Happy Birthday, Ivan Stanislav
Posted on 12/07/22 at 1:08pm by Ivan Stanislav
Event: COLOSSUS 2022
On December 5, 1961, at the Arkhangelsk City Hospital No. 2 at 00:03, proud parents Sergei Vasiliyev Stanislav and Fanya Dimitrovich Stanislav welcomed Ivan Sergeiovich Stanislav into the world. The child weighed 4.76 kilograms. He was the first child to the Stanislavs. Young Ivan was surrounded by family and friends. Sergei was a factory worker in Arkhangelsk, while wife Fanya was a member of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Fanya would tell me how Ivan was surrounded by family and friends who sang into the night while celebrating his birth. It was a joyous occasion. “One that should only grow more joyous with each year,” she told me.
I would not meet Ivan for another two decades.
I wish I could have been there.
Gathered before Ivan Stanislav, in his dank Kaliningrad office, were the closest people within his geographical orbit. There was Maxim Stepanov, the young maggot of a boy who was assigned to watch over the two of us. Next to him stood Yanukovich, a twenty-two year old male, and Arina, a twenty-one year old female, who served as aides to the Praporshchik.
It was Stepanov’s idea for this “celebration.” I argued against it. Ivan disliked events that brought attention to his age but Stepanov thought it would raise morale. I suspected he hoped it might elevate his own standing. He stood there with a bored look on his face and his right hand clutched his cellular phone. He was fighting the urge to look at it and draw himself away from a moment where he cared little.
Yanukovich and Arina were dressed smartly in their business attire. Yanu looked up at the dripping leak in the ceiling. Something he should have taken care of months ago. Arina stared dully through Ivan, absorbed in herself more than what was happening before her eyes. Neither were “present.”
I stood along the wall, as was typical. I gazed out the window. It was supposed to snow today and I hoped it would. Snow always lifted Ivan’s spirits and yet an unseasonably warm change in the temperature turned my hopes to rain.
And Ivan? He sat at his desk staring at a chocolate cupcake with “Happy Birth—” piped in white letters. “Birthday” was quite long in our tongue and did not fit. Thus, the last portion was but a glob of frosting which dripped down the edge of the cake.
I was the only one to notice the slight, painful, heart breaking sag of Ivan’s shoulders. We stood in the presence of a great man, and they were all too self-absorbed to understand how fortunate we were. It angered me and frustrated me to see my stoic, stone-faced, and impossibly resolute friend reveal the myriad of emotions in that otherwise imperceptible slight sag of his powerful shoulders.
And as I followed his eyes from his face to the cupcake, I knew precisely where he was. I knew precisely when he was.
Let us go back twenty years and look. Together.
“What is this?” Ivan Stanislav asked curiously to Speedy Riggs, our Cuban comrade who officiated PCW and, at this time, OSW matches. Riggs wore a loud Hawaiian themed shirt as he stood next to Ivan. Despite it being his birthday, Ivan was in a fair mood. He stood on top of the world, forging his way as the longest reigning OSW World Champion. The Red Army swelled with nearly a dozen members and fans around the world were cheering for him. He had given Tempest his heart and she had accepted it.
Still, he was saddened. Tempest could not make it to this celebration and he missed her.
Riggs looked down at the red velvet cupcake with “Happy Birthday” piped in yellow frosting in our native tongue. The cake was made large enough for the words and matched our revolutionary sensibilities. Ivan, seated, was almost eye level with Riggs. Speedy passed Ivan’s question over to Loyal Communist Party Member Wang and his two female henchwomen. The trio were dressed in typical Chinese military garb. Wang did a similar pass and looked at me, once again leaning against a far wall. I did what anyone else would do:
I looked up at “The Polish Punisher” Tom Walczak, The Red Army stalwart of very few words. Walczak managed a smirk but no answer was given.
“This is for me?” Ivan asked again as he looked down at the cupcake. Then, the ambush.
I watched the lithe cat stalk the ponderous, unwitting Bear. This athletic, eclectic girl of many colors, who had stolen the icy Russian Bear’s heart, Tempest, crept behind her prey and placed her purple painted fingers over his eyes. She spoke in a horrendous faux Russian accent and lowered her voice to a squeaky growl.
“Comrade Stanislav!” She intoned, “The State wishes you to have a happy birthday.”
“Tempest?!” He gasped as he shot up from his chair and nearly bowled her over. His voice was hopeful and surprised. Thinking about it still gives me goose pimples. Tempest, however, was too quick for him. She had swiped cupcake frosting with her finger, and with a playful leap, she booped his nose and slathered it upon his prominent proboscis.
“Why you little…” Ivan’s words were playful. In the meantime, The Two Women had brought a cake worthy of our oversized leader. It was emblazoned with the Soviet Flag and gleamed with forty-one blazing candles.
We all cheered together with joy in our hearts.
“Happy Birthday Comrade Stanislav!!!”
The childlike Tempest wrapped her arms around his neck and perched herself on his hip. I watched as Ivan’s face exuded a natural joy that rarely pierced his frosty exterior. She had a way of melting the cold warrior and bringing the human being out for everyone to see. With that frigid wall defrosted, Ivan allowed himself to bask in this joyous moment that was most assuredly his. We surrounded him, and sang Happy Birthday in all our native tongues.
Everyone else was smiling and carrying on. But I was watching my friend. Tempest kissed his cheek and while I could not hear her words, I read her sparkly painted lips.
“Happy Birthday Ivan. I love you, my Russian Teddy Bear. Make a wish?”
I have never forgotten that unfettered smile of his on that day. Beyond the revivification of the Soviet Union, what else could Ivan Stanislav possibly wish for? He was surrounded by his friends and held by the woman who so dearly loved him. He conquered the wrestling world as one of the mightiest competitors. He looked at me and smiled a true and honest smile. And together, we could not wait for what the next five, ten, or even twenty years would bring.
Where did twenty years bring the two of us? To that cold office so full of humans, yet so devoid of humanity.
Arina said the words that snapped both of us out of our comfortable memory. Her words lacked Tempest’s loving luster.
“Make a wish?”
Ivan blinked and he looked lost and disoriented. His eyes flailed at the faces around him. He looked terribly vulnerable, and dare I say, old and tired. A single candle had been lit on the sloppy cupcake and the group of bored hangers-on had sung happy birthday with the vigor of a dirge. Finally, he looked me straight in the eyes.
“I wish for you all to leave.” His words were leaden and carried a saddened resonance.
The flies buzzed away, but I remained. His heavy breathing had extinguished the candle and the smoke sucked up into his nostrils. Then? He hurt me.
“I said everyone, Alexei.”
I have never been Red Scared (thank Lenin), but I think I knew what it felt like when he said that. I turned and made my way to the door, but paused and looked back at him. “Ivan?”
He grunted. His eyes were transfixed on the cupcake as if trying to conjure the magic necessary to time travel twenty years.
“I have a present for you in your cabinet.” A pause, “Happy Birthday, my friend.”
The present in question was a custom made crimson greatcoat with golden buttons. Red was always a safe color for my friend. But I resigned myself to leave that day and left him to look upon it alone. Wounded as I was, I could not be angry with him. He was simply struggling with so much pain and, dare I say, doubt. I resolved not to speak to him for a few days. Give him peace.
And yet, that was not the last time I spoke to Ivan Stanislav that day. He called me, many hours later, as a different person. To this day, I do not know what events transpired between when I left his office and when he called. He’s never told me. It would be information that Ivan Stanislav took to his grave.
Zofia Yulinka Tikhanovna had wished it would snow that day. She was at her Uncle Igor’s house while her father and mother worked at their grocery store. Alas, it was too warm and so it rained. The six year old sat in her seat on the train and kicked her feet, which were clad in soggy snow boots. Still, Zofia was not about to let a lack of snow deter her from having fun. The energetic youth had reduced Igor to half dozing against the window as they rode back to her house late that night.
It was only after the sun had dipped below the horizon that it began to snow in Kaliningrad. Too late to build that snowman and go sledding. She was sad, but tried not to show it. Still, magic can happen at any time in life. As the train made a stop, she saw a sight she would never forget!
Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost in the flesh, walked onto the car. It had to be!
He was tall. Much taller than his western counterpart, Santa Claus, and he wore a large, red coat that flowed down to his black boots. His ushanka had bright white fur around the edges and he looked like he could be a grandfather! Her young mind filled in the other gaps as her hopes would not be dashed. He had a beard, though it was not nearly as long as most images of Ded Moroz. It was white though, and even though that was because of accumulated snow, she believed it to be real.
Ded Moroz’s heavy footfalls made the train vibrate and he took up two and a half of the three seats across from young Zofia and her snoozing uncle. She turned to her uncle to tell him this wondrous event, but he was well off to dreamland. So instead, the young girl looked back over at the magical man in red.
He was looking out the window, but his reflected eyes were sad. When he removed his hat, his hair was a mix of black and gray, and he had several lumps along the back of his skull. They looked like they hurt. Still, Ded Moroz was the biggest person she had ever seen in her short life! He must have been special indeed.
After such a disappointing day, this seemed like fate for young Zofia. And with a leap of faith, she released her uncle’s hand and crossed the threshold to this sad, battered, Grandfather Frost.
“Excuse me, Ded Moroz?”
Her voice was so small but it had energy behind it, and Ivan Stanislav looked over to his right, and then down at the wide eyed girl in patched winter jacket and snow boots. She had squeezed into the remaining half seat on his side and she was awestruck. As she smiled wide, Ivan could see one of her baby teeth had fallen out and a new one was coming in.
He responded with a bewildered grunt, “Eh?”
Zofia was undeterred, “Ded Moroz? Why are your eyes so sad?”
Time stood still as the realization of what this young girl was thinking dawned upon The Russian Bear. The logical man inside roared in earnest to tell her the mistake she had made and correct her. But Ivan was tired. More tired than he ever wished to be, and he lacked the fire to tell her the truth.
“My eyes are not sad, little one.”
“Yes they are. Is it because of your boo-boos?”
Ivan looked past the girl to see the sleeping Uncle Igor. His hand was half open at his side. He must have been holding it before he slipped to sleep. Ivan looked back down to her, “My boo-boos?”
She pointed to the knots on the back of his head, courtesy of the multiple chair shots from Mortimer Knightingale.
He chuckled, “These? Oh they do not hurt any longer.”
“How did you get them?”
“A bad man hit me with a chair.”
Who thought that Ded Moroz would say such a thing! What wretched human being would ever attack Grandfather Frost!?
“I have seen your pictures everywhere, and on television, Ded Moroz. My papa and uncle watch you every few weeks, though they say I should not watch. But they say you not only bring presents, but protect us! That you put bad people in their place. BAM!” With that, the young girl slammed her tiny fist into her palm.
Ivan allowed himself to be amused, “What is your name, little girl?”
“Zofia Yulinka Tikhanovna.” She said proudly and flashed her slightly toothless smile, “Are you going to punish the bad man? He should not receive presents.”
Ivan inhaled for a moment, and considered if he should continue the charade.
“Rest assured, little Zofia, I am going to punish the bad man. I will give him quite a few presents, whether he wants them or not.” He cracked his enormous knuckles and while he did not smile, he winked at her.
“I hope you give him a WHAM and a kick!! I hope you give him a spanking for being bad, Ded Moroz! A spanking so bad he farts!”
The soft rumble of a chuckle was the first of the entire day for Ivan Stanislav, “Oh, he will be spanked, and yeeted. Do you know what yeeted means?”
She shook her head, and Ivan was so excited! He could tell someone this newfound word of his! He leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. She leaned in close.
“It means I am going to throw him so far, he will land above Arctic Circle!”
She giggled but she was still curious, as young people are, and brutally honest, “But if your boo-boo’s don’t hurt, why are your eyes sad?”
He didn’t like such honest and blunt questions and turned to the window slowly. He had enough. Maybe she would go away?
“Ded Moroz?” she spoke quietly and became crestfallen. She looked at her boots, “I just do not want you to be sad.”
Finally, he turned and looked down at the girl once more, “Today is my birthday and I do not wish to be old. Not many of my friends could come to my party.”
She smiled, thankful he wanted to continue talking to her, and grabbed his impossibly large finger, “Happy Birthday, Ded Moroz!” She shook his finger, “Do you not know you are loved by all? Your friends love you! And if you said many could not come, at least one was able?”
Her words, in their youthful honesty and naivete, struck the rigid Russian hard. He thought about this, his face turned in a curious frown. Alexei. His thoughts were interrupted when Zofia Yulinka quickly climbed into his lap. He froze for a moment, as if someone had given him a bomb, and then very slowly relaxed as she played with a button on his greatcoat. He was grateful for the girl, in his own way. Her ability to tear down the distractions and be honest with him forced him to try and be honest with himself. Only proper he should repay her.
“So then, young Zofia Yulinka, you have been good girl?”
She nodded with excitement. He was going to ask her, she knew it!
“What would you wish for the holiday?”
She wanted a computer and coloring book, and also told him how her older brother wanted a bicycle. Ivan Stanislav’s stop came first. When it was time for “Ded Moroz” to leave, Zofia Yulinka embraced him.
“I love you, Ded Moroz. We all love you. I know your friends, wherever they are, love you super much too! Happy Birthday!” But she chastised him, “And no more sad eyes and give that bad man a big, ginormous yooting!!!”
With a grin, he corrected her, “Yeeting.”
“Goodnight, young Zofia.”
Not until later would Uncle Igor believe that Zofia truly met Ivan Stanislav. Amidst the snow, Ivan considered her honest and unfiltered words. He slid his big hands into the pockets of his birthday present and knew the friend he had to call.
After being rebuked by Ivan, I returned to Moscow and reflected on the last three months. One could say that we had failed spectacularly. His first match in almost twenty years had ended in defeat. Besides the two of us, there was no Red Army to speak of. Lindsay Troy’s wickedness and the roster’s foolishness had prevented a popular revolution from taking place. It was true that Ivan had then won all of his subsequent matches, but they were against lackluster opponents. Which brought my thoughts to Colossus.
The big show was on the horizon and we found ourselves following the opening bout, when people realized they needed popcorn or had to take a piss, lest they miss the important events. I did not believe that any individual in that arena cared to see Ivan Stanislav vs. Mortimer Knightingale.
Knightingale was not a true threat to Ivan or our cause. He was crafty and wily, but that would not save him. He had run his mouth and was thrown through a wall for his idiocy. He lacked the spine to stand up for himself, and instead became the thrall of that dreg Tony Gamble. This was hardly a man capable of standing against The Russian Bear, Ivan Stanislav. On the biggest show of the year, this was where we found ourselves. Our work would be done at Colossus before the sun even set on the first day and be on our way home before the start of the second.
My phone rang, and Ivan’s name was on the screen. I did not expect to hear from him, but I admit I answered it quickly. On the other side, I could hear him. His voice was quiet.
The familiar. I responded in kind.
“I am sorry. The coat, it is beautiful.”
Then we talked about a great many things. Things Ivan never shared with me. Together, we spoke about the fear of growing old, alone, and irrelevant. He talked about Tempest and our friends and how deeply he missed them.
We talked about our friendship, forged in a war and galvanized through time.
He asked me to look up a family named Tikhanovna and made several requests: That they have tickets to the theater to watch Colossus and that a computer, a coloring book, and a bicycle be delivered to their house along with instructions to pay their heating bill for the next six months. I felt it odd, but Ivan occasionally made random requests to help our people. When I asked him why this family was receiving the tickets and these items, he said there was someone in the household who wanted to see him “yeet” Knightingale, and that they deserved some help. I could not argue with this.
December was a tumultuous month for my friend. It was home to his birthday at the beginning, and the anniversary of the dissolution of our glorious Soviet Union at the end. My friend was a good man guilty of only having conviction. I wish there were more who saw him with frosting on his nose and laughing with those whom he cared for, and who cared for him. Like that morning in 1961 and that afternoon in 2002.
Whatever happened prior to his call had healed him in a way. I mourned poor Mortimer Knightingale. Ivan knew someone in that household who wanted the fool annihilated in the most terrible way possible. Ivan was not one to invalidate promises.
What would the next one, five, or twenty years bring us? One could not know. But after hearing Ivan that night and looking at this new future for PRIME, and for us, I could do but two things:
I watched the snow fall from my window.
And I smiled.
Happy Birthday, Ivan Stanislav.