Excerpt for Confessions of a Hungarian Refugee by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Table of Contents

Foreword

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter One : Posing as a Trader once Again

Chapter Two: Posing as a Rounder

Chapter Three: Bewitched by Aileen

Chapter Four: From Russia with Love

Chapter Five: Back to Europe

Chapter Six: Elga

Chapter Seven: Wooing my Wife

Chapter Eight: Fatherhood

Chapter Nine: My Two Mentors

Chapter Ten: This Existing, that Arises

Chapter Eleven: from a Stream to the Ocean

Chapter Twelve: Good and Bad is the Same

Appendix


Confessions of a Hungarian Refugee

Father, 1946 Feb. 15. in Germany



Confessions of a Hungarian Refugee



This book is dedicated to my father (the unnamed hero), and both my current and former wives for putting up with me for all these years. I would like to express my gratitude to all the people (good or bad) whom I have crossed paths with for sharing your stories with me. This book could not include all of you, and for that I apologize.

Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved, Any duplication of this material in any form, is strictly forbidden.

First Edition (1.4)

www.bigfontbooks.com

***


Foreword

There were several reasons for writing this book; one is that rehashing my life has therapeutic value. I am primarily writing this book for myself and my father. Writing this is my way of honoring my father, who was, in my eyes, a nameless hero of the Communist era. My father was an enigma, and I know very little about him. He was largely absent from my life, and his personality, the opposite of my mother, was the strong and silent type.

This book is a Social Commentary.

I have tried many things in my sixty years. Uprooted myself, abandoned my family and lived a nomadic lifestyle, possessing little but dreaming of settling down one day in comfort when moving around became too much. During my travels, I have seen a lot, and I want to share my perspective.

I had the opportunity to meet Bill Gates and visited his old house. Steve Balmer was my direct manager on the project I was working on while at Microsoft.

I have achieved my goal, but not the way I had planned, which is typical of life.

Unresolved Guilt

As an only child, I left my aging parents to explore and see the world. That act took a lot out of me, and later I suffered from loneliness. I guess I was not at peace with myself and at times dreaded to be alone.

Quite late in my life, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder that while mild enough to afford me a somewhat functional life, I was never at peace or comfortable in my own skin. While searching for something to soothe my anxiety, I tried and studied a variety of esoteric schools, religions and drugs. While studying reincarnation, in a hypo-manic phase I thought I have discovered my past life. This information and the following frenzy of obsessive soul searching is what put me over the edge and into a small mental breakdown when I was diagnosed1 at age 56.

1According to my doctor I have cyclothymic disorder, the mildest form of bipolar disorder.

This book is as much about my parents as me. I am the by-product of their tutelage. Sadly, they passed away before the birth of my daughter. So, she had no knowledge of grandparents from my side of the family. For years, I was obsessed with finding details of my father’s early life. For instance, what year was he thrown out of the Hungarian Communist Party? I can only suspect that this occurred before I was born, but the exact year remains a mystery.

I do believe that uncompromising ideology, is one of the ills of our time.

We are now at the point in time when critical thinking is sorely missing from many people’s thought processes. When one feels completely righteous to hurt someone or judge a person based on his association is rigid ideology. Dogmatic, ill-perceived, biased thinking.

Recently (in 2016), I visited Budapest and had the good fortune to meet one of the Fidesz’s members of parliament (an acquaintance), as I wanted to do some more research on my late father. I asked for his help. I had hoped that he could afford me a peek into some of the old files that the Secret police had on people. He tried, but finally he told me that the files are closed now, and only historians can access the archives! It was my understanding that in the former Gyurcsan government the files were open to all. So, I failed to discover any details. What bothered me was that my contact in Hungary completely misunderstood my quest. He thought I was asking if my father was an informant during the Rakosi years.

Either his age got the better of him, or he disliked former communists so much that he missed the point of my query. This ideology-driven world still bothers me. My father did not remain a communist after witnessing the economic failure of the Kadar2 system. Yet, I suspect he remained a lifelong socialist. We never spoke of politics or religion at home.

2János Kádár General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Socialist_Workers'_Party)

I wanted to remain in the background, because I do not care to make a name for myself as an IT consulting expert, for example, or to become famous, nor do I wish to write a contrite story in hopes that someone would purchase the rights. Certain themes like philosophy, spirituality, psychology, IT contracting, poker playing, commodity trading, and stock brokering are recurring themes throughout my life.

Thus, each reader might interpret different things from this book. I hope my social commentary about the USA contrasting with my upbringing and my father’s story will be a fun and interesting reading experience.

This book is in two parts. The first formative 30 years of my life is part one, while part two consists of a more mature emphasis of my spiritual journey, addiction and psychological struggles.

“Those who understand others are clever,

Those who understand themselves are wise.

Those who defeat others are strong,

Those who defeat themselves are mighty.

Those who know when they have enough are rich.

Those who are unswerving have resolve.

Those who stay where they are will endure.

Those who die without being forgotten get longevity."

(On the left) Father with Balazs in 1916, Balazs is the younger one with his under bite. Nobody had orthodontist in those days.

***

Part One

Chapter One

I was born in Budapest right after Soviet troops put down the 1956 uprising. While I was in my mother’s womb, a Russian tank pointed its turret at our flat. Perhaps this was why I inherited a rather nervous disposition. Doctors ordered bed-rest for her as she had some complications. She was forty-two years young when I finally made my appearance.

The main hardship in our life was the discord at home. My parents were not easy people to live with.

Father was a district judge in Budapest, first dealing with civil cases, and later as he gained confidence in the party, he was to be “promoted” to preside over political trials. After much anguish, he asked to be excluded from the political position which certainly would have meant more money and privileges. However, turning down such a position was very risky.

My father was an honest Communist, who was expelled from the Hungarian Communist Party for doing the right thing. By that time, he had realized that the idealism of youth and thirst for social justice had played a nasty trick on him. The party was largely run by bloodthirsty gangsters who had no intention of distributing wealth. They wanted to keep it all. Indeed, most honest, humane communists eventually were killed not by the Police or Imperialist Spies, but by their own cadres as a power struggle.

This book is largely based on information from what my mother told me. My father spoke little about this, as he spoke little in general. He was a recluse – a broken man.

As a Taoist philosopher, I do not believe social justice can be achieved either via big government or pure ideology, But my father had bought into that way of thinking and could never totally change his political views.

I know my father liked West Germany. He had some German ancestry; but his grandfather had married an older (and rich) Hungarian woman and adopted her Hungarian last name, abandoning the old family name which was Hermann.

While Father was in Germany in US captivity, he also had a German girlfriend, whom he never forgot completely.

Naturally, had a chance to stay in Germany after the war ended. But he eventually returned to Hungary because he became homesick. Father, always said that he missed the grape harvest and the typical Hungarian festivities.

The problems at home were twofold. My parents’ marriage was not harmonious, to say the least. My father was a heavy gambler who had mistresses throughout his relationship with my mother.

By the mid 1950’s Father had lost all his privileges and had few friends. His job was in Bicske, a small town outside Budapest, where he managed a small co-op of independent lawyers. He was a highly respected as a fair and trustworthy man. His colleagues knew he would not cheat them, so they also elected him to be their bookkeeper, a job he held for the duration of his time there and even after he retired.

His irritability was legendary. One time, we went out to dinner to the Matyaspince, an exclusive restaurant in Budapest. The waiter tried to cheat him repeatedly by overcharging on the bill. He blew up, making a loud and furious scene. Injustice and the follies of human nature always bothered him. He was generous, never cared about money or saving and possessions, but of course that did not sit well with my mother. She, like most women, wanted stability and safety. She was not a spendthrift like my father.

My father was born in Transylvania in 1911, in a little town called Szaszregen3 (now Regen), an ethnic German town where Hungarians, Romanians, and Germans lived together pretty much in harmony until the end of the WWI.

3Sza’sz means Saxon (The Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes first mentioned as living near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany, in the late Roman empire.).

According to the old borders, Regin (or Regen) in Transylvania, fell under the administration of larger Austria-Hungary. In 1919, after WWI, there was a war between Romania and Hungary, and as the result the borders were drastically changed. His entire family was expelled from Transylvania and forced to live in the much smaller Hungary. He was just a child and fatherless. He had a younger brother and a penniless mother. He and his younger brother were adopted by a German-speaking Swiss family.

As an adult, he never went back to Romania because it was too emotional to him. He never expressed animosity or hatred toward Romanians, but he could not go back and reminiscence about his childhood. He was just that kind of a man.

In 2007, our family visited Transylvania and made a point to visit Regin, among other places, but my daughter was too young to remember or register anything of deeper meaning.

For some reason, my father intensely disliked most of my relatives from my mother’s side, while he cut most of his relationship off with his mother and younger brother. The reason for the rift with his brother was tragic in any sense of the word. Balazs married a neurotic and annoying woman whom my father disliked. He wanted to spend time with his younger brother without his wife always being present. This was not an unreasonable request. But for some reason, Balazs did not see it that way, so he and my father became strangers for more than 25 years. After this much time, reconciliation is awkward, so it never happened. Balazs died 10-years before my father passed away.

For many years before WWII, my parents lived an exciting, Bohemian life in Budapest. Of course, they still had to survive the Great Depression during which my Juris Doctor father had to work menial jobs in construction when he was lucky to find them. Just like me, he was not built for hard labor, so this experience marked him for life and led him to abhor capitalism and see its weaknesses.

***


Chapter Two

My mother was a attractive woman, a high cheekbone gave her rather exotic look. I was her first child, almost a miracle because in those days, delivery of a healthy child was not all that certain. She claimed that she was ill during her pregnancy.

Later, I suspected that perhaps she did not want a child because she was concerned about her mental state. She told me that she had a long postpartum depression that she had remedied by swimming for hours.

As a child, my mother was sent to Holland as her side of the family was so destitute, much like my father’s fostering in Switzerland.

Both of my parents had vivid and pleasant memories of their foster years, so their foster countries hold a special place in my heart. In 1998, I lived in Luxembourg and drove to Amsterdam every chance I had.

I also visited , a fascinating little country based on my father’s stories. He was fond of telling me about chocolates - the dark and bitter pieces, which they disliked. The brothers discarded quietly, behind the furniture, instead of politely refusing them.

Mother was married when she met my father, but my father’s good looks and his status as a Juris Doctor wooed her into his arms. My father could and did use the Dr. title, which my mother quickly adopted, and in fact she dropped her maiden name altogether by using my father’s name with the -ne’4 Nobody frowned upon such practices back in those days. She was a snob, you see.

4Traditionally, when women married they used their husband’s complete name and added the suffix -ne (meaning approximately “Mrs.”). This practice is no longer as common. Sometimes only the family name and -ne suffix are adopted, and the women keep their given name.

She much emphasized that we were intellectuals who fallen out of favor with the Socialist society, but we should keep a firm upper lip and mingle only with our equals.

Despite that, she was a young communist who looked down on the lumpenproletariat. Of course, I was lonely, and I did not care. The playground near our block was a lively place, and I loved it there. Other kids wanted to hang out with me, but my parents’ firm objections discouraged me, so I was alone much of the time.

When my mother was not around, I did not care about social status, normally kids do not ask or care. But when playtime came around, this rigid and snobbish atmosphere became too stifling.

.

At one point, she became bored and needed to socialize with adults. This was when she got a part time clerical job at the City Council. Mother left me in the care of one of her acquaintances on our block. I did not care for her too much. The woman was cold and uncaring, accepting her role without consideration of my needs. She always made me lay down in the afternoon to take a nap, even when I was not sleepy, I just lay there, bored, I wanted to be with my mother, or play with other kids.

At one point I escaped, walked to her work and just showed up there. This was a sobering episode for my mother and a strong motive for her to ask my grandmother to move in with us.

With my grandmother, my attempts to escape ceased, and we were pals for a while. Despite her and my father’s tense relationship, she had managed to stay with us during my formative years.

My mother wanted to become a teacher, but she had flunked out of her German class, thus she became a housfrau5 She had three sisters and a brother. Two of the girls, my mother and Klara, were close. The third sister, Bozsi (I called her Bubu) was an outsider. My family was so poor after WWI that my mother and Klara were in foster care in Holland as toddlers, while Bozsi was kept at home. Thus, they drifted apart.

5Stay at home mother, housewife

At one point, both my aunts whom I loved dearly announced that they were severing all ties to us due to “lifestyle differences”. I was too young to understand why they did not want to be part of our family anymore.

This was a huge blow to me and my mother. I had no brothers and sisters, but I was close to my cousins and aunts and uncles. We visited during the holidays, and I had a sense of having a family then. This suddenly ended, even though my cousin and her husband asked to stay with us. My father grudgingly agreed, and we managed to live in a more crowded, but relatively harmonious milieu.

So, relatives on both sides had abandoned us, and I do not think it was just because of my father’s irritability, as he was perfectly happy to stay out of family gatherings. My mother could have been the problem. She may have been subtly bipolar, and maybe her sisters picked up on that. She was talkative and a bit neurotic with tendencies of hypochondria. But, she was never irresponsible with money, nor had she taken many risks in her life, other than leaving her first husband and marrying my father. She loved me, but her love was stifling; my father called it “monkey love”. She told me that her happiest time was when I was still a toddler. Yes, she allowed my father to beat me mercilessly in first grade. She did not like it, but never interfered. Of course, after a while the beatings stopped, my hyperactive misbehaving has stopped. Corporal punishment was commonplace for boys who misbehaved in school.

My Grandmother with her other grand kids Klari (left) and Judit (right)

My Grandmother with my cousin Judit and her husband. (The fourth person is unknown)

***


Chapter Three

On a warm spring day, we gazed through the wide-open window of our apartment. We lived on the top floor of the 3rd story building. Below us, Gypsy families were going to the district court, the men walking ahead, while the women followed, arguing loudly, dressed in their traditional colorful outfits.

“Yes, duis, trin, sistar, parchen, jol, estér, ostor, nébel, esden,” my grandmother counted from one to ten in the Romani language.

Most Hungarians were distrustful of the Roma6, but under the Socialist system, they were protected. Certainly, we were not interested in their culture and language - this sounded like a lot of gibberish to me, but how did she remember? She was eighty-five.

6As they now call them per EU mandate

My grandmother frequently reminisced about growing up with the Gypsies on the estate where her father had worked. She always talked about them. My great-grandfather was the manager of the estate, and the Gypsies were day laborers in the fields. They worked hard, and their kids played with my grandmother. She spoke of them fondly.

From the age of four until I was thirteen, I was left in my grandmother’s care. She was a mystifying, curious old lady with impeccable manners. I never saw her angry or upset or even worried. She had an amazing power of will that, to a young boy, seemed on the verge of mystical.

My grandmother had a hard life, lost some of her children, lived through some ugly times - even the Great Depression, but those harsh events, in contrast to the effects they had on my father, had left little mark on her. According to my mother, she was the most balanced person she ever met.

Grandma told me that in her youth, her nickname was Hexe Blonde (Blond Witch in German), presumably for her bewitching personality.

She often spoke of her childhood. One time she had a serious accident and could have died, but a fluke happenstance saved her life. As children, they were playing outside and one child threw a rusty metal disk up in the air and it landed on my Grandma’s head, she could have died if she did not cover her head with her hands. Her fingers were almost severed but she did not suffer head injury. She also told me that much later as an adult she almost died from influenza, but somehow she recovered.

Grandma never preached or lectured, but she could comfort me without words. She spoke little, but possessed a big heart. The woman had lived through two world wars, and God knows what else. To this day, I regret that I was so young when she was around and did not think to ask her more questions about her life.

When I was around five years old, my grandmother was already in her mid-eighties, but didn’t look her age, and barely broke a sweat when we walked two miles to Margit Island7.

7Margitsziget is an island on the river Danube; some call it “Central Park” of Budapest.

We were not a religious family, but as my grandmother explained, “The only important thing in the Bible was Jesus’ life and deeds and the Lord’s prayer.” My father was an atheist, but from a Protestant family, and my mother’s side were all Roman Catholic. By the old custom, I inherited my father’s name and religion. I was baptized but never received my confirmation. I often wondered what that made me. Officially, I was a pagan, I suppose. Nobody expressed concern, though, as back in those days, we were in a Communist country filled with secretly religious people. Officially, religion was a taboo, a vice like opium, so naturally most of the common people wanted it. It was reverse psychology.

She also repeatedly chided me, “Boy, never obsess about anything in this life. Just wish it in secret, because the more you want something, the more it will elude you.”

Grandma had five children, and when times were harsh during and after the war, there wasn’t enough food on the table. She sent two of her daughters, my mother included, to stay in Holland with a loving and charitable family. At one point, the Dutch family wanted to adopt the girls, and my grandmother said yes if the girls agreed to it. My mother and her sister were three or four years old, perhaps. Of course, they said no. My mother later confessed this to me and how upset she was for years that her own mother would give her up so easily.

Life always comes down to choices. Often they are difficult ones. If my mother had been adopted and lived in Holland for the rest of her life, I would have never been born. It never happened, yet the intent was there. My grandma had let them choose, but she wasn’t attached to anything too much. I guess since she had no attachments and no expectations, she was never disappointed.

Grandma lived to be ninety-nine. She passed on when I was nineteen from old age. She was bedridden and weak when she died living in a dingy little room in our flat for about a year, but never complained.

When my grandmother was dying, nobody lifted a finger. Bozsi would not, even though she was perhaps the favorite. Klara had a legitimate grudge for having been put into foster care. Finally, it was my mother who forgave all and was burdened with her mother’s decline which lasted nine long months. This was the same time I had to move out.

Of course, I visited her room, but I was filled with the hormones of an nineteen-year-old, along with such grief and sadness that I didn’t visit with her as often as I should have. I saw her for the last time just a few weeks before she finally died, and I found myself angry at her for clinging to life. I suppose I was chiefly angry because she was about to leave me, and I could do nothing about it. The helplessness of it was the most painful part of the long, slow decline.

I was never big on saying goodbye, and at one point angrily asked her, with tears in my eyes, “Why can’t you just die?” She never answered as if she had not heard me. I think she was someplace else. She wasn’t afraid to die; I’m sure of that.

After my grandma’s passing, things became a little better for all of us. Eventually, I moved back home, and things were good for a while.

My Block (top floor)

My grandma and me (both in raincoats) with the neighbors in our block (from left to right) on Margaret Island.

Skinny me in the middle, summer vacationing at Lake Balaton. After finishing my sophomore year. At the screening for Tuberculosis I have turned up positive.

***


Chapter Four

I had a marvelous, almost magical, time as a child despite of all the hardship we had to endure.

Perhaps I was a Taoist before I even knew what that meant. I am not saying I understand it all, but the main tenets of no interference , hands off parenting and loving and respecting Mother Nature was with me ever since I was born.

As a toddler, I had vivid dreams of having weird abilities such as flight, even soaring the skies, in my recurring dreams. Later, I wondered if I indeed had out-of-body experiences as a child.

Later, I also experienced episodes that are indescribable. It appeared that time had changed somehow, and all I had to do was to stare at the wall, see it slow down and eventually stop. These episodes came and went, lasting maybe a few minutes. The first time this episode occurred, it scared me, but eventually I knew that it would stop, and there was nothing unpleasant about it. Finally, the episodes subsided, and I have never had them as an adult.

Because of my father’s gambling, my mother had to be frugal, but my necessities were always met. Of course, I yearned for things my friends and peers had, but deep down I realized that having a normal functional family would have compensated for all the material things I never had. But I missed out on both. Occasionally, my mother had angry outbursts towards my father who gambled away maybe half his income. She also managed to drag up old grudges that happened many years ago. My father usually kept to himself, but my mother was not above waking him up (and everybody else) at three in the morning.

As a nature lover, I wanted to be a biologist, then later a zoologist because of my fondness for animals, especially cats.

Despite the lack of harmony at home, I would have been much happier if I’d had a cat growing up

Instead, we had a dog who stayed with us for a few months, until one day she was gone. My mother, the neurotic germaphobe, decided that somehow it was unclean for us to have that dog even though everybody loved her. Also, I desperately wanted a bicycle, but because of either our financial situation, or as my mother claimed, the “crazy drivers in the city”, I would never get my wish. I know now as I am writing this that cats can be comfort animals for those suffering from anxiety or mood disorders.

To compensate for being the only child, and to accommodate her friends, Mother looked after other kids who she expected me to play with. I, of course, resented that, and never had close friendships with any of those kids. Still, I was not alone. There was one girl, Agi, who was epileptic and looked a little funny. She was not popular because she was different. Other kids called her a retard behind her back. Of course, I was not glad when she was forced upon me, but I managed to behave, most of the time.

As far as sports, I tried a few, but showed no real aptitude in any of them. I played tennis in the Margaret Island tennis club, loved swimming and basketball. Because of my height, I had made it into the school basketball team, but tuberculosis stopped me.

I cannot recall my exact age when my father decided to teach me the moves and minimal concepts of chess. I must have been eight or nine years old.

He never explained strategy, but as a child, I started playing and even joining chess clubs in Budapest. Chess is a huge national pastime in Hungary, second only to Russia, the land of chess masters. Playing with my father was exasperating because he was slow. We did not use a clock since we did not have one.

As I said before, I wanted to become a biologist first and later a fine art painter. I loved animals, nature and the sun. In those days, I was not sure of the distinction of a zoologist or biologist and I vacillated between. I loved being outdoors, as I took long walks on Margaret Island and stayed at the public Strand Palatinusz. Occasionally during summer vacation, Mother, and I stayed at Lake Balaton, where I fished and playing with the aquatic life, such as frogs. Frequently, I had severe sunburns from being outdoors during the hot summer days. My father was never with us.

I was an Anglophile, even as a toddler. I had a kooky obsession with canes, hats, and cats. When my grandmother took me to the park on Margaret Island, the other park visitors gave me their canes and hats to play with. They were amused. Eventually everybody got to know me and had fun.

Sex obsessed and repulsed by my body during puberty, my first orgasm was involuntary. I was swimming underwater and ogled the young girls swimming nearby. Without touching myself, only by visual stimulus, I had an orgasm. I did not understand what was happening and almost drowned.

I hated my body. I wasn’t muscular or well built. In fact, one time a doctor casually told us that I was also predisposed to weight gain in my later years after only glancing at me while I was naked. Unfortunately, his diagnosis turned out to be prophetic.

I also suffered from excessive perspiration caused by humidity and sometimes stress.

Of course, because of our finances, we did not have a TV during my impressionable years. By default, I voraciously read the novels of Rudyard Kipling, James Fenimore Cooper, Jules Verne and The Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts, as I was attracted to anything English.

The other obsession I had was English rock music.I have listened to Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Jesus Christ, Superstar all the time.

In 1975, my friend and I went to see a movie that was memorable. It was the Monty Python and the Holy Grail. From that moment on I was transformed into an avid fan of Monty Python. Their wacky sense of humor was unique and completely resonated with me.]

One of my favorite character from the Holy Grail was Tim the Enchanter.

While many people looked at Life of Brian as sacrilegious, I loved it. It made me laugh and that was enough for me. I never tried to explain the symbolism of why they made the movie. Clerics and conservative culture warriors take life and themselves way too seriously.

The other comedy that we boys loved so much was the Great Race with Jack Lemmon. The humor and acting was different from Monty Python but the boys rehashed scenes from that movie thus reliving the movie again. I cannot count how many times I have seen these movies.

My sexual awakening was a rocky road filled with anxiety and lust.

I wasn’t bad to look at as a young boy. I had nice, almost effeminate features with big, expressive eyes. I was introverted and shy in my youth.

I had a love/hate relationship with my penis. I fondled it all the time, but at the same time I was embarrassed and ashamed about the size of it. My father remarked once that I was not going to have a “strong sex life.”

When I was prepubescent, Father had to show me something about my penis, specifically how to pull the foreskin up, which as a young boy was rather painful.

He said it was for my own good and called it a goy circumcision. This was old country hygiene without the cutting part. Then for some reason, he decided to further illuminate me by explaining, “There are two kinds of penises just like there are two kinds of sausage; one is flesh, and the other is blood. The flesh kind is big and almost always erect. The blood type is usually smaller.” I never forget those words, of course I asked no further due to my embarrassment.

In the gymnasium once, the other boys caught me naked in the shower, and teased me. I was never bullied afterwards, but ever since that incident I am careful not to shower in public.

My exposure to Hungarian literature was placed on the back burner as I focused on my English studies. In the beginning of my junior year of Gymnasium, doctors tested everybody in school for tuberculosis, and I had come up positive. I had to attend a special school near the sanatorium where I stayed for almost a whole year.

Next to my bed in the sanatorium was a little fellow from the countryside. He had a portable cassette tape player without the stereo feature we all have nowadays.

“Psst, psst, do you want to hear something great?” Teens must share their music; it’s part of pop culture, I thought. He continued with excitement in his voice, “I just recorded this number from Uriah Heap. It was titled The Magician’s Birthday. Listen,” he said as he turned on his tape player. And on it went, an elaborate and extended guitar solo with duel-like vocalists singing the tale of a magician in the dark forest. The whole song conjured up Arthurian images and spun stories of knights and damsels in distress.

I’m thankful for that little fellow; I never found out who he was, but it was great music indeed.

The music and tone of vocals showed a great drama - a showdown of sorts, between the dark and the light.

“...You cannot fight me, for I have the sword of hate.But one thing you can’t see, my answer is simplyan impenetrable fortress of love.”

Meanwhile, I had a crush on my English teacher, Anna. She was in her late 20’s, attractive, smart and friendly. The first time I saw her, I was still in bed.

I was taking some medication that made me loopy and studying was hard. I missed a great deal during that year. School was out, and she came personally to visit me and made an introduction. I was so vulnerable and pathetic, bacteria-ridden from the tuberculosis. All women seemed out of my reach.

She told me about her years in England, having had traditional English supper and a turkey stuffed with chestnuts.

In 1974, after I got better and was released from the sanatorium, I finally had a good summer. I enjoyed being home and coming back to my class. Still, being tainted by my illness, I wondered if anybody would love or kiss me. What if people thought I was a leper? Did I need to tell people about my illness? I found out that the old stigma of consumption is a notion of the past. Fortunately, my past illness never caused my love life to suffer, but other factors did. We always worry about things that never happen, and what does happen we always fail to foresee.

I was exempted from the instant compulsory military service. Although my exemption was temporary, and the military wanted their hands on me eventually, I managed to avoid service altogether. People who could get into the University ware exempted, but I knew I could never get in. My grades were not good enough, and more importantly I was a son of an ex-communist lawyer who was not in favor. College seemed hopeless, and by this time I had no idea what to do with my life. My artistic ambitions were dampened by the fact I had no real talent. My mother encouraged me and took me to an artist friend who looked over my pictures, but my father, the practical German, told me coldly that I would likely starve as an artist. In the Kadar era of “Goulash Communism”, nobody ever starved, but I heeded his advice. I had lost the creative passion. I took a summer job to earn money to buy a guitar. A friend from Gymnasium tried to teach me a little, but I probably needed some serious musical training because I lacked natural talent.

I joined a foreign language club that operated in Budapest to practice my spoken English and to meet girls. There I met Yvonne. She was about my age but attended a different Gymnasium. She had lived in Cuba where she had learned perfect Spanish and passable English too. Her father was an Engineer for the UN, thus he traveled a lot to exotic places. She had a younger brother, a little doggy, a life completely opposite to mine. Our relationship was hopeless, so naturally I fell in love.

She lived within walking distance, and for a while we could see each other regularly. We went to the Palatinusz and watched movies together. We were both virgins, but she was willing to sleep with me. One hot summer’s day, she came up to our flat. We attempted to make love, but it was so hot, and I was sweating so profusely that I just could not consummate our love. She had an orgasm, but I remained a virgin. Ashamed of what happened, I developed sexual performance anxiety and premature ejaculation complex.

In 1975, after graduating from Gymnasium, Yvonne told me that her father was starting a project in Ecuador why she would accompany him and enter medical school there. This was a perfect plan to avoid the incredibly hard entrance examination at the medical school in Budapest that most likely she had no chance to pass. After a year, she would return and get an easy transfer from a foreign school.

I was devastated. I had a premonition that our love was somehow not to be, but did not think it was going to be over this soon. Despite my gloom, I resolved to wait for her.

I wanted to fill those hours waiting for her with a job I loved. But I could not make a living at things that interested me.

I loved history, religion, literature. I did not have a good memory, but I had a keen intuition. Perhaps I should have become a priest, as theology greatly interested me.

After I graduated from the Gymnasium, I suffered a miserable last summer before adulthood as uncertainty loomed over me. It was compulsory to work as to vote as an adult. One day, I had visitors; I answered the door, and there was a man asking for me. He said that according to their records, I had not cast my ballot for the national election yet. I did not even know there was an election, but of course I did not say anything. There was only one candidate, Janos Kadar, and the citizens had to show their support. I apologized and scurried to the voting station.

My father had noticed an advertisement for a job at IBM Hungary. The position was for a computer operator, working in three shifts. He quickly typed up a cover letter and sent it off. Soon I received a reply for an interview which went rather well. The company gave me an IQ test, and I was hired. I was trained by the existing, older personnel who for some reason wanted to leave.

Suddenly, I had employment with an American company, and I was learning about computers. I felt good working for an American company. The manuals, and the operating commands were all in English. The job itself was easy, and the pay was rather generous for someone like me, right out of the Gymnasium. I no longer felt like an outsider, somebody who could not get into any University.

I worked for a company who had considered all her employees as family. Every year they had a “family dinner”, a rather lavish banquet, where you could eat and drink all you wanted.

With IBM, the whole company went to Prague on the company’s dime, and I had a marvelous time drinking pilsner beer and eating spicy beer chasers with my friend and colleague, Feri. They had a trip planned every year.

Unfortunately, all that partying led me down a dark road. By 1976, I had become a binge drinker. It started during the Gymnasium years in secret but continued during my sanatorium years. Even when my medication indicated no alcohol, I still had a few here and there. I did not drink every day, but on occasions I got plastered.

Alcohol never made me happy, but at least it was a social lubricant, and I needed that. I know people who are troubled sober, but after a few drinks, they are funny, charming, and delightful, then there are the morose drunks who get uninhibited in a mean way. I was none of those. When I drank, everything became blurry, and then I would sleep. I’d guess if I was a happy drunk, I would have become an alcoholic, but this way I could quit.

I had continued my foreign language club attendance and managed to get dates. But somehow I always ended up being dumped. I was alone, and alcohol became my solace. I was still a virgin. I was not just looking for a sexual affair, I wanted a girlfriend, a soulmate, to replace Yvonne somehow. Obviously, most girls just wanted some fun. I was a shy, hopeless romantic, and in those days, there were lot of talks and hand-holding, but most girls expected me to be more aggressive. Instead, I was passive and inhibited. I was looking for an aggressive woman.

In 1977, it finally happened. Eva, who was 2 years older than me, took my virginity.

We met in the French section of the club. She was a blonde who I had my eyes on for some time. She was intelligent and sexy. We became friends and started dating. She was not from Budapest and lived in a sublet apartment, where she could not bring up visitors. I introduced her to my parents but they hated her and wanted me to dump her instantly. My mother, especially, was vehemently against me dating her, and on this rare occasion, my Father sided with my mother, which was unprecedented. She was a persona non grata at our place. By this time, I was over being a romantic fool. I wanted her, and I wanted to lose my virginity. I was even paying a small rent to stay home.

Getting married or a serious relationship was the furthest thing from my mind. This interference was not welcome, and the timing could not have been more inappropriate. I was sick of my life, sick of my bickering and interfering parents, and sick of living in Hungary.

One of my childhood friends was going through a costly paternity suit, and her mother and mine were good friends. Both women were neurotic housewives who loved to gossip and meddle. I am sure this must have been the ammunition that gave my mother anxiety.

In truth, Eva had no serious plans with me, and had no desire to live with my parents. She confided that she wished to leave Hungary and emigrate to Switzerland, where she had an aunt. One day she asked me; “Have you ever thought of ‘springboarding’ out of here” ? That was the local slang for emigrating to the West. She asked me if I felt the same way after we discussed how the Hungarian economy was about to crumble. By this time, I had moved out of my parents’ house and was living in a sublet with Eva. I had a horrendous commute to work, switching from the metro to a bus and then to another bus. The sublet was expensive, even though we split the cost. The upside was that we lived in Buda, the more desirable, hillier and greener part of the town. I have listened to her, but I was conflicted. Neither of us were ready for a serious relationship, and in addition, for me to go to a French or German speaking country was inconceivable. After all, I had put all my efforts and energies into my English studies. England was my Mecca, but I never thought of moving there.

After one more move to a closer, more convenient sublet with Eva, we soon parted, not even so much as friends. When I started visiting home, she felt I was capitulating to my parents, when in fact, I only went home to enjoy my mother’s cooking. Eva could not cook. While I enjoyed those visits and my mother’s cooking that brief period of peace came to an end

Right before retirement, at age 59, my father rekindled his old romance in Germany, and was invited to visit his old flame from Koblenz. Initially, Mother did not object, but when he had not come home after three weeks, she started worrying. He and my mother had not been intimate for the last 20 years. We were walking along the boulevard, and she was speaking nervously, talking about if Father was coming home. At that point, no matter how unreal it sounded, she resigned herself to accepting that there would only be the two of us. She told me that Father had weird preferences in lovemaking that she considered perverse and she would refuse to go along. Of course, those ready-to-do-anything German women were legendary. I was curious as to what she was referring, at but I did not press her. After all, talking about your parents’ sex life as a teen equals sudden death for sure.

Eventually, Father came back, and a true war started. Mother accused him of cheating, bringing up all the resentment she had slowly built over the years.

At home, I was hoping to receive some sign of life from Yvonne, who by this time was a medical student. Later, I found out that her entire correspondence was delivered to the wrong mailbox. I never even got to read her letters.

When Yvonne returned from abroad, we reconnected, but by this time she was dating someone she later married.

After a few attempts to find some resemblance of romance, I met a young lady at work. She was a client of IBM, and we exchanged glances. I asked her out. We started seeing each other with my parents’ blessing. By this time, Grandmother was dead, and I had moved into her little room, which was originally the servants’ quarter. But I wanted to have privacy, and wished I could just move away from my parents’ house.

Getting your own housing in Hungary was impossible at that time. Buying one was out of my reach, and getting housing from the government was hindered by huge waiting lists, with married couples with children getting first preference. Apparently, my new girlfriend’s parents had some property, thus my parents saw her as a suitable match. I liked her a lot, but we lacked that chemical sparkle.

While at IBM, I found an advertisement for an English language course in Ramsgate by the Sea, UK. I convinced my parents and my manager that I needed to attend to further my studies. Amazingly, Mother found some money so I could go. This was not my first trip abroad, but it was my first airplane flight and first time in England, the land of my dreams from childhood.

After returning from England, I could see the vast difference in the quality of life and the true pride the English had in contrast with Hungary, a poor, occupied nation that nobody considered of any importance, other than carving her up and tossing the pieces to the neighbors. I only sensed pride in being part German and working for a great company that considered me part of the family.

In the library, I have found a book depicting the stories of failed Hungarian dissidents who lived in the West, and returned like some biblical lost sheep.

By chance, I met a young man who was living in the US illegally, and his alleged experiences were negative. He said people in the US, even the 1956 Hungarian emigres were cold and exploiting him. As reverse psychology would have it, the more negativity I heard about emigrating to the West, the more I wanted to do it. I quickly discarded all of it as negative, false propaganda.

My father did not like cars as status symbols, so while lot of other families had cars our family never owned one. Despite not having a car, I yearned to be able to drive, so I enrolled in driving school. My instructor had a three-speed, on-the-dashboard transmission, old blue Opel.

I learned to drive manual shift on that car, which later proved useless, as no other cars were ever made that way.

Craving accomplishment, I had a driver’s license at last.

My mother had an acquaintance, a Hungarian woman who was a US citizen. She was working for TWA, in Frankfurt. Whenever she came to Budapest, she stayed with us; in return, she brought me Levi’s blue jeans that were highly coveted in those days. I could see that she was doing well in the West.

It was 1977, and my friend and coworker Feri found an unorganized tour of London for three nights. During my first trip to England, I only visited Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford, but never set foot in London, which was too expensive. The idea of another trip to England intrigued me. I talked to my parents and again got some money for the trip. Feri and I decided to go together; after all it was more fun with a friend.

This time, I made up my mind that I would not return. I talked to my parents, and we discussed it in detail. I explained that I had no future there, the military was still after me, and that I had better seek my fortune elsewhere as generations of sons had done so before.

They were a little sad, a little shocked, but they did not try to stop me. After all, their life had not worked out exactly as they planned. I was sure my father cursed the day that he decided to return to a Russian-occupied Budapest from West Germany.

We received all the needed visas for entry and exit.

At work, my manager even joked with me that I would not be so foolish as to stay in England, as I could never get a job like I had at IBM. Partially, she was right.

When Feri and I arrived at the hotel, I hastily made some excuse and hurriedly took a train to Croydon, the outskirts of London where the Home Office8 was. After waiting for a while, a not friendly young man invited me for an interview about my refugee status.

8UK Immigration and Visas

I was of course naive and told the truth, in hopes that being from the Eastern block would automatically qualify me as a refugee, but the facts spoke against me. I had a comfortable job and a Western passport that I used before to visit the UK. I was not persecuted or harassed, as I have never been political or a troublemaker. To make things worse, I even had a valid airplane ticket to return. So, he just smiled, offered me tea and told me to go home.

I was devastated because I had envisioned they would give me a temporary flat and some stipend after which I was hoping to find some employment and maybe enter a night school to continue my studies. London was bustling with people from her imperialist past, and they were of course all welcome. This was the same nation that with France had carved up my country and sold the remains to Stalin. Of course, after the 1956 revolution, they managed to welcome some of the people who were on the run. But in 1977, I had to go home. I had fleeting thoughts about burning my passport and airplane ticket, but that was too risky. I always wanted to know what the future held; I never did anything brave or courageous like my father. So, I went back with my luggage in my hands to the hotel. Somehow I managed to make up some story for Feri, who was rather suspicious of my whereabouts. We had some dinner and a few drinks together, and next morning we boarded the airplane for home.

After our trip, when I expressed pro-Western opinions, Feri got testy. It is clear to me now that he did not want to lose me as friend. I know now that he would never have betrayed me. His family was only him and his mother; leaving was not an option for him.

My failure to stay in England made me rehash the events. What did I do wrong? Why did not I wait and report later at the home office, or why wouldn’t I go to a Hungarian church and ask for help? I was depressed. I even told my girlfriend about it, undoubtedly hurting her feelings. I did not say anything specific, but I was pining for England as soon as I got home.

A few months passed, and Mother and I decided to go to Yugoslavia and enjoy the seaside. I did not say anything, but I made up my mind not to return. Our destination was Dubrovnik, a southern part of the seaside of Yugoslavia from which point we took a cruise north. My goal was to travel to the northernmost part and cross the border into Italy.

It was agonizing and deceitful. I could not bear to say goodbye to Mother as I knew she would talk me out of it. I was guilt ridden even before I had done the deed. I took some of our money, left her some, and with a little bag on my shoulder and the clothes on my back, I vanished. The next thing I remembered, I was buying a one-way bus ticket to Rijeka. When the bus stopped in Split, I stayed there one night and wrote a postcard to her address at the resort where we were staying. I apologized and told her not to worry. Then, I walked around Split, which is a gorgeous seaside town, once a domicile to the Roman Emperor Diocletian. To take my mind off things and to fall asleep, I went to watch the movie King Kong.

My next stop was Rijeka. I was closer to Italy, but still I had no idea how to cross. I was low on money and could not afford food other than milk and bread. Wondering around Rijeka, I noticed a Catholic church and went inside. As soon as I stood there among the familiar catholic decor, strong, and mixed emotions came over me, and I started crying. I was happy and sad at the same time. I felt I was a wayward son for leaving my mother like that, but I was happy that I finally did something to improve my chances in life. I was thinking of my deeply religious and Catholic grandmother and my own mother who I had abandoned for good.

Mother and I

***


Chapter Five

Finally, I found a little town near the border of Yugoslavia and Italy and took the local bus there. I knew that my chances were better at night, but I could not wait; there was nothing for me to do. I could not sleep; I was too anxious. I decided to head for the border at daylight, darting from bush to bush. I was making my way towards Trieste. It was then when I heard men calling out. I froze and instinctively raised my hands. They were the border guards. I was taken into custody and jailed. In jail, there was a man who spoke decent English who had lived in Australia but was deported for theft. He admitted that he was romancing women in Sydney at the beach and meanwhile, during the act, stealing their purses and money. He was unhappy back in Yugoslavia and was determined to make it back somehow. Insurmountable as it seemed, I wished him luck.

When I was interrogated by the magistrate about being at the border, heading toward Trieste, I answered as any stupid young person in trouble would have.

“I was going to Trieste to shop,” I said to my buddy, the translator. He then translated to the magistrate. The magistrate replied to him, and he translated to me, “I will ask one more time, and if you keep up your idiotic stand, we shall transport you in handcuffs to the Hungarian border. Is that clear? Now, why were you going to Trieste? Do you wish to go to Canada or America?” He asked as if he was trying help me answer.

“Yes,” I said, looking remorseful and scared getting sent back to the Hungarian border. “I wish to go to the US or Canada, sir.”

He looked at me, pleased. “Eight days,” he said, announcing the length of my jail time.

Later, I found out that sentence was the first offense for smugglers and idiots like me who wished to leave their motherland.

I was nervous, but I assumed that upon my time served, they would just let me out. Indeed that was the case; they told me to get on the train and head home. During my incarceration, I learned two things - how to fight hunger and how to cross property like a professional Yugoslav smuggler.


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