"There was a time when the ruined Warsaw resembled 'Ezekiel's field' and asked all those who loved her: What do you think, can these bones live? And some of them said: Make a graveyard of it, put a high fence around and leave it. Build a city elsewhere." - Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski
My husband and I celebrated our sixth anniversary last week. On a whim, he suggested we go to Warsaw to mark the occasion. I guess that after a year of being buried in your bedroom by your wife's books about WWII, Solidarity, Milosz, and the like, a visit to Warsaw starts to seem inevitable.
The picture is me on the street where I used to live in 1998, in a studio apartment in the brown building over my right shoulder. The neighborhood looks much the same, just cleaner with more brands I recognize than before, nicer cars and a general abundance in every shop window that I don't seem to recall it having back then.
Of course, the novel was constantly on my mind. But also bigger questions, as I roamed down sidewalks crammed with Polish students of the University of Warsaw, Polish mothers pushing strollers (exactly like mine), business people, every kind of person.
The bigger questions were: Why do I feel so compelled to tell a story about this place, a place and a country to which I have absolutely no connection? Why do I feel so connected in the first place? And then there's the question that makes me feel really uncomfortable, which is: am I a good enough writer to pull it off? Do I have it in me to create something truly fine that will be read and will matter to people, and will be authentic?
To the question of connection, I honestly have no idea what the answer is. I just feel connected. That's all. A connection a person might have if you could believe in reincarnation. If you could believe I was once here in a former life and that now there is a hand in the universe urging me on to tell some story. Or perhaps I'm just, plainly speaking, interested. Or perhaps, if I can be truly clear-eyed about the thing, I am just nostalgic for the life of a twenty-six-year-old expatriate.
I felt wrenched away from Warsaw when we left on Friday. I stared out the window of the plane and felt heartsick. I turned to say something to my husband as we flew into the clouds and just as the words came out of my mouth, they were caught and buried in my throat, but I forced them out anyway. I said: "Thank you for bringing me here." Then I just turned to the window and the clouds beyond and the farms encircling the once-doomed capital below and cried a little. Yes, for the self-absorbed expatriate nostalgia, but also for something that gives a scent to the oxygen there. Something like survival.