Dear friends,

Thank you for reading my blog. It really means a lot to me, especially that I am still confined to my bed because of the ankle fracture which is not completely healed (since December 9th).

Writing continues to be my main outlet to stay sane.  However, I would like to continue making this journey, we are taking together, not only an outlet for me, but interesting or educational for you, the readers.

The statistics of the blog show  me that there have been over 560 reads  but  I didn’t get many comments, which would help me improve. With that in mind, I am asking you, the readers, to please give me some input on what you’ve read so far. We are, so to speak, during “intermission”:)  and before I start “Life #2, I’d appreciate thoughts on “Life #1”:)

For the last few days I’ve been preoccupied with some current serious problems  my family is facing now (in addition to my fracture and loneliness). The result: I was unable to write yesterday.

This morning, when I reread  my last entry, I noticed how unfocused it was. There were two chapters in one.  The first part of the entry was clearly showing my feelings concerning the infinite power of positive thinking movement. It could be an essay in its own right, but it took me away from the story I was sharing with you and into the expression of my present anger because of what is happening now, which has nothing to do with the story, at least not yet.

The second part of the last entry was back on track, but I was, still am, so upset about  the present, that yesterday, I was unable to produce a piece of writing which didn’t show my present state of mind and anger.  The result was: NO entry.

So, in order for me to continue focused entries, I need your opinions, as I feel am loosing my focus.

Thank you.


Coincidence or Was It Meant to Be? and Other Thoughts on the Subject

There are so many debatable philosophical questionings. The one about coincidental or planned events for a higher purpose is one of the most popular. Is what happens in our lives  part of a plan we don’t completely understand,  or everything happens at random, just coincidences which we try to reason so that our lives have meaning?

Are these coincidences or cross roads,  crucial points in a larger plan,  conceptualized by ‘The Universal Power” or “God”? Are they events created by the entity we, humans, choose to refer to  by different names, depending on our religion?  Is life a series of random events or is it planned with a purpose?

Who is in control? Anyone?  Do we control or are controlled? The truth could be somewhere in the middle. What do we really know for sure?

To confuse things further, may be what happens is part of a larger plan “God” designed for each of us, but  while it happens, and we may be homeless, or hungry or in pain, we don’t understand that we are part of something larger and more important than our individual lives, therefore we should not be upset or worry.  Instead, no matter how bad we have  it we should smile and not allow negative thoughts ruin our opportunity to manifest our dreams using the power of our minds . Our human minds are limited, we don’t get it that actually, we have been flooded with negative events   because  we are unlucky, or these events come at random. oh no, it happens because God loves us. This is how we learn invaluable life lessons and  our souls are enriched.  Yes, God loves those that suffer more than he cares for the group for which life is smooth and healthy and filled with health and wealth.  Yes, God loves the sick and the poor so much that he is constantly “testing” this fortunate group.  Just as in the Biblical story of Job.

All these are theories which could be endlessly debated and pros and cons could be found in favor or against each, endlessly.

What is important for me is if these “coincidences” direct the course of our lives in one direction or another and do we have any power over our own lives, and to what extend, if any?

One of the theories is that  humans don’t completely understand the complexity of the “plan” God had for us, nor are we supposed to.  We, humans,  are not expected to know it all, but to have faith that “everything happens for a reason” and trust that even if “bad things” happen, ultimately, it would be for a higher purpose, on a personal or universal level. We may never know why we were chosen for all the bad things to happen to us, while all good things happen to people who by our Earthly laws, are unethical or evil or lazy.  But again, our faith must be blind and no matter how many bad things happen, our thinking must stay positive and unquestioning.  Furthermore, we must involve our subconscious to be positive, our mind to visualize our dream and only if  we truly involve the subcouscious then and only then the dreams will manifest by the power of our thoughts.  If they don’t manifest, we have been caught and humiliated for being unable to manage and visualize our lives the way we  would want them to  manifest. As in Cheaters, we will be caught in the act of fake positivism and shamed!

If  after all these unimaginable efforts to stay positive in spite of sickness, poverty, pain, we are still sick, poor, depressed… well, that is because the responsibility is ours alone and no one else’s!  Its our fault, because clearly if we  didn’t think positively enough on a subconscious level, the vibrations of our thoughts didn’t manifest our desires! The sick and the poor messed up again! It would have been so simple, but we just couldn’t even control our thoughts to stay positive.  I guess we really didn’t want to take those trips to Europe, eat in fancy restaurants (or just eat!) and have the perfect partner (may be decent partner?), or have whatever our thoughts failed to manifest.  Too bad the millions who are still dying from cancer, are jobless and in abusive relationships didn’t “get it” either!  Neither did the millions dying in Africa. Thank God upper middle class America  and the very rich got it and “The Secret ” continues to  sell and make millions.  Yes,  we are told, it is ALL in one’s  mind’s control and  if it didn’t happen for you it’s your fault! In addition to being sick and poor let’s add feelings of guilt, worthlessness, powerlessness. How simple it could be, but is not happening for you.  The experts of “The Secret” told you: it’s your fault, but you, you just don’t really, really want all these wonderful things to manifest in your life!

Need I say what I think about this limited and limiting theory? Is there such a saying as, “When in doubt follow the money,” or did I just invent it? How many motivational speakers, “life coaches” who call themselves “life coaches” because it does not require a state license and years of  formal education, how many books, CDs, movies have been sold on this theme?  Who makes the money? They make the money, the “industry” of positivism.  Just as my mother believed about the church, “they sell hope”, I believe about the industry of positivism. The good news for the marketers,  magical thinking is in high demand. How wonderful it would be if we truly could manifest anything with our thoughts!  Wouldn’t that “simple” act of positivism at a subconscious level solve all problems? I mean, everybody’s, not only a limited segment’s of well-off population who already has the time and the money to buy into the culture of positivism. I think the time has come to enroll missionaries of positivism and send them to remote parts of the world where people still die because they don’t have clean water, or water at all. These people don’t know “the secret” and must be shown how to manifest “their dreams” by using their positive thinking. Oh, they cannot pay for  expensive workshops, books, CDs? bacteria in their water cannot be manifested “out” and replaced with clean water? You mean to say, those people are not a “market”?

In the process of doing research  for my book, I came across a lot of information about the subject of positive thinking and also the  writings of many intellectuals, authors, journalists, scientists, who see right through the truth of this theory. One of the books which stuck with me, was  ” Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich, the best selling author of ” Nickel and Dimed” and 16 other books.  After reading hundreds of pages of research and books on this subject, I felt less guilty for being incapable to manifest my dreams by  using the power of my thoughts. As it turned out, millions of others couldn’t either. I didn’t feel alone anymore!

However, my dilemma remains that I don’t belong in any of the other extreme movements either. I am right in the middle, which Seneca considered a healthy attitude, but this was a long time ago.

I believe in the power of positive thinking, but also understand its limitations.  No, I don’t believe everyone could manifest whatever they wish by the power of their thoughts alone, or that a bad thing happened to me because I wanted it to happen even if I didn’t “consciously” know I did!  I refuse to be send on guilt trips because I had cancer and couldn’t make it go away by the power of my thoughts!  I needed real surgery and real doctors…sorry!

I do believe, however, that laughter and exercise and friendships and  pets, and giving uncoditionally to the community  improve one’s life. In spite of a life filled with more tragedies than happy events, I continue to fight and do all in my power to make life more meaningful no matter what has been thrown at me. I believe in the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” This very blog is the result of my having had an accident. Please don’t tell me, subconsciously, I didn’t want to go to sunny California but  would rather be alone in Steelton for the Holidays. Please don’t tell me, subconsciously, “I wanted” to fall on the sidewalk that needed repairs for  the last 18 years!

Now that I clarified my position on the subject,  I will go back on track, to that fateful summer day of 1981.

All but one of the “bad” events of that day, had life-long consequences for me.  The only one which seemed out of place, was the towing of the car, but come to think of it, it was a lesson, as I have never again parked in towing away zones. Yes, that $75.00 lesson, saved me a lot of money in a life-time.

Here is the follow up to the stolen purse:

The day after, I received a phone call.  The woman who called said her name of Gabe and she asked me upfront:

“Esti Romanca?” (Are you Romanian?)

“Da”. (Yes) I answered. “Cum ai ghicit? Cine esti?” (How did you guess? Who are you?)

“Not difficult to guess with a name like Rodica,” she continued in Romanian. ” “My husband and I own a restaurant, a luncheonette, on Walnut Street. Last night when my husband was cleaning the bathrooms he found your purse in the trash can.”

“Do you have my purse? Oh, how lucky! What does it have inside? My Green card? The driver’s license?”

“Yes, it has everything, but no cash. Did you have cash? I assume your purse was stolen?”

At lunch I went to Gabe’s restaurant to get my purse. We both marveled at the fact that of all the hundreds of restaurants, the thief dumped by purse in another Romanian’s lady’s room restaurant, and that her husband saw the purse in the trash while cleaning.

Was this a coincidence? We’d never know, but Jane, Gabe’s daughter was my kids’ favorite babysitter and in 2009 it was Gabe who accompany me to New York for a bone biopsy.

We were clearly meant to be in each other’s lives, but was it God who planed it, or was it a coincidence?

Judy, the guest-speaker from the disability company, who loaned me $20 to get home, soon became one of my best friends.  It was thanks to her that I met my second husband and she was our maid of honor. Was that a good thing? We shall see. It sure was significant.

Judy’s life intertwined with mine for many years but the conclusion of our friendship belongs in another chapter, when again, you will be asked, coincidence? or planned by a power greater than us? And why?

Finally, Cristian’s decision to divorce me and stay in Romania…was the single most traumatic event of 1981. Was it random that I was loosing my first love at the same time as loosing my country?  Would I have decided to leave Romania if I thought he will not follow me?  Did I already know on a subconscious level? Was it a coincidence that another woman manifested into his life as soon as I left or perhaps before I did?  As I looked back and examined our relationship, I recalled a woman who worked with him.  They went on business trips, outside Bucharest more and more often.  At the airport, when I was picking him up, she never came over to say hello.  She sat by the wall, in the background, and studied me.  I could feel her eyes, under the thick glasses.  They burned me like fire, but in those days I was  foolish and confident, so trusting.  When I learned this was who Cristian married after our divorce, and they had a son, I tried to remember how did she look, was she cute, was she ugly, perhaps she was smart?  How could I know?  Did it matter?  What mattered was that she was there and I wasn’t. Did she win and I lost? Was there anything to loose?

Only time could tell!

Things, Good and Bad Come in Threes!

I don’t remember how long ago I became familiar with the concept, that both good and bad events happen in threes.  I attempted to do  research and the closest I came to a pseudo-scientific explanation was that it was connected to “3D or physical reality.”  The statement didn’t enlighten me at all, so I still do not know why good and bad events happen in threes, but they do. The concept of threes manifested in my personal life many times, but never as powerful as in that one day, in late summer of 1981.

I had finished all my training and internships with the insurance company and  I was starting my first day of real work downtown Philadelphia. All the  motivational talks, the positive examples worked their magic on me.  I was ready to get rich and most importantly to get all the documents ready to get Cristian, my husband into the States, now that I  had a job.

I was not a good driver to venture into Philadelphia, so I parked at the Paoli Train Station under a big sign which said “Towing at Owner’s expense”. I was already late, so I made a mental note to look up “towing” in the dictionary that evening, and I hopped on the train.

At the office, there was a big meeting, a presentation by a disabilities insurance company.  I left my purse in my cubical and went to the main conference room to hear the speaker.  She, Jody, was a short, vivacious red head who had a big smile imprinted on her face and a contagious laughter. I was introduced to her as the new agent, and she offered to answer all my questions after her talk.  Her speech was informative and funny, and I wished some day I would be like her. When the speech was over, several people had  more questions, so I told her when she was free, she could find me in my cubical.

I went to my spot to dot down some questions before my meeting with Jody. I sat down at my desk and couldn’t find a pen, but I remembered I had one in my purse and leaned over to find my purse under the desk, where I had left it.

No purse! The purse disappeared! I ran to the reception area and told the secretary. She gave me a look:

“You left your purse unattended in your cubical?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong? You’re kidding me! Didn’t you just say someone stole it? You never leave your purse unattended, now you know better!”

She turned around and started to type as if nothing had happened.

Weren’t they going to call the Police, search the office, lock down the whole place like in the movies?  Life continued at its normal pace and I went back to the cubical trying to make a plan of action. All my documents were in my purse. My new driver’s license, my Green Card and about $10.00 for my train ticket back to Paoli. Oh, it crossed my mind, I didn’t have any money for the train and the car keys were in the purse too!

I was still sobbing when Jody patted me on the shoulder:

“I hear someone stole your purse? I guess you’re new here, you don’t know … ”

“I don’t even have money for a train ticket, and my papers were in my purse, and  my car key!”

“Here,” she said, and handed me a bill of $20.00. That should be enough to take you home.”

She handed me tissues and I wiped my tears.

“Girl,” she continued, “You need some one on one life lessons, I’ll take you out sometime, and we could talk.”

By the time the train arrived in Paoli, I felt drained .

I got off the train and went to where I parked the car. I looked around but there was no car!

“May I help you?” a guy who was on the same train with me, asked. “You look lost!”

Lost! That was an understatement… I explained what happened. On my first day of work someone stole my purse in the office, and now the car! And I needed to call my friends to bring me the spare key to the car, but there was no car!

“Where did you leave it? Perhaps you don’t remember the exact spot?”

I pointed to the “Towing at Owner’s expense” spot:

“I know I left it right here.”

“Miss, why would you leave your car in a towing zone? They towed your car! ”

“Who did what to my car? They stole my car?”

No, they took your car because you parked it illegally and now you have to call this number and get it from where ever they tell you to go. It’s going to cost you $75.00. See it says right here, on the sign. He pointed at the small print and I felt dizzy. $75 dollars! I didn’t have $75.00!

The man gave me some coins and I called Matt and Jim and among tears and sobs I explained what happened.

It took us a few hours to get the car and they loaned me $75.00. I made no money but was in debt $95.00! Now that’s what I call a life’s lesson!

In the evening, the three of us sat down for dinner and Jim said:

“Two bad things happened to you today, I wonder what’s the third!”

No third bad thing, this was a silly superstition. As we were having a debate on luck, good and bad, the phone rang. It was my husband, calling from Romania.

Oh, something good was happening, he was calling me.

For a moment, when I heard his voice, all my sadness and worries disappeared. I told him briefly what happened, but his voice remained inflexible, as if he was listening out of politeness, but he wasn’t hearing me.

“Rodica,” he said at last, “I called to tell you I am not coming to the United States.”

No, this wasn’t happening!  I couldn’t have heard him right.  It was a mistake, someone else…

“Cristian, what about your love letters, and how you slept with my picture on the pillow next to you and kissed the picture every morning? How about…”

“I …I am a man, I have needs and can’t, couldn’t be alone.  There are women who desire me, a woman who loves me and needs me, and I love her and she is here and you are so far away.  I have made my decision, don’t try to change it, it would be useless. You will receive the divorce papers soon.”

He hang up and I called back to demand explanations. Who was she? How long have they been together?

I called Bucharest a few times but he didn’t pick up.  It was over and I couldn’t come to terms with the finality and abruptness of his decision… or was it abrupt? I was powerless!

I went to bed sobbing. Jim and Matt insisted one of them sleeps next to me, to make sure I was all right. They decided on Matt and he held me all night.  When he heard me cry again, he’d whisper:  “I know it’s hard, it’s okay to cry, you deserve better.” He assured me that the three bad things happened and they made space for three good things in my life.

I wished I could believe him, I wanted to trust him, but my whole being was crushed under the weight of the unpredictable.  Nothing made sense anymore, who could I trust? Why was all this happening? What was the meaning? Was there a meaning or was it random?

All I could feel  that late summer night in 1981, were the shattered pieces of my heart inside of me and the pain their sharp edges made me endure. All I could trust was my pain.

I was bleeding but there was no blood.

Gay as in Happy!

At the beginning of July, as my anxieties were getting under control, I thought a more settled, simpler life, was just around the corner, when Cassandra told me:

“In  August  we, the whole family are going to Main for a month”.

I will have to be alone, in this big house? I thought, but said nothing.

As if she read my mind, Cassandra continued:

“We thought you might feel uncomfortable, alone in the house and we asked Matt and Jim to move in with you.  They will be upstairs, in our bedroom, and you’d love them. They are fun and you will not even have to worry about them making passes at you, they are gay.”

What does one thing have to do with the other? I thought.  What did she mean,  if they were happy they wouldn’t be attracted to me! Did she mean I was gloomy, looked like not fun enough?

“So… you mean, they are so much fun I’m not their “type?”

Cassandra handed me a cup of tea, in which she  poured milk. It was the English style. The English… I thought, had such imagination, who would  think of mixing milk and tea. It tasted good and different. We sat down in the living room on the comfortable Windsor chairs.

“That’s not what I meant to say…” Cass said, and continued to stir the milk and tea.  “They will not make passes at you because they are gay, they are not interested in women.”

She was more explicit, so that there was no doubt or misunderstanding:

“They are a couple. They love each other, they are not interested in women, no matter how attractive they are.”

Oh! I was getting it, or did I?  Very confusing…Why did she say they were gay, why didn’t she say they were homosexuals and that’s why they wouldn’t be attracted to me?   In Bucharest, I was sure the dictionary said gay meant happy. I didn’t think the dictionary gave gay as an alternative for homosexuality. Of course, it Romania people went to jail for being “gay”  – I liked this word much better, but I came from a country where it was punishable with three years of jail! I had a good friend whose father went to jail  because he was gay, but he was also married to a woman… that was also confusing. How did he have a child? Could he have been attracted to women too?

“In America we use the word “gay”,  Cass continued,  “for people attracted to other people of the same sex.  You’d love them, they are our good friends and will take care of you. You could completely trust them, they are good people.”

As if reading my mind, she continued:

“There is still prejudice, some gay people get married to women, even have kids,  because  this is what we are “supposed” to do, it’s acceptable. Later they can’t live with themselves anymore and come out of the closed!”

Oh! She was confusing me again… what closed were we talking about ? Why were we introducing furniture in this conversation which was confusing enough already.

“What do you mean “come out of the closed?” I asked.

“Sorry, this is an expression… like when an actor is about to perform, we say “break a leg”.  Of course, we don’t literally mean we wish the person to break a leg, it an expression for good luck!”

Some expression! I thought, if someone told me to break a leg I would have not liked it at all. Good thing she was explaining these “expressions.” I wondered how many were they…

August 1st arrived and the Ludingtons left for Main and  Matt and Jim moved in.

Matt was a talented actor and Jim a well known musician.  They had been together for almost 8 years.  Matt was tall and very muscular and sexy while John was blonde, had beautiful blue eyes and a winning smile. He was also a cook and we had a friendly competition for the kitchen. We always had dinner together, the three of us and it was the highlight of my days.

“How did you fall in love?” I asked when I felt we knew one another well enough, and after they asked me about my love life.

“I was actually married to a woman, when I met Jim. He was washing his hands in a club’s bathroom and I saw his face in the mirror first. He lifted his eyes and looked at me and something happened. I guess… there was love at first sight.”

Matt took Jim’s hand into his and for a while there was silence. They looked so happy, I felt jealous and broke the silence:

“So… I guess you had to “come out of the closed?”

“Yes, wow! How did you know this expression?” Matt asked.

“Cassandra told me.”

“I see, she’s been educating you.” he smiled.

“Yes, I came out of the closet and told my wife and it was painful for both of us.  We loved each other, still do, but I wasn’t in love with her…and didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

My head was spinning.  “I loved her, but was not in love with her.” ‘IN” seemed to make a big difference but I wasn’t really “getting” it. Was I ever, going to “get” it, I thought.

Cass was right, the three of us became friends.  It was Jim who first showed me how to use a self-service gas pump because it was less expensive, and an ATM machine only from my bank because  if it were another bank more fees were charged.

One afternoon, Jim examined me top to bottom:

“You could be an attractive woman, you know, but you need some work done… your hair, and some make up and jeans, not these silly skirts from the 60’s!

By the evening I was transformed into this new person, ready to go with them on South Street in Philadelphia.  Jim’s band was playing at one of the clubs and I was their guest.  That meant I didn’t have to pay to get in.

The club was dark and smoky and Jim’s band played the first round. They took a break and as Jim was getting off stage, several young women, screaming his name cornered him touching him everywhere:

“I love you! I love you! I dream of f…. you ! Give me a piece of you, handsome!”

He didn’t seem to mind  and politely went in the back to change.

“Oh my God? Who are these women? ” I asked Matt who was sitting next to me at the bar.

“Just groupies, make a lot of noise but Jim is a star, it’s normal.”

Normal? Groupies? In Romania if a woman called a guy first it was unacceptable, I thought.  To throw yourself at a guy like that, and scream you wanted to f… him. They  definitely didn’t know he was gay.  I felt like I had an “in” with and I belonged more than the groupies, that was for sure!

Life with Matt and Jim was fun and time passed quickly. When the Ludingtons returned,  in September, they found a transformed Rodica, a more Americanized person whose personality ‘was coming out of the closed” in a different way.  The shy, uncertain Romanian girl of a few months before was gradually replaced with a confident young woman who was ready to fight and bring her husband to America.  She was still in love with him!



No Experience Necessary!

My life with the Ludingtons was a lazy person’s dream, only that I wasn’t lazy and I became increasingly uncomfortable with being a guest and not contributing to the house expenses. I needed a job!

The entire family, even Nicky and Max, who were teenagers, and by definition opposed to everything, were nice to me. The extended family too, Cassandra’s parents, her brothers and families, their friends, they all were concerned about my health and all the traumas I had gone through.  They were  more aware than I was of the potential long-term consequences. To me,  used to run on with the Mocca Cake on a New Year’s Eve to avoid a beating by my  drunk,  the traumas of the last months were just a continuation of the life I already knew.   My decision to defect, the process I went through in Germany, trying to get Cristian out of Romania, were what I had to do to achieve my goal to live in freedom. It wasn’t hard, or easy, or different. It just was!   Concerned, my friends insisted I might not even feel it, or be aware of the toll the last few months took on me.

One day, about two weeks after my arrival,  Cassandra came home with a kitten she bought in front of the local grocery store for a dollar.  It was a black and white kitten and its front paws had six, not five toes, which made her even more special. I had my own pet, I was happy! We called her “Six Toes” and indeed she was good company and she slept in my bed. When she matured and was allowed in the woods, she only came back to sleep with me at night once in a while. After a while, I noticed the cat was getting fat, but I blamed it on  the good food, and may be she hunted mice!  One night, I walked up in the middle of the night and heard faint sounds coming from the direction of my feet and as I was becoming more aware, I felt wetness  in my bed.

Did the cat pee my bed?  I thought. Was she sick? I  turned on the light: At the end of the bed I saw four miniscule creatures crowling around, as my cat tried to clean them and keep them together.

I was told a cat only delivered around people she really trusted. She trusted me!  I felt responsible for the entire cat’s family. How could I disappoint them?  That’s how to my daily activity of searching for a job, I added that of trying to find homes for the kittens.

The kittens were a good diversion because my search for a job wasn’t going as well as I expected.

I read the “Help Wanted” section in the “Philadelphia Inquirer” every morning.

Nobody was rushing me to find a job, but I pushed myself. In Romania there were no idle citizens, we had to do something, to work, to be active.  Otherwise we had no value. The concept of “relax”, “take it easy,” “you deserve a break,” were foreign to me and the “doing” was as much a part of my conditioning from Romania, as it was the idea that someone would help me without expecting anything in return.  There was no free lunch, I was told over and over for almost thirty years. My present experience contradicted  my very foundation, everything I thought was unquestionable.

After a few weeks I noticed that all employers desired “experience” in the field. I also noticed there was no need for Romanian translations.  There were only two professions which did not require experience:

The first was “Escort Services.”  I called one and they asked how old I was? The man who answered the phone told me I had a sexy voice. My accent was… attractive, I could make lots of money with it, but he needed to see me, to determine if I were better on the phone or in person….  He offered me a face-to-face interview somewhere in  North Philadelphia.

Over dinner, I told my friends the good news,  but they weren’t as enthusiastic and suggested I cancel my appointment and look for another “type” of work. I asked why, but their answers were evasive, it was hard to explain but I will “get it” eventually and be thankful I didn’t go. I definitely deserved better, they assured me.

One morning, my dream advertisement was placed under “Insurance Agents Needed, No Experience Necessary!” The name of the company was Phoenix! It was of good omen, I thought, like in the famous Greek legend of Phoenix the bird which came alive from its own ashes. Just like me in a way, starting a new life, coming alive from the ashes of communism!

I called “Phoenix Insurance Company” and the receptionist told me they had an information workshop  the next day to detail this great opportunity for the right person.

I was definitely interested.  She didn’t ask me how old I was, how I looked and didn’t refer to my sexy accent.  This seemed a real opportunity and I didn’t ask my friends for advise, I told them I am going. I was desperate for a job.

I took the train from Paoli to downtown Philadelphia, walked into a white marble building on Chestnut Street and pressed the elevator button for level 8.

I stepped out of the elevator and saw several signs directing me to the workshop room.  The room was almost empty but on the walls, everywhere, there were banners and slogans about Winning! Determination! Success, which could be anyone’s if they wanted it!

Little by little other people arrived, about eighteen in total, mostly men.

We studied one another… was this my competition?

A young, confident man, who introduced himself as the “Branch Manager” told us he will tell us “the secrets” of becoming rich. Did we know that only 3% of the peple in the U.S. made over $100,000.00 a year and 80% of them were in sales?  The logical conclusion was that to be rich one had to sell something, why not insurance!  Everyone needed insurance, so it was an easy sale.  True, most people didn’t think they needed life insurance.  It was psychological, they hated speaking about death. Especially their own death. However, the families of these people, our future clients, their partners, the beneficiaries, the people who wanted the “benefits” would help us.  It was in their interest for the provider to be insured, so God forbid he died, the wife could continue to play tennis and take her trips to Europe, and the kids continue in private schools. The insurance proceeds would help them, the beneficiaries, continue to live the same life style as before the provider died!  The beneficiaries were our friends and supporters!

The speaker kept throwing  words at us, and some made no sense to me, while everyone else nodded, signaling understanding: “Beneficiaries, death benefit, final expenses…tax benefits, tax deductions.  It seemed the word “benefit” was used the most often and I thought it would be in my “benefit” to understand the meaning of “benefit.” If nothing else, I thought, the lesson of the workshop was the importance for everyone of the word benefit.  Both agents and future clients wanted something in “their benefit”.  It wasn’t clear if the benefits of the clients were the same as those of the agents… a concept that I needed to explore, I thought.

“Okay, now we’ll take a fifteen-minute break and you guys think about this great opportunity and if you decide you want to be rich, we’ll meet here in 15-minutes and those interested could take the “Aptitude Test.”  The test it’s two hours. It will take about two weeks to get your results back. Not everyone could be a good sales person.  It takes three qualities: A pleasant personality, knowledge of the product and no fear of rejection! That’s all. See you in fifteen minutes.”

He disappeared behind a door and little by little most of the participants left.  Not me. I really wanted to be rich and it seemed so easy.  Of the eighteen people, only six took the test.

The secretary placed a sealed envelope in front of me and a sharpened pencil. She explained the rules and I opened the envelope.  There were 300 questions: Was I budgeting? How much did I spend on utilities? Rent? How many times did I eat out? Did I have friends? Is my “dream” to write a book about life insurance…

I never paid rent in the U.S. I didn’t understand about the budgeting thing or utilities what could they be? Oh, yes, I did want to write a book. Okay, it was fine to be about life insurance but first I needed to understand what was “life insurance”.  I marked the answers to the questions I didn’t understand randomly, the ones I understood using my common sense.  I was done the test in an hour.  The Manager was impressed. He winked at me and smiled and whispered: “See you later.”

After about two weeks the secretary called to give me the “good news”: I passed the Aptitude Test and was qualified for the second interview of a total of three.

On the second interview, he gave me a booklet and told me I had half an hour to read it and make a presentation on what I’ve read.  He was going to be my audience. The presentation went okay, because he asked me additional questions. Like, why did I choose their company. Now, that was a question I could answer in detail. I told him all about the Greek legend, and how I compared myself to the Phoenix bird and like Phoenix I was coming back to life from the ashes. A new country, a new chance. I concluded that for me, the name Phoenix was meaningful!  The Manager, whose name was John, listened respectfully to the end.  To listen was another quality mentioned in his introductory workshop.  He was definitely a good listener, no wonder he was successful.  Half through my story about the Phoenix bird and the ashes I had a gut-feeling he didn’t care, but when I said the company was meaningful to me and I felt I belonged, he smiled and agreed: “Definitely, you belong with us!”

He offered me a 3rd interview, the most important of them all. If I passed, I’d be offered a job as a trainee. Little money, but they will pay for my training and license exams to become licensed in Pennsylvania.

He handed me a script and said:

“Read the script and when you are comfortable, call this extension and convince the person who answered to buy your product.  That’s all you have to do.”

That was a very strange test, I thought, but diligently  I read the text.  I was supposed to sell advertising in a magazine, not even insurance!

After about ten minutes, I dialed  the extension and someone answered. I told him who I was and what I wanted and he hang up on me!

How rude, who the Hell was this guy! He made me call and sell and now hang up on me! The nerve! Oh well, little did he know!

I called back immediately, and he picked up:

“Hello again,” I said in a sweet voice, ” I was just explaining why I called you when we were disconnected! Something must be wrong with the phones,” I continued the explanation.

He giggled, and told me to wait, he’d be with me in a minute. He came in the room and gave me a big hug:

“Congratulations!  Welcome to our family! You are hired! I never heard before the “we were disconnected trick.” That was good! You have great potential.”

The following week I started a two-month intensive training and passed my licensing tests. Soon, I was assigned an office together with other two guys who also passed the tests and were hired.  We were explained, it was all statistics.  We had to make about 100 cold calls, meaning to strangers, in order to get 3-4 appointments. Out of the 3-4 appointments, if we were good we’d get one sale!  Suddenly it didn’t seem as easy as explained in the introductory seminar.

Every day, we were given a list of a hundred names and phone numbers and I didn’t stop until the last number was called.  Some people spoke with me, some hang up on me, even when I’d call back pretending we were disconnected.  Overall, I was doing well if I spoke with someone, but most times I had to leave messages and no one called me back!

“I don’t get it, when you leave messages… you say “I am Rodica, from Phoenix Insurance,” said one of the guys in my office.” And then you say something really strange, “Phoenix, as in the Phoenix bird?”  Who is this bird? I never heard of it before!”

I explained patiently about the Greek legend and the Phoenix bird which raised from the ashes…I was trying to have people relate to something everyone knew.”

My colleague was deep in thought and at last he spoke:

“Yeah, You know what? Next time you leave a message say: Phoenix, as in Phoenix Arizona. That, I guarantee, everyone will understand!”

I was hurt, I didn’t believe him, but since the bird wasn’t geting me any appointments I tried the Arizona option.

Magically, people began to call back and soon I started to go on appointments, calling on small businesses on the Main Line.

More training! I was given a thick booklet with a lot of pictures. “Visuals are very important” I was told.

Once I got an appointment I’d go in with the “visuals” and flip the pages which explained the “benefits” of our insurance products.

During our training, we were told to watch for the clients’ body language. How they moved was more important than their words! If they crossed their arms, it was a bad sign, they weren’t “open” to our suggestions. If they leaned back, further from us, was not good either.  What was a good sign was when they leaned forward, towards us. That meant they were interested, listening, ready to buy understanding the “benefits”.

Soon I noticed a pattern: My potential clients had their arms crossed, leaned away from me, but when I was coming to the point in my presentation which asked:

“Do you really like to give half of what you make to Uncle Sam?” without exception, all of them, leaned forward and assured me that no, no they definitely didn’t want to give money to Uncle Sam! Could I show them ways to avoid giving 50% of their hard worked money to Uncle Sam?

My role at that point was to take the “case” back to my supervisor and he “closed” the deal.

I repeated the “Uncle Sam” question and each time I did it, I thought it rather strange everyone had an Uncle named Sam! Why not John or Jim? Did they run out of names in America?  Definitely, “my gut” told me, there was more to “Uncle Sam” and I needed to find out what made him so special that everyone didn’t want to give him money!

One day, after bringing in a lot of “Uncle Sam” business I dared ask my boss:

“Who is Uncle Sam? How come everyone had an Uncle Sam and no one wanted to give him money?! And wasn’t this a free country why did everyone have to support him?”

“You must be kidding me? You didn’t know Uncle Sam is our tax system? The more money you make, the more you have to give to “Uncle Sam” in taxes to the government! Do you get it now?”

No, I wasn’t “getting it at all! It seemed absurd!”

“He took out of his pocket a dollar:

“Do you see this dollar? If you make over $200,000 a year, half of it goes to taxes, to “Uncle Sam”, so you’re left with a half of what you made, unless you’re smart and know what to deduct! He teared the dollar in two. Handed me a half and threw the other half in the trash can:

“Got it now?”

Yes, it clicked… I got it!  But another word replaced the Uncle Sam dilema. The new word was ” deductions”.

Definitely, I should ask him about deductions, but… tomorrow!


The Peanut Butter Crisis

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for flying with us.  Please get ready for landing.  In approximately five minutes we’ll be on JFK!”

I peeked out the window and the view of New York City  changed within seconds from small dots, into larger circles and into buildings at last.  I was landing into my second life, the one the gypsy predicted in the Bucharest Train Station, as I was leaving Romania.

I stood in a long line and the customs officer pointed me to a special window, in charge for checking the visas of political refugees.

That line was much shorter.  I handed the officer my papers.  He looked at them, at my picture and lifted his eyes to examin me.

“Okay, Miss, please sign here, here and here, where there is an X,” He said and handed me a bunch of documents.

I looked at the small print and the letters danced in front of my eyes, a disorderly movement, up, down and to the sides. My hand was shaking.

People were now lining up behind me, but the letters on the documents kept on dancing and my hand shook.

“Miss, sign here…” He pointed exactly where I was supposed to sign.

“I am sorry,  I can’t sign an important  document like this before reading it first,” I said, as the letters kept dancing their insane dance.

He looked surprised:

“Then please step to the side and let me take care of these people.”

My heart raced for a while,  the letters slowed down their dance and finally stopped. I leafed through the papers and pretended to read. When my hand stopped shaking I signed and handed him the papers.  He stamped everything and handed them back to me:

” Welcome to America!  I must say, I’ve been in this job for almost twenty years; You are the first person who asked to read what she signed! Good for you,  you are a responsible person, we need more like you!”

Should I tell him about the dancing letters and the shaky hand?    The smarter side of my brain decided to keep quiet and I entered the United States as a responsible person. This was a good beginning, I thought, and  walked away in search for Cassandra who was waiting for me somewhere in that colorful sea of people on JFK.

Hugs, kisses, more hugs and smiles.  She looked little changed, as if the eight years we were apart went over her, not touching or wrinkling her skin or the brightness of her blue eyes.

After a few hours of driving we turned into a long driveway on the Philadelphia Main Line.

The Ludington’s house was how I imagined the gingerbread house in the Grimm Brothers’ story of Hanns and Gretel.  The outside was painted light green and the windows’ frames and sills as well as the doors, bright white.  The  pink dogwoods and red and white pots of geraniums on each side of the main entrance added more charm and warmth.  The livingroom was rather narrow and long and French doors opened to a large, red-brick patio in the back.  A winding  brick- path led to a kidney-shaped swimming pool.  Many of the things in the living room looked familiar. I touched one of the four Windsor chairs we bought together in Bucharest for $16 to discover they were worth $2,500 each! Did chairs, like people, have destinies or a hidden value that needed discovered?  Cassandra had a unique gift to match the unmatchable and somehow her home, no matter where she made it, whether in the States, Romania, Turkey or Cyprus, had a unique charm,  was a sophisticated mixture of antique furniture, modern paintings and oriental rugs.  One would have thought they wouldn’t fit together, but they did and if I wouldn’t have known she decorated a place, I’d have guessed. Her style was unique and recognizable.

On my first evening in Berwyn we talked until 2:00 AM.   The boys were now teenagers, very different from the blonde innocent kids I babysat in Romania. Nick, like Cassandra, was unchanged, only that he took a break from journalism.  He was working for the Eisenhower Foundation. So much to talk about, so many memories and plans for the future. We talked until I felt my eyes closing and the words weren’t coming out in English anymore, but half in Romanian.  Cassandra showed me to my room.  I unpacked slowly. The next day I didn’t have to pack up again and leave. I could call the Ludington’s house a home!

My luggage still carried the familiar smell of milk and dried flowers from Bucharest, which brought back images of Cristian, passion and hope. I called him. I imagined how happy he’d be I had arrived in America and was staying with the Ludingtons. He knew this was a huge step, I thought, he’d be so happy.

I heard his flat, unemotional voice which didn’t match my expectations:

“Okay then, you’ll let me know ….you’ll call me again.”

I chased away the thought that his voice was distant, that he really didn’t seem to care anymore.  It must have been my imagination, I was tired…

For the following few weeks Cassandra took me everywhere, from the supermarkets to the the thrift stores to the sophisticated Main Line parties to meet their family and friends.

I wouldn’t call it a cultural shock, but an economic shock, especially that I still had fresh in my mind the empty shelves in the Bucharest grocery stores and the greasy, ugly signs in the stores’ windows: Governmental Decree to Rid Bucharest of Rats!   By contrast, in America there were endless isles with a variety of products, some of which I never knew existed.  There were several brands of  coffee and fresh fruits and bananas, mountains of bananas, which we, Romanians, were able to taste once a year, before New Year’s, by standing in endless lines, if the supply wasn’t finished by the time we got at the front of the line. Oh,  and rolls of toilet tissue in unlimited supply!  I could have bought as many rolls as I wanted, I wasn’t limited to two, as in Bucharest.  I could stop carrying toilet paper in my purse, I thought when I soon discovered all public bathrooms had plenty of their own.

And the television… the nature programs, the music, the shows, the  political jokes the comedians made openly, and no one was arresting them!  America was definitely shocking and hard to believe.  In Bucharest, there was a story circulating about President Ceausescu and his wife when they visited Macey’s in New York City.  The story went, the Ceausescus were so shocked by the plenty and the elegance of the famous department store, they thought it was a “show” the Americans put together to impress them.  Ceausescu asked an aide: ‘How long do you think it took them to put together this show for us?”

And there were the Main Line parties, and people asking questions and I, trying to explain the impossible. How could anyone used to so much  plenty everywhere  imagine that in many parts of the world people starve or stand in endless lines to get milk, bread and eggs, if they were lucky enough and the supply didn’t end by the time their turn came.  Most people shook their heads in silence and admitted it was hard, if not impossible to imagine.  But not everyone lacked imagination, and at one of the parties, an attractive young blonde asked detailed questions and listened to my stories for well over half-an hour.  She shook her head in understanding and that encouraged me to tell her more.  That was  someone who understood how lucky people were in America, I thought, and continued to tell her stories about the empty stores, the decree to kill all rats and the lack of basic human freedoms.

I was done my stories and she was still nodding in agreement.  She was in deep thought for a while, and then concluded:

“Yes, I do understand! I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago, we had a shortage of peanut butter here in America.  Can you imagine? NO peanut butter for a whole month! I didn’t know what to do…  It was horrible! The kids went crazy…”

…and so did I!


There Was No God, but I Met the Angels

May 20, 1981 was our 12th wedding anniversary and we were thousands of miles apart from each other. Our plan was to call Cristian on our anniversary, tell him I loved him and will fight for him to join me, but I wasn’t going back to Romania.  He was supposed to act surprised at the news of my defection, shocked, even to try and persuade me to go back.  We both knew the script, it was a good act.  His, was to stick to his safe story: He knew nothing of my horrible traitor intentions, but he loved me and had no choice but to join me in the free world. As thousands of other families divided by the desire to be free, he was going to condemn me for a while and  then we’d follow the process and request family reunification in the free world. Before my departure, as we planned, we thought he might be fired and I left him  enough money to survive the pressures of the security and be able to live if  he had no job.  My mother, from beyond the grave, was still helping us, as I handed my husband her savings of a lifetime…

When we rehersed it seemed easy, but  the time had come when I had to do it for real, and I wasn’t so sure anymore…

I went to the same Telephone House in Frankfurt from where I called my friends in the U.S. about the sponsorship.  This time I had a lot of coins.  I dialed our number in Romania and he answered on a 2-nd ring. I said Happy 12th Anniversary and he said he loved and missed me. We were both waiting and I knew it was my turn to break the “news” of my defection, and I couldn’t speak up. Time was moving in slow motion and I with it.  I kept putting coins in the telephone slot expecting a voice to come out of me and tell him what he already knew, but I had forgotten my part and started to cry.

“Are you crying?” Cristian asked.  This was not in the script, but the slight aggravation in his voice made me remember what I had to say: “I am not coming back, I want to be free, would you follow me?” Oh, I sounded so fake, like in a high school play!

Our conversation was cut off abruptly, and I heard the sound of nothingness shouting in my ear.  At least I remembered  some of my script, at least now my decision was taped on the Romanian Security equipment that monitored our lives, our breathing, every step we took.

I  dragged myself in my attic room and I hid under the covers.  It was only Noon and I wanted to sleep forever!

Think! Think! I ordered my brain…  How much money did I have left? How many days  until my plane to the U.S.?  I could only take one step at a time, never jumping or I break my neck…

I opened my luggage and mindlessly rearranged my things. I counted the marks again and again, but no matter how many times I counted I was still short three days!   Did people sleep in the streets in Frankfurt? Where? Where did they go to the bathroom if they did… Mindlessly I kept rearranging my things in that one-piece luggage I carried with me from Romania. At the bottom of it I saw my round-trip ticket Bucharest-Germany-Bucharest, which I bought so that it looked as a pleasure trip.  I chose an attractive itinerary, and the train was already paid from Frankfurt to Bonn, to Koln, then Munich and then back to Bucharest.  My math was simple, it was more expensive and I didn’t have enough money to wait in the Bed and Breakfast, but I could take the train and use it as my temporary hotel. Travel all the way to Munich and instead of continuing on to Bucharest return to Frankfurt and board the plane to the United States.

The bathrooms came to  my mind again.  They sure had bathrooms on their imaculate trains. Yes, this was a better choice than sleeping in the streets of Frnakfurt.  If I was a passenger on a train no one could arrest me, but if I looked homeless, which looked uncivilized, the German Police would probably arrest me. I chased the thought away as quickly as I could and decided for the train option.  I called the Consulate to let them know I was going to travel for a few days before my scheduled departure.I told them my itinerary.  It was important, I thought, for someone to know what I was doing, just in case someone kidnapped me, or murdered me, in which case I wouldn’t have known or cared about who knew.

I expected Bonn, the capital of Germany, the first stop on my itinerary, to have the same neurotic feel as Frankfurt, but instead, I was greeted my red and white geraniums, spotless streets and friendly pedestrians.

During my stay in Frankfurt, as one who didn’t speak the language, I observed the people to get a feel of Germany. I had heard stories about how reserved most were and how difficult it was to even be invited to dinner in someone’s house.

While in Frankfurt, I witnessed demonstrations, mostly young people wearing T-shirts which said “No Future”.  I didn’t know if it was about a personal no future, or the Earth had no future, but then I understood many demonstrations were anti-American, against too many consumer goods, the use of plastic… just about everything which was American. What seemed odd was that when the demonstrations were over, these same people would go to McDonald’s and grab a can of coke. The duality of the process was confusing for someone coming from a country where the goal was sameness.

In Germany, at least, even if I didn’t speak the language, I developed a theory about various categories.  For instance, one group were the older Germans who looked orderly and confident, they looked like members of the same large family in which each member played a well-defined role. However they all  had certain common features, for example they ran on schedule, were organized and in unison with one another, like the parts of a perfectly designed engine.

The second group were the rebellious young generation.  Unlike their parents, they wear shabby clothes, looked disorderly and often had direct confruntations with the German Police. They seemed to care little, as they were demonstrating for principles I didn’t understand. I only knew  the language of their fleshless bodies and angry eyes.

I noticed a third, large category, who were not Germans.  These were the immigrants, just like me.  They seem to be everywhere, in parks, in the streets, in the train stations.  Some looked disoriented and sad, but others looked dignified and confident. Some looked hungry, and some well fed. Did some have jobs and a good education, and some didn’t? What was the secret of the happy emigrants, I’d never know because I never learned German and I could let my imagination go wild.  For me, Germany was a stop on my way to freedom, I was just an observer, not a participant.

On the train to Koln,, in the same compartment, a tall man with short brown hair and thick glasses sat across from me.  He placed his bicycle outside the compartment in a specially designed place. We looked at each other but he said nothing and I was too tired to talk, so I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

I was awaken by someone touching my shoulder:

“Miss, where do you get off? Downtown Koln is next, and I thought I’d let you know.”

He spoke English! The young tall man with thick glasses spoke English! By then I knew there was something about me, a tell tell sign so obvious, everyone knew I was not German.

“Thank you,” I said and jumped of my seat to grab my luggage.  He pushed me gently and took it down.

“How long are you staying in Koln?” he asked. “It’s a lovely town, I hope you stay long enough to see the cathedrals and you have friends to show you around.”

I examined him with some interest, now that he was asking me questions which clearly required answers.  Should I lie, should I just not answer… he seemed nice.

“Just for the day,” I answered. “I am not from here, I am going to America and have a few days to sightsee Germany, no one is showing me around, I’ll manage on my own.”

He got off in Koln too and we walked side by side in silence. I went outside the train station and as I was waiting for the light to change and cross the street he said:

“I am Johannes, what’s your name? If you would like, I could show you the cathedrals. I have nothing better to do, I was on my way to see my parents, 20 km outside Koln.”

I looked at him as the light changed and we didn’t cross the street. Why would he take time to show me the town? Strange, I thought, and said out loud:

“Why would you do that, you don’t even know me!”

“Nobody knows anybody at the beginning, but if you tell me your name and where are you…”

Oh, no, I wasn’t to tell him my name or where I was headed next. What, did he think I was stupid! May be he was a mass murderer or something.

“No thank you,” I said and this time crossed the street.

He followed me.  I stopped, he stopped and smiled:

“You must think it’s strange I’m following you like this, but frankly, you look like you need help.”

Now, that was a good pick up line! Like he cared…

“I study medicine in Bonn” he continued, “I could tell you’re tired … and dehydrated.”

So now, he was a doctor, student, or whatever and I was supposed to be scarred and go with him. Well I wasn’t that stupid!

“Sorry Johannes, but I ..”

“Don’t trust me?” he interrupted.

“Right, it is strange.”

“Oh, you don’t understand,” he said, “God meant for us to help one another not be indifferent! I can tell you need help, let me show you around and tell you about our group which does work in third world countries, helping natives understand technology.”

Okay, that explained it all, he was on a Godly mission to save me… It all made sense, but I proceeded with caution. I accepted for him to show me the cathedrals and after a few hours he asked what hotel I was staying at, so he could drop me off there.

“I didn’t book a hotel, I was going to jump on the train and continue my journey.”

“You’re too tired to travel, would you come to my parents house and you could rest there, take a shower, eat?”

Tempting… what if he murdered me? I felt so sticky and tired, I considered the proposition.

“Okay, let’s call your parents and ask first,” I accepted.

We went to a public phone and he dialed a number. They spoke in German and he explained something about me.

What could he have  possibly told his parents? I wondered. … that he was about to bring home a dirty young Romanian woman he met on the train? And what kind of  strange family was that to let him bring me into their home? I could have been a thief, a murderess!

“Talk to my mother,” he said and handed me the phone.

She had a soft voice and spoke English with a heavy German accent. She assured me if Johannes thought I needed help, their home was opened to me and his friends.”

I was stunned,  after less than five hours of knowing him I was elevated to a “friend”.

Over the years, every time I thought back of how I accepted to go with Johannes and stay with his family I wonder how could I have been so trusting or foolish.  If my children would do anything remotely similar, I’d be mortified.  However, as surreal as it seemed, it happened.  I went with Johannes, the perfect stranger to his parents house.

They had a large, beautiful home and gave me the guest room. Johannes was, as he told me, a student at the medical school. His father was a college professor and his mother an economist.

That evening, after we ate and I took a shower, Johannes took me to  the headquarters of his organization, called One World.  He showed me albums of pictures taken in the Jungles of Brazil.  He told me about their work to end hunger and how bananas were the cheapest most nutritious fruits in Germany and they put together a play showing all the work it took to bring the bananas to Germany. The picture I’d remember forever was taken in the Jungle of Brazil; Two naked tribe members listening to a radio. They looked stunned and scared, and I wondered how could one explain centuries of civilization to a forgotten part of the world. What did they think, hearing  voices coming out of an inanimate object.  Perhaps they thought it was the voice of God.

In that moment, starring at the picture, I understood that  I was  part of Johannes’ mission to save the Planet, to make it One World. I didn’t care I was a project. I was relieved.  This option was far superior to that of being murdered.

The following day was Sunday, St. Martin’s Day, and we all went to a Cathedral to pray and celebrate.  The place was so crowded, I could not see the Priest, but his powerful voice came at me from everywhere. At the end, we all held hands and prayed in German. The words didn’t matter, but the unknown hands holding mine felt strong and reassuring.  For a moment my heart could speak the language of love and friendship. I didn’t feel the presence of God, but I felt cared for and accepted.  It crossed my mind that there wasn’t a God, but God manifested in many good people. What if God is not an outside entity who rewards and punishes but it’s spread in each of us, in people who do good.  May be Johannes was an Angel!  I will never know for sure, but what I did know was that I left behind the little town South of Koln and I carried with me the gift of Johannes and his parents.

At last, my wait was over.  I was on the plane to America. The last passanger boarded the plane and the doors closed at last. The plane took off and I felt slightly dizzy.  I looked outside and soon the green fields became dots, the buildings disappeared. I saw blue sky everywhere, except for a few fluffy white clouds.

“Angels live behind clouds,” My grandmother told me once.

I looked at  the clouds and hoped the Angels would reveal themselves to me but they didn’t.

The Angels that I knew were in Germany, in a small town, South of Koln.

Then the plane flew into darkness, and there were start all around us.

“Each child is born with her own star”, we believed in Romania.

I looked outside: So many stars.  Which one was mine? Was it big, was it bright, was it beautiful?

It didn’t matter, now I knew the Angels were protecting me. I fell asleep happy.

The Interview

My INS interview was scheduled for 9:00 A.M.

I went to bed early the evening before to get as much rest, to have a clear mind for the interview.  The attempt to rest didn’t take away my anxiety, the fears of  of the unknown and the night brought back nightmarish images of Romanian security officers and custom officials taking my passport away, forcing me to go to jail in Romania.  Even after I woke up in the middle of the night, screaming and fighting with the Romanian custom-officer, who had phosphorescent eyes, like a Devil, and smelled of garlic, my heart was still racing out of control! Was  it a dream or was it real? He smelled of garlic, I  could still smell it. I turned on the light.  I looked around, under my bed, under the table and behind the washstand…

It must have been the spirit of him!

At 8:55 A.M. I walked into the U.S. Consulate. By education and nature I was always early to all my appointments.  I couldn’t even be late for dates with boys when I was a teenager. I knew I was supposed to be, to make them wait and make myself more desirable. I never could, and here I was, early for my appointment with INS, hardly a date!  This time, I thought, it was different. To be early might make a good impression of reliability.

I told the woman at the front desk my name and who I was there to see. She checked my name on a list  and  showed me to the waiting room. Empty chairs everywhere, chairs and more chairs and nothing else. I picked one and sat down. I waited, and waited. I looked at the clock on the wall: 9:30 AM. The officer who was in charge of my interview came out of his office a few times but didn’t acknowledge my presence, and looked over me, as if the walls were more important. He had met me briefly a day before, when they took my prints. Could he have forgotten me?  My already frail ego started to doubt everything: My value, the decision I made, the bright future I envisioned in a free world.

11:30 A.M.  Now every single chair in the large waiting room was taken.  People came, were called to his office and left. Some stayed in 10 minutes, some half an hour.  I was still waiting!

By 1:00 PM I was in a state of absolute panic. Could I have misunderstood? Did I even have an appointment? I was slightly dizzy now, as I couldn’t eat before coming to the Consulate at 8:55 AM.

By 2:00 PM, the woman at the desk called my name and I approached  her:

“Sorry we had to make you wait, but we have a busy day,” she said. “You’re next!”

I wanted to scream, to tell her this was rude, they should have given me a 2:00 PM appointment.  The voice of fear inside of me advised me to be silent and smile with understanding for their busy day.

Soon after, my interviewer came out of his office and invited me in.

“Sorry, you had to wait. We are running late, it’s a busy day, it’s always busy…”

I did not say it was okay because they had me waiting. I just couldn’t! I was silent, expecting his next move.

He showed me to a chair, across from his desk.

I sat on the hard chair  and waited some more. Only one dossier was on his orderly desk, mine! He leafed through it.

Suddenly, he lifted his eyes and asked me:

“You don’t think I kept you waiting on purpose, do you?”

Now, I thought, this was a direct yes or no question which I couldn’t avoid to answer! If I said yes, I’d insult him, if I said no, I’d lie.

“It did cross my mind, it was on purpose,” I said, “…but then why would you do this, it made no sense?  Yes, the place looked busy”

I paused. He smiled.

“I am probably impatient because I am hungry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday, I was , am nervous,” I admitted.

He nodded and without a word started to read my dossier.

I examined his face as he was reading it. I was trying to guess his feelings, thoughts, any kind of reaction, but his face stayed motionless.  After a while he lifted his eyes and looked into mine. I saw the look of an eagle that saw everything, forgave nothing and knew it all.

He asked questions. I answered. His questions were precise and required detailed answers.  As I was unfolding the story of my life, I couldn’t stop thinking that this person, I didn’t know, was going to know about me more than anyone else on Earth! Somehow, in the course of my confessions I felt lighter, as I was transferring the years of worries, frustrations and lies  on to my interviewer.

“How about your mother?” he asked. “You didn’t defect before she died, but you could have…”

Yes, I could have, but I would have never left my mother alone, ill, dying alone in Romania.

It was too much, I broke down in tears, and surprisingly, he jumped up and handed me tissues to wipe my eyes.

It was a long interview.  When it was finally over I felt completely drained but at peace with myself. I felt light and free!

When was it that I felt like that before? How long it had been? I felt light like that only once before, when for the first time, I swam in the nude in the Black Sea.  It was on an illegal nude camp in 2 Mai on the Black Sea Coast.  Every summer, Cristian and I went there for two weeks. We dropped off our clothes and all pretenses,  we lived in a tent, cooked on camp fires and ate in the nude, which felt rather strange at the beginning. Most importantly, we got used to the physical nudity of others and not care about it after a while, as they didn’t seem to care about ours. This was our secret illegal freedom in Romania, away from rules, lies and pretense. This was the first time when I first took off my confining clothes. Reluctantly, one night, on a Full  Moon, I stepped into the Black Sea and swam as far as I could, until the coastline was just a bright point far away, but not far enough, because I  returned. My body felt free, caressed by the velvety waves, and in the water there were thousands of miniscule  sea creatures who clung to my body making it look fluorescent. They didn’t hurt me, but made me visible and I always went back to the shore, aware and happy I stole a little bit of freedom.

Now, it was different. After that interview I had freed my spirit, not my body and became one with the Truth.  There was no shore to swim to, and my only option was to wait some more, because I  had made a choice in which return was not a possibility.

I stepped out of the Consulate exhausted and happy, a similar feeling I had after passing a difficult exam.

Outside, it was raining  hard and I stepped right into the puddles, and my clothes got wet and I didn’t care. I went to a grocery store and bought beer and peanuts to celebrate my freedom.

Alone, in my attic room, I toasted to my future and I listen to the sounds of an acordeon coming from one of the neighboring buildings.

I sipped my beer and looked out the window to guess where the music came from, but all windows looked alike and they were closed.

Then the music stopped and I could only hear the heavy drops of rain falling on the roof and my own thoughts.

I sipped more beer.

Time, a Matter of Perception

I was past  Noon when I left the Consulate. The bright sun blinded me for a moment and I felt pleasantly dizzy.  I sat on a bench in the near by Palm Garden and closed my eyes. I allowed the mild rays of sun to rest and caress my face. I felt warm, comfortable and alive. I wished it never stopped, but it did, and when the sun disappeared and there were no more  rays, I got up and walked to the Bed and Breakfast where the Consul directed me.

The following day I moved in.

The place was clean and simple, accented with fresh red flowers which made the house cheerful and welcoming.  It was a family business and the owners were polite but distant.  I explained the best I could, who I was and that I was waiting for a very important call from the American Embassy. They seem to understand, and the lady of the house showed my room.  It was in the attic, the least expensive in the house. There was a narrow wooden bed in a corner, a small table with a chair and an old-fashioned washstand in a corner. This added charm to the otherwise austere room.  The only phone in the house was in the dining room, on the first floor.  Some times, when the hosts were busy the phone went unanswered, and I made a habit to keep my door opened and run downstairs every time the phone rang.

Breakfast was included in the price and it became my only meal of the day. I could eat as many pastries and drink as much coffee as I could, and I did. My days seemed to blend into one another, and the only diversion was my trip to the Telephone House from where I called one of my former bosses from the Embassy to ask him for help with the sponsorship.

My hands were ice cold and shook as I dialed the overseas number and it was hard for him to hear me at the beginning. I had to shout my name, or perhaps it was all my fears and doubts reflected in the way I spoke.  My jaws felt locked and painful each time I uttered a word.

At last, he understood why I was calling. He asked me twice and I thought he didn’t hear me, but in retrospect, he probably didn’t believe I was in Germany, defecting.  I was running out of coins. He told me not to worry, I’ll get a sponsor. He asked me for the name of the Bed and Breakfast and their telephone number,  so  I didn’t have to spend my coins and he could call me back when he had news about which of my American friends would be brave enough to sponsor me.

“Don’t worry, hang in there. We’ll get you here, you have to be patient and wait.”

Abruptly, the conversation was over, as I ran out of coins.

Everyone was telling me to wait and be patient… but they were not me, nobody understood how hard it was to wait in a country where I didn’t speak the language, with my money running out fast and no end in sight.  Especially no one knew how it felt to be suspended between two countries.  To know I could not return to Romania without facing prison, and not knowing if America will accept me, and if it did, how long was it going to take? The uncertainty overwhelmed me.

During those days, when I spent my time  in the attic room,  running downstairs every time the phone rang, I understood that “time” as we understood it, was a matter of perception.  Our obsession with wasting  time, or living life,  which is measured in time, organizing our time, or spending our time appropriately; It was all a traditional dimension we, humans invented.  In those moments, for me, time had a life of its own, outside of me.

Quantitative time, as we measure it traditionally, didn’t exist any more. Chronologically, it could have been a week, or two weeks. The intensity of my actual living, the quality of time, far exceeded its traditional understanding which we humans invented, so that we could put more order to our lives and make sense of it. What we would do without knowing that at 9:00 AM we have to be to work and  end at 5:00 PM? A show started at 7:00 PM and ended at 9:00 PM? And our lives start… when they are meant to start, and end at the mercy of a Power we cannot control. The “Power” we call different names, doesn’t know “time”.

Life could spread itself thin throughout years when nothing of value happens. We exist, not live. Waiting there, in the attic for the phone calls which were to change my life, I had a revelation, that I was offered a  unique opportunity to experience how it felt to concentrate an immensely meaningful experience in a small capsule of”non traditional time.”  This capsule of concentrated time had its own dimensions and life which had nothing to do with my aquired perceptions of chronological time, measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, for our own convenience and peace of mind.

I have heard of people who went through transformational experiences and suddenly their hair turned grey. Every morning, I’d run to the mirror to make sure it didn’t happen to me. Relief! It didn’t, and another day of waiting blended into another, a continuum of waiting…

One day the phone rang and than it rang again!

After all, I was a lucky woman, I didn’t wait in vain! I had sponsors, my first boss and his wife, the Ludingtons. When was I going to arrive, they asked impatiantely?

Then the Consul called and told me I was granted an interview by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to possibly be accepted as a political refugee, and told me a time and a day.

The calls on which my future depended  came at last!  With ease, I re-entered the commonality of chronological time, as we, the human race, designed it for our convenience.

I looked at my watch: The INS interview was scheduled in two days at 9:00 AM.  I was pushed back on the familiar track I missed!

I Was a Number!

I touched my forehead. The fever was gone but my whole body ached and I was cold.  I managed to drag myself downstairs, in the bathroom and took an luke-warm shower.

The mirror in this bathroom was much better, it did me justice, I thought. No bags under my eyes, and the dimples were back and the face didn’t look like a deflated balloon anymore. Age reversal thanks to rest!

I choose a white blouse and buttoned it all the way up, as I remembered the owner’s eyes lingering on my breasts. My entire attire spoke out loud: Not available!

There were no customers in the restaurant downstairs, but the owner was there, wiping the counter with a wet cloth.

“Oh! Good morning sunshine” He said and walked around the counter to meet me.

“Good morning, could I have some coffee, please?”

“Anything you want, Princess! How about an omlette and toast?”

“Just coffee, I just need coffee…please”

I sat at a table and he sat next to me:

“Listen, sweetie, if it’s about money, don’t worry, it’s on the house. For Heaven’s sake, I know you come from Hell! Are you here to defect?”

“Okay, may be a piece of toast too? Thank you for the offer but I must go get my money, is there a bus around here? The cab was too much.”

Silence. More silence. He grabbed my chin and looked me in the eyes:
“Are you going to defect?”

Oh, now I’ll have to lie and say no, or should I tell him and perhaps he could tell me what to do…”

“I don’t know, may be yes may be no,” I said. “What do you care anyway?”

“I see… you don’t trust me, that’s okay. If you do, you’ll have to go to the German Police Station and tell them you want political asylum.  They will take you to a camp on the outskirts of Frankfurt, where people wait for visas to go where ever they need to go,  or where they are accepted, where they have relatives or friends… some want to settle here. I had an uncle, but he died.”

He stood up and let go of my chin. He smiled and I smiled back.

“I’ll make you an omlette on the house!” He said and walked away slowly.

I have to go to a German Police Station? my thoughts raced… I want to go to America, why would I even want to live on an emigrants’ camp and wait… for a visa? I had a visa to get out of Romania and a short, tourist visa to be in Germany…. Perhaps the process was more complex than I thought it would be…

“I need to go to the American Embassy, remember? I told you I needed to get my money and pay you the rest, remember?” I shouted. He was already cooking and it smelled good, like the eggs from my grandmother’s house.

I stood up, took my coffee, and walked to the counter, closer to him:

“So… where do I catch the bus to the American Embassy?

“When you go outside walk to the right and take the first left, the bus station is right around the corner get off at…”

He told me where to get off and without my asking continued to tell me where the Police Station was too, and I wrote it all down on a piece of paper he handed me.

The cashier at the American Embassy counted twice the Marks she handed me, than she put the money in a white envelope and handed it to me:

“Have a good time! Enjoy your time in Germany!” she said and smiled.

I walked out slowly. It was already late.  I sat on a bench and looked at the address of the Police Station.  Should I go now, or wait till tomorrow?  I thought. I didn’t want to go, what was I going to say? In what language? I didn’t speak German…. I really didn’t want to stay in Germany in a camp. How did a camp look, anyway?  I couldn’t pretend anymore I didn’t know the process, but I didn’t like it at all!  I had to do what I feared most: Say it out loud, I  was not going back to Romania! I still could change my mind and go back, but I was not going to…I had to make a clear statement, to take a real risk.

I stepped into the German Police Station. I looked around and it was empty. The Policeman at the window showed me the clock on the wall:

“Bitte Sheon, 5:00 PM”

I looked at the clock and took out my passport. He figured I didn’t get it and put his hands in the shape of a cross and said:

” Closed. Tomorrow.” and showed me 8 fingers.

Oh, there must be a God, I thought, to give me one more night to think it over.  It’s not like I didn’t do it, I did go and it was closed! A sign!

Back in my small damp room, I couldn’t stop thinking of the meaning of it: The Police Station was closed for a reason, to give me more time. I did not believe in coincidences, I still don’t. Really, I kept thinking, what if I didn’t go back to the Police Station and instead went to the U.S. Consulate and tell the American Consul I wanted to defect.  After all I was different from other emigrants.  I had been working for the American Embassy for eight years, I wanted to go to America, where I had friends, I knew the language I… really didn’t want to be in Germany!

The following day I was at the U.S. Consulate early, yet, others were earlier than me.  I stood in a long line, patiently, as the Marine at the desk was checking people’s belongings and asking them questions.

He searched my purse.

“Where are you going?” He asked routinely for the purpose of my visit at the Consulate.

Where was I going? I thought, and  I raised my eyes.  On one of the doors, to the right, I saw a sign:”Special Section.”

“I am going to the “Special Section!” I said.

He raised his eyes, and as if making sure he understood correctly, repeated:

“Special Section? Do you have an appointment? Why are you going to the Special Section?”

I looked behind me,  as the line was longer and longer and a few curious people came closer to me, while others tapped their foot impatiently.

I leaned closer to the Marine and whispered:

“Sorry, I can’t tell you… it’s personal.”

“Okay,  but it’s in reference to what?” He said as loudly as he could, or so it seemed.

Oh! Now everyone looked at us!

I leaned back and whispered: ” Sorry, it’s special, I really can’t disclose, it’s confidential!”

As people were getting impatient, the Marine gave up on me and called for help.

“Miss, please step to the side and wait here!” he said, and I followed his directions.

As I stood there, waiting, I looked around to discover this was a busy place: I saw two people speaking in Russian, and a large group of Afghans.  I recalled our trip to The Soviet Union and how the Russians invaded Afghanistan, but here they were all together in search of the same goal: Freedom.  Standing there and watching the crowds of  wishful emigrants I had a revelation, which I didn’t like: Perhaps I wasn’t special, I was one of the many, and what was I going to tell whoever was coming from “The Special Section” to help me!

“Miss Mihalis? I understand you have a special, confidential problem, how can I help you?” I middle-aged man with thick glasses asked me.

Who was he? He didn’t introduce himself, why would he? He was definitely from “The Special Section”, and that’s all that counted.

“I, I am Romanian, I work for your Embassy in Romania… and I … am not going back! I need your help because I worked for your Embassy for eight years and I don’t want to be in Germany. I want to go to the U.S. I need political asylum!” I blurted out.  That was it! I was done!

He didn’t show any emotions at all,  only his blue eyes flickered for a second behind the thick glasses.

“Follow me,” He said and showed me to a small, clean office.

I sat down and he asked for my passport. Then he disappearred and I waited, and I waited and I waited some more. How long? To me it felt forever!

“Follow me,” The Consul would like to speak with you.”

I followed him through the maze-like long corridors crowded with people. I felt hopeful, at least they didn’t send me away!

The Consul was a younger, blonde man with steel-like eyes.  He smiled and shook my hand vigurously. He even introduced himself, I good sign, I thought.

We sat down and I was offered coffee. This was a good sign too!

The Consul asked me questions. My name, how old I was, for how long did I work for the Embassy, was I married, did I have kids? No? Why not?

After almost an hour of questioning, he determined  I definitely was who I claimed to be, it all checked out. He told me I’ll have to wait, it wasn’t  a simple process.  He gave me the name of an inexpensive Bed and Breakfast near the Embassy and told me to move there and wait for his phone call.

“How long would I have to wait?” I asked, worried my money wasn’t going to last long enough.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I do know you’ll have to get a sponsor from America and a number, and we are out of numbers now. If I were you, I’d call some friends in America to find a sponsor, you cannot leave without having a sponsor. Frankly, it’s easy to smile and make jokes, but when it comes with becoming a sponsor… well it a lot of responsibility! I hope you have real friends in the U.S.”

Oh… I thought,  I had to have a sponsor and a number… would it seem really dumb if I asked him why? Would he change his mind that I was deserving to emigrate to the U.S.?

“Okay, what would a sponsor have do exactly, so I can explain my friends when I call and ask.”

“I sponsor signs a contract that they guarantee for you. We cannot let people in the country without jobs, without a place to stay. A sponsor takes responsibility for you in writing! And each  U.S Consulate around the world is assigned a certain number of people from each nation who may emigrate if they qualify for political assyilum, and you do, but we are out of numbers now. You’ll have to wait.”

His explanation came as a blow to my head, it ruined my last hopes of being special.  Suddenly I understood my future depended on strangers in a Consulate, that I had to find a friend who really was a friend to assume responsibility for me.  I understood this was not the adventure I was dreaming about, but the reality of life, my life that I chose believing I was special but…

I was  just a number!