Fictional Characters and Their Power
Ever since I can remember, my father had talked to me like I was an adult, and as such, I grew up learning how to survive the communist regime in my home country, Romania. It was December of 1989; I was a month shy of being four when my dad — my number one hero — had joined a revolution after being influenced by a television series: Dallas (1978).
I was hungry and cold. The time was after 8 pm because the heat was cut off as per Communist Party rules. Our little flat was small, but it was still challenging to keep it warm during the winter with the new government ratio. We lived in an apartment complex with several other neighbors that seemed nice, but daddy taught me to be careful what I said around them; They could be part of the Secret Police and tell on us. After being imprisoned and tortured for nine months in Pitesti Prison, he didn't trust anyone besides my mom, my sister, and myself.
I was hungry and cold. The time was after 8 pm because the heat was cut off as per Communist Party rules.
I was so cold I could barely move. Wrapped in a patched-up blanket, I would wait for my dad to call us to the living room. We didn't have much furniture in the flat, but my mother had planned to buy some soon, mostly second-hand purchases, to cover the walls for more privacy and to make it harder for the neighbors to hear our discussions. It was funny seeing her do a demonstration for my sister and me. She grabbed a glass and put it on the wall, then she pressed her ear to it and listened, then my sister and I took turns. My mom was right; we could hear our neighbor's conversation.
"C'mon girls, hurry up! It's time to watch those filthy Americans!" my dad yelled, interrupting us. He would always say it out loud and expected us to vocalize loudly "YAY!!!" and come running so that the people living under us could hear.
The living room was modest. We had an old, brown couch that would fit the four of us. A table on which the black and white TV sat, and a couple of chairs. The only decoration on the walls was a big picture frame of the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. My dad said out loud: "Our leader looks excellent in this picture! He is a sharp man!" That was our cue that the charade night was about to begin.
He strolled towards the TV and pressed the button. That sound always scared me, it was loud and unpleasant, and it felt like he was opening the portal to another world. And indeed he was.
"Dear family, our great Leader gave us, the Romanians, the opportunity to see that we are in good hands! We live a productive, meaningful life. We need to watch this Dallas series to see how filthy Americans are!" dad said. We would hear the speech every night; the whole family had it memorized. One good thing about this propaganda: we all sat so close so that I could finally get warm. At least now, I only had one thing left to deal with — hunger.
I was too young to read the subtitles, and at my age, I didn't know any English. I was happy to watch the movie and listen to my parents' comments. There were, of course, negative commentaries and were said out loud. After the episode ended, he yelled, that is time for bed, and again we had to be loud and tramp to the bedroom.
A bullet-riddled hospital near Klaudia's family homeKlaudia Stan
Whispers Under the Blanket
My sister and I were in bed, hugging each other in an attempt to warm up. A few minutes later, we saw dad sitting by the bedroom door with the flashlight on his face, mouthing: "Let's go, slowly, don't make the bed squeak." We moved as slow as we could and tiptoed our way to my parents' bedroom next to ours. Their bedroom was bare too. The furniture consisted of a bed and a wardrobe. My mom was already in it with the blanket lifted like building a fortress, making hand motions to come. In a few seconds, we were all in bed, under the colossal blanket.
My dad holding the flashlight, asked: "So what do you guys think about the Americans? They are pretty wonderful, aren't they?"
I was always talkative and involved in adult conversations because my dad made me feel important; he would always ask for my opinion, so I told him: "Daddy, I think they have superpowers!"
"They do! It's called freedom. Americans are lucky people. I promise you guys that you will know what that means soon. People are already on the streets trying to take down the communist government. It's just a matter of time until we will be free."
My sister was part of the painful Union of Communist Youth (UTC) and hated everything about it. Her questions following my dad's promise were related to that. But my hunger was making me annoying, and I interrupted to ask questions pertinent to my need.
"So we will not have to eat meat only at the weekend?" I asked.
"Well, how about oranges? Will they still be considered contraband?"
"No. I swear to you that soon, we will have plenty of food and dinners like the Ewing's from Dallas. We will be free and happy, just like the Americans!"
Our secret gathering was interrupted by the loud bang on the apartment's door. My mom, my sister, and I started to cry instantly. We thought we were doomed. The Secret Police heard us somehow; we haven't been careful enough! I was such a loud child, and it was my fault!
We got up and marched to the door. The bang was louder, and this time male voices screamed: "Open the damn door!"
My dad made a hand gesture to stay back. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, then cleaned it on his striped pajamas. After he was released from prison with the remarks: "Make sure you wear stripes so you won't forget where you can end up again!"
He unlocked the bolt and opened the door; It wasn't the Secret Police, but five male neighbors from the building, all agitated.
"My wife phoned me from work. She told me that the military is shooting towards the hospital. They are coming! The Leader gave orders to kill us all! The revolution is in our neighborhood and will soon be close to us. We need to block the downstairs door to prevent them from entering the building! Hurry!"
I started screaming and begged my dad not to go. It didn't matter. He wanted the freedom he saw in the Dallas series — He was unstoppable. My father changed into thicker clothes and went towards the kitchen table and unscrewed a leg, mumbling: "Well, Americans have guns, but heck, I can use a wooden table leg!"
He stormed out the door and we wouldn't hear from him for hours.
The night was dreadful.
There were screams and shots fired. At some point, the three of us left behind were laying on the floor on our bellies. Some bullets flew in our windows, and the shattered glass covered us.
I completely forgot about hunger and cold. There were screams and shots fired. At some point, the three of us left behind were laying on the floor on our bellies. Some bullets flew in our windows, and the shattered glass covered us. I started to cry again because I thought my dad was gone forever. We slowly moved out of that room and stayed in the hallway because there were no windows. The broken glass didn't hurt us because we were covered by the same blanket that witnessed our whispers.
The doorknob was moving, and the door opened. A hero was making his entry: my dad. His face was bloody, but I recognized him by his clothes and the table leg in his left arm.
"It's done. Turn the TV on now!" my dad said, out of breath. “The military is with us, and they captured the dictator. The communist era is history. We are free!" I got up and ran towards him; he was still in the doorway, all bloody with the wooden leg in his hand as I grabbed one of his legs and hugged it.
"One more thing," my dad told us as he was marching towards the living room. He took the Leader's picture from the wall, put the frame carefully on a chair, spat at it, and ripped it to pieces.
"I will buy a picture of Bobby and J.R. Ewing and put it here. God bless America for this inspiring movement!"