112. In Retrospect

Reading my Stasi-file closely while preparing this memoir was a bitter-sweet, emotionally draining experience, painful at times—e.g., when I came across unexpected deception or outright lies about my person; pleasurable at other times—e.g., when the file confirmed that none of my closest friends had informed on me, something I had come to fear. Much of what I read intrigued me, and it was particularly interesting to see how most of my informants tried to make themselves look good to their handlers by distorting or omitting certain facts or even fabricating things in their reports. In the end, I realized that none of them had done me any real harm, but that realization did not make me feel better about them. The file also reacquainted me with Richard Zipser of the 1970s and 1980s, a person I realized I no longer knew; it brought back many memories, good ones and bad ones.

In his eloquent memoir, The File (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), Timothy Garton Ash tells us

how a Stasi-file opens the door to a vast sunken labyrinth of the forgotten past, but how, too, the very act of opening the door itself changes the buried artifacts, like an archaeologist letting in fresh air to a sealed Egyptian tomb. For these are not simply past experiences rediscovered in their original state. Even without the fresh light from a new document or another’s recollection—the opened door—our memories decay or sharpen, mellow or sour, with the passage of time and the change of circumstances. . . But with the fresh light the memory changes irrevocably. A door opens, but another closes. There is no way back now to your own earlier memory of that person, that event. It is like a revelation made, years later, to a loved one. Or like a bad divorce, where today’s bitterness transforms all the shared past, completely, miserably, seemingly forever. Except that the bitter memory, too, will fade and change with the further passage of time. (108-09)