Communism is not dead. Not while my entire generation of always- hungry, always- cold, hypochondriacally, emotionally scarred and perilously reactionary Eastern Europeans is still alive, roaming the world and every once in a while tweaking from some old memory trigger, like dogs in a Pavlov experiment. I grew up grey, silent and scared- most def not feeling or playing victim here, but looking back at my childhood the truth (that I grew up grey, silent and scared) is even harder to deal with now than when I was living it. For the very simple reason that now I know more about what could have been and wasn’t- not for my generation, and not for my parents’.
As a kid, life seemed real easy- all you needed to do to survive was to keep your mouth shut, do everything your parents tell you to do, never ask questions, never display any artistic tendencies other than for glorifying the party and, most importantly, study your little brains off. Life was regimented, and everything was planned for you by the beloved dictator- what to eat (because everything was on ration), what to study (because all curricula were pre-set nation-wide), where to work (because everyone got assigned a job and that was that), what city to live in (according to your job repartition) and how many kids to have (correct answer: as many as possible, as abortions were illegal and the whole thing was enforced with mandatory monthly GYN exams. No, really. The party needed as many little buggers as it could get). Cars could only drive every other day according to their license plates- to save the country some precious gas, I guess. Vacation was mandatory, through pre-arranged, pre-approved travel packages according to your position. Aside from all the things you could and had to do, there was also a shitload of things you absolutely could not do (not without being taken away and made friends with a salt mine, that is): make jokes about the party, switch careers, buy gold, leave the country, refuse to make politics, own anything that was not locally-produced (including, say, a pair of jeans), go to church, like the West, read any censored material, state your opinion, stand out, have an abortion etc.- and that was that.
But again, as a kid, life seemed easy. Sure, your phone was bugged and sometime you could even hear the guy breathing while surveying your conversation, but that didn’t seem so bad back then. Sure, your papa could suddenly and mysteriously disappear if you happened to admit to knowing what a banana tastes like- but even that was easy to learn how to avoid. The school uniforms, the teacher’s appropriate beatings and calling-of-names, the severe lack of toys and the fact that you would only see chocolate at Christmas were also fine- because we didn’t know anything else. So life was good, Communism was fine, and childhood happened without us ever developing a consciousness as pieces in a big, drab and rather ugly puzzle. And we certainly didn’t know that, as adults, we’ll become shiny, funny upside- down mirrors of our ingenuous political past.
But we did, and now we know where our weird, shitty habits stem from.
So- in case you think you’ve been adopted, or sometimes find yourself using some harsh foreign accent that seems to come naturally, or maybe suffered from memory loss and want to meet your former self, well… read on. You might just discover you grew up a Communist.
Here are the signs:
1. You’re paralyzed by choice– also called The Syndrome Of Infinite Possibilities, our inherent lack of exercise when it comes to making choices shows its ugly head almost every day. We go crazy when we need to pick our college classes, we overanalyse to the point of madness and we spend hours staring at supermarket racks, reading every label, crazily overwhelmed with options.
2. You are paranoid– this one is pretty self- explanatory. You’re scared. You’re pissing your pants every time you said too much, shown too much, known too much (or too little). You feel every deal is an attempt to rip you off. You are convinced you’re on your own and you should always, always keep an emotional reserve, even from your life partner. You put yourself down just to make sure no one else gets to (“You, kill me? You, kill ME?!? NO, I KILL ME!!!!!”). Kindness makes you skeptical, as do praises. You don’t know how to take a compliment, and criticism almost flatters you- as you really, really think it’s only given out by people who secretly envy you.
3. You know stuff 15 years after high school- like, all capitals. You also: speak several languages (including Latin), are pretty good with geometry and calculus, can write cursive with the dexterity of a surgeon, know pre-med anatomy and can recite Mendeleev’s periodic table- because they made sure we studied (with a stick at hand for the occasional- and very painful, especially on the knuckles- correction).
4. Secrets– you know what the wrong word can do to a person (umm… get ’em arrested?), so you are very, very careful with what information you let out. When you come to possess secrets, you’re a tomb. You keep yours, you keep your friends’, you keep your neighbors’, you keep your dog’s. And when there are no official secrets to be kept, you start filtering info anyway. Just in case.
5. You own things, things don’t own you– yes, there was a recoil after the revolution- for the longest time people were supposed to own the same amount of stuff, so now you binge. And you buy. And you buy- just in case tomorrow there’s nothing to buy anymore. But even so, things are just things to you- they’re important, they can make you happy, but they do not own you. However, a few mentions have to further be made:
a. Homo faber– in other words, you make shit with your hands. Back in the day things broke down hard and long, and after 50 years of practice everyone can repair and rebuild everything and their momma. So you, too, can sow buttons, weave carpets, trim vineyards, bake bread, repair electric networks and, if in dire straights, act as a dentist, dactylographer, pedicurist, mechanic or therapist. In your house, nothing gets thrown away because everything can be repurposed and used anew.
b. Luxury is cheap- it takes you exactly 1.47 minutes to learn how to rock the most sophisticated outfits, maneuver chop sticks or recognize the most expensive of perfumes, because you’re the third generation dreaming of the nice stuff you see in movies- and you’re ready for it. That being said, you can always make happy with very little… and you know, you really do know the difference between “want” and “need”.
c. Fixations- you got’em. Be it something you saw in movies, or something some foreign tourist had left behind on the beach, or something your father bought on the black market and your family used, in deep secrecy, at very special occasions- whatever it is, you’re sure to have a fixation. Mine is Nivea creme- back then the blue tin box was the symbol of capitalism, hence illegal, therefore very hard to procure- and now, of course, I amass it in considerable quantities all over the house- just in case tomorrow they stop production.
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