Every now and again someone asks me, “Who do you read?” I have a few favorite authors and some I follow more than others. (Wander on over to my website if you really want to know, www.joannaaislinn.com/Tidbits.html) Do I seek out books? Not particularly. I have a to-read list but generally speaking, most of my reads come to me, somehow wind up directly in my path. This was the case when I took my older son to the library a couple of weeks ago. As he browsed through the shelves for a book-report-biography, my gaze caught a familiar title, one I had to pick up: fairy-tale style love story of a hero, told through the heroine’s eyes, the kind that forces you to believe in romance at its highest level.
You see, this was real. The hero and heroine lived their love in our world, not one crafted at the keyboard. And, as in our stories, this heroine was faced with a life-changing inciting incident, yet her conscious choice to rise above proved an ultimately satisfying end.
I’m referring to the amazingly touching memoir, My Sergei, A Love Story, written by Ekaterina Gordeeva together with E.M. Swift. (Somehow, I could hear Ms. Gordeeva’s accent.) Together, they’ve shared a story so incredibly lovely, I’d have wanted to believe had it been fiction.
Sergei and Ekaterina (a.k.a. ‘Katia’ or ‘Katusha’ to her beloved Sergei, Seroique or Serioza) met when both were very young. She was eleven, he fifteen and both training as figure skaters to represent communist Russia when they were paired. Long story short: they grew as friends, then closer friends, became lovers and married—all this by their very early twenties.
Skating governed their lives. Under the umbrella of Sergei’s quiet but constant protection and love Katia let Sergei rule her heart. She idolized him and recounted episode upon episode that showed what this pair meant to each other. Among the events that comprised their life together this one stands out. His skate caught in a soft patch of ice while they practiced a lift. She fell and landed on her forehead, spent the next six days hospitalized and resumed skating after another two weeks. During that time Sergei brought Katia her very first flowers and visited every day until she was cleared to return to the ice. Katia remembers he handled her that much more firmly and carefully after that, as if she were precious. They were skaters before the incident; a pair afterward.
In 1988 they skated for Russia and won Olympic gold. Married and a daughter later their skating grew more extraordinary, touched not only by love but by an ability to bring their intimacy to the ice. Six years later, they commanded the podium a second time, this time for each other.
Annaliese 2007 flickr.com
Then fourteen years ago today, Sergei died on the very ice this couple loved, the result of a heart attack. (They later learned he had a genetic type of undetected heart disease. His father had passed similarly, in Sergei’s mother’s arms, and ironically enough, so had his sister’s boyfriend). Ekaterina went on to give first hand insight into Sergei’s final moments and the hours that followed. “Yes, it’s clean,” were his final words, in reference to the fresh scent of his tee-shirt as they assumed a pose in order to initiate practice. He didn’t execute moves as he should, glided toward the boards and lowered himself to the ice. She forgot how to call for help in English. Later, at the hospital after he’d been declared dead, she sat with him, spoke to him at length and spent a very long time trying to warm his cold hands and feet. I still wonder what else she must have felt that day, and so many of the days after. She shared candidly how devastated she was, how she couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been loved and protected by Sergei, had never faced a situation without his wisdom to fall back on. Remember, she was eleven when they met. He’d been her greatest constant for more than half her life.
So like the heroines many of us read and/or write, she had to dig deep. She began by finding purpose through her dedication to her daughter and a return to skating. She did the ice alone. No one but Sergei had held her hand on the ice since they’d been paired so another partner was inconceivable. On the ice, the first time without him, at a memorial skating exhibition in his honor, she felt his strength and his presence, enough to make her bigger than the ice, she said. She skated that program twice and only for him.
Katia was twenty-four when Sergei died; he was twenty-eight. Recently I looked her up on online and wondered, fourteen years later, where she is? What turns has her life taken? I was glad to learn that several years later she’d met Ilia Kulik, loved again and gave birth to a second daughter. Seven years ago, she and Ilia married. They’ve skated solo and also as partners.
Sounds like a fairy-tale and wonderful character arc entwined? I say so. My Sergei, A Love Story is proof that romantic love exists in its purest form, can burrow its roots early in life and be the driving force I love to believe it can be. I have been inspired.
Anneliese 2007 flickr.com