“And I am supposed to shout now too?” Maria was quickly maturing and getting bolder in America.
“It was Nadya, from Čirč!” said Vasili, his voice still full of excitement.
“Yes, of course I remember her,” said Maria, with barely hidden jealousy.
“I can hear the bitterness in your voice, dearest sister. But you do not need to worry. We are in a strange land now, and I would never abandon you, even for her.”
Maria got very quiet and turned away.
Vasili, clearly annoyed with his sister said, “What is it now?”
“You know what it is, Vasili, you know what happened in Čirč. She pulled you away from me. She is beautiful, her perfect brown hair, green eyes, and always that hint of a smile on her lips. I understand why you can never let her out of you head. She would have been a wonderful wife to anyone, but somehow she chose you.”
“And I chose her,” said Vasili, interrupting Maria. “I cannot help how I feel Maria. She makes me happy.”
Maria needed to talk, so she walked the two blocks to Anya’s building, climbed the three flights of stairs, and knocked on Anya’s door.
“Maria!” Anya said when she opened the door. “I am so happy you visited! But you look sad.”
“I don’t exactly know how to feel, Anya,” said Maria, her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Please come in and sit down. You need to tell me what is troubling you so.” Anya’s soft voice was usually a comfort to Maria, but not this time.
They sat on the well-worn cloth couch in the small sitting room, and Anya sent the children to play in the bedroom.
“Tell me, Maria, what could be so troubling to a young lady?” asked Anya.
“I am afraid that I am losing Vasili,” sobbed Maria, no longer able to hold back her tears.
“Is Vasili sick? What is wrong with him?”
“No, he is not sick. He has met the woman from Čirč that he loved so much. She came here two years ago, and I thought we would never see her again.”
“But, what is wrong with that? Shouldn’t Vasili be happy?” Anya hesitated, the problem now becoming clear to her.
“And you are afraid this woman will take him away from you,” Anya concluded.
Maria said tearfully, “Yes, it happened in Čirč. Her name is Nadya Maydakovich, and she does not like me at all.”
“What has she ever done to you?”
“I am only one year younger than she is, but she speaks to me like I am a child to be sent away. I do not like the way she treats me and Vasili acts like he is under a spell—he says nothing to her about it.”
Anya smiled at that and said, “Men are puppets when they fall in love. Do not be harsh toward him.”
“I try very hard not to be angry with him, but Nadya is another thing.”
“Does she know how you feel?”
“She does not care how I feel.”
“I am sure she is afraid you will take Vasili away from her.”
Maria stopped crying and thought a moment, then said, “Nadya’s mother died giving birth to Nadya, and her father died of a sickness that spread through the village shortly after Nadya and Vasili fell in love. Nadya’s father liked Vasili, but her uncle wanted to force her to marry someone richer than Vasili. She said she would not do it. So she sneaked away one night and never came back. Vasili had not yet asked her to marry him, but I was sure that he wished to ask her because when she left, Vasili became sullen and angry. I knew then that he was in love.”
Anya said “You do understand her.”
“But when she left, I thought Vasili would never see her again. I was happy about it, and I had to go to confession for my sin.”
Maria had resented Nadya first for taking Vasili away, then for leaving him. She was happy when she learned Nadya was leaving for America and she could have her brother back, miserable as he was.
Anya stayed quiet for a long while, then said, “There is not much you can do. I think you do not like her because she was taking Vasili from you, and she thinks you will keep Vasili from her.”
“Yes, of course you are right,” admitted Maria. “I can try to live with it as long as she is good to Vasili.”
“The only thing that makes me feel better about Nadya is that she seems so in love with Vasili. When she sees him, here face has a light like the summer sunrise over the village. I can see in her eyes that Vasili is the only man she wants to be with. I only hope that I can find a love that makes me feel like that someday.”
“I want to believe that things will not change with Vasili just because he found Nadya again, but I can see in his eyes that he has a bond with Nadya, and I think it will break the bond he has with me.”
Anya said, “Then you must watch for any signs of it. Perhaps Nadya will understand your bond with Vasili and not try to break it. She could be sitting right now, telling a friend of her worry about you.”
“Then I will try,” concluded Maria.
For the next six months, Vasili spent much of his scarce time off with Nadya, making Maria feel more and more lonely and evoking thoughts of returning home, where her father would at least doted on her. So far, Vasili was still there for dinner and still there in the morning. Maria did not know how much longer that would last, but she assumed that Vasili and Nadya would not get married soon.
But then Vasili came home a few days later and announced with pride, “Nadya and I are getting married! The church will announce the banns starting this Sunday in the bulletin.”
The banns were printed for three Sundays in a row, and Nadya set the wedding for April 1918. Vasili wrote to his father to tell him the good news. Mikhal wrote back to say that Vasili had better not neglect his sister. Vasili had no intention of neglecting his sister, and resented his father, once again, giving him instructions, even from the Old Country. He could not even congratulate him. Maria convinced him to not get so angry and to let their father’s comments go.
“After all,” said Maria, “he is there and you are here.”
Vasili made the face he always did when he was annoyed at Maria for being right. “Of course you are right,” he whispered, not wanting to say it too loudly. His pride often got in the way of good judgement.
The wedding was a small affair, not like the weddings back in Čirč, when the entire village would come to celebrate. Even though Vasili and Nadya barely knew anyone yet, the entire membership of the Rusyn Club at least attended.
Nadya asked Maria to be her witness and Vasili asked Gregor to be his. Maria had seen many weddings in Čirč and loved the Byzantine ceremony. Father Andras led the celebrants down the aisle, with Vasili and Nadya, hand-in-hand, just behind them. Maria and Gregor followed. Maria thought that Nadya was more beautiful than any bride she had ever seen, and even felt a bit guilty at her behavior lately.
Nadya wore a beautiful dark blue dress with a lace overlay. She had been able to sew the dress just in time for the wedding.
Vasili was as handsome as a prince in Maria’s childhood fairy tales. He had bought a suit he had been able to buy on payments from the local tailor.
The height of the ceremony was the Byzantine tradition of the crowning of the couple, symbolizing the union of the couple and the victory of Christ over sin and death. The priest gave the final blessing and Vasili and Maria were man and wife.
The Rusyn Club threw a grand reception in the church hall for their newest member and the vodka made certain that it was a raucous affair. All of the guests had plenty to eat and the small group of musicians played the traditional music of home, while the guest danced until they were too tired to dance anymore.
Vasili had just finished a long dance to the song Sága krásy or Beauty Saga, when he saw Maria sitting by herself with her head down. He walked to her and said gently, “Maria, please. Nadya is a good woman. She likes you and we can all live together.”
“Nadya does not like me at all,” said Maria sharply. “She thinks I will pull you away from her, and I probably would if you could see her as I do.”
“You are just being stubborn now, Maria,” said Vasili gruffly.
“And you are not my father!” cried Maria. The tears welled up in her eyes. “I know she seems to like me, but I think it is just to keep you happy. Inside, I think she cannot wait for me to leave, and maybe I should.”
There is the one thing that could soften Vasili faster than anything. That was seeing his sister cry.
He touched her cheek and gently said, “I will make it be fine. Please, you must not think like that. We are a family now.”
Nadya saw them sitting together, and ran over to Vasili to say, “Vasili, you are forgetting our guests. She will be fine.” When Maria looked up at Nadya, she knew then that this marriage would be bad for her.
Vasili found them a larger apartment, one where Maria could have her own bedroom separate from Vasili and Nadya. Life was never easy for any of them, but for the time being, they found a way to get along.
With the three of them working, Maria and Vasili were able to pay their bills and send some money home to their father. Vasili began to write to his father every couple of weeks with money enclosed, telling his father about their life now that everything was settled. He always made sure that he included that Maria was fine and getting along well with Nadya. He was not sure that Maria or Nadya felt that way, but so he wanted to believe, and so he wanted his father to believe.
Over the next two months, Vasili did see that Maria and Nadya had begun to trust each other more. He could not say they were friends, but because neither one had pulled Vasili away from the other, they were finally at least tolerating each other.
Every Sunday at High Mass, Vasili prayed to God to help the two women in his life get along. He loved his time in church with God. At the end of a week of six intense 16-hour work days, Vasili felt like pieces of him were missing. The mill work made him feel like he was working for the Devil in Hell. The glowing, molten steel reminded him of the stories his mother told him as a child about those who displeased God by doing evil works. He could not say why, but he felt evil at the end of every week. But being here in the church seemed to cleanse him and fill him for the next week.
Maria and Nadya joined the women before every mass to pray the rosary, each on a rosary given to them by their mother. This Sunday was no different. It meant a lot to Vasili to see the two of them praying together. From his vantage point on the mens’ side, it looked as if the two of them were closer than ever.
As the cantor began the Mass, and the congregation stood for the entrance of Father Potok, Vasili saw Maria begin to sway from side to side, then fall in the pew. Father Potok continued down the aisle, seemingly oblivious to Maria’s fall.
Vasili rushed over, much to the surprise of the parishoners. He lifted Maria in his arms and carried her to the vestibule.
When Maria finally woke up she gave Vasili a troubled look and said, “What happened?”
Vasili, with obvious concern, said, “You fainted. I don’t know why, but I am worried about you.”
“You do not need to be afraid. I just felt dizzy and then I woke up. It is nothing.”
“I am not so sure.”
“You worry about me too much. I am 18 years old.”
“I made a promise to Father and a promise to God,” said Vasili sternly, “to look after you and protect you.”
“You have done your job, dear brother. As you can see, I am fine.”