Life is a series of examinations, but it is not always clear in advance that you are going to take an exam, or that there has already been an exam, and what grade you got for it and from whom. It is not even clear who was the examiner and who was the examinee. In this story, I thought I was setting up a tricky exam, with the intention of failing the other person, but it wasn’t that simple.
I grew up in a musical house. Most of the tenants were musicians. I was a renegade who did not play any instruments. We lived with an aunt who taught music theory and vocals. She was the head of the department of the history of Russian music and the dean of the vocal department at the Academy of Music. But the Soviet authorities decided that my aunt was a “traitor”, a “homeless cosmopolitan”, an “anti-patriot”, and servile to Western culture and hostile to socialism. She was fired and banished to the periphery, where she worked in various academies of music in various cities.
My aunt was a bossy, authoritarian woman who did not tolerate other opinions and liked to fight to win her own. Dozens of students and colleagues loved her; dozens of students and colleagues couldn’t stand her. She had no children, and her maternal feelings poured out on me along with her many grievances.
She took it hard that I did not become a musician and chose a dry scientific profession devoid of spirituality. When she found out that I was reading forbidden literature, directed against the Soviet authorities, interested in the history of her persecution, immersed in Zionism, she boiled with anger. In her opinion, I was doomed to sit in jail. So, my aunt decided to save me by marrying me properly. She undertook the operation to save me, and for this purpose she chose her best student at the time as a candidate.
My aunt informed my mother that she had found the perfect girl for me, and that all other plans, if any, had to be eliminated. After this discovery, she began to plan my meeting with the candidate, a meeting that was to end with my capture. My aunt announced that in the vacations between semesters she would visit us with her chosen one.
When I learned of this plan, I began to seek refuge. I found one a few thousand kilometres away from where the planned events were developing. I had a father who had long ago divorced my mother and was also branded with the charge of cosmopolitanism. My father lived so far away that I could have escaped from the impending trap. I got away, but my aunt didn’t know how to back down. My fleeing didn’t stop her. She bombarded me with hurtful letters, accusing me of cowardice and impoliteness. She soon summoned her sister, my mother, to her aid. She invited her to her town to meet the candidate. The acquaintance took place. Upon returning home, my mother told me that she liked the girl. After that I finally decided that I will not marry this person. However, I could feel the noose tightening around my neck. Three women had conspired against me. But to run away again was beneath my dignity. Retreat was no longer an option. I had to start a war of independence. Immediately after university graduation I arrived at my aunt’s house. She greeted me much better than usual. She interpreted my arrival as surrender. However, I had other plans. In my mind I told her: “Wait, I’ll show you!”
My bridal candidate arrived the next morning. My aunt ordered us to go for a walk. We went for a walk. I began a campaign of intimidation. I began reciting the forbidden articles to her by heart. She listened attentively. I was opening her eyes to the society in which we lived. There is nothing more satisfying than serving as the discoverer of a new world. When I grew tired and took a break from thinking, it was the candidate’s turn to speak. With the skill of an accomplished actress, she began to portray my aunt. It turned out that she had played her in Academy kapustniks, mock performances of the student theatre. The resemblance was striking. At first, I laughed. However, the acting was so successful that it felt like my aunt was right there with me. I was pleased that the candidate was so successful in playing the role of the beloved teacher, whom I also loved. But I began to think that my aunt wanted me to marry the one who played her role best. It seemed to me that through this actress she wanted to show me what a real wife should be. Horror gripped me, because having a wife like my aunt meant living on a volcano. If she looked so much like my aunt, it was impossible to do business with her.
I decided to give the candidate another test. I started going to bookstores with her. There were about ten bookstores. I spent about half an hour in each, rummaging through the bookshelves, immersed in the search for some titles. I was convinced that there was no girl who could stand that kind of pastime. When we returned to my aunt’s house, she was indignant that I had hurt the candidate’s feet. I looked at her feet – they were covered in blood. I had walked her until she bled. My aunt accused me of being a sadist and a scoundrel. After she found out that I had also entertained the candidate by reading forbidden literature, she began to shout that I was a terrible person, that I would go to jail and ruin my future wife’s life. We quarrelled, and I did not pay any attention to the candidate who remained in the house, while my aunt was driven to a frenzy.
I took one more step towards my freedom: I began to read the books I had bought without paying any attention to the candidate. My aunt yelled at me and cursed in her particular juicy way. I decided that the candidate had not yet run away from me only because she had not received a proper order from my aunt. Concluding that I was being indecent, I spoke to the candidate about the books I had bought. To my surprise, she was interested in what I bought. As we began to talk, my aunt disappeared from the room. I was sure she was listening intensely on the other side of the door. I experimented and went silent. After a short time, my aunt burst into the room swearing at me.
Finally, I gave the candidate a “state” exam – an examination of the state of Israel. I revealed to her my plans, my intention to move to Israel. It was 1971. The Zionist venture was supposed to scare 99% of girls. The candidate withstood, even though for her my trips to Israel looked like preparations for a flight to the moon. She did not retreat, but calmly discussed my application.
In the evening, my aunt called me into the kitchen for an educational talk. Without preamble or hesitation, she concluded that I have to ask the girl to marry me. My aunt knew no bounds in imposing her will on others. We argued about it half the night. I told my aunt that the fact that she didn’t like my way of life wasn’t enough to ruin it with a marriage blitz. I don’t want to participate in my own re-education projects at such an expensive cost. I left and the candidate and I “broke up”.
One day my mother informed me that my aunt was disappointed in the candidate. She praised me for not accepting my aunt’s unreasonable and hasty order to marry. When I heard what the complaint was about I laughed. My aunt was angry that the candidate had expressed doubts about the appropriateness of pursuing a career in musicology. She dared to object to my aunt. These circumstances interested me. It was obvious that the candidate was a smart girl. She listened to me, because I was telling her something similar. I believed that musicology was inseparable from the shameful Soviet ideology.
After the candidate was dismissed I felt free but we started corresponding just in case. No one pressured me anymore. I began to reflect on my life, on this brave and unusual girl who had successfully passed all my and my aunt’s tortures. I thought, my life is full of musicians as it is. One more, one less, didn’t matter as much. So, we got married!
My aunt did not forgive my wife for stealing me away from her. She did not forgive me for stealing her best student and taking her away to the land of my dreams. One day I asked my wife how she felt in our family. She replied, “You know I’m a brave person.”