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  • Annamaria Nemeth

Dangerous changes...

Saying goodbye to my father the day came with mixed feelings. My little body was so use to the fight or flight mode and I was in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. His leaving was a blessing and part of me wanted him gone for good. With all the uncertainty there was a strange comfort and peace. My faith kicked in and I knew that no matter what we will be alright. Plus, I was a little fighter and that did not change under any circumstances.

So, the wheels started turning. Fate took its course. Time went by, and, yes, the Securitate came and the questioning began. There were lies; lies upon lies, to protect a truth that kept us alive with hope of the future. We did not have news for three months. We were watched, followed, and nothing felt safe anymore. I had had experience with this. I had been protecting myself and my family from my father’s anger for a long time. It had taught me how to lie; taught me how to survive.

More time went by, and then a knock came from more Securitate personnel. This time it was different. No questioning; they just brought news. Frightening news.

“We caught your uncle and cousin. Your father is dead.”

Oh, the pain and fear. How could all of this be happening? No details were given. It seemed there was no hope of any safe return for my dad. I had to go to my aunt’s house. Where and when would all of us be safe? How would we ever have a chance to leave now?

Finally, word came from a neighbor who worked for the Securitate. “We released your uncle and cousin. It is safe for you to go over to talk with them.” As these events took place, I didn’t know what to think or feel. Was this a trap? Why were my uncle and cousin released? Is my dad really dead? This could really have been dangerous for us. I really never understood how they were able to get away and return home. You have to understand, defectors were not welcomed back and allowed to live. So, this did not make sense to me at all…

However, given the source of the information, we went over. I finally would have the truth; the whole story. Finally my uncle was able to explain what had happened.

“We were at the river, drank some whiskey. All three of us then took three inner tubes and tied them together and got in the water. It was freezing cold water in mid-January on the Danube.” (The Danube starts in The Black Forest of Germany and empties in The Black Sea of the Romanian sea coast. This geography makes it very cold in winter.)

At one point, I was told, my cousin had started hallucinating, and screaming. The guards were across the border, and the chances of getting caught increased when he began to scream. My dad asked my uncle to knock my cousin out so he wouldn’t make any more noise, but my uncle couldn’t do it.

As my cousin was getting louder, my dad took action and cut the ropes that held him to the other two. The current started to take them in different directions and my dad did all he could to distance himself from my uncle and cousin. After a while they were out of his sight. They couldn’t see my dad anymore and had no knowledge of his fate.

The guards caught my uncle and cousin. They were put in jail and after interviews and questioning, they were released and sent home. There was no news or knowledge of what had happened to my dad. With no hope from my uncle and cousin’s story, I was scared again.

Days went by, weeks, and then months with no further information from anyone. Life for the rest of us went on as usual, only now we had no fear of physical violence at home and our home was peaceful. I actually started dating, my first boyfriend ever. I was able to go out, go to the movies, enjoy friendships, as now I was not living under fear or under unreasonable restrictions.

Then it came. The same neighbor that works at the Securitate was able to give us more news one day. We were not supposed to know this, but my dad had made it to a refugee camp and he was safe! Oh, the joy of knowing this! But what now? More waiting, more questions.

We found out he was in prison and was able to receive political refuge status due to our ethnicity and being a minority. At least one good thing finally came from our ethnic background; for the first time being a Hungarian helped our cause. In a way, I was grateful my dad was all right. I still prayed and hoped that these changes would make him a better person.

Finally, a letter came from my dad. He had been sent to a refugee camp in Austria, and was trying to work and save money. He said as soon as he found a sponsor, he would find a place to go and start over. He couldn’t share much more information and all our correspondence was monitored. We were being followed and this made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t all the time, but from time to time I could see that our apartment was being watched.

My dad worked hard while he was in Austria. He started sending packages with goodies, many of which we never even received. We would sell most of the contents of the packages we did receive in order to pay the bills we had. It all helped. The black market was a good way to sell items in my country. Everyone wanted them. Even such simple things as pantyhose were desired items. Anything from clothing, to food items that my dad sent we were able to turn into cash and the items sold fast.

We still were having to get up at midnight or one a.m. to get in line to get milk or bread or eggs; the basic necessities. It was getting very hard and exhausting. At one point I recall standing in line for poultry. We had rations which were limited. If we wanted to eat, we had to get up early and get in separate lines to ensure we got what we needed.

When my dad had been home, he was able to wheel and deal and provide us with some of these things, but now it was all up to us. Dad used to drive a dump truck at one of his jobs. He would go from the meat factory to various other places where the trades were made. Then he would sneak things out, wrapped and safe from spoiling, in the dump truck. Nobody really thought of checking garbage…

But now, as I said, it was up to us. One morning I was waiting for the store to open at 8:00. People were getting restless, starting to push and getting angry. As the doors opened everyone pushed through. I heard the windows break and glass smashing. A hand reached in and grabbed me. It was my mom. She managed to drag me out of the mob scene and pull me to safety. I can still see the glass crashing down as I looked up. The safety I felt with my mom was incredible. Her warm smile, gentle hands, and caring heart always made me feel safe.

Come to think of it, I never really knew what my dad did for work. It was always something different. The various things he did everyone did to survive. With him they were signs of a resilient mind, and in some ways, a hardened heart. Even as a young child I was able to understand the hard life both my parents had. My mom had been dropped off at an orphanage at the age of seven. My dad had witnessed his father commit suicide when he was very young. I’m not sure how old my dad was exactly when that happened. But I do know that he was in middle school and had to drop out to support his mother and two siblings—a sister and a brother.

So, more news, more letters. Finally, we were able to get a phone line. Back then there was a waiting list for phone lines; it was somewhat of a luxury. I don’t know how we were approved for a line but we were and received one quite fast. Yes, it was tapped, and all our conversations were recorded, and our letters all were all opened. But we were able to keep in touch and feel like we were a family.

My mom was so great during those times. She kept us all together, working hard and doing the best she could with me. I was a teenager who was tasting freedom for the first time. However, my mom was good at monitoring my whereabouts. Until one day, I wanted to go to the movies and she wouldn’t let me. I ran away from home. I went over to my boyfriend’s house and I told him I am done with home. He was concerned and took really good care of me.

For two days I stayed away form home. Then I returned and asked my mom’s forgiveness. Her heart was broken and for the first time I felt really bad about my actions. My mom had always done her best and I knew she had my best interest in her heart for me. We had some growing pains as my dad was not there to instill fear and control us. Freedom was a new thing which I didn’t know how to get used to. I had to find the balance…

We had new news form my dad. He was going to speak publicly on Radio Free Europe. He asked us to listen during certain times because he would be speaking about our case. We turned on Radio Free Europe and listened. There was my dad, pleading our case and describing the government’s abuse and neglect of its citizens! Also, he mentioned the discrimination against ethnic Hungarians. I was proud of him. For the first time in my life, I was proud of my father! He was a fighter, but then he always was. He now had a cause and he was fighting for his family’s reunification. The only problem was, he gave too many details. So now anyone who listened to this station was aware of our specific situation.

How would his speaking out help us get out of the country any sooner? We had no idea. I only hoped it didn’t make things worse for us. The interview went well, but my dad didn’t hold back about the misery and cruelty the government was putting its people through. He had always taught us to speak our minds as long as what we said was the truth. As I grew older, I never let the fear of government stop me from telling the truth. I had a good teacher.

My mom also taught me about God and His wonders. She is a beautiful soul filled with faith. With everything life brought her, she maintained a kind heart. Her traumas changed her too, but didn’t make her an uncaring person. I also strongly believed in God, not so much from my mom’s teachings but my own feelings.

However, it is a deadly combination when you live in a Communist country that teaches that its government is God……. We need a core. When everything is or feels out of control, we need to know there is solid ground to stand on. Our government was not that core. I hated everything about the political status in Romania: the abuse, the discrimination, and the hatred I experienced. Discrimination is not skin deep; it goes deeper than that. It did not matter that I looked the same as everyone else, I had to deal with daily bullying and discrimination for being a Hungarian. Somehow, all that made me stronger, gave me a greater understanding of marginalized population groups and the struggles they endured. All of this made me a fighter for the underdog. I was never afraid to speak up and stand up for others who were being discriminated against. Yet, at times for myself I would freeze. Interesting isn’t it? What makes us who and what we are? At what age do we begin to realize the differences between us and others? We learn to cope and we learn to function but the foundation and reasoning is so flawed. Finding the healthy balance is never easy, but one has to find ways to break unhealthy cycles. I feel like old souls exist from the endured struggles we overcame and faced head on.

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