You must login to vote
I had first heard of Paul Johanson in grade school. He was no more than a minor footnote to a sentence in a chapter about the 1976 Asternian Uprising. All it said was, “Paul Johanson (1949 – 1977) – Asternian patriot and participant in the unsuccessful revolt. Executed by firing squad May 5, 1977. His final words were, ‘No blindfold’.”
“Imagine,” I remember thinking while my twelve year-old mind swooned with images so romantic they could only have come to the truly innocent or fatally naïve. “Imagine staring at a half dozen men with a half dozen rifles and choosing to watch until the hit. No one could have ever been that brave before or ever again.” Did I mention I was twelve?
Having little more than a support cheque for a father and a convenient way station for drunken truckers as a mother I was in need of a role model, an idol, a hero if you will. It seemed to me I had found the perfect candidate.
There was in him an implicit guarantee of reliability and steadfastness. Here was someone who took a position and stuck to it to the end – no matter how bitter that may be. Here was someone who could not let me down. No matter that we had never and would never meet. No matter that the only role he played in my life would be necessarily one-sided – in that respect he was no different from my parents and a damned sight better in every other.
Paul, I never though of him as a two-named figure but a one-named friend, became my sole real interest. My schoolwork began to involve him at every opportunity and my spare time was devoted almost entirely to him.
I became an authority on all things Asternian. I could cite population statistics, economic facts, imports, exports, and political and cultural developments dating back to its war of independence from Ewagga in 1433.
By the time I graduated high school there was almost nothing I did not know about this tiny nation that the world seemed pleased to ignore. I had even taught myself the language and could recite by rote the lion’s share of the works of Rabin Crallson – their only poet of note. I suppose it was an obsession but as far as obsessions go it was a pretty harmless one.
I majored in world history at university because it seemed the only course of study that might allow me to make use of my rather narrow expertise. Imagine my excitement when I discovered the school was offering a class called, “Rebellion and Revolution in the 20th Century”. In an act of sheer optimism I phoned the prof and asked if Asternia was one of the revolts covered. I was elated when he said it was. I think I was elated, but having nothing to compare it to my supposition is suspect at best.
The next day I was at the registrar’s office before the registrar was. I signed the forms and handed over the money. I became the 15th enrollee – 15 being the minimum number they would offer the class for. Sometimes, it seems, God is good.
My first semester flew by and I pulled down nearly straight A’s, the only blemish being English Lit – somehow I could not get passed the fact that any truth contained in a story or poem had to be hidden under the camouflage of fiction – truth should never hide.
It didn’t really matter though; there was nothing in the first semester that I cared about except as a necessary detour on the way to the class I had been waiting all of my life for. Well all of my life that mattered to me.
On the first day of class the prof, while he was handing out the outline, had us make special note of April 2. On that day we would have the choice, to be exercised individually, of attending his lecture as usual or taking in a talk at the Henry Groenwoldt Memorial Theatre. The talk, for anyone interested, would be given by Kasha Johanson – wife of the historical footnote who had defined my life with one pure gesture.
Kasha Johanson… Kasha Johanson… she had shared his bed, his thoughts, his life. She had been at his side from the first shot to the final six. She had been made to watch the bullets pound the breath from her husband’s body. A body she had been made to bury. Kasha Johanson.
The course itself was alright but my enjoyment of it was hampered somewhat by impatience. If the length of a day were shortened to eight hours and a week to three days April 2 still would have taken too long to arrive. I had the feeling of doing dead time until that day. School served as only a small distraction from the gnawing awareness of that coming day. Time passed as time will do, slowly – as it often does, but after what had seemed a century April 2 came at last.
The seats in the auditorium were still semi-padded and had likely been comfortable when they had first been installed over 20 years ago. The HGMT was now simply a theatre reserved for those elite guests who no one knew of or cared about. It was a place for footnotes and spouses of footnotes. There were six of us there that day – including Kasha and the clueless drone that introduced her.
Kasha’s talk was largely what I had expected it to be. It was a rehash of the rise and fall of the rebellion and the very real injustices that precipitated it. None of this was new to me – I probably knew the material as well as she did. What was most interesting to me was how little time she spent talking about her late husband and the courage he showed both in the field and at the post. In truth she barely mentioned him in passing.
Paul was the revolution, without him there would never have been one. Without him none of his countrymen would even have known it was possible for to fight – let alone win. Without him Kasha would be entirely unknown and she certainly would never
have been invited here to speak. What fame she can lay claim to stemmed directly from her association with Paul and she hardly even mentioned him. I felt it was my duty to his memory to see that he got his due.
“Thank-you, Kasha. You knew Paul better than anyone, if you could cite one action that exemplified his courage what would it be?”
Kasha paused a moment lost in thought and painful memory but when she spoke it was in a clear and strong voice, “My husband had learned from a sympathetic soldier that a squad had been ordered to descend on the home of a young painter and his family. Because his work had been declared incendiary the soldiers were to burn the house with the family inside. That night Paul broke one of his most strictly enforced rules – he entered the town alone and unarmed – to warn the painter…”
“Elisha Chamaran” I supplied.
“Yes, and if you know that then you also know that Elisha and his family did escape thanks to Paul’s intervention. Paul allowed himself to be captured in order to delay the hit squad and make sure that they were spared.”
“That never made sense to me Kasha. Paul was more important than one painter… than a hundred painters. The revolution would not have died with Chamaran as it did with Paul.”
“The only time I was allowed to speak with Paul after his arrest, during his show trial, I asked him that same question and he told me he had considered that. He said he couldn’t live with the picture of the flames blistering the skin off of Elisha’s little girl while he stood by and did nothing. He gave himself up for a three year old girl he had never met and would never meet.”
“I admit, that is admirable, but it is still too great a sacrifice.”
“You seem to know something of our struggle,” Kasha said with strained but indulgent patience “Let me ask you your own question.”
“Without a doubt,” I said, proud that she saw that I knew her husband and loved him almost as much as she surely had, “refusing the blindfold.”
Her laughter almost knocked me off of my feet. It wasn’t a mean laugh or contemptuous, but soft and rolling and it cut me like a lover’s scorn.
“I’m sorry,” she said when she’d recovered herself, “Paul was a very brave man and he faced many terrifying things during the fight. He overcame many fears that I hope you will never have to confront. I laugh because I knew he would refuse the blindfold. Not as a statement or proof of his valour. He refused it because right up to the end Paul never got over his fear of the dark.”
But would I be a good Messiah with my low self-esteem? / If I don't believe in myself would that be blasphemy? - The Bloodhound Gang Hell Yeah