Oh shit! I don’t want to die! played on an eternal loop in my head when the floor started shaking.
My gut yelled Earthquake! but when my fingertips grazed the gas mask pouch slung over my shoulder, I was reminded I wasn’t home in California.
I parted the thick drapes to peer into the night. The sniper threat required we keep them closed, but the approaching menace was far more dangerous. Despite the risk, a childhood promise compelled me to see the enemy with my own eyes.
I placed my fingertips upon the glass vibrating in its window frame to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. The blue eyes staring back at me in the window’s reflection were my own, but they were no longer recognizable.
A teenager wearing crisp military greens burst into the office shouting, “Lights out! Get on the floor!” He flipped the switch and disappeared.
I intended to obey, but my limbs wouldn’t cooperate while I continued staring out of the fourth-floor window.
On the other side of the river, quaint yellow wooden homes that had survived centuries of invasions of marauding armies played with my imagination. In this strange land history had forgotten, lost stories emerged and played out in my mind during the oddest moments. I half expected old-world peasants dressed in colorful homespun wool garments to partake in an evening stroll along gardens blooming with tulips on this drizzly summer evening.
Instead, tanks, tanks and more tanks filled my vision.
Rows of massive Soviet armor lumbered in the distance. The military steel glistened in the light rain while passing under the street lamps, creating a surreal scene resurrecting a childhood memory of the Disneyland Main Street Electrical parade.
This isn’t the Magic Kingdom, I reminded myself while my mind slipped between the past and the present moment and back to the past.
Fifteen months ago, on March 11, 1990, the Lithuanian Parliament voted to break away from the USSR to end fifty years of Soviet occupation. Moscow reacted with an economic blockade and ongoing military violence. Lithuanians demanding freedom faced the Kremlin’s aggression with the principles of non-violent resistance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence from the British Empire. Lithuanians had fallen on the losing side of history time and time again. What made this tiny captive nation think it could stand up to the Russian bear now and accomplish in a couple of years what took the iconic Gandhi four decades to achieve?
I counted thirty tanks headed toward the bridge. Earlier reports had the count at one hundred. I assumed the rest were surrounding us, attempting to breach our ad hoc barricades on the streets and alleyways. The rumble of their engine pistons reverberated along the earth across the bridge to the foundations of the Parliament building. The thunder reached the fourth floor and the pounding shot through the soles of my feet to my fingertips on the glass, jolting me back into the reality of the present moment.
I took a measured breath to settle my nerves, but a fire shot up through my throat causing me to choke instead. When I arrived for work earlier, my sinuses were singed from the petrol fumes of the Molotov cocktails stewing in chipped Pepsi glass bottles lined up below the windows in the stairwell where an unsteady maze of sandbags and office furniture forced me to crawl to the fourth floor.
This is insane.
Our entire arsenal consisted of a few machine guns and antique hunting rifles we weren’t going to use, unless the Red Army shot first. What good would they be against tanks? Besides, Lithuanians didn’t have a trained army, only teenage volunteers. My only weapon was the telephone to inform Western journalists about the Red Army’s actions, but Moscow cut the lines.
What did I believe I could do in this cause for independence? My entire professional skill set comprised of DJ-ing and working at record stores. Meeting my death at the age of twenty-five was not my plan.
Back in the city I was born in, Los Angeles, the voices of my ancestral spirits provided inspiration. I followed signs from the Universe to forge my path in life. I desired to learn about the land my family escaped from decades ago to reconcile my identity crisis. Somehow, my ethereal guides led me to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, to a barricaded building wrapped in barbed wire working for the leaders of the revolution confronting the Soviet army. But only now, while facing tank cannons, I accepted I may be delusional and this may not have been a good idea.
These long minutes waiting for the Red Army to fire the first shot transformed into an eternal moment of reluctant acceptance.
Not how I envisioned my life would end. Am I going to get a quick bullet to the head? Or die in the fire and rubble when the building collapses?
A mound of concrete construction blocks dumped eight months earlier at the foot of the bridge stopped the Soviet military column’s progress. However, our blockade wasn’t going to stop their ultimate mission—to close the Iron Curtain on Lithuania once and for all. No, the Red Army tanks in my sight were first going to kill us, then erase the evidence along with the memory of Lithuania later when they rewrote the history books yet again.
The steel tank cannons jolted back and forth, taking aim. Unarmed men and women who had gathered to form a human shield to protect us, scrambled over the barricades and surrounded the tanks, shaking their fists.
Oh shit! I don’t want anyone to die. I’m an American. I’m already free. Why am I here?
Earlier, Rita instructed me to keep my passport on me. I’d assumed we’d escape to Poland if the Red Army attacked. But when I heard voices in the hallways repeating, “On the floor,” clearly, no one was running away. While the floor’s shaking increased and I wondered if Moscow’s army was going to rain shells, the true reason for Rita’s suggestion revealed itself.
So my dead body could be identified.
I removed my blue American passport from my Levi’s back pocket and placed it more securely in my front pocket.