I hurt Nata.
Sammy is troubled again. It is not really guilt. It is sort of a pre-guilt. It is a sadness and a desire to kiss the wounds he made to make them better. If I had to name it, the emotion is closer to profound regret.
He is thinking about the things Charlie remembers. More and more, the walls have become permeable, and information moves between the parts—and then needs to be re-understood from a different perspective.
It would be easy to tell him that someone forced him to the things that he—Charlie, I, whoever you want to say—did, but I’m coming to realize that is not entirely true. When you are very small, and emotions are brought up in you—when you feel very sad or very frustrated or very frightened—then you lose control of your thinking mind. You move on instinct. And sometimes this works out for the best and sometimes it doesn’t.
When I was very small, I hurt Natalya because someone told me to and because I felt overwhelmingly afraid, and the fear moved me towards doing what I was told.
But at some point that was no longer true for me. My choices were constrained, but I was making choices. I don’t know when that happened. I don’t think it’s probably possible to analyze things so clearly that I can know that.
It is also clear that the idea of resistance crossed my mind. The summer before Natalya died, I read Civil Disobedience, and anyway, like most American children, I was steeped in the ethos of courageous, individual non-cooperation as a form of warfare.
This, it turns out, is a myth. Rosa Parks did not spontaneously decide to refuse to give up her seat. It was organized. We somehow prefer to believe she was an uneducated seamstress fed up with The Man, but she was not. She was educated, she was politically involved, and her role in sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a long time in the making.
For the most part, you need to work with other people to make non-violent resistance work. Otherwise, you might become a hero, but you will be a dead hero. You will be a hero that gets nothing done.
I knew I could refuse to hurt Natalya. I also knew that it wouldn’t help if I did that. I would suffer, or she would suffer, but one or both of us would suffer more. The only winner might be my conscience, which could then say clearly and without hesitation: I did not do this. What happened now was not because of me. It was because of them.
I think I would have preferred to be a dead hero who gets nothing done. It seems easier on the conscience to stand up and do the right thing and consequences be damned. It would probably suit my temperament better too.
But that would be my flavour of ice cream, and I wasn’t an individual. I was a member of a collective. The collective preferred that we both live, that we be as unhurt as possible, and that we not be separated for as long as possible.
And so that is what I worked towards. It wasn’t maybe my ideal situation, but it was a compromise that could, with some massive dissociation, be lived with. For both of us.