Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.
TO THE GIRL
DIRECT To Box A 7,
ALLEGHENY CITY, PA.,
NOVEMBER 18, 1892.
My dear Sonya:
It seems an age since I wrote to you, yet it is only a month. But the monotony of my life weights down the heels of time,- the only break in the terrible sameness is afforded me by your dear, affectionate letters, and those of Fedya. When I return to the cell for the noon meal, my step is quickened by the eager expectation of finding mail from you. About eleven in the morning, the Chaplain makes his rounds; his practiced hand shoots the letter between the bars, toward the bed or on to the little table in the corner. But if the missive is light, it will flutter to the floor. As I reach the cell, the position of the little white object at once apprises me whether the letter is long or short. With closed eyes I sense its weight, like the warm pressure of your own dear hand, the touch reaching softly to my heart, till I feel myself lifted across the chasm into your presence. The bars fade, the walls disappear, and the air grows sweet with the aroma of fresh air and flowers,-I am again with you, walking in the bright July moonlight.... The touch of the velikorussian in your eyes and hair conjures up the Volga, our beautiful bogatir, and the strains of the dubinushka/ trembling with suffering and yearning, float about me.... The meal remains untouched. I dream over your letter, and again I read it, slowly, slowly, lest I reach the end too quickly. The afternoon hours are hallowed by your touch and your presence, and I am conscious only of the longing for my cell,-in the quiet of the evening, freed from the nightmare of the immediate, I walk in the garden of our dreams.
And the following morning, at work in the shop, I pass in anxious wonder whether some cheering word from my own, my real world, is awaiting me in the cell. With a glow of emotion I think of the Chaplain: perhaps at the very moment your letter is in his hands. He is opening it, reading. Why should strange eyes ... but the Chaplain seems kind and discreet. Now he is passing along the galleries, distributing the mail. The bundle grows meager as the postman reaches the ground floor. Oh! if he does not come to my cell quickly, he may have no letters left. But the next moment I smile at the childish thought,-if there is a letter for me, no other prisoner will get it. Yet some error might happen.... No, it is impossible-my name and prison number, and the cell number marked by the Chaplain across the envelope, all insure the mail against any mistake in delivery. Now the dinner whistle blows. Eagerly I hasten to the cell. There is nothing on the floor! Perhaps on the bed, on the table.... I grow feverish with the dread of disappointment. Possibly the letter fell under the bed, or in that dark corner. No, none there,-but it can't be that there is no mail for me to-day! I must look again-it may have dropped among the blankets.... No, there is no letter!
Thus pass my days, dear friend. In thought I am ever with you and Fedya, in our old haunts and surroundings. I shall never get used to this life, nor find an interest in the reality of the moment. What will become of me, I don't know. I hardly care. We are revolutionists, dear: whatever sacrifices the Cause demands, though the individual perish, humanity will profit in the end. In that consciousness we must find our solace.
LAST DAY or- NOVEMBER, 1892.
I thought I would not survive the agony of our meeting, but human capacity for suffering seems boundless. All my thoughts, all my yearnings, were centered in the one desire to see you, to look into your eyes, and there read the beautiful promise that has filled my days with strength and hope.... An embrace, a lingering kiss, and the gift of Lingg would have been mine. To grasp your hand, to look down for a mute, immortal instant into your soul, and then die at your hands, Beloved, with the warm breath of your caress wafting me into peaceful eternity-oh, it were bliss supreme, the realization of our day dreams, when, in transports of ecstasy, we kissed the image of the Social Revolution. Do you remember that glorious face, so strong and tender, on the wall of our little Houston Street hallroom? How far, far in the past are those inspired moments! But they have filled my hours with hallowed thoughts, with exulting expectations. And then you came. A glance at your face, and I knew my doom to terrible life. I read it in the evil look of the guard. It was the Deputy himself. Perhaps you had been searched! He followed our every moment, like a famished cat that feigns indifference, yet is alert with every nerve to spring upon the victim. Oh, I know the calculated viciousness beneath that meek exterior. The accelerated movement of his drumming fingers, as he deliberately seated himself between us, warned me of the beast, hungry for prey.... The halo was dissipated. The words froze within me, and I could meet you only with a vapid smile, and on the instant it was mirrored in my soul as a leer, and I was filled with anger and resentment at everything about us-myself, the Deputy (I could have throttled him to death), and-at you, dear. Yes, Sonya, even at you: the quick come to bury the dead.... But the next moment, the unworthy throb of my agonized soul was stilled by the passionate pressure of my lips upon your hand. How it trembled! I held it between my own, and then, as I lifted my face to yours, the expression I beheld seemed to bereave me of MY Own self: it was you who were I! The drawn face, the look of horror, your whole being the cry of torture-were YOU not the real prisoner? or was it MY visioned suffering that cemented the spiritual bond, annihilating all misunderstanding, all resentment, and lifting us above time and Place in the afflatus of martyrdom?
Mutely I held your hand. There was no need for words. only the prying eyes of the catlike presence disturbed the sacred moment. Then we spoke-mechanically, trivialities.... What though the cadaverous Deputy with brutal gaze timed the seconds, and forbade the sound of our dear Russian,-nor heaven nor earth could violate the sacrament sealed with our pain.
The echo accompanied my step as I passed through the rotunda on my way to the cell. All was quiet in the block. No whir of loom reached me from the shops. Thanksgiving Day: all activities were suspended. I felt at peace in the silence. But when the door was locked, and I found myself alone, all alone within the walls of the tomb, the full significance of your departure suddenly dawned on me. The quick had left the dead.... Terror of the reality seized me and I was swept by a paroxysm of anguish-.
I must close. The friend who promised to have this letter mailed sub rosa is at the door. He is a kind unfortunate who has befriended me . May this letter reach you safely. In token of which, send me postal of indifferent contents, casually mentioning the arrival of news from my brother in Moscow. Remember to sign "Sister."
With a passionate embrace,