I was a nervous wreck from the moment I got off the plane. In the States I'd raced around like an idiot trying to arrange everything. On the plane itself I'd been going over our not-exactly overflowing itinerary and drinking too much. As I got into the taxi my stomach began to churn. And it wasn't just from the drink. At the hotel, I barely made it into the bathroom of my room before I threw up. Tony, who earns every penny the station pays him, got me cleaned up, undressed and bundled into bed. Where I spent a restless night haunted by thoughts and regrets and frightened anticipation.
I've spent most of my life being a complete and utter bastard.
I didn't have a good start to my life. My parents' marriage wasn't exactly ideal. I seemed to spend most of my childhood hiding in my room, wishing I could shut out the insults and implements they hurled at each other. My mother alternated between ignoring me and swamping me in affection. My father, for the most part, just ignored me. I was a skinny, academically-minded kid: not the boisterous, football-playing son he'd wanted. When he did notice me it was only to denigrate both myself and my achievements. When he left I felt nothing but relief. Which changed to shock and dismay when my mother replaced him almost immediately with string of men, each more Neanderthal than the last. I left home a soon as I could. my mother, as far as I know, never even tried to find out where I was.
Throughout my early life, chess was my retreat, my fantasy. When I moved the pieces on the board *I* was in charge; I was the king. So I tried to make my fantasy real. Being good at chess brought prestige. Prestige brought money; and money brought power. I had no friends. I told myself I didn't need them. People only betray you.
And them I met Florence Vassy.
If anyone kept me human, it was Florence. We were completely wrong for each other, of course. Two lonely, frightened, fucked up children masquerading as adults. But I trusted her more than I've ever trusted anyone before.
My analyst made me aware, in one of our first sessions, that I held very little real resentment towards Anatoly but still hated Florence with a passion. Of course, I thought I knew the reason why. Anatoly had been my opponent, my rival. Only those you trust can betray you. I trusted Florence - as much as I was capable of trust - and she had betrayed that trust, betrayed *me*. Anatoly I had never trusted. Ergo, after a few years I was incapable of maintaining strong negative feelings towards him.
Talk about deluding yourself.
It took more time, money, and self-examination than I care to recall before I actually understood the truth.
My analyst got me to admit what I'd been trying to ignore. Anatoly had defeated me. Beaten me at the only thing I'd ever been good at. I wanted to be the best, but he was better than me. Nobody had beaten me at chess since I'd been a little child. He took the title. That he took Florence, too, was just the coda.
And then I think I rather surprised both of us by taking it further than she probably ever thought I would without much more bitter self-searching.
Anatoly defeated me. As I secretly wanted to be defeated. Most children will push as far as they can in order to test the limits of the adults around them. And when they push too far they are disciplined, corrected, stopped. As I never was. Until Anatoly Sergievsky.
My oh-so-twisted psyche interpreted my defeat as submission, as of course it was. A child submits to his parents with love. Anatoly Sergievsky was not my parent but still... It was the first time I'd ever submitted to anyone. And something deep inside me transformed that submission into - if not love - then at least the desire to be mastered once again. An unruly child will often seek stability in his life in the form of discipline. I was an adult, so my 'inner self' sought to be mastered, conquered. But my conscious mind would not accept this, so I ran from the knowledge for the longest time.
But not any more. I knew, now, what I wanted, craved. Knew that I could not find it in a string of willing bodies. I did not need happiness - I'm not sure that I would have even recognised the emotion - I needed the man who had defeated me. The man who was the most controlling person I'd ever met.
And even if he wanted nothing to do with me - which was more than likely - I had to see him again, had to...
God knows what I thought I was going to say to him! 'Take me, I'm yours!' is hardly a standard greeting to a man who, for all I knew, despised me.
For a while after he returned to Russia, I managed to pick up snippets of information about him. I'd just started to make a name for myself in the hustling, bustling world of mass communication. My normal acerbic manner had been tempered by the changes that had been happening to me since I'd been defeated. Add a little charm to the sarcasm, mask the cynical fuck-'em-all attitude with a smooth smiling lustre, and a certain section of the viewing populace seemed to appreciate me well enough to ensure my success in this most unlikely field. Freddie Trumper, glossy, elegant anchorman and socilite!
Somebody up there had to be laughing their head off. I got to hobnob with the creme de la creme of the idle rich, famous, and infamous. I chatted with movie stars, flirted with models and countesses, and exchanged chit-chat with politicians and the staff of various embassies. It was from one of these I learnt that Anatoly was in disgrace, living in a hovel with the oh-so dull and sainted Svetlana and their mewling offspring, teaching snotty-nosed brats the rudiments of chess. The finest chessplayer I'd ever encountered reduced to this.
When Communism fell and Russia became more accessibly to the West, I saw my chance. I had to see him again. Even if he and Svetlana stood and cursed me, or ridiculed me, I needed closure. I bought a huge house miles away from 'civilization', wrote out my resignation from my job, and engineered a 'fact-finding' mission to Russia. I posted the resignation on my way to the airport.
Then I got drunk on the plane, threw up in my hotel room, slept fiftfully until morning. In between making a start on filming, I proceeded to discover, by bribery and charm, that Anatoly lived not fifteen minutes walk away from my hotel, and that Svetlana, the bitch, had left him.
I took hours for me to get ready that evening. My best suit had gone as a bribe to one of the hotel staff. But even in my second-best suit, I knew I looked good. Perfect hair, gleaming teeth, manicured nails and Italian suit. Every inch the elegant and successful television star. Outwardly calm and insouciant.
I stood in the hallway of that wretched excuse for an apartment block for what seemed like hours, though it was probably only minutes.
And I still consider it to be the bravest thing I've ever done in my life, that moment when I raised my hand and knocked on his door.