“Three thousand years have not changed the
human condition in this respect; we are still
lovers and victims of the will to violence,
and so long as we are, Homer will be read as
its truest interpretation.”
(From the Introduction by Bernard Know to Homer’s, The Iliad, Robert Fagles, Translator.)
I have often tried to understand love.
Is there a logic, a pattern, a process? Does it begin as a chemical reaction? Does the heart tell reason that there is no place for logic? Or does the mind direct all feelings? How does it happen that love can transport us to a state of being that we have never known before? And why do we journey so far, so blindly, so willingly, for the person we love?
I have wondered if we love only once. Or can we love different people with different loves at different times? Is it possible that love can transform itself into something sinister and unrecognizable and still be love? And if we should choose to reject love completely, what is life without loving?
My story is one of love, colored with tender moments of pleasure and heights of ecstasy. But also shadowed gray when love was crushed by shame, when lies turned passion to pain.
On an autumn night in Transylvania, October 1970, the golden days of yellow leaves had turned into smoky evenings from wood-burning fireplaces. Communism was at its peak under Nicolae Ceausescu. No one could do what they wanted unless the government approved. I was outspoken, independent, uncooperative. I was being watched.
Alec, my best friend from childhood, had come to our two-room cottage late at night to give me and Petre, my husband of three years, some confidential information. I remember the storm that night, lightning and thunder, even hail. But luck was in our favor, the police preferred to stay indoors, drinking with their buddies rather than patrolling the town or watching people like us.
Alec had been my father’s student at the Technical University of Civil Engineering and his helper on Sundays in our basement, where they both sent secret messages to people in other countries. He had graduated to become the chief engineer at the Ministry of Agriculture. Petre was a doctor, specializing in endocrinology. He was in charge of the clinic in our small town, Dova.
Alec came to tell us he had news: one of the Austrian tractors the government was using to work the farms was defective. The parts weren’t available in Romania, and the tractor would have to be sent to Vienna for repairs. Alec knew I was pregnant. He had an idea to get me out of Romania, to hide me in the tractor as it traveled from Transylvania to Budapest and then by hydrofoil up the Danube to trustworthy contacts in Vienna.
“I won’t go,” I told Alec and Petre.
Petre was insistent. “Anca, this is your only chance. You can’t have a baby in this country.”
“I will not leave without you.”
“I’ll follow,” Petre promised.
“I can make another defective tractor for Petre in two months by detaching some fine wires needed to start the motor,” Alec told me. “But you must take this one first.”
Petre was pacing our small living room. I had never seen him this worked up before. He said to me, “The secret police have started an investigation on you. I know this from a patient, someone I trust.”
“How will I get to Budapest?” I asked them. “The borders are locked as tight as an iron gate.”
“The tractor will be hauled in a truck from our town to Budapest,” Alec answered. “I’ll create space for you under the tractor’s seat where you’ll be hidden.”
“What about food and water?”
“It’ll be next to where you’ll lay comfortably on a mattress.”
“Comfortably?” I said, raising my voice. “Do you realize what will happen to me if the secret police search the truck or tractor with dogs?”
Alec shook his head. “As director of the agricultural project, I have the right to escort the tractor from here to Budapest and onto the hydrofoil, which I will do. Once on the hydrofoil, you’ll be on the Danube and safe.”
Petre took my hand. “Alec will protect you. He has the contacts. From the Danube to the hotel and then…”
“No! It’s too risky.”
“You must take this opportunity!” Petre insisted. “The chief of the region is in charge of your case. He has proof you’ve given antibiotics to Gypsies and noncommunists. The police might torture you. You could lose the baby.”
I was crying, pleading my case to both men, but as I felt the baby kick inside me, I knew they were right. “Petre, you promise to take the second tractor?”
“Yes,” he assured me. “I’ll be at your side when you give birth. I promise.”
Was I wrong to have agreed? I cannot help but wonder now: what was Petre’s true motive to getting me out of the country? Did he know then that the promise to wait two months was just a subterfuge? Over the years, I have tried to analyze the truth as well as the lies. I wanted to forgive Petre, to feel less for him, to live my life by reason and accept my fate. Until one morning when a newspaper and a telephone call turned my ordered world apart.
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