THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
It was frenzied and horrible. An incredible race started that night and I had no idea where it was taking us: to our salvation or to complete disaster. During only one night, I was at the Security Headquarters, The National Radio, the Central Committee, and the National TV Station; was a delirious night. The next day the fear that Ceausescu might turn back and regain power even for one hour or two. Two hours would be enough to exterminate us. One by one. Nobody would escape. The night after the President ran, people yelled with happiness on the streets. The Dictator fell in only one day. The fear that he might return stayed with us for a few days.
In the city that became a military camp overnight, commands were shouted all over and troops clotted together, mixed with rebels.
The night found the same people at the same places they had been the night before and all day long. It was under dark cover when the first bomb exploded. Everybody stopped to listen and most of them watched the sky astonished. But another bomb exploded and a house in the middle of the square was a ruin. In the panic created the soldiers started shooting again and dead bodies fell in small blood ponds. People ran to hide themselves in darker corners and someone shouted to turn off all the lights and spread around; not to offer such a compact target anymore. Soon the city was in complete darkness. The Cathedral's bell started to ring loudly and the metallic sound covered the cries of the victims. Another big boom and a yellow light over the whole square. In that second of light one could see the faces of the men, women and children watching the sky as if the image of the inferno was revealed to them. I threw myself in the snow like everybody else. The cannonade was pretty strong. The bullets, the projectiles, the bombs, everything in complete darkness, under a moon covered by whitish clouds. They looked like Christmas fireworks. Right after that weapons were distributed to the population.
Soon after, the revolutionaries, who did not face any resistance, took the radio and TV stations. A lot of people died that night. The running footfalls and the shootings were followed by breaks of silence and stillness that later were interrupted again. In a second, without making any kind of noise, the man next to me fell with a small, black whole in the middle of his forehead. By the morning the people, rushing shadows, knew they won. The sun started to send his first icy, spears of light. The number of deaths was uncertain: tens, hundreds, thousands.
When the New President showed up on TV, he was wearing a sweater and a coat, pants and boots. He looked different than he used to at the Publisher House or in a cafe. But you could still recognize the controlled energy of the movements, and the ambitious stubbornness, the hungry of power type. He looked inflexible. A new Government has been constituted. The political situation was still unclear. Revolution, Coupe d’état?!
On the twenty third of December the Dictator and His Wife, tied up back to back, were brought in front of an anonymous court. There was no sign of punishment on their faces or bodies. They didn't wear shoes, their clothes were wrinkled and full of hay and they had lost their self-assured expressions. The lines on their faces looked the same and they had the same way of watching the court table. They were tried together, condemned and summarily executed by a firing squad. Two of the three officers that played the judge role left in the same rush they came and sentenced. Next day their bodies were exhibited on TV, allegedly to stifle resistance by die-hard Securitate units attempts to rescue them. Capital punishment was abolished. The whole population watched the National TV Station, holding their breath while the new Dictator with his human face read the Proclamation that asked people to return all the weapons before they started a search. In twenty-four hours all the firearms, including the hunting guns must be remitted to the closest Police Station. Curfew after nine o’clock would be enforced. Anyone caught shooting or stealing would be executed instantly. The typewriters must be turned in by the end of the week. All the victims will be buried tomorrow (soldiers and rebels). All these measures together… They didn’t sound very democratic.
I was as tired as a dog. From Wednesday to Saturday I didn’t sleep for one second. From Wednesday to Monday I didn’t take my shoes off, I didn’t lay on a bed. I rolled on floors or in the snow on the streets. It was my destiny to not enjoy the euphoria of all these events. I was too tired. Decomposed, disfigured… I waited for this moment for years and when it was here I was petrified. I couldn’t even smile.
News reports at the time told of fierce resistance by the Securitate, but anyone who was in town during the months immediately following the revolution would have seen that virtually all the buildings pockmarked with bullet holes were Securitate strongholds around the Central Committee building and TV station. This makes you think that they were maybe the targets of the fire from young army conscripts who opened up at the slightest provocation. With their modern weapons, the Securitate officers could have caused tens of thousands of casualties had they so desired. Everything was so mixed up I was ready to bet that things would start to clear very soon. After the top comes the slope. Nothing can resist indefinitely at maximum intensity. I had a moment of peace - when everything was collapsing around me. Yes, right, it was peace in my heart like in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I found myself drawing Marta's face on a piece of paper. It was Christmas Eve and I was broken in pieces of tiredness. I went to Tudor’s house looking for a moment of peace. The door was unlocked. The smoke was so heavy one could actually cut cubes in it. It made it difficult to distinguish people’s faces, but they were all there except for Victor. We hugged like after a long separation. Together we felt more secure. Even I did.
It was our first free Christmas night and groups of kids went door to door singing religious carols, forbidden for so long.
Overfilled ashtrays, empty or half full wine bottles littered the place. The strong smell of smoke was mixed with the sour one of the cheap wine and coffee. The TV was on, but nobody watched it. Scattered around, on the old, disintegrating sofa, on the chairs, or just lying down on the gray rug, my friends didn’t look at all as happy as I expected them to be. The moments of heavy, worried silence were interrupted by extreme noise; when all of them would talk at the same time, paying no attention to what anybody else was saying.
They told me they don’t give a damn about my theories on intensity, amperes, Ohm's rule or Archimede's. What? You didn't hear about missing people, unsolved cases, classified until now? Vanished people? All they knew was that Victor was missing from the first day of the revolution, and nobody had seen him since. They were all hysterical. I made a few phone calls. Marta was pale, without earrings and with dark circles around her eyes. She worried me. Jewelry is part of her being. Even during the big earthquake in 1977 she didn't leave her apartment without her earrings, bracelet and so on.
"Are you all right? You look tired."
"I don't know, I'm not sure. I can't get his image out of mind. I'm very worried."
Only then I noticed the presence of a new person. A very thin woman. A strange mixture of a child and a woman. I didn't know her yet, but I could feel her. I figured she must be one of Tudor's girlfriends. I didn't pay too much attention, thinking she will be out of there soon. Later on I learned she actually lived next door. Her name was Anna and she was a ballet dancer.
“I love her.” Tudor told me. “She is beautiful and young… and she has a certain simplicity. I find it so incredible when she comes towards me!”
“Did you notice” – Anna asked me that night, “the sentiment of permanence makes a separation easier… In a revolution as well as in love, it’s more difficult to survive when you maintain several connections; when everything is not completely lost, when the past can be still recovered, reestablished, the agony is harsher. But when the cut is permanent, when there’s no way back, then the forgetfulness comes faster and the consolation easier.“
This wasn’t the only spiritual word she said that night. At first sight, I thought she was astonishing. ‘The most intelligent woman in the world.’ – maybe I exaggerated, maybe I was tired… But no other woman I met before gave me this impression of vivacity, fervor, nervous spontaneity. In one hour she said a lot of thoughtful things:
“To lose everything, absolutely everything, when you are thirty years old can be a disaster or a maturing experience.”
“There are happy people in the world that don’t wonder what their purpose is in this world. They live without any remorse their monotonous lives, without being determinant factors, without making any decision ever. They just contemplate life, they watch TV, they have a newspaper subscription, wait for the payday, for the retirement, for their end and are happy.”
She said all these without any fuss, or hostility, almost without noticing. I wanted to see her again even if I was afraid that at a closer look she would lose some of her charm, from her incredible power to surprise you with every word.
I did not advise Tudor to watch out. The phone rang and I jumped on it like a leopard. Considering the importance of the message, I could go in a pace of osteoporosis. It was Ioana, telling me she took the kids and left for a while to a mountain resort until things would settle in Bucharest. It was the smart thing to do. The phone rang a second time. I picked it up. I listened for three seconds and I let it fall. They found Victor. He was dead. Panic, cries, confusion.
We jumped in a Taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Morgue. Bucharest by night. No traffic, no crowds. Emptiness like a desert. Asphalt instead of sand. Only now crossing the whole city by car we noticed the radical aspect of the streets with all the blinds pulled down. From place to place there were piles of flowers and burning candles. The whole city looked like an enormous cemetery. The National Theatre Plaza was impressive. The bullets sifted all the windows. As well as the Telephone Palace, the National Library and Museum. They were all ruins as if a big earthquake and a devastating fire hit them. The number of deaths here could be hundreds, or thousands, who knows? We saw lots of houses, small businesses and stores half destroyed, in ruins. On the other hand it was obvious that they fired in the air a lot. And yet the view was devastating. When you think that all this happened during a period of deep misery and poverty. All the deaths were poor people, students, and humble, grieved folks that worked hard for their bitter bread. Sometimes, next to the flower piles a woman with a baby in her arms lighted candles, crying. A little bit farther poorly dressed children cried, waiting. Who and what were they waiting for? Once again I was thinking about what could happen to my family during those nights. There were a lot of people like myself who didn’t spend the night at home or got separated from their families for different reasons and by the time they got back there was nothing left. I understood, I actually visualized all those nights’ desperation. The driver didn't hurry. The night was long and the "dead are dead".
"Why would you rush? Since he is dead he can't go anywhere, can he?"
We crossed half the city when in front of us jumped out from nowhere a Pepsi Cola truck and crashed like a monument in the middle of an intersection.
The taxi driver, leaning out of the window, shouted:
"Hey, what do you think you are doing?"
The truck-driver was laughing: "I'm doing fine, how about you?"
"Can you please move that monster a little bit, so that we can pass you?" shouted the taxi driver.
"Sure, only if you want to come out and push it."
The taxi driver got really mad and started to swear while turning around.
The Morgue was creepy. As usual, besides the sadness of the show, I was impressed by the lack of individual significance as a phenomenon itself. The fleeting of social relationships, the frustration of any kind of struggle in front of a gap big enough to accommodate your body. The doctor was a scrawny, nervous, bald guy. He had a haggard expression on his face, as if he always kept a dead cat under his nose. He looked like a well-known political TV analyst. I have never seen that one smiling either. Victor had a small black hole in his forehead. The work of some skilled killer. Marta was very shocked. She could not be paler than that. Her face was a classic Chinese mask. She started to cry intermittently with hiccups.
"He was so wonderful..."
"...One winter I got pneumonia. I had a very high fever. I survived packed in wet sheets. I was sick for three months. Everything was expensive. The doctor, the foreign medicine bought on the black market and the food. I needed vitamins and under that brute - Ceausescu the stores were completely empty. Where else could you find fruits, meats, cheese except on the black market. Everything was rationed, even the sugar. Do you know what he did? This dejected, poor, Victor? He brought me back from the dead. He sold all the silverware and all the antiques he had in the house, including his grandfather’s….. sword. I weighed 70 pounds. As much as a NATO turkey. And he brought me back to life."
Victor, a victim of a political cause? It was senseless. Nothing in his personality would indicate that. It was a mistake, a misunderstanding, a bad joke. He never wanted that, he never thought or imagined something like that. How can life change our destiny, and make us different or more than we want to be. What few things depend on us, after all. We never know where one of our gestures or a circumstance can take us. All this man wanted was to be allowed to paint and he finished as a martyr in a revolution he didn’t even understand. Maybe until his last moment he didn’t know how things twisted and where they were taking him.
He took with him to the grave a whole part of my life permanently closed now.
To be Continued...
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