Our Borders: A Job Well Done (1986 CE)

It was a beautiful afternoon at the end of the summer in Transylvania, but Radu Codrescu, 24, and his friend, Iulian, didn’t have eyes for the tawny hues along the train tracks. They sat in an empty freight car chugging on its way from Arad to Oradea, and waited for the right spot to jump off, where the train tracks and the Romanian-Hungarian border were only two hundred meters apart. Continue reading

Our Borders: Doing Time (1984), Part 2

“You didn’t kill him,” the prison commander told Radu Codrescu on that July afternoon in 1984. “You only broke his teeth and his ego.”

The man in charge with running the Popa Şapcă jail in Timişoara leafed through a file labeled Codrescu as Radu stood, handcuffed, in front of his desk and described what had happened that morning at the concrete factory in Beregsău. Radu was shaken, but otherwise unharmed, even though he had just assaulted a prisoner-at-large. Continue reading

Our Borders: Doing Time (1984), Part 1

They stood in front of each other, bars between them. Radu listened and didn’t say much. They had only fifteen minutes. Florina said that she’d gone to the militia on a moment’s impulse, a stupid thing to do, yes, but she’d informed on Radu because she’d been afraid, afraid that they wouldn’t see each other ever again, because he would’ve been locked out, shot dead, or locked in, but she never wanted to hurt him, she thought he’d only get a warning and be sent home, not beaten up and almost killed, because she hadn’t known how vicious the border patrol could be, no, the people they’d met at Mangalia hadn’t been too hard on them after all, and she didn’t mean to tell the militiamen all she’d told them, but they threatened her family and… Radu listened and didn’t say much. He had trusted her. Why hadn’t she trusted him too, that he would’ve found a way for them to be together on the outside? Continue reading

A Killer Detail: Breaking Eggs

When a character in a historical novel looks out the window—well, what kind of window is that? Does it have shutters or panes, is it transparent or opaque, is there a window at all? Soon after I began to work on my historical novel, questions like this sent me on days-long quests before I could move my characters forward. Sometimes I just had to make an educated guess and move on, hoping I’d find the exact answer later, during rewrite. Many of those vital details were lost throughout history because contemporary people didn’t think it was worth recording such minutia, the way we don’t paint detailed pictures of the subway in today’s novels. But those are the details that make all the difference now between a realistic historical setting and a staged one. Continue reading

Our Borders: Nineteen Eighty-Four

I stood on the windy bluff above the Danube, at the foot of the monument. My heart was racing. What if I forgot the words?

Galaţi, Romania, 1984

Galaţi, Romania, 1984

My mother had bought my outfit weeks before that cloudy autumn day. The polyester clothes smelled like new toys: the white shirt, the black pleated skirt, the white knee-length socks. The colorful Romanian coat-of-arms adorned the buckle of my brown plastic belt, and also the blue rectangular piece of cloth sewn on my left sleeve, and the small badge pinned on my shirt. The night before, my father had shined my black leather shoes. My mother had starched my white pompons and fastened them to my white plastic headband. That morning, she put a transparent plastic ring in my pocket and a folded red scarf in my backpack. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 3

Photo by Mikhail Chizhevsky (2005) - Wikipedia

Bulker at sunset
Photo by Mikhail Chizhevsky (2005) – Wikipedia

Radu Codrescu, his wife, Florina, and their friend Iulian were safe for the moment on board Sunshine, a Kuwaiti-owned handysize coal bulker operated by a Bulgarian crew. But if Captain Nicolai reached his cabin and called the Romanian border authorities in Mangalia, things were going to change for the three fugitives. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 2

Night came early on Sunday, August 21, 1983. Somewhere in the middle of a stormy Black Sea, three Romanian fugitives—Radu Codrescu, Florina, his wife, and Iulian, their friend—held onto the sides of their deflated orange boat, riding up and down strong waves, wind buffeting their faces, dark skies closing down on them. They called to each other, laughing and saying silly things to each other, trying to stay together and alive. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 1

I was six years old in 1983 and I was living in Galaţi, Romania. One winter afternoon, I was standing with my father in line at the grocery store, packed between dark, heavy woolen coats. Neon lights buzzed and flickered above our heads. The woman behind the counter wore woolen fingerless gloves and a sleeveless jacket over her white uniform. Behind her, stacked plastic crates, most of them empty. We were far down the winding line, but I could smell the bread. My stomach rumbled. Continue reading

Our Borders: Radu’s First Escape Attempt (1982)

I first met Radu Codrescu (name changed for privacy reasons) in 2001 in Redmond, Washington, soon after I started my software developer job at Microsoft. Radu also worked for Microsoft, but we didn’t meet there. Some friends introduced us down an aisle at a grocery store. Radu was tall and athletic, a middle-aged man with graying hair and a smile that seemed to say that there was no problem in the world he couldn’t solve. At first I assumed that Radu had arrived in the U.S. the way I had, with an H1B work visa and a plane ticket from Romania bought by Microsoft. But soon I learned that his journey to the States had been a long and dangerous trek. In 2002, we sat down for a series of interviews about Radu’s past. By then, just one year into my career at Microsoft, I had started to explore journalism as a hobby. Radu and I continued our conversations in 2006 and in 2013. Continue reading