Apparently between 8th of June and 21st of June 1985 my brother and I discussed boring stuff on the phone. I know this from a section of my parents Securitate file, which was handed to us in 2003. Our home phone was bugged, and some chap listened in on our conversations and transcribed for Securitate, the much-feared political police of Communist Romania. Luckily for us, this episode of being closely followed by Securitate lasted for one year only.
We listened to the tapes between 8.06–21.06.1985. There were no issues regarding the security [“of State secrets”].[..] Their kids discuss things of little importance.”
It is almost funny how this episode started but this is for another time. I guess it would be funny only in a movie watched in freedom, many years later. At that time, it was not funny at all. Anyway, they started following my dad and they discovered that my mum was far more interesting — a chemical engineer at Dacia car factory, the only car factory in Romania. Through her work she came often directly in contact with foreign vendors and engineers so, Securitate thought they should follow her too or even better, the whole house.
My blood chills every time when I touch the Securitate folder. It is a view of my parents’ professional life at the time, but, written by people who did not have the courage to sign their reporting on us with their own name. Luckily, very much aware for decades that we are “the enemy of the people” my parents were extremely careful and correct. Luckily, they were passionate of their work which I think saved them.
When I learned about the existence of this file, I wanted to read it. “To the hell with it!” said dad not wanting to look at it at all. I’ve read it with mum, trying to put order in stories coming from very different people, following quite mundane meetings. Mum laughed whilst reading and figuring up who these people reporting on her were. Most often, it did not come as a surprise. It worked something like this: if you remember the reported meeting and you know that apart from you, B and C were also there, but the report talks about you and B, you know that C wrote the report. Simple. Sad. Annoying. Infuriating. Dad did not want to know. “Sa-i ia dracu!”
Mum turns tomorrow 78 years old and I cannot see her due to the lockdown. Memories of all sorts flood back, this damn file included. I mostly remember our life during that time and yes, we were a happy family to the puzzlement of the twelve people assigned and paid to report on us.
I remember mum coming every month after getting her salary with a large stack of books that somebody at the bookstore would reserve for her during the month. At home we had a library of thousands of books whose escapism in turn saved me.
I remember mum staying entire Saturday nights in the bitter sub-zero winter queues of indescribable horrors merely to buy some measly provision of milk and yoghurt. At 5 am on Sunday she would run home to wake us up, so we also join the queue. You were allowed only one bottle of milk and a jar of yoghurt per person so she wanted us as a family to be able to buy a bit more, so we have for an entire week or two. To this day the 5 am cold air brings in mind the clinking of empty milk bottles and my whole body curls at the memory of that dark crowd, waiting, exhausted, just to buy some food. Arriving home, I always felt angry and did not want to touch the milk or the yoghurt. I was angry for how this “process” was stealing my mum from me and giving me back only a splinter of my smart and beautiful mum.
My mum was quite unusual in my mind. She was always learning and reading. She had long straight hair and she would not colour it “red” or make it the contemporary communist curls like most other mums. She would make her own dresses following patterns from fashion magazines “from abroad”. My brother and I followed her and started to make our own creations to the vocal desperation of our neighbours and teachers. My brother purple trousers or my too short skirt led to neighbours tattling to my parents that we have an unbecoming behaviour.
My mum was born in a village in the Danube Delta, a miraculous place where one mainly travels on water. When the Soviets invaded Bessarabia, my grandma was at the market there, on the other side of the Danube. She crossed the Danube back with thousands others, leaving behind everything they had, oftentimes their own families. Mum often referred to the life in the Danube Delta. The rules, the aphorisms, everything seemed too strict and harsh and I can honestly say that they truly terrified me. My mum and her family left Danube Delta when she was around twelve and they moved to a large city. The confiscation of land by the communist regime, following the loss to the Soviet Union of whatever they had “on the other side” (of the Danube), made it impossible for them to earn a living. In her mind, the Danube somehow remained the standard for honesty and dignity. “Women in the Delta will hoist a large fishing boat to land and drag it across land for long distances.” This image occupied my imagination for a long while. How this could be? The women I knew had coffee with friends, wore high heels and were keen to appear as delicate. My mum was keeping me in line by standards which did not seem to apply to the city we were living in and many times I resented that.
I went through three immigrations alone but I needed to go through lockdown — which I somehow find unbelievably hard, despite my privilege — to figure out that if I liked it or not, I do descend from those women pulling a large fishing boat on land. I discovered that I have a strength I did not know I had and that I am truly the daughter of my mum.
Happy birthday mum! The kids are all right and they speak about things that matter.
Te iubesc. Ne vedem curand.