9 - Talisman

The firm's New Year's party was fast approaching. As much as Elena loved anything to do with New Year's, her feelings about the party were mixed. Olga usually made her wear something bizarre and demeaning, and flirt with men.

The party was a big deal for Olga, not because it was fun, but because Elena would be paraded before so many men. If she played her part properly, she might be pursued by one of them. That Dmitry had staked his claim, and was tirelessly exercising his right to Elena, didn't matter to Olga. There were bigger fish in the pond. Like Sergey, for instance. That would be a fine feather in Olga's hat, and she let her daughter know as much. Elena was taken aback, what she felt for the man made no difference, whatsoever.

At the party, Elena hobbled around in hideous, pointy shoes with cowboy heels. She didn't walk, she staggered a few meters at a time, always on the edge of losing her balance. She was lucky with her outfit though, Olga allowed her to wear a pant suit.

For the most part, Olga scowled disapprovingly at her daughter. To set her straight, she shot looks across the table directing Elena to dance, act seductively, or chat up a man hanging about. Elena thought it demeaning and low, but worst of all was that it was her own mother forcing her into it. Elena was puzzled and hurt, but nicely tipsy, and with the laughter and revelry all around, she could shrug it off.

Elena took third prize in a party contest establishing which one of the firm's female employees had the smallest waist. She knew her mother, standing in the crowd, was bursting with pride. Then she topped off the evening by taking first prize in the knocking contest. The object of which was to bang on pots suspended over the opposite sex's genitalia. Olga was chuffed beyond belief, her daughter banged her pot with a man.

By nine, the fun was at an end. The older crowd headed home leaving the younger, drunker, partiers to crank the music up beyond ear-splitting and take over.

Olga headed for the elevator. "I am off. Are you staying?"

It wasn't a question.

Elena watched her leave, resentful. Her mother didn't have to spend time with young men; listen to their crude jokes; assuage their insecurities; pay attention to the rubbish they said and did. Olga wasn't obligated to degrade herself, welcome objectification, predation and sexual molestation in the dark.

Done with the mingling in the lobby and Dmitry molesting her in her office, Elena had another chore to go through. He was escorting her home.

The very buildings they walked past, with Dmitry spewing romantic tripe, Elena loved when she walked alone, thinking of Meg. Now, she could hardly conceal her rage. These same streets had become ugly, cruel. How dare he take that magic away?

That her trip to Kiev would be her escape, no longer scared her. She would likely never see her hometown again, but the options were painfully clear. She either stayed and lived in agony, or ran from those who wanted to hurt her. One thought kept her going, the morning of her escape on a bus to Moscow with Ivanovo disappearing from her life forever.

* * *

How Elena wanted to celebrate New Year's at home, but with Dmitry in town, Olga expected her to spend it with him. He had been invited to ring in the new year at a friend's place in a crumbling military barracks. Elena was doomed.

Dmitry's friend in the barracks hadn't enough chairs for everyone. Elena and Dmitry sat on a sofa pulled up to the table. Elena's face barely cleared the table top. Eating was an interesting challenge, at least, she was no longer alone with Dmitry. They ate and raised their shots with the other guests. Toasted to health, to love, to beautiful women. To the last minutes of 2005.

Still, it felt to Elena as though she was barely in the room. Her mind was with Meg, on the other side of the world. They planned to raise a glass together, though so far apart, as the Kremlin clock struck midnight. Thinking of each other simultaneously, they would be connected!

Elena and the other guests turned toward a TV and watched the second hand detach from its big sisters and begin the last trip around the huge dial. These were the last seconds of 2005! The year Elena found Meg!

They all held their glasses of champagne high. Dmitry, breathless, watched Elena. It was only proper that she gaze deeply into his eyes, uttering lies to bolster his claim on her. She couldn't. She gazed at the fizzing liquid in her glass. It was her talisman! The magic that connected her with Meg!

The Kremlin's clock struck nine times. Ten. Eleven...

The second hand reached the top! This was it! Elena had crossed the barrier. It was 2006!

She gazed at the bubbles in her glass. "Meg, I am speaking to you. Do you hear me?"

The guests laughed, cheered, downed champagne. The night sky was ablaze with fireworks.

Dmitry's face loomed in front of Elena. "Are you going to clink your glass with mine?"

"Meg, I am making my wish!" Elena screamed inside. "I want us to meet this year! I know we will!"

"Do you hear me?" Dmitry took Elena by the shoulder.

"I'll be strong, Meg! I'll make it! I'm drinking to you, Meg! To us!"

In her own world, Elena stared at washed up, Russian celebrities, gyrating, convulsing, effusing fake excitement.

Dmitry was puzzled. Where was his kiss? His toast? His sweetheart's fawning devotion? He gave up and returned to the other guests. Getting sloshed and more exuberant by the minute, they hardly noticed Elena: still-life on the sofa. No one could have guessed of whom it was she thought about. Much less of how far away, or that the two of them were thinking of each other at that very moment.

* * *

There was no denying it was her own fault. It was Elena, after all, who invited Dmitry in. Late New Year's Eve, what blushing bride to be doesn't welcome her beau into her room, and then, offer a place to cozy up beside her on the sofa-bed? No matter how hard she tried to convince herself that only others hurt her, she knew, deep down that she was her own worst enemy, and more to blame for her torment than anyone. She was the last link in the chain, and she let it happen.

It was as though she was willfully blind to how persistent and ready she was to betray herself. She was, indeed, a master of it. She could so easily have sent Dmitry on his way after the celebration at his friend's place. It was three in the morning by the time they reached her flat, and she was completely exhausted. Instead, she dragged their tedious meeting on and on, ignoring the cries of anguish from her mind and body.

They lay together on her sofa-bed, still in couch configuration, face to face with hardly room to move. Elena knew she was supposed to be romantic, whispering Dmitry sweet nothings while fondling him. She couldn't! All she could think about was Meg. It was Meg she thought about all day. It was Meg she spoke to through her champagne just three hours before. Meg was still with her. There was absolutely nothing she could say to Dmitry. She just stared into his face, feeling numb. When tears fell from her eyes, she didn't hold back. She saw no point and let them tumble onto the cushion.

"Why are you crying, honey?" Dmitry's voice was hollow, devoid of feeling. Just a conditioned response. In reality, he didn't care, and her tears were just getting in his way. It was perfectly clear, she could hardly keep her eyes open, couldn't stand another second near him, was wounded and wished she was dead.

In disbelieving horror, she heard herself say: "I don't want you to leave."

Elena didn't have the strength to hate herself. Lying, betraying herself was all she was capable of. Over the years it became her habit: a way of life; of existing; of going numb; of making it through the day. She lied all the time, even when it was plainly killing her. Telling the guy, she wanted him gone, wouldn't solve her problem, ease her immediate pain, it would only make it worse; giving Dmitry license to question, interrogate, wheedle and plead.

Dmitry beamed. The evening was working out splendidly. He had permission to go on, invade her further, occupy her space and life. What power he had! And, bestowed up on him by his society just for being a male. He didn't have to do or achieve a thing to be desired and waited upon, even by someone who couldn't stand the sight of him. No matter what he did to her, he could have her. He knew, Elena would self-destruct to keep him happy. That was power, indeed!

Dmitry eventually left. After the holidays things went back to normal: days at work; and evenings in his arms.

Elena didn't share with Meg, anything about the torment she went through. She downplayed Olga's and Dmitry's abuse and even justified it. Societal doctrine decreed, she wasn't hurt; she was evil.

If Meg hadn't come into her life, Elena would have perished. Her society would have devoured her completely. Had the two of them not been online simultaneously, one evening in June, Meg would never have met the Russian barely hanging on at the edge of her abyss. Elena would never have known that she didn't have to sacrifice her own life for someone else. She would never have broken from her spiral of self destruction by saying, "no." Nobody would have taught her to treat herself with dignity in order to be treated that way by others. Or that denying her feelings, lying to herself, and silencing her inner voice, led to nothing but anguish and the realization that she had squandered her life.