Segunda carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)
- Dear Yarostan,
Your letter was cruel. You were obviously aware of that. It doesn't call for an answer. It's the last word. Victims don't share their experiences with their executioners. That's clear. Why should they? Since you've defined me that way, I'm surprised your letter was so long! Why didn't you communicate exactly the same message by not answering me at all? Why did you feel you owed an explanation to that type of person?
You can't possibly imagine what a sad experience your second letter was for me. If you can then you're even crueller than your letter. For countless years I dreamed of finding you, of sharing a project with you once again, of telling you what I'd experienced since I was with you, of comparing it with what you experienced; if I failed to see you again I hoped I'd at least reach you with one after another letter, each crossing at least one of yours, each as long and full of detail as your last letter. That dream was starting to come true; at least one of the longings of my life was being fulfilled. But I never dreamed I'd get a letter from you with that content, a letter which so cruelly ended the correspondence when it had barely begun.
I can't say I never dreamed of such a content. I did in fact dream of it — in a nightmare. It was my greatest fear. It did pass through my mind that the long separation and the different experiences would create a wall between us, that we would no longer have anything to say to each other, that we would be merely polite, cold and strange to each other. But not even in a nightmare did I dream that you'd ever see me as your enemy!
The same letter wouldn't have been so cruel if you'd sent it from jail. I would have understood your anger, your desire to destroy my frame of reference. I would have understood it as resentment against someone who is not in jail. But you didn't write from jail. You wrote from a situation that's far happier than mine. You described a world which is again in ferment, a social context which is alive with hopes and possibilities. You described exactly the experience I longed to learn about and share, the experience that would heal the open wound I've carried in my being since I was torn from you. And you excluded me from that experience. Yours wasn't a letter from one in jail but from one becoming free and it was sent to one who is still in jail. Instead of sharing the joy, the promise of new life, you spat on me, pushed me aside, discarded me. Why?
I recognize the pain and suffering you've undergone. I say “recognize” because in your description I saw my own pain and suffering. The forms were different, though sometimes not so different; the pain was communicated by your letter because I had felt it too. I also recognized the bitterness, a bitterness I had felt toward those who inflicted the pain, never toward others who suffered from it. The cold, calculated cruelty is what I can't understand, a cruelty aimed at “a fellow human being” asking for help in “this bizarre world,” as you said with such a different spirit in your first letter.
Do you actually think the suffering excuses and justifies that cruelty, that inhumanity toward me? Inhumanity. I can't find a better word. A complete lack of human warmth, understandings sympathy, comradeship. A cold, dispassionate dissection of an animal. Under the guise of unmasking what you call my illusions, you tear apart my past experiences, my commitments, my few accomplishments and all my dreams.
Wouldn't silence be the most appropriate response to your letter? That might be what you expect. You would have severed me from your life for good, and my silence would confirm the truth of your analysis. But I won't keep silent! I won't let our correspondence end where you ended it. Because you're wrong. You're wrong about me, about the friendships and experiences I shared with you, about yourself. Your cruelty is blind and unjust. I won't be silent until I show you how wrong you are. And if you throw my letter into the garbage unread, you won't have confirmed the truth of your analysis but its complete falsity and its cruelty.
Unfortunately I can't refute you point by point, I can't expose every false detail and erroneous judgment in your letter because I can't get myself to read your letter yet another time. I've already drenched it with tears twice. Tears of shame and humiliation. This wasn't the only time I was excluded from my world by my comrades. It's probably not the last. But this exclusion pushes me out of the one world I thought was mine; you're the single friend who, I thought, would never push me away.
You can't simply turn my own experience upside down and tell me I remembered it wrong. You're the one who is wrong. If I carried a sign that said, “The factories to the workers!” I didn't mean “I support my new boss!” If this was what you meant then you were a hypocrite and your letter is a confession of your own hypocrisy. But you know perfectly well that neither you nor any of our friends anticipated the establishment of new bosses, the reinforcement of prisons or the enlargement of the political police. How can you be so absurd? How can your imagination even formulate the bizarre vision of thousands of people joyfully and enthusiastically anticipating their own incarceration?
I think it's not Luisa or I who have lost touch with reality, but you. I think your mind is fogged by a terrible confusion. Your first letter already contained hints of it, when you treated inmates and guards as interchangeable. You seem to have lost your ability to distinguish victory from defeat, executioner from victim. Our activity was followed by our imprisonment. Your confusion begins when you modify this sentence ever so slightly and say: our activity led to our imprisonment. Having put it this way you conclude that our activity was the cause of our imprisonment and that we were our own judges and guards, and the builders of our own prisons.
If our struggle was followed by the reinstatement of factory bosses and prison guards, then this means our struggle came to nothing. We were defeated. Our intentions were thwarted. In no way does it mean that the bosses and guards are the fruit of our victory and the realization of our intentions. The bosses and guards are what we fought against. And they won. Not because of us but in spite of us. To cement their victory they had to jail us. This is so obvious!
The world you walked into when you were released from prison wasn't the world I fought for, no matter how often you say I helped build it. Does it show a single trace of my commitment, yours, Luisa's? Where are the destroyed prisons? Where's the rubble of former government buildings? Where are the human beings engaged in projects chosen by themselves, without supervisors or guards? The world you describe hasn't a trace of the world I fought for. What you describe is the very world I fought to destroy. Don't you recognize it? You should. Your descriptions of it were vivid enough. It's the world of wage labor and capital, the world of inmates and jailers. It's the world you and I were born into. We couldn't possibly have helped build this world: it was built before we were born.
If you claim this world was the outcome of our struggle, you have to admit it's been the outcome of every struggle. So far there's been no other outcome in history. It's the outcome of struggles in which those who fought against it lost. They were defeated, as we were. You build your whole argument by omitting this small detail: the defeat. It's this omission that enables you to say that the world of bosses and jailers was rebuilt, not by those who fought to reinstate it and won, but by those who fought to destroy it and lost.
If this is what you learned in prison, then prison is not the great school Tolstoy said it was. Or else you learned your lessons very badly. Can you really be saying that insurgents only rise against the ruling order so as to reimpose it? Can you really be saying that the only dreams of rebels are dreams of authority and submission? You even accuse me of having helped deform dreams and destroy possibilities. What dreams were deformed, suppressed, destroyed? Clearly not the dreams of reimposing authority but the dreams of destroying it. You admit that insurgents fought to destroy the world of jailers. Yet you say they reimposed that very world. How? By fighting against it, by fighting to realize their dream of a world without jailers? Is this paradox the ultimate wisdom of a prison education?
I don't really understand your letter. Parts of it are so full of resentment, all of it aimed against Luisa and me. Other parts are so full of compassion, especially your descriptions of Mirna. You said Jan moved out of the house when you and Mirna were married. He felt like an outsider to your happiness. If you began to treat him the way your letter treats me, I can understand perfectly why he left. You drove him out, just as you're driving me out of your life. I'm sure he didn't feel jealous or resentful, just confused and stunned. Until the day before yesterday he'd been your best friend; suddenly he was a stranger. You wrote the first letter to one who had once been a friend, a comrade, and more: someone you had loved. Why shouldn't I remind you? You've obviously forgotten; in your first letter you even said you hardly remembered me! Well, I haven't forgotten. I can understand how I might become a stranger to you over so many years; I can even understand that we might have become enemies. What I can't understand is how you can treat me as if I'd been your enemy then, precisely during the moment when we loved each other. And we did love each other. Passionately. You can't discard that. It's already inscribed in time. You can't take that love from me no matter how often you accuse me, exclude me or insult me. Because the person I loved is not the person who wrote those accusations. The person I loved was present in your letter, not in your statements about me but in your descriptions of Mirna. I recognized your love for me in your love for Mirna. I recognized the evening walks, the conversations, even the expectation that working people would soon join us, embrace us and dance with us in the street. If you tried to present yourself to me as a completely different person from the one I once knew, you failed. You made me want to be Mirna. Not in spite of your bitterness toward me but because of it. The Sophia in your letter is a treacherous wretch who caused you only pain and suffering, whereas Mirna is a wonderful, unspoiled creature who brings you happiness. Could any conceivable reader of your letter want to be Sophia? I don't. I want to be the one who shares the embrace as well as the happiness; I want to be on the street with you when the dancing begins. Even to the point of consenting to marriage? Oh, but you've disposed of that question altogether. Yes, under the circumstances: if I'm a shepherdess, a village girl, yes. To share the happiness. I don't want to be an outsider to that happiness. I don't want to be excluded. Why can't you share it with me? I don't begrudge your moments of happiness with Mirna. On the contrary, I found joy in your descriptions of them because I found myself. How could I help it? I was exactly the same age when I knew you as Mirna was when you met her. You were younger for me, but for me you haven't aged. And the joy you described was recognizable to me because I, too, had experienced it once, though only once in my life — with you.
Pain and suffering predominated in your life. Does that justify the pain your letter inflicts on me? Pain predominated in my life too; it was undoubtedly less intense than yours, but my moments of happiness were also less intense and fewer than the ones you've described. My relationship to you, my participation in the project we shared with others, account for the happiest moments of my life. Why do you want to take that away from me now? Don't you see that your argument puts the guilt on Luisa and me because you spent twelve years of your life in prison and we didn't? Can't you see the absurdity of accusing slaves of enslaving themselves through the very act of trying to free themselves? Can't you remember that my project was to destroy the world that caused your suffering, not to reimpose it?
Can't you recognize my project in the agitation taking place around you while you wrote me? The people tearing down the signs, the tapestries — where did they come from? Did they drop from the sky? You admit they didn't. You admit they're the same individuals who were nothing but moving corpses only yesterday. Today empty shells are suddenly becoming full of life, imagination and potentiality. Dreams are once again becoming realizable. Where did that life and those dreams come from? You don't say. But I know those dreams didn't suddenly drop from the sky any more than the people did. They're dreams that have been suppressed, dreams that were held inside until the day when they could again be expressed. They're my dreams and Luisa's and yours. What you're describing is the rebirth of our struggle, our project, our hopes. Why are you so intent on excluding us — all of us: Vera, Marc, Jasna, Titus, Adrian and Claude? Were we so criminal for having tried and failed where no one else has yet succeeded?
The walls that are crumbling around you today were the prisons that suppressed our struggle. Why are you trying to prove that we ourselves imprisoned our own hopes, that we were the tombs of our dreams? I don't understand! Without that struggle, without that project we're nothing. Your letter abounds in imagery that shows how well you understand this: without those dreams we're corpses, shells, husks, instruments, machines. If you raze the rest of us to the ground you may find yourself standing very high, Yarostan, but not in a human community.
You shatter my dreams, revise my past, and then tell me I've deformed both. You're the one who deforms. I shouldn't have told you I had a poor memory. Maybe you thought I'd let your revision stand unchallenged, or even that I'd believe you. But you're telling me about my own past! And Luisa's fantasy, as you choose to call it, happens to coincide with a large part of my own life, so that I have some familiarity with that as well.
You made a cryptic reference to a certain Manuel you met in prison. He helped you see everything clearly. He provided the missing facts. He completed a picture that until then was incomplete. And the complete picture shows Luisa and her comrades stabbing each other in the back. I don't know where Manuel's facts come from but I know that mine come from several individuals who actually lived them. The reason I remember them is because they happen to be part of my own life. Nachalo, Luisa's first companion (and my father) is the first fact that doesn't fit your picture, and his whole life undermines what you learned from Manuel. I was only two years old when he was killed, but I learned about him ever since then, not only from Luisa, whose veracity you discount, but also from Alberts, who never had any illusions (or dreams). Nachalo was a peasant, like the Sedlaks, but when he met Luisa he had already divorced himself from all the village traditions, taboos and ceremonies. He was considerably older than Luisa. When they met he had already experienced a revolutionary peasant uprising which had been defeated by statists parading as revolutionaries. He had seen his village destroyed, his friends and his wife killed by a gang of murderers who called themselves a workers' army. He fled with a newborn baby, together with a handful of his comrades. He later learned that none of the insurgent peasants who stayed behind became jailers or executioners because every single one of them was killed. In exile he worked at odd jobs and drank. His daughter, whom he named Margarita, grew up as a street urchin: ragged, hungry and illiterate! On one of his jobs he met Luisa, a girl who was only three or four years older than Margarita. Luisa, in her own words, seduced him. She was fascinated, even hypnotized by Nachalo, not only by the man but also by his experiences. Her mother had died when she was a girl; her father had been shot by the police in a strike. Before she met Nachalo she had been actively involved in union activities. Nachalo brought her a totally new perspective, new hopes and possibilities. Here was a man who hadn't only fought losing defensive battles against the oppressors but who had actually gone on the offensive, routed the exploiters, and held the ground for a period of years. She couldn't hear enough from him. She followed him after work, to the bars, and then to his miserable room. She took Nachalo and Margarita to union meetings and introduced them to militant comrades. It was at one of these meetings that the three of them met George Alberts.
After I was born. Nachalo, Luisa and Margarita moved to a larger and cleaner apartment. It was so large that their comrades used it to hold meetings. Alberts was the most regular visitor; he and Margarita became inseparable.
When the army attacked the city, Nachalo was among the first workers in the neighborhood to run out armed and begin building barricades. Luisa ran after him. Margarita joined them although she was pregnant, and she refused to return home until a bullet grazed her arm. She died while giving birth to Sabina. Nachalo died two or three months later, while fighting against the combined forces of the army, the landowners and the church.
I'm not asking you for tears or even sympathy. All this happened very long ago, and I've already shed all the tears I'll ever shed over it. All I'm asking is why you sent me such a letter. How can you tell me that a certain Manuel said Nachalo, Luisa, Margarita and all their dead and wounded comrades fought only to reimpose the landlords, the state and the church? What have I become to you? Why?
You proceed to revise my equally illusory picture of the resistance. It so happens that I was there as well, and I was considerably older; I even remember some events on my own, not just from the stories told to me by others. What you tell me is that the workers of the city, some of whom I knew personally, fought to liberate themselves from a military dictatorship only to make room for another. I found your account of your own activity during the war fascinating; you had never spoken about that. But your new insight, your exposure of the true nature of the event, is neither insightful nor true. Do you really expect me to purge my memory of what you call Luisa's fantasy in order to replace it with yours? It seems to me that I'd then be even worse off than the workers in your fabricated resistance fighting in an already liberated city to make room for a military dictatorship.
You describe my activity with you as a puppet show. Your description corresponds neither to the events I experienced at the time nor to events I experienced later. I'm not misreading your letter. I think I understand perfectly well what you're saying. We thought we were acting freely while in fact we were being manipulated. Therefore we were puppets. Since we're not in fact puppets but people, we must have turned ourselves into puppets. Therefore we manipulated ourselves.
Your conclusions don't follow from your premises. I'll show you. I won't refer to my experience with you to illustrate my argument, since that experience has become so foul to you. I'll refer to a similar experience which had nothing to do with your imprisonment. Two years ago I got a lob teaching a university class. The first thing I noticed was that students, especially the men, were not the same people I had gone to school with. My contemporaries had been short-haired automatons who applauded in movie houses whenever a bomb destroyed a village. The new students were almost a different species. Instead of considering the “university a training ground which would magnify their power to kill, many thought of school as a way of avoiding or postponing going to war. They no longer applauded mass killings. Most of them didn't want to become professional murderers, and none of them wanted to die for the flag. Ways to avoid killing and dying constituted the main topic of their conversations. Some months after the beginning of the school year I was visited by two young people who weren't students. They called themselves revolutionary organizers. They introduced themselves to students who published the radical newspaper, to outspoken students and to what they called radical faculty members like me. They announced a meeting in the school's largest auditorium; they had made previous arrangements with students who were to be the local hosts of the event, and I agreed to be the faculty sponsor. These two organizers were no longer, subject to the military draft. They saw the draft as a lever, an “issue” around which to organize a following. They saw the protesting students as a potential “base” for their organization. In other words they were professional politicians. Over two hundred students came to the meeting. It was the largest political gathering that had taken place at this university for several decades. Students came with the hope of communicating with their likes, as you put it; they came to learn what others had learned, to help and be helped. All their hopes were thwarted. They were subjected to several hours of political harangues that were far less inspired than most of their daily lectures. The organizers had picked the speakers, among whom they had included themselves; they had defined the topics of the harangues; they had even planted people in the audience to ask questions at the end. Most of the two hundred people who had originally come to the meeting left before it was over. At the end there were only eight left besides the organizers. I stayed in the back of the auditorium until the end. Those eight students elected themselves to be the local chapter of the organization. I later learned that seven of them had already elected themselves to this office earlier. For the remainder of the year these eight students became representatives and spokesmen, not only of the two hundred students who had come to the meeting, but of all the students in the university.
In terms of your analysis, the students who originally came to the meeting shackled themselves, as well as all other students, with these political bureaucrats. They were manipulated into legitimating the power of these politicians. But that's absurd. They all left as soon as they realized the speeches came from tin cans. Only one out of two hundred was taken in by the political marmalade dished out by those political bosses who differed from professors and factory managers only in age. Of course you'll say that by the time they realized the program was canned it was too late. Their mere presence at the meeting had already validated the politicians' claim to be the spokesmen of the mass of students. After that single act they could no longer meet publicly with each other without having the politicians preside over them (which was in fact what happened). Therefore merely by attending the meeting they had muzzled themselves, bound themselves to new bosses who were more insidious than the old bosses because they came from among themselves. Therefore the students had been puppets, inert things, objects moved by forces outside themselves, dolls manipulated by puppeteers.
Your analysis reduces a two-dimensional picture to a single dimension, it reduces two sides to one. The protesting students were on one side, the politicians and all other officials were on the other. The fact that the university officials accepted the student politicians as the spokesmen of protesting students doesn't mean that any of the protesting students accepted them as their spokesmen. It merely means that officials recognized and embraced other officials and momentarily disregarded their club's age requirements. By omitting the second side you lose sight of the relation between the two sides. You leave out what we used to call the struggle between the ruling class and the repressed class, the class struggle. The fact that the rulers recruit their agents from among the repressed doesn't mean that the repressed are the agents of their own repression.
You don't only omit the fact of struggle. In one part of your letter you even make fun of Luisa's description of the external forces that suppressed revolutionary workers and peasants who had not become puppets. According to you there were no external forces. The rot is always within. Whatever happens to me is my own fault. Your profound new insight is no more than the ancient doctrine of original sin. You misunderstand Cassius' observation, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In your version, the bullets, dear Sophia, are not in their guns, but in our brains, that make us underlings.
Those who arrested you and me were not imaginary beings, nor was I arrested by myself. My memory did in fact freeze certain facts, and they've been perfectly preserved. One of these facts is that I was arrested by police agents. Another fact is that I was taken to a police station and a jail which I had not helped build: both were much older than I was. A third fact is that the statements on my posters and the words on my lips were not secret instructions to the police for your arrest. The police received their instructions from their superiors, ultimately from the politicians in the state apparatus, and not from the likes of you or me. If you think I was a puppet displaying the warrant for my own arrest, you're hallucinating, not Luisa or I.
It was absurd of me to tell Tina we were arrested because we were Alberts' relatives, since eight or nine of us were arrested and only two of us were related to Alberts. Furthermore Alberts wasn't arrested. I suppose it's this ridiculous slip of my memory that confirms your statements about my inability to remember my own real past. This slip embarrasses me, it makes me wish I had a more trustworthy memory, but it doesn't convince me that I've systematically falsified my past, it doesn't convince me that my modest exterior houses an ogre who, after exterminating her victims, makes them vanish to oblivion.
I do remember that Alberts had nothing to do with our arrest, but I don't remember that I helped paint signs and tapestries which were hung in front of prison walls; I don't remember that I helped bury a human community and drown the sound of human voices. My own life has been surrounded by those very signs and tapestries, by those very walls, by that very silence and lack of community. All my life I've longed for nothing more than to communicate with my likes on a field without signs or walls. How can I prove this to you? You reached out to me and I responded. I would have tried to reach you the day after my release from jail and every day after that if I had thought my letters would be delivered. But you know perfectly well that letters were being returned without any explanations.
I had my first real chance to reach you only twelve years ago. A friend of mine, Lem Icel, was going to be near you on his way to some international conference. I frantically wrote letters to all of you. I was terribly sad when nothing came in response to those letters. I didn't see Lem again until several years later. He told me he had been arrested because he'd been carrying my letters. He proceeded to list the horrors he had undergone in prisons and camps and concluded by telling me about his recent conversion to an ancient Egyptian religion. I hardly listened to what he told me and I didn't believe any of it. I concluded he had lost my letters and had made up the stones about the imprisonment and the tortures. I thought he was covering up his guilt by pretending I was guilty of his imprisonment. Now you tell me that one of my letters did reach its destination, though you never saw it. Lem didn't lose the letters after all. This means that the rest of his story may also have been true. I might have caused Lem's arrest. And according to Mirna I also caused yours. This makes me a dangerous schizophrenic: mild and well-intentioned during the day while at night I plot the arrest, imprisonment and torture of my friends.
I can't stand seeing myself where your letter leaves me. Can't you see there's something ridiculous about these insinuations and accusations? When I wrote you twelve years ago, and when I wrote you last time in answer to your warm and comradely first letter, I was desperately reaching for understanding, sympathy, human communication. Your last letter reduces both my gestures to terrible crimes. You, Lem and Mirna suggest I've done nothing in my life except send instructions to the police. Though I don't feel like laughing, I'm convinced something funny is going on. I'm no more schizophrenic than the rest of my contemporaries and my paranoia is generally lower than the average. I can't make myself believe that my letter had anything to do with Lem's arrest or with yours. I have no idea what Lem was doing there besides delivering my letters, but I do know that my letters didn't contain instructions to the police. They were private, personal letters. They referred solely to my own insignificant experiences and didn't contain a single reference to politics or politicians. I didn't know what the president's name was or even if there was a president. Do the police arrest, imprison and torture people for carrying such letters? Does that police really have nothing else to do? Are they madmen? Doesn't this sound awfully silly and terribly paranoid?
I had known Lem for many years and I knew that paranoia wasn't out of the question as far as he was concerned. Paranoia was the root of his conceit; it confirmed his importance and his political effectiveness. He always saw himself as persecuted. When he called himself a revolutionary he convinced himself his phone was tapped; he was forever being followed and watched. All the attention he got proved how revolutionary he was. When he later became a mystic he convinced himself that objects persecuted him. Could I believe such a person when he told me my letters caused his arrest?
I don't know what to say about Mirna's suspicions. Does she, too, have traces of paranoia? You certainly suggest as much when you tell me you don't consider my letter the cause of your arrest. I obviously can't prove anything since I don't have access to the police files. All I can say is that the accusation sounds silly.
I'm going to admit something else, because suddenly I no longer care what you make of this admission. I haven't told you all my reasons for thinking that Lem was lying to me when he told me about his arrest and imprisonment. It wasn't only because I was familiar with Lem's persecution mania that I didn't believe him. The story itself sounded phony to me. I didn't pay any attention to him. The sequence of horrors didn't only seem terribly exaggerated but was also similar, down to details, to the pictures drawn by official propagandists. I was sure he had read the whole story in a newspaper. And at that time I was convinced that those stories were pure fabrications, fictional from the first word to the last. No, I wasn't taken in by the opposite propaganda. I knew about the prisons and camps, the political purges, the state-run unions, the speed-ups and productivity campaigns. What I didn't believe were the stock stories about the priests, nuns and itty-bitty children tortured in medieval dungeons, since these stones were obviously journalistic fictions pulled out of dusty war-hysteria files, with names and dates changed for every occasion. I recognized these newspaper articles in Lem's account; I didn't recognize a single element of a world which should have been familiar to me because, as you so crudely put it, I'd helped build it. He was, after all, talking about a place where I had once known several workers who were not unlike thousands of other workers. He was telling me that all the people I had lived with and worked with, and all others like them, had simply vanished into thin air and had been replaced by chains, gates and horrifying instruments of torture. He was telling me that all those workers had either allowed those horrors to take place or else that they'd all been imprisoned and executed and that the only people left were apes or sheep. I couldn't believe any of that. I couldn't believe all those people had vanished, all the dreams I had fought for had disappeared without leaving a trace. I couldn't accept a vision similar to the one you expressed in your letter; I couldn't believe the last human beings were dying in prisons while self-repressed beings had replaced them outside.
I nursed my illusion. I deluded myself. Put it any way you want. If I had believed Lem I would either have gone straight to a mental hospital or I would have killed myself. I believed there were people like me over there, that they had retained their dreams and hopes, that they were still struggling. I tried to reach them. Does that make me a criminal? Is it criminal to have hopes and dreams which reality might invalidate? Are a prisoner's dreams about his projects after release illusions because he might die in prison? Since we all know we'll eventually die, since any of us might die tomorrow, are all our hopes and dreams illusions? Are we criminals when we fail to realize them?
You contradict your main argument. You tell me that, in spite of the uncertainty of your release, you made plans in prison. In every other paragraph you speak of projects, dreams and hopes. You write poetry about the unshackled imagination, about the possibility of creating our world in the light of our dreams. You're insincere. I think you were equally insincere when you told Mirna and her parents that you were opposed to marrying her. Your arguments against marriage seemed as hollow as your arguments about my illusions. At no point in your narrative did I feel you had the slightest doubt that you;d marry Mirna. When you told me how certain they all were that the event would take place I felt you were every bit as certain from beginning to end. And when you tell me about my illusions I'm convinced you share every last one of them. If you didn't share those illusions you wouldn't be able to describe the ferment surrounding you today; you wouldn't even be able to see it. If those in ferment today didn't share what you call my illusions there would be no ferment around you today. People without such hopes and dreams are not human beings, and only human beings can give rise to a ferment of the type you describe. You're insincere, and you're applying a double standard. When I express the hope that we'll tear down the walls that imprison us, that hope is an illusion; when you express the same hope, it becomes an intention, a project, a motive for communication, comradeship and struggle. I remember my past only in order to hallucinate whereas you remember your past in order to understand your present.
Believe it or not. I use my past exactly the same way you use yours. I don't use it as a subject for admiration, distortion or hallucination, but as a perspective from which to view my present. Exactly as you do! If I hadn't once in my life been with people who had momentarily stopped being wage workers, I would have been perfectly satisfied to remain a wage worker the first time I got a job. Just as you would still be driving that infernal bus delivering human excrement to the city's sewers. I quit my first job, as well as my second, because I had known human beings who had been more, much more, than wage workers. If I hadn't once had a genuine learning experience I would have accepted my years in high school and college as a learning experience; I couldn't have imagined education in any other form. My past experience helped me see through, expose and rebel against my present experience; it helped me see through the systematic stunting and incapacitation which passes as education. If I hadn't once experienced friendship, solidarity and communication I would never have been able to guess what was wrong with all the Mr. Ninovos who populate the world, and nothing in my life would have kept me from becoming one of them.
The people you and I once knew, the hopes we shared with them, the projects we undertook together, have served me as a standard of comparison. Perhaps imaginary people and projects would have served as well. Isn't that the sensible meaning of utopia: a standard against which to measure the present? My utopia was slightly more vivid than most people's because I had actually experienced moments of it. This is why all your accusations miss their mark. I'm not. after all, competing in a memory contest, nor writing a history, nor am I engaged in scholarly research into my past. If I were, you would have devastated my project as inept, inaccurate and totally untrustworthy. Since I'm only trying to determine who I am and what I'm doing you fail to make a point and you punch holes in an imaginary balloon. Far from trying to reconstruct the actual sequence of past events, I'm only using my own and to some extent Luisa's and Nachalo's past as a standard of comparison and guide for present decisions and actions. You've been my lifelong guide just as Luisa was yours. And you're wrong to uproot her from your memory, to discard her. You're only impoverishing yourself. By eliminating this standard you're left with nothing but the world as it is. If you deprive yourself of the ability to see what people can be and what life can be you'll only be able to see what they are and you'll conclude that's all they can be.
Yet even while you uproot Luisa from your memory, you reject the world into which you've been released. Even while you're discarding your standard of comparison you're comparing and measuring. By what standard can you define a person as a stunted human being if all conceptions of fully developed human beings are illusions? How on earth can you even know you're in prison if you can't imagine there are human beings out of prison?
If I froze the memory of my experience with you, I didn't do this to glorify the outcome of that experience , since it had no outcome, but to transport that experience to a new terrain. If I preserved the hopes and dreams I shared with you, it wasn't because I thought you and I had realized them but because I wanted to go on struggling to realize them. I brought those hopes and dreams to a world that lacked them, a world that uprooted and killed such hopes and dreams. If those dreams now seem stunted to you it's because this world to which I was brought didn't contain the soil in which they could grow. Accuse me of having dragged those dreams into an environment unfavorable to them, accuse me of having failed to realize them, but don't in the same breath accuse me of having suppressed them.
I'm sorry you didn't read my last letter in the spirit in which I wrote it. I'm sorry because our lives were not so different after we were arrested and separated. I understood perfectly the desperation you felt right after your release from prison. I understood why you considered those few days bleaker than all your years in prison. I understood because, when I wrote you twelve years ago, I considered the eight years after my release bleaker than imprisonment. I apologize for the way this sounds. When I sent that letter I had no idea you had spent four years in prison. Luisa and I were released after two days in jail and for some reason I'd thought you had been released shortly after us. Yet even if I'd known you had spent half those years in jail I would have preferred to spend those eight years as you spent them. I would at least have been in prison for acts I had known I'd committed. And on release I would once again have been in a world that was familiar to me with people who were friends. Please don't misunderstand me again. I'm not glorifying the bureaucracy and the police who installed themselves as rulers. I don't know much about them but everything I do know sends shivers down my back. That's not at all what I'm writing about. I'm trying to tell you that all my life here I've wished I had never-left you, that my emigration was nothing but a big mistake, that here I wasn't able to become more than I already was when you knew me. I hope this time I'm making myself clear. You told me the world you found after your release wasn't paradise. I never thought it was. I'm trying to tell you something similar about myself. The world I came to wasn't paradise either; it wasn't even as close to paradise as my experience with you.
The world to which I was brought was publicly considered humanity's first earthly paradise, the most perfect community of happy human beings. It took me only a few minutes to learn that the happy human beings were images on signs and tapestries identical to those you described, that the milk and honey were spilled willy-nilly on a desert that contained neither community nor comradeship nor human warmth. I had been brought to this Utopia of objects for no reason at all. I was imprisoned here, not because of acts I had committed, but because someone thought he was doing me a favor by bringing me here. And in this desert paradise there's no hope of release. This is the apex of everything that can be desired, though not by human beings. All roads leading from the apex are steep descents. From here I can only go down; from here I can only be released into the prisons in which you've spent half your life.
I wish I knew what you heard me saying. How frustrating it is to communicate across such a great distance. Surely you don't again hear me saying that your imprisonment was the realization of my dreams! If I refer to my experiences with you while describing the world I was brought to, it's because those were the only experiences I'd had before coming here; they were the vantage point from which I saw where I was. You described Vesna as being born into a cage from which she never emerged. I suppose you mean she had never known life outside the cage since her earliest memories were memories of the cage. She had no other memories, not even frozen ones, to compare and contrast with her experiences in the cage. Consequently she couldn't know that she was in a cage. I do have memories and it's thanks to them that I'm able to describe this paradise as a cage. And so do you! If you didn't how would you know Vesna was born in a cage? If you didn't remember a moment of life outside the cage, no matter how brief, you, like Vesna, would think of the cage as the world, the only possible world, perhaps even the best of all possible worlds.
I remember my release from jail and my journey here as a terrible trip through a very long tunnel. My life was at the opening I was moving away from and I expected to find nothing at the other end. Released after two days in jail, I thought Luisa and I would return to our friends, I thought we would continue the work we hadn't finished; I thought the struggle had only begun. I expected to find you and all our other friends engaged in the activities from which I had suddenly been cut off. “We're leaving!” Luisa said. Leaving what? Our friends? Our project? But our project wasn't yet off the ground; the new world wasn't yet built. Was everyone leaving? Were we going to continue our struggle elsewhere? Was our world already built somewhere else? If not, why were we leaving and where were we going?
I didn't understand. I was frustrated and shocked. I froze every detail of that project and those friends as well as every hope I had shared with them. I fixed my experience in my memory as if I knew already then that I was being taken to a cage from which I would never emerge. If I hadn't frozen those memories, if I had forgotten my experiences and my friends, then like Vesna I would only have known the cage. I would have grown up like those around me who don't know any life outside. I would have accepted my cage companions as the only possible human beings and my cage experiences as the only possible human experiences. I couldn't have compared my life in the cage to the life I'd had before I was caged. If I'd forgotten you I couldn't have written you twelve years ago and I'd have no reason in the world to write you now. I wouldn't have responded to your first letter because I would have thought you alien and bizarre. I would have been a bird of paradise who couldn't possibly have understood a letter from a foreigner and even if I'd read it I wouldn't have sent a word of mine to an insurgent who was a jailbird to boot.
Luisa later told me I was sick during the entire journey, that I broke down. I was extremely hostile to Alberts, and ungrateful. I didn't show the slightest appreciation for the favor he was doing us. I was as rude to him as I had been to my jailer. Luisa acted grateful. I remember that. This was partly what made me sick. As things turned out later she had been wrong. Her gratitude only lasted a few months. I clung to Luisa but for the first time in my life I didn't trust her. I suspected she didn't know where we were going, why we were going or what we would do when we got there. And I was right. Sabina was the only one of us who knew exactly where she was going and what she would do there. Alberts had told her she was going to the land of gigantic objects and monstrous toys. (He was right.) She bubbled over with enthusiasm and couldn't wait to get there. She jumped around like a monkey released from its cage. I hated her for that enthusiasm; I did everything I could to block out the noise she made. I saw her as a chicken running around a yard cackling during the few minutes before her head is chopped off.
Sabina's wishes were fulfilled. This Eldorado was everything Alberts had promised. The original Eldorado, where streets had been paved with nuggets of gold and where people had walked on the gold and respected each other, had disappeared long ago; its inhabitants had all been exterminated. In its place had grown up another Eldorado, where gold is stored in underground vaults and the streets are paved with flesh, where objects walk on people and respect each other. It is indeed the land of gigantic toys. The toys have defeated the people. Objects rule city streets, country highways, bridges and underpasses; objects are housed, fed and nursed; objects are displayed, praised, honored and worshipped. The people are small and fearful; they're mere attendants to the needs of the objects. When they're not nursing objects, the people are nothing more than obstacles on the paths of rushing objects. Every collision between a person and an object destroys the person while leaving the object intact. Only the objects have purposes and directions. When people aren't tending objects they drift. They don't rest; on the contrary, they're always on the alert; they keep their eyes on the objects so as to avoid colliding with them. They don't even dream about communicating with each other. They don't have the time. They know that in the time it took to establish contact with one of their likes they'd be crushed. They eavesdrop on conversations among objects. Without communication they can't launch common projects and they no longer even imagine them.
Where did I find the language and imagery with which to understand and describe this world? You know exactly where: in the carton plant twenty years ago, when I was among fearless, unintimidated human beings communicating with each other, engaged in a common project, among individuals who walked on objects and respected each other. That was my utopia, my Eldorado. Haven't you been carrying a similar picture for at least as many years? What are those barricades which existed so briefly and then only in situations of crisis but which nevertheless revealed a permanent human possibility? That's what my picture shows me: a permanent human possibility. By showing me what people can be it helps me understand what those around me have become. By showing me people engaged in common projects it informs me that drift is not the only possible content of human life.
No, I haven't been a hermit for the past twenty years. I haven't remained totally isolated from the people around me. I haven't sat in my room contemplating the picture of my one time friends. My breakdown didn't last from then until now. I met innumerable people. I worked with many of them. I'm trying to describe how I experienced them. I'm trying to tell you who they were and what they were by contrasting them with what they weren't. I'm trying to describe a cage as the cage I experienced it to be and not as the paradise its other inmates imagine it to be. I can only do this from a vantage point outside the cage, from the vantage point of the experience I shared with you, from the vantage point of that picture I kept for all those years.
By tearing my picture to shreds as you tore your picture of Luisa, you tear my life as well. The possibilities I reached for in every encounter and every event were the only live elements of my experiences. Please don't rob me of the people who informed me of those possibilities. They're among the few people I knew who weren't puppets. They're the only human community I ever experienced. They weren't perfect. They weren't gods. They were flawed and human, identical to millions of others. That's why they revealed a human possibility. Yet you make their very humanity appear inhuman. It's you who are looking for gods. I'm only looking for more Veras, more Adrians, Marcs, Claudes.
I remember a Vera who talked, but not like a radio. The radio is an instrument which kills communication; it robs people of their tongues; it broadcasts the voice of a single individual to millions of listeners, reducing them to passive receptacles. If communication has the same root as common and community, the radio is an instrument for uprooting all three. The Vera I remember had the unmagnified voice of a single individual among thousands of other individuals; she was one of the thousands who were turning off the radios and regaining their own voices. To me she's the very opposite of the countless politicians I've met since who dreamed only of the day when their voices would be the only sound in a sea of silent listeners.
I remember an Adrian who moved with the tide. When the people around him began to throw off the muck of ages, he was infected by their spirit and did his best to liberate himself. If the spirit of liberation could spread to Adrian it could spread to all. He was living proof of what was possible. I've met many conformists since but none of them were ever infected by a spirit of liberation or by any spirit at all: they all moved within the rigid confines of official routine.
I remember a Claude who was an oaf, but I also remember that at least for an instant he was using his bulk to defend himself and his comrades. You expressed intense dislike for him. To me he was a symbol of the working class, waking up from the stupor of wage labor, at last turning its bulk against capital. The bullies I've known since have used their weight to defend their masters and oppress their peers.
You describe Marc as a self-styled expert. I thought he was a worker like the others. I remember him as a dreamer. He let his imagination wander freely over the field of possibilities (the expression is yours). He gave me a glimpse of what the world might be like if everyone's imagination wandered so freely. I've met many people who thought themselves experts, but I never wished for a world which contained more of them.
According to you these people whose emotions and projects were their own existed only in my private imagination. You have good words only for Jasna, Jan and Titus, precisely the three whom I didn't consider models or guides. I was never able to consider Titus a comrade because after Nachalo's death both he and Alberts acted as fathers toward me. But have it your way. Say the workers I remember are imaginary. Say the experience I shared with them never took place. It doesn't really matter. Even if I never lived such an experience, I can still say that my imagination once glimpsed the possibility of genuine social activity which was neither trivial nor marginal. Even if I never knew those people, I imagined insurgents who struggled to shake off their chains and not to shackle others with them. Imaginary or not, that experience and those people informed all my senses from the first moment after my release. It's because of them and because of you that I experienced my release from jail and my emigration as a descent to hell. Instead of being overjoyed I was morose. Instead of being grateful to Alberts I thought he had cut me off from the living. I didn't accept events the way Mirna's mother accepted them, as the unwinding of fate. My real or imagined experience had made me a critic.
Alberts already had a job when we came here. This had been arranged by people he had worked with during the war; I never knew them nor what he had done with them. He taught natural science in high school, although your imagery describes his activity much more accurately: he paced in front of thirty or forty teen-agers from nine to three while excrement dripped from him. I know because a year after we came I watched him drip for a whole semester. Thanks to you I know what a teacher is.
When we arrived we were greeted — I should say fawned over — by a self-appointed reception committee. They told us that freedom was the nickname of their flag, that the mortal danger of crossing the street was proof of a high standard of living, and that we would be happy when we learned to live like them. They were jingoes, war hawks. They found us a place; they called it a home, the local euphemism for the walls that separate people from their neighbors. They told us they would gladly help us solve any problems we might have, but they left us neither names nor phone numbers and we never saw any of them again.
I had my own room in our home. I had never had one before. It wasn't damp or cold and it had no roaches, mice or rats. There was a bed and there were walls. It wasn't like a prison cell because I could leave whenever I pleased. For several days I sat on the bed and stared at the walls and then it was just like a prison cell. It separated me from my friends and from my activities. My life was elsewhere, outside, far away. I was a prisoner. Luisa brought me my meals. At times she was the old Luisa: she understood, she sympathized, she regretted the journey and hated the home, the reception committee and Alberts. But at other times she was a new Luisa, the Luisa who had been grateful to Alberts and polite to the reception committee, who called me a stubborn goose and insisted I'd find new friends and forget my old ones.
Neighbors came to visit. I wanted to go out and stare at them but I stayed in my room and listened. They said they wanted to introduce themselves, but in fact they had come to snoop. They asked Luisa how old her two daughters were. They must have counted us when we moved in. I hadn't once left my room since that day. They asked Luisa why we weren't in school. Luisa told them we were learning the language. That wasn't true. Sabina was already fluent, thanks to Alberts, and I could understand most of what was said. Luisa also told them the trip had been a shock to both of us and we were recovering. That wasn't true of Sabina and the neighbors must have known Luisa was lying. Sabina had already run all around the neighborhood and no one could have thought her sick. Sabina simply refused to go to school. She argued that neither she nor Luisa nor I had come here to go to school; only Alberts had.
A few days after our neighbors' thoughtful visit, two officials came. They too asked Luisa why her daughters weren't in school. You're not the only one who has Mr. Ninovo for a neighbor. Luisa was intimidated. She promised to pack both of us off to school the following morning. (You aim your critique at the Luisa who fought bravely in a revolution. You don't even seem aware of this second Luisa, the one who ran away from her friends and projects twice, the one who was afraid and intimidated. You're disillusioned with the wrong Luisa.)
Luisa begged me to go to school, and I was disillusioned. But I felt sorry for her and gave in, since I had never intended to spend the rest of my life in that room. Sabina was more principled than I, and Alberts was less slavish than Luisa. He telephoned someone he knew and had Sabina enrolled in a private school which she never attended. Sabina was simply told to stay out of the neighbors' sight during school hours, which she managed to do quite successfully until she and Alberts moved out several months later. She didn't spend a single day in school.
How sickeningly adaptable people are! During my first few days in school I was revolted, shocked and indignant. Lively young people sat like trained poodles and let ignorant functionaries stuff their heads with garbage, I tried to think of ways to expose and undermine the poodle-training sessions. But all I ever thought of doing was to refuse to answer questions on the ground that they were biased or trivial. Instead of taking notes about the lectures I took notes about the teachers and the students. I intended to use those notes when I wrote letters to my former comrades. I was going to describe to you what happened to human beings if they lost the struggle we had fought. I still have those notes. I reread some of them before I started this letter; I wanted to see to what extent my memory contained only experiences I had invented. I found myself innocent of your charge. I never wrote the letters those notes were intended for. Yet I continued to take notes. Later I rearranged them; I was going to write a novel comparing my past with my present. Gradually my shock, my indignation, my desire to expose the farce called education were confined to my notes. My life was confined to my notebook. I dragged myself to school mechanically, absently, as if I were taking a garbage bag to a dump. I adapted. I became like the others. Only my notebook continued to rebel, and I never showed those notes to anyone. They were intended for you. Yet now that I'm finally showing them to you I'm embarrassed; your letter makes me defensive about them. I had always been sure you'd understand. Your letter makes me suspect I did have one illusion after all: the illusion that you'd understand. In any case your letter wasn't a letter from a complete stranger. I recognized you every time you stopped talking about me; the passages where you described yourself and the people around you were the passages in which I recognized my own experience and it's because of them that I think you'll understand mine.
I understood your anger and frustration when you leafed through Mirna's history book. My history book was similar to Mirna's; it contained the same accounts of the rise of bureaucrats to government offices. Though I lived in an environment where every single human attribute and every facet of nature had been transformed into wage labor and capital, the textbook history of that environment didn't mention wage labor or capital. Though. I lived in a city where the systematic despoliation and oppression of human beings had reached a level unknown to any previous human beings, the textbook history spoke only of equality and freedom. The students didn't seem to pay a whole lot of attention, but the lies nevertheless got through to them, by osmosis. One of the first students who talked to me was another foreigner. He told me his father had worked in a steel plant for two years; he had lifted a load that was too heavy for him and had injured his back; when he failed to recover and return to work, he was fired. The boy's mother had gone to work to support him and his sick father. The boy asked me: “The place where you come from — is it part of the free world too?”
The language teacher spent six months reading a single novel to the class. Can you imagine that? Since I had already read the book I spent my time elaborating my notes. There was even a class in cooking which I simply refused to attend. As soon as I refused, I was told I was free to take a class in wood-turning and carpentry. I was the only girl there; apparently no other girl refused to take the cooking class and consequently no other girl had learned she was free not to take it.
You described how out of place Mirna's schoolbooks seemed to be in her house. Books seemed at least as misplaced in the hands of some of my teachers, particularly my mathematics teacher. In addition to being the math teacher this man was the school's sports expert. He was one of the few teachers in the school who possessed the highest academic degree. He was called a doctor and it was said he had framed his diploma and hung it in his living room. It was also said the thesis for which he had been granted this degree dealt with basketball dribbling. I think both stories were true. He may in fact have been very good at writing about dribbling a basketball, but he couldn't divide fractions and I suspected he had never learned to solve simple algebraic equations. He would solve on the blackboard precisely those problems that were solved in the book. One day he made a mistake copying. In order to go to the next step he had to divide the same quantity out of both sides of the equation. He divided each side by a different quantity and nonchalantly continued copying. I was furious. “Hey, you can't do that!” ! shouted. “You wouldn't have to do it if you had copied the right numbers out of the book!”
He turned red as a beet. “You Bolshies are too smart for your own good!” he shouted. The athlete then walked right up to me and slapped me. I screamed and he became as rigid as a board. Some students cheered him and shouted, “You show `er, coach!”
Those students cheered him because they considered him the rebel. I was in a world where everything familiar to me stood on its head. The roles were inverted. The bullying teacher was seen as a rebel and the rebellious student as a representative of authority. The police were experienced as agents of freedom and insurgents as agents of repression. Authoritarian conformists considered themselves individualists and revolutionaries were called Bolshies and Commissars. The greatest inversion of all was that the most authoritarian of the authoritarians, those who glorified the state and dreamed of becoming omnipotent police chiefs, thought of themselves as revolutionaries. My friend Lem Icel, the one who later carried my letter to you, was one of these.
I met Lem the day the dribbling expert slapped me. Lem ran after me when school was over, in his suit and tie, wearing glasses, carrying his leather bag.
“I think you were right,” he told me.
“What do you mean you think I was right? I know I was!” I shouted. “Look into your book!”
“Yes I know,” he said. “I had the book open too. What I wanted to ask you was about that name he called you.”
“You mean Bolshie? That's not my name!”
“I know it's not your name. What I mean is, is it true? Are you? Do you believe in tendencies and things?” He asked this last question in the same tone in which someone might have asked, “Do you believe the sun is going to fall into the lake the day after tomorrow and the world is going to end?” or “Do you believe every statue of Jesus bleeds every night?” And I knew he was dying to relieve himself by telling me, “So do II”
“Tendencies and things! What on earth do you mean?” I asked.
“Oh, you can tell me. I'm a Comrade. I'm no stool pigeon!” He whispered all this.
I shouted, “What are you talking about? What do you want?”
“Shh. You know what I mean. Tendencies. Forces. The Dialectic!” Yes, unfortunately I knew what he meant. It was nothing very exciting; it wasn't even altogether alive. But it was something. It was the form rebellion took in this environment, and I was extremely lonely. I'm reminded of the people you described who ate bark. Lem was a disgusting clown, a tidy bureaucrat who might someday transmit the order to exterminate thousands of workers, a stuffy state agent who was old long before his time. But I hadn't had a conversation with anyone except Luisa since we'd come here, and after I'd started going to school I had avoided Luisa. I couldn't keep myself from reaching out to Lem.
“Tendencies,” I said, hesitating, as if I were remembering something. “Why yes, of course! Tendencies!” I forgot to add, “And things.”
“I knew you were one of us as soon as the coach called you a Bolshie!” And I knew what Lem was going to say long before he said it.
“And did I confirm, what you already knew?”
“You sure did! We can keep it a secret from them, but not from each other!” He was obviously a novice in the conspiratorial profession, and had as yet learned nothing about security,
“Does no one else know you're one of them — I mean of us?” I asked.
“I've kept it a secret from everyone. Even from my parents,” he proudly boasted.
“My! Imagine that!” I didn't even try to hide my admiration for his ability to keep secrets. “Not even your parents! You must be very courageous!”
“I thought it would be hard, but it isn't really,” he explained. “My study group meets every Friday night and I tell my parents I go to movies. I used to go to movies a lot on Friday nights. I always make sure I know what's on at one of the theaters, though they haven't yet asked what I'd seen.”
“And the study group,” I ventured, “it must be even better than our classes in school.”
“Oh yes, it's much more disciplined,” he said predictably. “Anyone who did what you did today would be expelled right away.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Of course none of the lecturers in the study group would ever be caught making such a dumb mistake!”
“Can you tell me your name?” I asked to change the subject; I had heard enough about the study group. “Or is that a secret?” I felt silly for adding this question, and I hoped he wouldn't spoil my fun by remembering that I'd learn his name tire next time the teacher revealed this secret in class.
“Oh no, I can tell you my name!” he said eagerly and obligingly. “It's Lem. Lem Icel. It comes from the Greek god Icelus. My grandfather shortened it.”
“Yes I know. Sophia Nachalo. I saw it written on your notebook.”
“You pronounced it right!” My name was the only thing he had said that pleased me.
“Does it bother you when that jock pronounces it Natural?”
“His pronunciation is his problem, not mine.”
“It's obviously no better than his math,” Lem said.
“Do you want me to get slapped for correcting his pronunciation as well? Why don't you correct him?”
Lem blushed. He could at least have corrected the athlete's math, since he'd had the book open too. “Objective conditions.” he answered hesitantly. “You know what I mean?”
“Oh yes, of course! They weren't ripe.”
“Wow! You know a lot!” He was genuinely impressed. “I only learned about that a couple of weeks ago!”
“Aren't you tired of learning by the end of the week, and wouldn't you rather go to movies on Friday nights?”
“Haven't you ever been to study groups?” he asked.
I didn't answer. I was already tired of my game, and of Lem.
“The study group is completely different,” he explained as I walked away from him. “Here everything they tell you is a lie. There I learn about tendencies and forces. You know, the truth about things. You and I ought to talk more. You know. We ought to become friends, since we're already comrades.”
My first friend was an admirer of those who had betrayed Luisa, arrested me, imprisoned you. The more I learned about him the less likeable he became. Lem was one of the wealthier students in the school. His father was the manager of a department store. Other people of his social class were sent to private schools, but Lem's father wanted to give his son what he considered a taste of reality. Lem's newly acquired political religion provided him with a new way of expressing his social status, and nothing more. He considered himself superior to the working class students because of his social class. He thought himself more intelligent as well, since he had been trained to memorize and obey from childhood on. And when one of the teachers introduced him to the world of tendencies and forces, he became a giant who towered above the others, being the only student in school who had been initiated into the dialectical truth about things. He was as much a member of the ruling class after his political conversion as he had been before.
I let him walk me home several days a week. We frequently went to movies together, and once I invited him to a dance. Although he insisted I accompany him to his study group, I didn't once go. I don't think we talked a great deal after our first encounter; at least I didn't record any other conversations. And because he had been friendly to me when I had been completely alone, this travesty of a rebel, this pompous leech was to cling to me for much of the rest of my life.
I don't know if I need to mention this or if I'm being clear this time: if I hadn't known you I wouldn't have seen through Lem. I might have seen him as he saw himself and as the official mythology defined him: as a rebel, an insurgent. Lem obviously didn't fill the gap I'd felt since my release.
Unlike you I didn't have any friends here; there was no Jan Sedlak I could run to. When I finally did find a genuine friend, it was someone who had something in common with the Sedlaks. Like them he moved on the fringes. He wasn't a peasant but he was just as much of an outsider. His name was Ron Matthews, I had seen him walk through the halls of the school with his three companions, all in leather jackets, long before I met Lem. I had seen him during lunch hours, heading toward a wall behind the parking lot to smoke with his companions. Other students as well as most of the teachers were afraid of them, though I had never seen any of them raise a hand against anyone. Lem called them “the lumpen.” They modeled themselves after gangsters in movies and comic books. Ron, the tallest and strongest of the four, was the leader. Behind his back students called him “The Commissar,” a nickname he was known to dislike. His mother taught at the school and it was said she was a subversive. She was in fact fired sometime later for her political beliefs. It was she who converted Lem; I didn't meet her until years later. Ron was repeating the first year of high school for the third time. He had left elementary school only because the school's principal had been afraid of him. His three companions were supposed to be his bodyguard, but in terms of size and strength he was obviously theirs; on their own they wouldn't have made much of an impression.
I began to look forward to the lunch hour. Boredom, loneliness and curiosity drove me further and further into the parking lot, closer to the wall. One day I walked to the other side of the wall. One of the lieutenants nudged Ron, who turned to look at me.
“Well, well, what have we got over here? Come a little closer, baby, so we can have a better look at you. You want a smoke?” While Ron spoke the other three grinned stupidly.
“I'm not a baby and I have a name!”
“Let's see. Soap-fee Natural. Is that a name, boys?”
All three nodded.
“Okay, Natural. Would you like to join us in the pleasure of smoking a cigarette?” He handed me his pack.
“Thank you, Tarzan. Pleasure is exactly what I came for.” I wasn't sure exactly what role I wanted to play, nor how far I wanted to play it.
“Hey, we've been wondering about you. If you're smart enough to ace out that wise-assed coach, why d'ya let him sock you?”
“Because you weren't there to protect me, Superman!”
So far so good, but then I tripped. I burst out coughing when he lit my cigarette, and it became obvious to all four that I had never smoked before.
Roil took up the offensive again. “Now look what we're doing boys, dragging this nice girl across the state line. We're committing the Mann Act.”
“Don't flatter yourself, muscles; I walked here by myself.”
“What'll your boy friend say about that? He'll say we committed the Mann Act. While we're on the boy friend, tell us what a nice girl like you wants with that shit-on-a-stick professor.”
“If I'd known there were commissars like you around, I wouldn't ever have noticed that one.”
“You've got a sharp tongue. Miss Not-so-low. If you don't watch out they'll clip it right out of your mouth.”
“They wouldn't dare if you four strong men protected me.”
Ron laughed; his three cronies just continued to grin. He turned to them and said, “You meatheads hear that? She's just contracted us as private dicks.”
That angered me and I started to walk away. “Goodbye. Tarzan. Thanks for the cigarette.”
“Don't leave yet, baby. We didn't mean that the way it sounded, did we boys? We ain't even got half acquainted yet.”
“I didn't hear what you meant, Tarzan, and it sounded like goodbye.” I continued backing away from them.
“Not so low, baby. You get sore too easy.”
“I'm not sore!”
“Prove it, Natural! How's about meeting me here around midnight tonight?”
“You're too much, Tarzan! Do you think I'd trust my body to someone who butchers my name?”
The three body guards responded for the first time: they laughed at Ron. I rounded the wall and started back across the parking lot. Ron followed me to the parking lot and shouted, “I get it! A nice girl like you wouldn't want to be stuck in an empty lot with a crazy ape that'll rape her and then knife her! You wouldn't want to get stuck at night, but you want to see what the ape looks like in broad daylight. Right?”
“That's right,” I shouted back. “I've never seen an ape before.”
For an instant before he turned his back to me, Ron looked like an injured child who was going to cry. “You bitch!” he whispered, kicking the dirt as he disappeared behind the wall. I regretted my last comment. I liked him. Under the mask of the dunce who failed all his courses I saw a lively intelligence which refused to submit to the school routine. Under the leather jacket and the gang leader's pose I thought I recognized a genuine rebel, the first one I'd met here.
I was hungry for activity that was not part of the official routine. I was hungry for the companion who had not been cast in one of the standard molds. I longed for you, for the comrades
and projects I had left behind. I thought there was a strong resemblance; the form was altogether different; the content seemed the same.
I crossed the school yard again the following day. With his back toward me, Ron said quietly, as if he were pleading with me: “Look, lady! Do us the favor of letting us enjoy our privacy on our own grounds, by which we mean we would like for you to remove yourself from this territory.”
“I apologize, Ron.”
“We would like for you to get out of here,” he said, still quietly.
“I didn't mean what I said yesterday,” I told him.
He turned toward me; his face was flushed. The anger mounted in his voice as he said, “We don't accept apologies from the likes of you, lady! Now kindly do us the favor of getting the hell out of here!”
“It was you who put those words in my mouth, Ron,” I pleaded.
All four were staring at me now. Ron turned to the other three and shouted, “Looks like the lady is deaf, boys!”
“I'll meet you here any time —”
He stepped backward and almost fell. “You'll what?”
“ — of day or night,” I continued, almost whispering.
“Lady, would you please repeat that?” All his anger was gone.
“What's my name?” I asked, still whispering. I was afraid.
“Sophie Nachalo,” he shouted. Had he known it all along or had he learned it since the previous day?
“Set the time.” My knees were trembling. I thought I'd start crying.
“Do you mean that you, Sophie Nachalo, are going to trust me —”
I didn't let him finish; I could no longer hide my nervousness. “Right here?” I asked, starting to run off. “At midnight? Tonight?” I ran as fast as I could.
I shook for hours. I thought I'd get sick. My fear didn't leave me until midnight that night. Ron was already there, sitting up against the part of the wall closest to the street lamp, smoking. He didn't look up. I sat down an arm's length away from him. He didn't move. I suddenly realized that he was as nervous as I had been. It was I who asked, “You're not afraid of me, are you?”
He looked at me. He seemed so sad. “I was going to wait here all night. But I never thought you'd come.” He turned to look at the ground again and puffed on his cigarette. I saw that he had shaved and combed his hair. By himself he was only a boy: shy, nervous and lonely.
“I thought you met girls here every night,” I said, although I didn't really think that.
“Are you kidding?” he asked, somewhat bitterly.
“Haven't you ever been with a girl at night?”
“Yea, sure,” he said, with growing bitterness. “I've spent lots of nights with two-bit whores. The others talk a lot, but that's all they ever do. And that's right, too. You shouldn't have come out here, Sophie. No decent girl goes out at night looking for an ape.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, reaching for his hand.
He took my hand and squeezed it. “Yea, I know. I put the words in your mouth.”
We sat like that for at least half an hour, I was relieved to learn he was harmless, but half an hour of sitting on concrete is awfully long; I got bored and extremely uncomfortable. “Is this all that's going to happen?” I asked.
He jumped up as if I'd woken him. “Would the lady like to have a guided tour of the city at night?”
“Why yes! That's exactly what the lady would like!” I said eagerly, squeezing his hand with both of mine when he helped me get up. My eagerness was genuine; I hadn't yet seen the city even in daytime.
The city Ron showed me must have been very similar to the city you knew during the war. It consisted of hideouts, danger zones, places to investigate and places to avoid. It was Ron's personal, private world; he had never shown it to anyone else; he let me share it.
“Someday I'll show you where the other half lives,” he said as we walked along one after another street lined with almost identical two-storied houses. “This is where the ants live. Sometimes I come here before school starts, about six or seven in the morning. I watch them all file out of their houses with their lunch boxes, like kids coming out of johns; they all pile into their cars at the same time and then they all sit on the highway blowing their brains out because the traffic can't move. The ones who live here drive to a plant on the other side of town, and those who live there drive all the way over here. If they're not deaf when they get there, the noise in the plant finishes them off. But they honk their brains out all the way back home because they're all on the road again.”
“It's not their fault, is it?” I ventured.
“You don't know what you're talking about. “Some of those guys drive bulldozers. They could push the factories straight into the river if they wanted to.”
We walked on. He led me through quarters that looked like forests that had burned. Pointing to an immense lot that looked like the city's garbage dump, he said, “That's what they spend all their time making in this town.” As we got closer I noticed that it was a dump for wrecked cars. Beyond the lot there were two-storied houses that were more run down than the ones we tad passed earlier. Pointing to one of them he said, “The guy who lives there makes it without going to the plants. He takes batteries out of cars and resells them in a store he runs. Once I watched him and another guy clean out all the batteries in a parking lot. It's hard fucking work though,”
We sat down on the sidewalk. “I know the kid next door too,” Ron continued. “His old man's a cop. You'd think he'd be on to the batteries by now, but that's not his job. He spends his time patrolling this whorehouse on the other side of town: downstairs there's a bar where lots of dope is sold. He makes twice as much from the bar as he gets from his job and they go on a big trip every year. But shit, who wants to be a cop?”
We sat down and smoked. I asked Ron how he knew these people. He said he had lived here before moving near the school. “I know this other guy down the street,” he said. “His old man builds motors. He works in a machine shop and every day he takes home a small part in the false bottom of his lunch box. Every six or seven months he's got a whole motor put together. Then he sells it to this place that deals in motors. I used to think that was neat. But now I think he must have his brains up his ass: he could have started his own machine shop twenty years ago and he'd have it made by now.”
We got up and walked on. The structure on the corner looked like an abandoned railway car. That's what it was. On top was a sign that said, “Diner.”
“That's where my old man hangs out,” Ron told me.
“You mean he eats there?”
“No, he runs it. He flips the eggs and butters the toast, from eight in the morning `til eight at night, six days a week. He saved for years to buy this dump. He thought it would make him a businessman. Me and my buddies skip afternoon classes lots of times just so as to get here around noon. That's when it's busy as hell here; everyone's hollering at him, lots of ;em are eating standing. As soon as we go through the door the hollering stops and everyone looks at us like we're dignitaries or something. My old man gets mad as hell but he doesn't let on he's ever seen me before. He skips everyone else and asks what we want, and no one objects; it's like they'd all agreed that we get served first, and he sure as hell doesn't want us standing around waiting. We really get on his ass. Eight eggs, I tell him, sunny side up, on the double, we ain't got all day. You should see him run! He moves so fast you'd think the eggs fell from the ceiling. Just like a flunkey getting an order in the army. The only thing he doesn't do is say Yessir! Some businessman! He holds it all in `til he gets home, and then he goes off like a time bomb. I ask him why the hell he's so mad; I was just bringing him some business; that's what he's in there for, isn't it? Didn't we pay for our eggs like everyone else? Is he going to put up a sign that says No hoods, dogs or relatives allowed?”
We walked by the house where Ron used to live. “Don't know who lives here now. Must be a gardener.” There were flowers on the front lawn. I asked Ron about his mother.
“She's a commie,” he said, as matter-of-factly as if he were saying, “She's tall.” He had considered and rejected this possibility as well. “She started being one during the depression. She likes to talk about it, but I never understood any of that shit about workers wanting commies to run the unions and factories. I never met any who wanted that. But she thought that's what they wanted and the union paid her to organize workers to want that. After the war the union threw her out on her ass and not one worker stood up for her. She still thinks that's what everyone wants. She's like this religious nut I know who thinks everyone wants to die so as to see Jesus in the sky. Now the school's getting ready to throw her out on her ass again, and those crazy bastards'll do it too. I don't understand any of that shit either. When the commies had a chance, before the war, they left them alone. Now that there are hardly any of them left and they don't have a chance, everyone's jumping on them like a gang of perverts raping a kid. Shit!” he concluded, flinging his cigarette into the gutter; “those are the bastards who say I'm the one that's dangerous!”
It was starting to get light out when Ron walked me to my house. He squeezed my hand and asked me to take a bike trip with him the following weekend. I accepted. I was happy. I had found a friend. The next day I dozed during all my classes. I looked forward to the weekend. I was in love for the second time in my life, yet I imagined I was continuing my first love. In my daydreams I imagined myself riding with leaflets under my arm and you were on the bicycle next to me.
I was out of practice and we didn't get far, though we did get out of the city. We left our bikes in a corn field and walked until we reached a pond. We were completely alone. The road and the nearest farmhouse were at least a mile away. Ron told me the owner sometimes fished in the pond but only early in the morning; he'd been there before. Although the sun had gone down and it hadn't been a warm day, we were both sweating from the ride and the walk. Ron removed his clothes and slipped into the pond. I followed him. When we came out we made love on the grassy bank. That night a full moon made the mist on the pond look like steam; the pond seemed to be evaporating. I felt as if I were spending the night in a Dutch landscape painting. But I couldn't sleep. I had never before experienced such silence; I missed the city noises I'd grown so used to blocking out, and I concentrated on the few sounds there were, sounds that were completely unfamiliar to me; rustling leaves, crickets, and Ron's breathing. I watched the moon fall into a field on the other side of the pond, and when it got completely dark I started worrying that the farmer would choose the next morning to come fishing. I heard the farmer coming — I imagined him coming with a rifle and not a fishing pole — whenever a squirrel or a bird stirred on a branch of a nearby tree. When the sky started to get light I woke Ron and told him I'd heard someone coming. He jumped up and we put our clothes on; we'd used them as blankets. As soon as he was dressed he stood still and listened.
“Oh shit, Sophie,” he said, annoyed and somewhat angry; “that's the crickets you heard! Those people don't fish on Sunday morning! They go to church!” But when I yawned and he saw how tired I must have looked he put his arms around me and whispered, “I should have turned those crickets off before going to sleep so they wouldn't keep you awake. I heard them all night once too. You sorry you came?”
“No, I'm happy,” I whispered, and to prove it I started crying, probably because I was exhausted. “I'd like to come every weekend.”
We did go there two more times, but I never again saw the steam rise from the pond, nor did I listen to the crickets and leaves all night, and we didn't once meet the fisherman farmer.
The following weekend we set out on two completely different bikes. I learned that Ron had sold the previous two bicycles and stolen the new ones. “How do you think I get my spending money — from my old man?” he asked. “I've been stealing them since elementary school. It's easy. You take a pocket-sized saw to the back of any movie house and you can select whichever one you want. I only take the chained ones. I figure if a kid is so poor he can't buy a chain he wouldn't want to lose his bike. I puncture a tire and take it down to the basement and I tell my mom that kids pay me to fix and paint their bikes. She actually thinks that's what I do. The old man thinks I steal them but then he thinks I robbed a bank every time I stayed out all night so he doesn't bother making a fuss about little things like bikes. He couldn't prove much anyway unless he caught me doing it, which he'd love to do, but he loves to flip his eggs even more. A little spray paint takes care of the body, sandpaper and a little solder takes care of the number and a little sticker takes care of the registration. No sweat, and it's like new; I learned it all from my half-brother. All you have to watch is that you don't dangle the sawed-off chain in front of a cop, like one kid I know who got sent to reform school.”
It sounded easy enough but I didn't volunteer to join Ron in this activity, as Sabina did sometime later. I only enjoyed the fruit of Ron's labors. For the sake of our weekend trips he started specializing in bicycles that were lighter and better suited for long journeys, and by our third or fourth excursion I could ride as far and as long as he. Two or three times we ran into storms and once we spent an afternoon and night in a barn with horses.
In addition to our sandwiches I frequently took my notebook with me on the excursions, especially when we decided ahead of time not to spend the whole weekend riding. I loved to sit under a tree in a field, or on a rock by a lake, jotting down my observations about myself and about Ron. Much of this letter is taken directly out of that very notebook. I told Ron that someday I'd write a novel about him. He assured me he'd never read it, so I could write about him if I saw a point in that, but I shouldn't bother writing it for him. I told him his name would be Yarostan. He said the name alone would keep him from recognizing himself. I did in fact intend to write a novel about Yarostan; he was going to be a composite of you and Ron. But I never got further than to jot down some of my experiences and conversations with Ron. The better I got to know him the less suitable he became for the story I had in mind. The character in my story, composed of the two of you, was going to express my own feelings, my own observations, my own choices. I gradually, and sadly, realized that Ron was not the same as I at all.
Ron became aware of this difference much sooner than I. The very first time I opened my notebook, when we had just sat down by a tree on top of a hill, he got up and said he was going for a walk. He wasn't jealous of the notebook; he didn't consider it an intruder or an obstacle that came between us; he didn't even mind when I wanted to write instead of accompanying him for a walk. The notebook instantaneously defined me as a person who would one day be very far away from him, a person he would not recognize and probably wouldn't even remember as a one-time friend. The first time I opened my notebook he knew our relationship would be short. He probably thought he would be the one to end it. If so, he was wrong only about that; I was the one who ended it, and for the very reason he thought it would end. But before it ended I did have a chance to undergo two adventures which compare with nothing I experienced before or since.
One Sunday we returned from our weekend very late at night. We had spent most of the day sleeping on a lakeside beach and both of us were wide awake. We rode to Ron's house and he asked me to accompany him to his room. I agreed, partly because I wanted to play, but mainly because I wanted to see what his room was like. As we were tiptoeing in the dark up the stairs from the basement, the light suddenly came on and a voice thundered: “Where the hell do you think you're going?”
A tall, thin, vicious-looking man wearing pajamas and an overcoat glared down at us from the top of the stairs. It was Ron's father. I was out of my wits with fright.
“Oh shit!” Ron said. “Why don't you go to bed and mind your own fucking business!”
“You punk!” the man shouted. “You're not bringing any broads into my house!”
A woman's voice, Ron's mother, shouted, “Come back to bed, Tom, and leave the kid alone for chrissake!”
“He's bringing a woman into the house!” Tom Matthews shouted.
“So what, you jackass! Haven't you ever heard of that?” she shouted back.
“You heard her, pop,” Ron said, still calm. “Now go back to bed and leave us alone.”
“I'm not going anywhere until you get that whore out of here!” the man said. I started trembling.
“Don't you call her that, pop,” said Ron, raising his voice.
“I'm calling her a whore and I'm telling you to take her back to the whorehouse!”
I could feel Ron starting to shake; he waved his fist, took a step toward the man and shouted, “Call her that one more time and I'll —”
“You'll what, sonny boy? Kill me? You'd love to do that, wouldn't you? Don't you think I've been waiting for that every day for years? You don't think I went out and bought this thing so as to keep someone from taking twelve dollars out of my cash register, do you? I bought it just to keep you and your whore from breaking into my house!”
I heard Ron's stunned voice saying slowly: “You crazy bastard!” But I heard it as in a dream. I must have fainted. All I remembered was the gun pointing at us and that voice, which I can only describe as evil.
I didn't know how we'd gotten there, but suddenly Ron and I were in the street. He held me; I was trembling like a leaf. I couldn't walk. I asked him to take me to my house; he almost carried me. When I opened the door, I begged him to stay with me, not to go back to his house.
“Won't your father blow my head off?” He didn't know who Alberts was; he hadn't once asked me anything about myself.
“No one's going to shoot you here. I'll introduce you in the morning.”
The following morning we all had breakfast together. As we told the story of our previous night's escapade, Sabina laughed and Luisa gasped. Alberts paid no attention to the story or to Ron, although when he saw Ron reach into the pocket of his leather jacket and pull out an empty cigarette pack he offered Ron a cigarette and lit it for him. Luisa visibly didn't like Ron; she made no effort to hide her fear of him. Sabina was drawn to him like a needle to a magnet.
Ron stayed with us, in my room, for a week. He didn't go to school, and he left the house only once, during school hours, when neither his father nor his mother were at home; he brought back three bicycles. That weekend, although both of them acted as if Ron and I were married, Sabina and Ron became good friends, lifetime friends; their relationship lasted until Ron was killed. We rode to a forest. At night I slept with Sabina; Ron slept by himself. The previous night had been our last night alone together.
When we got back Ron telephoned his mother (her name is Debbie). She cried all the time she talked to him, telling him she'd thought he had left for good. She had come out of her room before we had left the house and had seen Matthews pointing the gun at us. She had grabbed the gun, hysterically slapped his face with it, and told him to get out of the house and never come back. Matthews had returned two days later with a gift, begged her forgiveness and even promised to apologize to Ron. Debbie begged Ron to return, and told him the gun had been taken away with the garbage. Ron decided to go home.
I experienced my last escapade with Ron shortly after that. He came over on a week night and asked us to go riding. We went out expecting to find bikes. He had a car.
“It's the old man's,” he explained. “He's all soft on me now. He hands me the keys and says, Here, punk, you want to take your broad for a ride?” His imitation was perfect; I believed him.
“Where are you going to take us?” I asked.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked.
“To the beach!” Sabina answered.
Ron drove us to the lake. The three of us were alone on the enormous sandy beach. It was a moonless night. Ron removed his clothes and ran to the water. Sabina ran after him. “Hey Sophie,” he called. “You coming?”
“I'm cold,” I yelled back. “Have fun in there.”
I heard them splashing, shouting, laughing. I looked up at the stars. After a while I no longer heard them. The only sound came from the water hitting the shore.
I don't know how long we were there. When I woke up Ron was carrying me in his arms. They were both dressed. He let me down when I objected to being carried.
Sabina gently pushed me into the front seat of the car before going in, so that I sat between them. I was sure they had made love. Neither of them said anything. Making a sudden turn off the main road Ron asked, as if he'd just thought of it, “Hey Sophie, you remember that first night when I told you I'd show you how the other half lives? Well feast your eyes `cause this is where they live.”
I stared blankly at enormous mansions surrounded by fountains and gardens. The only places like it I'd seen before bad been museums or public monuments; here we drove past one after another mansion, each with its own beach and dock. But the last day of my tour came to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Three boys in a sports car drove up to us and cruised next to us. They were obviously residents of the mansions. Ron said, “Oh shit, let's get out of here. Those creeps'll get the cops on me and I don't have a license.”
One of the boys shouted, imitating inner-city slang, “Hey hood! What cha doin witha spare broad?”
“I'm not eating shit from a silver spoon like you. Bozo!” Ron answered, He pulled into a driveway, turned the car around and headed back toward the highway. They caught up to us at the light.
“Where did you steal that limousine, boy?” shouted another one.
Sabina stretched herself to the window and shouted, “Why aren't you in your baby carriage, mamma's boy?” to which Ron added, “Get that can off the road before I tear it up with my can opener!”
Ron pulled away at the light, but when the oncoming traffic had passed they pulled up alongside us, driving on the wrong side of the road. One of them shouted, “Thieves and whores aren't permitted on this highway,” and another added, “Yea, we saw your picture in the post office and there's a posse out looking for you.”
Sabina, who knew as much about cars as I did, urged Ron to drive faster. He pressed the gas pedal to the floor but they stayed alongside us shouting, “Give `er all she's got, boy!” and “They'll sign you up in the kiddie car races.” Then they flew ahead of us, swerving to avoid an oncoming car and just barely missing Ron's car.
“Those rich bastards don't give a shit if they pile up those souped up cars; they go through them like toys,” Ron muttered. I, characteristically, started to tremble.
“Ron, slow down!” I pleaded. “Let's just close the windows and ignore them. They'll get bored.”
Sabina objected, “Catch up to them! Run into them!” She was obviously as unconcerned about the Matthews' car as the rich boys were about theirs.
When they were alongside again, one of them shouted. “You'll never get anywhere that way, boy. Let the girls get out and push!”
Ron yelled back, “This ain't no car, kiddo; it's a bulldozer.”
Sabina shouted, “We'll flatten you out and use you as rugs!”
I shouted to Sabina, “You're crazy! Tell him to slow down!”
Sabina shouted to me, “Coward! You're just like your mother!”
Suddenly we were blinded by the bright lights of an oncoming car. The sports car bumped us and apparently moved us to the extreme right side of the road, because we were heading straight into a parked car. Ron slammed on the brakes, but we piled into the car's trunk. We heard the sports car speed around a corner; they disappeared.
Ron got out. He kicked the fender and said, “Shit! It's wrecked! And the cops'll be here any minute.” Suddenly he rushed into the car, grabbed the key, and said with urgency, “Come on! Let's get out of here!”
I got out. Ron and Sabina rushed around a corner but I walked along the highway. Ron came up behind me and grabbed my arm. “Come on, Sophie! You're making it easy for the police.”
I shook myself loose and continued walking. I let the tears run freely down my face and could barely see where I was going. Too many things had happened that night. I was alone again. I was hurt and humiliated. I kept repeating Sabina's last comment before the crash. That caused me greater pain than everything else that had happened. She might say it today, not in anger but coldly and analytically. It's obviously true.
I must have been walking for at least an hour when Ron and Sabina rode up to me on bicycles. “Get on the bar, Sophie!” Ron said, half pleading, half ordering.
I ignored them and walked on.
“Come on, smart ass! You've still got almost ten miles to go!”
I didn't care if I had a hundred. The last thing I heard him say was, “Oh shit!” He was probably waiting to see if I'd hesitate. I didn't. I walked and sobbed. I knew I wasn't going to spend any more weekends bicycling with Ron. I also knew I wasn't ever going to write my novel about him.
I did see Ron again, twice: I saw him more than a year after the car wreck, in a courtroom, when he was on trial for a robbery. And I saw him again, for the last time, after he was released from reform school. But on both of those occasions I saw a completely different person. As I walked away from his father's wrecked car I knew that the Ron I had known, the Ron I had loved, had been an illusion. Ron may in fact have been a rebel but his rebellion wasn't one I understood; his life's project wasn't mine. I had never known Ron. As I walked home sobbing I knew I'd never use those notes I had scribbled about him. He was as out of place in my life's project as I was in his.
I learned long after the event that Tom Matthews had not in fact lent Ron the keys to the car; Ron had taken them from his father's pants pocket. After the collision, when he had rushed into the car and grabbed the keys, Ron had already planned a strategy, which succeeded up to a point. He and Sabina rode two bicycles straight out of a luxurious garage and rushed to Ron's house after they'd convinced themselves I wouldn't go along. Ron slipped the keys back into Tom's pants pocket. In the morning Ron and Sabina joined Tom and Debbie Matthews at breakfast. Ron introduced Sabina and Tom was extremely friendly toward her since he took her to be the “broad” he had almost shot. Then Ron established his alibi. “Hope we didn't wake you when we came in at one. Sure was a quiet night; no fire engines or anything.” He hoped they hadn't been awake at one and that there had in fact been no nearby fires. He had guessed correctly, and had almost carried out his strategy. Matthews predictably returned to the house right after he'd left. “The car's gone!” That's when Ron almost ruined his whole plan. “Jesus Christ that's terrible, pop! We ought to call the police right away!” His concern was so excessive and so uncharacteristic that Tom became suspicious immediately and gradually convinced himself it was Ron who had wrecked the car. Characteristically Ron would have said, “What the hell did you expect?” or “It was bound to happen sooner or later.” To express concern he would at most have said, “Oh shit!” Matthews' suspicions were confirmed by the police investigators, who insisted the thief must have had a key since there was no sign the car had been broken into. None of this proved Ron had stolen it since many car thieves have universal keys and the police don't always figure out just how a car is stolen. Debbie was unshakably convinced that Ron was innocent; she firmly believed Ron had come home at one and had spent a quiet night with Sabina. But Tom was firmly convinced Ron had stolen and wrecked his car. He knew he couldn't prove anything; his anger simmered for over a year, when he finally found a bizarre way to get even with his hated son.
This episode coincided with an uproar that took place at my house, about which I know nothing at all, strange as this may seem. A few nights after the car wreck, when I returned to my house from a lonely walk, I found Sabina and Alberts packing suitcases. I asked what was going on but neither of them would say a word to me. I concluded that my behavior after the car wreck was at the root of it and I became hysterical. I grabbed Sabina, shook her and screeched at her: “It's because we're cowards that you're leaving us! You're not a coward! You wanted to get us all killed!” Sabina shook herself loose and turned to me with a look of fierce hatred, saying only, “Mind your own business. Sophia!” I ran to my room and bawled. They slammed the door when they left. When Luisa came in several hours later I was still bawling. She must have heard me but she went straight to her room and closed the door Iran to her room and threw the door open. I could see she had been crying too. “What's the matter with you?” I screeched. “Go to bed, Sophia; this has nothing to do with you,” was all she said, and that's all I ever learned about what had happened. I never saw Alberts again. He and Sabina moved into another house, not far from ours. I later learned that Ron moved in with them. `His father's suspicions had made Ron feel unsafe in his own house. This permanent departure obviously turned his father's suspicion into certainty. Ron no longer came to visit our house. For a short time I had glimpses of him in school, but I avoided him. When his mother was fired he quit school and I no longer saw him there either.
Luisa and I were alone and I hated it. I hated being where I was. I had become nothing and had done nothing. All I could see ahead of me was an endless desert and an inner void. I shuffled to school and back as indifferently, as mechanically as I had during my first days here. But I no longer took notes and I no longer looked for people who resembled those I had once known. I don't know how fair it is to put it this way; I became what your letter seems to advocate. I lost my illusions. I stopped trying to interpret my experience, to compare it, to grasp its meaning. I simply underwent a meaningless routine passively and indifferently. I became an object. My present friends tell me I still frequently lapse into the pose I acquired during those days: I stop paying attention, stare blankly and move like a robot; they flatteringly assume I'm lost in thought but I'm not; my mind is a complete blank. I don't understand your letter because for me those moments without illusions are not moments when I experience reality. They're moments when I don't experience anything at all, moments which I imagine are very similar to death.
My only crutch during those last months in high school was Luisa. She never abandoned her dreams, she never let herself be reduced to an inert thing. If she sometimes became desperate it wasn't because she lost her grip on her past but because the present failed to live up to it.
I leaned on Luisa again after I read your letter. Yes, I showed her your letter, in spite of all the pain it caused me and in spite of your warning. It was in fact Luisa who formulated my arguments against your philosophy of universal guilt. If I hadn't shared your letter with her I wouldn't have been able to answer it. I would only have cried until it receded in my memory as yet another bad experience, until I suppressed it.
I called Luisa a few days after your letter came. I tried to warn her before she read it. I told her you had changed very much as a result of your imprisonment. She could also read on my face that I hadn't received a joyful letter. But she didn't read it as I had. She didn't cry; she wasn't torn by it. She became increasingly enraged. You were wrong about the effect your letter might have on her; your revised portrait of her can't be more accurate than the one you've suppressed.
Luisa didn't read your letter as an attack aimed at her, but as a confession about yourself. “He certainly has changed,” she said. “These aren't the arguments of a comrade who is still committed to the struggle. They're the arguments of a former comrade who has become a reactionary. He's confessing that he now thinks the struggle was nothing but a trick of his memory and a youthful illusion.”
Even if Luisa didn't see your letter as an attack, she must have felt attacked by it since all her reactions to it were defensive. I latched on to every one of her defensive reactions because she was defending me as well. She dismissed your treatment of our revolutionary experience as illusory: “That's nothing but a thinly disguised justification for the status quo: the present is real; opposition to it is illusory.” She reminded me that she had spotted one of your characteristic arguments already in your first letter: “That Christian proposition that we're all responsible for our own condition, that serfs are responsible for feudalism and workers for capitalism. He talks as if historical systems imposed on people by force were the outcome of their struggles against them.” She didn't even comment on your descriptions of her past experiences and simply dismissed all of them as reactionary arguments bolstered by fabricated facts. “He obviously didn't meet any Manuel while he was in prison. Manuel is nothing but a name he gave to his reactionary arguments. In his next letter he'll tell us he met Jesus in prison. Yarostan had a hard life. Haven't we all? But not all of us have used that as an excuse for denying our experiences and turning our backs on our comrades.”
I didn't read your letter as the confessions of an insurgent who had turned reactionary. I knew you hadn't renounced our struggle for a human community; I knew you hadn't turned against the dreams we had shared. That's why I was so hurt by your letter. But Luisa nevertheless communicated her anger to me and in fact stimulated me to formulate arguments against the parts of your letter I found offensive. The most offensive are precisely the sections which deal with Luisa, the sections which contrast her supposed illusions with some supposed reality. I'm convinced that in those passages you simply don't know what you're talking about.
Luisa's experiences after her release were no more edifying than mine. The reality to which she came was not more real, meaningful or human than what you call her illusory past experiences. The shedding of illusions which you seem to advocate would not have set Luisa on her feet. Without those dreams based on past experiences she would simply have been a caged bird without hope of release, as you described Vesna. The only mystery to me is why she ever consented to coming here, why she let Alberts take her away from her struggle and her comrades. Did she actually hope to find a more meaningful struggle here? Or was Sabina's explanation complete? Did Luisa consent to that flight only because of cowardice, because she feared long imprisonment? If so, she made a tragic mistake; she escaped from a cell only to land in a tomb. She landed in an environment where she permanently remained a foreigner, an environment that did not contain more meaningful struggles nor more human comrades. What's surprising is not that she froze her memories of earlier experiences, but that she retained them at all; her new world didn't contain anything that reminded her of those experiences. After a lifetime of agitation with fellow workers, after the experience of several social dramas in which the foundation of the ruling order was shaken, she found herself in a world where the ruling order had never even been challenged.
Luisa got a job shortly after Alberts and Sabina left our house. She started working on an assembly line in an auto plant. She still has the same job today. From the very first day she tried to communicate with the people at work. She met people who were experts in watching baseball games, people who had memorized unbelievable lists of trivia from the sports pages of newspapers, people who knew nothing at all about the events she had experienced. They were not only ignorant of all the struggles in which workers had fought for themselves, but proud of their ignorance. They were workers who had become what they are for capital: labor time, the exchangeable and expendable entity you compared to excrement. They were dead as human beings. Luisa's hopes rose when she was accepted into the union. She couldn't wait to attend her first union meeting. She thought she'd find a comrade, perhaps even more than one. Instead of comrades she found comic book he-men whose model was the uniformed killer in the war-hero movies. A friend of mine — Daman (I'll tell you more about him later) — claims that the post-war generation of workers Luisa met when she started working was every bit as militant as every other generation. If he's right, then workers here are a different breed from those I used to know or else what he means by militancy is very strange. In any case, Daman derives his facts from his political ideology. The workers Luisa met aspired precisely to those things capital offered them: the house filled with commodities, the grotesque hunk of metal on wheels that has to be replaced every year, the standardized universal household appliance known as a wife, and two and a half little ones to replenish the labor market. The political commitment of these workers consisted of admiration for the army and the police: their main political observation was: “We'll smash them,” and by “we” they meant “our army and our police.” Never before have workers been so completely despoiled of their human characteristics. The union meetings Luisa attended couldn't have been very different from those of the state-run union you've become familiar with. Only a handful of workers attended, all of them men. These men had never dreamed of meeting with each other to discuss strategies for taking over the plants. They didn't even discuss strategies for eliminating health and safety hazards or for slowing down the pace of the work. The fact is that they didn't even have strategies for fighting for wage raises. This was the role of the gangs of racketeers who capitalized on the price of wage labor. At one meeting the union members discussed a picnic, a Sunday outing which was also to be attended by the wives and the children. What they discussed was who would bring the punch and the silverware. For these men the union meeting served the same function church meetings served for others. Luisa was as out of place at the union meeting as she would have been in a men's toilet. Several men made crude jokes about women; the biggest joke of all was her presence at the meeting. These union meetings were part of what Luisa called the workers' movement. The men could see no reason for Luisa's presence at the meeting and thought she had gone there in quest of a he-man like each of them. The workers' movement was dead. If there had once been one here then this was its corpse and the air would have stunk less if the corpse had been buried instead of being left exposed; it had become putrid.
What did Luisa have in this world except what you call her illusions? If she had shed those illusions would she have been more like the Luisa you remembered and discarded, or would she have been no more than the defeated workers on that bus you drove? Should she have accepted herself as a wage-earning machine, decorated her house, bought a car, used up her life exchanging it for objects, and forgotten that she had once experienced human life as something altogether different? She did in fact use up most of her life exchanging it for a wage, but she didn't erase her past experiences from her memory, and she didn't stop trying to realize the dreams she had failed to realize in the past. In time Luisa did find comrades with whom she was able to communicate; in time she even took part in events which had some semblance of social significance, which in some small way resembled the large events she had experienced in the past. Without her dreams, without those illusions you now find so objectionable, she wouldn't have looked for comrades who differed from the professional admirers of baseball pitchers and she wouldn't have recognized them if she had met them. It seems to me that if Luisa had followed your advice and shed her illusions she would have confronted the same hopeless situation you faced during the days after your release. If she'd had to choose between giving up the dreams for which she had fought or committing suicide I suspect she would ultimately have chosen suicide, in spite of the cowardice Sabina takes to be Luisa's main quality. Turning her back on everything she had fought for and yet remaining alive as a mere quantity of labor-time exchangeable for money would have meant remaining alive as a corpse, an entity that no longer has any life in it.
The only one of us who lived up to the standards your letter sets up is George Alberts. He shed all his illusions. But I don't really think you would hold him up as any sort of model in spite of the fact that you might feel apologetic because you were once suspicious of him. I can't say when it was that Alberts suppressed his dreams or if he ever had any. I was never close to him. I don't know how deep his commitment was when he fought alongside Nachalo, Luisa and Titus Zabran; I only know that he and Titus helped Luisa escape from that struggle when I was only two. Twelve years later he helped Luisa escape again, pulling me away from you. And I know that he had neither dreams nor illusions when we settled here; he had neither principles nor scruples.
Alberts can't always have been the unscrupulous person I knew, since Luisa respected him once and considered him a comrade. And Sabina, who is anything but uncritical, used to adore him; she considered him a god, not only when she was a child, but until her late teens, long after she had ceased to depend on him financially. Years after she and Alberts left our house Sabina mysteriously left him; she hasn't seen him since. I don't know if he suddenly changed or if Sabina suddenly saw him as I had always seen him. Most of what I know about Alberts I learned during the brief period when he lived with us after we got here. He transported Luisa and me like country relatives, like baggage he had left behind. He disposed of us as if he were the one who was responsible for our lives. He lodged us in the house as if we were furniture or exotic animals. He was our keeper; his role was to house, clothe and feed us. Our role was to cease to be exotic, to learn to behave like the furniture in all the other little houses. Luisa became aware of the nature of her relationship to him almost as soon as we got here. They never touched each other; I don't remember that they ever talked to each other. I really can't imagine how they had related to each other earlier.
Although Luisa is as unwilling to talk about him as Sabina, I think the reason she asked him to leave our house is that she knew what a despicable role he had played in an event I only learned about years later and only by chance. Alberts had begun his teaching career here during a period of reaction. Individuals who were nonconformists, or who had in the past diverged from the official model, were being fired from their jobs. Our century seems to have outrun all previous epochs in hysterical witchhunts. Subversive teachers were a choice target for inquisitions. In my school one rumor followed on the tail of another; every teacher in the school was at one or another time accused of being a subversive. I had known only the outcome: Debbie Matthews and two others-were fired; George Alberts continued to teach. Years later I learned that Alberts had been on friendly terms with the three fired teachers; he had introduced himself to them, continually engaged them in discussions and acted as if he had been their friend for years. Yet when the official inquisition began he characterized each of them in colorful detail and with dossiers of documentation as a person who had daily intercourse with the devil, as a pied piper who was pulling schoolchildren straight down to hell. He became a Mr. Ninovo, a state agent. He shed all those qualities you call illusions: solidarity, comradeship, even sheer decency. He actually did to several people what you say Claude had once wanted to do to him, only Claude failed where Alberts succeeded.
You tell me Claude and Adrian were suspicious of Alberts and then you became suspicious too. You pretend that something was wrong with the three of you while nothing about Alberts was strange. You exaggerate. I was suspicious of Titus Zabran and of Alberts as well. They were not among the people I considered my comrades. But this doesn't mean I wanted to jail them! I never in my life dreamed of a situation where I'd have the power to do that!
While Luisa was reading your letter she made a crude comment about you. I didn't consider it relevant at the time but now I think it reveals something else about Alberts. She said, “George considered him a hooligan. He was right. Yarostan moves from absolute destruction to absolute acceptance. The two extremes meet because he's moving along the circumference of a circle without ever stepping inside; he's always rejected real struggles.”
I don't accept Luisa's analysis because I don't think your letter indicates absolute acceptance. What interests me is that Alberts considered you a destructive hooligan. That's revealing because that's exactly what our jailers called us. You think Claude had no reason at all to be suspicious of Alberts? I doubt that. I suspect that Claude knew something about Alberts involvement with those who arrested us. I suspect that Alberts was already then saving his skin by ranting and raving about subversives and hooligans. I suspect that Alberts had already then shed his illusions and accommodated himself to the realities. Would you like Luisa better if she had done that? I suspect not, since your portraits of Mr. Ninovo are not drawn with any great sympathy for that type of person.
Even if you're right, if Claude's suspicion was groundless, if Alberts was at that time selflessly devoted to his comrades, what would this prove? That Claude's and your suspicion of Alberts indicate a mentality similar to that of the police? That's ridiculous! My lack of trust in someone simply meant I preferred not to work with him. It couldn't possibly mean that I wanted him jailed since my entire life's project aimed at the abolition of jails and jailers. Our project was to communicate, not excommunicate.
By this point I've convinced myself that you didn't mean half of what you said in your letter. There are too many contradictions. You must have let yourself be carried away by your own rhetoric. The only person I know who seems to have lived up to your demand that we shed our illusions is George Alberts, and he's obviously not your model of a fully developed human being. Even if he were, neither Luisa nor I could have followed Alberts' path; neither she nor I could have saved our skins by selling or repressing our insides. Why would you have written me in the first place if you had thought I had suppressed my wants and had become a commodity that walks and speaks?
Isn't it enough that the world I live in mobilizes all its forces to suppress my wants and dreams? Why should I let my own will be recruited alongside those forces? Why should I let myself become a mere function of my environment? And why would you want to exchange letters with such a function? The functions are as predictable as they are dull. Shedding our illusions, repressing our wants, forgetting our possibilities: these are the slogans of the ruling order; coming from you they sound bizarre.
I became a function again a few weeks ago. After all, self-repression, even if only temporary, is still the condition for survival in this society. Yet I don't completely repress my desires even when my survival depends on it. In my first letter I told you how I lost my last job, during last year's riots. I enjoyed being unemployed since then but I don't want Tina to support me so I sold myself again. Daman Hesper, a college friend who is now a university professor, told me about an opening for something called a sociology instructor in something called a community college. My job there is to lecture to workers three evenings a week. The whole thing is designed to give some people the illusion they're moving while in fact they're standing still; it's like a simulated railway car where the moving scenery is actually a projection on a screen. First of all I've no idea what sociology is and I'm convinced it's nothing more than a job classification: someone is a sociologist the same way someone is a director or a secretary. Secondly the community college deserves every attribute except “community,” which is not merely lacking, but is negated by this very institution. Thirdly the workers who attend my course are precisely those workers whose aim in life is to oppress other workers. In fact, the sole purpose of this activity euphemistically called adult education is to provide credentials to aspiring foremen, union bosses and even managers. The role of the credentials is to give these people an appearance of legitimacy as order-givers. The students experience these evening courses as one of Hercules' labors: this is one of the many arbitrary rites which are performed as part of the initiation to a higher rung on an endless ladder. Fourthly I don't give any lectures. That's my own innovation. The first day I simply sat down and waited, like everyone else. When one of the students got up to leave I asked him if he'd stay if someone in the room turned out to be the instructor. He didn't answer but he stayed. I was of course suspect number one. Someone else then got up to leave. He was quite determined and quite angry. He said he was going home since the teacher, even If present, obviously wasn't doing her job. I suggested that instead of going home he should report such a teacher to the school authorities, since he had paid his fee and wasn't getting anything in return. Everyone seemed to agree so I added: “Whenever you see someone who isn't doing his job you should report him to the authorities.” At this point he lost his determination and returned to his seat. Of course at this point I had given myself away. I was asked if I intended to continue not doing my job and I said I did. An argument began. Some didn't like to be cheated; when they drop a coin into a cigarette machine they want either the cigarettes or the coin returned. Others didn't think it was right to be informers. The argument continued for half an hour after the class was scheduled to end. It was I who got up and put on my coat. I was asked if I'd be there again next time and I said I would. I should probably have said I didn't know. Every single student returned for the next session. They talked almost exclusively to each other during the entire session. Yet if they had known I wasn't going to be there none of them would have come back. Isn't that funny? If dogs were officially certified as sociology instructors a roomful of people supplied with the right dog would qualify as a sociology class. Yet some of my so-called colleagues think the students come to be ennobled by the precious words which drop like diamonds from their mouths. During an argument about sabotage — mostly about how to stop it, unfortunately — one of the students triumphantly shouted, “But this is sociology, for chrissake! I never knew it was so interesting.” Everyone seemed to agree with that comment except me, although I characteristically said nothing. I disagreed because it wasn't socio-anything; it was pure time-serving for the sake of future rewards. My remuneration is immediate, theirs is deferred; the slogan that describes the activity in its entirety is “education pays.” If everyone agreed that these sessions were interesting you can imagine what the other courses are like, the ones where lecturers impart wisdom to ignorant and attentive listeners. The fact is that the sessions are not interesting. The language, the concepts and even the experiences that are discussed are hardly ever an individual's own; they're almost always the stock terms, the trivial ideas and the stereotyped experiences repeated daily by the propaganda apparatus; these people speak the language and think the images on the signs you described. These sessions are nothing more than forms of adapting to boredom. They reinforce closed minds and negate the very possibility of learning. The anticipation, exploration and adventure involved in every experience of learning are lacking; there's no feeling of discovery; everything that's discussed is predictable; every insight is already known. If this is interesting what must the rest of their lives be like?
I'll obviously be fired sooner or later but by then I'll have saved up some money again and won't have to depend on Tina. If I'm not fired soon enough I'll quit. Why? Because I experienced learning, comradeship and community in that event you tried so hard to smear and distort and therefore I refuse to accept this activity as anything but a degrading sham. I decided during my first teaching job that I wasn't going to let myself be reduced to a means of production for the production of means of production. It's true that merely by accepting this job I play a role similar to the one you played when you drove your bus, but I don't do any of the driving. The only discussion in which I took any part at all was the discussion about sabotage. Only one of the students had anything good to say about sabotage: “It might be necessary in some circumstances.” I eagerly asked him what types of sabotage he was personally familiar with. Although his accounts were tame and he lumped simple gestures of solidarity together with sabotage, that was the only time I felt I was communicating with someone, the only time we talked about our activity in the light of a different, unrealized yet possible activity. He was mildly interested when I told him I had known workers who had locked up the owners and had run the plant on their own. But as far as all the other students were concerned, I had started to talk in a foreign language.
I've tried to show you. that my whole life has revolved around the experience I shared with you and that all my life I've sought to communicate with you. I hope I've clarified what I mean. Without that experience my life is reduced to the life of a lifeless object: it becomes the period of time during which the object is consumed, a trivial episode in the life of capital. On my way to my job I take a bus through the part of the city where the city's “life” takes place, and I pass through there during the hours when the city's inhabitants do their “living.” The city's life consists of a display of commodities: behind glass, behind concrete walls, on screens. “Life” is a proliferation of items for sale: everything from toilet bowls to human beings has a price tag. All art, philosophy, science and history, the entire past and present of humanity are enjoyed, not-by individuals, but by money. “Life” doesn't consist of projection, communication or creation, but of a wallet with bills inside. The act of “living” consists of spending the money for which living time is exchanged during the working day. The only shred of human life in this dance of objects with corpses is the struggle to destroy the dehumanizing game; the only shred of humanity in me is the memory of that struggle.
I think you're wrong when you say my memory of our struggle is frozen. I think the fact that it informs every moment of my present life means that it's very much alive. I do know someone in whom similar past experiences and hopes are frozen. That's my friend Daman, the one who helped me find my job. His one-time commitment has become his profession. His past experience is the subject of his lecture notes. He's been teaching for three or four years now. He has enacted the same revolution in his classroom year after year; he's broken it down into assignments and test questions. He froze and packaged his life's dreams and sold them to his employers; he has been thawing and serving them in sauces to customers who simply swallow them along with the other ingredients in the sauce. I haven't done that to my past.
Whether or not you intended it, you've validated the very dreams your arguments dismissed as illusions. You told me that people who had seemed to be no more than inert objects were turning into human beings. You told me that human voices could again be heard in a space where human voices had seemed forever drowned by the sounds of electrical contrivances. You told me that my hopes and Luisa's hopes were coming back to life. Yet you insist that neither Luisa nor I ever shared those hopes. Luisa was obviously wrong when she said you had become a reactionary; if you had you wouldn't be able to describe what's happening around you. But why do you insist Luisa and I were reactionaries all along? If that were true, we wouldn't understand your descriptions, we couldn't begin to grasp what yon meant by a new birth of dreams, of projects, of communication.
What's alive in my memory, what you claim I froze, is precisely what causes your enthusiasm about the events you describe. Communication about such events is what I've missed ever since I've been here. Your letter brings me so close to realizing this communication — and then slams the door in my face.
I'm begging. I know it. I really don't think I deserved your letter. I wasn't your jailer. You weren't arrested either because of my relation to George Alberts or because of the letter I sent you by way of Lem. Neither Luisa nor I shackled you with a distorted view of the past. Luisa wasn't your nurse when you were too young to formulate your own thoughts and she wasn't a hypnotist who insinuated herself into your consciousness while you were in a trance. The most significant moments of my life were not moments during which I deformed your dreams and destroyed your possibilities. My previous letter was not a glorification of your imprisonment but a call for warmth, comradeship and understanding.
Please don't leave our relationship where your last letter left it. You would be killing something I've kept alive in an environment which tried repeatedly to kill it and failed. Please don't drive me out of the single context in which I haven't felt like an outsider. Please don't put an end to the only real friendship I've succeeded in forming.
- Apprehensively, with love, your,
|Cartas de Insurgentes|
|Segunda carta de Yarostan (Cartas de Insurgentes)||Segunda carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)||Terceira carta de Yarostan (Cartas de Insurgentes)|