Trzebnica

New York City — Spring 1990

Did you sit close to the fire? Did you ever worry about the police as you sat with your friends drinking vodka and singing Beatles songs in the woods? Did your dreams of escaping that drab existence of the housing block ever keep you awake at night? I wondered that every time I looked into your eyes — a bellbottomed beauty queen, so proud to finally own a pair — smiling, a window into your past through a frayed black and white photograph.

I wondered if the tank sitting behind you and your sister had been used to silence the lives of your fellow countrymen and if it had, did your mother’s violin play sweet songs and help you sleep at night? Did your eyes see the things that a provincial New Yorker like myself would only read about in the pages of a book written by Konwicki, Andrzejewski, or Anderman? Were they written in the poetry of Milosz or Bialoszewski? Was it in the music of Czerwone Gitary or in the eyes of the children on Przechodina Street, or in the sadistic torture cells of Bialoleka prison? I could never know nor possibly comprehend.

Were your nights in Trzebnica as peaceful as your dreams, or were they filled with the horror your grandmother experienced at the hands of Soviet troops? Did the sound of your mother’s violin soothe you then as when you watched the man play in the subway as you gave him your last dollar because his playing reminded you of hers? Were your Trzebnica roots twisted into knots when I walked with you hand in hand through the quiet streets of Forest Hills, listening to you talk about your childhood before we went back to my room and you allowed me to see a little Trzebnica slip through your lips, your eyes, your legs?

At that moment I felt as if I had known you there, that I had been there, the photographs you shown me made me feel uncomfortable with an uncanny sense that I had known you before, a long time ago, when Trzebnica was nothing more to me but an obscure dot on the map that I used to pour through in the Young Student’s Encyclopedia when I was seven years old; thousands of miles away, in a quiet home in New York City, cherishing the freedom many of your peers had never known.

When you lied beside me, I felt a tremor, a sense that Trzebnica was permanently intertwined with your being, only for you to untangle it and jab its jagged edge into my heart, even for just a moment.

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