My heart was beating so hard that I was wondering if it was going to jump right out of my chest .This was the letter for which I had waited. It would tell me if I was accepted. I looked at the address again to make sure that it was addressed in my name, not my parent's.
I didn't use our letter opener, I didn't have time for niceties, I simply ripped the envelope open and started to read. The third paragraph finally revealed the secret. I was accepted.
"I got accepted," I shouted, bursting into the kitchen where Mom was preparing dinner. "I am to go next month, the tenth, it says here. We better get ready. I gotta call Miss Dragomiretskaya, she will be tickled pink that her student made the grade."
There was a lot to do. Clothing for hot and for cold days. Boots for winter, gifts for at least 10 people, shaver, camera, chargers, 110/220 adapter, family pictures, plus a thousand other things. Sure was a good thing I had started making a list early on.
There was also the address of the foster family with whom I was going to stay for a year. I promised myself to write a letter tomorrow and let Miss Dragomiretskaya look it over for mistakes. I was glad Dad had let me buy the Russian module for my PC. At least I didn't have to write by hand. I still did not master the cursive writing.
When Dad came home he became just as excited that I was accepted for a year in Moscow. This was going to be the highlight for this seventeen year-old.
"I am sure we will come and visit you," Dad said, slapping me on the back as he usually does when he gets excited. "Then you can show us around. If and when we do we want to" go to St. Petersburg also, I have heard so much about that city.
The days went by in a hurry and suddenly I was flying to Moscow. They had recently built a large new airport, but for some reason my plane was diverted to the old Sheremedvaya airport.
This was a dreary place and I stood in line for almost three quarters of an hour for passport control. There were several cubicles and one had to strep between them. When it was my turn I moved between the two cubicles of my line and handed my passport to the unsmiling inspector. I was wondering why he was looking behind me several times before I was released. When I left I noticed that I had been standing before a full length mirror, my welcome to a relic of the communist system that had collapsed just two years before.
There was an immediate bond between my foster parents and me and their son Victor. The welcome dinner was set for five but it looked like a buffet in the States. There was a sweet carrot salad, pickled herring, fried mushrooms a slab of shpeck and more. Everyone picked a bit here and there while we kept up a lively conversation.
After a vodka toast to peace in the world and friendship between our two nations there appeared the main course, the evening meal. Later I found out that most Russians set a lavish table of appetizers when guests were invited. Obviously I was a special guest this evening.
Since school would not start for another week Victor introduced my new city to me. Just some small places, his parents had told him, The main places we will show Eric as a family, places like the Kremlin, the University, and the Moscow State Library as it was called officially, although many called it the Lenin Library or just The Library.
It was not long before I had a fair idea of how to get around in the city. I was especially taken by the Moscow subway, the Metro, and its lavish stations, filled with frescos, bronzes and all kinds of other art works. I loved the way the stations were designed. One emerged from the escalator into what would have been a long, vaulted hall in a museum. The thick walls on either side were broken by large archways to give access to the track platforms.
Victor took me to the stadium where we watched a soccer game. We went to Michilovsky Park and strolled along the rows of vendors hawking everything from old collector's postage stamps to cuddly brown teddy bears.
One of the items I bought to take home with me was a beautiful old, black lacquer box made and decorated by the master craftsmen and artisans of Palekh. It was a lucky find.
Victor also showed me the other side of the coin. He took me to the Old Arbat where the elderly were selling whatever possessions they had, from old paintings to worn shoes. This was a bleary place of misery, and I was very depressed when we left. I had to refresh myself with a cup of kwassa from a vending machine.
He also told me about his club.
"We meet every two week at a different home," he explained. "We have an old brass samovar that we always take with us so we can have tea."
"Is that all?" I interrupted him with a laugh.
"Don't be silly: he answered. "We talk about anything, politics, a new book someone read, a new music CD, and so on. One evening we talked about exchange students we had met, and where we would like to go if we had the opportunity. Would you like to come with me next week?
How could I say no? It sounded like fun and also an opportunity to meet other guys.
"And even a girl you will like," he had added. "Sweet and beautiful, but unapproachable. Her name is Svetlana."
It was a motley group, a mix of blue collar and intellectual. Naturally I was both the object and the subject of the evening. The questions tumbled out faster than I could answer them; and each answer provoked new questions.
Svetlana was more than just beautiful. She was irresistible,. I knew I was lost when I first looked into her eyes. There was something indefinable, magnetic, compelling. Something that sent tingles down my spine.
It was her turn to brew the tea tonight and I was curious about the samovar. But most of all it gave me a chance to stand next to Svetlana. I listened to her husky voice explain to me how the samovar is used. I inhaled the fragrance of her and I found myself in a place where violins played and soft lights caressed the soul. I was in love with a girl I didn't even know.
On the way home Victor teased me.
"This was a fun evening. It was so funny watching you and Svetlana. You two kept looking at each other all evening as if you two were the only people in this world. I bet that you two didn't hear eve half what we talked about tonight."
He was right I had to admit to myself. I was enslaved by this girl with her unfathomable black eyes. I could see her now in full color. Her skin a bit darker than most, her high cheekbones giving her a somewhat exotic look. The easy, fluid grace of her movements. And now I would have to wait an eternity of two weeks before I would see her again.
I tried to hurry the next two weeks, but instead of hurrying they slowed down to a crawl. Victor and I arrived a bit early and I was condemned to wait. Again I saw that spark in her eyes when she greeted me, making my world complete once more. The questions flew and I could hardly keep pace.
There were very few political questions. Strangely enough none about Hitler.
"We had our own mass murderer with over twenty million on his neck, so we figured that you probably didn't want to talk about your guy," Victor explained later.
It was a fun evening, except that I was forced to pay too much attention to so many unimportant questions and answers when there was a much more important item on my agenda, Svetlana.
"You know that we all kept watching you and the unapproachable Svetlana. I think you two spent more time looking at each other than looking at the speaker. Several times you didn't even hear that someone asked you a question; they had to repeat it. If this goes on we have to put you in separate rooms," Victor told me on the way home. And then he laughed. "Honestly," he teased me, "you two act like love birds and you don't even know each other. It's hilarious."
My third club meeting was at Svetlana's and I finally had the chance to talk to her for a few seconds. We needed two more chairs and I volunteered. Svetlana jumped up at once, cutting off the rest with a stern "I know where they are. Also gives me a chance to show Eric the apartment. We still have a few minutes."
It was a spacious apartment. Svetlana showed me the bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen. We stopped there and looked at each other. My mouth opened, and then closed, but there was no sound. It felt like minutes that we stared at each other, unable to speak. It was Svetlana who broke the spell.
"As big as your apartment?" she asked.
"I don't live in an apartment, we live in a house. I have some pictures. I would love to show them to you. Could I bring them over some time?" I stammered.
"Tomorrow?" she asked. About nineteen thirty?"
"Sure," was all I could muster.
Svetlana and I grabbed a chair each and returned to the club where twelve pairs of eyes searched us for telltale signs of what might have happened while we were gone.
The ice was broken; we had exchanged words, not just shy glances and silent stares. I was euphoric; I was going to see Svetlana tomorrow. If there was something else going on at the club that evening, it was going on without me.
Svetlana greeted me with a happy smile, a smile that lit room like the Christmas tree on Times Square. She was beautiful, her black her was shimmering in the light of a single bulb in the hallway. Her dark eyes were full if glittering diamonds, She was breathless in seemed, She could hardly invite me in.
We went to the kitchen where she proudly presented me to her parents, who looked me over closely before welcoming me with a smile. Again the questions flew and I knew it was going to be a long evening. Svetlana stayed on the side and only occasionally made a small remark for me to add also some minor detail she had heard me tell at the club.
As the evening wore on with tidbits of food and another vodka toast I noticed some questioning glances Svetlana's way and also mine. There was no doubt in my mind that her mother suspected that there was more in the air than just a new guy in town. It was late when I finally excused myself, but her parents extracted from me the promise to return and I told them that I was most happy to do so. An almost imperceptible flicker of a smile on mother's face made it absolute certainty, mother knew.
When Svetlana asked to accompany me to the Metro station, she was politely reminded that she had to get up early for a school outing. She pouted for a moment and then let her eyes tell me that this was not our last chance.
After school on Saturday afternoon Svetlana called and asked my foster parents if it was all right for me to accompany her to meet some of her friends. Asking such permission was a dead give-away, I was ready to follow her to hell if that was what she wanted.
We never saw any of her friends but we walked for three hours and talked for three hours. She didn't mind my funny broken Russian and I couldn't care less what we talked about. We had a cup of kvassa from a vending machine and we looked into shop windows to see if there was any merchandise.
We stopped at a store that featured house wares and I was about to point at something in the store window that I noticed that Svetlana and I were holding hands. When did that happen, I wondered?
I walked her home and was collared at once to stay for dinner. When I phoned my foster parents they agreed that it was a good idea to get to know other people. They only asked me not to stay out too late. The streets were not all that safe after dark.
I told Svetlana's parents that my Dad would probably want to visit me sometime this summer, and then visit St. Petersburg. Everyone agreed that was a wonderful idea; there was so much to see there, from colorful Peterhof to the monumental Memorial in Piskarovka.
I am sure your grandfather also was a soldier in The Great Patriotic War as WW II was called in Russia.
"Yes," I answered innocently, "This was before my grandparents emigrated to America. My grandfather was a sergeant in a German tank battalion. In fact, he spent one whole year in your country before he was wounded and then transferred to the Atlantic coast."
Suddenly lightning struck.
Svetlana stared at me for a moment and then ran from the room, with her mother right behind her. I heard Svetlana sobbing loudly and talking incoherently to her Mom. I could not hear what was said until Svetlana's voice rose to almost a shriek.
"I hate him. I hate him. Leave me alone. Make him go away".
When her father stood up I stood up also. He walked around the table and put his arm around my shoulder.
"Let's you and me get some fresh air," he said quietly, turning me towards the door.
The sobs had grown louder and Svetlana's voice was full of venom. The last I heard of her as the door closed behind me was a high pitched "never".
"I am so sorry," her father explained. "She has a hatred of anything German far beyond any reason. I hope her Mom can talk some sense into her, but I doubt it. This girl is as hard headed as a bull. But please call us from time to time, we don't want to lose touch with you and this thing will blow over eventually. I can only hope she will stay civil and not fight the war all over again as she did with this tourist we had met in the Red Square.
I said my good-bye and promised to stay in touch. I was devastated. What had I don? All I did was answer a question. What did I have to do with a war fought two generations ago?
I was miserable. My foster parents complained about my not eating. My class mates pestered me, wanting to know why I was so glum and no fun to be around. And I wondered about myself, too. And I missed Svetlana. She had not even apologized to the club for not showing up the last two meetings.
But at least I had found out what her problem was. Her Dad explained it to me when we talked on the phone.
"My Dad, her dedushka was burned to death in a tank during the battle for Smolensk. His friend, who got off the tank in time told us that he heard my Dad cry out, 'Don't forget your dedushka, Svyeta… She attaches an entirely different meaning to that, like 'don't forget who killed me'. Now she sees German soldiers as devils."
After skipping two meetings Svetlana finally appeared, but she did not return as the sweet, wonderful Svetlana who had greeted me not long ago with smiling eyes, this was a woman who flung venom at me.
"I hate you. I wished I had known about you sooner. I would have stayed away until you have crawled back to where you came from. Your people have caused more death and suffering in Russia than I can bear."
The last look she gave me was a salvo of daggers meant to pierce my heart. She did not stay but left immediately. There was an uneasy cloud over the group after she had left and everyone decided to go home early.
I could not sleep; I tossed around in my bed. I cried tears till my pillow was soaked. My misery hung like the cloud of a tornado over my head. I was ready to die; the loss of my love was more than I could bear. I finally fell into an uneasy sleep an hour before I had to get up.
I had loved going to school here in Moscow where everything so new and different, now it was a drag. I had trouble concentrating and it was almost impossible to finish my assignments. It took a long lecture from my foster parents to straighten me half way. It turned out that they had phoned Svetlana's parents and had compared notes.
School was hell. I longed for Svetlana, but every time our paths crossed accidentally she turned and walked away without even a look. I dreaded to have to go to the dining hall at lunch break and see her in the far corner of the room talking and laughing with her friends.
To escape my misery I often went to the basement and crawled into my little hide-out, away from everybody. There I could nurture my misery. My secret hide-out was in a room, which was part of a storage area in the basement. There was some old furniture, dusty boxes, and other odds and ends.
When had started school Victor had been told to show me around the offices, the various labs, etc. He had even taken me down to the basement. Now I was glad that I had seen it and remembered this room.
One day I was sitting in my chair, hidden in the far corner, feeling sorry for myself, when I heard foot steps at the far end of the hallway. I hastily switched off the light and crawled back to my hide-out. I felt secure; I could not imagine anyone to come into this room. But even then, I was practically invisible behind a stack of boxes piled on top of a worn wooden desk.
I heard foot steps of two people coming closer and closer until they were at my door. The door opened and my heart started racing. But when the light was not switched on I knew. It had to be a young couple looking for a quiet place to kiss and fondle a bit during lunch break. I was wrong. I heard an unfamiliar female voice whisper something and then I froze.
"Karotchka, I am so confused. I hate him for making me love him. He should not have done that. He is an enemy. I love him and I hate him. Do I hate him more than I love him or do I love him more than I hate him? I can't sleep at night thinking about him. He makes my life hell, always standing in front of my eyes. When he looks at me I want him to hug me. But that is wrong, he is our enemy." Svetlana was sobbing loudly.
"Be still Svyeta dear," her friend warned her. "Svyeta, I know what you miss. The closeness of another being, holding you, hugging you close. Here, let me hold you, and feel how soft another girl's body feels. Let me kiss you. Try it just once and you will know how I feel when I am with Lydia."
"All right, I promise you and I will let you guide me and we will see where it leads," Svetlana answered, but there was doubt and even some reluctance in her voice.
Next I heard the unmistakable sounds of two lips greeting each other. I knew it was dangerous, I could be discovered, but I just had to take a chance and see. They were standing close to the open door and I could see them clearly, outlined by the light of the single bulb in the hallway.
The two girls were embracing each other and the tip of Karina's tongue was playfully caressing Svetlana's lips. It said 'come and play with me, you will like it. When Karina kissed her friend fully on her lips I could sense Svetlana's resistance, there was some stiffness in her body. It was a one way kiss.
Suddenly the dam broke and Svetlana hugged her friend in earnest, her lips answered Karina's, their tongues fighting a duel. Svetlana's resistance was no more; she had melted into her friend's arms, lost to the world around her.
I watched their passions rising, their bodies rubbing against each other as if trying to become one. Then Karina broke the kiss and moved her lips to Svyeta's throat to kiss and nibble there. Svetlana tilted her head back to give her friend greater access.
Small mewling sounds came from Svetlana's lips and I thought I could see Svetlana quiver slightly. Her lips opened and the tip of her tongue sneaked out to moisten them.
Karina's right hand left her friend's back and moved to Svetlana's front to open her blouse. The two top buttons opened quickly and Karina fastened her mouth to Svetlana's nipple. I could hear Svetlana moaning quietly.
Karina kept caressing her friend's nipple while she let her hand slide down over Svetlana's hips to the hem of her short skirt. It rested there for a moment as if deciding whether to go further or not. Then it slid under Svetlana's skirt to her mound.
Svetlana stiffened and stepped back from Karina and shook her head as if trying to wake up from a dream.
"Karotchka, I love you, but not that way," she breathed, hardly audible even in the stillness of the basement. "I want you to be my friend, but not like Lydia. That's not me." Then she started crying and hugged her friend again, putting her head on Karina's shoulder.
Karina hugged her close. "It's alright, Svyeta. I understand. Now let me button your blouse and then we will get back upstairs. You will have to wash your face and eyes."
Now I was more miserable than before. To my own I had added Svetlana's misery, and I wondered how I could possibly bear both.
I did not see Svetlana again until by accident a week later.
It was a dreary, cloudy Moscow day into which I emerged. The stairs leading up from the Metro seemed longer and steeper today. The Arbat, always a bustling street full of shops and shoppers, seemed less crowded and much quieter. Maybe it was only my mood that made the Arbat appear listless, too.
But soon I felt better when I arrived at the place where most of the flower sellers set up their riot of colors.
Lumilla stepped out from behind her buckets of flowers as soon as she saw me to give me the traditional greeting of a bear hug and three kisses. We had taken to each other the very first time I had bought some flowers from her. There was something warm and grandmotherly about her. She always had a soothing, calming effect on me.
"So good to see you again, my friend. I have some especially beautiful snapdragons today. Here, look," she said as she handed me a bunch for my approval.
I pressed two ten rubel bill into her had for the eighteen rubel bouquet of snapdragons, and was ready leave. But she held me with her next remark.
"She must be a very pretty girl to get flowers from you every three weeks.
"Oh no," I told her, "These flowers are not for a girl. They are for a very special man."
I turned to leave and almost bumped into my nemesis. She looked at me with a smirk on her face, spitting out a sarcastic remark.
"Flowers for a pretty man, - Ha."
I was so surprised that she was already a few meters gone before I could found an answer. I It was too late I had to let it go. I was certain that my answer to Ludmilla was going to come up soon. But nothing happened in class, during lunch break, or during our next evening tea. Then when I thought the whole thing had blown over it returned with a vengeance,
It was three weeks later on the Arbat. I had paid Ludi for my flowers and she had hugged and kissed her usual good-bye. She handed me my bouquet and I turned to leave. Facing me stood about ten of my class mates, with a smirking Svetlana in the center.
"They should keep queers who buy flowers for their boyfriends out of our school," she announced loudly before stalking off with her group, except for Dimitri who stayed behind.
"Is that really true what she said, that you are gay," he asked me.
"Absolutely not," I answered. "Every third week I go to.." I stopped because he grabbed and shook my shoulders.
"Stay here, I will be right back."
He raced after the group and they all had a lively discussion when he caught up with them. I was amazed to see them return to where I waited, wondering what was going to happen next. Svetlana took the lead again.
"So you say you are not gay, but bye flowers for a special friend every three weeks. Maybe you want us to believe that your friend is sick, as you gays are anyway." Not was the time to pierce her balloon.
"OK, I will tell you who the man is for whom I buy flowers. But there is one condition. If you feel that you owe me an apology, I want you to reach into your pockets, get some money, and also buy some flowers for my friend.
If you feel that you were right all along, we will part and I will go to the walls of the Kremlin by myself to offer my flower to my friend who lies buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as I do every three weeks."
They stood quiet for a long moment and then crowded around me to apologize. Tow of them even asked their friends if they could borrow money to buy flowers also. Sverlana stood aside, waiting for the guys to buy their bouquets. When they were finished she asked for their attention.
"Why don't you guys go ahead, I have to talk to Eric."
Once everyone had left she moved over and stood next to me, looking at the ground before her. She was silent for several seconds, and when she finally spoke it was with a voice so quiet, it was as almost inaudible.
"I am more than just sorry. I am humbled. Maybe we could get together by ourselves sometime and make some repairs?"
She paused again for a moment and then added in a low voice. "Soon, I hope?" She looked at me then with red pleading eyes that had lost their sparkle.
"How about after I come back from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?" I suggested. "There is still time enough this afternoon to have a snack and a glass of hot tea. I could meet you at the Minutchka, maybe?"
She did not say a word for several long seconds; she just looked at me, her eyes changing from sad to happy. Those were the eyes I had fallen in love with. Dark, penetrating eyes that were trying to fathom my thoughts. Then she averted her eyes again and cleared her throat.
"Could I talk you into letting me walk with you to the Kremlin? Please." she more begged than asked.
Was this again the Svetlana with whom I had fallen in love not so long ago? I had to give it a try because I believed that deep down she was a sweet, warm, loving and cuddly girl if she would strip away her view of the horrors of the past. .
I smiled a YES at her and then watched with delight as her serious look slowly changed to a timid smile. And suddenly the sun joined us. I knew that this was going to be a day of sunshine for me, even if the clouds closed in again.
Ludmilla had watched and listened and again stepped forward from between her buckets to stand in front of us with a knowing smile on her wrinkled, old, sweet face. She reached behind her and lifted a bunch flowers from her bucket. She did not speak as she handed them to Svetlana, just moved her hand as if shooing us away.
At that moment the sun had started t o shine in again for me, Svetlana was walking by my side and she was talking to me.
Finally I mustered enough courage to take her hand and was rewarded at once with a little squeeze. It was a double thank you squeeze. It was a thank you for forgiving her; and a thank you for taking her hand.
I don't know what Svetlana was thinking, but for my part, I just enjoyed her nearness, walking with me holding hands, and listening to her prattle.
Just after we had passed the Lenin Library with its many steps leading up to that monumental building, supported by a row of square columns, she stopped and turned to me,
"Eric, don't you think that Svetlana is a long word?" My friends …."
I interrupted her speech.
"If this means that you want to be a friend, I will be not just glad, I will be very, very happy, Svyeta. That's because you are a very special person to me." `This got me another hand squeeze. Did I dare hope that my love was not lost to me completely? I made up my mind to take whatever I could and hope for the future. I would still be in Moscow for some time.
Neither of us spoke until we arrived in that little park just outside those imposing Kremlin walls. I found an empty bench, away from the main path and led her to it. We talked of many things, our past, our present and what the future might hold.
Then the dam broke and she started to sob uncontrollably. She laid her head on my shoulder and soaked my shirt with hot tears. Finally she raised her face and made a confession.
"Eric, I am such a fool. I fell in love with you when I first saw you. I thought I had found my life partner and then it turned out that he was my enemy. Now I look back and I think I was my own worst enemy. I had loved you so much, but now I was hurt as never before. I was beside myself. I longed so much to be held in your arms, but the anger and hate in me said 'don't you dare'. Every night I talked to myself to let go of my hate. At sixteen I should be more mature, I chided myself and I almost succeededto get rid of my anger and the hate that was in me.
Then, just as I thought that I could overcome my anger I found out that you were a homosexual. It was too much I had to try and hate you. It was the only way. And then you rescued me from my misery."
"Svyeta, Love, let me explain why I come here every three weeks. My grandfather had always wanted to go to Moscow for a three week vacation, get to know the city and the people. He would go and visit his friend in the Tomb at the walls of the Kremlin and bring him flowers .He would visit twice; the day he arrived and the day he left. He believed that all soldiers are alike. They fight for their country, but that they would rather be home with their families."
I had just finished when an old man approached our bench. He walked with a cane and it was obvious that he had lost a foot or a leg. As many other proud vets, he wore a row of medal ribbons on his jacket.
We smiled at him and nodded our approval to invade our little world. He managed to return a wan smile of his own. And then I had an idea.
I turned to the veteran and asked for permission to talk to him unless he would rather enjoy solitude. He nodded his head and simply said, "speak, son."
"Dedushka," I started addressing him with the proper Russian courtesy and respect. "Grandfather, My dedushka always had wanted to visit your country again, but this time as a friend, He was a German soldier during the Great Patriotic War and wanted to bring some flowers to his friend in the Tomb. He passed away last year."
The old soldier sat up straighter and cleared his throat. But he remained quiet. When he finally spoke we could plainly see that his eyes looked into the past. He slightly nodded in the direction of the bouquets of flowersI we were holding and his voice was strong.
"Then those are probably his flowers. I would have liked to meet him. We fought, but not because we wanted to fight. And I want you to know, son, every soldier is a brother to the one he had to fight. We all were baptized in the same place, the hell of the battlefield."
He rose and hobbled away, leaving us with tiny goose bumps running down our backs. I could almost physically feel her old anger draining away, being replaced with respect for those of either side who were willing to die for their country and their families.
I felt Svetlana taking a deep breath; a great weight had suddenly been lifted from her.
We stood up, looked deeply into each others eyes and we knew what the other thought. We walked the short distance north to the Tomb and offered our flower standings in silence for a minute. When we left we were again holding hands. But this time we also were holding each others heart.
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/first-time/svetlana-my-nemesis-my-love.aspx">Svetlana, my Nemesis, my Love</a>