She was skinny and blonde and kind of pretty. For this 12 year old to even think so must have meant that she was actually, beautiful.
She lived with her parents on the first floor of a six-family house at the end of an alley across from the playground. Her backyard was the parking lot of the A&P where, in the summer, we’d ride our bikes on weekends and in the winter become Kings of the Mountain atop piles of plowed snow. She never joined in our games, but would sometimes watch through the chain link fence that separated her from us.
We spoke only once. A bunch of us kids had ventured down the alley where she was sitting on the porch. I remember the house being painted green – jail-house green I would think as, years later, I patrolled past the old neighborhood and that house – that was the reminder of my shame.
“My parents work and I can’t leave the house”, she told us. “Both parents?” I asked. “Yes, both”. I had never heard of both parents working before. My dad worked two jobs, but my mother was always home. The same with almost all of the other kids, too. This was odd, I thought. But, not as odd as the way she spoke. There was something different in the way she said her words. She certainly wasn’t Irish, or French or Italian or Hungarian or Puerto Rican. I knew those accents. “Where are you from”, I asked. “Russia”, she answered.
If she had suddenly struck me with a baseball bat her answer could not have shocked or frightened me more. Russians were bad, I knew. We had drills in school preparing for the Russians to attack us with bombs. The government said they were bad. They killed people and starved them and didn’t believe in God. They were spies. And my eldest brother was at that very moment stationed in Germany protecting us from…The Russians. And they thought differently than we did. And, and…
“You’re a Commie”, I blurted. “No”, she said, “We got out”. It didn’t matter. She was a Russian. A spy. I just knew it. We all ran. And left that little girl sitting alone on those green steps of her new home, in the land of The Free. In today’s parlance, she was Cancelled.
Her name was, I think, Christine. Or, perhaps, Kristina. She was, after all, A Russian. If I could only do it all over. But, I can’t. And, the thing is, despite my fear, my sheer ignorance – I knew better. And that is the cause of the shame that still, to this day, haunts me. I knew better.
If thoughts could fly through the air, mine would somehow reach Kristina and she would know that I was and still am, sorry.
And, if thoughts could fly through the air, I would send them out to anyone thinking of acting as foolishly and hurtfully as did I those many years ago. Be Kind. The memory of our actions and of those we Cancel or Dox today may haunt us for a long time to come.