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That summer I was unable to settle down to anything. My parents noticed it, my friends noticed it, although I tried to hide it.
I was always waiting for Zygmunt’s letters. One day my parents started to ask me questions. (The talk which follows is copied from my old diary).
“Are you longing after Stach?”
They gave me peace but not for long. The questions began again.
“Do you know him well?”
Father replied quietly but seriously. “We have the impression that you treat him differently from the others. Your decision about marriage is very important, maybe the most important in your life. Be assured we will never forbid you or interfere with your decision. But allow us to tell you our opinion of your choice. You have not decided yet yourself. Do not decide on the spur of the moment. We are neither against Kruszewski nor for him, as we do not know him at all. One day you might marry him or someone else. Try not to make a mistake in your choice. A good marriage is the foundation of happiness. I know better than you think. I know that for you an ill-matched marriage would be a disaster. It would not only ruin your life but probably his too.”
After that we did not speak any more about Zygmunt. Each day I wrote passionate letters full of love and feeling….and tore them up and burned them. Our letters were frequent, polite. In the beginning his were nice and kind. Later on they started to sound just polite. At that time he changed from law to diplomatic service and started to work in Germany, Stettin. He told me all the details explaining that as his future wife it would affect me too. My replies became barely polite, just like an aunty would write to her cousin! I did not want him to think that I needed him, that he had some ‘moral obligations’. I did not want his sympathy or pity. I wanted his love – all or nothing. No compromise.
I tried to rationalise with myself. Why did I want him and not someone else? He was good looking, but Vincent was better looking, others had better positions, better prospects etc etc. All this reasoning proved to me that my feelings towards him were stronger than towards others. Was it love? Who knows? Stach and Czes would have made better husbands but I did not want them. I did not care about position, I did not care that he was only a public servant, nor that financially others were better off than him. I did not want the others. Why? Why him? Was that love? I did not care for this type of love. It was so complicated! I did not want to think abut it, I would have liked to forget it even. The summer of 1938 was full of activities – sailing, swimming, dancing, kissing passionately, or rushing to Karmelowo to supervise the farming. My parents did not interfere at all. They left me to do my own battle.
I had an unpleasant experience in Karmelowo. We had a new administrator, a Russian man in charge. In the beginning he was very polite, then he pretended to falling love with me, then he tried to rape me, then he threatened to kill himself if I would not marry him! I told it all to Stach and Czes. We decided that my next meeting with him should have witnesses – Stach and Czes. First he spoke about love, then about passion, then about suicide and took out his revolver. He said that if he could not have me, nobody else would – he would kill me and then himself. Stach and Czes appeared and threatened him with the police. He went, still threatening. I felt awful although Stach and Czes told me I should feel like the heroine, but I did not. Father sacked him and became the administrator of Karmelowo. I think I did quite a decent job of it. I am quite sure he never loved me, he just wanted to marry someone with a good farm.
Come autumn, conservatorium and everything as before with only one exception – father did not accompany me anymore to the balls. I was free to do what I wanted. Czes invited me to go to his farm for Xmas, I declined without giving an explanation and he was hurt. Stach wanted to spend Xmas with me and I told him that I had a letter from Z.K. – he might come for Xmas on his way home to Wilna. Stach was quiet for a long time and then he said: “I would like to see him. Do not be afraid, there will be no drama. I don’t even want to talk to him, I simply would like to see him. Remember… don’t ever forget….the only thing I truly want is your happiness.”
My darling Stach. No one could be as good as him!
One day, when sitting in the dentists waiting room, a Mrs Cerkulienie – I saw Zygmunt coming in! Everyone looked at the newcomer, everyone listened, especially as we started to talk in Polish. He told me he had a toothache and would like to see the dentist too. Just then I was called in and he followed me. The cheek! Without an appointment! I tried to explain that he had toothache and was on his way to Wilna. She, who knew me from childhood, told me to shut up and sit down.
When my mouth was open and full of cotton wool, I heard him say that he was my fiancé, that he had a bad toothache and that he hoped she might be able to help him.
Part of me wanted to yell that he was not my fiancé, let his teeth rot, the sneaky brute, but part was happy and kept quiet with all the cotton wool in my mouth.
He stayed a few days but I do not remember much. He was not very talkative as his teeth really hurt him. We went for walks, we behaved very properly, as if supervised and chaperoned. We talked about different subjects. I only remember that I felt like a pupil and he was like a teacher, asking about God in general, about life, about social conditions. I said what I thought, no good pretending.
I remember the first evening he was staying with us that he would like to speak with my parents. Just before he went to talk with them I stopped him and asked: “Please, say to my parents that you do love me. You see it is important to them, they love me, I am their only child, they are worried about me.” He just smiled and gave me a hug and a kiss.
I was so nervous that I was even unable to listen at the door. I do not know what they talked about.
Next day coming home from a walk, he stopped at Konrads, a café, and bought many, many cakes. Why does he buy cakes? I thought. Does he not think our cake will be good enough for him? He didn’t even write a note asking them to be delivered, he took the carton with him! What an odd man! He must love cakes! How odd!
When we arrived home there was nobody there, not even the maid. He gave me a kiss or rather THE kiss! It was not my first one by any means but I went quite rubbery. But why did he still not speak about love? I wanted to tell him that I had kissed many men, but that this was different, but how could I tell him that? Oh my God, I was a wanton woman! I had never felt like that before. How could I explain it?
I asked myself then and I still ask myself now forty years later – how does one define love? The dictionary speaks about fondness, strong liking, devoted attachment to the opposite sex etc. But those are only the ingredients; I need trust and a lot more and also something intangible, something which was eluding any description.
Zygmunt left very shortly after. Czes came and was furious. He called me a cheat being stupid and inconsiderate. He compared me to a fruit ready to fall off. And there comes an outsider, who might not even care about me and then leaves immediately. Why this outsider from Wilna? If not Czes, it should have been one of them, who were always considerate, who wore the soles out of their shoes… we parted on a quarrel.
Stach came and saw the ring on my finger. He did not know that the ring was given to me by my parents as a Xmas gift. Zygmunt did not give me a ring. A symbol, it does not matter. Stach knew that I had got engaged. There was a long silence and he was the first to break it.
“This Xmas I lost my two dearest – you and my father, whom I buried yesterday.”
Quote from diary again.
Stach, did you know that I loved you? Differently from Zygmunt but I loved you!
Next day Stach told me that he was not going to marry me. He wanted love and not pity. He couldn’t leave Kaunas as his contract with the orchestra did not expire until the summer and we would be seeing each other. He expected me to be tactful and he wanted all his letters to be returned.
Now, it was just after Xmas and I was already waiting for Easter as Zygmunt wrote that he might be able to come and we could decide about our future. His letters were nice and tender, mine polite and pleasant. I was unable to tell him about my love because I did not know if he loved me.
I never thought about myself as being naïve. I considered myself sophisticated. Didn’t I speak and support ‘Free Love’? Did I not say that I would have a few children, if I wanted to, but not necessarily a husband?
My parents were worried, they would have preferred at least three other men for my husband, although Mr Oskierka gave Zygmunt good character references. They argued that it was a great risk to consider marriage with someone one hardly knew.
Most of our talks ended like this: Looking straight at them I would say: - “You consider me not stupid and well adjusted. I am telling you that if he wants I will marry him. My reason is not a material one, but one dictated by feelings and you can’t hold that against me. I promise you, that should I later realise it was all a mistake, I will get a divorce and come home. Stop worrying. You were decent enough to let me got to Warsaw where I could learn to live without supervision. Now I am going to find out what marriage is about. If it does not work out, I will write it down to experience gained.
Zygmunt came down for a few days over Easter. I wanted to stay with him at the hotel for a few hours, but he would not, saying we should wait for the proper time, there should be no dreary hotel rooms, nothing sneaky, it should be for life. I did not press, but felt let down, as I wanted to prove to myself that love does not need the blessings of the church. We decided to get married in June, after my final exams and the concert. There was no engagement party, there was no time for one as Zygmunt had to go back to work in Stettin.
After he left me there was hustle and bustle as mother started to prepare my trousseau. Wedding gown, frocks for different occasions suitable for a diplomat’s wife, tablecloths, sheets etc. I did not care much about it, but had no say. We even went to Wilna as mother heard that there they had some special lace suitable for pillowslips. My mother and future mother-in-law were asking me what kind of borders I would prefer: narrow or wide? Only Aunt Olga was a real dear, she told both mothers that she knows what I would like and sent me away to look at the churches and to buy books and records.
During this stay I became quite ill as I had got the foot-and-mouth disease and felt very miserable and in pain. It took a while until I got better and coming home to Kaunas I needed about a dozen fillings and a few extractions.
In my diary for April, May and early June is hardly an mention about the wedding, as it was only a formal thing, the decision had been taken before, nor did I mention much about the final exam as I was certain that I would pass it, I wrote mainly about the concert which was very important to me. Only two would be playing – a violinist in his final year and myself, both with the orchestra. I wrote also about my talks with Mr Pryfer.
Mr Pryfer was father’s friend and had children older than myself. I had many talks with him, even back in my school days, and now we were speaking again on the same topic. We usually talked in a small restaurant ‘Derby’ sipping wine or mead. His philosophy about marriage was as follows: It is of prime importance to know that you really love. This is more important than to be loved. What ‘Love’ is he was unable to define either, but he gave an example what he thought a woman should feel.
“Imagine you are married, you are very poor, you live in a basement, cold in winter and hot in summer. You both are smelly and dirty as there is no running water. You have to wash his dirty smelly socks…and you do not feel sick because you love him. You do not curse him that you are poor, you might just curse your rotten luck! If you can imagine it – you are in love.”
Another point he was very definite about:- two things do go together, just like day and night:
“If you are married, you have a husband. Take it for granted that your husband will have affairs, he will sometimes be unfaithful. That is a fact of life. Don’t ever forget it! If you don’t like this idea, don’t get married, just have a love affair and let the wife worry about you and not you about her. Don’t you ever, under any circumstances, make a scene, don’t ever show too much jealousy, hide your feelings. A man does not want to feel chained, he wants to feel free! One can put a ring and chain on a bear and lead him, but not a man. Remember if a fruit is forbidden it is very attractive. Don’t forbid, don’t make scenes, show only concern. Scenes will push your partner away from you. I know, I am speaking from experience. Should he admit to something which you probably already know you might cry a bit, but not too much and be forgiving when he tries to make it up, either with tenderness or presents. Never let the partner feel the chains. Remember it all and even marriage might work out well. The feeling of freedom is very important to humans. We do submit to wishes from others, but only voluntarily, not under compulsion. It should work for both partners.”
Exams, concert and wedding were coming nearer. I did not like my wedding frock but let it go and got my way for the frock for the concert, something very simple in the style of the vestals of old Rome.
I had no worries with the bridesmaids as, according to our custom, each one wore what she pleased, each different from the others. Years later in Australia seeing a wedding I was appalled that all the bridesmaids were wearing the same frocks! I thought they were from an orphanage or some other institution. Just imagine wearing the same dress as others! Terrible! How can the girls stand it? It must be a great sacrifice for them to create an overall nice appearance just to please the bride.
The exams passed all right, but I was very worried about the concert as it was my first time to go on the air. To start with I certainly had bad luck. Just before leaving home I went to the bathroom, picked up a razor blade and cut my big finger on my left hand right to the bone! I could not stop the bleeding although we all had a try. I rushed to the chemist next to the conservatorium. He put a dressing on it and told me to give the finger a rest and have some stitches the next day. Mrs Malko was waiting for me at the door and rushed me straight to the room reserved for me to do some exercises and get my fingers soft and warm. Already after a few minutes the finger started bleeding again and I ran once again to the chemist. I came back just a few minutes before I had to appear. Poor Mrs Malko, she was a bundle of nerves.
The hall was full. Good, as I loved playing to a full house, except the places reserved for the critics with their papers and pens. From the wings I got the sign that the microphone was on.
The orchestra began and I hope and pray that all goes well. My first sounds are coming full and pleasantly. How good that I know it really well, I don’t have to concentrate, I can let myself go and just listen. I remember feeling quite pleased with my playing and then…suddenly my fingers were wet. Oh God! The damn finger has started bleeding again, the keys are becoming slippery! When I had time I wiped the keys with my hanky but it was so small and got wet so quickly! The finger started throbbing and hurting more and more. How long have I still to go? At least another six minutes, maybe more. Oh, please let me keep playing, playing well, it is on the air! How will I ever be able to get the last few fortissimos? I must! Forget the finger, think about the music! Listen, check your touch, don’t be a wet blanket, just because of a bit of a cut finger! I listen…it still sounds good. Not much more to go… now the last bit… Fortissimo! I made it!
Applause, a quick bow and I rushed backstage. I made it! I made it! A man with a bucket and a clean, large rag tried to clean the piano but could not. The beautiful new Bechstein was pushed aside and the old one brought on the stage. The critics came and said some nice things. Even the director came and congratulated me on the good performance and was astonished that I could have kept playing with this finger. Mrs Malko told him that my wedding would take place tomorrow and that he should congratulate me especially warmly. Instead he became rude and started yelling at me.
“Why the hell does she need a husband and brats? She has her piano, she can represent the Lithuanian pianists in the wide world, why the hell did she spend years sitting at the piano if all she wanted was a husband? And brats to play a lullaby to? If she wants romance and sex, sure, why not? There are plenty of pants around, go ahead, it will only improve the music. Why the hell marriage?”
By now we had quite an audience and he stopped, looked around and switched to another tone immediately. He always could do a switch over quickly. He congratulated me and asked me to convey his condolences to my future husband who must be fool enough intending to get chained, then a quick kiss and a hug so fierce I thought he would break my ribs.
The concert was over, everyone was happy, even my future mother-in-law and her sister who had arrived the previous day. Zygmunt was to arrive only tomorrow, on our wedding day (20th June 1939).
The next morning was very hectic. First, I had to go to the dressmaker for the final fitting as I had not had time the previous day. Then, still without breakfast, I rushed to the hairdresser and hurried back home where both mothers were waiting and all my bridesmaids ready to give me assistance as it was getting late. The frock was delivered and everyone tried to help get me dressed, all in my bedroom, so none had any room. I was very thirsty and hungry but was given only a glass of water – not time to eat! From the other rooms came sounds of animated talking and laughing. All my male friends had arrived. Suddenly there was complete silence. Oh my God! Zygmunt must have arrived and he did not know anyone! I called for Czes asking him to take care of Zygmunt and introduce him to everyone. Czes, the reliable darling, the only sane one around as even father had disappeared somewhere. At last I was told that I was dressed and ready to leave.
According to our custom, Zygmunt and I travelled in one car, driven by a friend of the family. He was father’s friend from childhood and I liked him very much – Pan Wasary. I remember the slow drive to the Carmelite church and me reminding Zygmunt about his promise: he would give me a divorce, or at least a separation immediately, should I feel that the marriage was not working well. He promised once again but said that it was not the right topic whilst driving to church to get married.
Everything gets hazy and blurred. Church, people in the street and many more inside, the organ playing Ave Maria, the priest whom I could hear but understand only bits and pieces. Zygmunt seems so calm! I hear myself promising an oath of eternal fidelity and thinking: I certainly want it for always and always but not because I must, only because I would like it for always and always. At last all is finished. Kisses, hugs and I can’t think but keep smiling.
Suddenly I find myself alone in the sacristy. Why was I alone? What should I do? I decided to wait as certainly Zygmunt would come sooner or later. At last he came with Pan Wasary and Pan Silwestrowicz as witnesses. I signed my new name with a shaky hand and we all went to the Metropole hotel where the reception was to be held.
We were driving slowly as we must be the last to arrive. According to an old custom we were met at the door by my parents. Mother was holding a tray with a few pieces of dark rye bread and salt. We dipped the bread into the salt, ate some giving thanks for our daily bread, then we had a large glass of vodka, drinking it to the end and then we had to smash the glasses, throwing them behind our shoulders. Everything was fine, the glasses shattered and we went in. The reception commenced.
According to our custom it was a large reception, about 40 people. Only family and my close friends, Zygmunt’s mother and aunty, none of his friends as they were all in Poland. Although Poland and Lithuania had by now diplomatic relations, none of his friends came as it was burdensome to travel to another country for only a few hours.
Eating, drinking, dancing, just as it is the custom at most weddings. I had had nothing to eat since yesterday’s lunch and now with all the drinking, I got drunk. I remember looking at the best man and saying:
“How come I got married to you? I certainly like you very much, but I never wanted to marry you!”
Zygmunt and the best man left during the party, still in tails and went to the Foreign Office to arrange the last formalities before our departure that evening. Now I was a Polish citizen with a diplomatic passport.
I had to go home to change quickly. Checking that the suitcases were not forgotten and then quickly to the station where most of my friends were already waiting. Barely time for a few kisses and the train pulled out.
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