Sunday, February 27, 2011


Yay! Katia Raina is back to share the second installment of her personal story!  If you missed her first one, you can still read it, THE SOVIET UNION DID HAVE A GOD either before or after finishing this one.

Me in preschool
I fixed an enormous ribbon bow on the top of my head. My eyes lifted to face the preschool teacher. She had just told us to quiet down. The room was already pretty quiet before she spoke to us – as we sat at our tables, working on our drawings to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the Revolution. But underneath the quiet, I had felt a happy layer of thoughts buzzing amidst occasional coughing and paper shuffling.

But now, even the sound of my thoughts was dead. Only the heels of the preschool teacher’s shoes could be heard tap-tap-tapping against the hardwood floor.

“In honor of the anniversary of the Revolution, which, if you recall, was a victory of the proletariat over the capitalist oppressors, you will hear a speech by the leader of the Communist Party and our great, powerful nation, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev,” she told us.

The year was 1980 or so. Once, when the Soviet Union was young, 1980 was thought to be a target year when true communism would be built. Decades before my birth, people used to dream that money wouldn’t exist in our country anymore, that every citizen would live in a spacious skyscraper apartment. People used to speculate how everyone would probably wear white all the time. How we would change the world by then. Make them all see light and reason.

Turned out, the magic date -- the year 1980 – saw the country smack in the middle of economic and spiritual stagnation. Most adults knew well by then, communism wasn’t going to happen. They now dreamed of foreign jeans and secretly listened to rock music. Or, just quietly pretended that everything had been as before, while the country kept on quietly crumbling. Prices kept rising. Food kept disappearing from stores. High-ranking members of the Communist elite continued living in luxury. The leader of the USSR, Comrade Brezhnev was getting old. Each day on Central Television the country watched his small eyes grow still tinier and his cheeks droopier. Some brave souls joked with each other about Brezhnev’s grammatically-incorrect speech becoming increasingly slurred and hard to understand from age and pure moroseness. Still, most adults continued pretending that everything was fine, citizens. Parents, grandparents and teachers kept feeding us children with the same fairytales they had known when growing up.

Also in Preschool
The clean, well-lit daycare/preschool facility smelled of boiled milk. I shivered, watching the teacher load in an LP disk with the speech of our leader.

“And…” She turned around and shook her finger at us – at me?   "You, as future communists, are to listen well. Now, up on your feet, everyone. No movement, and not a sound. You are to understand every word, or else…”

Or else what?

I stood at attention so hard, my legs started itching already. I didn’t realize how much work it would require to just stand still, to make your body obey you. Brezhnev’s elderly voice started crackling. My eyes prickled with tears. I don’t think there was a single word I could make out, let alone understand. I was doomed. I tried to look at everyone else – were they not moving? Did they seem to be following – unlike the dim-witted me? But it was hard to see anything without having to move even more. I strained my ears so hard, I got dizzy. White stains floated before my eyes. The stiffness in my legs climbed up the rest of my body, turning me into a stick that could barely stand at all.

We had been told God didn’t exist. We had been taught to make fun of the Bible, its crazy ideas of heaven and hell. But standing there, my body tilting, my cheeks hot with shame and my ears withering from the sounds coming out of the LP player, I found myself a sinner. Wondering how I would be punished, I stood there expecting nothing less than a supernatural act from above or below. Would something terrible take me away? Would the floor cave in under my feet? Would I die before I even make it to the end of his speech?

I made it to the end of his speech alive. I made it out all right, even.

As I grew up I realized, fear doesn’t kill you. It just etches itself deep into your earliest childhood memories. Which is all right, as long as you don’t let it burrow so deep that it defines who you are. As long as that fear doesn’t become a part of your soul.

Next month, I would like to blog about someone who taught me this courage, a woman who never became that scared gray little Soviet her country was trying to mold her into, a woman who formed me in more ways than one.

Next month, I will blog about my fearless mama.

Katia, Thanks so much for stopping in and especially for sharing such personal stories.  I am so eager to read more about your mama who won my heart in your last post!  

And to you, dear Reader, the following photo is Katia with another preschool teacher.  Be sure to check out her caption!
 Not every Soviet teacher was cold and uncaring.  This nanny treated me like I was her own personal doll  and made sure no one could hurt me. She surrounded me with love and care.


  1. Enjoying reading Katia's story. Her paragraph about not letting fear get so deep inside of you is profound!

  2. Thanks Carol. It means a lot.

  3. What a powerful story--how deep those childhood emotions go. Thanks for sharing, Katia and Joyce!

  4. Yes, Clara, thanks for reading. And crazy, isn't it, how painful and vivid those earliest memories can be?

  5. I think we have so much in those early memories that can infuse our stories.