Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
Chapter 33 – No Romantic Proposal, no Flowers, no Chocolates, no Getting on Knees
Sometime in the spring of 1974, Andrea moved in with me on Mészáros utca. This led to a rather delicate situation with her parents, who were not at all happy that their daughter was shacking up with her boyfriend, and especially without an exchange of rings on the horizon.
Not long after, in early August, her brother got married. Andrea and I were, of course, invited to the wedding. Along with all the 'Happy Couple' chit chat, it was obvious the next major topic of conversation among the chattering masses was Andrea and myself.
There was a lot of “How come her younger brother is getting married before her?” and “Really, they're living together? Hmmm,” kind of talk. Not directly, of course, but there would be glances our way, and you could just feel the gossip buzzing around you.
Personally, I didn't feel the need to get married at all. For me, it was a perfectly comfortable situation, but this wedding brought it home that our relationship was causing certain conflicts within her family and among relatives.
And it made me think. Perhaps her parents had some right to be critical. Certainly, by the standards of those days, cohabitation was still somehow shameful to the older generation.
So right there, I said to myself: well, if it means so much to them, let them have a marriage!
At that, I moved across and sat down between my future in-laws and asked them; “What would you say if Andrea and I also got married?”
Immediately, smiles broke out from ear to ear! “Oh Gábor, what a brilliant idea! How nice! How happy we are!”
So I turned to Andrea and said: “I think tomorrow we'll go to the city council to apply for a marriage certificate!” Just like that: no romantic proposal, no flowers, no chocolates, no getting on my knees! I just made the statement. But Andrea accepted it; in fact, she was beaming with happiness.
Of course, there was the little problem of my work for the Americans. I had pledged to keep this an absolute secret on signing up in Khartoum. This made sense on the purely professional level, but somehow it just didn't seem right to keep this from her.
After all, working for the CIA in a Warsaw Pact country was, as we say in Hungarian - “Ez nem egy életbiztosítás!” - it doesn't do much for your life insurance policy.
But I was sure it would be safe to tell her. I knew both Andrea and her family pretty well by then, and we represented 100% the same political views when it came to the Russians. So I knew she would never start gossiping, or run to the police saying: hey, this guy's a spy!
I can't remember exactly how it went, I think we were walking somewhere out in the open – I wasn't prepared to talk at home about sensitive matters, I just didn't know if it was bugged.
Usually, once or twice a week, we visited her parents, who lived in Hegedűs Gyula utca, near Nyugati station. We would take the trams, but also walk a bit.
So one night I told her there were a few things she should know before she took the final plunge: I was working for the Americans. I'm not quite sure she believed me at the time, she may have thought I was showing off. At least initially. But a year or two later, we were out walking in Hűvösvölgy, and I picked up a container from a drop site. If she had not believed it earlier, she realised then that maybe what her husband had told her had been true!
We got married on 29th, August 1974, 46 years ago this very month. It was in the wedding hall of District I, in Uri utca, on Castle Hill. Just a civil ceremony. I think we had nearly 100 people at the reception.
The event was nothing out of the ordinary. I danced with my mother and my new mother-in-law, as was the custom in those days. I liked her and her husband (who was Andrea's stepfather, her biological father had defected when she was very young), and they were pleased she had a job as the assistant to a hotel director and married a young man with a flat to live in, good family background and good prospects – at least that is what they thought.
However, telling my new wife of my work for the Americans was the first time that I had consciously and willingly broken the rules that I'd accepted in Khartoum. I justified it to myself with the thought that Andrea was more important to me as a person than anything else.
This was to have serious consequences for us both later. But just like those hot days of August 1974, at the time life and the future seemed sunny and bright.