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For the sake of love

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Min An.

In 2016, we reconciled our romance after 18 years. I had been in prison since the age of 15 and came across a smartphone that allowed us to connect as never before, and pretend as if our love would conquer everything. 

This, however, only lasted six months. Officers confiscated the phone in late December and placed me in solitary confinement (where time seemed to shift a century).  I began to read about the love letters between the Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his wife Alexandra. They, too, believed that their love would conquer everything. 

In a world surrounded by tin, concrete and metal—where men screamed in defiance of authority and life, and got drunk out of fear of freedom—I lost myself within pages and letters to you. It was around this time that World War I began, and Nicholas II wrote to Alexandra on Jan. 3, about the Russian troops beginning an offensive against German, Austrian and Swedish officers. He ended the letter the same way I did in Spanish: “I kiss you tenderly and love you infinitely.” This made you feel that our love was all that mattered. Even if I was never released from prison, even if the first World War consumed the earth—our love, like theirs, was the center of the universe and would endure anything. We just had to keep writing and reading. 

I never thought myself capable of so much writing. I wrote to you every day and sent  a 14-page letter every Monday: 52 letters, 728 pages a year. I once described how starved for affection we are in prison, that a friend confused affection for sexual attraction toward his sister after seeing her and embracing her for the first time in twenty years. I wrote about this to help convince you of my insight into romantic feelings. I could tell the difference between a love that was a response to something imagined, and a love that was a response to someone real. 

This was the same insight Alexandra used when she wrote to Nicholas II that “our separation is our own personal sacrifice, which we are making for our country in this sorrowful time.” This happened while Russian forces attacked the Caucasus between the Black and Caspian Seas. Everything would work itself out, if we all just focused on our love. I believed that prison, like the war, would submit to the beauty of what we were experiencing. Nicholas II and Alexandra would triumph. And so would we. 

With time, the pages (like the days in confinement) began to produce insights and forebodings that captured our love in battles. I thought of how I had hurt you when we were young, and connected with my memories that would have led other prisoners to confuse vulnerability with romance. It seems to be a habit of prisoners to mistake love for anything that makes us feel remotely human, any sensations of affection or intimacy that prove the exception to the rule of numbness. But this, I was sure, was not my condition. It was around this time in confinement when I started to call you “Wify”, and you began to call me “Hubby.” Just as Nicholas II had done in his letter to Alexandra on Jan. 4, 1916: “All is quiet on our front. Our offensive is developing successfully in the Caucasus, but slowly, because of the deep snow.”

I received one of your few letters by Alexandra’s 420th, where she suggested that Nicholas II send George and Tatishchev to check on the prisoners of war in Siberia. Unlike Alexandra, you hated writing and I felt guilty or subjecting you to a punishment that I had inflicted by committing a crime and sentencing you to a matrimony via correspondence. It is seldom when you seal yourself inside of an envelope to reach me. It is more rare when the concrete is slapped by the weight of your words being dropped, and pressed beneath my door by a foot against the feed. But as the war wages, and the pages turn, I cannot help but write to you and wait for the war to be over. 

The men in here have thought me fortunate to have you, and some female officers have expressed warmth toward my commitment to our love. But I felt that I should do more for you, since I had condemned you to a love by distance. All that mattered to me was your happiness. Your love was worth more than my freedom. I had even learned to disregard the pity of my cellmates, who saw me writing to you daily with a 45-year sentence, while I pitied them for being a few weeks away from freedom without a love like mine. It is a constant psychic war we wage against each other (lifers versus short-timers), pitting virtues and love against freedom. Virtues and a love that cannot win against those being released, but that are needed once they are free. We see weaknesses in each other to take pride in our condition, knowing that both sides need as much of freedom as we do of love and virtue. This also appears to be true for the four of us. 

Similar to Nicholas, when he wrote: “I think that separation actually makes love stronger and mutual attraction greater,” I wrote the same thing, and you believed it, just like the fragrance oil I covered every letter with, hoping it would make every word corporeal. Last night, someone committed suicide while I wrote to you about our life together with our son. I believe this is what Nicholas felt when he wrote “Only when I see the soldiers and sailors do I succeed in forgetting you for a few moments-if it is possible!” He seemed to be trying to forget for the same reasons I was trying to remember – all for my love and yearning for you. All while hell seemed to be burning around this prison and around Russia. All while the four of us enclosed ourselves within the constitutions of our love. As if the world was made of the politics of that love and would be bound by it. 

Of course, I could continue as if nothing else mattered. “Of course,” as Nicholas wrote, “it would be great happiness to be always together in these difficult times. But now I believe that the most painful is behind us and that it will not be as hard as it was before.” I have written this also to you many times, referring to our lives together after you broke down inside of a hot shower, when you found out I received a 45-year sentence. And here we are again, with just 27 years left of my sentence,believing our love is fate, a destiny that pulls us into its gravitational force while all of the laws of the world and war forbid my freedom. Like Nicholas and Alexandra, we too seemed to defy the calamities and casualties closing in on our love. 

Today, Nicholas finished his book, and he intends to read it out loud to Alexandra and their children. I began working on a book as well, and I intend to mail it to you when I am finished. Mine is “Love Is Not Out There.” Although you do not love to read, I am hoping that its dedication to you might inspire you into new habits. I do not know what is the name of his book, but I do envy how he and Alexandra dedicate books to one another. I hope this doesn’t offend you. For I know how you dislike comparisons: “I am not her,” you would always tell me.” We are not them.” 

I am aware of your migraine headaches, they make me feel guilty and helpless. Alexandra suffers from them also and they make Nicholas weary, “How sad that you are not feeling better, and that those beastly headaches persist.” Forgive me. I am once again comparing. Perhaps I am distracted because I am surrounded by incessant shouting and screaming, but I seldom experience headaches. Last night, I heard the most violent shrieks from a man who was denied a commutation and told that he would spend the remainder of his life in this hell. It was horrific. Nicholas was also “horrified and shaken” but of other things. Alexandra’s letter had told him of “the disappearance of Rasputin and of rumours of murder.” 

You called me your savior many times, but I asked myself what exactly it was that I had saved you from. Alexandra called Nicholas the savior of Russia, and solely focused on their love while the Bolshevik uprising continued; Nicholas, Alexandra and their three daughters wereassassinated in the cellar of their house where they had been confined. Their bodies were “burned, cast into an abandoned mine shaft, and then hastily buried elsewhere.” The only thing that survived them were their letters. It was upon this news that I realized that there was a world beyond my letters, and that that world would not submit to ours. I could no longer pretend that our love was everything. I could no longer enclose love and virtue within a page. And so I said to you, out of fear of my dying here and of you dying where you are.

For we are very much like them my dear Wify. As much as it may offend you, we are very much like them. 

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    A Star on the ForeheadMar 4, 2023 at 9:00 am

    Great post!