Temptation from the West

June 11, 2008
By Bethany Stobbe, Arlington, MA

I released the door, and it slammed shut. The wind from the open window washed across my face as I let out my breath. Staring at the swaying curtain, I caught my body moving slightly with the fabric. A glance behind me assured my tired mind and body that the bed was right behind me. I wilted down onto the hard hotel bed. My eyes focused on the swirling patterns on the ceiling, but I quickly shut my lids as the curves started to oscillate into ocean waves. I could feel hot streaks of liquid squeezing out of my clamped eyes and rolling down my cheeks into my ears. Turning onto my stomach, I began to pound the pillows with my fists.

What am I doing? Viorica, you are crazy—no wait, I have a plan. I’m organized, and I know what I am doing next. How is this all supposed to work out? It’s going to fail. I have been thinking about every detail for months now. This is my dream. Relax. I don’t even speak the language well. They all talk too fast. They want to help me learn; they’ll be patient; they understand. This is my American dream.

My thoughts battled back and forth. I felt like Gollum, that ugly little character whom I had grown to love. I first saw him in the theatre in Chisinau. Surrounded by popcorn munchers, smooching lovers, snoring grandfathers, and scared kids, I realized that the torn guide created by Tolkien was very similar to me. As I rebelled against the perfect person I was becoming, Gollum, a computer animated freak, came to life inside of me. When I saw him fall to his death in Mount Doom, my heart screamed in agony. His life ended in tragedy. Is there any hope for me?

I pushed my shoes off and kicked them over the edge of the bed. I needed to get up and put on my pajamas, but I soon gave up the fight. Good-night.

Sometime early in the morning I awoke and rose to change. I flung off my shirt and pants and pulled my pjs out of my suitcase. I fumbled around with them in the dark trying to find which way was up. The warm cocoon of cotton surrounded me, and I slid back into bed. I heard the accelerating noise of airplanes taking off. People clomped by in the hallway and talked loudly. The room was now still, and the curtain hung limp, faintly outlined by the moon’s reflections.

Now was the time for men and women to lie in bed and mourn over all the things they should have done and didn’t, as well as all the things they shouldn’t have done, but did. My list was long, and I felt smothered by guilt. I shouldn’t even be here in the hotel room. I don’t belong here in an airport in Paris planning to travel to America. I belong in Moldova, in Chisinau.

I should have listened to my friends when they said to me, “Viorica, don’t go. You are hurting yourself. You will be lost there in America. You won’t be needed, really needed. We need you here in Moldova. We need your ability to speak English, your leadership, your confidence, your exuberance, your creativity.”

I should not have listened to the soft, silky, irritated voice in my head, “Don’t listen to them. They don’t really care about you. They just want to use you. They need to grow up and figure out how to do it on their own. You will never have a chance to rise here. You will hit the ceiling of poverty which clings over Moldovan villagers. Take this opportunity to get out while it is available. Don’t look back. You won’t regret it if you leave. You will be able to forget all of them and start a new, fulfilling life in America.”

I clutched my head and moaned in agony. I am being torn apart. Can I change my mind once again? Two worlds call my name and both voices are loud. One world calls in Romanian, the other in English. One world is still trying to separate itself from the Soviet Union which held it in a strangling grasp for so long, the other is the earth’s most powerful country. One offers me endless ministry opportunities, many places to help hurting people. The other, well, the other country offers the same, but it offers me money as well. It gives me a chance to rise and become someone who has chances, opportunities. I can never escape poverty in my old country, my birthplace, my homeland. In my adopted country, I am offered a life where even the poor live with enough food, sturdy shelter, and clean clothes.

I know so many men and women who would pay whatever price asked of them, if they had the money, to have the chance being handed to me. They would leave Moldova with not even a glance over their shoulder and no tears. Why am I different? Is it because I know I am doing the wrong thing? Deep down do I know I am making the wrong choice?

No! No! Oh, this is exhausting. I just want to go back to sleep, sleep that will last forever. I don’t want to face life. My name is Viorica. But who is this person that I am becoming? My thoughts won’t straighten out. Whenever I try to lie still, my brain runs off in a million directions. I picture the medieval torture of a man being strung between four horses who gallop off in separate directions. His torn pieces fly into the wind. His dying screams fade quickly, yet before they go, they tear a hole in the galaxy.

That is enough. I don’t want to be torn apart. I will get a hold of myself.

Planes of light filtered into the room on either side of the curtain. Ahh! Planes—what time is it? Have I missed my flight yet? A glance at my cell phone calmed the panic. It was only
8 am; I had several hours until my flight. I should be in America now. If that flight hadn’t been cancelled, I wouldn’t have had this extra day to mull over the whole course of my life. Good thing the airline had to put me up in a hotel room. That was a long night. Brains are funny things that never seem to rest. They just keep plowing on even when you scream at them to take a break!

Maybe it’s fate, God, whatever, that made me stop here. It all seemed so clear when I was packing in Chisinau, when I bought my tickets, when I found a roommate and an apartment in the US, even when I said goodbye to my tearful friends. Get out, take the chance, that was all my mind thought. Now, though, all I can think of are those faces.

Little girls in buzz cuts because of the lice. Little boys wearing tennis shoes with holes right through the soles. Hectic days of helping kids find their other sock, their hair bow. The faces belong to children in orphanages all over Moldova. And then another child comes to my mind.

She stands staring curiously at the Americans. She peers up through distraught eyes at a huge brick orphanage. She is crying in a room full of twin beds with pink coverlets. She is making a promise. What is that promise? I don’t want to think about it. I know that if I remember I will realize I am making a mistake. I will find out what I need to do. No, I don’t want to remember. It will change my life. My plans will be dashed to the ground. My gorgeous stained glass window will fall apart into a meaningless pattern of colored glass.

The echo fills my head, “Thank you, God, for these Americans who were willing to give this package to me with the coat that I needed. And, dear God, please let me grow up to give packages to other children some day. Let me help other people who need to be cared for, too.” A little girl feeling the hurt seep into her life. And her joy is crowded out. It almost goes out like a candle wavering in the wind. But a coat, a blue coat, protects the candle. The little girl’s soul is warmed and finds new hope and new joy.

Where, oh where, did that little girl go? Somewhere along the way from little girl to young woman she must have gotten lost. Something happened that made me focus my life totally on me. I lost my love for serving others. And that was that. Can I ever again feel the joy that comes from reaching a helping hand to the hurting people around me?

I popped out of bed and rummaged in my overnight bag. A rumpled T-shirt and jeans gradually released themselves from the tangle. I got dressed and went to look in the mirror. Hmmm…I didn’t look my worst, but I had looked better. My hair is the type that stays untangled even in a hurricane. My eyes looked subdued, like those of a brown cow placidly chewing her cud. I can’t stand makeup or else I have just never acquired the habit of slathering it across my face. I figure, if people don’t like the way I look without makeup, then I don’t need them as friends anyways. I grabbed the scratchy hotel washcloth, soaked it, and scrubbed my face vigorously. Maybe that will help me feel more awake than I look right now.

Grabbing my plane ticket, room card, and pocketbook, I headed out the door. I took a moment to gaze from the balcony at all the people in the lobby. Men and women were scurrying in every direction. Bell boys eagerly grabbed at luggage. Little children clung tenuously to their parents’ hands. After a search, I found the elevator. I had been too tired last night to take much note of my surroundings. I had to press the little button several times to make it light up, but finally the elevator came. Walking down the hallway to the entrance, I observed the families, businessmen, and couples who made up this hotel’s population. The jumble of voices washed over me, and I didn’t really understand most of it anyways. I do know some French, but this was a multi-national hotel. Some English drifted around me, and glancing around, I found I tried to pick out the Americans. Then my mind began racing again. Not now, not so soon.

The rotating door stopped its whirling life for a moment before I pushed my way through, and then I was out in the bright sunshine. People rushed in both directions with grim expressions on their tired faces. As I walked along the sidewalk toward a nearby café, I watched their eyes. Some people stared boldly back at me, others guiltily dropped their gaze to the parade of shoes moving along the dirty concrete. I saw brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes; sad eyes, joyful eyes, angry eyes, defeated eyes; eyes that were dull, conquered, crying, laughing, shouting, exultant.

I found an empty table on the sidewalk outside the café and adjusted the chair, so I could watch the people walking by. As I thought more about how wonderfully complex the eye itself is, my mind wandered back to Gollum with his huge eyes. “Two big round pale eyes”—that’s how they are described in The Hobbit. Do my eyes look like that? Oh, right now I wish Gandalf could just come along and say, “Poof! You are Sam now, a loyal and loving hobbit. You are no longer Gollum, the sneaky, treacherous, torn-apart animal.” But Gandalf couldn’t do that for the real Gollum, so I suppose he can’t do it for me either.

“Vous desirez?” the waiter asks as he wends his way through the maze of tables and chairs to my chosen corner.

“Je voudrais un jus d’orange et un croissant, te rog, um, i mean, s’il vous plait.” Hmmm, I can’t even keep French and Romanian separated. I need to pay more attention to my words.

I thought I had an epiphany back in that hotel room, yet here in the sunshine with a human highway rushing by my resting place, my mind is torn again. A picture fills my mind of a little girl in a pea green jacket holding a sky blue coat with white fur around the hood. The expression on her face is one of pure ecstasy. How can a coat make a little girl so happy? I have to keep searching.

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