Here’s how a workplace conversation went for me a few months ago:
“Hey, what’s that? Oh…a book about the Warsaw Ghetto?”
“Um…yeah. You know, just a little light summer reading.”
“Why? Is it because you broke up with your boyfriend? Are you depressed?”
Lately, I’ve been on a reading binge about the history of my native country, Poland. I was only eleven when I left, so I’ve never examined Polish history with adult eyes. Yes, that means reading about World War II and the Holocaust. Yes, these are dark subjects. But life can be dark. Part of understanding myself is understanding where I come from, and my psyche comes from the sick and twisted European continent of the twentieth century, with its totalitarian regimes and its spilled blood. There’s no getting away from that.
However, I find myself becoming self-conscious about how everyone else might view me as I lug around these stories of doom. Will they indeed think I’m depressed? Crazy? Emotionally unstable? Now I only pull my books out of my backpack when the lunchroom is relatively empty, and I don’t spot anyone I know nearby. To my dismay, I’ve realized that I would be a lot less embarrassed if I was caught reading a cheesy romance novel, because at least that would be considered normal. A romance novel wouldn’t get me suspicious looks.
Or worse. On a recent train ride to work, I was reading Architects of Annihilation by Gotz Aly, a truly chilling work which examines how Nazi technocrats decided that killing millions of people was justified, based on perfectly “rational” economic policy. The cover design of the book includes a swastika–and this prompted the guy across from me to lean in and enthusiastically explain to me how much he admired Hitler. I literally wanted to crawl under my seat. He finished his tribute with: “And you know what I really love about him? His brutality. He knew that sometimes you have to resolve things in an ugly way, man.”
At this point, his girlfriend hastily shushed him and pulled him off the train. The girlfriend was comical in her own right. She was clearly mortified that he was saying all these things in public, yet had no problem being with a guy who gets a hard-on from the Fuhrer’s brutality in the first place. All of a sudden, the fact that Charles Manson is getting married was no longer such a mystery to me.
Anyway, I’ve come up with a solution to help me continue my history studies with minimum trouble. I’m going to make a fake cover to wrap my library books in, preferably one with a picture of a buff Fabio on it. That way, everyone can breathe easy and assume that I’m having happy fantasies about my future boyfriend. And with not a single serious thought in my head, as it should be.