Pretending to Live

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Narrated in the first perosn by Communism himself- Katie and Katya live during the Cold War, one in Soviet Russia, the other in the USA. One with all the privileges of life and the other turns slowly into an empty shell..

Submitted: July 27, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 27, 2012



It's cold when there's no sunrise."~

I am not a bad person by nature. I promise. People just picture me that way.
Of course, not everyone does. Someone people worship me. I’m pretty great, ideally… but not that great. People just don’t treat me properly and I… backfire. Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault if people don’t know what to do with me, is it?
I am everywhere. I wander your house, even if you hate. Even if you don’t think I’m there. I’m there. Trust me, I am.
Katya walks through my presence as if she is walking through syrup. She has no desire to keep pushing through life. She tries not to notice that time goes on.
She knows she should be happy that time goes on. Due to that (unchanging) fact of life, the war is over. Due to that fact, there is no war for Russia. She should be happy. But in her adolescent, naïve mind, she can’t help but think that everything is my fault. I win everything and I corrupt everything. That’s simply not true.
In her mind, that is truly what she believes. That is what her parents tell her. At school, she hears quite the opposite- she hears that I am a god among ideas and that nothing is better. Don’t even try to find anything better, they say, because you won’t. Ha. Very funny. My self- esteem isn’t that high, after all.
Katya soaks in my presence as another day ensues. She breathes my contaminated air, eats my contaminated food. She gets dressed for her (contaminated) school. Her parents saved for years to make sure she could go to a good school. But that’s only the beginning. She’s had the same two school uniforms for the past two years. The funny thing is one of them ripped and she won’t tell her parents. She doesn’t have the heart and they just don’t have the money. She alternates her uniforms every day.
She ate breakfast quickly, unfailing to curse my contaminated food under her breath. Breakfast was always porridge. Not the good kind. Or the hot kind, either.
You’re probably wondering who I am by now. You probably have a few guesses. Stalin? Marx? War? You’re probably wondering why I care so much about this little girl who hates me, who never fails to curse me. I wouldn’t say that I care. I don’t. I always remain unattached to my prisoners, but I always watch them. I also wouldn’t say that I watch just her. I watch all of my prisoners... and not just them. I watch everyone who is under my influence. That means you.
Please remember it’s not my fault what happens to them. It’s how people use me that gets others in trouble. I’m like gunpowder- I can make peace or kill thousands.
My name, you ask?
My name is Communism.
Remember what I said about being everywhere, even if you hate me, kick me out and don’t think I exist in your region? Well, it’s true. I see all and know all. I can see you right now. Don’t ever forget. Stop looking over your shoulder. You can’t see me now, but you’ve seen me at some time or another, whether you like it or not.
I think it’s funny. People who don’t even know me, who haven’t seen me yet- they’ve been influenced by me too. They’ve seen me too.
Take Katie, for example. She has all the privileges of life. Free public education, hot food to eat. Has she met me? No. Does she want to? No. Has she seen me? Oh, yes. Many times. Does she know about me?
Katie wakes up in the morning as if the sun has stopped shining. Everything is dark. Everything is slow. She doesn’t want to eat, despite the fact that Cocoa Puffs are sitting on the table. She doesn’t want to get dressed, despite her enviable wardrobe. She doesn’t want to go to school, despite the fact that she can learn without worrying about social classes and ideas being forced down her throat. Let’s get this straight:
She makes her way through the invisible paths of molasses and eats breakfast. She places a heaping spoonful of Cocoa Puffs on her tongue.
“Yuck!” she grimaces, repulsed by the sweetness of it all. She pushed the chocolate cereal away. She’d rather not eat breakfast. After all, all her friends weren’t eating either. Might as well fit in, she thinks. She embraced not eating food. Many people wished they had her “strength.”
Katie also doesn’t eat because of her mother. Her mother always tries to get her to eat. In Katie’s mind, whatever her mother says is WRONG. It is WRONG. LIES. LIES. LIES. What Katie doesn’t know is that some teenagers, believe it or not, actually listen to their mothers, because their lives depend on it.
I look at children like Katya and then I look at children like Katie.  Then I see the difference I make in people’s lives.
Look at Katya. Maybe my being in Soviet Russia isn’t such a bad thing. She listens to her parents. She values what she has. Then again, she and her parents slowly starve. So... what good are the good qualities if you have to starve by the same forces which cause you to have them in the first place?
Let’s look at Katie. She is disrespectful and impudent. She, however, has everything she needs. She is safe. She has no fear of the world around her and no hatred towards it. But what good is life if you only hurt others with it?
See? I’m not all bad. I do bring out the good in people.

The weight of the books on her shoulder is too much for her frail, little body. It’s not really the weight of the books, but more the price- knowing her parents gave up their breakfast for three months, just so she could have them. She curses me again. She them remembers, as she walks to school, that as soon as she enters that building, she turns into a little communist. The pride and joy of the Soviet Union.
Don’t go looking at me like that. It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong. Blame Stalin.
Ah, Josef Stalin. Josef Drugashvili. But, sshh. You don’t need to know his real name. His name is Josef Stalin to you. Better yet, Comrade Josef Stalin. Best of all, Comrade Stalin. After all, you would never dream of calling him by his first name. He gets me all wrong, anyways. He seems to like killing people in my name. He also seems to be very fond of this human concept of paranoia. He kills people in its name, too. I think paranoia is overrated. Who needs paranoia when you can just accept me as I am?
She walks into the school building. It’s just a building, Katya thinks, not a prison. But it is, she remembers, but it is- it is a prison of communism. They take us, she continues, they take our minds and do not let them go. They change them and do what they want with them and chain them and lock them away and…
She often gets carried away. She hates me, I know. But I don’t hate her. I truly don’t. She sees me in a bad light from her parents. At school, however, quite the opposite…
On the board were two words written.
????????? ??????????
The students reluctantly drew their eyes to the board. Some saw my name and their faces hardened, like Katya’s. Other faces turned pink with joy.
Their teacher, a middle-aged woman with cold, hard eyes looked at all of her little communists in the face. Really though, they were not that little. They were 13-14 years old. But this was Russia. There was no fear of teenagers. There was discipline. There was never a problem. But, what was discipline, if there was no life? If I bring out a good thing in people, what’s the point if the bad thing I cause takes over?
“So, children,” begins Anna Petrovna, “what are these things on the board? What are communism and capitalism?”
Everyone’s hand shot up in the air, whether they knew the answer or not.
“You, Solomin,” she said, “tell me.”
Solomin proudly stated what had been drilled into his head for the duration of his entire life.
Petrovna nodded her approval with pursed lips. Her face remained unchanged. It was so withered and dry and lifeless. Was it the wind that had withered her face or was it me?
Katya vehemently disliked Anna Petrovna. She was lifeless. There was nothing there. She was an empty carcass, an empty shell. What was killing her little communists had already killed her. All that was left to kill was her body.
Katya often felt sorry for Anna Petrovna, in the only way one can, once one really hates someone else.
She often felt that she ought to speak to her, ask her how she was doing and really mean it. But she also knew that Anna Petrovna didn’t care. I had already withered her down…. Or was it the wind?
Katie finds school a bore. Why would anyone find pleasure in reading of all things, she thinks. Drawing, singing, dancing, playing records… BUT SCHOOL? BUT READING?
I pity Katie in a way. For Katya, school is a way of knowing that she is still alive. While school is a prison, Katya realizes that not everyone is so lucky as to attend school. Katie doesn’t realize this.
She doesn’t even know I exit. Not more than she has to, anyways. I’ve seen her, though. She’s not allowed to see me. Her parents won’t let her watch TV that they think represents me. I don’t get why. This TV is obviously not something I would even watch. This paranoia thing really doesn’t suit humans.
Katie is so shielded from me. In school, they practice “nuclear attack drills.” Because they’re so paranoid that a nation full of empty carcasses is going to have the strength to attack them? Yeah, right.
Anyways, back to school. It seems to go on forever. Everything takes so long and her teachers, she thinks, don’t even care about their students! Life is just so unfair, she thinks.
Let’s pause for a moment. We’ve been talking about so many different things so far. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine Katie’s world. Then imagine Katya’s. Do you feel the difference?
I also want to take this time to eliminate some stereotypes about me:
1) What is the deal with humans thinking that I like the color red?! I like the color red just as much as the next color! Red is so… Stalin. Red is so… Mao. Red is their color, not mine. I don’t really have a color. After all, you don’t really see me in the flesh.
2) I don’t carry a hammer or a sickle or both. They’re so heavy. Why would anyone want to carry them around if they didn’t absolutely have to? Sure, I stand for industry and agriculture just as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to have to schlep them around. Agriculture and industry belong in their own places… they shouldn’t follow you around everywhere.
3) I don’t carry around a “Little Red Book” nor do I endorse this product. I won’t make you carry one around either. They’re a hassle to carry around. And red, too. Yuck.
4) I’m not crazy. I promise. I know you don’t believe me. People don’t know what to do with me. That’s why it appears that way.
For Katya, with every passing day, she grows thinner and thinner. With every passing day, Anna Petrovna dies a little bit more. With every passing day, her parents smile less and less.
For Katie, with every passing day, she grows thinner and thinner. The amount of Cocoa Puffs remains unchanged. Fruit Loops changed- her brother ate them. Katie takes everything for granted. Katie didn’t die every day more and more.
Katya now began to wonder about life in America. There is no communism, she thought, that’s enough for me. They have food, she dreamed. They have enough food. And not just potatoes and cabbage.
Sometimes, Katya would mention her golden thoughts of America to her parents. They would tell her to Stop Talking and that We’re Not in America, So We Don’t Need to Know. Katya would still be allowed to dream, wouldn’t she?
She is very careful with her identity. Not just her name, but her religion. She knows that she is Jewish, but she would never show it. Others are less careful.
At school, when that time of year comes around to make sure everyone is healthy and well, everyone’s faces turn pink. No one wants to undress in front of doctors and nurses they don’t know and be prodded and checked.
The girls in one room and the boys in the other. They undressed to their undergarments as the nurses inspected them.
Every single girl was blushing, but thankfully nobody was ill… on the outside. Katya would really rather not be there. She looked at the row of her fellow female classmates, when something caught her eye. A little golden something was hanging from her friend Larisa’s neck. The little golden something was a little golden cross.
Katya quickly realized that if someone saw her necklace, they would realize she was religious. I don’t approve of religion and therefore, neither did Soviet Russia. Katya began to frantically motion to her to take it off, but it was too late.
“What is this?” the nurse asked.
Larisa was silent.
“This is a Christian cross!” she raged, “Take it off! Throw it away!”
The nurse tore it off as Larisa cried, “please! At least let me sell it!”
The nurse cruelly chuckled, “Ha! Because someone would want a Christian cross?” She stepped on the chain with her foot and threw it into the garbage.
“If any even tries to get that necklace back,” she began, “I will personally...”
The girls were terrified. Especially Katya. If being Christian was bad, being Jewish was worse.
I don’t believe in certain religions being worse than others- that’s up to people to decide. I simply don’t believe in religion.
Katie goes to the doctor with her mother in hot pursuit.
“Mom,” she whines, “let me go alone.”
Her mother says, “Not at the doctor’s, honey. You need a parent.”
For Katie, doing anything with her mother was embarrassing. This is was a new age- these were the fifties! Soon it would be 1960! She didn’t need her mother anymore, she thought.
She walked in and saw the color white. White was everywhere. I know what you might be thinking. If I am everywhere, I am at the hospital. If I am at the hospital, why isn’t it red? I told you already, I don’t wear red and you can’t see me in the flesh. That’s why. For all you know, I could be wearing every color of the rainbow.
As the pair waited to be called, Katie’s mother begins to ask her about school.
“What are you learning about in school?” she asks.
“Stuff,” was her highly descriptive answer.
“Oh, really,” replies her mother, “do tell.”
“We’re learning about Current Events and Algebra and...”
“What do you like most?”
“I like Current Events, which is a part of Social Studies, I guess.”
“Have you learned about East and West Berlin yet?” her mother asked, eager to actually have a conversation with her daughter.
“Yeah,” she mumbled, “and the Russians and stuff.”
“Oh,” her mother whispered, “them.” Her face darkened.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
And then they were called to visit the doctor.
Katya valued everything she had. Her clothing was precious. School was priceless. Food was a gift. Sometimes, however, she found herself wanting something else. She knew it was selfish to think so… but it wasn’t a crime.
She was walking back from school once when she heard her name being called.
She turned around to see a boy in her class, Misha.
Misha was the son of a general in the army. He didn’t hate me.
“Look what I have,” he whispered as he proffered his hand and handed something brown and sticky to her.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Chocolate,” he said, “try it.”
“Are you sure it’s okay to eat?”
He nodded. “Just try it.”
She took the chocolate from his hand and slowly placed it on her tongue. She’d never tasted anything like it before. The sweetness was delicious. She wanted more.
“Where can I get it?” she asked.
Misha laughed cruelly. “You can’t. Only military officers get it. My father got some and he gave it to me. I give you some and now you want more? Ungrateful swine.”
“I thought you were my friend,” she stammered.
“Ha! Me? Friends with a girl like YOU? You? Whose parents had to save up for years just so you could go to a good school? I am not friends with peasants. I simply pity them. That’s why I gave you chocolate.”
As he began to walk away, Katya began to cry. It wasn’t really that she would never have chocolate again- she knew that. It was more that she would never have something that represented the higher class. She would never be able to savor it and say that it was HERS. How would you feel if you knew you were giving up the taste of luxury?
Let’s stop again for a moment. The next part of this story will be five years in the future. Katya and Katie will have both changed. I, however, will remain the same. I never change. Communism is constant. I will never change.
Katie wears brown slacks and socks with sandals and a hair band and love beads. She tries to attend every anti-war rally in town.
“Why do you do this?” her mother pleads.
“War is not the answer,” she replies, almost believing it herself.
Every day, she sits at the table and forces down the Cocoa Puffs. Every day, she forgets that I am watching her. I am in Korea. I am in Vietnam. I am everywhere.
Katie doesn’t care, remember? Her manner remains unchanged. She is in the anti-war movement simply because it is rebellious, not because she knows what she’s doing.
Katya dreams of America. If America has chocolate and America is capitalism, them capitalism must be good, right? She watches as younger children become Russia’s pride and joy. She watches as these children memorize poems about Lenin and Stalin. She watches me in front of their faces. She sees me. I reach out my hand to her, as if to say, “It’s not my fault.” She pushes me away. To her, I was the idea that causes her family to starve. I was what caused corruption. I was this and I was that.
For Katie, I was just... there. I caused wars. I didn’t affect her personally, though. Therefore, she didn’t care. She pretended to care while Katya pretended to live.
Katya watches as her history textbook goes up in flames. She watches as the fire spreads- her classmates’ fires spread. It’s almost a contest- who can create the most destruction? The Communist Regime is rewriting history. They will have new textbooks for the next class. It is Katya’s last year of school and to her dismay, what she learned in history is “wrong.” She walks home and she smells smoke coming from various places- factories, cigarettes, fires. When she smells the smoke, what she smells is “wrong.” She smells incorrect history. She smells burnt knowledge.
I stand there and watch. This paranoia business really doesn’t look good on people. They have to just…
I often walk with Katya. She is a curious creature. She hates me intensely. You can feel her hatred with every step. She thinks about chocolate. She used to scheme about how to get some, but she knew she never would carry out her plans. And Misha doesn’t talk to peasants.
Katie wishes she could burn history textbook. She wishes she could burn everything. She feels rebellion course through her veins. She never complies with anything.
When I walk with Katie, I feel hatred with every step- not to me, but contempt for society itself. She doesn’t even pay attention to me. She does hate me, of course. But Katie hates everyone.
In the end, for some salvation comes and for others comes misery. Sometimes it comes in unexpected ways to people and things happen that you wouldn’t expect.
Katya never did make it to America. When the USSR collapsed, she would have been in her late forties.
Katya never stopped hating me. She became an engineer. She married and soon began to a look like Anna Petrovna- a withered face, only an empty carcass. She never had children. She told her husband that she wouldn’t want to have them suffer in this world, where there was so little- so little even to give.
She didn’t feel as if she could make it most days. She hated me, but she could not escape me. She couldn’t flee. She was trapped in a never ending tunnel of me with no light at the end.
Katie passed through her hippie teenage phase. She married too and had children. She made them eat Cocoa Puffs. She never noticed me. I never walked with her anymore. When the USSR collapsed, she watched the news and carried on. When she began to see Russian immigrants who had nothing, she didn’t even look their way. She didn’t see their withered faces. All she saw were empty carcasses.
Yet, they looked at her like a queen. One of these immigrants was a middle-aged man with sad eyes. Katie always saw him buying chocolate bars at the grocery store. He bought other things too, of course, but he always bought one or two chocolate bars.
Katie noticed this and wondered. It’s his life, she thought. Then again, he remained the stick he always was. How could he be eating so much chocolate, she thought.
One day, she approached him. “Excuse me,” she said, tapping him on the shoulder, “do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
He looked up at her and said in broken English, “No. I don’t mind.”
“Why do you always buy chocolate bars?”
He lifted his shopping bags out of his cart and said, “These are for my wife.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Your wife can eat that much chocolate?”
He smiled tearfully. “My wife is dead.”
Katie was taken aback by his straightforward response.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“She used to love chocolate. She only had it once. That all she ever wanted. And she never got it. All she ever wanted...” she confessed through tears, “I buy it because it is all I have left of her.”
Katie felt overwhelmed with pity for this sad-eyed man who always bought chocolate at the grocery store.
They stood in silence, until Katie motioned with her hand that they should walk together. For the last time, I walked with Katie and I walked with a familiar presence with whom I hadn’t walked for years.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Katie began, “what happened to your wife?”
The man was silent for a moment. “She killed herself. She hated communism. It was suffocating her in Russia. She wasn’t alive- she was simply breathing.
Katie absorbed everything he said.
“I’m sorry.”
“She wasn’t going to make it. She knew that. I told her to hold on. I told her to wait for the day when she could leave. When she could escape from communism…. she couldn’t wait that long. She didn’t want to keep suffocating. She said that if she could have chocolate one more time, she would live. I buy chocolate so that she lives near me. So that I can still hold on to her.”
“What was her name?”
“Her name was Katya.”
This story touched Katie in the way a movie touches you- it touches you once. Once the movie is over, you realize it’s not real and move on with your life and stop caring.
Katie now saw how I work. She never saw Russia. She always told her children that in Russia, “they just have less, they just have less…”
And when I hear her say this, I too begin to cry along with Katya’s husband, because it is my fault.


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