In those first seconds, all I could think was, How can I relieve the pain? The burning was so awful. I tried to move. I fell face first into the snow. I started grabbing handfuls of snow and rubbing it into my face and eyes. I felt some small relief from the snow. I thought of how to get home. I was pretty close to my door. There's an electronic code and a metal door, but I couldn't punch in the numbers of the code. I couldn't see them. When I understood that I couldn't get into the building, I started shouting, ‘Help! Help! I need help!' But no one was around. I tried to make my way to another entrance, in the hope that someone would see me and help me. But that was not such a good idea, because I was falling down and getting up and bumping into cars and into walls and falling down because I couldn't see any steps. There was so much snow. Snow was coming down. I kept rubbing it into my face.
As nobody responded to his cries, he tried to get help with his mobile:
When I understood that there was no use shouting for help, I decided to reach into my pocket and put my mobile phone in my hand. I hoped someone would call me. I couldn't see the screen, so I couldn't dial. Usually, I get one call after another, but there were no calls for some reason. I tried to knock on the door of each entrance. I'm quite strong and I banged very loudly, but no one was coming out to help. Then the phone slipped out of my hand and I lost it in the snow. The pain in my eyes and face was so terrible that I had a wave of thought: I was dying. But I only wanted to die if it was in the arms of my wife. The pain was unbearable. I really thought this might be the end of me.
So, blinded, he tried to make his way through the snow to find someone to help him:
I remembered that at the parking lot there's a booth with security guards, and I hoped there would be someone there. So I ran in what I thought might be the direction of the parking lot. My eyes couldn't see, but somehow my bodily navigation was alert and it moved me in the right direction. I kept falling down and bouncing off the cars, as if I were the ball in a pinball machine. Eventually, I made my way to this booth and I started banging on the window. And here I finally lucked out. There was a guard there. He said he was absolutely shocked when he saw me. He immediately scooped up more snow and rubbed it into my face. By now I was trembling. I'd developed some sort of fever, it must have been shock, and I kept saying, ‘Please call Masha, please call Masha.' I really thought I was dying. So he called an emergency number—for an ambulance—and then he called upstairs to Masha, who came out of the apartment and to the parking lot. I don't want to discuss the nightmare that came next: my wife's reaction, the reaction of my relatives who saw me in this condition. I could hear them crying and I understood that what they saw in my face was something . . . horrendous.
At the end of a long, detailed, and illuminating article by David Remnik, where he interviews many of the protagonists of this extraordinary drama, he returns to Filin in Germany where he is undergoing a series of operations to save his sight:
For the first three weeks that I was here in Germany, I had a dream every night that I was again approaching the gate to my apartment building and anticipating something bad but trying to do something different to avoid it, but it happens anyway! In spite of the fact that I'm a strong person, I couldn't turn off my consciousness from this pattern of thought. I can say that only now the dream is passing.
I have the feeling that I am waiting, and that one day I will open my eyes and wake up. But maybe I won't wake up all on my own! Maybe I will be kissed awake, like in ‘The Sleeping Beauty'! And maybe it will be Nikolai Tsiskaridze kissing me—and I will wake up! But, if it's him, maybe it's better that I fall back asleep.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.