Terceira carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)
- Dear Yarostan,
You should be happy to learn that Sabina's comment after she read your letter was, “He's absolutely right.”
With this comment, Sabina lit a fuse on a stick of dynamite. Her comment gave rise to a discussion that lasted all night and to some of the most bitter arguments I've ever experienced. During this discussion Sabina and Tina forced me to admit that I did actually make a choice of the type you described, a choice between Luisa and Ron, between the pedagogy you condemn and the “individual act of rebellion” you glorify.
I had invited Luisa to supper as soon as your letter came. She read the letter as soon as she arrived but the only comment she made during supper was, “Be sure to tell him how pleased I was to hear about Jasna.”
Tina read the letter when she got home from her job. While we ate she didn't take her eyes off Luisa; she couldn't hide her impatience to see Luisa respond to the critiques you made of her.
Sabina didn't show any impatience at all. “Have we institutionalized the letter-reading party?” she asked. (Neither she nor Tina had read your previous letter when it came; when Sabina finally did read it after I sent my answer, she had been very excited to learn that “The Mirna he married was Jan's sister!” She told me “I knew her; she was a marvel!”)
Our whole discussion-revolved around the questions you raised in your letter. I can think of no better way to answer you than to give you an account of the discussion.
Sabina's opening comment yields the expected response from Luisa: “Absolutely right about what? About Manuel and Zdenek and Anton? They're obviously fictions. He's merely giving names to his ridiculous arguments. After all, he can tell us anything he pleases. He can tell Sophia her letter caused his arrest. He can tell us Marc Glavni and Adrian Povrshan are television stars. From here we can't prove otherwise.”
“He did go out of his way to tell me he didn't think my letter caused his arrest,” I insist.
Tina grabs your letter saying, “Not exactly,” and finding the spot, she points out, “He asks what Lem was doing there besides delivering your letter.”
I tell Tina that as far as I knew that was all Lem was doing.
“That doesn't exactly clear you,” Tina points out.
Luisa adds. “Lem told me the investigators tortured him to find out who else he had letters for. Your letter was precisely what interested them.”
“What does that prove?” I ask her; “that I was in fact responsible for Yarostan's arrest?”
“It proves,” Luisa says insistently, “that Yarostan is using that ancient letter of yours to support arguments which Sabina considers absolutely right. Specifically the reactionary argument that victims are responsible for their own oppression.”
I try to defend you. “He's not `using' the letter that way. He doesn't mean that argument to be taken personally. The point he makes is perfectly clear to me. We don't always know the consequences of our acts. He doesn't say my letter caused his arrest. He says it might have. And he's right when he says I couldn't have imagined it might have had such a consequence.”
“You're apologizing for him,” Luisa insists. “His point is to make all of us responsible for the establishment of a police state.”
Now Tina comes to your defense by pointing out, “He doesn't exactly say that either.”
Luisa insists, “That's exactly what he does say! He insinuates it throughout his letter. Even that cryptic reference to George Alberts not being jailed is an accusation —”
“Come off that,” Tina objects. “He says it was Sophia's reference to Alberts that was cryptic. She told him Alberts wasn't arrested. Well I'm as surprised as Yarostan must have been. The last time you were here you told me Alberts had been fired from his job just before you were all arrested so I obviously assumed Alberts was arrested like the rest of you.”
“Alberts obviously wasn't arrested!” Luisa tells us.
“What's so obvious about it?” Tina asks.
“It was Alberts who made our release possible! He couldn't have done that from jail,” Luisa says.
“Does Yarostan know that?” Tina asks.
“Of course he does!” Luisa insists. “And he acts as if all of us were suspicious because of that, as if all of us had conspired to keep him in jail.”
“No he doesn't,” Tina says, handing your letter to Luisa. “Read it again. You treat this letter exactly the same way he says you treat your past: by disregarding the facts.”
“Really, Luisa, you're making him say the opposite of what he said,” I point out. “In both letters Yarostan makes it clear that he had no reason in the world to suspect Alberts, that the suspicion was created by Claude.”
“You're both leading me away from the point,” Luisa insists. “When Yarostan speaks of his suspicion of Alberts he invariably uses words like `suspicion' and `enemy' exactly the same way the police use those terms.”
“That's a different point,” Sabina tells her, pouring each of us coffee.
“Don't interrupt me! In both letters he drags his suspicion of Alberts —”
“Well it is a different point!” Tina tells her.
“Then let me finish my different point!” Luisa shouts. “He says that whenever we consider someone suspicious we hand him to the police to be shot! Whenever we consider someone an enemy we carry out a pogrom! Sophia rightly told him our project was to communicate, not excommunicate. He turned that completely around —”
Tina interrupts again. “He only said he had seen a lot of people passively accept the arrest of their friends.”
“That's what I'm talking about! Arrests and imprisonments are his whole frame of reference. It's the frame of reference of the police. When I'm suspicious of someone, I don't think of arrest and imprisonment. The point is to destroy the institution, not the individual.”
“How do you do that?” Tina asks.
“If you can't distinguish the institution from the individual, your unorthodox education didn't amount to much!”
I swallow the insult because I'm embarrassed for Tina, and my embarrassment grows when Tina asks, “How do you distinguish between them?”
Tina's naive question transforms Luisa into the pedagogue you remember so well. “A priest without a cloak or a church is merely an individual. Such a priest is like a child who doesn't know how to make anything useful. He ought to be treated like a child and taught to do useful things.”
“What about a soldier or a boss or a bureaucrat?” Tina asks.
“A soldier without a gun or an army is like a priest without a cloak or a church; he should be kept from dangerous implements like a child from fire, but he should be given a chance to develop in other ways.”
“What if he holds on to his implements and threatens to kill you?”
Exasperated, I ask Tina, “What are you getting at?”
“Either I'm defending violence or I'm lost,” Tina tells me. She crouches down in her chair when Luisa and I laugh at her.
Sabina doesn't laugh. “What is your point, Luisa? Yarostan uses terms like suspicion and enemy the way the police use them. So?”
“He can use terms any way he pleases. I don't mean the same thing by them,” Luisa tells her.
“A person who says one thing and means another is a hypocrite.” That statement summarizes Sabina's view of Luisa. “Take the slogan, `Factories should be administered by the workers themselves.'”
“What about it?” Luisa asks.
“What do you mean by it?” Sabina asks her.
“I certainly don't mean `Genghis Khan for boss'! I mean exactly what the slogan says!” Luisa shouts.
“Yet all those factories are now bossed by Genghis.”
“Not because of me!” Luisa shouts.
“Who installed them?” Sabina asks.
“The new bosses obviously weren't installed by the very people who fought against them!” Luisa answers.
Sabina asks, “Did you ever meet anyone who fought to install a new boss?”
“Some people fought with nothing but words! In practice —”
“In practice they carried the same placard you carried,” Sabina tells her.
I intervene in favor of Luisa. “That's not fair, Sabina. Some of the people who carried those placards knew perfectly well that their own party leaders were going to set themselves up as new bosses.”
“Were some of those people workers?” Sabina asks me.
“I didn't say they weren't. Some workers looked forward to the day when their politician would be boss,” I admit.
“But the overwhelming majority of workers opposed the establishment of the new bosses?” she asks me.
“Obviously!” I insist. “Yon know that as well as I do.”
“Then why didn't the overwhelming majority throw out the new bosses as soon as they installed themselves?” Sabina asks me. “According to Yarostan only the workers of a single town rose against those bosses during the past twenty years.”
“The fact that those workers rose proves that workers were opposed to the new bosses,” I argue.
“Really?” Sabina asks sarcastically. “Doesn't it prove that all other workers submitted to the new bosses?”
“They were overpowered,” I insist.
“Yes they were! Precisely because all other workers acquiesced! If workers had risen in all the towns, no force could have overpowered them.” While saying this. Sabina leaps out of her chair, grabs me and then Tina by the waist, and starts tugging us toward the kitchen. “Your place is in the kitchen!” she shouts.
“Let go of me!” Tina shouts, pulling herself loose, while I scream, “Sabina! What's gotten into you?”
Sabina lets me go. Then she points toward the kitchen door and, trying to act like an army officer giving a command, says, “Luisa! Tina! Take Sophia into the kitchen! On the double!”
“What on earth for?” Luisa protests. “Have you gone crazy?”
“And you're telling me a handful of politicians can give orders to the majority of workers without the majority's acquiescence?” Sabina asks.
While Sabina glares triumphantly at Luisa. Tina slyly slips behind Sabina, gets on all fours and nods to me. I give Sabina a slight push and she falls flat on her back. Tina slips out from under Sabina's legs, raises Sabina's hand and proclaims, “The loser!”
Luisa and I laugh and applaud. This is to be Luisa's only moment of relief.
Remaining stretched out on the floor, Sabina tells Luisa and me, “This is what happens to a jailer when the majority doesn't want jailers. You think the majority didn't want jailers back then. But Yarostan is right. You're nursing an illusion. Sophia, you didn't believe Lem when he told you he'd been tortured. What about you, Luisa? Did you become disillusioned with those fellow workers when Lem told you about the tortures?”
“Lem wasn't tortured by workers but by inquisitors, by prison officials,” Luisa insists. *
“By workers who obeyed the orders of prison officials.”
“That's how Yarostan sees it,” Luisa tells her.
“Why did you disobey me when I ordered you to drag Sophia to the kitchen?” Sabina asks her.
“You unprincipled —”
“Try again!” Sabina shouts to her.
“Would you two like to fight it out with knives or do you want guns?” Tina asks, but her joke goes unappreciated.
“You spent your whole life among hoodlums. You have no right to breathe a word about workers who fought to free themselves.” Saying this, Luisa gets up, turns her back to Sabina and walks toward the bookcase.
Sabina turns to me. “Next time you write Yarostan ask him to tell you more about Manuel. Ask him how many friends he had when he refused to obey the orders of the union leaders. Ask him if they were the majority. Ask him if those friends were hoodlums, like Ron and I.”
Keeping her back to Sabina, Luisa snaps, “There aren't any hoodlums like Ron or you among genuinely revolutionary workers.”
“Ask Yarostan,” Sabina continues, “if Manuel's friends wanted to take pot shots at the union leaders the way that resistance fighter shot at the new occupiers. Ask him if they wanted to deal with the union officials the same way you and Tina dealt with me —”
“What'll that prove?” I ask.
“Ask him which side liquidated those friends of his. Ask if they were shot by the army generals or by the revolutionaries who spoke in the name of the workers.”
“But it's perfectly clear who killed them!” I insist.
“Who?” Sabina asks.
While I say, “The generals,” Tina simultaneously says, “The revolutionaries.”
Sabina wins another bout and, as if she had suddenly gone over to her side, Luisa blurts out, “There were obviously enemies behind the lines as well as across the trenches.”
“Really?” Sabina pounces. “Enemies who were shot? I had thought enemies were defrocked and treated like little children!”
“There were paid enemy agents who murdered revolutionary workers and sabotaged production,” Luisa continues.
“And what happened to them?” Tina asks.
“They were shot!”
“But a while ago you said you didn't use the term enemy that way!” It's Tina's turn to embarrass Luisa.
Not embarrassed in the least, Luisa continues, “If those saboteurs and assassins hadn't been caught, the revolution would have been defeated right at the start.”
“Then why did everyone laugh at me before?” Tina asks.
Disregarding Tina, Sabina plunges in. “Such saboteurs and assassins were an even greater threat to the revolutionaries than the attacking militarists, weren't they?”
I try to warn Luisa that Sabina is leading her into a trap, but Luisa insists on walking right into it. “That's right, such people were the greatest danger. The militarists were visible enemies, they were openly reactionary, they were on the other side of the trenches, whereas these weasels were indistinguishable from workers. They infiltrated union meetings and workers' militias; they paraded as the greatest revolutionaries. Usually they couldn't be spotted until after they had done their deeds or proclaimed their reactionary programs.”
“You just said there weren't any such people in that revolution,” Tina observes.
“There weren't,” says Sabina. “Destructive hoodlums like Ron didn't exist because they were all shot by the good revolutionaries.”
I protest. “Yarostan didn't say anything like that.”
“Ask him!” Sabina insists. “Ask him what Manuel's friends were like and who shot them!”
Luisa is intent on continuing her argument. “Yarostan compares a great historical rising of the working population with the petty thievery of a hooligan. He damns revolutionaries and glorifies gangsters. Jan, Manuel, Ron and Yarostan himself are types that become shock troops of reactionary movements.”
Deliberately disregarding Luisa's newest observation, Sabina asks me, “What did you tell him about Ron?”
Luisa says, “You obviously glorified Ron in your letter to Yarostan.”
“No I didn't,” I tell her. “I only described Ron. I told him Ron stole bicycles. To Yarostan those thefts were individual acts of rebellion. It was Yarostan who glorified him.”
“And you never saw him as a rebel?” Sabina asks me.
“Well yes, I did at the beginning,” I admit. “I compared him to Yarostan and I glorified both. But I was wrong about Ron.”
“When did you know that?” Sabina asks me.
“I knew it before that night when I walked away from both of you, the night when you told me I was just like Luisa.”
“Did you bother to remember that over all these years?” Sabina asks me.
“I wrote it down so as never to forget it. You had no right to say that.”
Luisa asks, “Was that insulting to you?”
Leaving me no chance to answer, Sabina says, “You wrote it down wrong. I said that before you walked away from us, before the car was wrecked. You were an ass that night.”
“I thought you and Ron had just made love on the beach!”
“Ron and I swam together and that was all! Surely you know that now! Ron knew what you'd think. He said if you suspected your best friends without asking them anything, he was through with you.”
Luisa says to me, “It's a good thing you walked out on them or you'd have stayed with that nest of —”
Tina cuts her short. “Don't say it. Please. You're talking about the people who gave me food, love and shelter, who made me what I am now. They were not a nest. They were the great sages of the age.” Feigning an upper class air she continues, “If you would care to compare my wit with that of your own protege, sitting on your immediate left, I would be glad to demonstrate —”
“Tina!” I whisper, embarrassed for Luisa because Sabina is roaring with laughter. I can hardly keep myself from bursting out laughing, but Luisa looks miserable.
“I'm here too, you know,” Tina pleads.
Something in me explodes. “I know you are. So am I. Luisa. you have no right to call our friends a nest of anything. My weeks with Ron were the only happy weeks I spent here until I left for college. Yes, happy, filled with activity, with humor, with life. When I lost Ron and Sabina my insides emptied. I spent my time staring like an owl. You thought everything was fine because we talked about the past every evening. Please don't get up to leave, Luisa! I enjoyed our discussions and they meant a great deal to me — But I didn't want to live only in the past. I wanted a present as well. No, you didn't keep me from anything. You prohibited nothing. I knew I could do whatever I pleased and leave whenever I wanted, but I didn't want to tell you our evening talks weren't enough for me, I didn't want to tell you I loved Ron —”
Sabina interrupts me, “I never thought —”
“I'm not done yet!” I tell Sabina. “If Ron loved me, he loved only half of me. He rejected the other half. I knew that long before the night we went to the beach, Ron knew it and you knew it too! It was all so obvious to me on the night of that school theft when you and Ron came to the house with the two bikes you wanted me to keep for you. I hadn't seen either of you for almost a year and Ron didn't even show his face. You didn't tell me what you were doing or where you were going. The two of you used me but you didn't trust me. That's not the way you treat what you're calling your best friend.”
Luisa asks Sabina, “Did you take part in that school theft?”
I turn angrily to Luisa, “Is that all you heard me say? Yes, she took part in it! So did I! Even you were an accomplice in it!”
“Don't play Sabina's games on me!” Luisa shouts.
“I'm not playing games!” I shout back. “One night, after you had gone to sleep, I woke up with a start because someone was throwing pebbles at my window. I looked out and saw Sabina grinning innocently, as if throwing pebbles at windows at that time of night were perfectly normal. I ran to the door and let her in. I thought something horrible had happened. Sabina calmly brought two bicycles in.”
“Would you mind keeping these for half an hour? And please leave your door unlocked.”
“That's exactly what you said then, Sabina! And you said it with that same grin. Since you remember it so well, tell me why you came alone. Why didn't Ron come with you? What was I to Ron then? Do you also remember what state you left me in? I stood by the door trembling during the entire half hour; I felt as if several hours had gone by. I was sure you'd tell me what happened as soon as you got back. I was so sure you'd explain everything that I wasn't prepared to stop you from leaving before you told me anything. But you came back with that same demonic grin and all you said was — no, don't remind me, how could I forget? — `Thanks a lot.' That's all! You vanished with the bikes before I could open my mouth. I'd never felt so humiliated. I thought you had completed the blow you had begun to strike at me the night we went to the beach. The following morning I preferred to think I'd had a nightmare.”
Luisa points a shaking finger at Sabina. “You had the nerve to use my house for that theft?” Turning to me she asks, “And you helped her?”
“That wasn't what bothered me!” I shout. “Ron was in jail before I learned what had happened. That was what bothered me. Sabina, why didn't you tell me what you and Ron had done? Why did I have to go see you after Luisa told me there was a story in the paper about `that awful Ron'.”
Sabina reminds me, “You came to Alberts' house before the trial. The story was in the paper after the trial.”
“But I already knew about the robbery when I went to see you.”
“Lem Icel told you about it,” she reminds me.
“That's right. The police had contacted Debbie Matthews. She told Lem about it. At the end of a class Lem told me, `They've caught the lumpen; he'll be on trial next week.' I left school and ran directly to your house.”
“George Alberts' house,” she corrects.
“To me it was your house. I was furious. I wanted to let you know how mad I was at you for letting me stand behind my door trembling, staring at the two bikes. You said `Come in' as nonchalantly as if nothing had happened. I was boiling.”
“Well, what did you do?” Tina asks me.
“Nothing, because I saw a tiny shrieking bundle on the couch and I forgot everything I had intended to shout. I asked Sabina whose it was —”
“You asked what it was,” Sabina reminds me.
“The bundle was you, Tina, brand new.”
“My! What an exciting story!” Tina says sarcastically. “Has it all been building up to my grand entry into the world?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Tina. As soon as I learned `what' you were I lost interest in you. I've never been fascinated by people who only know how to goo and pee.”
“Neither have I, so you don't have to apologize,” Tina says.
“I remembered why I was there and some of my fury returned. Sabina continued to act as if nothing had happened. She still didn't tell me —”
“Tell you what?” Sabina asks, purposely acting out the role she had played then.
“That's what you said! `Tell you what?' Of course I knew about the robbery by then. I wanted you to tell me why you'd let me stand behind my door waiting ignorantly. But without saying a word you led me down to your basement. I was stunned. It was full of bike parts, motors and all kinds of other junk; it smelled like grease and paint. I again forgot what I'd come to ask. I asked if you'd stolen all those things and you said you'd stolen half. When I asked what you did with it all, you said you repaired some things, changed others and then sold them. My anger disappeared. For some reason I thought everything was clear, but nothing was.”
Luisa mutters, “Is this what Yarostan considers heroic acts of individual rebellion? Stealing from working people and schoolchildren is worse than scabbing.”
“That was how I felt when I walked home from Sabina's after she showed me her basement,” I admit. “I understood Ron wasn't what I had thought he was. He wasn't a rebel. He was no different from any unscrupulous businessman.”
“Ron and I both knew that was how you felt,” Sabina tells me.
“Is that why you didn't tell me anything? Were you afraid I'd give Ron away to the police?” I ask. “If that was the extent to which he trusted me how can you tell me I was his best friend? What difference would it have made if I had known? It was his own fingerprints that gave him away.”
“Ron wasn't arrested or convicted because of those fingerprints,” Sabina says mysteriously. “The prosecutor had no way to connect the fingerprints with the robbery.”
“You mean you stole that lens?” I ask Sabina.
“We both stole it,” she says. “Ron climbed into the principal's office through the window. I stayed across the street and kept watch.”
“And he left his fingerprints all over that slide projector!” I point out.
“It was the lens of a brand new movie projector,” Sabina says. “The school had bought it mainly for George Alberts' science classes.”
“How did Ron know that?” I ask. “He was no longer in school.”
“Ron had seen it when it had first arrived,” she explains. “Shortly before he quit school he was called to the principal's office for having frightened a teacher. He was kept locked in the office for over an hour. He was alone with the projector. He studied it and unscrewed the lens but he screwed it right back because he knew he'd be caught if he took it.”
Tina asks her, “But why did he leave his fingerprints on it the night he stole it? Didn't he know —”
Sabina answers, “He didn't leave them that night. He wore gloves when he climbed into the principal's office. He came out with the lens, showed it to me and threw it into a garbage can. It was carried off by the garbage truck the following morning.”
Tina anticipates my question, “What? He threw it away? Then why did he steal it?”
“Because Debbie had been fired from her job,” Sabina explains. “Ron quit school when that happened. But he wanted to do more. He talked of burning the school down. Then he remembered the projector.”
“Why couldn't you have told me that at the time?” I plead.
“Because we thought your response would be identical to Luisa's: `Stealing from the children of the working class.' We didn't need that kind of wisdom. We wanted the trial to expose the school officials who had fired Debbie as a subversive. At the trial we were going to show they had arrested Ron without any evidence, merely because he was the son of a subversive.”
“How could you have done that?” I ask. “They found his fingerprints all over the machine.”
“Ron hadn't ever been arrested before, so they didn't know whose fingerprints they had found,” Sabina explains. “They had arrested him because he was Ron Matthews, the notorious hoodlum, son of Debbie Matthews the subversive.”
“But the fingerprints they found did turn out to be his,” I insist.
“They couldn't have been his if he wore gloves on the night of the robbery,” Tina points out.
“Debbie had gotten Ron a lawyer,” Sabina says. “Ron told the lawyer he had been locked into the principals's office with the projector for an hour. The lawyer checked into that and found out it was true. Ron told him he'd played with the projector from boredom during that hour. The lawyer wasn't only convinced of Ron's innocence. He said there was no way they could prove Ron stole the lens. Ron wasn't convicted because of those fingerprints but because of that ass he had for a father.”
“I remember it now!” Tina shouts. “Jose told me all about that trial. Ron's father lied like a cop and got the judge to convict Ron without even listening to the testimony.”
- * *
Suddenly I remember that trial too. Everything I had found so strange about it at the time becomes clear.
The strangest thing of all was that, except for the judge and Tom Matthews, I seemed to be the only person in the courtroom who thought Ron was guilty.
I went to the trial with Lem. Sabina was already in the courtroom, alone. She sat in the front row, near the bench where Ron was going to sit when he was brought in. I recognized Tom Matthews when he came in. He sat down at the opposite end of the front row. I thought of his wrecked car and cringed. He didn't recognize me. A woman Luisa's age came in, visibly drunk. She held on to the young man who came with her. Lem nudged me and whispered that she was Debbie Matthews. I told Lem I wanted to meet her and the jerk introduced me as Sabina's sister. Debbie mumbled that she hadn't known George Alberts had two daughters and she glared at me with hatred. I tried to tell her I wasn't exactly Sabina's sister but failed to communicate anything. The young man with her said, “Hi, I'm Jose; I'm not exactly Ron's brother.” A man with a briefcase came in and whispered something to Debbie. Then he sat down in the center of the front row and spread out papers; he was obviously the lawyer.
After the judge came in and asked everyone to stand, Ron was brought in, escorted by a policeman. Ron looked around; when he saw me he smiled. I didn't return his smile. I was mad at him for not telling me about the robbery. His smile turned to a frown and he looked away from me. When he saw Jose he grinned and waved his fist, as if to say “We'll get these bastards.” I heard Jose whisper to Debbie, “Don't worry, they won't get him.” I didn't understand that. I knew Ron had done it. I thought the only thing in question was the length of his sentence.
- * *
Luisa responds to Tina's last comment by shouting, “How can you have such a twisted picture? Ron stole that machine, not his father! That hoodlum got exactly what he deserved!”
Tina reminds her, “I thought in your view no one deserved to go to jail.”
“If countless workingmen are imprisoned daily for stealing food for their children,” Luisa retorts, “it would have been the grossest injustice if this boy had been set free after stealing from a public school.”
- * *
Was that what I thought at the time? If so, I can't blame Ron and Sabina for not telling me anything. I thought the trial was ugly but it seemed that no one could have expected another outcome. The trial seemed like a pure formality. The prosecutor gave a short speech, arguing that the evidence proved Ron was guilty beyond any shadow of doubt; he said Ron was a hardened criminal of long standing and that his behavior had to be reformed so that he wouldn't continue to endanger the lives of honest citizens and their children. Ron's defense seemed petty to me. I considered his lawyer's arguments sophistic and irrelevant. When Ron was called to the stand, his lawyer asked where Ron had seen the movie projector. Ron told the story of his imprisonment in the principal's office. He admitted playing with the projector at that time. The lawyer asked Ron if he'd seen the projector after that and Ron said he hadn't. I didn't blame Ron for saying that but I didn't see how anyone would believe him. The lawyer then called the police investigator to the stand and asked him if Ron's fingerprints had been found anywhere else in the room. They hadn't. The lawyer sat down, evidently satisfied with himself, though I couldn't imagine why.
The prosecutor called Ron to the stand. He asked Ron if he was in school. No. Did he work? No. That was all he asked Ron. He called Debbie Matthews. She obviously wasn't prepared for that. “Do you mean me?” she asked. She could barely walk to the stand. Ron's lawyer objected but the judge overruled him. The prosecutor asked Debbie if she was Ron's mother and she said she was. Then he asked her two more questions. Had she been dismissed from the high school? Yes, she had. Would she describe the reason for her dismissal? The lawyer objected and was overruled again. She defiantly announced she had been dismissed for inciting schoolchildren to overthrow the government, violently. The thought that passed through my mind was that of all the people in that room Debbie and Lem were probably the strongest supporters of government; they worshipped the state; how ludicrously ironic! That was all the prosecutor wanted to know from Debbie. He called Tom Matthews to the stand. He asked if Ron lived at home. Matthews answered, “No, he doesn't; I asked him to leave about a year ago, your honor, because I found out he was stealing and storing his stolen goods in the basement of my house.” I heard Jose whisper, “That bastard!” The judge must have heard him too because he turned to Jose and rapped his wooden hammer on his table. Then the judge told Matthews to continue. “I should have reported him at that time, your honor, especially when he boasted he was going to put a stick of dynamite in the wall of the school.” The judge rapped his hammer again. He announced he wouldn't listen to any more evidence; the trial was over. He gave Ron six months in reform school and a large fine. (Debbie later paid the fine.) Ron's lawyer looked stunned. He shouted that he objected. But the judge got up and left the courtroom.
While Ron was being escorted out he looked helplessly at Jose and Debbie. Jose's eyes were red with anger; Debbie was as pale as a sheet. Tom Matthews stormed out of the courtroom as soon as the judge left; Matthews looked victorious; he'd gotten his revenge for the wrecked car. I wasn't surprised by what he had done. Sabina remained sitting in her corner, sobbing. I had never seen her cry. Debbie and Jose didn't budge. They stared at the absent judge; they both looked hypnotized, or as if they had just seen someone run over by a truck. Lem and I got up and left. No one looked at us. I had the strange feeling that something had happened that I hadn't understood.
The following day Luisa handed me the newspaper and asked, “Isn't this the boy you brought to the house?” I acted surprised. I tried to give her the impression that I hadn't thought Ron capable of such an act. I didn't tell her the bicycles had been at our house on the night of the robbery, nor that I had been to the trial. I told her I had been wrong about Ron.
And that was exactly what I felt. Wrong, wronged and cheated. The Ron I had once looked for, found and loved wasn't the Ron I had just seen in the courtroom. I had looked for the Ron described in your letter: the insurgent, the rebel who rejects all social institutions through his acts. I had found such a person; my picture of him wasn't destroyed when I learned he stole bikes, since he didn't steal them from boys who couldn't afford to buy chains. But the Ron I saw at the trial was no insurgent. He didn't steal from the rich but from his “likes.” He was a gangster who stole for money. The only thing he had in common with a genuine insurgent was that he was going to become a permanent fugitive from the police, he was going to live his life in an environment consisting of prisons and courtrooms. But unlike an insurgent, his activity was going to remain irrelevant to the struggle against the institutions of which prisons and courtrooms were mere symptoms. I was relieved that I wasn't Sabina, sitting and sobbing in that courtroom. I was relieved that in six or seven months I was going to leave the high school, the neighborhood and Luisa, relieved that I was going to move to a new environment where I would find new problems, perhaps new friends, possibly even worthwhile projects, projects which would in some meaningful way be the projects of an insurgent.
I saw Ron for the very last time just before the school year ended. Sabina again threw pebbles at my window at night. Both she and Ron were outside. They refused to come in. I got dressed and went out. In spite of everything I had felt, in spite of all my pent up anger, I was overjoyed to see them. I threw my arms around Sabina and cried. It was the first time I had let Sabina know I didn't hate her. She must have been as surprised as I was. I gave Ron my hand. He pulled me to him and kissed me. Fighting tears and trying to smile I said, “Didn't I tell you I'd come out to meet you any time of day or night?” “Lady, would you repeat that?” he asked. “Only if you say my name correctly,” I sobbed. “Sophie Nachalo,” he said, and kissed me again. Suddenly he asked, “Does that mean you trust me?” I remembered how angry I had been because he hadn't trusted me. I didn't answer. He became stiff and let me go. We started walking.
Sabina broke the silence. “Ron wanted to tell you about the people he met in reform school.”
I said, “Really?” with feigned indifference. I immediately regretted saying it. I would have loved to listen to Ron's observations about reform school; I had always loved to listen to his observations. That “Really?” deprived me of my last chance to hear them. Ron had heard every nuance of meaning I had put into that single word. With undisguised hostility — with a tone in which he might as well have said, So you've joined the police! — he said, “I hear you're going to college.” That was the last thing he said to me. He didn't want an answer or an explanation. He seemed to become deaf and dumb.
We walked on in silence. Everything had been said. But Sabina became impatient. “Go ahead and tell her!”' she insisted, but Ron shook his head. He didn't intend to say another word that night, any more than I had intended to accept a ride on the bar of his bicycle on the night of the car wreck. Sabina did all the talking. She told me he had met teenage scientists, engineers, artists and acrobats. “The best minds of our time are in that reform school.” One mind had especially impressed Ron: a boy called Ted. Sabina, trying unsuccessfully to imitate Ron, described Ted as a genius who could pick the lock of any brand new car and get the car started in less than a minute; the guy he worked with drove the car into his garage where he and Ted dismantled it into parts; Ted was caught only because he had stolen a sports car and driven his girl friend around the city with it in broad daylight — his girl friend was only ten and Ted didn't look much older.
As soon as Sabina began, I was sorry she was telling me these things instead of Ron. How badly I wanted to hear the story in Ron's own words, with his characteristic comments and digressions. Sabina's erudite, perfectly grammatical narrative sounded so artificial; she took all of Ron's spirit out of his experiences. I felt miserable for having ruined my chance to hear about these experiences at first hand, but I resented having to hear a second hand account. Whenever Sabina paused I cut her and Ron with that same word: “Really?” My tone communicated to Ron immediately; I couldn't have been more explicit if I'd told them I resented being woken so late at night merely to be told such boring trivialities. Ron told Sabina, “Oh shit, let's go home.”
They walked me home. No one said a word. I wanted to ask Ron to tell me again what Sabina had just told me. But the gap between us had grown too large. Ron and I both knew it. Only half of me wanted to hear Ron describe “the greatest minds of the age.” The other half saw a Ron who had graduated from bicycles and was moving on to cars, a Ron who was about to become a professional criminal. I saw a person who was in no sense a rebel, a person who didn't feel comradeship and solidarity with his fellow beings, a person to whom others are mere objects to be used the way he'd used me on the night of the school theft. That night Ron knew as well as I did that only half of me wanted to hear about his newest adventure, to share his observations, to laugh with him and to explore possible projects with his new friends. He recognized the other half as the dominant half, the real Sophia. That half was a stranger to him, a hostile stranger, an outsider. Ron's “I hear you're going to college” was equivalent to, “Oh shit, when the hell did I have anything to do with anyone like you?” I was an alien to his world, his friends and his projects. Telling me about his newest experiences was a mistake. “Oh shit, let's go home” meant, “Oh shit, let's not waste time talking to this teacher; let's get out of here; this is like telling a cop what we intend to steal next.”
- * *
I ask Sabina, “Couldn't you at least have told me Ron had only stolen that lens because of what they had done to Debbie?”
“It wasn't up to me to tell you anything,” Sabina answers. “Ron was dying to tell you. But you didn't once visit him in jail before the trial and you didn't once go see him in reform school. I knew he'd want you to join us when he came out of reform school but I also knew all you'd say would be, `Really?' You were spending your time with that nitwit Lem Icel. It was clear to everyone but Ron that you had made your choice. Yarostan's letter describes that choice perfectly. You had already chosen to join the moralists, the priests, the judges. He was an idiot not to see that. By the time of the trial you were as repelled by him as Luisa was. If we'd told you we intended to win the trial and have Ron emerge innocent, if we'd told you we intended to expose the persecution of Debbie, what would you have done? I expected you to start shouting about the injustice and immorality of causing a poor working man to be persecuted for a crime Ron had committed.”
- * *
Sabina is probably right. By the time of Ron's trial I had already made my choice. But I don't think either you or Sabina are right about the nature of that choice. I don't think I chose between Ron and what you call “pedagogy.”
I certainly didn't choose “pedagogy” in the conventional meaning of that term. That kind of pedagogy didn't appeal to me at all. The people I admired — you, Luisa, Nachalo, Sabina, Ron — had never even finished high school. George Alberts was the only pedagogue I had ever been close to and I couldn't stand him. Maybe Luisa was a type of pedagogue too. I understand what you mean in your letter. But I can't apply it to my own life. During my last year in high school I didn't see Luisa the way you describe her. Nor did I choose between Ron and Luisa. If I rejected Ron at that time I rejected Luisa as well. I rejected the prospect of spending my days in a factory dreaming of the day when the general strike would put an end to wage labor. It was precisely the experiences and hopes I had learned from Luisa that made me permanently unable to accept the boredom, the scheduled routine, the supervision and the submission.
I rejected both Ron and Luisa but I didn't affirm official “pedagogy.” I didn't challenge Ron's observation that the greatest scientists, engineers and artists were in reform school. I knew already then that great literature wasn't created by textbook writers or experts in creative writing, that great discoveries weren't made by the bureaucrats called researchers, that revolutions weren't carried out by academics who dreamt of governing society the way they governed their classes. Ron, the high school dunce, was more perceptive and resourceful than I was ever going to become. And in terms of sheer information, Sabina already then knew more than I was going to learn during all my years in college even though she hadn't ever finished elementary school. She had pumped out of George Alberts every scrap of physics, chemistry and biology he had ever learned. She and Alberts had converted the entire second story of their house into a laboratory and a library. And then Sabina abandoned all that and joined “the greatest minds of the age,” minds capable of driving off with a brand new car in less than a minute in broad daylight on a crowded street. She spent several years living in an underworld that you seem to glorify abstractly. You characterize as “individual acts of rebellion” what to me looked like theft, constant fleeing and prostitution. Maybe I've always been as narrow as Luisa about this possibility. Sabina offered me this alternative two years after Ron died and I rejected it for the second time. Maybe I never really understood that alternative. All I do know is that at some point Sabina rejected it as well. Maybe I'm not as self-assured about my choice as I was then, but neither you nor Sabina have convinced me that the choice I made was wrong.
What I looked for wasn't related to the official purpose of the university, although I admit I did have some vague hopes that by studying history and sociology I'd at least clarify my own and Luisa's past experiences. The first few months of classes knocked those hopes out of me. About this, at least, I don't disagree with you. State functionaries do see the world from their offices. All their textbooks and all their lectures celebrated the existing social order; the apparatus they called “knowledge” seemed to have been created expressly for the purpose of making the overthrow of the social order appear inconceivable. Everything I valued was considered dangerous and violent. I entered the university at a time when the normal barracks-like life of this medieval monastic institution was supplemented by modern forms of militarization. Numerous professors were directly in the pay of the armed forces. Whole branches of activity that had once been scholarly pursuits were transformed into weapons-development factories: physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, sociology and psychology. Instead of being taught to formulate questions, students were being bombarded with answers. Open apologists for capital and for the state treated their classrooms as pulpits from which to give sermons eulogizing the official religion. Students were brainwashed into believing the state's enemies were their own enemies. Critics of every shade, even state worshippers of a different brand, were systematically prevented from speaking. Male students were actually recruited directly into the armed forces when they enrolled in the university; military training became another academic discipline. Several professors were fired for refusing to swear to serve the state unconditionally; all the professors who remained signed the oath; they swore to lie systematically, to distort and falsify whatever threatened the interests of the state. No, I didn't go to the university because of anything it had to offer. I went there because I rejected Ron's world and Luisa's world, not because I saw a community in the military enclave that exists only to destroy community. I went there because I hoped to find others like me, others who had rejected what I had rejected. The community I wanted to find was a community of people whose choices were similar to mine. I looked for people with whom to shape meaningful responses to the world we rejected, responses which went beyond sheer opportunism for the sake of survival.
I made the mistake of moving into a dormitory, I stayed there for three months. It was the closest thing to prolonged imprisonment that I've experienced. I did learn to play pranks, but even then I couldn't endure that regime of rules and regulations to which I had never in my whole life been subjected. I couldn't afford to rent an apartment of my own. Then I found some women students who owned a house and ran it on a cooperative basis; those who could afford to pay less did more of the housework. I washed dishes and got free room and board.
My first friend was my roommate at the co-op, Rhea Morphen. I liked her very much at first, mainly because of how enthusiastic she was about me. I suppose you always like people who think a lot of you. She made me tell the story of my life at least a dozen times during my first few weeks at the co-op. The fact that my “mother” worked in an auto plant and supported me already recommended me to Rhea. She was even more impressed by the fact that my “mother” had never finished high school, that my “sister” hadn't finished elementary school and that my “father” hadn't ever spent a single day in school. Rhea's perpetual comment was, “I don't believe it!” But after a few weeks of being admired as such a perfect proletarian I got sick of her admiration and when I learned more about her I resented it. It turned out that she was a member of the same political church as Lem Icel, that she and Lem were friends, and that Lem was responsible for the fact that Rhea and I were roommates.
Rhea perfectly fits your portrait of the politician. Her world was populated by constituents and leaders. In her eyes I was a perfect constituent, a potential cadre, a potential rank-and-file leader, a full-fledged proletarian intelligent enough to understand the dialectic and to know how to interpret it to my fellow rank-and-filers. Her father was a lawyer who was later to become a city politician.
The part of my past I had failed to rid myself of was Lem. He was in one of my classes. It was from him that I learned about the co-op when I wanted to leave the dormitory. It was also largely because of Lem that I met the people who were to be my friends throughout my university years. Lem and Rhea more or less conspired to recruit me to their organization. It took me several weeks to figure out that I was a fly in a spider's web. I got my first clue when, during one of Rhea's admiration sessions, she commented, “You really have a highly developed consciousness; you see a lot of things the way we do,” implying that there were a few things about which I still had to be straightened out. I immediately asked her if she happened to know Lem Icel. The moment of silence before she answered gave her game away. When at last she said, “Yes, he's a good friend of ours,” I knew she had known about me before I had moved to the co-op. She admitted she had lacked a roommate and I had sounded ideal; she asked if I minded. I really didn't mind. I had hated the dormitory and I was glad to find new friends. Rhea's friend Alec Uros visited her every other day and she invariably recited my proletarian virtues to him. Alec was at least as impressed as Rhea. He was another person to whom the daughter of a worker was as exotic as a Martian.
Ultimately their conspiracy backfired. Because of me their little university group fell apart. It would probably have fallen apart anyway, but not the way it actually happened.
Rhea was the “open” member of the organization. She attended all sorts of events and meetings where she announced her organization's position on the topics under discussion. Alec and Lem were “secret” members. All three attended organization meetings, which were frequently held at Debbie Matthews' house, but when Alec and Lem were asked if they were members they denied it. All three pressured me to attend at least one of their meetings merely in order to see what “wonderful people” they all were, but I invariably turned down the invitation, passing up my chance to meet all those wonderful people.
When he came to visit Rhea, Alec would tell us about his projects on the school newspaper staff. The more he talked about that, the more interested I became. He talked about professors who were being fired for refusing to sign the oath of loyalty to the state, about students who refused to take part in the military training program, about the latest speaker who had been banned from speaking on campus. He saw his role on the newspaper staff as that of a muckraker who exposed these infringements on the students' right of speech and of assembly. He didn't see any contradiction between his newspaper campaigns and his organization's denial of all such rights. Alec's naivete recruited me, not to his organization, but to his campaigns. This was a project I recognized; I wanted to take part in it. I joined the newspaper staff. So did Lem.
Yarostan, your letters inhibit me. No, I'm no longer angry. I'm frustrated. For twenty years I longed to tell you about myself, if not in letters then in a novel which was addressed to you even if it never reached you. I wanted to tell you about my life because I thought I'd lived up to what you might have wanted me to be. I looked at myself through what I took to be your eyes and I wasn't ashamed. I was in fact somewhat proud of myself. Not altogether. I hadn't taken part in the overthrow of the ruling system. But I hadn't succumbed to it either. I hadn't emerged unscathed but I wasn't destroyed either. Unlike Luisa, I hadn't sold my productive energy. Unlike Sabina, I hadn't sold either my body or my soul. Until your letters challenged my self-evaluation I'd thought I had done rather well. My activity on that university newspaper staff was one of the high points of my story. I saw it as a continuation of activity I had once shared with you. Yet now that I can finally tell you about my little victories I feel embarrassed and inhibited. I can't help seeing myself through the lenses you're now wearing and I look ludicrous to myself. The very words with which I would have boasted about my activity are the words with which you ridicule it. If my desire to communicate and defend my insights and past experiences was pedagogy, then it was precisely the opportunity to engage in this pedagogy that attracted me to the newspaper staff. I think you go too far when you characterize every instance of such activity as an attempt to convert people to a religion. I understand the way your analysis applies to Lem, Rhea and Alec; I recognized them as missionaries of a repressive religion. I can even see how your analysis applies to certain aspects of Luisa's relation to the world. But I don't see how your analysis applies to me. To communicate a religion you need to have certainties and I never had any. At most I had past friends and experiences, but the answers those friends and experiences gave me in any given context were never clear. Even if I granted that your description of me was valid down to your characterization of my pedagogical activity as a type of missionary activity, I still wouldn't see that I had chosen the worst of the alternatives available to me. In retrospect I'm still convinced that under the circumstances I did rather well, since I know what other alternatives were available to me. I've had a few chances to sample Luisa's as well as Sabina's alternatives. I might in time have reconciled myself to Luisa's situation, but I couldn't have retained the amount of energy she has managed to keep alive. I could never have been Sabina; I wouldn't have survived either physically or psychologically.
In a way it's ironic that you describe the activity I chose as a type of religious activity. I visited Luisa soon after I started to work on the newspaper. She had just been called to testify at an official inquisition; she was asked where she was from, what she had done, what she thought. Later she learned that the inquisition didn't concern her but George Alberts. His turn had come to undergo the treatment to which he had subjected Debbie Matthews. George Alberts, the person I've always regarded as a model opportunist, was called a subversive and fired from his teaching job. (Don't shed tears for him though; he immediately opened up some kind of research organization connected to the military and he again sold his talents to the same government that had just fired him.) When Luisa told me about that, I had the feeling that I was among the pitifully few people who were engaged in a struggle against the state religion and its inquisition. I saw myself as an atheist during a witch hunt aimed not only at people playing at being revolutionaries but even at totally unprincipled individuals like Alberts who had once in their lives been swept along by a revolutionary upsurge.
Some of my newspaper friends were devoted to a counter-religion as repressive as the religion we fought against, and they tried to convert me. Lem's and to a smaller extent Alec's goal was to convert all the students of the university to their form of state worship. But my approach, influenced by Luisa and by my experiences with you, was significantly different from theirs. I don't think you can really characterize it as religious. Unlike Lem and Alec, I didn't write articles about fired professors in order to prove that they wouldn't have been fired if the counter-religion prevailed. I knew perfectly well that the professors would never have been hired in the first place if that religion prevailed. My sole aim was to describe the militaristic lectures, the banning of speakers, the firings of professors, and to let readers draw their own conclusions from the facts themselves. To me reality itself was so scandalous that I was sure numerous students would act as soon as they knew what the facts were. I was wrong, but not altogether. Several years later a large number of students did in fact respond to the scandal; that movement is today being drowned by variants of the religion then carried by Rhea and Lem. I didn't only resist Rhea's and Lem's attempts to recruit and use me; by resisting them I helped mess up their other plans and ruin their miniscule organization.
The editor of the campus newspaper, Hugh Nurava, was a very mild-mannered, very middle-class student. I was immediately fascinated by him. The words he used most frequently were “responsible” and “fair.” He seemed convinced there were always two and never more than two sides to every question. The task of the “responsible” editor was to be “fair” to each of the two sides. Once Alec wrote an article on some students who had refused to swear to be loyal to the state; they were forced to march in a military parade in their street clothes; they looked ridiculous, even to their own friends, and everyone laughed at them. Hugh went out of his way to give equal space to the other half of the question. He interviewed a military “professor” and published, alongside Alec's article, an equally long article depicting the dangerous and all-pervasive enemy against whose imminent invasion the uniformed students were protecting civilization. One time I wrote an article about a pacifist who was to speak in a university lecture hall but who was denied permission to speak in the hall just before the event was scheduled to take place. For the sake of “fairness,” Hugh telephoned the university administration and alongside my article he published the administration's official statement that it was the university's policy never to prevent anyone from speaking on campus since free speech was an indispensable condition for education The fact that one article flatly contradicted the other didn't prove to Hugh that one of them had to be false; it convinced him that “the truth” lay “somewhere between the two extremes.”
The person on the next rung of the newspaper hierarchy was Bess Lach. She was the managing editor. She was the only person on the staff besides me who didn't have a middle class background. I learned that her mother worked as a cleaning-woman for people who were managers in the plant where Luisa worked. Her father had run off when she was a baby. Yet although she was even more “proletarian” than I, neither Lem nor Alec took the slightest interest in her. It was impossible to communicate with her. She was literally a machine. I'm sure she was the best managing editor that newspaper had before or since. She read, measured, counted with the speed and precision of a computer. But whenever she opened her mouth she articulated a law. “Don't, can't, not allowed, against regulations” appeared in every statement she made. She had internalized all the written and unwritten codes of the state, the university, and while Hugh was editor she internalized the code of “fairness and responsibility” as well. Bess and Hugh went with each other when I met them. I can't imagine what they could have said to each other and I never asked him. Perhaps by enumerating the regulations she familiarized Hugh with his “responsibilities.” I have to admit I wasn't able to muster up any solidarity toward my fellow worker Bess.
The most bizarre member of the newspaper staff was Thurston Rakshas. He came from the very top of the social hierarchy and I'm sure that's where he is again today. He considered himself superior to the rest of us in wit, knowledge as well as looks. He thought himself a humorist. He wrote a regular joke column which was in fact very clever and occasionally he wrote an article. I laughed whenever he said anything at all. He thought I appreciated his brilliant sense of humor. In fact I laughed at him. I thought his poses were ludicrous and hilarious. I had never been so close to a real dilettante, a genuine heir to the wealth wrenched from the labor of millions of wage workers. He never saw through me. Genuinely convinced that my laughter expressed appreciation of his wit, one day he asked me to accompany him to a dance which was going to take place several weeks later. I accepted his invitation immediately. In a flash I figured out this was my chance to slip away from the unwanted attentions of Lem as well as Rhea. I made it a point of announcing to everyone on the staff that I had accepted Thurston's invitation to the dance.
My strategy was completely successful, but in ways I hadn't expected at all.
When I told Rhea, she said, “I guess I overestimated your class consciousness.” That put an end to her admiration for her proletarian roommate. She never again asked me about the educational background of my “family.” And she never again asked me to join her organization.
Lem caught me late one afternoon when I was alone in the newspaper office typing an article. He sat down next to me and started to cry. “Are you actually going to go through with that?” he asked.
“With what, Lem?” I asked innocently.
“Are you going to go out with that reactionary, that exploiter of the working class?” he asked.
“He's really a wonderful person when you get to know him, Lem,” I lied.
In Lem's eyes I was “lost.” My strategy was an instant success; from that day on I no longer had a private missionary trailing me like a shadow. Lem retreated to Debbie Matthews and to his organizational meetings.
What took me completely by surprise was Alec's response to my insincere flirtation with Thurston. Alec was jealous. He hatched a plot to “save” me from the claws of the “dangerous reactionary.” And in the process of working out his exquisitely designed plot he threw all of his political commitments overboard, spoiled the plans and projects of his organization, and created absolute chaos on the newspaper staff.
Alec didn't confront me with the problem directly. In fact he took such a round-about approach that I didn't figure out what he had done until several months later. His strategy was brilliant and like all brilliant strategies it led to completely unexpected consequences.
He began by breaking up his relationship with Rhea. He told her he was disillusioned with the organization and tore up his membership card in her presence. Rhea blamed me. She accused me of brainwashing him with reactionary arguments. I argued from the bottom of my heart that I'd had nothing to do with Alec's disillusionment. I felt sorry for her. Little did I know then the place I occupied in Alec's scheme. When I began to figure it out I silently moved into another room.
Alec's “defection” from the organization and my deficiency as a “rank-and-file leader” left Lem isolated on the newspaper staff. To remedy this Rhea herself joined the staff.
After breaking up with Rhea, Alec formed a clique with Minnie Vach and Daman Hesper, the remaining two regular members of the newspaper staff. Minnie and Daman were members of a political sect which was indistinguishable from Lem's organization in terms of its internal relationships but which considered Lem's and Rhea's organization the main evil that plagued humanity. I actually agreed with much of what they said. Many of their views even had a superficial similarity to views you've expressed in your letters. For example, they held that an organization of professional revolutionaries which claimed to liberate the workers would only enslave them; they held that the workers' revolution could only be led by the workers themselves. What I couldn't understand then and still can't now is how they viewed their own sect. They never tired of telling me that the role of their organization was not to lead the workers but to educate them. It never seemed to occur to them that the teacher is the one who leads, the student the one who follows.
Alec's resignation from Lem's and Rhea's sect was a precondition for his alliance with Minnie and Daman. (If I refer to Minnie and Daman as a single person it's because at that time they were like Siamese twins; Minnie formulated the arguments and Daman merely emphasized them.) Alec had a long talk with Minnie and Daman a few days after he broke up with Rhea. He told them he had finally been convinced by their arguments and had quit his organization; he proved this by showing them his torn membership card. He even attended a few meetings of their organization, although he later told me he didn't agree with their organizational practices at all. As soon as he gained their trust, the three began to plan a series of articles which would systematically expose the bias of the education, the extent to which militarists and state officials dominated the university's policies, the cowardice of administrators and professors, the apathy of students.
Every day one of them submitted exposures of the military curriculum, articles on fired professors, interviews with pacifists. Hugh couldn't possibly keep up with “the other side” of all the questions raised in their articles. Consequently there was a lively confrontation in the newspaper office almost every day. Bess and Thurston argued that if the “other side” weren't given equal space, the paper would become a propaganda sheet and that consequently the articles of Minnie, Daman or Alec should be suppressed whenever a rejoinder couldn't be published with them. Hugh's position wasn't as clear as that. Committed though he was to publishing two sides to every question, he had yet another principle; no article should ever be suppressed. Since he couldn't resolve the conflict between his two principles he would put the question to a staff vote. At first the result of the voting was that Minnie, Daman and Alec outnumbered Bess and Thurston because Hugh, Rhea, Lem and I abstained. As a result all their articles were published. The reason Lem and Rhea abstained was that they refused to be on the same side as Minnie, Daman and the “renegade” Alec. I abstained because, although I favored including the articles without views of the other side, my vote wasn't needed for their inclusion. But this state of affairs didn't last. On one occasion Minnie wrote an article which contained a critique of Lem's and Rhea's organization. From that day on, both Rhea and Lem formed a ludicrous bloc with Bess and Thurston and voted against the inclusion of every article written by Alec, Minnie or Daman, who were outnumbered four to three. I was forced to take sides. Of course I voted in favor of including every article without a rebuttal and as a result there was a tie: four in favor and four against. Tempers rose and cliques hardened. After one particularly heated exchange which took place only a few days before the dance to which I was to accompany Thurston, he very politely told me he would prefer not to go with me. I was relieved. Alec had known that sooner or later I'd take sides and at that point I'd clash with Thurston. I was no longer inhibited from openly joining the “clique.” But the ultimate decision as to whether or not to include the articles again depended on Hugh. He once again found a way to be fair to each of the two sides. He voted with us one day and against us the next, so that nearly every other one of our articles was suppressed. In spite of the exclusion of almost half of our articles I felt that my new friends and I were engaged in a virtual crusade to expose the repressive atmosphere of the university.
My acceptance of my new friends wasn't unqualified. I rarely argued with Minnie and Daman. They were infinitely better informed than I and the convoluted sentences in which they couched their arguments intimidated me. Yet despite their erudition and their rhetorical talents I saw through their outlook; I thought it was a superficial version of Luisa's. Their affirmation that working people were perfectly capable of running their own affairs seemed to be a mere slogan that neither Minnie nor Daman really believed. The workers' ability to run their own affairs seemed to depend on their ability to learn this from Minnie's and Daman's organization. And they were convinced, believe it or not, that their sect had discovered that workers were able to run their own affairs, that their sect had discovered workers' councils, and that their sect had discovered the reactionary character of the role of revolutionary politicians. Nachalo, Margarita and Luisa had learned all this from experiences they had lived; this knowledge had flowed in their blood; they had learned from painful counterrevolutionary wars how revolutionary politicians transformed the workers' movement into a gang of government bureaucrats. To Minnie and Daman these painful experiences were nothing but phrases discovered by their sect only yesterday and not yet applied to their relationships with each other within their organization. I couldn't respect them. But I did enjoy muckraking with them.
I accepted Alec with fewer misgivings. He was politically unformed. He had joined Rhea's sect for the same reasons you said Manuel had joined his organization. Alec had been Rhea's boy friend and had followed her into the organization on a date. When he became interested in me, he abandoned Rhea as well as the entire credo of her organization. After he left the organization he worked out a political potpourri consisting of Minnie's and my observations couched in phrases he had retained from his earlier commitment. Alec had nothing at all in common with you or Jan Sedlak or Ron Matthews. But in spite of his naivete, perhaps because of it, I liked him a lot.
One night, a few weeks after I moved out of Rhea's room, Sabina surprised me with a visit. She burst into my room at the co-op late at night. Alec had just brought me home. He and I had taken the paper to the printer's that night; we had done all the last minute proofreading of galleys and shortening of articles. Sabina had waited outside for Alec to leave. I was dead tired and my head was filled with the day's events. Minnie had submitted a very long interview with a campus general who had boastfully showed her the files he kept on all the students in the university. He classified students in terms of their degree of patriotism, from loyal to apathetic, disloyal, dangerous and subversive. The article was one of the biggest exposures of the year. Hugh had voted with the four of us to include the article.
I wasn't glad to see Sabina that night. I knew that I had turned against her and Ron long before they had left me standing next to their bicycles. I knew that my hostility toward Sabina and Ron had been only partly motivated by the fact that they hadn't trusted me at the time of the robbery. I knew that I had rejected Ron even before our excursion to the beach in the car Ron wrecked. This was very clear to me when I saw Sabina that night because I was then in the midst of the activities and friends I had hoped to find when I had first turned against Ron. It was clear to me that I had rejected Ron already when our relationship was at its peak, at the time of our earliest bicycle excursions. Ron had known that as early as I had. It had been as obvious to him as to me that he could no more take my path than I his, he would have suffocated in an atmosphere of petty quarrels couched in erudite language; he couldn't have fought his battles on that terrain. Yes, Yarostan, I knew how early I had made the choice you describe. It wasn't Ron's terrain or Sabina's. But I knew it was mine. It wasn't all petty quarrels. By that night I had already fought some meaningful battles. I don't want to exaggerate their significance, but I'm certain they were far more meaningful than any battles I could have fought on Ron's terrain. As I studied Sabina, wondering why she had come, I didn't regret having rejected their path; I couldn't imagine anything socially relevant growing out of stolen cars. This was the only time I saw Sabina until I was expelled from college. The following morning I remembered her visit as a bad dream.
Sabina spoke like a robot. She looked past me and seemed not to care whether or not I heard her. “Ron is dead.”
“Dead! How? When?” I asked.
“You and George Alberts are responsible,” she droned.
I thought her coldness and her seeming indifference were symptoms of hysteria. I paid no attention to the accusation. I repeated my questions.
“Missing in action,” she answered. “They didn't say when or how.”
“But when did he join the army?” I asked with disbelief.
“Air force. He signed up because of you,” she told me without raising her voice, without seeming to be aware that she was telling me anything extraordinary.
“Sabina!” I shouted. “I don't understand!” I burst into tears.
“I didn't think you would. But I thought you ought to know.” Saying that, she left as abruptly as she'd come. I cried, uncomprehending, until I fell asleep without undressing or washing.
The next morning Alec's knock on the door woke me. He was annoyed. “What's the matter with you?” he asked. “This is a hell of a day to oversleep.” We had intended to rush to the boxes where the papers were distributed so as to see how students responded to Minnie's article. We spent the day interviewing students who were willing to express their responses to the article. Sabina's visit and Ron's death receded in my memory.
- * *
“You're absolutely right,” I admit to Sabina. “By the time of Ron's trial I had already made my choice. I had walked out on Ron. But why did you say I was responsible when you came to tell me Ron was dead?”
“You and George Alberts were responsible,” Sabina says in the same tone she had used fourteen years earlier.
“How can you repeat that accusation today?” I ask her. “When you said it that night you visited me at the co-op, I thought you were hysterical. Ron had left you and he'd just been killed in the war.”
“Ron never left me,” she says. “He left you. And he wasn't killed in the war.”
“Would you stop being so cryptic and mysterious!” I shout. “What you're saying doesn't mean anything to me!”
Tina asks me, “Are you sure it was Sabina who was hysterical that night?”
“What the hell do you know about it?” I ask Tina. “You were only four years old at that time.”
“I know a hell of a lot more about it than you do,” Tina proclaims. “First of all I was almost five, and secondly Jose told me about his last days with Ron at least a dozen times before you came to the garage. You were always the villain of his story. I thought of you along with George Alberts and Tom Matthews as the bad people of this world.”
“If you knew so much, why didn't you tell me after you left the garage?” I ask her.
“Are you kidding? You were about as interested in Ron as Luisa is,” Tina says. “Whenever I mentioned Ron you went into your professional pose. `Oh really? What else did he steal?'”
Luisa contributes: “What else was there to tell about him?”
“Nothing,” I say to her; “absolutely nothing.”
“So why should Sophia have wanted to hear about Ron?” Luisa asks Tina.
I answer, “Because I want to hear about him now, that's why. I want to know what it was that Tina knew about Ron during all these years.”
“The day Ron got out of reform school Jose and Sabina went to get him,” Tina begins. “Instead of being glad to see his two best friends Ron got into the car and asked, `Where's Sophie?'”
I ask Sabina, “Is Tina making that up?” Sabina shakes her head.
“Jose thought Ron was joking,” Tina continues. “He asked Ron who the hell Sophie was. Then he got mad at Ron for expecting someone else to have come for him instead, but he saw tears in Ron's eyes and asked Sabina who else Ron was expecting. Sabina told him you hadn't known when Ron was supposed to be released.”
“You never told me anything about that,” I say to Sabina.
Sabina answers, “We visited you after Ron was released and all you said was `Really?'”
“Ron hardly said a word to me that night,” I insist. “You did all the talking. He seemed to be in a different world.”
“Different from whose?” Sabina asks.
“Mine! From mine!” I answer angrily. “You're so right! Have you ever been wrong, Sabina, about anything?”
Tina continues, “Jose said Ron changed after he and Sabina visited you. Jose thought it was then that Ron decided there were two or three more things he wanted to do in his life before he was through.”
“It always looks like that after a person is dead,” I tell her. “The last things a person does always look like the last things he had intended to do.”
“Jose hadn't just met Ron, you know!” Tina exclaims. “He had that feeling before Ron died, not after.”
“I know how long Jose had known Ron,” I admit. Tom and Debbie Matthews had adopted Jose during the depression. It was mainly Jose who brought up Ron when both Tom and Debbie had jobs during the war. Some years after the war Tom accused Jose of teaching Ron to be a criminal. Jose angrily left the Matthews and didn't see them again until Ron's trial.
Tina continues, “The first thing Ron wanted to do after visiting you was to find Ted, who had left reform school some months before Ron.”
“To start the garage: stolen parts at cut rates and heroin for the health of the poorer folk,” I say sarcastically.
“But you're just like Luisa!” Tina says to me.
“I'm sorry,” I tell her. “Please go on.”
“Ron and Jose looked for Ted because he was good at stealing cars.” Tina says. “Ever since the trial one idea had been on both their minds: to get even with Tom Matthews. Ron had wanted you to be in on the revenge. That's why he and Sabina visited you.”
“To take part in revenge?” Luisa asks. “Is that the act of individual rebellion Yarostan praises in his letters?”
Tina disregards Luisa's interruption and continues, “Tom Matthews had bought a brand new car right after the trial. He would park it right in front of his diner and he'd spend half the day looking through the window to see if it was still there. Jose, Ron and Ted drove off with it in broad daylight a couple of seconds after he'd just looked at it and probably a couple of seconds before he looked at it again and saw that it was gone. The first comment Ron made when they drove off was: `I bet Sophie would have loved to see the old man's face when he saw that car gone. I'd give my right arm to hear what she'd have said; if she could only have stood across the street and watched his expression this would have been perfect.'”
“Good grief!” Luisa yells. “Why you?”
I answer, “Because Ron's old man almost shot me the night Ron took me to his house. Yes, Ron was right; I really would have liked to see that old man's face.”
Tina continues, “They drove it away and dismantled it so completely that Matthews himself couldn't have recognized his new car if he'd walked into the garage and looked right at it. He went out of his mind when he saw his new car was gone. He hunted for Ron all over the city. One day he even came to our house —”
“Alberts' house,” Sabina corrects.
“He came with a gun, looking for Ron. He would have shot Sabina if I hadn't screamed,” Tina says proudly.
“Do you remember that?” Sabina asks.
“I almost remember,” Tina says. “Anyway I thought I remembered when you first told me about it. You laughed at him. You told him —”
“ — that Ron had just become a professional killer,” Sabina says, “and that he'd drop a bomb on Matthews' house.”
“Matthews went wild,” Tina continues. “He waved his gun in Sabina's face; he waved it at me when I screamed; and then he ran out of the house.”
“You had some nerve to laugh at him when he was in such a state!” I tell Sabina. “He could have killed both of you!”
“We're both still here though,” Tina says. “Matthews closed his diner during all the weeks he spent looking for Ron. When he opened the diner again hardly any of his former customers returned. Most of them went to a franchised restaurant across the street which hadn't done very well until Matthews closed down. At the end of that month Matthews didn't have enough money to pay all his bills. A few months later he was bankrupt. His diner was auctioned off.”
“Couldn't Debbie get some kind of job?” I ask.
“I was with you once when we saw what a state she was in,” Tina reminds me. “Jose told me she had been something of a drunkard ever since she'd been thrown out of her union job after the war. When she lost her teaching job she was drunk all the time. Matthews tried to get a factory job. He did get some low paying job but was fired after a few weeks; maybe it was just a temporary job; Jose never told me the details. What Debbie told Jose was that one day she heard a shot. She dragged herself to the basement. Matthews was lying on the floor. He had shot himself.”
Luisa mutters, almost to herself, “He was murdered by his own son.”
“Oh shit!” Sabina exclaims.
I object too. “That wasn't exactly what Tina said.”
“I didn't say he shot himself because his new car was stolen,” Tina explains. “That's only part of the reason —”
I add, “Debbie's drunkenness must have had something to do with it. Several years earlier Ron had told me how bitter she'd been about being thrown out of the union she'd helped build. I can understand why she broke down when that happened to her a second time. I still remember the hatred with which she looked at me at Ron's trial because she thought I was George Alberts' daughter.”
“Do you see any connections yet?” Sabina asks Luisa. “Don't you know why you and Sophia and I got out of jail two days after being arrested and why our emigration was so easy?”
“I don't see what that has to do with it.” Luisa says.
“Why do you think he had a job waiting for him as well as a house for the three of us when we got here?” Sabina asks her, immediately answering her own question. “Alberts saved your skin by selling his soul! Debbie Matthews was only one of his victims. When Debbie fell she drove the sinking Tom Matthews all the way to the bottom. You came here on the devil's pay, Luisa!”
Luisa objects, “If you're suggesting I was implicated in that man's suicide you're completely deranged. Your reasoning is as distorted as Yarostan's.”
“I'm not suggesting anything,” Sabina says. “I'm only stating facts.”
“All right, you've made that point,” I concede to Sabina. “But you still haven't told me what I had to do with Ron's death.”
“Haven't we?” she asks.
“No you haven't,” I insist. “I don't know any more now than I knew that night you came to my room at the university co-op; you shouted that I was responsible for Ron's death,”
“I didn't shout,” Sabina says. “And I said you and Alberts.”
I get impatient “Would you mind explaining that, Sabina? I don't care how long it takes.” Noticing Luisa's pained expression, I tell Sabina, “I don't care whether Luisa stays or leaves. Now that you've unearthed the details of my relationship to Ron I'd like to hear all of it. And please don't ask what good it'll do to tell me.”
Luisa leans back on the couch, yawns and closes her eyes so as to communicate to all of us that she's not interested in the details of my relations with Ron.
“The day before I went to see you at the university,” Sabina begins, “Debbie Matthews showed up at Alberts' house. I was alone with Tina, Debbie collapsed into an armchair the moment she walked in. She was stone drunk. `You hussy,' she told me; `Why did you walk out on my son when he needed you? And where's that filthy father of yours? Where's that son-of-a-bitch Alberts?' I asked her what had happened and why she wanted Alberts. She said, `I want to see his face now that they've thrown his ass out of school, I want to see what he looks like now that he's gotten what he gave me, I want to ask him if he's happy now about himself and me; where the hell is that slimy bastard that called himself my friend and then cut me up one limb at a time?' I told her Alberts was working and asked if something had happened to Ron. She said, `He's working? He can't be working, deary; he's off in some bar; he got booted out like I was; he's not allowed to work; he's a subversive.' I described the work he was doing and Debbie got hysterical. `That bastard is doing research for the air force?' she asked; then she shouted, `That low unprincipled bastard! The air force! He's working for the outfit that killed my son!' I had been afraid that was the news she'd come with. She worked herself up into a frenzy about the fact that Alberts was already employed again. She walked around the house, knocked down chairs and threw books on the floor. She yelled, `What are you people? Who sent you? You're some kind of agents. You were sent to get rid of us. Well kill me right here, get it over with!' Then she collapsed on the floor. I couldn't tell if she was asleep or dead. I set a pillow under her head, put a blanket over her and ran to the garage. Fortunately Jose was there.”
Tina tells me, “That was when they found out where you fit in —”
“What do you mean?” I ask her.
Tina says, “When Jose got to know you years later he often said, `She's as innocent as a baby that started a fire that burned down a city.'”
I become impatient. “Tina, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Jose told me never to tell you,” Tina claims.
Sabina says to Tina, “Go ahead and tell her; there's nothing left to tell she doesn't already know.”
“Jose said you'd have become a completely different person if you'd known the truth,” Tina tells me.
Exasperated, I ask, “The truth about what? Aren't you confusing Jose with Yarostan?”
“The truth about you and Ron,” Tina says. “Jose often told me he wouldn't have liked what you'd have become if you'd known. That's exactly the opposite of what Yarostan says.”
“Tina, don't play Sabina's games with me!” I shout.
Tina calmly muses, “I wonder if it would really have made any difference if you'd known.”
I grab her by the shoulders and shake her, shouting, “Don't dangle a string, Tina! I'm not a cat!”
Tina shouts back, “That's what Jose said about you! You kept dangling a string in front of Ron and he kept jumping at it. Only you never knew you were dangling it.”
My patience wears out. “Go to hell, Tina! If this is another one of your jokes you can shove it up your ass because I'm going to sleep.”
“This one doesn't have a funny ending, Sophia,” she says. “And I'd just as soon not tell you about it so if you want to go to sleep that's fine with me; I'm sleepy as hell.”
I plead with Tina, “What is it you'd just as soon not tell me?”
“What you've been asking about for the past two hours, Sophia! Your connection to Ron's death.”
“How can you know anything about that?” I ask her.
“It turned out that Debbie Matthews was the only one who knew anything about it. When she told Jose and Sabina all they could say was My God!”
I turn to Sabina. “You never breathed a word to me about what Debbie told you!”
Sabina says, “I told you everything that night when I visited you at the co-op. You didn't ask me to go into details and in any case it was too late to do anything about it.”
Tina adds, “Ron was already dead.”
“All you told me was that I was responsible for Ron's death,” I say again. This time it's Tina who says, “You and George Alberts.” She continues. “That was really a very complete summary. And if it was too late to tell you the details then, it's way too late now! I have to be at work in four hours and we should carry Luisa to a bed.”
“Don't worry about Luisa,” I insist. “Nothing wakes her once she's asleep. Please, Tina, I want to hear those details now. Go to sleep on your job.”
“Don't keep repeating that Sabina told you that you were responsible for Ron's death,” Tina tells me. “Alberts' role was much more important to Sabina than yours. We were still living in his house when she learned about it. Didn't you know what Sabina thought of Alberts then?”
Sabina asks Tina, “Would you mind leaving that out?”
“If I'm going to lose my night's sleep telling her,” Tina says, “I'll at least tell her everything I know. I'm sure she'll never learn that part from you.” Tina turns toward me. “Jose told me he and Sabina were both stunned when they heard what Debbie had to say but they were stunned for different reasons. Every time Jose said My god! because of something Debbie said about you, Sabina said it because of something she said about Alberts. Sabina didn't tell you about your role because that wasn't what mattered to her and she had in any case learned most of that before, from Ron. What mattered to her was what she learned about her life's hero. All that math and physics she had learned from him ever since she was a little girl, all those laboratory experiments which she thought revealed the secrets of the universe — she hadn't ever connected any of that with the slaughter of thousands of human beings. Debbie uprooted all of Sabina's admiration for Alberts; she gave Sabina a picture of a cold-blooded murderer of thousands and maybe even millions of people. And not only a murderer, but the worst kind, the one who doesn't kill a single opponent in face-to-face combat but who exterminates unseen victims from the safety of his laboratory. Sabina went completely wild. She left Jose at Debbie's and ran to Alberts' house. She completely destroyed the lab he'd built for her on the second floor. She took all the books he'd ever given her and threw them into the incinerator. She burned all her clothes, all of mine, all my toys, everything. The clothes she was wearing were the only things she took with her. She'd even have burned his house —”
“My god!” I exclaim.
“Sabina blurted it all out once, years later, only because she was completely stoned. The day after she told us she tried to convince us she'd lied to us. She never again got stoned after that. Jose didn't know any of this had happened at the time: he only knew that Sabina had decided to move into the garage with him, Ted and Tissie. She hasn't once seen Alberts since then, Sabina was calmer the day after she moved out of Alberts' house, when she visited you. She went to tell you Ron was dead and that was all she intended to tell you. She thought you ought to know. She probably hadn't paid much attention to what Debbie had said about you. It was Jose who heard that.”
I beg Tina. “Would you mind being a little more coherent? I know you can do it.”
Tina is offended. “You don't have to be sarcastic! This is the first time I've ever pieced the whole story together from the bits and snatches dropped by you, Sabina and Jose. I've never before realized what all those pieces added up to.”
I try to apologize, “I didn't mean to be sarcastic; I got lost, that's all.”
Tina turns to Sabina and asks. “Why don't you tell her? You were there too. I only know these things at second hand.”
Sabina says, “Just you go ahead, Tina, you're doing fine.”
“Don't you be sarcastic too,” Tina tells her. “I'm sorry it's so confusing, Sophia. It's awfully late. Why don't you get Sabina to tell you these things some other time?”
I object. “You told me those were precisely the things that didn't matter to her. Besides, I want to hear it now and from you. Sabina would only confuse me even more.”
Tina says, “I'll try to tell it in order. Sabina already told you Debbie had gone to look for Alberts. That happened the day before Sabina visited you at the university co-op. Debbie was drunk and collapsed on the couch. Sabina ran to get Jose. She wanted to get Debbie out of Alberts' house before he returned. She couldn't do that alone. She got Jose to help her drag Debbie to Jose's car and drive her home. They both sat by her bed while she slept for several hours. She was relatively sober when she woke up; Jose gave her coffee. Pointing her finger at Sabina, Debbie said to Jose: `Keep away from that snake, kid. She'll stab you in the back.' Jose asked what Sabina had done. That's when Debbie blurted out the whole story. Her finger hadn't been pointed at Sabina but at you.”
I start to feel sick.
Tina continues, “She thought Sabina was the girl Tom Matthews had tried to shoot that night Ron tried to take you to his room —”
“She didn't see me that night; Debbie and I didn't meet until Ron's trial,” I tell Tina. “But Lem introduced me to her at the trial; she couldn't have thought Sabina and I were the same person since we were both at the trial.”
“She didn't know you had anything to do with Ron when she saw you at the trial,” Tina tells me.
“What story did she blurt out?” I ask Tina.
“When Jose asked her what she had against Sabina, Debbie said she'd visited Ron in reform school after the trial. Ron told her that as soon as he got out he'd get even with Matthews. Debbie said she didn't blame Ron because Tom Matthews was a bastard who'd jailed his own son. Ron told her he wasn't going to get even with him about that; he had expected that. He wanted to get even with Matthews for breaking up Ron's relationship with his girl. Ron told Debbie that when Matthews tried to shoot you he had scared the shit out of you and you had changed as a result, you had become afraid of Ron.”
“If Ron said that he was lying to himself,” I tell Tina. “Our relationship was already over when Matthews threatened us with his gun. Ron met Sabina the very next day —”
Sabina, trying to imitate Ron, says, “Oh shit. Sabina, you know it's Sophie I want, but she thinks I'm someone else, someone she must have known someplace else —”
“When did he tell you that?” I ask Sabina.
“A week after he moved in with me,” she says.
“So soon after the car wreck!” I exclaim. I turn to Tina and ask her, “Is that true?”
“Now how in the world would I know that, Sophia?”
“You seem to know everything else!”
Tina says, “I know that when Sabina and Jose got Ron the day he was released from reform school —”
I interrupt, “He asked why I wasn't there. I already know that.”
Sabina says, “Right after his release from reform school —”
“ — you and Ron got me up at midnight,” I interrupt again. “Ron was as talkative as a mummy.”
“He talked to you,” Sabina says.
“You mean at the beginning?” I ask. “I tried to joke with him.”
“What did you say?” Sabina asks.
“Just trivialities, “ I say. “I reminded him of our first meeting.”
“Your words?” she asks.
“I said I'd meet him any time,” I admit.
“You said that to him?” Tina asks. “Jose was right! You really did dangle a string in front of him. Jose said that before and after they drove off with Matthews' car Ron kept mumbling, `She'll meet me any time.'”
“I couldn't have joined him in the air force!” I exclaim.
“Ron didn't mean the air force,” Tina tells me. “He thought the garage idea would appeal to you. If it didn't he was ready to leave the city with you after Matthews' car was stolen.”
“Leave and do what?” I ask.
“Go travelling, stealing and camping, I suppose,” she says.
“He was crazy! I'd never have agreed to that!” I exclaim.
Tina says, “That's what Sabina told Ron. She told him he was crazy, that you were set on becoming a professor.”
I bite my lip until it bleeds. Would I have joined Ron if I had known?
“Sabina told Ron you'd gladly meet him any time but not any place; she told him you'd meet him in college,” Tina adds. “And Ron must have known Sabina was right. That's why he joined the air force.”
“What do you mean, `that's why he joined the air force'?” I ask her. “Couldn't he have done thousands of other things? Did he have to become a killer for the state?”
“Maybe he thought he'd communicate something to you by doing that,” Tina says.
“Are you suggesting he joined the air force because he knew I'd hate him for it?” I ask her.
“I don't know,” she answers; “Ask Sabina.”
Sabina says, “Revenge was always important to him.”
Tina continues, “I was telling you what Debbie told Jose after he asked her what she had against Sabina. She told about her conversation with Ron in reform school. Then she got out of bed and showed Jose a letter she had gotten from Ron only a few months before he was killed. Jose kept the letter. Once I saw him reading it and crying. I saw the letter. It said, `Dear mom, I didn't want you to think I came out here because of you, or even because of the old man. All that got balanced out. I came out here to balance out some other things that had nothing to do with you. But I can't go through with what they're doing out here. Your loving son, Ron.'”
“He didn't kill himself!” I exclaim.
“Several months later Debbie was informed that he was missing in action,” Tina tells me.
“Why?” I ask.
“Do you want me to repeat his letter?” Tina asks. “I know it by heart.”
“I don't understand!”
“Do you want to?” she asks.
No, I suppose I don't want to understand that Ron killed himself because I was wedded to my past experience, to you. to pedagogy, to everything you now dismiss as illusions. Would it really have made any difference if I'd known that I could have saved Ron's life by ceasing to be what I was? I didn't answer Tina's question.
It was morning when our discussion ended. Tina and Luisa went to work. Sabina and I went to sleep. I got up in time to go to my evening class. We haven't discussed the subject since. Our lives have reverted to normal. I still can't answer Tina's question. Can you? It was your letter that gave rise to that systematic dissection of my life's choices. Your letter makes it all sound so simple. In your view I could have chosen to be a genuine rebel like Ron and instead I chose to make myself a pedagogue. By choosing what I did, I led Ron to commit suicide.
But is it really so simple? Apparently even Ron couldn't put all the blame on me. He tried to blame Tom Matthews for creating the gap between us. He tried to convince himself that if Matthews hadn't tried to shoot me I would have been delighted to share his individual acts of rebellion while we travelled, stole and camped. Yet Ron knew perfectly well that my fear of his father wasn't what separated me from Ron. If he placed the blame on Tom Matthews it was because he knew that the blame lay somewhere outside of me. He knew that I couldn't have gone stealing and camping with him, that our life together would have been a miserable attempt to adapt to the margins of society. He must have known that he didn't kill himself because of me but because there was no room in this society for someone like Ron. He was a romantic with an unattainable goal. He made me the symbol of the goal. He became aware that he would never reach that goal. That was why he committed suicide.
What was his goal? Maybe it was the goal of a genuine rebel: to live freely, rejecting the constraints of society. But you know perfectly well that this goal can only be realized by all human beings at once, or by none. It can't be reached by an individual. What you call individual acts of rebellion quickly turn into their opposites. Individual thefts aren't acts of rebellion but forms of adaptation to private property. If you thought they were more than that why didn't you steal and hide when you were first released from prison, why did you look up the Sedlaks, why did you get a job? When workers appropriate the productive forces, they don't steal them from former owners but take what's theirs: the former owners are the thieves. By stealing we accept the legitimacy of the owners and by fleeing we accept the legitimacy of the armed force with which they protect their ownership.
It's easy to romanticize Ron precisely because he was such a romantic. But the daily reality isn't romantic at all. You wait for your chance and you pounce. That's stimulating because it's a dare, a challenge. If you aren't thrown into jail it's a victory. Then you wait for another chance. This time Ron might have to take an enormous risk, next time he might have to send me out as a lure. Sabina can tell you all about the chances you take. And at that point we're right back where we started before we raised the question of rebellion. At that point we're right back to the students in my “community college” class: they no longer want to sell themselves as mere workers, namely as low-quality merchandise, and to deal with that problem they're repairing and painting themselves so as to sell themselves at a higher price. At that point we're back to George Alberts, whose choices never entered within my spectrum, whose life I've always regarded as the opposite of what I wanted mine to be.
You, Sabina and Tina have forced me to reexamine my past. I still embrace my own choice. Call it pedagogy if you like. But please don't call it politics. If Marc and Adrian are successful politicians now it's not because they realized the aspirations we once shared but because they betrayed those aspirations. I was surprised and disappointed to learn about them. I can't quite believe they were capable of such a turnabout. But you can't use them as proof that every “pedagogical” rebel aspires to a government post. Of the friends I made on the college newspaper, every single one remained some kind of social outcast and rebel for as long as I kept track of them. At most you can say we were ludicrous Don Quixotes, that our pens and typewriters were ridiculously inadequate weapons with which to fight the battles we threw ourselves into. But the giants we confronted were real. We tried to cope with some socially meaningful reality. Among the alternatives available to me, only the one I chose enabled me to engage in activity in any way similar to the strike you've lust experienced in the plant where I first learned about such activity.
Please tell me more about yourself and the exciting events around you, and less about me.
And do, please, give Jasna my greetings, and Luisa's as well.
|Cartas de Insurgentes|
|Terceira carta de Yarostan (Cartas de Insurgentes)||Terceira carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)||Quarta carta de Yarostan (Cartas de Insurgentes)|