It happened so long ago, I cannot think of any other way to begin than … once upon a time, at the Chicago Auditorium Theatre, I had come to see a performance of Giselle by the much acclaimed American Ballet Theatre group.
A literary acquaintance, and border-line ballet devotee fanatic, was unable to attend this performance and begrudgingly handed me his ticket, but refused to let go of it for several seconds of a tug-of-war. When he wouldn’t let go, I yelled at him, “JACK?”
He let go and whispered, “He is so beautiful.”
“Who is so beautiful?”
“And who is Sergey Fedorov?”
The expression on his face shouted – you stupid fool, but with controlled indignation, he simply said, “He’s the danseur principal.”
I could see he was more than disappointed that he had given his prize possession to a cultureless swine such as myself so, I encouraged him to tell me everything about Monsieur Danseur Principal which he was delighted to do. When he was finished, I promised I would tell him everything about the experience when I saw him again. He seemed somewhat relieved and went his way.
After he was out of sight, I glanced at the ticket and almost choked when I saw the price he had paid. $131.00 for one performance of a ballet. The ticket also indicated the location of the seat – P309. For that price, I felt somewhat assured that I would not get a nosebleed and would have a generally good view of the stage.
I arrived early the evening of the performance in order to case the joint and find my seat without appearing the novice. I could not have been more surprised when I found seat P309. It was an aisle seat on the center section, about sixteen rows from the stage and a few feet above the section in front of me. An added bonus was the additional leg room on this row of seats. When I sat down, the sightline to the stage could not have been more perfect. No wonder Jack was so bereaved at having to let this seat go.
But I was in for yet another surprise once the ballet began. It was the moment I saw him come on stage. Even after all these years, it is as clear in my mind’s eye as if it happened only moments ago. Sergey Vladimir Fedorov owned the stage with every movement he made; the applause from the audience told me he owned them as well. I wondered if he would be able to captivate me also.
As the final curtain descended and the applause died away, I knew I had to meet this very talented creature, if at all possible. For one thing, Jack would throw a fit if I didn’t at least try.
I knew little about the Green Room experience and did not have a clue where it was or whether just anyone could enter. The elderly woman sitting to my right picked up on my cluelessness and gave precise instructions as to where I should go and how I was to behave. We laughed at her thoroughness, then went our separate ways into the crowd moving out of the theatre.
The Green Room was not green at all. It was a drab grey, badly in need of paint or something. But the brilliance of the crowd and their gay chatter invigorated the atmosphere while we waited for the cast to appear. Within minutes, a door on the far end of the room opened and about a dozen of the company entered. The crowd pressed forward as the glee over their appearance rose, but I did not see Sergey who was taller than everyone else.
I held back and decided it would be more enjoyable to observe than to participate. Within seconds, someone brushed by me unexpectedly and I lost my balance. He paused and turned. It was him.
I smiled and kind of giggled as I nodded. “It’s okay.” When our eyes met, I was struck by their brilliance; they were alive, piercing, but kind.
He smiled and moved away as the crowd recognized him. Before he was completely engulfed by his admirers, he looked back briefly – just long enough to take my breath away. I began to understand Jack’s awe of this young man, this danseur principal.
As his well-wishers closed in on him, I recalled his outstanding performance only moments earlier. Beyond its brilliance, which was technically flawless, there was a joie de vivre he lovingly interwove with every movement … touching the hearts of everyone in the audience including mine. And yet, as he stood greeting his admirers, there was an unmistakable sadness about him which I’m certain only I noticed. Perhaps it was nothing more than exhaustion. After such a robust performance, there had to be some degree of a letdown.
Several members of a writer’s club I belonged to spotted me and before I knew it, there were a half dozen of us discussing everything under the Sun including Sergey Fedorov who, it turns out, had a reputation for being a perfectionist; never satisfied – tirelessly critiquing each of his performances via films he commissioned. Undoubtedly he was an inspiration to everyone in the daily class required of the performers in this company. He watched over them, always at the ready to praise, and to point out small but critical and necessary improvements; done in a loving way that aroused no ire from anyone.
Though in his early twenties, he was at the top of his game, so to speak. No one that young had ever achieved the status of danseur principal in this ballet company nor in any other company I was told. He should have been bubbling over at the praise he received. However, from where I was observing him, he was gracious in accepting the praise he so richly deserved, but rarely did he give forth a genuine smile.
At one point during the Green Room gathering, he caught me staring at him while I was thinking those very thoughts, and 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. I smiled and turned slowly away so as not to appear too obvious.
As the audience in the Green Room drew to a close, Sergey quietly approached me from behind, touching my elbow as I chatted with my friends.
“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 gripped my hand. “I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have witnessed your performance. It was superb.”
“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.
Ah, you are a writer.”
I smiled, “Of sorts, yes.”
“And what do you write about, Mr. J.T. Higgins, if I may ask?”
“I write short stories and a few novels about all sorts of people, their lives, their happiness, sadness, their loves or lack of love, but all have happy endings.” I was pleased and smiled at his genuine interest in what I had to say about myself.
“Ah … happy endings. Something I am not familiar with. I would very much like to read something you’ve written, Mr. Higgins.”
He gazed into my eyes as he had done during our initial encounter which I found unsettling. It was almost as if he were asking for, perhaps pleading for … I’m not sure what. Maybe recognition, companionship, love. The word ‘escape’ popped into my mind which I quickly dismissed – escape from what?
“Please write to me and I’ll be happy to send you a short story I think you may enjoy.”
He smiled. “I will. Thank you. You are very kind.” Several cast members approached Sergey. “Now, I must leave you; please excuse me.”
“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. Perhaps another time.
I was impressed with his attention, his polished European etiquette … all the while hoping, at least for a moment, that his interest might be more, how shall I say … personal, 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 performers and theatre folk gather after a performance. We were seated on an elevated level, giving us a view of the main dining room where I noticed and was able to observe Sergey and his friends from a distance. One of my companions noticed my interest and asked 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 partygoer. 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 – I wondered what it might be.
The evening drew to a pleasant close, and I all but forgot my curiosity about Sergey until about a week later when I received his email. 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, suggesting the following afternoon at three. I confirmed the time and continued to wonder why, while at the same time I was pleased with the prospect of seeing him again. I had intended to send him a PDF of a love story I particularly liked but decided to give him a copy of the book, With All My Love, in which this story was published along with twenty-seven other short stories. I signed the flyleaf To Sergey with the date and my signature, then 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, 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.”
“Yes, I remember you mentioning happy endings.” He smiled, seated himself and picked up the book. “This is very nice.” He looked up with a pleased expression. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome.” I set a tray of cut fruit on the table and seated myself across the table 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, then 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 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 remember 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 to be particularly happy about being there. You hardly smiled and when you did, it seemed … how shall I say … unenthusiastic.”
He chuckled, “Was I that obvious?”
“No, of course not. I’m sure no one else noticed. I’m a writer and make it my business to observe everything when I’m out and about. Was I right?”
He was silent and began eating a watermelon wedge.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. Of course, 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 had been 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 with you.”
“And so you can … 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.”
“But what would you do if you quit?”
“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 such 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 about laughter; we should all do it and do it often.”
“I still don’t understand about your desire 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 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. “How interesting … the dot on the ‘i’ of loving.”
“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 looked 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 had never been 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 into 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 routine of the tour.
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 English was good but not good enough for me to call him on some errors and make fun of him in a gentle way. He wanted to learn everything he could about the language until I began throwing homonyms at him, and then homophones. He wrote that he laughed in despair but was grateful I took the time to explain the unexplainable.
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 the nature of 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 Sunday 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 looked and smelled 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 coffee maker 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 with 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. When his expression began to fall, I smiled, “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; 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 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 as 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, threw his shirt, underwear, and socks into the washer, and made myself presentable. Then I 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 four 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 four.”
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, much 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. He entered the bathroom to dress, then peeked out. “Where my clothes are?”
“Oh, golly. I forgot. Check the dryer. I placed a new razor on the sink in case you want to shave.”
He happily responded, “Da, spasibo.” A half hour later, he emerged smiling and looking more handsome than I remembered – fully dressed … unfortunately, and clean shaven. Then he hesitated and asked if we could stay in the apartment rather than going out to dine.
“Yes, of course. A much better idea.” I lit the gas fireplace in the living room which delighted him, and collected different foods from my supplies after which we settled in front of the fireplace with wine, a block of cheese, and a loaf of sourdough bread. I had to laugh at the scene.
“At what are you laughing?” 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 leaned back into the cushions we had placed on the floor and sighed contentedly. “You never answered my question about your decision to leave the ballet.”
He smiled and gripped my hand, “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 very much 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 added joy in living. He was experiencing a personal life he had so longed for.
The folks he danced with soon 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.
When Jack found out about the relationship, he refused to be consoled and disappeared from our lives for about a year, but finally came around at Christmas time when he brought an eight-week-old Labrador puppy as a gift. He remembered I had often mentioned my love for this breed. Sergey and I were overjoyed and welcomed the addition to our family. We, of course, named the pup, Jack, which cemented our friendship with the gift-giver.
As the years accumulated, I knew Sergey’s strength would eventually 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. And he continues to give occasional guest performances, acknowledging to his audience that the brilliance of earlier years is no longer available to him. They, 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 certain 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. His devotion to the 24/7 principal of loving someone has never failed him, or me.