This week my 14 year-old daughter Emma wrote a short story that moved me a lot. She was inspired by a photograph of a train station. She connected it to the war in Ukraine and our family friend Elena, who we know since 2011. Please read Emma’s story and give her some feedback.
However, before reading her story of 2022, please read my short text of 1990, that I wrote when I was 18. I had a friend from Romania and it impacted me a lot during my teenage days, thinking deeply about what freedom means.
Yvette Larsson, 1990/04/18
“History was written in the autumn of 1989. It was the autumn of Democracy in Eastern Europe and revolutionary winds blew. The scenes of happiness we saw on TV started after the Berlin Wall fell. Eastern and Western Germans could meet again after that long and horrible time being separated by the wall. People cried out of happiness. The feeling was amazing!
Country after country followed like pieces in dominoes, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, and so forth. There were many experts who thought that Romania, with its’ Stalinistic leader Ceaușescu would be kept away from those scenes of happiness.
The experts said: “The Romanians do not have the force and energy to engage and collect themselves to a revolution”. They said that the Romanians’ strength wasn’t sufficient enough more than to keep theIir every- day life going. The daily problems with lack of all: be it petrol, pens, oranges, or heat, would stop the Romanians’ big wish to get rid of Communism in their country.
Soon, it proved, times of wonder were a reality. The revolution took place end of December: a people’s revolution that later came to include the military too. They took the president and after the hunting down of all his Securitate men started.
There was one country that stayed communistic in the East and that was Albania. But, speaking of wonders, who knows about Albania?
How did it go with Romania? Well, we can’t really answer that question already now. Because that is the now we live in.
It is now they have to take the democratic dream and put it into reality, practically speaking.
A task that is difficult to solve. People in the East don’t know either how to think democratic, nor do they know how to LIVE democratically. Suspiciousness has also always been omnipresent and it will be difficult to build something completely different. Open. Democratic. It will surely take a long time to make the democratic way of life to be a reality.
The living standards must ameliorate. At present, there is a diaspora in the east: eastern Europeans leaving their home countries with their newly pressed passports. They want better living standards fast. Highly educated people see their chance to get a decent life abroad. However it will go, I will never forget the autumn and winter of 1989. The thing I will never forget is when my friend from Romania called after Christmas time and screamed out his joy: “ We are finally free!!!! “
Please now read Emma’s fictive story of March, 2022.
The great escape
It was a dark and cold morning. The somberness swept over the village as the clouds that hung in the sky covered up the sun that tried to peek through with its beaming rays. What woke me up today was the ambience that filled the air. It was different than ever before. The feeling was ineffable, but it wasn’t positive. Was I hopeful? Was I scared? Was I disappointed? All of those sentiments were swaying around in my head like a kite dancing in a storm. It was as though my own presence had caused this, yet I wasn’t worried. These feelings made sense to me, because the war had after all just started. The whole of Ukraine was on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what his next move was.
I lifted my heavy, stale neck from my pillow and let out a groan of relief as I twisted my back, cracking my spine. With every crack, I felt the tension in my body fade away. I wish I could do the same with my brain, and just let go of the thoughts that fill it, but it remains the same as it has been recently; cramped and full of concern. With my groggy eyes still closed shut, I shuffled my lanky legs over the side of the bed and threw my blanket off of me. The cold air met my skin and made me shiver and want to crawl back into my only place of comfort.
It was peculiarly cold today. The freezing temperature simulated the bone-chilling cold of the outside world. I then quickly got reminded why life had felt so cold lately, when I finally opened my eyes and faced the world outside my window. Putin’s decisions had led to a shut off in electricity in many rural villages, including mine. Our homes were now colder than ever.
I stood up, with my stare fixated on the street outside. With every blink and with every step closer to the window, my heart sank down to my stomach more, and more “how could this happen, even in a modern world like today?” I asked myself out loud as I felt a change in my tone. Tears welled up in my eyes as the sorrow in me erupted and I broke down into a cluster of despair. Pain was all around me like a bridge over troubled water, but the sun that now made an appearance, flashing on my eyes, gave me a sense of warmth that I longed for. I lay there on the cold wooden floor, with the glowing sun on my skin for the first time in days, and my head in my hopeless hands.
A sharp knock from behind me then pierced the silent air like a silver bullet. I slowly let go of my heavy head, and peered behind my shoulder. Zalskimir stood there in the doorway dressed in the worst possible thing you would want to see your father in; a jacket and cargo pants in green, embedded with a blue-yellow flag on the left arm.
With his head hanging low, he looked at me straight in the eyes and said “I have to leave now, sweetie,” sniffling between words. My father, like most men in Ukraine, was obliged to go to war. I couldn’t imagine how miserably my mother felt about this, but I knew one thing that worried me. We wouldn’t know what to do once my father left us.
I got to my shaking feet and started to feel the gut-wrenching feeling inside me grow. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my own father would leave, and maybe never come back. This was the type of thing you read about in books, or saw in depressing music videos. But instead, it was happening to me. The thought of that uniform haunted me daily. Having to see your loved one dressed in one, knowing what it implied, was unimaginably painful. Not knowing if they would make it out alive, or how many steps they would take before it was over. We’ve all heard the stories of “those who never came back”. To me, it has always been so baffling how the decision of one person who isn’t in their right mind, could determine whether or not those stories become a reality.
“Papa, you can’t leave,” I said as tears flooded down my pale face. My words didn’t change or mean anything anyway, and I felt so hopeless acknowledging that I could do nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop my father from departing.
The car ride was long, silent, and reflective. Sitting in our black beat-up honda, gave me a sense of nostalgia I had never felt before until now. My mother sat tensely in the passenger seat, wrapped up in blankets. Her mascara ran down her face as she sobbed quietly. I couldn’t see my father’s expression, but his thick, Slavic eyebrows were tilted upwards, and his hand was on my mother’s leg. He wasn’t like other fathers, he was the warmth in this family. He gave us happiness and strength.
I recognized the smell of the interior that held so many memories, and the trips we went on during the summer. The arguments we had, and how we solved them. My father was a good-hearted person, who always drew his mindset to the positive side of things. He was a modern man who didn’t believe that war was a solution, for anything. A couple of days before the war started, we had an argument in the same car we sat in now driving to the train station, packed with refugees. I told my dad I hated him, and that he should disappear. That whole day was full of regret and misery because I saw the look on my father’s face when I spat out those words that did nothing more than scar his heart. The next day he got the message, telling him to go to war, and my heart sank when he showed me the letter. I looked into his eyes and he looked back at mine and whispered “I forgive you, Elena,” as he put his hands on my cold cheek and smiled softly. I felt so relieved. He knew that I was sorry. He knew that those words that came out of my mouth made me feel sick. I couldn’t believe I said it. How could I?
The train station was crowded with people eager to get on the train, the one train that would take some to freedom, and some to terror. The air was dirty and packed with hundreds of yelling voices. The floor was dusty and full of footprints that belonged to so many people either leaving their home country, or fighting for it. My mother insisted that we stay, to put a foot down and show that we stand with our country. That we aren’t showing weakness towards Putin, who wants nothing more than to bring the Ukrainians down. We would stand our ground.
As my father put down his suitcase, we heard the announcement that the train would open shortly. Over two hundred people swiftly formed lines in front of the three train doors. My father was one of them, who started walking towards the line nearest us. The first door. The setting was chaotic, and I couldn’t think straight. The lifeless light, the noise, and the sadness that filled the air. As I hesitantly neared the line, I recognized more soldiers dressed in uniform in front of my father. I saw that they exchanged looks of disappointment. I could smell the fear of the soldiers and the relief of the Ukrainians.
The doors then opened, and I witnessed something I had never seen before. The whole train station clamored into the doors. Shoving each other side to side, fighting for their freedom. They screamed of pain as some got trampled on, like animals in a herd. I stood there, observing the situation. The war made all of us into animals, and this train triggered the fight or flight. Clearly, everyone was fighting. Fighting for peace and freedom.
With my mom by my side, we ran up to my father who stood there by the doorway of the train with open arms. We plunged into his arms and felt the comfort of his love that we wouldn’t miss for a long time. I thought all my tears had been used up but then broke down into his arms again. He caught me and lifted me up to the ground like he always did.
“Don’t let yourself fall down,” he said as he looked at me. His eyes filled with tears, and he himself started to whimper. His lip quivered, and his arms shook as he let go of my hands. He turned his head away slowly, keeping eye contact for as long as possible. He walked in following the other soldiers, who sat by the chairs closest to the window. I threw my hand on the glass where he sat. He lifted up his hand and put it by mine. We were so close, yet so separated by the train. He smiled, and dropped his head, and the tears streamed down his face. The conductor blew the whistle, and I froze. It was time for him to leave. I wailed and screamed in pain. My heart physically hurt, and I had never felt this way before in all my ten years of living.
The train slowly but surely started to drift away. I followed it with my hand on the glass, until I couldn’t. The last glance I got of my father was him mouthing the “I love you,” that I heard in my heart even through the glass. The train roared away in the distance, mimicking the roar that left a permanent scar inside my soul.