed around the stores, choosing furniture and dishes. Anton would split his time between my place and his parents’. I am a homebody, whereas he can’t live without friends and parties. All the more often, we’d only see each other at the rink...
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[1] Peter – short for Petersburg.

[2] Russian internet cartoon character, especially popular among internet users in Saint Petersburg in the late 90’s/ early 00’s.