Education III (Hungary)
In 1998, I finally fled the United States and lived in exile in Hungary. The Iron curtain had fallen, and Hungarians were struggling with inflation as they adapted to a capitalist economy. The atmosphere had an exciting feel of change to it. I also felt the spirit of change and wondered if I could settle down despite my past poverty. How was my poverty different than theirs? Could Hungary offer me an anchor to grow new roots?
I took flight in late summer. New aviation technology enabled me to migrate to where cars and trains could not carry me. Maybe I am just restless or addicted to the exhilarated high of travel. Many tourists fear the unknown destination and panic about hotel bookings or linguistic complications. For me it is all about adrenalin, endorphins, and the surge of energy in knowing that your life will change. In travel I have a slight reprieve from the maladies of the modern age. Poverty is my constant travel companion, but it is coupled with the curiosity to investigate the world at large. There are few calamities that can happen overseas that I haven’t already experienced in the United States. With homelessness, I had been broken down to my lowest form. Hardship and migration were the norm. Success is more frightening because I can’t place it into context. I would be like those lucky lottery ticket winners that spend fortunes foolishly while drinks themselves to early death. For me, self-improvement comes in shorter steps. I was flying to a destination that offered employment and paid housing. I could not ask for much better than that. My monthly salary was only $200, but the cost of living was low. My gamble was that I could find a higher quality of life in a foreign country than I could in the United States. I deferred student loans while investing in this career change. Oddly, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, gently rocked by the plane in the night sky, tears started pouring out of my anonymous eyes. I watched a stupid children’s movie about a foul-mouthed talking parrot that got lost far from home. Strangers helped the bird to find its way back to safety. I was drinking plenty of free scotch, plied by kind voluptuous air attendants, and the water started pouring out my eyes like I had some type of tropical disease. God damn, foolish bird. I hadn’t even cried during my father’s funeral.
My latest flight was to Hungary, a country that I was raised to think of as a vicious enemy because it belonged to the Soviet Union. Hungary was part of the Eastern Bloc. I flew right into the heart of the feared Evil Empire and it offered me a job. When I graduated from high school the ideology of Communism was starting to crumble, and during my first few years of college the Soviet Empire had collapsed (in part due to economic constraints brought on by its Afghanistan War). In 1989, Hungary and Poland were the first to move toward political pluralism (and Hungary allowed East Germans to escape through its porous borders, making the Berlin Wall obsolete). Communist regimes were soon toppled in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Romania’s government was overthrown at Christmas. The Berlin wall was demolished while I studied for political science exams. None of the professors predicted it coming, and our textbooks suddenly became outdated. Glasnost and perestroika were new additions to student vocabulary, and with these words young pupils articulated a path for change. Education creates new opportunities to heal old wounds. My closest university friends came from the former Evil Empire. In only a few years I was attending weekly parties thrown by East Germans, Bosnians, Kazaks, Russians, and Hungarians. We swapped music, shared recipes, read poetry, drank wine, and danced until we conjured up the morning sun. Friendship is an easy alteration to make with enemies once you have learn about them. Foreign enemies are seldom the monsters propaganda makes them out to be in order to justify killing them. In 1991, the Cold War was declared over, but in that same year United States scrambled quickly to find a new enemy. This problem was solved when Iraq invaded Kuwait, leading to the first Persian Gulf War (1990-1991). The evil empire migrated to the Mid-East.
Hungary was still adjusting to the rapid change in economic systems. Inflation, unemployment, and alcoholism quickly increased. State supported factories closed down. Life expectancy momentarily declined and pensioners suddenly found they lacked money for even basic necessities. In this dismal poverty the fertility rate dropped so low that Hungarians didn’t even reproduce enough children to replace its population. In contrast, the ratio of Gypsy (Rom) people was increasing since they were prone to large families. Hungarians feared that the limited social budget would be overburdened by its minorities. Hungarians feared being outnumbered. Nazi-era Fascists, the Arrow Cross, reemerged to vent pent up frustration on Gypsies and Jews. The former was perceived as welfare cheats prone to thievery and the later was viewed as using its wealth to exploit Hungarians. Intellectuals and professionals migrated west for higher paying jobs causing brain drain. The average monthly income of those that remained behind was approximately $300-400. Hungary was a poor nation and I believed that I could understand its poverty. By working as an English teacher I might bring them skills to find marketable jobs. I could educate them to find employment with a western company or to develop language for trade and tourism.
The Communist state provided a limited sense of security, but with its fall the economy and social structure became chaotic as citizens reinterpreted the meaning of freedom. Those that thrived were often the ones who operated the black market during the previous regime, or who had connections with powerful Communist party bureaucrats of earlier times. Sometimes both types of profiteer were one and the same. Criminal syndicates had already established outside connections and understood how to best profit from supply and demand. A type of mafia capitalism arose in the absence of laws and institution that regulated and controlled the economy. Even during Communist times sub-economies were created for basic survival. Hungarians devised ways to make money underneath a repressive system. Some citizens drove cars to Yugoslavia and filled them with extra gas and groceries to sell when they returned. Others found themselves selling commodities in underground markets. Goods could be found for the right price: banned western music cassettes, American jeans, and homemade moonshine (palinka). Communal networks formed in villages to redistribute commodities during difficult times, and to share labor during harvest season. This low level trade in Hungary was similar to the hustling I witnessed among the homeless in American cities. It generated quick untaxed revenue as supplemental income. Informal networks pooled together limited resources. Rural families also survived by stockpiling food supplies in basements: pickled vegetables, cabbage, potatoes, smoked meats, and homemade wine. Hungarians experimented with free trade throughout the chaotic post-Communist blender. The dust was still settling when I made this career change.
I was an English teacher in the city of Szombathely, and no longer a social worker in Seattle. The teacher training college that hired me was located in the former building of the Communist party. My office probably belonged to a middle-ranking bureaucrat. Szombathely had its share of hard times, ones that make my own troubles seem like a broken fingernail. It was founded by Roman Emperor Claudius (around 50 A.D.) along the ancient Amber road linking trade as far as Poland. Claudius dubbed the outpost “Colonia Claudia Savaria”. Since then Szombathley has experienced: attacks by Hun armies, total destruction by an earthquake in 455, centuries-long occupation by the Ottoman Empire, near colonization by Austria, a plague epidemic in 1711, a great fire in 1716, a enormous flood in 1813, another fire in 1817, massive bombardment during World War Two, occupation by Russian forces, brutal repression after political uprising in 1956, and the present invasion by western corporations. Szombathley residents are well familiar with rebuilding their lives, because their city has been destroyed so many times. They are tired of wars brought in from foreign nations. They have survived through all these hardships and poverty. The city has seen Empires come and go, but remain steadfast in defiance.
The level of poverty can be established with a fifteen minute drive across the Austrian border. The minute that one crossed into Austria prices tripled. I could literally purchase an orange in Austria at a set price, and by the time I peeled the citrus fruit, I could cross the Hungarian border to buy three identical ones at the same rate. Austrian grocery stores were decorated with price tags and neon lights, while Hungarian markets were often dark warehouses or family-operated businesses (except for the ones recently built by western companies). Austrians were well aware of this imbalance and flocked to Hungary for cheap weekend markets and affordable dental service. The drawback to this exchange was crossing through border guard station. The change in economy still hadn’t transferred to a shift in diplomacy. Border guards delayed passengers for thirty minutes to check passports at both sides. There also remains a psychological division between the two European sides. Western Europeans often stereotyped Hungarians as backward country bumpkins or mafia criminals. Western Europe feared a mass migration of East Europeans that would stay and never leave. Europe still functioned as two polarized worlds. Western Europe enjoyed the cheap labor that came with the fall of the Soviet Union, but the border gates still had a few chains to remove. At least, officials weren’t shooting at the people crossing the borders anymore.
The European Union was only speculation at this time, and the idea of a shared currency was mocked as humorous. My students weren’t laughing, however, they were preparing for the future. The language they saw as most useful was not the one spoken by German neighbors but English. I had the privileged gift of being born in a country that spoke English as its common tongue. I was desired as an employee overseas due to my precious accident of birth in America. But, I had to depart for a country where American jobs were outsourced to find stable housing. I broke my chains to United States and took flight for the hospitality of my enemy.
Social Bond theory explains social deviance by exploring the conditions that keep individual bound to society. To prevent drifting, noted sociologist Travis Hirschi claims that a person needs attachment, commitment, belief, and involvement. Without these factors in place an individual will be prone to deviate from social norms. My bond to mainstream America was weakened since poverty alienated me. I became inherently anti-social and prone to deviate from social norms. I had no attachments such as marriage, children, or property. I had no commitments outside of student loans which, by this time, I had consolidated and deferred. I felt no deep rooted belief in any organized religion, and little trust that involvement in the American political system would lead to lasting improvement. It was always easy to pack up for departure. I had few reasons to stay behind. By all means I was a free spirit. I had the liberty to do good on earth just like I had the freedom to do evil things. My salvation, that prevented me from criminal life, was my vow of pacifism. However, being homeless for an extended time made me question this ideal. The potential for violence lurked deep inside. Rage simmered within. The thread that I still hung onto came in the form of Emelia Fabry.
Emelia was born in a small Hungarian farming community that still closed its roads twice each day so that cows could leave or return home from grazing. Her family had a small garden and vineyard, and a grandmother who lived with them while raising geese (that she force-fed by hand to make their livers fatter for sale to France). As a young student Emelia learned English and studied math. Hungarians feel that their greatest resource is their own intellect, therefore they are pressured to do very well at school. The Hungarian state paid for the education of its populace, not just due to Communist ideology, but also because they knew that national survival depended on it. Emelia thrived in education and was awarded a scholarship, through the John Soros foundation, to study Computers Assisted Language Learning (CALL) in the United States. Hungarian youths were raised in an environment of rapid change. All of a sudden there were new opportunities. While older Hungarians feared change, younger ones raced at the chance to explore the new world. And is was this warming of nations that allowed Emelia to study in the United States.
It was in Oregon where I first saw her. We both lived in a student cooperative in Eugene, Oregon. I was getting stoned early one morning, having a wake and bake session, when I heard a foreign accent in the hallway. I explored the stranger’s voice and, after learning that she was Hungarian, demanded that she play me music from her homeland. It was real good music that she introduced me to and we later became lovers. For years Emelia was the bond that attached me to a responsible life, she was the one commitment that prevented my sliding into a more wayward life. My life was stable while enrolled in graduate school. The second strike of homelessness did not come until after graduation – after Emelia returned home. I did not wish to return to her until I could support myself independently. In the meantime, she offered me home while I lived in my car. I was the free spirit that found a branch to perch on.
Emelia owned her own apartment in a Communist-built housing project. The exterior was in the classic design of the era – cold, drab, cement boxes in identical style. The inside of her flat was beautiful – hand carved furniture, painted walls, and artifacts from past travel. Some cynics have remarked that this architecture style accurately reflects its Hungarian occupants; cold and distant at first, but beautiful and unique once you get to know them inside. On the opposite side of town was the housing structure provided by my school as part of my teaching contract. It was built in the same Communist design except that it was about 4-5 stories taller. Plaster cracked off the walls and paint peeled away. By western standards it might have been considered a slum, but by my own values it was a perfectly natural living environment. I was thankful for the shelter and it was in better condition than many local homes. Between the two apartments I performed a type of dance. In my home I could stay up late grading homework, play music loudly, and drink profusely with friends. It was freedom. In Emelia’s home we cooked together, shared quiet conversation, and made love. It was domestication. During the year that I taught in Hungary I flew between the two perches several times each week. The dance continued between wild, untamed, masculine energy; and the seductive tranquility of female companionship. I had my private individual space, and I had a shared apartment with mutual company. As the year went by I found myself more and more attracted to the comforts of another’s voice. I settled in.
Hungarian students were passionate and involved learners. They believed that hard work would be rewarded with employment and they were attached to the idea of helping out parents when they retired. They had a sense of direction even as the economy was spinning out of control. Some students did cheat on tests. Others discovered the joys of the Internet by downloading papers and signing their name to them. Many students pleaded to get better grades than they deserved because a high grade point average was needed for scholarship (after the fall of Communism, Hungarian students were charged tuition at this school). If whining didn’t succeed, there were alternative means to get grades bumped higher behind closed doors. I didn’t care since grades weren’t of concern to me. My desire was to impart knowledge to students and to have them teach me about their country. I lectured at this teacher training college, but I was the one who actually learned to teach. Each day was an experiment. Some days I lectured about American Studies, other days I required class dialogue, and some afternoons involved in-class writing assignments. I often shuffled chairs into a circle if the class was small or dimmed the lights to create a talkative mood. I tried to bring students into participations by question/answer dialogue and classroom presentation. Whatever worked with a particular class was later improved upon. I lacked a teaching certificate, so I built pedagogy one brick at a time. What the students wanted most was English conversational skills. They already spoke English with more precise grammar than most American citizens. What they wanted was to practice with a native speaker to test if we could understand each other. They, too, were curious about their enemy.
Alice Horvoka was the student that taught me. She was poor even by Hungarian standards. Alice bore the mark of her sister’s recent death from cancer and was on a downward spiral. She spoke horrible English. Most of the time she came to class predictably late with a hangover and reeking of smoke. She rarely did homework and always forgot to prepare presentations – but, felt no insecurity about delivering spontaneous diatribes with the most atrocious grammar. Her hair was usually worn in some variety of unbrushed tangle. She sported padded shoulders, bright red lipstick, and a pair of platform shoes (in Hungarian fashion at that time). When she studied it was by asking many questions. She asked well thought out questions and absorbed answers in childlike curiosity. While most students quietly took notes; Alice interrogated me for information instead. While top students produced sterile papers in impeccable English; Alice manufactured hand-written scribbles with incredible imagery and original thought. She did not care about grades. She never asked me to change a low mark, but often visited my office to intellectually discuss what I thought about her ideas. What was important to Alice was knowledge. She thought about the power of new education rather than future employment. Hungary had produced a free-spirit.
I fell into my role as a teacher. In my private flat the landlord left me a pipe with smoking tobacco because that is what male teachers do; smoke, grade, and prepare lectures. For the first time in my life I smoked a legal substance. I had long ago quit smoking marijuana because I wished to honor the position of teacher. I had a reason to remain sober because I had too much to lose. I was an educator, so I accepted the responsibility that came with the task. Oddly, for the paltry salary of $200 per month my quality of life was drastically improving. The school provided housing so I retained all my income. I took advantage of the brilliant Hungarian dentists to fill cavities that had caused me pain for many years. With student loans deferred I could actually save money – even on the meager salary. I could watch a film without worrying that there wouldn’t be enough money leftover for dinner. For the first time in my life I felt that poverty wasn’t a defining element to my character. Everyone was poor in Hungary. There was no judgment behind it. What Hungarians respected was that you worked hard at your job. I did and found security.
The bomb silently dropped from the airplane. The anonymous building exploded in smoke as fire lifted to the heavens. Enemy bodies were reported dead. Missing limbs were scattered on a bloody road. The bomb was allegedly an accident. It fell on the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. The same air vehicle that brings people together with tourism also splits them to pieces with war. The aircraft looked fast and dangerous. One violent strike and a building was gone. Cut to commercial, or impeachment hearings about President William Clinton lying about a blow job underneath his oval office desk. This time armed forces ganged up on Yugoslavia. The U.S. and the U.N. rallied together for the fight. Yugoslavia was in a brutal Civil War. Ethnic groups divided while gangsters and thugs rose to power. The media promptly justified this new military action. With the fall of Communism came new television programming. Emelia and I watched America’s latest war from bed. Like many Hungarians we had been illegally hooked up with cable. At night we could watch America’s newest sitcom. It was broadcast non-stop 24-hours a day by the Censored News Network®. Americans spoke with pride about certain victory. Citizens safely watched television thousands of miles away.
The Hungarian version of this war was slightly different. Yugoslavia was located at its southern border. Many Hungarian ethnics lived on the other side. They had been partitioned from relatives after territorial boundaries were redrawn by victors following World War One. Hungarian ethnics were also severed behind lines in the Transylvanian region of Romania and the southern section of Slovakia. These Hungarians would become persecuted minorities (the Hyngarian language has been banned at government meetings and Hungarian schools closed). Hungarian minorities in Yugoslavia were placed at the front line. Hungarians could be forced to point guns at relatives. Soldiers boarded trains in Szombathley and male students worried that they would get sent to war. Exchange teachers in Yugoslavia were repatriated back to Hungary. I sacrificed my apartment to a fleeing expatriate teacher who needed emergency shelter. I relocated to the domestic alternative of Emelia’s apartment.
Emelia refused to migrate to the United States. It was a bitter nation full of crime. She had no desire for the green card that marriage to me could bring her. She was proud of her Hungarian heritage and did not want to leave her family. She was an only child and moving would break her parent’s hearts. In Hungary she had the security of a stable teaching position and a small apartment that she owned. She had the luxury of a Traubant® to drive around town. She enjoyed United States for its education. Its universities had good technological equipment that Hungary lacked. However, her scholarly visits to the United States was always with the idea that she would return home as a better teacher. The idea of striking it rich in the United States seemed foolish to her. Poverty wasn’t as great an issue for her as it was for me. She had a comfortable life and that was enough. She had most of her needs taken care of already at home. The desires that she had were for a husband and a child. This placed me in a dilemma. If I remained in Hungary I would screw up any chance of a life back home. I would entrap myself to a $200 salary, and have legal repercussions in relation to unpaid student loans. I had a secure life in Hungary at $200 per month, but I would have to earn three times that sum to pay one month’s rent in an urban slum of America. My savings in Hungarian Forint currency would not translate well in the United States. What course of survival could I take in case our marital commitment didn’t work out? To return to the United States would render me homeless once again; to live in Hungary would burn my bridges at home. To live in Hungary would mean I was no longer able to travel. I would need to hang up my walking shoes and settle down.
When we switched the war broadcast off we started to fight about our relationship. My teaching contract was close to its end and I needed to decide about making a more permanent commitment:
Emelia: “Why give up your secure life in Hungary? The U.S. only offers you poverty. Don’t you want to settle down and grow roots?
Me: “We are doing horrible things outside the United States. I bear responsibility to hold my government accountable for its actions.”
Emelia: “Whom do you mean by ‘we’? It is your government that starts wars and dominates global trade. You have nothing to do with it. Why can’t the ‘WE’ be ‘US’?”
Me: “In Hungary I am powerless, but I can change things at home with protest.”
Emelia: “You can change things here with the purpose of raising a family.
Me: “But, I am an American. It is my inescapable identity.”
Emelia: “Then as an American you can teach your former enemies in this country. You can change politics with education, and create a glasnost of two with me”
I discussed politics with Emelia, but the truth is that I worried about serious financial consequences from the United States. I would have permanent financial ruin, if I started a new home in the former Evil Empire. It would destroy any chance of rebuilding credit or paying off student loans. There might be legal repercussion to abandon debt, and I was too broke to consult with lawyers. I also wondered if collection agencies could punish her family internationally because of me. Could American banks take away her property? I didn’t want my debt to be her burden. I never explained to her how badly my financial situation had become. In all honesty, I feared that she would leave me if she knew. I preferred to leave her instead under the pretense of a noble cause.
In theory, I could surrender my American passport and become a naturalized citizen of a second nation. The idea enticed me and it weighed on my mind every day. Could I do it? Could I fire my country and hire a replacement. Could I sue for repatriation to Ireland due to my ancestors’ roots? Could I quit being American and start a new identity as a Hungarian? Could I emigrate? Could I become a self-exiled expatriate? Other American have done so in the past: Mormon polygamists moved to Mexico and Canada to practice plural marriage when it was finally banned in Utah; Black nationalists from James Baldwin to Eldridge Cleaver fled to France to escape racial persecution at home; entire confederate communities departed from the south after the Civil War to set up new homes in Brazil; religious socialists migrated to Guyana to set up camp before committing mass suicide on cyanide laced sugar water; a number of American fugitives have sought refuge in countries without extradition treaties with the United States; and political radicals washed their hands of America during the Cold War to relocate behind the Iron Curtain. Could I flee my debt and student loans outside of the United States? Two decades earlier I could have dealt with my problem by defecting to the other side of the border. Now there was no place else to hide. What leash still bonded me to America other than the threat of a whipping if I didn’t return? Then I remembered a gift stashed away in my suitcase. I retrieved the item that I packed and carried across the Atlantic Ocean. It was an American flag. It was presented to me from my father’s coffin. I fondled it with both hands. The package remained unopened. The flag bonded was a bond to my country.
The next morning I soothed myself with teaching. The end of my annual teaching contract was coming to an end. I was pressured to decide on contract renewal or departure. The student took their final exams. In Hungary the emphasis was on tests designed by Cambridge (CAE and CAP). If students failed a single one of these examinations they were required to retake the entire school year. It was my responsibility to grade many of these exams. It was uncomfortable knowing that by failing students it would alter the direction of their lives. It was a tough hurdle to pass, but as a teacher my low grades caused three students to repeat one year of work. In theory, grading was anonymous, but it was easy to track who the students actually were by identification number. In reflexive caution I looked up the names of the three failed students. One of them was Alice Horvoka. I examined her writing for a second time. Students were given a list of three essay questions and required to select one for a writing assignment. She choose the hardest one. Students usually select the easiest essay, because they worry about passing marks. Alice was more curious about the challenge. Her writing was horrible and she rambled in thought. There were dozens of mistakes and her paper was filled with red ink. I hesitated a brief moment before reaching for a pencil. I etched in commas and periods in the spaces that they belonged. I erased errors and brushed away the evidence with white ink. Without anyone ever knowing I manipulated the outcome of a student’s life. I sabotaged a student’s failure, so that she could pass. I welded the power of the grade to allow this free spirit to survive.
I saw Alice in my office later that week. She wanted to review previous homework material. Most students never claim papers after class has finished for the semester. However, Alice wanted to learn from the remarks I etched in the margins of the homework. She had been drinking vodka heavily and chain-smoked in my office without asking for permission. It was not unusual. Many teachers smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey at school. Hungary had its own set of rules, and students mixed closely with expatriate teachers. Barriers were thin between students and expatriates. We did not have the same authority as Hungarian teachers, so our relationships were explored with more freedom. While Alice sloppily lit a new cigarette, I amused myself thinking that I just changed her life with an altered grade, and that she would never know it.
Alice: “You look like you want to say something. Ask me, please.”
Me: “Have you ever heard the terms ‘white trash’ or ‘Eurotrash’?”
Alice: “Mmmm… I’ve never heard either one. These are American phrases, are they not? Why do Americans need trash so much?.”
Me: “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s cultural. If you don’t keep somebody below you, than you might be the one at the lowest level.”
Alice: “It sounds circular. Western Europe looks down on Easterners, Romanians resent Hungarians in Transylvania, we have our Gypsies, and am sure that the Gypsies can also find somebody to despise. The British have townies, tinkers, chavs, and squatters. I bet even these groups feel authority over someone. My head spins thinking about it. Whom does white trash fight against?”
Me: “They can strike at racial minorities or attack women’s rights. Anyone who can be defined as below them are targets.”
Alice: “The old regime showed this to us on television. Policemen squirting blacks with fire hoses. German Shepard dogs snapping with white fangs. It reminded me of Russia. They slaughtered Hungarian liberty protesters in 1956 and Czechs in 1969. They invaded with tanks and occupied us, while the United States turned its back. But, Russians were also Slavic. This is origin of the word “slave”. Russians were chained to the land as serfs. After they overthrew the wealthy elites, they took their freedom and attacked smaller nations. They became the tyrants that they criticized.”
Alice and I walked to her dormitory. On route I thought about how Hungarian poverty was different than mine. If they lack money they won’t travel, attend school, or get luxuries like manicures. In contrast, Americans will break out credit cards and charge merchandise to an account anyway. Credit card debt subsidizes the U.S. economy during hard times. Hungarians were only beginning to test credit cards and few people owned them. Nobody trusted in a future that would allow them to be paid off. It was summer break. Most students already left the dormitory. The student building was nearly empty. It was getting dark and her path was on my way home. We shared a flask of vodka as we walked, drinking straight out of the shot glass. without mixer. As we meandered beneath a patch of trees she paused to pour another shot. In seconds she drank the glass empty and refilled it for me:
Alice: “This is Polish vodka. Fuck Russia. Now, it’s my turn to ask you questions. Why do you speak English differently? Be honest, it’s not a real accent, is it?”
Me: “What I have is a slight impediment. My jaws don’t fit together properly. I am learning to control it.”
Alice: “Don’t worry about controlling yourself with me. I want to see where your impediment comes from. Open your mouth for me (she inspected my teeth visually, then placed her fingers inside my lips. My mouth is the body part that I am most self-conscious about, and it was awkward having a student do this). You have missing teeth like me… one is chipped… you have a large overbite… your front teeth clash asymmetrically… your mouth seems very violent… but, your lips are so fragile and thin (then she kissed me slowly).”
Me: “Alice, we shouldn’t do this. I am your teacher.”
Alice: “School is over. You no longer have authority over me. You owe me no commitment. We are equal now, yes? Come inside. It’s your turn to see inside me.”
Me: “That probably isn’t the best idea.”
Alice: “I want you to look at me. I want you to appreciate how my body moves. I am a very strong dancer. Move with me.”
Me: “I really want this, Alice. My entire body craves it. I feel a passion for you. But, please, understand that I must leave.”
Alice: “What is this that exists between us then? I feel it. You feel it, too. My pussy seems familiar with you. What is this chemistry between us? ”
Me: “What we share is called kinship. We are both free spirits.”
I escaped to a bathroom in the female dormitory to gather my thoughts. In the toilet basin was a dead cigarette and white tissue stained with red lipstick that I knew came from Alice. I heedlessly used them as targets during urination, sinking the objects like boats. I did not go upstairs with Alice that night. The bond that I cultivated with Emelia blossomed with much more meaning. Sometimes a binding commitment has more value than freedom, or maybe there is just a gray line between the two that I had yet to explore. I was learning. I tested myself with domestication. I continued to play house for five more weeks, but when my teaching contract expired I took flight from the comfortable nest once again.
In the end it was the economic pendulum that shifted. I opened a single bill from the United States. It was printed on an envelope with a format that reeked of importance. Fate shot out from that envelope like a bullet. A single student loan was placed in default, and I was fined $7,000. I had failed an obligation to a corporation that I never heard of before. When I consolidated student loans in a federal program the most difficult part of the process was tracking them all down. Banks bought and sold my loans as a commodity. Just when I had them in control, another debt was sold to a different agency and I had to shuffle paperwork to trace the path of the loan. Many of these documents had been lost while I was homeless, so there were gaps that I couldn’t coordinate. My debt was a more valuable commodity in the United States than my ability to work as a human being. I was important because lenders could profit from my inability to pay.
American treadmill universities manufacture debt-ridden students with exorbitant tuition rates. By paying the inflated tuition rates, I subsidized university research and construction costs. I had seven years worth of student loans, which I juggled between eleven corporations in three different states. When I consolidated debt a single loan slipped through the cracks. It hit me with deadly force. I was placed in default and collection agencies lashed at me weekly. The fine ticked higher each day that I remained abroad, and I was pressured to return to the United States. I couldn’t drag Emelia into my life until I had dealt with my own problems first. How could I support a wife with this broken life? I needed to solve my problems alone. I had tasted security in impoverished Hungary, now it was time to return to famine in America.