Sexta carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)
- Dear Yarostan,
I couldn't wait to write. I haven't heard from you since I last wrote you because I haven't been home for a week, not even to pick up my mail.
I've spent the past week in the “commune” inside the occupied university, and I love it here. I've been dying to find time to tell you about it and also to finish my previous letter; it got so long that I skipped half of what I wanted to say and I didn't deal with any of the questions you'd asked me.
I'll tell you about the commune first. Everything I've ever wanted seems to be happening all around me. Thanks to Tina I got into the midst of it all just as it began. I pinch myself several times a day just to make sure I'm not dreaming. And I'm still not completely sure. What's happening here at this moment is exactly what I longed for but I never really believed it could happen here. I was intensely happy for you, yet also green with envy, when you described what was happening around you: inside the factories, in the schools, on the streets and in your own house — wherever you looked. And now it's all taking place here. Employed and unemployed workers, beggars and prostitutes, street kids, are all suddenly bursting with life, they seem to be animated by a single purpose. I've always wondered how I'd have felt during the day Luisa loved to describe — do you realize it's already thirty-two years since that day? — the day when everyone ran into the street, some with rifles and pistols but most with kitchen knives and rolling pins, and confronted the entire national army. Now I know how it must have felt. The army hasn't come out; even the police have been suspiciously still; but the feeling I have is that if and when they do move, everyone is going to be in the street, on roofs, at windows, everywhere. At least in this neighborhood. I never knew so many friendly people existed here! Crowds gather at every corner; complete strangers talk to each other as if they'd been lifelong friends; all are intensely interested in every leaflet that's given out; everyone studies every inscription or poster on a wall. The only time I've experienced anything like this was during that week I spent with you, twenty years ago. The steel town in which you worked must have had a similar atmosphere during the time of the Magarna uprising.
Today I understand your critique of the activities in which we took part twenty years ago. And I'm convinced that what's taking place around me isn't subject to that critique, even in little ways. First of all there aren't any generally accepted “leaders” or even “influential militants.” The “leaders” that do exist are monarchs of tiny sects, and during the past week the sects I've come in contact with have been losing adherents instead of gaining them. Secondly there aren't any “official slogans,” any “correct lines,” or even any “strategies.” It all started when students occupied a university building simply because they'd had enough of a lifeless present and a prospect-less future and not because they had a blueprint of things to come. They didn't even announce a list of demands. They simply sat in and started to talk. Then other students occupied another building. Soon the whole university was occupied. That was when I arrived. I'm not saying the politicians and representatives have all disappeared; they're actually all over; they're constantly waving lists of “what we all want” and presenting themselves as “we students” or even as “we proletarians.” But at least for the past week no ones paid any attention to them; they've served mainly as subject matter for cartoons.
A week ago a factory was occupied by its workers. No “authority” ordered the occupation — neither a political party nor a union nor a sect. Since then other factories have been occupied. All the dams seem to be overflowing all at once. Workers from non-striking factories have been meeting with workers from the occupied factories. I know this is no puppet show, Yarostan. No one is taking any orders. Thousands of people are suddenly speaking and acting on their own. On their own and for themselves; no one is speaking or acting for others. I'm convinced that what's happening around me is what you and I used to call “the revolution.”
I'm writing this letter from the Council office and I'm having a hard time concentrating on what I'm telling you. The “office” is a former classroom; the walls and blackboards have been turned into a vast bulletin board with thousands of messages, announcements as well as poems and cartoons. The desks and seats contain stacks of newly printed literature. The “office” serves as a meeting place and mainly as a place where people can find the latest information on the occupied workplaces. My function is to help people find what they're looking for, whether it's a place, a pamphlet, a leaflet or a person. I think I'm beginning to understand what you tried so hard to tell me about the role of the journalist. Every person who comes into this room has an altogether different account of what's happening; each person has different stories to tell. And it's precisely this that makes every encounter so stimulating. What you call “direct communication” is taking place all around me. And I know that a newspaper, no matter how “revolutionary,” no matter how “complete,” would destroy that communication. It would replace everyone's account with a single account, the “official” account; it would replace everyone's lived experience with an “experience” that hadn't been lived by anyone. Worst of all, people would read about each other instead of talking to each other, and as you pointed out, they wouldn't find each other in any of the articles no matter how hard they looked. But there's no such newspaper. The capitalist press can't even imagine what's happening and no one pays any attention to it. And whatever “journalists” there are here are being forced, like the politicians, to speak only for themselves or not at all. The room I'm in is full of literature, but none of it is journalism; most of it consists of announcements or factual summaries; the rest consists of poetry, comics, satires, sketches. The writings, like the discussions, are attempts by people to communicate with each other directly. What I'm experiencing is something you called communication among likes, communication by all about themselves, their lives and their possibilities, the communication at the basis of common projects.
Besides trying to answer the various questions people come in to ask, I've also corrected and typed some of the frequent announcements and information bulletins. After what I told you in my last letter, you won't believe who I work with on these bulletins and leaflets. Not the “academic revolutionaries” Daman, Minnie, Hugh or the others; I haven't seen any of them since I've been here. Tina pops in several times a day, always in the midst of a group of workers or students or both, always incredibly busy with the art work or layout of a leaflet, pamphlet or poster. The printing is done in Ted's print shop! Tina herself does most of the actual printing, although she encourages people to do their own printing. And you won't believe who else is here! The entire garage crew except Vic and Seth — and except Jose, who was killed three years ago. Yes, Sabina is here, as well as Tissie! They're together at an enormous research center; the workers there are about to occupy the center and open it up to the whole population; it all sounds nebulous but enormously exciting. Ted and Sabina got Tissie released from a prison “hospital”, I've been so busy that I haven't seen Tissie yet.
In my previous letter I insisted that my “world” as well as yours was the world of Hugh, Daman, Minnie and, yes, the world of Luisa; she's not here either. I told you that I left the garage in order to return to the world that was so familiar to me, the world which I identified with projects I had once shared with you. Isn't it ironic? Now that I'm engaged in precisely those projects I'm with the very people I'd left in order to engage in them. Does this mean you were right when you said my “descent to Sabina's world” was a descent to yours? I don't think so. I rather think all the people I knew have changed in ways that couldn't have been predicted. In several of your letters you argued that such enormous changes were impossible. You seemed convinced that once Vera Neis, to take just one example, got on the bureaucratic train, there was no way for her to ever get off. But what's happening here right now disproves that type of fatalism if nothing else does. Who'd ever have imagined Sabina or Ted in any way connected with a student commune, or Tissie in a research center? I don't see where your fatalism comes from. You've told me that during your second prison term you became disillusioned with Luisa's frequently obsessive optimism. I don't blame you for that. But don't you see that your fatalism flatly contradicts the very possibility of events like those that took place in Magama, like those you've been experiencing during the past two months, like those I'm experiencing now? If people were all locked into trains headed toward predictable destinations, who would ever give rise to those unpredictable and unforeseen events we call revolutions? I don't think I was wrong about the people I knew in the garage ten years ago. I think they're different people now; I think they've all changed in completely unpredictable ways. I've seen such changes before. Jose, for example, became totally transformed two or three years after I left the garage. It could happen to Vera too, as well as Adrian and Marc. One or all of them may yet respond to the atmosphere that first stimulated Yara, then you, then Jasna. You may yet find yourself storming the prison walls alongside your former comrades. In case that happens, be sure you tell me what you did with your fatalism.
No, I don't think I was wrong about the nature of the activity in the garage and the bar. When Hugh described it, he merely gave words to my innermost thoughts. That wasn't the project I had sought all my life. It was a capitalist operation existing on the fringes of society and exploiting those least able to defend themselves. I had to leave the garage in order to live my own life, in order to launch my own project. The funny thing is that when I finally did find a project that had something in common with the one I had shared with you, it was with Jose, of all people — a totally transformed Jose.
But I'm rambling. A meeting is taking place and I'm trying to listen and write at the same time. Two postal workers are talking excitedly to a group of workers from an occupied factory. I'm trying not to be guilty of Luisa's uncritical optimism, but Yarostan: if postal workers can be affected by the spirit of the occupations, everyone can! Do I dare imagine where all this could lead? How I wish you were here!
It's relatively quiet here again. Yes, I wish you were here, but not because I'm miserable without you. I've rarely been happier. I want to share that happiness with you. I also longed for you ten years ago, after I left the garage, but then my longing didn't come from a desire to share happiness with you. I wanted you to help me out of my misery. When Hugh asked me not to join him in his activity at the “Project House,” my heart broke. How similar that activity must have been to the activities I shared with you in the carton plant. How similar that “Project House” must have been to the Council office I'm in right now. How I longed to work with Hugh, to be loved by him, to be accepted by the “street people.” The most exploited, the most dehumanized started to stand up, refusing to accept the life into which they were born; they started “becoming themselves, on their own,” as Hugh put it. And today many of those very people are occupying factories. I wanted to be part of that movement, part of that community, but in Hugh's eyes I could only be a leech on that community, I could only push it back down, suck its strength out of it and incapacitate it at the very moment when it was trying to raise itself up on its own. I could only be part of “the cancer that annihilates every possibility of life and puts an end to every period of ferment” (those are your words, not Hugh's; I copied them into my address book; they were so similar to his).
I may be profoundly deluded about who I am, but I really don't think I deserve your or Hugh's descriptions of me. I had already started working in the fiberglass factory when I found Hugh, At the very moment when he called me a leech, I was already discovering what it meant to be exploited, maltreated, injured; I was already one of the units of human flesh on which the Leviathan feeds, I was already exchanging my life for a lifeless survival. You told me you felt a certain satisfaction — I think you called it resignation — during the hours you spent in that steel factory and during the hours you spent travelling there. I came closer to feeling defeated. I don't remember everything you said about your resignation and I'm not sure I can really pinpoint the difference between that and defeat. I think by resignation you meant to say that you didn't really accept your condition but that you put up with it because you didn't see any prospects for abolishing it; as soon as such prospects appeared you'd be among those fighting to abolish the condition. Many people must feel that way: the proof is that today they're destroying the “jobs” to which they were resigned only yesterday. But I didn't feel that way. My attitude was infinitely more cowardly, even slavish. I was resigned, yes, and I dreamed of getting out of that factory — exactly as I'd gone in: by myself. The liberation I dreamed of was my liberation from that factory, not our liberation from that condition. I wasn't resigned but defeated. For me there were no prospects other than for me to leave, letting all the other “me's” remain there.
Was I “spoiled,” as you suggested? Was I unwilling to share the conditions of my peers because I aimed for a social position like Vera's? I really don't think so. Yet I can't really justify having left that factory the way I did. I can tell myself such factories wouldn't exist if everyone left them but I know perfectly well that not all the people in that factory had college educations on which to fall back or rich “sisters” who'd come to their rescue. I think the truth is that I didn't have the physical or moral strength to feel resigned. I was dying on that job, literally dying; I wouldn't have survived until the day when prospects appeared; my resignation wouldn't have been an acceptance of a temporary set-back but an acceptance of certain death. I was defeated in the face of a condition I really couldn't cope with; my only prospect was to escape from it.
That was the only factory job I ever had. I'm sure all factory work isn't as horrible as mine was but I never had the slightest desire to find out. The mere thought of doing anything even slightly similar to what I did there sends shivers down my spine. I was one of four people — three women and a man — who pulled a continuous blanket of fiberglass from one set of rollers and pushed it into another set. Although we wore long rubber gloves, boots and masks, minute particles of glass found their way into every pore of our skin, into our hair, our mouths, our nostrils, our lungs. It had a peculiar, horribly offensive smell; I still get nauseated whenever anything reminds me of it. I felt perpetually as if pins were sticking me; the smell followed me wherever I went; I lost my appetite because everything tasted like glass. That job didn't only consume my time, my energy, my human possibilities, like the bus you described so vividly; it literally consumed my very life. One of the women I worked with described our situation with the most bizarre sense of humor. “It's not really so bad once you figure out what it's all about,” she'd say. “At first you hate it so bad you can't wait to get out of it. Then your lungs go. They can fix you up the first time if you've got one strong lung. When you come back you know the wait won't be so long; one lung can't take as much as two. That's when it becomes fun: you want to see how long you can hold out. They always fire you the second time you go to the hospital. They know you've made it. You're out of it. There's no more waiting.” She went to the hospital, for the second time, a few weeks before I left that job. In order to prepare oneself for a day when there are new prospects on the horizon, you have to assume you'll survive until that day. I couldn't assume that. My only prospects were escape or death.
Your worst three years in prison couldn't have been as empty or as painful as the three years I spent in that fiberglass factory. During both prison terms you seem to have found frequent occasions to have profound discussions with people, occasions to think meaningfully about yourself, your past, your surroundings, your future. For me those three years were like a coma from which I woke three or four times, and I remained drowsy even during those few moments of wakefulness. What a horror! I know all about “hardships” and “circumstances,” but I still don't understand how people can put up with that. Out of over a thousand days, I was awake and alive during three days — if that long! On my last day in the garage, Minnie had blamed Sabina and Jose for the fact that I had become a mindless idiot, “a grinning vegetable.” How wrong she was! It wasn't the garage but the entire society outside it that transformed human beings into grinning vegetables.
I was awake for at most three days during those three years, and almost all the waking hours took place during the last year. I remember only one “event” during the first two years and that only took a few minutes. I didn't dream of telephoning Sabina or Jose; I knew Jose would never forgive me for having run out on him exactly as I'd run out on Ron; I didn't blame him. And I couldn't bear the thought of Sabina saying, “Coward, you're just like your mother.” I did telephone Luisa once, several months after I'd left her. I no longer know why I called her; I suppose I wasn't really awake even then. I lied to her. “I'm calling to let you know I'm alive and happy,” I told her.
“So am I,” she said; “intensely alive and very happy. Do you want to get together to celebrate our happiness, or just to talk?”
“I'd rather not, Luisa. I hope that doesn't hurt your feelings.”
“Not at all,” she said. “In fact, I'm relieved; I'd rather not face you after that last scene you made.”
“That makes two of us.” Both of us were silent for a while. Then I said, “Goodbye, Luisa,” and hung up. I didn't see or talk to Luisa again for seven years. I ran into her by accident last year, after the riot, in a bizarre committee which was supposed to document or publicize the police repression during the riot.
The only prospect I had during those first two years was to save enough money to escape from that hell. Unlike most of the other people in that factory, I didn't have a family to support or a “home” to furnish and decorate; I didn't buy any of the things they bought. I remained in that cheap hotel room and saved three quarters of my paycheck. I calculated that after five years I'd have enough money saved to support myself for another five years without working; I intended to spend the later period writing about the earlier period; I'd be “free,” if I were still alive.
But my prospects suddenly changed. One evening I returned from work and saw two familiar figures sitting on the doorstep of my hotel. I immediately recognized Sabina, but Tina had grown so much during those two years. I walked faster and then ran — directly into Sabina's waiting arms. I was so relieved when she embraced and kissed me. I turned to Tina, shook her hand and exclaimed, “You're as tall as I am, Tina! I almost didn't recognize you. What are you two doing here?”
Tina had tears in her eyes when she said, “We were thrown out this morning, Sophia. So we came to you.”
I couldn't hold back my tears. “To me? You came to me? You mean you both forgive me?”
Sabina answered sarcastically, “Who said anything about forgiving you? How sentimental! We've come for revenge! How could we ever forgive you after all you've done to us?”
I dropped Tina's hand and backed away from both of them, frightened. “What do you mean — revenge?”
Tina jumped toward me and, pulling me to her, whispered, “You are unbelievably dumb, Sophia! That's why I missed you so much after you left. Don't you know how much Sabina likes you? We know you couldn't help what you did.”
But Sabina exclaimed, “Don't let yourself be blackmailed by her tears, Tina! We've come for revenge, Sophia, and we won't let your sentimental tears divert us from the purpose of our visit. Our first step will be to force a decent meal down your throat!”
Tina, still holding me in her strong skinny arms, whispered, “Small wonder you thought I was so tall. The hotel keeper told us you took bread and cheese to your room and never went out.”
Unashamed, I let my tears run freely down ray face. “I love you, both of you!”
“You may regret that admission after we're through with you,” Sabina said sarcastically, while each of them put her hand under one of my arms and started pulling me toward a restaurant. “After we fatten you we're going to abandon you to your new friends.”
“I don't have any friends,” I sobbed.
“I saw one in your room!” Tina exclaimed. “The hotel man let us in; he wanted your `sister and your `daughter' to wait for you in your room — but I was scared to death; it was so big and ugly.”
“I suppose there aren't any rats where you come from, Princess,” I said to Tina, angered and dismayed by her distinctly “upper class” attitude toward my “proletarian” room.
“No there aren't!” Tina exclaimed. “You know there aren't! I've never seen a rat before. When we arrived here this morning we intended to rent a room near yours. But I begged Sabina not to; I wouldn't have slept a wink. We spent the whole day looking for a place — and we found one, right near here, and cheap.”
I forgot my pride in my living quarters and started sobbing again. “Is there room for me?”
Sabina hugged me, so this time I knew she was joking when she said, “Not even a corner, Sophia; I told you we intended to fatten you only in order to feed you to your new friends.”
“I won't take up much room,” I cried.
“You sure won't!” Tina exclaimed as we entered the restaurant. “Watch the waiter show us to a table for two! Wow, Sophia, you sure don't know how to take care of yourself! When one of Sabina's friends told her you'd left your mother and gotten a job, we thought you'd be all right. We never imagined you'd be starving yourself and sharing a room with rats. When we left your room to look for another place, Sabina said, `Looks like we got here just in time.' Of course we found a place with room for you, dummy. We rented a whole house. Sabina and I didn't even choose our rooms yet; she said she wanted you to have the first choice — if you'd come with us.”
I couldn't see the words on the menu in front of me.
Sabina kicked me under the table. “If you don't stop acting like a broken faucet, I'm going to — imitate your act, Sophia! Why don't you just smile and eat, and skip the melodrama?”
I tried hard to smile, and I tried hard to eat, but I couldn't do either very well. The food was delicious but it went down my throat with particles of glass.
Sabina and Tina waited for me outside my hotel while I stuffed all my belongings into two grocery bags. I loved the house they had rented. The three of us had lived in it for eight years when Tina left two weeks ago. The night we arrived, there was nothing in it but three cots, Sabina's and Tina's bundles, and a suitcase containing the few books, the two manuscripts and the old clothes I'd left in the garage.
When I returned from work the following evening, there was a refrigerator, a stove, as well as a table and chairs in the kitchen; there were beds and cabinets in all the rooms; there was a rug and a sofa in the living room. On the kitchen table were platters containing all the foods I had loved when Sabina and I had been small, before I ever met you. I couldn't stop myself from crying again. “Sabina, I've never ever done anything for you; it never even crossed my mind, not once —”
“And I never ever will again, since I'm making you so miserable!”
“I'm sorry. Don't people sometimes cry when they're happy? All this must have cost you a fortune: the food, the furniture, the rugs —”
“They were all gifts,” Sabina said.
“I saved a lot of money during the past two years. I'm not penniless any more. I can pay for the food and furniture; I think I should at least pay the rent.”
“And be our landlady?” Sabina asked angrily. “Not on your life! Each of us pays one third of the rent.”
“But you've spent so much already! All this food and —”
Sabina turned to Tina and asked, “How much have we spent?”
Tina then turned to me and asked, “Sophia, do you mean you actually go to the supermarket to buy groceries?”
“But surely you didn't stuff the refrigerator and beds into your coats!”
Tina said, “We were thrown out of the garage but Sabina didn't lose all her friends.”
I couldn't believe it. “Everything matches so well! It's all so tasteful — how could it all have been stolen — and in a single day?”
“One of her friends works as a truck dispatcher — she had the contents of an enormous mansion delivered here. The neighbors must think we're millionnaires. Three moving vans came. We only took the things we wanted; they probably weren't even missed.”
I ate the meal they had prepared for me but I enjoyed their thoughtfulness more than I enjoyed the meal; even my favorite foods tasted like glass. Sabina, as if she'd sensed my feelings, told me halfway through the meal, “It is clear to you, isn't it Sophia, that you don't have to go back to that job?”
I couldn't think clearly. I said thoughtlessly, “Thank you, Sabina, but there's one thing I won't accept from you, and that's your money. I don't know where it comes from and I don't want to be dependent on it.” None of what I said was true and I knew it when I said it. Sabina turned her face away angrily, but only for a second; then she was friendly again; she acted as if she hadn't heard. I obviously knew where her money came from, every penny of it: she had told me; she hadn't hidden anything from me. Snatches of what Alec had told me in the garage, snatches of what Hugh had said flew through my mind. But Hugh's and Alec's critiques weren't the real reason for my refusal. During the previous two years I had acquired another reason, an unbelievably crude one, for not wanting to be dependent on Sabina or on anyone at all. I'm ashamed to tell you what it was. I had gotten into the habit of counting my money. Every week I calculated the money I had earned, the amount I'd need for rent and food and the amount I'd deposit in my bank account. I told you before that I intended to use this money later to live more comfortably and to write. That's not completely true. The life I'd live and the works I'd write were contained in my bank account. Whoever it was who said capitalists and workers had nothing in common hadn't ever worked for wages. Accumulate! Accumulate! That's Moses and the Prophets, not only in the bureaus of capitalists but in the mind of every worker. I longed to leave the fiberglass factory but I couldn't abandon my bank account: two years of my past as well as my whole future were in it. If I had accepted Sabina's offer, every miserable minute of those two years would have been for nothing. By turning down Sabina's offer, I didn't use up two years of my life for nothing, but three.
Sabina didn't insist, although she knew perfectly well what that job was doing to me. As always, I was “my own person”, she merely wanted me to be aware of all my alternatives. I abandoned that awkward topic and asked why she and Tina had been thrown out of the garage.
Tina shocked me by answering, “First of all Jose was arrested.”
“Jose!” I exclaimed. “Why?”
“Someone squealed,” she said.
“Was there a raid? Was it the police that chased you out?”
“We were chased out the same way your friends were: by Seth's gun.”
“But that's awful! You've both been so cool! Why didn't you tell me?”
Sabina asked, “Would you have eaten more if you had known? Would you have slept better?”
She was right. I didn't care why they'd been thrown out. All I cared about was that they'd come to me, that they'd taken me away from that horrid hotel, that they loved me. “You know I wouldn't have eaten more,” I admitted. “If I ever want to know the details, I'll ask.” I never asked.
But Sabina wanted me to know one more thing. A few days later she told me, “I visited Jose this afternoon. He wasn't glad to see me. `Poor Ron,' he said; `he could never really appreciate you, Sabina; you're made of gold, you know that?' `But you were expecting someone else, weren't you?' I asked him; `someone who wasn't made of metal but of flesh. He turned away from me and cried.”
“How could he?” I sobbed. “He has every reason in the world to hate me. I walked out on him exactly as I walked out on Ron.”
“What about the rest of us?” Tina asked, offended. “You walked out on us too! Don't we count?” I started to cry, but Tina made me stop by squeezing my face in her hands and scolding me. “You dumbell! You're just like a baby! Whatever made me think you were my mother? You also walked out on Sabina and me. Yet here we are. Jose doesn't hate you, Sophia. He told me Ron never hated you. He told me Ron knew you couldn't ever do the things Ron wanted you to do. No one can hate you because of that. Besides, Jose told me he thought you were right — both times.”
I couldn't make myself ask more questions. But the following night I did ask Sabina how to go to the state prison, and what I needed to get in. She had papers made for me proving I was Jose's sister. Sabina had already visited him as his “wife.”
The trip to the prison lasted over an hour each way; the visit was only half an hour long. The first time I went, Jose just kept rubbing his eyes. “I can't believe it. Either you're Sabina turning yourself into Sophie by some magic trick, or else I'm in my cell dreaming.”
“But you look so different. What the hell happened to you, Sophie? Did you go through a machine?”
“Aren't you going to ask me why I left you?”
“You're a genius, kid, that's why. You figured things out before any of the rest of us did. And that's why you ought to take better care of yourself. If you don't, you won't be around for that trip we were going to take. How did he size things up so fast — what was his name, your friend?”
“He sure pinned us down, right where it hurt. What made him able to see right through us? Was it something he learned in school? Is it in books? I'd sure like to see him again. Can you bring him with you sometime?”
“No.” I was crying. Words gagged in my throat; I couldn't see Jose when a guard accompanied him out of the visiting room. For two months I did nothing but go to work and sleep. I should say almost nothing. A few days after my visit I left a sheet of paper on the living room desk; on top it said, “For Jose.” On it I scribbled the titles of all the books I had read and discussed with the people on the university newspaper staff; I kept adding titles as they came back to me. Whenever I added a title to the list, the book would appear in the living room bookshelf the following day, or else I'd see Tina reading it when I came home from work; she must have read all of them. I kept expecting Sabina to take some of them along on her visits to Jose, but she always went empty-handed. I had always been an avid reader, from long before you knew me; even during my stay in the garage I had read at least three books a week. But I didn't open a single book during the three years I worked in the fiberglass factory. After my visit to Jose my interest in the books I had read before revived. I wanted Jose to read them. It was the only way I knew to tell him what had made Hugh “able to see right through us.” That obviously wasn't an adequate response to Jose's question, but I couldn't deal with his question; the closest I could come was to deal with the books I'd read, the books Hugh had read. Two months after my first visit I went to the prison with a bag full of books. They didn't let me in with all of them, but they did let enough through to take up all of Jose's reading time between my visits. I went once a month. I came to life during those visits. Jose devoured the books; he couldn't wait to discuss them with me. He was no longer the Jose I'd known; he wasn't anyone I'd ever known; our relationship wasn't a continuation of any relationship that had existed before. Our love had never existed. During those visits I came to life as something you unflatteringly called me in your letters, as a pedagogue. I came to life as Jose's teacher, as his guide, his mentor. What came to life, Yarostan, was my relationship to you. What revived was the week I'd spent with you: the tours you had given me, the discussions, the long, patient explanations. Only with Jose it was I who did the guiding and the explaining. You've admitted that you yourself were a pedagogue after your release from your first prison term, when you first met Mirna; you taught her everything you'd learned from the resistance, from Luisa, from the prisoners you'd met. I came closest to my relationship with you by becoming to Jose what you had been to me and to Mirna. Isn't it ironic that this happened with Jose of all people? The Jose who devoured my books and waited impatiently to discuss them with me wasn't the person to whom I'd abandoned myself in the garage. He became the person I had dreamed of meeting ever since I left you; he became the companion with whom I was going to experience a new world, the comrade with whom I was going to realize all my life's projects. I dreamed again: of the day when Jose would be released, of the day when I would no longer have my job. But I didn't realize my dreams. Jose was released — and a few days later he was dead.
The dreams I dreamed then are coming to life only now, in numerous factories, in this occupied university, in the Council office where I'm writing this letter. And now that the activity is real I'm no longer a pedagogue. You were right and Hugh was right. I don't have anything to teach. I never did. I've learned more during the past week than I'd learned during the previous twenty years. Yes, I'm now the one who is learning all the things I'd thought I could teach.
I learned quite a lot during the past three weeks. I wanted to tell you about some of them in my previous letter, but I had too much else to tell, I was too carried away by the sequence of experiences that came back to my memory. Many of the things I didn't tell you answer questions you've been asking ever since you started writing me. I'm really sorry I didn't take a little more time to tell you all the things I learned from Sabina. I'm already starting to forget some of them, and the exciting events taking place around me aren't helping me keep everything straight.
I started to tell you about the discussion Sabina and I had three weeks ago. during our “outing,” but I didn't ever return to that. It was a beautiful day; it looks beautiful out right now but I've hardly been outdoors for a week. We were all alone by the river, listening to quacking ducks, watching passing boats, talking about your letters and the questions you had raised. Sabina was unusually talkative. Your questions stimulated her to travel further and further back in time, all the way to the time of her birth, thirty-two years ago. Sabina often intimidates me, but despite that I think she's really fantastic and I wish I had some of her qualities. That day, as we lay on the grass sunning ourselves, she told me stories George Alberts had told her over twenty years ago. I'm having a hard time remembering them only three weeks after I heard them.
“It's funny that Yarostan keeps referring to the time and place of my birth,” she said. “He wasn't even there. It's as if his memory were an extension of Luisa's.”
“What's so funny about it?” I asked. “You weren't exactly there either. Your memory is an extension of Alberts'. I was every bit of two when you were born but I wasn't really there either and my memory doesn't have any extensions; I can hardly remember the few things I learned from Luisa.”
“You know what?” she asked. “I wouldn't be surprised if that Manuel character Yarostan met in prison actually knew my grandfather” (namely Nachalo, my father). “Everything he told Yarostan has such a familiar ring to it. Manuel must at least have heard of him. Too many of the incidents are identical to incidents Alberts described to me; only the interpretation is different and by now my interpretation is closer to Manuel's than to Alberts'.”
Sabina pointed to the passage where you said (I'm paraphrasing; I don't have your letter with me); “According to Sabina, workers fought a revolution in order to give power to people like Alberts — and people like Jan, Manuel and I had to be swept out of the way.”
Sabina's response to this was: “Alberts told me exactly the opposite. Yet they both referred to the same events. In his own eyes, Alberts was the one who fought for a popular revolution and he was the one who was pushed aside by those opposed to the revolution. They can't both be right. Yet I think neither Alberts nor Manuel were lying, although I do think Luisa lied most of the time. I think Alberts and Manuel both fought for something — on opposite sides of the same battleground. They both described that battleground though each of them saw something completely different. I know what Alberts fought for, but I still don't fully understand Manuel; try to get Yarostan to you still more about him.”
I told her I'd try, but I'm trying only now. Sabina told me about those events as if she'd experienced them herself, and as if they'd taken place only yesterday. When she was small, Alberts never tired of telling her that she was born right after the greatest revolution that ever took place, during one of the darkest nights in all history. The army attacked the city. Everyone was in the street. Nachalo, Luisa and Margarita were behind barricades. “Alberts stayed indoors minding two-year old you. He told me how he pleaded with Margarita not to go out; she was about to give birth. But Margarita couldn't be kept indoors; according to him, she was the revolution.” A bullet grazed Margarita's arm. The injury wasn't serious, but she lost a lot of blood when she could least afford to. “He always called her the little gypsy. She died two days after the revolution's victory, giving birth to me. She was fourteen.” During those two days, Alberts never left Margarita's bedside. He told her the reactionary forces of the whole world had been destroyed by all the Margaritas behind the barricades. He told her she was giving birth to a new epoch. All the marvels of science and technology were going to make the people free instead of enslaving them. Gone was the day when workers had to fight against inventions and labor-saving devices which up to then had only been used to increase misery. Gone was the day when workers cursed science because it was used mainly to torture and kill them. He told her she was giving birth to an age of unfettered creativity, an epoch of unprecedented scientific and technological innovation carried out by the people themselves and for themselves. “Margarita died giving birth to another little gypsy. That was the dark night. She wasn't ever going to enjoy her creation — neither she nor any of the other Margaritas who gave birth to it. Alberts told me I was all that remained of the revolution he had told her about.” I couldn't take my eyes off Sabina as I listened. It dawned on me that her whole life has been an attempt to realize Alberts' hopes in herself, that she has tried to embody in her own being the revolution to which Margarita gave birth. “Tell Yarostan his friend Manuel was right. The brightest of all days was followed by the darkest of all nights. The incredible victory on the streets and in the factories was immediately followed by an incredible defeat on the same streets and in the same factories. Luisa thought the defeat took place on the front, in the battlefield. She was wrong. The defeat took place in the rear. Alberts knew that by the time he told me I was all that was left of the victory. But he never figured out what role he played in that defeat.” After Margarita's death, Nachalo left for the front; Luisa drove a streetcar and nursed both babies; Alberts was transformed. He wanted revenge. He ranted about destroying the reactionary forces that had taken Margarita's life and were destroying the world she had fought to create. He joined a military brigade consisting mainly of foreigners. He was told the aim of the brigade was to join with the revolutionary population to destroy the reactionary forces.
“And he believed that. He thought that after the liquidation of the few remaining nests of reactionaries the field would be clear for the realization of his dream, Margarita's dream. He never admitted that this was a pack of lies. That popular army he enlisted in had only one aim: to impose itself over the population. In its view, the main nest to be liquidated was the revolutionary population itself; the campaigns against the reactionary army were nothing but a pretext, a justification for its existence. It was the popular army he joined that wiped out every trace of Margarita's victory, every possibility for the realization of her dream. He never admitted that. He blamed the population itself for the defeat; his view of the population always remained identical to that army's view: hoodlums, adventurists and saboteurs; according to him all the revolutionaries had been killed on the barricades or died after that battle; there were no Margaritas left. But that wasn't what he thought when he joined the popular army. He thought he was joining a revolutionary population in a struggle against reactionaries; he thought that army actually had the population's support. When it finally dawned on him that it didn't, he ran. He was always a democrat first of all. Once he convinced himself that the entire population was reactionary, and not just a few nests, he ran. He never figured out that it was the popular army itself that was the central nest of reaction, but he did have enough `principles' to refuse to fight in an army that opposed the entire population.”
I asked Sabina when she figured all this out.
“When I met Ron,” she told me. “Actually when Ron moved in with me in Alberts' house. Alberts called him a hoodlum, an adventurist, a petty criminal. That was when I started to figure out who that army had fought against, whom Alberts blamed for that defeat. The reason I liked Ron was that I thought Margarita must have been a little like him: the same mixture of fury and humor, the same visceral rejection of all morality; both were accomplished pranksters, unselfconscious thieves, and fatally romantic, except that poor Ron never found his barricades. Alberts was the diametrical opposite of both. He stayed indoors during the day of the barricades. He didn't move off his ass to join the fight until all the adventure and romance were gone, until an apparatus had replaced the fighting people.” Inside that apparatus. Alberts experienced only one campaign, and it wasn't at all heroic. His brigade unit reached the front in a village which was terrorized by a small, poorly armed enemy unit; a villager was frequently killed if he wandered off alone; occasional showers of shells caused numerous injuries. Before the arrival of Alberts' brigade unit, the village had supposedly been defended by a loosely disciplined militia unit. According to Alberts, this militia unit didn't protect the village from the enemy but was in fact an extension of the enemy beyond the front and was itself responsible for the terror reigning in the village; the sole activity of that militia was to sabotage weapons, shoot at their own troops, encourage desertion among the soldiers, demoralize the village population. Some weeks before Alberts' arrival a military commander had arrived in the village to coordinate the militia's moves with those of the rest of the popular army and the commander had been murdered. The first task of Alberts' brigade unit was to liquidate the enemy agents who had infiltrated and taken over the militia unit. The infiltrators were known; there were eight of them. But the villagers were so demoralized and the militia unit was so rotten that the infiltrators carried on their activities in broad daylight. Part of the militia even tried to prevent Alberts' popular army unit from arresting the infiltrators. Alberts accepted an assignment to the firing squad which was to liquidate the infiltrators. He still wanted to revenge Margarita and to remove one of the “nests” that prevented the realization of all she'd fought for. But just before the order to shoot was given, one of the eight condemned men shouted, “Next time the people rise they'll turn against the red butchers first. That will be the first moment of the real revolution!” When the order to shoot was given, Alberts shot into the air. “This was his only military campaign,” Sabina told me, “and at the critical moment he refused to take part in it. The condemned man had spoken in the name of the people; the firing squad was killing him in the name of the people. Alberts had joined the brigade to liquidate a few nests of reactionaries, not to liquidate the people. When he heard that man, Alberts suddenly suspected that the people might not want the revolution his popular army was bringing them. And his suspicions were confirmed in a matter of hours. The entire militia unit and half the villagers surrounded his brigade unit. Shooting began. His popular army unit had to abandon the village altogether and camp outside it, fortifying itself against the enemy unit as well as the surrounding peasantry. It became clear to him that the task of his brigade was to force Margarita's revolution down people's throats with weapons. That wasn't the project he'd had in mind, and it couldn't be done in any case. When that poorly armed enemy unit attacked, it had the whole population's support. Alberts was injured; half his comrades were killed; his popular army unit was routed. That was when he concluded the entire population was reactionary: hoodlums, adventurers and saboteurs; they would never industrialize by themselves; Margarita's dream was an illusion. Alberts ran. He's been running ever since.”
Thinking I had missed one of the main points of Sabina's story, I said, “Then Alberts didn't actually agree with the aims of that army he joined, and Yarostan is wrong when he accuses Alberts of wanting to impose his own power over that population.”
“Yarostan means something different, something I don't altogether understand,” she said. “Yarostan thinks Alberts' project, his very dream, was repressive in and of itself.” She showed me the passage where you said industrialization could only take place by robbing human beings of their energy, by stunting their capacities. “Alberts finally concluded that industrialization could never be carried out by the people themselves,” she continued. “The implication being that the people would always need someone like Alberts at the helm, as foreman, supervisor, boss. By adopting that attitude Alberts became an outright reactionary, a turncoat. That became perfectly clear to me when he had Debbie Matthews fired for her supposedly radical views. It was then that he and I parted ways. He crawled up the bureaucracy and I rejoined Margarita on the ground. We went a long way to proving him wrong — all of us: Ron, Tissie, Jose, Ted — the people themselves. We industrialized, on our own. Yarostan knows that people can do that on their own. But he goes a step further. He says it's not worth doing. His opposition to Alberts is different from mine. In his view Alberts didn't only want to push people aside to make room for the supposedly indispensable bosses. That far we agree. Yarostan also thinks that if people freely develop their potentialities, there's no steel; if there's steel, then there are no potentialities — and no people. I don't understand that. Maybe I'm too much George Alberts' daughter to understand that; maybe I'm too much the little gypsy who fought on the barricades so as to conquer the science and the technology for myself and others like me. What Alberts taught me was that the power of the people as well as their freedom resided in the steel. In the technology. In physics, chemistry and engineering. In machinery. That's been the axiom of my life and it remained my axiom after Alberts turned against the people. He never turned against the technology. I'd thought those who opposed the technology were outright medieval obscurantists.”
I reminded her that Luisa had in fact called you a “reactionary” after she'd read one of your first letters.
“I know. I heard her. She's wrong. When you call someone a name, you stop listening to him. Luisa hasn't heard anything for thirty years. Yarostan is no reactionary. He's trying to tell me something that conflicts with my most basic axioms. I think he's wrong but I'm not sure. I'd like to be sure before I call him any names.”
It was almost night when Sabina and I left our desolate spot along the river's edge and returned to the city. I was baffled by much of what she'd told me; I couldn't sort it out into clear and distinct categories. But I was happy as I crossed the bridge with Sabina. I was happy because I knew you and was together with you again, at least by mail. I was happy, and even somewhat proud, to cross the bridge with my little gypsy “sister,” happy that I too had been born somewhere near the uproar she described. And I was happy because I thought I understood both you and Sabina a little better.
But my self-satisfied mood didn't last long. My happiness as well as the details of Sabina's story were replaced by worries about the note from the college administration. My arrest, my firing and Tina's departure were all I could think of last time I wrote you. It took me several days to get used to the fact that I was unemployed again and that Daman wasn't going to help me get another job. The only time I ever looked for a job on my own I landed in that horrid fiberglass factory. But I was in no mood to sit home worrying about that. Sabina's narrative stimulated my interest in other questions you had asked. On the day after I mailed my letter to you — -on Sunday two weeks ago — I telephoned Luisa. I remembered she had once known Lem Icel and had in fact seen him much more recently than I had. I learned this a year ago, when I ran into her by chance after the riot. At that time I had asked her what she'd been doing besides working during the seven years since I'd last seen her. She told me that for several years she'd gotten deeply involved in the activities of the so-called “peace movement,” and that she'd been introduced to that “movement” by none other than “a former friend of yours, Sophia, a young man by the name of Lem.” I turned away in disgust. The last time I'd seen Lem I had lost all desire to see him or hear of him again. But your letters have revived my interest in Lem. You asked me several times why Lem had been arrested twelve years ago while trying to deliver my letter to you and I wasn't able to answer. I decided to find out once and for all by trying to find Lem and by getting his own account of his arrest.
Luisa was furious when she answered the phone. “What the hell do you mean by `Hello, Luisa'! You've got some nerve to be so calm! Your friend Daman came here a few days ago to tell me you were kidnapped! Sabina was with him; she obviously didn't come into the house.”
“It was really thoughtless of me not to call sooner. I apologize.”
“Thoughtless isn't the word, Sophia. You're as inhuman as the monster you live with. Daman told me to call him if I heard anything from the kidnappers. I couldn't sleep half the night! I was so upset I kept calling him. Finally he found out you were in jail for assaulting a professor. I had to call him again to learn that you were out of jail. Did you think I didn't care what happened to you?”
“Is there anything I can do to make it up to you, Luisa?”
“Nothing. My heart is like a stone.”
“For me? That's very flattering, Sophia. It means you want something from me. That's flattering too. What do I have that you might want?”
“Everything, Luisa: love, friendship, help —”
“Get off it! What do you want?”
“Luisa, do you remember Lem Icel? Do you suppose you could reach him?”
“Of course I could; he's living on an estate. I took him there myself.”
“Are you joking?”
“No. But the only way I can reach him is by actually going there; it's an hour out of the city by bus. Is it something urgent?”
“It is to me. Are you busy?”
“When can you be at the bus station?” she asked.
“In fifteen minutes.”
She beamed as soon as I walked into the bus station. “What happened to your stone heart?” I asked when she put her arms around me.
“Does it really mean nothing to you that I spent half a night worrying about you?”
“I'm sorry to be so glib, Luisa. That whole affair was so trivial it didn't deserve a phone call. I'm sorry Daman bothered you about it. You look beautiful in that dress. Is it new? Forgive me?”
“You're a rascal, Sophia. Are you going to propose that we walk the streets together?”
“You still remember that? How about doing it after we visit Lem?”
Luisa was really wound up. She acted like a teenage girl who'd just fallen in love, and in her pretty summer dress she even looked like one — except for her wrinkled face. On the bus she told me, “I don't know why you hang around Sabina and her violent friends, Sophia; your other friends are so nice!”
“Oh no, Luisa! You don't mean Daman!”
“He's a wonderful young man! A professor! And he's close to our movement too!”
“So he didn't just tell you I was kidnapped!”
“Certainly not! I let that hussy wait in the car for him. He seemed relieved when I asked him to come in.”
“I bet it was love at first sight.”
“What if it was!” she exclaimed. “I asked him if he was a student. No, he said shyly, a professor. I had forgotten you were old enough to have professor friends. He told me he'd known you for more than ten years, and that he'd also known Lem and Alec. I asked if you and he were more than just friends, and he said: not lately. When he left I told him I was sorry you hadn't introduced me to him ten years sooner. I was lying when I told you I spent half that night worrying about you. I did worry about you that night — a little.”
“There are a few other things I'd like to tell you, Sophia.”
“Right now? Tell me tonight, while we're walking the streets. How does Lem come to be living on an estate? And what did you have to do with taking him there?”
“That was one of the things I wanted to tell you before we got there. Lem didn't only introduce me to the peace movement. Lem and I became very good friends four or five years ago. He had suffered a great deal because of an errand you sent him on.”
“Is that how he told it? He suffered because of me?”
“He told me he had been very active politically until he was arrested over there while trying to deliver certain messages you'd sent with him. He spent two years in prisons and camps. When I met him he was still politically conscious but he was terribly confused. He said the prison experience had opened his eyes, but I'm convinced it fogged his mind. I tried to keep his political interests alive, and for a year I almost succeeded. Almost. I couldn't get him to separate his activities in the peace movement from his growing interest in mysticism. He became irrational; he called it contemplative. He just sat, with one leg propped on a table, and stared into space. I was disgusted and of course he sensed that. He started talking about wanting to get away from what he called Civilization, about wanting to be alone with Nature. He even started to accuse me of depriving him of what he called Freedom, of keeping him locked up in a prison of steel and concrete, of separating him from his beloved Nature. Fortunately a friend of his found precisely the thing Lem was looking for: the estate, beloved Nature. Do you remember Art?”
“Art Sinich?” I asked with amazement. I had known Art during my brief involvement with the “peace movement.” I saw him again last year in that “committee against repression” where I also bumped into Luisa, but I didn't know he'd had any previous dealings with Luisa and I certainly hadn't thought of him as “Lem's friend” — there are, after all, at least two million other people in this city. “Art was Lem's friend? And he owned an estate?”
“He didn't, but some relatives of his owned one. It had once been the country estate of a famous actor and his equally famous sister; they both died a quarter of a century ago, and the house and grounds have been totally abandoned since then. Weeds and trees have all but hidden what must once have been lovely paths and gardens. There are even weeds growing inside the house. When Art described the place, Lem begged us to take him there; he accused us of having kept him ignorant of the paradise the gods had created especially for him. So three years ago we took him to paradise. And good riddance. But you'll see.”
It didn't take me long to “see.” The country estate was literally “abandoned.” What had once been the entrance way from the road was a path through a forest; there was no sign that any human being had been in the area for at least a quarter of a century. The path led to the remains of an immense house. The front door was wide open. Luisa went in; I could hardly get past the doorway. The entire floor was littered with several layers of garbage: food, empty wrappers, paper bags, empty boxes, torn books, rags; an old sleeping bag lay in the midst of the trash. I compulsively join Luisa in the impossible task of trying to pick up and sort the garbage.
“There's a beautiful kitchen down the hall,” Luisa told me. “Art had the water connected, and even had electricity brought in. But to Lem that's Civilization. And this pigsty is Nature. In summer, on clear days, he spends the day sitting on a rock by the pond, always the same rock, until dark; he's afraid of the dark. In winter he doesn't budge from this room.”
“How awful! Prison can't be worse.”
“I know. I feel guilty about the whole thing. But I simply won't have him in my house and his father wants him put in an asylum. I'm sure that couldn't be worse. But Lem says he likes it here so why force him into an asylum? His father is filthy rich, you know. Art had a disagreeable correspondence with Lem's father and finally got him to agree to send just enough money to cover the cost of food and electricity plus the cost of hiring a young man to deliver the food once a week. The old bastard spends at least twice that much on a detective who makes sure Art actually spends all that money on Lem. And Lem will talk your head off about how free and independent he is now that he's left rotten Civilization; he'll tell you Mother Nature takes care of his needs. But come on,” she said, dropping the things she'd gathered, “let's at least get some fresh air while we're out here. Watch where you step; he doesn't use the bathroom if he can avoid it; Civilization destroys Nature's cycles and all that. But he's afraid he'll get lost if he leaves the path. I walked him up and down the path the first time we visited him, when I realized he hadn't left the house since we'd taken him to paradise.”
The hermit sitting on a rock was unrecognizable to me. He was as “abandoned” as the forest surrounding the lake. Hair hung down to his chest, his face was covered by a filthy beard. As we approached him, my heart pounded and my brain incessantly repeated one and the same question: am I responsible for this?
When Lem saw us he exclaimed, “Luisa!” but he didn't leave his rock. “You're going to take me away.” He sounded hopeful when he said it, as if he wanted to be taken away.
“Away from paradise, Lem?” Luisa asked sarcastically. “Is Mother Nature mistreating you?”
“If you've come to take me, I won't resist because I know you're only obeying the cosmic will.”
“I'm not taking you anywhere, Lem; I brought you a visitor. Can you try to remember to close the front door of the house when you leave in the morning? That way you won't have to share your food with all the lovely animals.”
“All the creatures of the forest are Her offspring, Luisa. You don't understand them. You can't.”
“I'm going for a walk around the pond,” Luisa announced. “You ought to try it sometime, Lem; if you stay close to the water you'll come right back to your stone, unharmed.”
“I get scratched, my beard gets all tangled,” he said, but then he added, looking up at the sky, “I go far, far away from this stone, many planets away; I don't need to walk in circles around a pool of stagnant water.”
“If you love Nature why are you so afraid of it — her?” Luisa asked, walking rapidly away from us.
“Remember me?” I asked, almost shouting; I had made myself comfortable on a fallen tree some distance away from Lem and his path of excrement; I didn't want to decrease the distance because he disgusted me. Nature is clean; Lem was a mound of unnatural filth from the top of the unwashed tangle of hair to the boots which hadn't been removed for three years.
“Sure, Sophie,” he said without interest or resentment. “Still in the newspaper business?”
“Glass business, Lem. I told you that when you were living at Debbie Matthews house. Don't you remember my visit? I had just sold my newspaper business and gone into glass.”
“I remember. You came with your half-sister and her kid. Doing well in the glass business?”
“Oh. marvelously, Lem. You and I wasted our time during all those years in the newspaper business. We should have turned to glass. I own most of the glass factories in the country now, and I'm known as the glass tycoon. But I'm not doing half as well as you are.”
“That's right, Sophie, I'm doing well now, and it doesn't matter to me whether you owned the glass factory or just worked in it. I've learned that there are more important things. I've discovered my own inner light. Each one of us has an inner —”
I interrupted him and asked, “Do you remember those letters I had you deliver twelve years ago? I'm sorry about the trouble they caused you.”
“Even that's unimportant now, Sophie.”
“It's important to me, Lem. Why did those letters get you into trouble? Who did you give them to? Whom did you talk to about them? The only address I'd given you was that of the house we had lived in.”
“You told me to ask for someone at that house. I did. The people living there had never heard of him. They told me to ask the police.”
“You didn't take my letters to the police!”
“Of course I did. It was the People's Police. At that time they were Comrades. I had nothing to fear from them. I identified with them. I introduced myself as a Comrade, showed them my card and my invitation to the Conference. They weren't at all unfriendly. But in office after office they just leafed through the envelopes and told me they couldn't find any people with those names. Finally one of them recognized a name and gave me an address —”
“Do you remember the name?”
“I didn't know it even then, Sophie; I just showed people the names on the envelopes. Would anything have been different if I'd learned all those names?”
“I suppose not. Go on, Lem. He gave you an address —”
“I took a taxi there. It was an office building. The doorman wouldn't let me in. Finally I said the police had sent me there and he got polite and led me to an office. I waited and waited. When someone finally came, he recognized the name on one of the envelopes and told me to leave that letter in that very office, since your friend would stop by there later to pick it up. I asked him how I could find the other people. He took all the remaining letters and walked out with them.”
“And you were arrested!”
“No. He was gone a long time, but he returned with the letters. He had put addresses on three of them and he even told me the order in which I should deliver them so as not to have to pay extra taxi fare.”
“It's really too bad you don't know any of the names. Can you describe what part of the city you went to?”
“The first address was nearly an hour's ride away from that office building; I'd say the house wasn't in the city at all, but in a much more natural environment.”
“Did the people seem like one-time peasants?”
“They seemed more natural. I don't know what peasants are like. A woman in a black dress and a black kerchief opened the door. I thought she looked afraid of me. She crossed herself as she took the letter; she didn't seem to understand a word though I spoke to her with my best accent. She closed the door on me while I was trying to tell her the letter was from an old friend of her husband's or her son's — I can't remember which although I'd been told in the office building. Then the cab took me all the way into the city to what looked like a construction area. There was a row of finished houses, but I had to walk a couple of blocks through mud to reach them. It was a woman again, with a baby girl.”
“That was Mirna! What was she like?”
“She wasn't friendly either, although she didn't cross herself when she took the letter and she understood me and heard me out. She told me her husband returned from work very late. She also said she knew who I was and what the letter contained and she didn't seem very happy about it. Five minutes later I knew why. As soon as I got back in the cab, two plain-clothesmen got in beside me, one from each side. What did you tell them, Sophie? Why? It wasn't I who excluded you from that Omissions paper, but Thurston. I know I shouldn't have gone along with that. I knew it then. That's why I was eager to get out of it all and go to that conference —”
“Lem, please believe me, I didn't send you on that errand in order to have you arrested, those really were letters to my friends and I honestly didn't know people could be arrested for delivering or receiving letters.”
“I wanted to believe that, Sophie. It was very hard for me not to believe that. But during the whole investigation and trial they kept repeating the name of my high school teacher George Alberts and they kept asking if I'd known him. Of course I'd known my own high school teacher. They said he was a spy and that made sense to me; I knew he'd had Debbie Matthews fired from her job. Who else but you could have told the police that George Alberts had been my high school teacher?”
“Lem, your arrest and Alberts' behavior in the high school had nothing to do with each other. George Alberts and Luisa —”
“You're as unscrupulous as I'd thought, Sophie. You can't implicate Luisa — don't you remember I know her? I confronted her with that as soon as I met her!”
“How did you even know that Luisa and I had any connection with Alberts? Did the police tell you that?”
“I knew you must have told them Alberts had been my high school teacher, and that's all I knew then. It was Debbie Matthews who told me ...”
Of course! I last saw Lem seven years ago — in Debbie Matthews' house. I hadn't expected to see him there and my complete surprise had kept me from absorbing a great deal of what he told me. We went there on a weekday night, it was summer, I was exhausted after having sweated all day in the fiberglass factory; I wasn't altogether receptive to Lem's narrative or to his presence. This happened a few weeks after I had moved into the house Sabina and Tina had rented. Sabina told me that Jose had supported Debbie financially after Tom Matthews and Ron both died. Debbie had never gotten a job again after she'd been fired from high school because of Alberts. After her second visit to Jose in jail, Sabina became concerned about the fact that Debbie was no longer receiving any income from Jose. When she said she was on her way to Debbie's house, I begged to go along; I had liked Ron's mother, and I had never really thanked her for having helped me find Sabina after I'd been evicted from the university co-op. Tina also begged to go along, so as to see her “grandmother” again. Tired as I was, I was extremely curious about the relationship Sabina would be able to establish with Debbie. Jose was something like Debbie's adopted son, so I wasn't surprised that she accepted his financial support. But I wondered how willing she'd be to accept money from George Alberts' daughter. As soon as we entered the house where I'd almost been shot by Ron's father ten years earlier, I was sorry I'd asked to go along. Debbie answered the door wearing nothing but panties and a brassiere; she reeked of alcohol. She yelled, “Well what do you know, Lem, the Alberts girls, all two of them, and Ron's kid. So you've come to finish us off!” Behind Debbie, in his underwear, stood Lem Icel, the same Lem who had been my fellow pupil in Debbie Matthews' high school class, the same Lem who had been introduced to the world of “tendencies and things” by Debbie Matthews. Sabina shoved an envelope into Debbie's hand and said curtly, “Jose is in jail; he wanted me to give you this.” Sabina was ready to leave. But Debbie threw the envelope at Sabina's feet and shouted, “Pick that up and take it with you, Miss Alberts! No one here is for sale. Isn't that right, Lem?” Then Debbie turned to me. “What are you staring at, dearie? The bathing suits? Don't you know it's the season for them? Isn't that right, Lem?” “That's right, Debbie,” Lem answered; “bathing suits. We don't owe her any explanations anyway, not after what she did to us!” “What did I do?” I asked angrily. Debbie turned to me with flaming hatred in her eyes. “You unscrupulous, manipulative bitch! You're ten times worse than that lousy sister of yours. You're Alberts' first daughter. You're really good at it; you sure took me in! First I thought there was only one of you and that she was a two-faced schizophrenic. Then I learned there were two, and the second one was as sweet and innocent as a newborn babe; she's even shocked by bathing suits. But you can't do that innocent act in front of Lem! Show her your wounds, Lem!” “What did I ever do to him?” I asked angrily. Sabina kicked the envelope into the room and started leaving. Tina pulled me by the arm and begged, “Don't make a scene, Sophia, please, can't you see they're both drunk?” Debbie shouted, “What did you do? Look! Look at this gash across his head! Look at his back. Look at his arms! Show her the rest, Lem! Show her what she did to you!” Sabina and Tina went out to the sidewalk. I started sobbing, “Have you gone crazy, Debbie? I didn't touch Lem! I couldn't have done that!” “There's no point in your acting so innocent, Sophie,” Lem said; “I know all about those letters. That was a vicious trick to link me up with George Alberts, of all people. Really vicious. It wasn't until I got back and saw Debbie that I found out what else Alberts was: your father! After what he did to Debbie, you couldn't have told me he was your father, could you? So you made them think I was related to Alberts! You probably expected me to die there. Why, Sophie? Because of Omissions?” Debbie said, “Because you're a worse piece of shit than he is, that's why. At least Alberts never went so far as to pretend to be my boyfriend!” My anger returned and I shouted, “You're raving, Lem! What happened to those letters I gave you? What did you do with them? They mattered to me, Lem! My whole life was in them!” Lem answered, “They put me through two years of prisons and camps, Sophie! Two years! I told them everything I knew, but they beat me, burned me, cut me for not telling them things I couldn't know. They kept questioning me, transferring me and questioning me again. But you did do something for me, Sophie. Thanks to you I now know what it's really like over there. It's as rotten as it is here. Thanks to you my eyes were opened, Sophie. Now I see that Civilization is at the root of it all. Since I've been back I've been discovering new ideologies, positive ones, to replace what turned out to be a rotten ideology. I've been studying ancient Egyptian philosophy and Debbie introduced me to the peace movement. If you hadn't done this to me, Sophie, I'd think you'd be the perfect peace movement person; I always thought of you as a person with an inner light —” I was nearly hysterical with fury. I screamed at him. “You're lying, you bastard! You lost my letters! You're making all this up because you don't want to admit you lost them!” I ran out of Debbie's house crying. I didn't believe a word he'd told me. For seven years I remained convinced that he'd lost my letters. But some part of me must have believed something of what he said, because as we walked home I felt increasingly guilty. I asked Sabina and Tina if they'd heard of the peace movement. Sabina was too uninterested to answer but Tina said, “I've seen them. They sit in front of building entrances and wait for people to hit them. I talked to one of them. They think the more people hit them the more good they're doing.” I didn't miss Tina's sarcasm, but a few weeks later I went to the address on a leaflet Tina brought me and I “joined” the “peace movement.” I wanted to feel I was “doing good” when I was hit; for several years I had been hit and hit and I'd felt only the pain. One of the first people I met in the Peace Movement was Art Sinich, the young man who helped Luisa transport Lem to the estate.
All this came back to me while I listened to the bearded Lem on the abandoned estate. “...you must have told them Alberts had been my high school teacher.... It was Debbie Matthews who told me George Alberts was your father! So you were going to have me put away the way your father had Debbie put away!”
“Lem, you're wrong —”
“You can't implicate Luisa because I got to know her too, Sophie. You're no good. Debbie saw right through you. The first time I met Luisa I asked her what connection she'd had with Alberts and with my arrest. I learned she hadn't seen you in years, she'd separated from Alberts when we were still in high school and she disliked Alberts to the point of not wanting to even answer questions about him.”
“Will you let me explain, Lem?”
“It wouldn't do any good, Sophie. Not because you're no good. Maybe Debbie was wrong. But because it's not important. These things are petty and most people spend their whole lives concentrating on petty things. I've learned to concentrate on —”
“Your inner light. You told me earlier, Lem.” I saw Luisa returning from the direction behind Lem. I didn't have the energy to begin to explain. I couldn't even bring myself to apologize to that hairy, filthy mystic. I felt disgust and terrible guilt. I was the one who'd made him what he was, that revolting, rag-covered glob.
Luisa was all smile. “You picked a gorgeous day for your outing, Sophia!” She started skipping along the pond and then ran right past Lem toward me.
I fell into her arms crying. “Everything he told you about me, Luisa — it's all true, every word of it.”
Luisa pressed my head between her hands and brushed my tears away with her thumbs. “Hey, I don't think I like this; I didn't ever intend to hold you to that promise.”
“What promise?” I sobbed.
“Your promise to cry for me. I was flattered when you made that promise, but I know it's nothing but a trick designed to prove you're the child and I'm the old woman!”
I tried hard to smile. “My visit is over, Luisa. We were going to go street walking afterwards, remember?”
“Fine! You'll be my mentor! I'm the young novice.” Remaining where she stood, Luisa shouted, “Goodbye, Lem. Take good care of Mother Nature. And close the front door.”
“Thanks for coming, Luisa. You'll come again?”
“As soon as the inner light tells me to, Lem!”
She grabbed my hand and we ran through the forest to the street, avoiding Lem's path. As we walked to the bus stop, I said, “Luisa, have you changed or are you always like this?”
“Whenever I'm in love. I used to hide from you when I was in love; you always spoiled it. Today for some reason I enjoy your company immensely. I think I know the reason. I'm finally not your mother any more, Sophia. That feeling is gone, it's dead, not a trace of it remains. I like you for the first time in my life. You're like a new friend, an older friend.”
“Older hell! I'll race you to the corner!” I shouted, starting to run.
“Older! Older!” she screamed, and reached the comer first.
“You think I'm jealous of your affair, or coming affair with Daman?” I asked as we climbed into the bus. “You can have him. I think he's awful.”
“Sour grapes!” she yelled, pushing me into a seat.
When we got off the bus, Luisa hopped in front of me, spun around coquettishly, and then put her arm through mine and tugged me hurriedly down the street, asking, “Do I look like a hooker? Am I walking right? Come on, teacher, start teaching!”
“Luisa, I have a confession to make —”
“Aw Sophia, don't tell me you've never done it either! What a sad sack! Didn't those friends of yours teach you anything? I suppose you didn't approve!”
“If you;re serious about it, Luisa, why are we rushing down the street?”
“Because I'm starving, that's why! I've got all the ingredients for a rice casserole and I'm inviting my new comrade to be my guest, unless she has prior commitments.”
“No commitments, Luisa; I'd love to come. I haven't been there in years!”
“Good! Since you won't tell me any of your secrets, I'll have all the more time to tell you mine.”
As soon as we were inside the house I started to run upstairs to my room, but Luisa stopped me halfway. “Hey, where are you going? Someone lives there!”
I climbed back down. “Sorry. I stupidly assumed it would always be my room. Is it someone I know?”
“Art lives in my room? Since when?”
“Since the week after we took Lem to the country.”
“Luisa! Did the entire peace movement stay in my room?”
“Just Lem and Art. And it's not your room! I've often thought Prudence would have been a much better name for you. You were named for a Sophia who was reckless, uninhibited, ferociously independent.”
“I thought you'd stopped being my mother!”
“I have, sourpuss! That's why I'm having such a good time taking jabs at you!”
“Where will you put Daman? Are you collecting a male harem?”
“You act exactly as I'd always feared you would! You're so predictable! But my fear is gone. You're not my conscience any more.”
“Your conscience! And who made me that?”
“I haven't the slightest idea, Sophia. I didn't. Nachalo didn't. They say that when the children of radicals rebel, they do so by becoming conservative.”
“That's unfriendly, Luisa. I haven't exactly been conservative, and I always tried to live up to —”
“Your morals, my pretty —”
“You don't know anything about my morals!”
“I do know I had to hide from them with great care —”
“I hope that didn't spoil all your fun!”
“It didn't spoil much, Sophia. I was careless only once, with Alec —”
“Alec! Don't you know he only wanted —”
“You're as red as this pepper! Here, help me put this into the oven. Do you like it spicy?”
“Fine, then it's ready to bake. I thought you were through with Alec —”
“I was! I couldn't stand him!”
“Then why all this passion? Because I'm your mother? We should have had this scene at least twenty years ago! We'd either have become friends or sworn enemies, instead of this wishy-washy, polite How are you, nice to see you again. No, I'm not collecting a harem, Sophia. I'm just living my life, and I'm not hiding from you any more; in fact I'm having the time of my life showing it to you. Art was fine while the peace movement lasted, but he dried up when it dried up. When he too started talking about his inner light, I asked him to leave; he'll move out this week. Nor do I expect Daman to move in here; doesn't he have a nice place of his own? I like him, that's all. I get excited just talking to him on the phone. A professor!”
“Professors are beasts, Luisa. Doesn't that conflict with your principles: to like someone because he's an authority?”
“Is that why you're so upset? Help me set the table.”
“I'm not upset! Where do you keep the glasses?”
“On the top shelf; you'll need a chair. Bring down two champagne glasses too.”
“Champagne! Just for me, your conscience?”
“We're celebrating my independence!”
“I'm sorry you have to celebrate that.”
“Not your fault, Sophia. I loved that man. He was my first. I was mad about him and I wanted to carry his child as well as his name. Now I'm carrying only his name. Salud y Libertad! To my independence!”
“Am I nothing at all like Nachalo?”
“Not a hair, Sophia! You're as gentle as a lamb —”
“Whereas he was violent, like Sabina, like Ron —”
“If you insist on that comparison —”
“Then why did you like him? You hated Ron! You hate Sabina!”
“Why did you like them? In high school you left Lem with his tongue hanging out and ran off with Ron. Explain that, Sophia, and you'll explain why I went crazy for Nachalo. Yes, he was violent. He lived with his rifle. When I met him he hadn't eaten for days and lived in a rathole. But his rifle was clean and he had lots of ammunition. Whenever he heard shooting he ran towards it; if it was workers shooting at priests, state officials, capitalists or cops, he'd empty his rifle as fast as he could fill it. But if two groups of workers ever shot at each other he'd risk his life by standing between them and shouting, `When workers kill each other, there's no more reason to live. Kill me from both sides!' His violence was revolutionary violence. It had nothing in common with Ron's hooliganism.”
“You never knew Ron! Besides, weren't there people in your union who thought Nachalo was a hooligan? What did George Alberts think of him?”
“Every one of the workers I introduced him to was as enthusiastic about him as I was.”
“Luisa, you're hiding part of the picture.”
“Of course the conservative old union leaders thought he was a hooligan. They considered everyone who still talked of revolution a hooligan. But their influence disappeared on the day of the barricades. Even Alberts became quite violent himself when Margarita died; he joined Nachalo on the front and nearly died alongside him. They fought for the workers' cause. Ron, Sabina and their ilk fought for nothing but their own precious selves!”
“Your casserole is delicious, Luisa.”
“Well, didn't they?”
“I don't know, Luisa. I'm confused. Let's talk about something else. When we were arrested twenty years ago, why did the three of us get out of jail after two days whereas others stayed locked up for four years?”
“That's Yarostan's question.”
“What if it is? You've told me George Alberts arranged our release. What power did he have to do that?”
“Why do you ask that? George became something of a mythical hero during the war; he did some research, I suppose in physics though he never told me about any of it; his work supposedly contributed significantly toward the victory. It made him a big man, very influential, with international connections. Everyone knew that, including Yarostan. What do you mean: what power did he have? There was nothing mysterious or secret about the power he had. If they'd left us in jail he'd have made a big scene in the world's press: Wife and family of wartime physicist arrested, tortured, and whatever else they spiced up those stories with. I despised him by then. During the war he'd convinced himself that workers were incapable of carrying a revolution through; he'd convinced himself all they could do was topple a dictatorship and make room for another and probably worse dictatorship. By the time we got here he was an outspoken reactionary; he thought our experience had only proved his reactionary outlook yet another time.”
“Then why did you leave with him?”
“I thought we had no other alternatives and I still think so. Did Yarostan tell you there were better things for us to do?”
“He spent four years in prison!”
“I only learned that when his letter came this year! At the time I thought everyone was being released, either a day before us or a few days after. The police told us we'd all been arrested by mistake; it had all been a bureaucratic blunder.”
“And you believed that?”
“Sophia, it's the easiest thing in the world to be so smart twenty years after the event! Of course I believed them; I had no reason not to. And you're not the one to be asking questions about my clearheadedness during those days! You were old enough to use your own head and draw your own conclusions — and you obviously don't remember just how helpful you were! A fifteen-year old girl hanging on to her mother's coat and staring off into space like an idiot who'd lost all her brains! I was so ashamed of you! Sabina's gypsy mother had only been fourteen when she'd died on the barricades. Don't you see you're still trying to hang on to me? `Why didn't you do this instead of that, mother?' Sabina was only thirteen but she knew perfectly well what she wanted; she couldn't wait to leave and the ship wasn't fast enough for her! If you'd said you wanted to stay, you'd have stayed. If you'd only made a peep!”
“I'm ruining your celebration, Luisa. I'm sorry I brought that up.”
“Damn you, Sophia, wipe those tears off your face! Why didn't you cry then? I would have understood tears! I would have left you there if that was what you wanted. But that stupid, helpless stare! I couldn't leave you in that condition; I thought you were sick! Don't you dare cry now! It's twenty years too late and I'm not a bit moved. I don't even feel sorry for you. You've made yourself what you are, Sophia, and if you hate yourself that way, don't start blaming me. Smile, won't you, please? A pretty, friendly smile, as if you enjoyed your comrade's company. Not through tears, you ninny! That's ten times worse! There, that's better. I don't see why you'd hate yourself. To me you've turned out just fine; you've already led two different lives —”
“You're the rascal, you know that Luisa?”
“See? I haven't turned out so bad either!”
“Thanks for the delicious dinner, Luisa, and for taking me to see Lem. Let me pour another round before I leave. To our friendship!”
“Bravo Sophia! There were thousands of other things I'd wanted to tell you.”
“Then you'll have to invite me thousands of times!”
It must all sound terribly garbled to you. That Sunday night as I rode home in a taxi I was determined to start writing you the following morning, before I'd forgotten everything I had just learned. I got home exhausted and slightly drunk. But I couldn't sleep. What Sabina and Luisa had told me about Nachalo, Margarita and George Alberts passed through my mind alongside images of that dirty, bearded hermit who had slept in what had once been my room. The following morning I got up with a headache. I stared at a blank sheet of paper but couldn't concentrate on anything. In fact I sat and stared all day long. I didn't even thank Sabina when she brought me a sandwich. It was my first completely empty day in years. It wasn't only the previous night's wine, nor my headache, that made me stare “like an idiot who'd lost all her brains.” I wondered if I'd really turned out as fine as Luisa claimed I had, if I had any reason to be satisfied with the “two lives” I'd led (I suppose she meant my academic life and my life with Sabina, Ron and their friends). I had lost my teaching job and didn't have the prospect of finding another one. It dawned on me that for the past twelve years I hadn't had any projects. All my life I've wanted to create something of my own, something that has meaning to those I love. Yet for the past twelve years I've had only jobs, pseudo-projects, activities that use up my project-time and my creative energy but aren't in any sense my own: they existed before me and continue after me. They did more than use up my energy. They were substitutes for the real thing; they pretended to be projects; they filled the gap left by the absence of any activity of my own. They gave me the illusion that I was living while twelve dead years went by. It dawned on me that I hadn't done anything of my own since I'd worked on my “novel” just before being thrown out of the university and evicted from the cooperative dormitory. I had abandoned that manuscript in the garage and hadn't even seen it again until Sabina brought it with her things two years later, when we moved into our house. And I didn't touch that manuscript until your first letter came. For twelve years I'd had experiences, dreams — and jobs. But no projects of my own. That thought nauseated me; I felt empty. Luisa was wrong. I had every reason to hate what I'd made myself, or rather what I'd failed to make. I may have looked like an“idiot” but I was lucid for the first time in twelve years, and I was frightened.
Fortunately early the next morning — a week ago yesterday — Tina saved me from the fright, and from the lucidity as well. She came to tell Sabina and me that something very much like a revolution was breaking out.
“I thought you'd both be interested,” she said. Turning to Sabina she added, “Ted thinks this might be the beginning of something big, something you all used to talk about in the garage.”
“In a university building?” Sabina asked sarcastically.
“It's not a university any more, Sabina, The students aren't students any more, but just people. Workers have been coming from all over the city and they're no longer workers; they're just people too. And they're all talking to each other. I've never seen so many people so excited. Ted thinks something big is possible. I think anything at all is possible. It's what both of you always looked forward to.”
“Everything is always possible when it isn't real,” Sabina said.
“Stay home, then. It won't be my fault! Ted is so sure it's real he's trying to get Tissie out of the state hospital on parole. He wants her to be in on it.”
“Damn it, Tina, don't just stand there! Call a cab!”
“Ted knew you'd come, Sabina. He wants you to be at the hospital with him when Tissie comes out; he thinks she'll be less frightened if you're there. You can both stay at Ted's. I'm staying in the commune.”
“Don't waste my time arguing, Tina! I've got to pack!”
I told Tina, hesitantly, “I'd rather not stay at Ted's.”
“That's real news, Sophia! Hear that, Sabina? She'd rather not stay at Ted's! Why have you kept it from us all these years, Sophia? We all thought you were crazy about Ted!”
“I'll just stay here and I'll go there every morning by cab.”
“And what'll you do when the cab drivers go on strike?”
“I'll spend the day walking! I can hardly stay in that university commune since I'm not a student!”
“If you're not a student what am I? Oh shit, Sophia, have it your way! Stay here and read about it when the books start coming out.”
“You're a gem, Tina. Don't let the cab leave without me!”
The three of us went to the revolution by taxi. We got out in front of Ted's print shop, or rather the cooperative print shop started by Ted; Tina snapped at me for calling it “Ted's.” Sabina went inside with Tina while I waited outside. Young people rushed in and rushed out with stacks of papers, talking excitedly. When Tina came back she told me Ted was out, probably arguing with hospital officials to get Tissie released; Sabina had decided to stay in the print shop and wait for Ted to return. I leaned against the building wall.
“Sophia, what's the matter? You're trembling!” Tina observed.
“Frightened of what? This is what you dreamed about for all those years.”
“I know. But I never dreamed what I'd do if it actually happened.”
“You're such a baby! Come on, I'll hold your hand. We've got work to do.”
“Sorry you brought me?” I asked.
“No, I'm glad. If you can do it, anyone can!”
Tina pulled me toward the main classroom building, the building in which I'd attended most of my university lectures. As soon as I saw the building I knew that “something big” had already taken place, that this was no mere picnic like the “general strike” which I'd attended with Daman.
The main classroom building is transformed in ways I would have thought unimaginable when I took classes here. Black flags, red flags and even a few “black and red flags hang out of the windows. Posters, banners and painted slogans cover every inch of wall space. Over the main entrance there's a single word in enormous, beautiful letters: “Liberated.”
Tina was more familiar with the building than I had been when I'd studied there. She took me to what had been the mam lecture hall, a large auditorium that had sometimes been used for performances of plays or movies. The sign above the doorway now says. “General Assembly.” It was fuller than I'd ever seen it. All the seats were taken; people sat on the steps and leaned on the walls. I heard statements about “factory occupations” and about “extending communication.” I couldn't make much sense out of the discussion and Tina didn't give me a chance to concentrate. A young man whom I've come to know quite well during the past week, Pat Clesec, walked toward Tina with a box full of leaflets. Tina grabbed a large stack and handed me a smaller one. “Have them passed down the aisles on this side, and make sure everyone gets one,” she whispered. I nervously carried out my first task. The meeting ended at about the time I ran out of leaflets. Suddenly I was lost in a sea of people. I looked frantically for Tina as I followed the crowd out of the auditorium. One person walked up to me and, pointing to the leaflet I had just given out, asked me, “This is a real gas; do you work there?” I shook my head stupidly; I hadn't even read the leaflet! I was so relieved to see Tina and Pat waiting outside the auditorium that I ran toward them.
“Sophia, this is Pat Clesec, the only person I've met of my age who knows as much as you or Sabina.”
Pat grinned immodestly as he shook my hand. “Tina told me you were one of her best friends.”
“I also told him you were a little nutty. I hope you don't mind. I've got to run. He'll show you where things are.”
I felt lost without Tina. I studied the spectacled eighteen-year old boy who looked like a premature professor and I couldn't feel any confidence in him. “Are you going to show me what to do?”
“Obviously not, Miss Nachalo. Are you Tina's sister or are you really just her friend?”
“Almost her sister but call me Sophia and I won't have to explain. What do you mean by `obviously not'? Tina just said —”
“No one is going to show you what to do, Sophia.”
“But I've just gotten here!”
“We've all just gotten here. Most of us came because there aren't any supervisors or leaders here to tell us what to do.”
I was terribly embarrassed. “I didn't mean my question the way it sounded. But I'm lying. I did mean it. All my life I've dreamed of the day when people would make their own decisions, yet I've never in my life made my own decisions.”
“Obviously not. People in a slave society reproduce their own slavery. But there are moments when they stop doing that. This is one of those moments.”
“I hope so. Can you at least show me where things are?”
“Bathroom is over there. Beds on the fourth and fifth floors. Food in the basement. Discussions, arguments, meetings, projects everywhere else.”
“Tell me one more thing. What was on the leaflet I just gave out, and what was the topic of the general assembly meeting?”
“You gave out the leaflet without reading it?”
“Tina told you I was nutty.”
He told me the meeting I'd just attended had been a gathering of students occupying the building as well as workers from occupied factories all over the city. The general assembly had discussed ways to extend information and encouragement to factories and other workplaces that were still functioning “as before.” At the very beginning of the meeting someone had announced that the workers of the city's largest assembly plant had just gone on a wildcat strike, had locked up the plant manager and several foremen and occupied the plant, and that several of them were present at the meeting and ready to do whatever was necessary to extend the occupations. As a first step, it was decided that news of the wildcat was to be carried to every corner of the city. Workers from the assembly plant, accompanied by Tina, Pat and several of their friends who'd learned to print, went to the “co-op” to print the announcement. Tina had gone to fetch Sabina and me while the leaflets were being printed. Meanwhile Pat learned that a very dramatic event had taken place at the general assembly meeting. A member of a political sect had given a speech calling for “picket lines and demonstrations to support the wildcatting assembly plant workers.” He had been applauded. But then one of the strikers had given a speech explaining that picket lines and demonstrations would only attract the police, whereas what was needed was “wildcat strikes and occupations everywhere; we don't want demonstrations called by politicians; we don't want picket lines manned by politicians; we understand that such tactics are maneuvers through which politicians tie their ropes around our necks.” He had gotten a standing ovation. Someone had shouted, “Hang the politicians with the guts of the capitalists!” At that point, the politician who had given the speech as well as all the rest of his organization had angrily walked out of the auditorium, while everyone else in the room applauded and cheered wildly; someone shouted after them, “Disband! That'll be your greatest political act!“After the politicians had left, the general assembly had resolved to create organs for the dissemination of information about the occupations; Tina and I had walked in while the final details of that resolution were being worked out.
While listening to Pat, I had followed him up the stairs to the third floor. People rushed past us in couples, in groups, all laughing, arguing, shouting. Wherever I looked there were posters, announcements, graffiti. On the doors of former classrooms were the names of factories — of those factories that were already occupied. Pat stopped in front of a room with two signs: “Workers' Councils” above, and below that: “Occupations, Information.” It was full of people. He started to go in.
“Do you know anyone in there?” I asked him.
“I don't think so. Why?”
“What are you going to do in there?” I asked uneasily.
“I haven't the vaguest idea.”
Feeling reassured, I went in with him. The atmosphere was tense. Someone was saying, “We've had the support of students before. Twice. And we were had both times. I know this is something different. But the others aren't convinced.” Pat whispered for a long time with the person next to him. When he was through I nudged him and he pulled me out of the room. He told me that during the past year workers at a nearby office machine plant had gone on two wildcat strikes; both times they'd been supported by students who belonged to political sects and both times the student politicians had been advertised in the city newspapers as “leaders” of the strike while wildcatting workers had lost their jobs. When we went back in, the office machine worker was asking how many of the people in the room were willing to go to her plant the following morning to talk to her fellow workers about the occupations. More than half the people there raised their hands, including Pat. I didn't budge. It was agreed that those willing to go would meet in that room at five the next morning.
As everyone walked out of the room, I clung to Pat. “Can I go with you in the morning?”
“That's not up to me, Sophia. I'll be here at five.”
“So will I.”
I walked up to the fourth floor, peered into each of the classrooms that had been converted to a bedroom, and went on to the fifth floor. I had expected one dormitory floor to be for men, the other for women. But each single room was mixed. I walked dizzily from one door to the next until I recognized a young woman I had just seen in the “workers' council room” (which we later called the “council office”). I sat down on the unoccupied mattress next to hers and asked if anyone had an alarm clock to wake me before five the next morning. She told me everyone in the room would be up before five.
The following morning a large crowd of sleepy people was gathered in front of the council office, including Pat as well as my new roommate. I clung to Pat as we all walked to the office machine plant. He was much friendlier to me than he had been the previous day. He talked excitedly all the way to the plant. He told me about the beginning of the occupation of the university, the creation of the commune, the first occupations in factories. He convinced me that people all over the city had started to act on their own, without instructions from “leaders,” without orders from any apparatus whatever, even “their own” apparatus, the union.
When we reached the plant gate, Pat walked up to a woman who seemed to be Luisa's age and told her, “We'd like to talk to you about the occupations.”
“I'd like nothing better,” the woman said, as if she'd expected Pat to say exactly what he said; “I'll be in the restaurant across the street at noon, with several others who've got hundreds of questions to ask. And you'd better be there!”
Pat and I had breakfast in the restaurant across the street and stayed there drinking coffee until noon. The woman Pat had spoken to came in with five other women. They pushed two tables together and motioned for us to join them. As soon as we were all seated one of the women turned to me and, with a hostility that immediately angered me, asked, “What's in this for you, dearie? Who're you with? Who sent you? Who's behind all this?”
I snapped, “What's in it for me is intense personal satisfaction; this is probably the biggest thing that's happened to me in my whole life. No one sent me except myself and I'm not with anyone except my friend Pat. If someone were behind all this, I'd never have gotten up before five in the morning!”
Other women asked questions; I answered, and I continued answering during the entire lunch hour. Before they returned to work, one of the women suggested, “Why don't you two come to the union hall tomorrow night? Lots of people would like to hear what you've got to say.”
I said, “If we go to the union hall, then the union is going to be behind all this.”
“At my house, then!” the woman said, giving us her address.
We had lunch with the same women again the next day, and at night we met with a large number of office machine workers at the house of the woman who'd given us her address. People continually bombarded me with questions, most of them insulting and many repetitious, and I continued responding, angrily and with injured pride, that no one had sent me, that I was on my own for the first time in my life. Pat was surprisingly quiet; he mainly supplied factual information of which I was ignorant.
As we walked back to the former classroom building that second night, Pat grinned and told me, “You're really good. What did you do before this? Were you in any organization?”
I told him I had never been in an organization but had once taken part in a vast uprising, something like a revolution. Twenty years ago. With you.
We spent the following day arranging a meeting with a different group of workers from the same plant. Between our sessions with the workers, Pat and I talked to each other uninterruptedly, about everything. When we were alone he did most of the talking. At first I found him altogether incomprehensible; he uses expressions like “desublimation of eros” and “supersession of alienated being” as if they were part of everyday language. Gradually I realized he was merely expressing my own goals with a language he'd borrowed from a newer radical literature than the one I had read. I shouldn't say “my own goals” so matter-of-factly, since that makes me seem terribly wise while it makes him seem unoriginal. He does express several things that are new to me. For example, he doesn't only talk about putting an end to coercion, to external, physical repression, but also to internal coercion, self-repression, the repression of one's own desires. Yet his behavior conflicts with everything he says about desires; he's a perfectly proper, completely serious young man; I actually doubt that he's ever personally experienced the desires he describes at such great length. Once I asked him if he ever thought of sex. He answered, “Obviously; erotic play will occupy a central place in the disalienated gemeinschaft.” He said it without a trace of personal involvement, with the detachment of a philosophy professor talking about Plato's cave. But I like him. I liked him from the moment he said “obviously not” to my request to show me what to do. For four days we were together from early morning until late at night and I found myself drawn to him like a negative magnet is drawn to a positive. I listened to everything he told me as attentively as I had listened to you twenty years ago; I became something like his political apprentice.
Yet there's something perverse in my feelings toward Pat, and I'm ashamed to write about that because I'm ashamed to experience such feelings in myself. Already on the first morning when we went together to the office machine plant I felt my heart jump to my throat as soon as I saw him. Yes, I'm drawn to him as I was once drawn to you: because he seems so clearheaded and determined, because he seems to know so much about what's happening around us. But I'm also drawn to him as I was to Ron, and to Jose when I lived in the garage. This is the feeling I don't understand. I loved you; I loved Ron and Jose. But I know I don't love Pat. I admire him — the way one admires acrobats or certain freaks. I don't respect him. All I feel toward him is what he talks about so much: desire. I listened so attentively to everything he said because every word he spoke excited me physically, sexually. The reason I felt ashamed was because my excitement wasn't accompanied by love or even warmth toward him but by an irrepressible desire to pull him down from the heights of his abstractions. I was excited by the desire to humiliate him; I felt like tearing his clothes off his body in order to tear those abstractions out of his head. What excited me was the prospect of raping the boy-genius, the prospect of physically overcoming that pure intellect who simultaneously attracted, intimidated and repelled me. I felt ashamed as soon as I began to suspect the nature of my desire. I've never felt that way toward anyone: so condescending, contemptuous, authoritarian. In fact, I had thought myself incapable of that kind of feeling, although Hugh once accused me of behaving as if I felt that way toward everyone.
Fortunately I was able to get out of the situation that stimulated my perverse desire before I felt compelled either to repress it or to act on it. The office machine workers went on strike three days ago. When I first heard of this I thought with some pride that my “talks” might have contributed something to this decision, but I was deflated a few hours later when two of the women I'd talked to told me they had opposed the strike until the very last moment; they had joined it only out of solidarity with the majority. That day and the whole next day there was a festive atmosphere here, in the entire building. In the council office (that was when it acquired this name) it was decided that leaflets, announcements and all other bits of information about strikes and occupations everywhere in the city were to be kept in that room, and at least one person was to remain there during all hours of the day to help people find the information they were looking for. I was the first to volunteer for that “assignment,” and I've been in this room sixteen hours a day since the day before yesterday. I volunteered for two reasons: I wanted to find time to write you, and I wanted to get away from Pat until I'd had a chance to clarify my feelings toward him. I've seen him twice since then, at our evening meetings, and on both occasions I sat some distance away from him.
Yesterday evening, after a meeting with two postal workers who asked eagerly about the occupations, I left the “office” briefly and telephoned Luisa. I told her exactly what Tina had told Sabina and me. “It's happening, Luisa. What you've always looked forward to.”
“Where are you?”
“For the past day and a half I've been in an office that disseminates information about the occupations.”
“Sounds exciting. Did Daman ever find you? He told me he'd been trying to find out what you were going to do after losing your last job. There was no answer at your house for several days, so he thought you and Sabina had both been kidnapped.”
“Couldn't he guess where we were? What's he been doing?”
“He's been staying home, since his classes were called off,” Luisa said, without a trace of irony.
“His classes called off! His whole world's been called off! The hypocritical jackass!”
“Sophia, he tried to reach you because he thought you might need his help finding another job.”
“He's the one who'll need help pretty soon! What about you, Luisa? There are millions of things to do here, and there's lots of room for you to stay overnight.”
“Sophia, you know perfectly well I'd lose my job if I left right now!”
“So what? Tina simply walked off her job and told us: They'll miss me in about a week and then they'll get someone else.”
“I'm not Sabina's daughter! I'll join you as soon as the union calls a strike in my plant.”
“The union! Luisa, where have you been? Don't tell me you still think it's not a strike unless the union calls it!”
“Would you mind calling me back when you're less hysterical, Sophia?”
I hung up, but almost immediately I felt bad about having done that I remembered that neither Sabina nor I had jumped up with glee when Tina had first told us about the commune and the occupations. Maybe I was unintentionally getting even with Luisa for having made me feel so “old.”
The two postal workers who came to the council office yesterday were here again today. They came to get a second and larger collection of leaflets; they told me that mail carriers, drivers, clerks and other postal workers had spent the day talking about striking. I can't believe it! But in case it does happen, please send your next letter to the following address across the border; (...). I'll manage to get it from there. I hope the cab drivers don't go on strike before I have a chance to go home to see if you've already sent a letter.
Right now I'm alone in the council office. It almost looks like an empty classroom; I'm using the “professor's desk” to write this letter. I'm waiting for other workers to walk in: workers from unoccupied factories, from other cities, from other continents. I'm waiting for you to walk into the council office.
- I love you,
|Cartas de Insurgentes|
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