Friday, March 18, 2011
So, maybe I was a spy.
What does that mean? Maybe I was a spy. A KGB museum has just opened in the Viru Hotel in Tallinn Estonia, my home away from home through much of the 1980's. It spied on me. Day in and day out. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same. My coming and going. My waking and sleeping. My moods, my emotions. The grass withers, the flowers fade but the spying goes on forever. I ran the bath water, hard, if I had anything serious to talk about. I learned to dress in the dark to avoid the eyes watching through a one-way mirror. I told the mirror my secrets -- the ones I wanted it to hear. So, how complicit was I? Disinformation. Strategic information. "This is happening", (not). "This isn't happening" (though, really, it is). I opined on persons in hopes it would help them. I never talked anyone down, at least not knowingly. But who knows what could be miscued, misconstrued. I hope to God not. I did express my opinions on the frosty summit in 1986 between Reagan and Gorbachev, and the general inanity of the Soviet system. I wasn't a fan; that was very clear. I told the bugs and the mirror that I needed a towel, and one showed up. I complained about the weather and they fixed that too. (Okay, not even the mighty USSR could pull that off.) I said I needed a taxi at 8 and, sure enough, taxis appeared. My goal was to be a "human contact". To be the very best "human contact" I could be for the sake of the Estonian people. I gathered information about their lives, secrets, their break-throughs and victories, their heartbreaks, sorrows and needs. I was a camel, I brought them aspirin and batteries and literature and heaven knows what else I've forgot. Mostly, I gave them contact, friendship, encouragement with the so-called, as we called it then, "outside world." So now there is a museum at this hotel where I breakfasted alternately on Variant One, or Variant Two. More jam with Variant Two. Less cucumbers. This Viru Hotel with its famous unspeakable 23rd floor and head-sets and god knows what else eavesdropping equipment. So it has opened as a museum for a few hours a day, this Viru Hotel. I wonder if any of my old (misleading) notes are on display. I trust them not to have kept any photos. (Why, I wonder, do I trust them, an odd thought.) I was trying to decide if I wanted to visit it, the infamous Viru Hotel, to show it to my kids, maybe. To see for myself what I always knew, as assuming was knowing in many cases. I don't think so. I can only type and think about this stuff in the context of listening to favorite music (ironically, Russian). I don't think I could visit the repository of secrets again. Or don't want to. Why? To relive the worry? The anxious moments when a colleague blurted out a name or a factoid that could be trouble for one of our Estoniain friends. I wa never scared for myself. They could kick me out for all I cared. It was my Estoniain friends I worried over. Getting them in trouble. Keeping their names quiet. Not writing them down. Not being followed. But I know I was. Hell, I once turned back over my shoulder and gave my "spy" an ice cream. Bought two and gave him one. Just for the hell of it. Secrets. I am deeply troubled by secrets. Family secrets. Community secrets, church secrets. Intimate secrets. They are inevitably dangerous. They gulp air, they gasp at it, they seek any way they can find it. They corrupt. They are corrosive. Secrets. Better leave some alone? Or will they all find light eventually and we had might as well do our part to illuminate their dark corners? What do you think? What's the point of telling? What do we leave lie? You've heard it now. The extent of my spying. That's all. Years ago when the girls were small and I was hanging around with them at the playground, I would look at the other mothers from time to time and wonder how many of them had KGB files? How many of them had played hide and seek in narrow cobbled streets and, I think, won? Bought ice cream for the 'minder' who traipsed around behind me? Listened to my discussions with the mirror? I didn't put money on any of these other women having such a weird past. And I looked into my own unbugged mirror at myself and couldn't quite believe I'd lived that life either. Do I look like a spy to you?