The world of pulp and prevarication, whose deluged plateau the young woman I was in love with had fled, called to mind a private letter of Pasternak’s written in the 1920’s.  There the poet described the icy slush of totalitarianism, emulsifying every existing object out of recognition, as the epochal substratum in which his kind had been sinking in Russia.  To Orwell, making a similar point a decade later in the formally free West, the salient characteristic of the era was deoxygenation, with much the same outcome—that is, atrophy of the real.  Whether of torture chambers or soda fountains, of military tribunals or aspirin factories, of killer famines or air-conditioning plants, it was a world the two writers might feel they had in common, a sodden epoch where everything had been turned to pap, sterilized and suspended in a uniform solution.

My own experience supplied many additional parallels.  Thus the attitude to money, on the part of the young woman’s family and the society to which they belonged, was indistinguishable from the attitude to communism in Russia under Stalin, in that it was utterly untinged by hypocrisy.  In the Russian variant, the double-think only came once Stalin had died and the fear of him was gone; for nearly two decades previously, people had loved communism, parachute towers, Soviet icebergs, pilots, Young Pioneers, ferroconcrete, and, of course, Big Brother himself, as genuinely as Winston comes to love him on the last page of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  “Our kids love Stalin first, and their Dad second,” Pasternak’s own wife, Zina, liked to say, and in retrospect there is no reason to believe that she had not meant it.

It was only after the god had been buried that people began to dissemble.  “They can’t even make stick-pins!” muttered Khrushchev when an Order of the Hero he was pinning on some hero’s breast had come loose, forgetting, in a moment of irresolute melancholy, that it was he who was they.  In the American variant, no such eclaircissement came or was ever possible, because there the omnipotent god was also immortal; for money cannot be poisoned, nor die of a cerebral hemorrhage, nor get dethroned by a Beria or a Nietzsche.  Thus her family loved money and everything it entailed as blindly as the Russians under Stalin loved him and his communism, with everything that entailed: deeply, tenderly, wholeheartedly, without doubt or hesitation, with not a single cynical thought in mind, till death do us part.

Every specious love brings in its train a species of knowledge uniquely its own, and there the two variants might be expected to have diverged.  Not so, however.  In one case, something like a billion people, born on what was or would become the territory of the Soviet empire, had it bashed into their noggins, for instance, that the father of the founder of the secret police was called Edmund.  In the other, something like a billion people educated in the West learned the phrase black holes, understanding only that it had something to do with the heavens.  You could wake one of them in the middle of the night, shine a bright light in his face, and demand menacingly: “Dzerzhinsky’s dad was named what?” or “Up in the sky, what holes?”  He might not know a single verse of the Upanishads, or remember his own wife’s birthday, or say with confidence that emerald is a variety of beryl; but this kind of thing the sniveling little bastard would always get in one.

The similarities were as endless as they were compelling.  Yet there was a vital difference between the slushy deluge I had left behind in my teenage years and the one she had fled in hers.  The Soviet variant had been designed on the razor-wire lines of the Roman Empire, within whose confines “to resist was fatal,” as Gibbon puts it, “and it was impossible to fly.”  The American variant, by contrast, put no penalty whatever on escaping from its realm of genetically modified vine and polyunsaturated olive; her childhood was an imitation paradise one could leave behind without let or hindrance.  There at last, or so it seemed for the briefest of instants, nature had burst through the totalitarian slush, for every childhood is meant to be a paradise that one is free to leave behind.

So in the end it was clear that both fugitives had come from rather topsy-turvy Edens, where, if anything, maturity was the gateway—the famous one, guarded by the pair of angels with flaming swords—to infancy.  Psychologists like to portray the ages of man and, by extension, civilization, as a process during which man is progressively distanced from nature, whereby first the umbilical link to the womb is severed, then the mouth is detached from the breast, then manufactured clothes are worn, and finally a shiny new tricycle appears under the Christmas tree to announce advanced biological independence and increased social mobility.  This process, or progression, is supposedly irreversible, so long as the angels of taboo continue to guard the gate, barring man’s return, or regression, to the womb of nature.

But our childhoods had been denatured, with the paradoxical result that, for both of us, escaping Eden meant above all else escaping the ersatz realities and the unredeemable promises of adulthood; the realities and promises of Soviet totalitarianism in my case, those of American futurism in hers.  For the truth is that when a child is born, he is unable to appreciate the happiness supposedly in store for him; with the passing of time, he is constrained to accept on faith its eventual fulfilment, at some indeterminate future conjunction, in what might be called an infantile form of the social contract; yet when adulthood comes, with its clothes, its tricycle, its Model T Ford or its Lafite-Rothschild 1975, happiness remains in the faraway promised land of social or political prevarication.

It never will come, he realizes at some point.  He is living in a fool’s paradise.  He would have been better off to have stayed at one with nature, in Arcady’s groves of laurel and myrtle, in the fecund venter of liberty.  That is how dissidents are made, and revolutionaries, and neurotic misfits whom their contemporaries never tire of admonishing: “Grow up, man!  You’re living in the real world!  What’s the use acting like a kid?”