On This Day of Ours

She spent all the time admiring herself in the mirror… she went on and on about her perfect body and her toned abs, lifting her shirt to show me. Could she be vainer?

I knew the girl who had been getting on my friend’s last nerve. She was attractive. She was beautiful. But most importantly, she knew it and she loved flaunting it. Personally, I admired her fashion sense – she was one of those women who instinctively know what suits them best and could create astonishing outfits from unremarkable items – and I found her lack of false modesty refreshing.

I also knew what that story was about… Equally beautiful, equally vain, my friend was more subtle about showing off her best physical features. It wasn’t difficult to know when she was truly happy with her body. She’d emerge from dressing rooms half naked or she wouldn’t mind undressing in front of other women. We’d pretend to go to the gym only so we’d have a good excuse for sauna and massages.

On the other hand, whenever she put on some weight or she obsessed over imaginary cellulite, shopping with her was a nightmare. My needing a size smaller than the one she was trying on generally resulted in a variety of mood swings and was often met with a particular grimace – the one she was saving for those special cases when someone’s actions were perceived as purposely directed against her. Our guilty pleasure – a nice meal and sharing a large slice of chocolate cake at our favourite restaurant – would be replaced by a blend salad and a lecture on the dangers of sugar and carbs.

All of the sudden, she’d show up wrapped in an oversized towel, the kind she always made fun of when seeing other women wear when taking a sauna. Like I said, I knew what it was about – she had cancelled our sauna and gossip sessions entirely for several weeks, when our acquaintance was showing off her perfect body.

It looks like all that time she spends exercising is paying off… Well, some of us don’t have the time for that, some of us have to work…

The time for feigning acceptance had passed. I could envision their afternoon… after all, I had witnessed such displays so many times. Both of them beautiful, both of them competitive, both of them frustrated in different ways. One would brag about her career and stable future, the other about her looks and her obscenely wealthy boyfriend… one of them relying on her education and her supportive family; the other one relying on nothing else but her beauty and survival instincts, her family offering her nothing but a bedroom in their home… both of them sharing one common goal, in spite of their temporary independence and rebellion – meeting a man they’d marry, the way it was expected of them…

I think of that conversation once in a while… particularly when I notice people shaking their heads and rolling their eyes disapprovingly if I make it clear that I feel good about the way I look… particularly when I notice people sigh with exasperation if I’m displeased with my appearance. So get ready to roll your eyes, because I’m going to say it. We were in our twenties back then and all three of us were beautiful, in conventional and non-conventional ways.

What is so wrong in saying that, anyway? No matter what we look like, we are constantly bombarded with clichés on the importance of self-love… so much so, that it’s really easy to end up hating ourselves for not loving to bits all those perfect imperfections we abhor. Yet the very moment we actually find a way to accept and appreciate our individual beauty, no matter what that might look like, countless brows frown and condemning whispers point out how such deluded vanity is unacceptable. What is the crime in it, that we have to tare each other apart this way? Everything in moderation, one might say. But moderation isn’t always an option… Much like beauty, moderation is subjective, defined by the eye of the beholder. Call me crazy, but I’d rather err on the side of deluded vanity/self-love…

Yes, we are can be wonderfully generous and we can be frightfully mean; we can be insecure and we can be arrogant, even at the same time; we laugh, we cry, we hurt and get hurt. We are only human. We live. So perhaps – once in a while – we can just live and let live… especially on this day of ours. Rather than trying to set new patterns that “need” to be followed, we might consider respecting each other’s choices, even if we may not always agree with them. Rather than trying to define, rule and regulate what a woman “should” be, let’s take a break and appreciate who we actually are.

This is supposed to be our day, so first and foremost, we should celebrate ourselves. Then we might want to think of all those other wonderful women in our lives. Then we might want to take a moment and think of those special people in our lives, the patient and loving ones, the ones who make us feel like ladies each and every day, and thank them. We all know who they are 😉

Happy Women’s Day, ladies!

Solitude

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“She stands still, looking around, never moving, never changing. People leave. People change. New people always arrive, so they would take their turn leaving sooner or later. And they live and die, they experience a constant transformation. Yet she transcends stages of life without moving, because she cannot undertake the usual, normal human evolutionary road and follow it through the same ditches of failure and disappointment. So she stands still, most of the times alone, breathing steadily and sometimes stopping someone to keep her company, help her forget fear and loneliness and hatred… and just trying to live.’

Parallel Lives – Ana Linden

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In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Solitude.

Picking Up The Phone And Speaking Out

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I barely managed to quietly lock the door behind me when the ringing made me jump out of my skin. Whoever was calling, I begrudged them. That phone was so loud, that you could hear it from any corner of the house… especially in the dead of night.

Great! My grandmother was already standing in front of me – the woman could certainly pull a frightening judgemental look, even in her frilly granny nightgown, measuring me from the tip of my high heel boots to my mascara covered lashes. Our make-believe game was working so well… I would pretend I got home early, she would pretend to care enough to stay awake and see when I returned; as long as nothing happened, so she wouldn’t have to be confronted with the truth, as long as none of her friends could prove my disobedience, the system served us both so well.

What time is it? I answered, defiantly looking her in the eye. Why did we need to pretend, anyway? Who was calling at this hour of the night? How was I to know? Perhaps I could find out, if she moved aside, so I could get to the ringing phone… No. That was unacceptable. The phone would not be answered. Calling that late in the night was simply a sign of bad manners. I scowled, as my grandmother stood in front of me, arms crossed, sleep marks on her face, yet stubbornly blocking my path to the phone. Maybe it was an emergency, I ventured a guess. No emergency justifies bad manners! I wasn’t going to win that one, I knew it.

Perhaps getting a mobile phone wasn’t an entirely bad idea, I thought to myself, entering my room once the ringing stopped.

*

The desk by the window remained empty that day. I hoped she would eventually show up.  But she didn’t, and I couldn’t fight that feeling of dread and helplessness taking over me as the hours went by.

*

I had to ring several times before the door eventually opened. Her brother looked sad, but relieved to see me. Something in his voice made me believe that he was constantly feeling the dread and helplessness I had experienced that day, but ten times, a hundred times more intensely. She was fine… well, she was upset, but she was fine… she just didn’t feel like going to school, that was all. Was he trying to convince me or himself? Why didn’t he go to work that day, if he believed it?…

Relax… No pills, no trips to the emergency room, she smiled sadly as I entered her room. No more of that, she did promise, after all… Was she trying to convince me or herself? She was just in a bad mood; everybody can be in a bad mood once in a while, right?

When she didn’t come to school for about ten days several months earlier, nobody could get in touch with her. But nobody worried too much either, she often missed school for days at a time. She was a bright girl, so she always managed to keep up with all the school work… and let’s be honest, we all did our best to skip as many classes as possible.

She loved life and she knew she had made a mistake in a moment of weakness. Last night was just bad, that’s all, she told me. She knew that talking about it would make her feel better, would chase away some of her despair, fear and loneliness. Her brother was out. So she tried calling her closest friends… but it was late, very late in the night, so nobody answered.

Of course they didn’t, manners were more important than emergencies, I thought to myself, not at all sure whether what I was feeling was anger or guilt.

Then she dialled some random numbers, she continued to tell me the previous night’s story. Eventually, somebody answer. A stranger. A kind, patient stranger, somebody completely unfamiliar with certain good manners, answered and listened. A stranger can sometimes be more understanding, helpful and objective than any friend. But most importantly, it can be a lot easier to talk to a stranger, especially when they do answer their phone in the middle of the night. She cried, she talked about things she didn’t even know she needed to share and in her turn, she listened to a stranger’s opinions and personal stories. In the end, the experience had been cathartic, but exhausting as well, because it was morning by the time they hung up. That was why she hadn’t come to school, she needed to sleep. I was relieved; at the same time, I felt awful.

I wanted to make my grandmother feel guilty, I wanted to make her understand how wrong she had been. It didn’t work; some people can never see anything outside that small box which represents their close-minded vision on life. But whether she liked it or not, telephone etiquette was no longer respected.

*

I often ignore phone calls, but to this day I always answer when the phone rings in the middle of the night. You never know when allowing someone to speak out about something completely irrelevant to you might actually be a matter of life of death for them…

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 2

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Part 1

I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?

To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there, from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then.

So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.

Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…

Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…

On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.

Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike two. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date. I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!

It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet, he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parents’ behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…

But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…

Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 1

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It was shortly after lunch when I started looking forward to the comfort of a hot shower, a fluffy bathrobe and a pair of soft slippers . I made it back from the local shopping centre frozen, hungry and somewhat scarred for life by the madness of last minute shoppers – one of which I had unwillingly become that year. But at least my frozen claws were clenched, holding on to their sought after and fought over prey – a not too big cardboard box containing a brand new artificial Christmas tree and a plastic bag with a few decently looking ornaments.

She could’ve at least checked to see what state it was in, I couldn’t stop thinking somewhat resentfully, because my mother’s old Christmas tree was beyond redemption, as I got to find out earlier that day. But after fighting tooth and nail with the cat in order to recover each and every one of the bobbles my mother so gracefully spread all over the floor for the little animal to play with, after figuring out where the tree could be safely set, out of reach of the spoiled four-legged menace, after some pre-Christmas cooking and baking, the evening ahead seemed promising. I was exhausted, but it looked like we were about to have a nice, calm, peaceful family Christmas Eve for a change.

Fluffy robe and cute slippers on, hair in a messy ponytail, all relaxed and reinvigorated, I’m making my way to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before I decide on something nice and comfortable to wear – and all of the sudden I feel like I’ve forgotten how to breathe… and utter words. I don’t blush. I never do. But I feel my face burning, it must be red this time. There he is, the family friend… all dressed up, looking festive, uncomfortable and equally speechless. And there’s my mother urging me to be polite and hug the man – after all, we hadn’t seen each other in such a long while. And there’s her husband, grinning smugly, whispering to me, I couldn’t fit him under the Christmas tree, but you can thank me later.

I really should have known better… both of them had been on their best behaviour the entire day, occasionally exchanging amused glances or leaving the room in order to make various phone calls. But I fell for the mirage of that simple, tranquil, boringly normal Christmas Eve dinner, and you just don’t question a miracle if you feel it’s about to happen.

I needed help with my outfit, so the gentlemen had to excuse me, while my mother had to explain herself as soon as we were out of the room. It was really all his fault – she would blame it on her husband, as usual; she would have preferred someone better. But this one would have to do on such short notice… it would have been nice of me to let them know I was single at least a few weeks in advance. What’s the harm in it, anyway? He’s a nice guy, I had met him before, we always got along well… and you have to admit he’s hot, she tells me. And he broke up with what’s-her-name, now you two can finally have some fun.

I really should have known better. It was all about the perfect package – and as long as I didn’t have a date for Christmas or for the New Year’s Eve party or for any of the other holiday related events, I was not the full package. I had once again forgotten that everything I had accomplished held value only if there was a man there to hold my hand. And since I was in my mid-twenties, I was practically an old maid already. It didn’t really matter if I was dating somebody at home or not – as long as I didn’t bring anybody with me to introduce to them, I was fair game and they took it upon themselves to set all sorts of uncomfortable dates for me. I had no problem getting dates on my own, thank you!

To be continued…

Someone’s Birthday

A few weeks ago, I jokingly threatened someone to reveal their age in a birthday post. It’s generally assumed that women are the vane and sensitive ones when it comes to this delicate subject, but from what I’ve noticed, men are equally touchy. One enjoys one’s birthday to be acknowledged and celebrated, but one hopes one’s age be forgotten. So don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me 😉 .

There’s a very special gentleman out there – one very important to me – who’s one year older today, yet just as young at heart as he was the day we met. To him I’d like to wish a very happy birthday! May all your hopes and dreams come true! And don’t forget, the best men are like fine wine – they get better with age 😉 .

A Realist’s Magic

7

“Sorry, I forgot you were born a cynic.”

We both laughed. He wasn’t far from the truth.

With Christmas only a month away and the air getting chillier every day, with seasonal decorations and gift suggestions invading every corner of our lives, some of us find it difficult to chase away a certain feeling of anticipation. That childish giddiness is almost in the air again, and personally, I have to exercise a certain kind of self-control and not succumb to that exaggerate desire of purchasing more and more Christmas decorations I won’t have where to store once the holidays are over.

The slide down memory lane is inevitable when trying to make some sort of holiday plans and my oldest, closest friend and I have our own traditions. First, we do our best to spend some time together in December, preferably over the holidays (that used to be so much easier to accomplish when we were kids…). Then, once that happens, old photos are pulled out and all sorts of memories are rehashed – bitter, sweet and bittersweet ones alike.

He was the child who refused to believe Santa wasn’t real, until he had no choice but to accept that life is harsh and its struggles sometimes have to be faced at an early age. He believed in magic and magic was suddenly taken away, to only be replaced by sadness and disappointment. I, however, never believed in Santa Claus. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I loved and enjoyed every moment of it for several years before it all became too real; yet I never believed in Santa, even if presents mysteriously materialized under the tree every Christmas morning. I couldn’t really explain why, it was a feeling more than anything else. My intuition simply didn’t allow me to believe it, even if in a way, I would have liked him to be real. Later on, the explanation crystalized in a few simple words, which apply to so many other instances of our lives: it was too good to be true. Like my friend said, I must have been born a cynic. It’s probably also true that he was a happier child before he saw the magic die in front of his innocent eyes.

Now we can make light of such memories, the ones about how we found out for sure Santa wasn’t real. Once I had decided to obtain irrefutable proof that the jolly man in red was only a lie, nothing stood in my way. Evidence once found, my plan was to wait until Christmas morning and then tell my mother I already knew what my presents were. But once I proclaimed I knew there was no Santa and I could prove it, I could clearly discern a shadow of sadness and worry on my mother’s face. I needed to prove I was right; but she needed me not to, she needed me to believe in magic. So I said nothing else aside from the usual, “I just know”. After all, I knew what the truth was and that was enough. Sometimes, parents lie to protect their children. And sometimes, children do the same to protect their parents. On that particular Christmas, the magic was all about a mother and a daughter wanting to make each other happy.

I later understood there was a different magic of Christmas in which I actually believed, and that had simply been the first time I had experienced it. It wasn’t about religion, myths, superstition or supernatural beings making dreams come true. Instead, it was about offering myself some moments of childish joy and also about creating a happy instance for somebody dear to me. What can I say, there’s magic and there’s magic… Mine just happens to be of the more realistic, non-idealized, superstition-free kind.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic.

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Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and Selective Memory (Fragment)

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It starts off light, little things here and there, which only make you believe she is simply a more forgetful person than others. An assignment not carried out in time leads way to an almost hysterical reaction as she is blaming everybody for not telling her she was the one supposed to do it. Nobody can possibly imagine she would react that way if indeed she had known and forgotten about it. That is, until the situation becomes a recurrent event… because she does indeed forget, she forgets she was told in the first place, then she forgets having forgotten. Therefore it never happened.

[…]

Regina is not like everybody else, she knows it and she cultivates this idea, mainly to the benefit of her own peace of mind. One of those things that make her so special – aside from her uncanny intelligence, unspeakable beauty and impeccable taste, of course – are her high moral standards. Therefore she makes for one very interesting case study, as all people may lie, but not so many of them have so helpful a subconscious that it literally deletes all unwanted and unacceptable memories.

[…]

Selective memory works in mysterious ways, you suddenly remember while she pouts and accuses you of all sorts of sins, such as betrayal, false friendship and selling her to the enemy. With all those invectives thrown at you in one angry breath, you can barely gather yourself and wonder what the hell you did wrong this time, in order to earn you such a warm welcome.

It all becomes clear when you slowly understand that if some people might forget a name, a date or a place, Regina can forget an entire relationship. Thus you are blamed for all kinds of unfriendly, treacherous behaviour, because she only remembers the first time she dated that particular man. But the second time around – the one which lasted half a year or so and even brought about the possibility of an impending wedding – is lost somewhere in the mists of Regina’s selective memory.

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Unseen Numbers

3

You have 20% sight left in your right eye.

She twirled the fork in the cold pasta once more, still unable or unwilling to taste it. She closed her right eye, giving the plate a suspicious look. She’d been playing that game for a week. The doctor’s words were ringing in her ears, no matter what she did. So she started repeating them once more, not caring that the man sitting across the table, eating his dinner in silence, had heard them time and time again, first from the doctor’s mouth, than from her, doubled by a variety of emotions. Sadness, disbelief, hope, despair, resignation, acceptance… hysteria… he’d witnessed them all. For a moment, she felt relief, as though saying the words out loud made the problem evaporate into thin air.

“You’ll have surgery and everything will be fine again. You’ll see.”

He swallowed his half chewed pasta. There was a faint aftertaste of guilt, he noticed… he’d heard the story so many times, that he’d become immune. He no longer cared about her drama – real or imaginary – but nothing in his actions would betray it. After all, they were married…

20%… It was that number that got to her the most. It was all about the numbers. She hated mathematics, therefore she spent the better part of her life stubbornly trying to disregard the numbers she despised. But they’d always been there, tormenting her, challenging her, making her happy and sad alike, even if she had chosen to look the other way.

But she was too young… wasn’t she? Wasn’t it only old people who needed cataract surgery? She swallowed the tasteless pasta. Apparently not, that’s what the doctor said… either that or she really was old, and she just couldn’t see it. She swallowed her tears along with the pasta.

She looked at all her bookshelves, absentmindedly trying to count all the books she had read and all the ones left to read; and there were so many more that she would never even get to hear about. The numbers were winning once more. Did she only have 20% of her life left as well? The surgery might very well fix her eye – the numbers were in her favour there – but it wouldn’t fix much else. How much was left? And what to do with it?

She closed her right eye again, staring at her left hand. Only half a picture, yet somehow it looked clearer than the full picture. The diamond sparkled as she stretched her fingers and she tried to remember all its numbers – the size, the price, the date she said “yes” to it, to him, the years that had passed. Were they wasted years? Half a picture said “no”; the other half told another story. No eye surgery could help her see her present clearly.

The pasta was blend that evening, yet he wasn’t complaining about it. He always complained when the food wasn’t the way he liked it. Was this good or bad? Was he trying to be understanding and supportive or had he reached that point where he couldn’t be bothered to care enough in order to complain? A 50-50 chance. She knew she often felt she was approaching that point. So potentially 100% for their couple… was that how relationship maths worked?

Her eye moved up to her wrist. The numbers pointed to the fact that it was almost time for him to go out and meet his friends. It was almost time for her to be alone again. The number of minutes in the days in the months in the years they had been married could easily be calculated. But she loathed the result, because she had the feeling she’d been lonely for the better part of them. She also loathed to think whether he was lonely as well.

Perhaps that was why there were no more watches, no more jewellery, no more flowers. As the numbers of their relationship went up, the number of tokens of appreciation decreased, until it reached 0 and stagnated. Or did he think that holding her hand at the eye doctor was a sign of appreciation? Maybe he did… after all, she thought that remembering to buy his favourite socks was a sign of affection. They barely remembered each other’s birthdays or their anniversary these days, but the memories of earlier years were crystal clear. His birthday had come and gone, adding one more uncelebrated year to his number. Her birthday was coming up; so was their anniversary. She didn’t feel guilty for not celebrating his; she would resent him for ignoring hers, theirs… But she would pretend she didn’t care, the way she had for the past several years. How many years was it now? Anyway, she would pretend not to care, she would make light of it… after all, they weren’t children… after all, they were married…

“We should have dinner somewhere nice on our anniversary… or maybe on your birthday. That way, you don’t have to cook…” He pushed aside the half empty plate of pasta and left the table. It was time for after dinner drinks with his friends.

Both her eyes were widely open, silently staring the man in front of her. But she couldn’t get a clear picture. Was it because he hated her cooking? Was he trying to be nice? But if he was, why didn’t he suggest they go away for a few days, just the two of them? Could he no longer stand to be alone with her for a few days? Could she put up with him for a few days, just the two of them alone, all the time? Would this year’s celebration celebrate something? What were the chances for that to happen? Surely they could be calculated. Perhaps she didn’t want a clear picture after all…

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and Separate Beds (Fragment)

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Alone once more, with nobody to share her tragedy, having to face and accept the separate beds situation, Regina also has to accept taunting memories that refuse to stay selectively lost. Inconsiderate has no knowledge of it, but when initially leaving her for not being appealing enough, he became an influential factor in Regina’s evolution. Non-revealing, somewhat blend, often boring outfits used to be her signature style. That’s how you get a husband, she had been taught; she was also quite sure her mere existence would be reason enough for any man to reach ecstasy. On top of everything else, she had the upper hand, she looked the part of the moral compass she believed herself to be, thus feeling entitled to pass judgement on any other woman.

What really annoyed her at the time, she remembered, was the fact that her style had worked on several men, all enthralled by her innocent beauty and charm. She was particularly fond of one memory… After a pleasant evening together, her date was walking her home. It was a warm summer evening and she was wearing the most unassuming, somewhat outdated dress and pink flip-flops. They had had such a great time together, that she just didn’t want their date to end, so she invited him to stay for coffee. But it was only their second date, so he chose to be a perfect gentleman… yet when he held her tight and gave her a long, passionate goodbye kiss, pressing his body against hers, she could clearly feel how much he desired her. So men had to make an effort to control the wild desire she stirred up in their loins, in spite of those unrevealing outfits she used to wear. However, she failed to remember a few insignificant details… They had to run through torrential rain that beautiful summer evening and by the time they reached her door, the boring dress was nothing but a semi-transparent piece of cloth clinging to the naked body underneath. But such things rarely make a difference when it comes to a man’s desire anyway…

Meeting Inconsiderate was a revelation. He was the first real man she fell in lust with and not only did he fascinate her, but he also made her feel small and simply not good enough. Everything about him exuded power and success, she felt; and she absolutely loved how he only wore designer clothes and accessories… She was equally impressed and intimidated by his disdain for people who found it acceptable to drape their bodies in cheap, ordinary clothes and in case one didn’t manage to catch a clear glimpse of all the labels he was wearing, he would certainly find a way to work it into conversation. Women were occasionally exempt from the designer rule, if and only if the flashy outfits covering their perfect bodies left very little to the imagination and their pretty faces expressed endless awe and admiration for him. Complete with an equally extravagant car he would change at least yearly (because he kept wrecking each and every one of them), the stunning new man in Regina’s life was absolutely irresistible. Anyone saying otherwise was just too jealous to admit it!

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Tricks and Treats of Adult Life

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“… had a feeling… he did … found out by mistake … and now … yesterday … telling you …”

Oh yes! Gloves, gloves, gloves! Those turquois ones… They definitely have the best selection. Gloves, gloves, gloves…

“Do you mind if I have a look?”

“Help yourself! Try on everything you like.”

Next to being left to my own devices in a candy store as a child, what else could be better? Quick, let’s have a thorough look before she changes her mind and becomes a suffocating sales person again.

“And the kids… there’s the kids to consider, after all…”

And the elbow length ones… look at those beauties, they’d go great with my cape. Behave yourself, you have a pair just like them at home! Oh well… perhaps in a different colour… maybe the royal blue pair. Between the intoxicating smell of leather and all the colours and styles, how’s a girl to make up her mind? Decisions, decisions…

“The business too… Don’t you think?”

I confess, I have a weakness for leather gloves. I blame it on my childhood (isn’t that what we always do when it comes to our quirks and foibles?). I’m partial to accessories in general, like most women, but come the cold season, I can’t help thinking I just need to have at least one more pair of leather gloves… or two or three… and perhaps some new boots too… Oh no, one obsession at a time!

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m sure I can blame this one on my childhood. My grandmother used to have this pair of fur trimmed, unimaginably soft leather gloves and I remember I so wanted a pair just like that. When you grow up, she’d tell me, they’re not for children. So I eventually did what any rebellious, stubborn kid would do. If I wasn’t going to have the ones I wanted, then I would not wear any gloves. However, that did not change my grandmother’s mind, so I went a couple of winters without actually wearing gloves, even if I was offered several colourful, girly, woollen choices. (I did occasionally cheat, I had a pair hidden in my schoolbag, just in case of an impromptu snow fight; but I wouldn’t wear them otherwise.) The denouement came as a shocking surprise when my mother eventually noticed my frozen hands and she was told what the reason was. All this drama for nothing, I remember she muttered, angry with my grandmother. Here, you can have mine, I never wear them anyway. With the simplest of gestures, she took a pair of black leather gloves out of her handbag and gave them to me. See if they fit. They did, they fit almost perfectly and they smelled like leather and her perfume. I was finally an adult, I thought to myself, ignoring my grandmother’s angry, disapproving looks.

“He’s been seeing her for over a year. I have no idea what to do now, I mean, I have to make a decision, right? Do I divorce him?”

Something’s wrong with the speakers, a good part of them stopped working and now the woman’s monologue is loud and clear, I can’t miss a word if I tried. She obviously doesn’t care, she keeps pouring her story over her friend or acquaintance, the one she’s holding captive, who looks so embarrassed, so ill at ease.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop by and say hello… But the words don’t sink in and they don’t grant her an escape. She looks like a trapped animal, ready to make a run for it, wanting to be as far away from that mundane drama unfolding in front of her. To say hello to an acquaintance, maybe a hugely discounted pair of gloves, that’s all she wanted; and now that hand holding her arm in a friendly, yet desperate grip was dragging her into one of those unpleasant situations in which none of us want to find ourselves.

I can’t say I don’t understand her. I don’t want to hear the most private, embarrassingly painful details of a stranger’s marriage. I hate whoever is in charge of the sound system. Now I have to leave, because I feel so uncomfortable listening to all that. In her attempt to escape, the unwilling confident has slowly motioned towards the exit and now the two of them are blocking the small doorway, none of them letting go of the pair of gloves which had been purchased and dearly paid for.

Why should I leave? This was supposed to be my treat. I was looking forward to the leather goods fair. It’s always small family businesses that attend and there are always great deals to be found. I want my damn gloves! I wasted all that time looking for a parking spot and now I should just leave? I’m going to stomp my feet and dive right back into the plethora of colourful gloves, together with the other uncomfortable customers. That’s what I’m going to do. Look how pretty those fuchsia ones are… wait, I already have a pair of fuchsia gloves… I bought them here last year… They always have the best selection, don’t they? All sorts of colours, not just your usual black, brown and beige variety…

Right… two pairs will do, and for the first time I don’t want to spend any more time here than necessary.

“Should I leave him?”

Strangers ask me the most unexpected questions… like that lady at the supermarket, asking me what pickles she should buy – what do I know, I don’t even like pickles? But this one really takes the cake.

I looked up, making eye contact with the woman holding on to the small shopping bag. She isn’t trying to cynically punish me for having unwillingly witnessed her loud confession. She is expecting an answer. A one word answer, not an opinion, not pity or husband bashing. She needs an answer, I can see that.

“No.”

That is the only one word answer she is looking for. I know that. I know it, because much as I tried, I couldn’t help hearing everything. I couldn’t help understanding that – whether she knows it or not – her mind is already made up. All she needs now is somebody to support that decision, somebody she can blame in case it’s the wrong decision. So I’ll give her that.

She lets go of the small shopping bag we’re both holding and she smiles.

“Thank you.”

Maybe it wasn’t my place to answer. Maybe it wasn’t even the right answer. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was what she needed at that point. What I do know is that it wasn’t my place to tell her that I believe almost everybody cheats at some point or another, in some way or another, for some reason or another. It wasn’t my place to tell her that everything she was relating suggested the fact that her husband would most likely leave her before she might even get a chance to verbalise her decision.

I walked away with my nicely wrapped new gloves. There’s more to the life of an adult woman than such delightful treats. We need our armour to protect us from the tricks played on us and from the potential guilt resulting from the tricks we play on others… and on ourselves. And if some soft leather gloves or any other kind of delicious, frivolous accessories can help build and maintain that metaphorical armour, then so be it! If we need to occasionally relinquish responsibility, revert to childhood and blame the world for our misfortune for a moment or two, then so be it!

1

Husband Or Cat?

1

She was quickly becoming a pain in the neck… literally. Holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder while ironing may have not been one of my brightest ideas. But conversations with her were generally long and boring. I needed some other dull task to focus on, so that they wouldn’t feel like a waste of time. After all, that’s what people do, right? They try to keep in touch, they make an effort to communicate and mind each other’s dull nonsense… that is, until you start feeling like throwing your phone out the window.

Apparently she was having a husband bashing night and I just had to be part of it…. Oh well… Sure, I could let her vent and throw in a yes, no or a wow once in a while. I knew the drill, she just needed to tare him apart and contradicting her would only anger the woman even more. But strongly agreeing with her while listing all his flaws without mentioning any redeeming qualities was also a faux pas. After all, she wanted some compassion and empathy, she didn’t want to hear that she had married the wrong person, that the two of them were not compatible, or – horror of horrors – that some of their marital problems might have also been her fault. But once she was done, she generally occasionally able to hear that perhaps he wasn’t all bad, that she might not always be a delight to live with and that all in all, they needed to work together on solving their problems.

Then there were the times when conversations took a twisted, shocking turn…

“I just can’t do it anymore… I have to do everything… he can’t even be trusted to take out the rubbish… you wouldn’t believe for how long he can leave the rubbish bag right there, by the door…”

Oh yes, the “who takes out the rubbish” conundrum… I heard that one before. Whenever she’s mad at him, you’ll always hear about the rubbish.

“I put it next to his shoes and he still claims he didn’t see it, that’s why he didn’t take it out. I swear, next time he’ll find it all over his beloved loafers. I’m not joking, you know. I told him that.”

I had to stifle a few giggles. I know how annoying such small things can be, they get to me too. But for years and years, I keep hearing all about the rubbish drama. She keeps finding amusingly creative ways to point it out and he keeps ignoring it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one morning he found potato peels in his shoes, leftover pasta in his pockets and shrivelled lettuce in his wallet.

“He’s taken it too far… I don’t know how long I can put up with this anymore. I’m all alone all day, taking care of our sick cat and what does he do?… The poor thing isn’t doing better, I’m the only one giving her the treatment and it breaks your heart seeing how she suffers…”

Goody… more cat stories now. I made a face at the phone, while picking up a pillow case from the decreasing laundry pile. I am not a cat person. She always talked about her cat the same way doting mothers talk about their babies. Much as I wanted to be open and understanding, I couldn’t help thinking there were deeper issues behind her behaviour.

“I give the cat her medicine, I try to get her to eat something, I’m the one who stays awake watching her at night…”

Why would she do that in the first place? I was pretty sure the cat wasn’t awake all night… Oh well… moving on to the next pillow case.

“… and he sleeps right through it! Then he’s at work all day, of course. And who has to take care of a sick cat every day? Not him! You know he hasn’t taken one single day off to stay home with her?”

What sane person would?

“And now, do you know where he is now? Well, do you?”

Oh, that wasn’t a rhetorical question… How am I to know?

“No…”

“I’ll tell you where he is. At the hospital, visiting his mother! Every day, after work, he goes straight to the hospital to see her. He has a sick cat at home and he goes to the hospital to see his mother every day!”

Okay… this I was not prepared for… how does one react to something like this?

“Do you know that I had to take the cat to the vet all by myself because he was too busy looking after his mommy?”

I unplugged the iron and sat down, holding the phone with one hand and massaging my neck with the other. I like animals too. I had pets too. But this was too much. This was insane. There was a woman suffering on a hospital bed. Her husband was terrified facing the possibility of losing his mother, and all she cared about was a damn cat with an ear infection.

This was a new low, and it had nothing to do with me not being a cat person or with a man too lazy to take out the rubbish. Nevertheless, I am the one labelled as uncaring and cold-hearted, because I am not moved to tears by the suffering kitty… Well, call me crazy, but I want to desperately hold on to this insane idea that people, especially the ones we choose to have in our lives, should be more important than a pet.

Ages and Stages of Watching “Dirty Dancing”

 6

I kept changing the channels, barely noticing what was on… nothing was interesting anyway… not the book I was reading, not the homework I knew I was never going to finish, not the outfit I was going to wear the following day, and certainly not my life that evening. A movie was about to start and I decided to give it a chance. And this is how I got to watch experience Dirty Dancing for the first time.

I would have been too young to understand or show the slightest interest in it in the 80s, but the 90s teenager was absolutely fascinated by the romance unfolding on TV. Of course, the fact that Patrick Swayze was absolutely yummy didn’t hurt; I also loved the dancing, but it was the passion between the characters that I envied. Their story wasn’t exactly what I would have imagined as the dream romance, yet it was subjugating nevertheless. I wanted to feel something like that, the kind of consuming, overwhelming, out of control love which gives you wings and the strength to defend the object of your affection, no matter what. Such an ecstatic experience was definitely one worth having, I decided. But the ending… it made me sad. Sure, he came back for her, he didn’t allow for anybody to put Baby in a corner, they had one last amazing, unforgettable dance, but then I was left with the feeling that the end of summer was also the end of their romance. Why couldn’t that sort of love motivate two beautifully passionate people to try and find a way to be together? The movie ended on a cheery note, but I was sure that was the end for Baby and Johnny. It couldn’t have been any other way, yet I didn’t want to look beneath the surface and acknowledge the obvious answers to my questions.

2

I had experienced that unbelievable, unexpected, overpowering passion, I had even done some dirty dancing of my own by the next time I watched the movie, in my very early twenties. Sometimes, when we get to experience the materialization of one of our dreams, the reality doesn’t meet the expectations. That wasn’t such a case. The reality was every bit as deliciously amazing as the dream. In some instances, it might have even been better, because some sensations cannot be fully understood if only imagined and not even once perceived.

Come the end of summer, came the end of romance as well – a known, anticipated and planned ending. The truth couldn’t be denied. It was exactly that pre-established ending that increased the intensity of our passion. The awareness that our infatuation wouldn’t last forever allowed us to give everything and open our hearts, souls and bodies to each other’s desires and feelings. It was the kind of passion that would haunt us for years to come. It was the kind of passion that would make us see the other person’s features everywhere. It was the kind of passion that brought tears to our eyes when hearing a certain song, knowing we wouldn’t see the other person anymore. It was the kind of passion which even when no longer felt, but only remembered, would make us pick up our phones and send the other a text, sharing a memory or an instance which triggered a feeling. We both had our own separate lives, yet those texts never went unanswered. It was the kind of passion that needed no explanation between the two persons who had once shared it.

1

I watched Dirty Dancing that second time, melancholically wondering if I would ever find that sort of passion. Experiencing it only once was never going to be enough for me, few things could compare to it, few times had I felt that alive. I had a feeling I would experience it again, just as I knew I would watch that movie over and over again. I didn’t question the ending anymore. The ending was absolutely necessary… but perhaps it could be changed in real life, under the right circumstances… or so I liked to think, even if I didn’t really believe it.

I couldn’t see past that happy ending separating the couple. Actually, I could, but I preferred not to look. I didn’t want to see a drunken, aged, frustrated Johnny, unable to cope with Baby’s successful career, incapable and unwilling to be part of her world. I didn’t want to see a sad, lonely, frustrated, prematurely aged Baby trying to make ends meet, regretting her choices, wishing she hadn’t given up her future and squandered her potential for a man she barely knew. They had made the right decision, the only smart one.

3

I watched Dirty Dancing many times since. I got to experience that passion again, more than once. I don’t know if I’m luckier than others or that kind of passion is out there, available and real for everybody, as long as we allow it and accept it for what it is. What I do know – now that I’m in my thirties – is that I could live it again, if I decided it was worth it. Knowing the inevitable ending, being able to recognize the stages deprives it of some of its magic. Watching Dirty Dancing again makes me realize I’ve become more jaded and cynical than I thought I was. I no longer feel that strong wish to live such a story, and not because I don’t think it’s worth it – it definitely remains an incredibly great mixture of emotions and surprising moments – but because I now know it’s not as unattainable as it might seem. While each and every one of these stories is special in its own way, none of them is really unique… And they all die out the same way. It’s passion able to regenerate its strength that’s truly hard to find, not consuming passion that burns out with a bright, short lived flame.

So what I wish now while watching Dirty Dancing is that I hadn’t lost all my naiveté, what I dream is to occasionally forget how jaded I am. That way, next time I am presented with a Dirty Dancing kind of passion, I wouldn’t stop and wonder, Is it worth it?… even if I’m pretty sure the answer would still be Yes.

Weighing The Now

6No, she didn’t want any desert. Yes, she was saying no to the best tiramisu in town. Her daughter raised her eyebrows in disbelief – she had never heard her say no to tiramisu. Occasionally binging on sweets was their thing. Was anything wrong? No, everything was fine, she was just trying to cut back on sweets and eat healthily. After all, her daughter was doing the same for several years, she should understand. After all, the fact that she had just made that decision wasn’t relevant to the matter. More for me, and the daughter winked at her mother as the waitress placed the desert accompanied by two spoons between the two of women.

She watched her daughter obliviously savour her tiramisu. She used to be able to indulge in such calorie bombs, but she learnt not that long ago that such luxuries don’t last for a lifetime. Halfway into her mascarpone delight, her daughter put down the spoon, that was enough. A wave of resentment was coursing through her veins. The younger woman could still enjoy her deserts without worrying… and she could also control he urges. The only way she could stop herself from devouring the whole thing was by not even tasting it.

She used to wear the same size her daughter did. She used to borrow her daughter’s clothes whenever she had a chance, pretending not to notice how much the younger woman hated to have anybody wear her things, forgetting how much she herself used to hate it when the roles were reversed and her teenage daughter borrowed her outfits. Her daughter must have been relieved now, there was no way she could do that anymore.

Her eyes involuntarily went down on the loose top she was wearing, noticing the way it was clinging on her no longer flat tummy. Swiftly she straightened her back and readjusted the frilly ornaments of her top, hiding her flabby waist. A quick peek at their reflection in the nearest window reassured her. She wasn’t really fat, she was just fatter than she used to be… fatter than her daughter, that nagging reminder of how she used to look when she was that age, of how she used to look until a few years ago.

The evening air was getting chilly. Here, have my jacket, I’m not cold, her daughter offered. Her first instinct was to grab the cute little jacket and enjoy the youthful feeling wearing her daughter’s clothes always gave her. She stopped herself just in time. That’s ok, I’m not cold. Better the cold than the shame. What happened to that red leather jacket I gave you, do you still have it? The question was harmless, yet it felt like an insult. Yes, she had it, it was her favourite jacket. But nowadays she can only wear if she doesn’t need to close it.

After spending the day going from one store to another, trying on things and debating the latest trends, the way they had always done when they met, she felt she couldn’t sink any lower. Seeing her daughter pick a pair of skinny jeans off a shelf, the smallest size they had, made her strongly wish they wouldn’t fit. Seeing her daughter try a skirt and complain it was a bit large, made her hate the young woman with a vengeance. That used to be her! Only now that it wasn’t her anymore, was she able to understand what great a part of her identity that had been.

Two sizes. That wasn’t too much, was it? But when you live your whole life effortlessly having a perfect, enviable figure and you take it for granted, two sizes might as well be ten. She had always complained that people notice her looks before they notice her intelligence; only now could she admit she loved it. She was normal, she wasn’t overweighed, but standing next to her daughter in front of the mirror, getting ready to go out, was a bitter reminder of how much better than normal she used to be.

She liked these loose clothes, she repeated in a convincing manner. She couldn’t be bothered with too much makeup or high heels anymore; after a certain age comfort is everything. That was perfectly fine, her daughter agreed, as long as it’s comfort you’re looking for, rather than an excuse to let yourself go. She hated it when her daughter was right – she had given up on herself, because if you can’t be the most beautiful woman in a room anymore, what’s the point in doing anything? At least she still looked better than most of the women her age and she kept stating it loudly whenever she remembered she couldn’t stop time. In spite of what she may have claimed, maintaining her figure hadn’t been an effortless task; once she had stopped exercising, once she refused to adjust her diet to the changes her body was undergoing, time simply caught up with her. Fast.

Walking behind her daughter, she hungrily analysed every little detail about her yet again. Then she caught her reflection in the window once more. She looked fine… for her age. People used to be surprised when they were introduced as mother and daughter. Now they don’t even blink. Time. That’s all there was. Who knows, maybe she’ll decide to fight it again. But one thing made her feel slightly better – knowing her daughter would eventually go through it as well. She wasn’t alone in this.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 51

cover2

Those eyes will wonder from the stiletto heels, upwards on the long, graceful legs, even more enticing in black stockings; they will linger hungrily on the garter belt and on the lace panties and they will take their time, being thankful for the tight corset, sending a distinct message to the tip of the fingers which almost feel it, anticipating the moment when they would struggle to tear it off the woman’s body; they will feel the heat of the body, as they focus on the whole image of the sensual woman standing a few metres away, the white flesh contrasting with the sexy black lingerie, her soft, long hair covering her shoulders and her naked back. The happiness becomes complete when those eyes meet another pair of long lashed, desire filled eyes which mirror the same wishes and carnal promises for the moments to follow. The young, beautiful face becomes even more irresistible, when the sincere smile lights it up with images of seduction and satisfaction, as the woman acknowledges her power, beauty and control over the man, yet again. She knows what effect her standing there, a speechless embodiment of sex, has over the man in front of her, and she takes her time, because this is one of those sensations which need to fully be perceived in order to set the right tone for the night to follow. She then motions slowly and lasciviously to pick up the almost forgotten glass offered to her moments or maybe centuries ago.

“Cheers!”

“To us!”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

On The Edge

2

“It’s like this glass of water,” and she points to the wine glass in front of her instead. “I have this full glass and I give him half. Then I give him half of what’s left. Then I take a few sips myself, I need to drink too. And so on, until the glass is empty. And when it’s empty, I have nothing else left to give. Nothing left for him. Nothing left for me. Nothing left for anybody.” She lifts the wine glass which she stubbornly calls “water” and she drinks greedily. “And it’s still not enough, he’s not happy. He says I’m selfish and self-involved and never give anything back… when all I do is give until there’s nothing left.”

The whiny voice drowns into another sip of whine, waiting for compassionate words to wash over her. I have no such words to give.

“Did he ever ask you to share that glass of water?”

“No… But that’s what I felt I had to do.”

“Was it? Or did you simply decide that’s what he should need?”

She was quiet, trying to suppress those angry words bubbling inside her. Aren’t the two one and the same? What difference did it make, she knew better… she always knew better than anyone else.

“Did you ever stop and wonder if he wanted or needed water? Maybe he wanted a slice of bread instead, maybe he asked you for it time and time again, yet you didn’t care one bit; you had already decided he should only want water.” Because water was all you were willing to offer, even if that water was make-believe and was in fact wine…

“He should have wanted water!”

Being at the receiving end of that sort of generosity makes one feel worthless. It’s degrading to see your needs, hopes and dreams swept aside like disgusting dirt that they are in somebody else’s eyes, only to be replaced with the “appropriate” ones. You will only want that which I am willing to offer, and you’d better be forever grateful, her actions always made it clear.

“He says that hurts him. That it hurts him to see what I’ve become.”

She was on the edge of realization. He was on the edge of collapse. Their relationship was on the edge too.

“But it’s his fault.”

She couldn’t help herself. Reality was swiftly pushed aside and she was about to yet again plunge into that imaginary world where she is always the victim and the hero.

“No, it’s not. Not everything is his fault. Take responsibility for who you are!”

Would she?

6

4

One Of Those Days….

1

I poured the batter into the baking tray and when I was done, I licked the spoon. It tasted good, the flavour was just right… wasn’t it? I licked the spoon once more… something was missing. I could just see her face, I could just hear her voice, “Well, even I could have baked something like that. But I appreciate the effort, darling.”

I’m a good baker… not open-my-own-bakery-undiscovered-talent good, but good by comparison to many other women my age who have a life and also like cooking/baking. I was running late and I went for my safe and fast desert, my somewhat personalized lemon sponge cake. I could prepare that with my eyes closed, one hand tied behind my back, I used to think… until today.

Baking powder! I ran all the ingredients in my head and that’s what was missing. Damn, damn, f***, f***, damn! I felt like throwing the whole thing out, baking tray and all. But then I’d have to start all over again, and judging by the way things were going, I would never finish it without blowing up the kitchen. So… after having used three more eggs than the recipe called for simply because I failed to separate the eggs properly (I must’ve been 7 or 8 when this happened to me last and I always laugh when I see others messing it up – this’ll teach me), now this. Ok… I put in the baking powder at the very last moment, I mix the whole thing right in the baking tray, hoping for the best and that’s that. I know that if it doesn’t rise properly, I’ll just throw it out and give up on preparing any desert whatsoever.

She’s a terrible cook and she can’t bake to save her life, but god forbid I make a mistake. So I triple check the temperature and timer and in the oven it goes. No time to watch it, I have so many other things to do. One restless look and I can see it’s rising nicely. Kitchen decluttered, dishes washed, I can stop for a moment and enjoy the delicious smell… and wonder why the oven timer has stopped ticking, yet it hasn’t rung. Yeap, it was back to 0 and kept quiet about it. By this point, I’m eying the unopened bottle of red and feel like saying, “the hell with it”. Instead I just pull out the baking tray, hoping it wasn’t too late. Any other day but today…

I was going to sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and serve it with a scoop of my own homemade ice cream. Instead, I carefully cleaned the slightly burnt bottom layer, and covered it the best I could with dark chocolate glazing. She won’t notice I baked the sponge for too long, that much I know. There won’t be any ice cream on the side, because my evening continued along the same lines and I gave up on preparing it.

Pointless to say, the rubbish bag broke as I was trying to pull it out of the bin, spreading all that stinky mess on the kitchen floor… Once it was all collected and safely double bagged, I threw on a decent maxi dress instead of my chocolate and flour covered ensemble and good thing I did, because several of my neighbours were standing right in front of the building, bickering about some imaginary issues. A teenage girl with perfect hair gave me a disapproving look. Just you wait, my friend… You’ll grow, up, move away and one day your mother will be paying you a visit… then you’ll know what this feels like… One mean, piercing look and she was staring at her toenails. Ha!

I was polishing the outside of my entrance door when a neighbour gave me a crocked smile, staring at my short shorts (the ones I normally only wear in the house), while insidiously wishing me a good evening. What, you don’t dust and polish your door? Neither do I – normally – and neither does my mother… but boy, will she passively aggressively criticize my not doing so. I can just hear her, “You’re so lucky you’re not married… You can clean when and if you feel like it!” Her own home is an indescribable mess these days, but that’s not the point, right?… It was time to throw in the towel and call it a night… and perhaps open that bottle and have a nice glass of red wine. But first, I need to clean the toaster too, how did I forget about that one?

There’s a special kind of hell that only a mother can inflict on you, especially when only distance can keep things civilized between the two of you. I’ve long ago given up on pleasing her, I can accept some things are simply impossible. I normally manage to distance myself and ignore her criticism and offending comments. This time, however, I don’t have the energy to argue incessantly on a daily basis… I’m trying not to give her reasons to criticize, so hopefully in return, I don’t throw back all the venom gathered over years and years of not at all motherly behaviour on her behalf.

Outside, Looking In

1

“Let’s see… I bought some new kitchen knives and they’re great, so cooking’s been fun, I’ve been slicing and dicing and chopping…”

Our conversations had been reduced to various domestic matters and not much else. But that was fine with me, I had no desire to share anything more personal. In fact, I could hardly wait for that phone call to be over.

“Finding good knives at a decent price is so hard… My only good one might need sharpening soon. I didn’t tell you how I got this one, did i?”

Who cares? I stifled another yawn.

“I don’t think so.”

Not that again… I thought they were done with it. She continued telling her story of the stolen knife in a cheerful voice, as though it was the funniest, most normal thing in the world.

We were sitting around their kitchen table, steaming coffee cups in front of us. She lit a cigarette and I started fiddling with the ice cream cup I had just been offered.

“New ice cream cups?”

The design of the spoon looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Not one of hers, I thought… Maybe she got new spoons too?…

“Not really… We only have a couple so far, but we’re getting there,” and she winked, giving me a crooked smile. I didn’t know what to make of that comment, so I said nothing.

Their friend’s restaurant, that was where the two “new” ice cream cups were from. She wasn’t feeling well one evening, so their friend offered her husband two cups of her favourite desert to take home and cheer her up. How nice of him, I thought. But as no good deed goes unpunished, they “forgot” to return the cute cups. That wasn’t very nice of them, I couldn’t help commenting, when in fact I wanted to say they didn’t deserve to be allowed back in that restaurant. I had just realised where I’d seen the pattern on the spoon I was holding. That couldn’t be a coincidence.

“If he ever asks us to return them, we will. He should, if he wants them back. But I think he forgot about them anyway.”

“Or he’s just avoiding the uncomfortable conversation….”

“Exactly,” and the crooked smile was back.

“Besides, did you see that new Omega on his wrist? He’s clearly doing well, he can afford it,” her husband added.

The ice cream suddenly felt a lot colder than it should have been. I discretely pulled at my left sleeve. It was no Omega, but I was wearing a new watch too. Who knows what reactions that might trigger?

It wasn’t an isolated incident. There were spoons to go with those cups, as I had already noticed. She pulled out some more knives and forks and she proudly shared their story. Some were from a pizzeria where she found the service was too slow.

“The place was full, you should’ve seen it. All the money they make and they can’t be bothered to offer decent service. That’s the least they could do to compensate me for all that waiting around when I was starving.”

You don’t like the service, you don’t tip your waiter… you don’t start stealing the cutlery! Or do you?… Some coffee spoons followed and there was no story attached, no excuse – she simply liked them, so she took them, and she couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Then there was the matter of the 20 euros… well, he might have gone a bit too far with that, somebody might have noticed, she added. Yes, somebody might have noticed him going behind the bar and taking a 20 euro bill in another friend’s little pub, a place he goes to almost daily… But that would have been the only issue with that… after all, it was really his money, hadn’t he just spent more than that there the previous day?

All their friends who didn’t seem to have obvious financial issues were probably going to miss cutlery and various small items, maybe even the occasional 20 euro bill here and there. Now there was the kitchen knife, another item they had “borrowed” from their friend, the chef and Omega watch owner… I knew the man. He had his own restaurant and worked hard to keep the business going. If he was making enough money to treat himself and his family to nice things, it was because of his relentless efforts and remarkable talent.

I knew what prompted their behaviour, but it was still unfair, so childish, so mean…

There’s a frame to every story and the more you widen that frame, the more you pull at it trying to tear it apart, the better chance you stand to find out how the story came to be. Frustration, envy and anger made their fingers so sticky. The more they couldn’t afford expensive things, the more expensive their tastes became.

She just had to have more and more beauty products, and the prices of the ones she chose was getting higher and higher. Besides, what woman can say no to the occasional designer bag or pair of shoes? She never missed a chance to subtly put down any woman who spent less on her skin, hair and general body care; and those special moments brought a big, satisfied smile to her face. He smiled a matching smile whenever he added one more piece of designer clothing to his already stuffed wardrobe.

Bills kept coming. More and more often, they were just shoved to the side without a second glance. The economy was the culprit, many people were in the same situation. Their income was just not enough to cover their expenses anymore and the economy was to be blamed – the economy, the government, the world in general, but mostly their friends who still managed to keep their financial situation under control. The 80 euros electricity bill was something to bitch about for two weeks… but at least he got to bitch about it in his new 200 euros (on sale) pair of jeans.

Desolation was framed by a myriad of pretty things and revenged by a series of petty thefts. The beautiful frame dragged those it portrayed deeper and deeper. Those who tried to pull them out were immediately written off and no longer accepted as friends.

If the homeless guy at the street corner simply took the designer jacket he is wearing or the nice bag she is holding, would they find it normal, acceptable behaviour? After all, the guy is doing much worse than they are, so according to their theory, he should just help himself to whatever he wants, as long as the one he “borrows” from is doing better… They find delight and validation in pitying their friends who have less than they do, but would that still be the case if things started to go missing after their visits?

I wanted to understand, because I know how terrible constantly sinking can be. But the truth is, I don’t agree with their approach. They’re entitled to their lifestyle choices and I, to my opinions. I can’t do anything to change either of them. All I can do is check my kitchen drawers before she leaves, next time she visits.

One More Cup of Coffee

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The espresso pot was making its usual burbling noise. Coffee was almost ready. I looked outside through the large glass door. The sky was on fire yet again. I am a not a morning person. I took the pot aside, switching off the stove. I am a coffee person. I poured all the freshly brewed espresso in one of those big ugly cups that came with the apartment. For about one year they had been our cups. And that had been our apartment. Just like that had been our town.

I pushed the glass door open and stepped out on the terrace. It was still winter, but the air felt like a warm spring day was about to unfold. We don’t only say goodbye to people. We also say goodbye to the places with which we connected, which meant something to us. I didn’t instantly like the big, crowded town still snoozing behind the early morning lights. But I had spent so much time there, going back and forth, that it had become a second home for one year. Pretty soon I started to understand its language, its pace and its peculiarities and it grew on me.

I had a few minutes to spare. And we needed to say our goodbyes, the half-asleep town and I. The culture, the history, the fun, the laziness and alternating fast pace, all the discoveries that I hadn’t gotten around to make, I would miss them all. Places can surprise you… just like people. Would I ever return? Who knows… who knows when or how… We can only know for sure when we leave. But one thing I did know, it would never be in that same little corner, in that same little moment in life.

So goodbyes had to be said quietly, over that last cup of coffee, staring at the colourful view I had enjoyed so many times. Curled up on a chair, my bare feet freezing and my palms pleasantly hot around the coffee cup, I took it all in one more time. Goodbye, Madrid!

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Morning.

Love of Her Life

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The luxury car crawled by slow enough to let her notice every detail, from the tinted windows, to the impeccable paint shining in the sun, to the speckles rims. But in the congested early evening traffic it was still moving faster than most. A few more elegant manoeuvres of an experienced driver and it disappeared somewhere among the SUVs in front.

“Did you see it?”

Of course. A car like that was hard to ignore. So was the hungry, tormented look behind her sunglasses and those tiny beads of nervous sweat that had appeared on her forehead as soon as she noticed that ghost of a car on the other lane.

“Could it… Do you think it was him?”

No, his car is a different colour.

“Who knows…” She was already fidgeting in her seat, her eyes searching for the car that slid by just moments earlier.

“Can’t you catch up with him? Follow him, see where he’s going, see if it’s him?”

No way.

“Look at this traffic… there’s police everywhere, what do you want me to do?” I didn’t even try to hide the irritation in my voice, but she never noticed it. All she had eyes, ears and thoughts for was that car… was him… just like all those years ago.

“But you could try anyway,” she ordered, forgetting it was a favour she was asking for.

“No,” but the answer fell on deaf ears.

I had done more ridiculous things than try and follow a car, all in order to help with her romantic games over the years, but not this time, not for him… Even if I knew it wasn’t him in that car, she couldn’t have known. She was still chasing him, no matter what, no matter where, no matter who got in her way, no matter who got hurt. Well over a decade had passed since she hadn’t seen or talked to him, yet he was still haunting her. All it took was a glimpse of what might have been.

I tentatively moved forward, upsetting other impatient drivers, but the mystery car was nowhere to be seen, as expected. Yet now she could tell herself she had tried… and hopefully she wouldn’t have to tell me as well.

“Anyway, it couldn’t be him… I think I caught a glimpse of the driver and he looked nothing like him,” she tried to convince herself, settling down, disappointed the unexpected sighting was not going to become anything more. There was no way she could have seen the driver, but then again, she could never see clearly when it came to him.

The rest of our drive home was quiet. I knew all the memories, the regrets and the what if’s that car had triggered. While I may have despised him for the way he had treated her, while I resented her for what she had put everybody else through for the sake of their relationship, I couldn’t deny understanding at least part of her melancholy.

He had been and would always remain the love of her life. The love of her life and the passion of her life, both entwined in one selfish, arrogant, irresistible person…

Once in a while, she’d try to convince herself the man she married was the one she loved most. And once in a while, she would believe it. Yet, the more she saw herself disappearing in a marriage with a good, loving man who could never understand her, who had nothing in common with her, the more she looked back, remembering only the good times, only the passion, only the happiness. She used to have a life of her own, a career, she used to travel and be independent. She used to be alive.

Now she was somebody’s wife and nothing more. A housewife nobody minded anymore, that was all that she was, and most of the time she couldn’t even be bothered to care. She didn’t go anywhere anymore. She hardly left the house to go anywhere but the grocery store. She cooked meals, she cleaned their home, she listened to his boring work stories and once a year or so she managed to convince herself to visit me. So when one of her old, snobby, so-called friends told her how well he was doing and casually happened to mention one of the cars he was driving, she suddenly found herself canvasing the streets, hoping…

But she no longer was the strong woman she used to be. Seeing him, being rejected by him would have broken her. As one of the two persons who would then have to put Humpty Dumpty back together, I reasoned there was nothing wrong in trying to prevent Humpty from falling off the wall in the first place. Some feelings will never remain in the past, and just like she could never forget how much she loved him and how passionate their relationship had been, I would never forget how much I loathed him. She deserved a night out, I figured. She deserved some fun and she deserved to forget for a moment or two. She also deserved to be happy, but that wasn’t something I or anybody else could offer her anymore.

The luxury car drove by, obnoxiously manoeuvring through rush-hour traffic. This time, it was his car. This time she wasn’t with me. He drove the same way he lived – fast, recklessly and passionately. In his own twisted, selfish way, he had loved her too, that I knew; but he had never really cared. He would always be the love of her life. She might be his. For many of us, the greatest love of our life is one we can’t help but leave behind before it consumes our entire soul. That love remains so great in our memory also because it had no time to die on its own, to become mundane, boring and real. It existed in a dimension of its own, even when it lasted for years.

Reality is a different sort of game. She continued her life with her husband, who never started really seeing her. Once in a while, life would through a tantrum and they’d lean on each other, weathering the storm, hoping that would bring them closer. Then they’d forget it as soon as the weather was good again and they’d go on ignoring each other, living apart together, until the next storm would throw them back into each other’s arms. But one way or another, the past would always loom, breeding frustration and unhappiness. Or was that happening because the present was breeding frustration and unhappiness?

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – The Things We Leave Behind.

Bang Advice

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I don’t remember her name. But she always wore bangs, that I remember. She wore bangs when not many fashion conscious women dared even consider it. Her haircut wasn’t always the same, neither was her hair colour, but she always wore bangs… and she looked great. Looking impeccable at any moment seemed like an effortless endeavour for her, like it was an extension of her being. From all my mother’s friends, I liked her best. Beautiful, elegant and graceful, she had an extraordinary ability to combine elements and come up with the outfits that suited her perfectly. Unlike some of their friends, she was never ostentatious, she knew exactly how to discretely emphasize her features in order to look attractive without being vulgar or tacky.

But it was her bangs I was particularly interested in that summer, and I had a good reason for it. After all, I wanted to get bangs as well, yet I wasn’t allowed to. If I wanted to be pretty, I couldn’t have bangs covering my forehead or strands of hair getting into my eyes for that matter; besides, all I had to do was look around and see that no pretty girl wore bangs, I was told. I rolled my eyes, but my grandmother had deemed the conversation over.

I loved spending time with my mother’s friends. They were an endless source of interesting information and great gossip and they never filtered their conversation when I was there. I felt like one of the girls, not just a child, and being with those wonderfully independent, outspoken women was so much fun. They were nothing like my friends’ old-fashioned, boring mothers, even if some of them did have children. So in a moment of relative silence, while coffee cups were being refilled, I walked up to her and asked her, how come she always wore bangs? In my mind, I was going to put a flattering spin on my curiosity, but before I knew it, I had just blurted out my out of context question.

She stopped smiling. She stopped looking at me as though I were some adorable doll, the way she usually looked at me. All of the sudden, she was serious and I was her equal, I felt, as her eyes were staring into mine while speaking. She never wore too much makeup, I couldn’t help thinking, and her face was always fresh and natural.

“You make your own style. You don’t let fashion or people dictate how you’re supposed to look, do you understand me? You adapt fashion to your needs, to your personality, not the other way around. You…”

“Don’t depress the girl,” the one who was always the loudest and the most direct of them interrupted, giving her a friendly nudge. “She just always wears bangs, it’s her thing,” she winked at me. “Just like my thing is being a bitch,” she continued, noticing her friend’s sad, lost gaze. She caressed her hair and handed her a fresh cup of coffee.

Years later I would think of her when seeing the Samantha character in Sex and the City.

Somebody dispersed the tension by announcing she had a new lover. Everybody lit up cigarettes, sipped their coffee and loudly asked for details. I kept mulling over the serious style advice I had just received. Sure, my mother had told me the same thing, but it never hurts getting a second opinion… after all, mothers weren’t the most reliable source, were they?

On the way home, I was told the full story – I was old enough to understand and I had to know I hadn’t done anything wrong. Besides, my mother thoroughly enjoyed to have me as a gossip partner, since I could be trusted not to tell anything to my grandmother. Her friend’s haircut wasn’t a fashion statement, it was necessity. She had adapted her hair style to suit her needs after having been in an accident which had left more than emotional scars. There was also a very real, visible, long scar on her forehead, one she hid well with skilful makeup and by wearing bangs. She was self-conscious and didn’t like to be reminded of the trauma she had suffered, yet it was unavoidable, the scar taunting her from the mirror every day. I regretted having voiced my curiosity… or perhaps I didn’t really, since it had gotten me answers. Nobody was perfect, yet one could still be remarkable.

A few days later, while my grandmother was taking her afternoon nap, I was taking a pair of scissors to a chunk of my hair (what girl hasn’t done that at least once?). I contemplated the result with great satisfaction, even though I wasn’t yet sure it looked good.

As a result of my actions, I was rushed to the hairdresser’s. My grandmother couldn’t contain her outrage, while my mother couldn’t contain her amusement. I had been overly enthusiastic with the scissors and had cut a bit too much, so my amazing new bangs were too short and I looked slightly ridiculous. The hairdresser did her best to fix what she could; after that, all it took was patience over the following weeks, until my hair grew… and surprise, surprise, I discovered that I could still be pretty, even with bangs. Besides, what mattered most was that I liked my look, that I was happy with it. I was taking steps in the right direction and she had been right, I realized.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – A Piece of Advice.

Opposing Moments

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“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

The dishevelled person staring back from the mirror looks nothing like the one who used to be there on so many other occasions… or like the one who can still make an appearance sooner or later. There simply are such mornings, such days… such stages. It might have been a night of crying or a night of drinking and dancing and forgetting, it may have been days and days of exhaustion and despair that have pulled that unrecognizable creature to surface from the depth of one’s being. Those versions of the past and the potential future are simply unavoidable.

It becomes a reflex in most of the cases. Somewhere between several cups of coffee or tee, after all those smoked cigarettes, during those extra moments of applying makeup or whatever other daily rituals, one generally gets one’s face on and they’re once more ready to deal with the world… or at least to hide well enough until they are. We don’t really do it to protect others, or at least we don’t do it only for that particular reason. It’s self-preservation, the need to protect ourselves from the way others might react if they caught a glimpse of all that lurks under that socially acceptable mask. Some do it better; others find it difficult. In the end, it can even be a silent competition – who’s going to fall apart first, whose face will betray them, exposing that creature taunting them from the mirror early in the morning?

“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

Relationships wear masks as well, not only the people they involve. Silent, sometimes unintentional, sometimes quietly, mutually agreed upon masks. When the mask breaks in two and neither one of those halves can be worn convincingly, you know. You notice the cracks even if you try to look away, so you can “call it”, as my friend put it.

I met recently met a couple I hadn’t seen in a long time. They’re not close friends, just some acquaintances, but it was still nice to see them and catch up. He is a friend of my closest friend; she is his girlfriend. What did I think about them, after all those years, my friend asked… Among many other impressions I was left with after a whole day spent together, I got the feeling their relationship was approaching its end. She would end it, I told my friend. Sure enough, about a week later she informed him she was moving out, my friend told me.

How did I always predict it, he kept asking, as though I was some sort of relationship bad omen. I tend to notice certain details and this wasn’t the first time I had “predicted” such situations. There were cracks in her mask… cracks she was trying to hide, but which were obvious whenever he kept ignoring what she wanted, replacing it with what he thought she should want or with what he needed. Small things, here and there, symptoms of something so much deeper… symptoms he stubbornly ignored. If I – a person who didn’t know her all that well – could notice them, why didn’t he, the man living with for several years? Why was he waiting for everything to fix itself, if he still wanted her to be part of his life, if he still loved her?

But I knew the answer, or at least part of it, because I knew he had behaved the same way in previous relationships. You want the girl, you make an effort and you get the girl. But once you “have” her, that’s it – that is the destination, the final point and from then on there is nothing more that needs to be done. That’s the kind of guy he is… complete with the ability of stubbornly hiding from the fact that she is unhappy. When he forcefully has to accept it, it’s generally too late to do anything to change the outcome… an outcome that breaks his heart once more…

The masks fall – his, hers, theirs – and break into countless pieces. The moment becomes the opposite of what he thought it was. The moment becomes the one she was trying to avoid. The moment no longer inhabits the destination, it becomes yet another beginning – an unwanted and no longer avoidable one.

Many times, the kindest thing you can do is look away from the cracks and allow a person to wear their mask as well as they can… hoping they will show you the same courtesy. But when you share a mask with someone else, staring at the cracks from the inside, what is the best moment to stop ignoring them and start focusing on what they reveal?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Opposites.

“Glass Slippers and Stilettos” or My Summer News

It started off as the MissShy Chronicles in the early days of this blog… Some of you may have read those posts, some may even remember them. I was really fond of my MissShy character, I wanted her to grow, so she became Regina and the Chronicles evolved into a collection of ten short stories. After months of procrastination, it all came together under one title, behind one girly cover and now I can finally share Glass Slippers and Stilettos with everybody.

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Regina’s adventures are nothing like Amalia’s from Parallel Lives. Light and humorous, the stories present the bratty, entitled character in various stages of her attempts to secure a husband and a fairy tale ending, all the while trying to preserve appearances and comply with pre-established patterns.

Regina is the woman everybody loves to hate and hates to love. Behind the gorgeous, demurred façade lurk selfish ambition, ignorance and a desperate need to find her happily ever after. The search for a man to rescue her and make her dreams come true follows a sinuous, often obscure, but entertaining path. Regina may try to deny it, but she is no innocent princess, Prince Charming can be a beast in disguise and modern-day happy endings are nothing like their fairy tale version.

The ten short stories are a satire of her journey, presenting the almost stereotypical character in various everyday moments and contexts, all of them related to her extraordinary ability to manipulate the men in her life. Other (often equally shallow) characters, such as Nice Guy, Boyfriend, Ex, Impeccable Pedigree, Sweet Girl, Lover or King will keep her company, allowing Regina to use them and occasionally using her, thus supporting her belief that she is a victim of circumstance. Charismatic and wild, Regina likes to enjoy all life’s pleasures and wants to have the best of everything, while endeavouring to preserve her “good girl” image. There are many obstacles between Regina and her ideal man, but her high heels relentlessly walk over them and the people in her way, hoping for her dream marriage to become reality.

In spite of her many flaws, Regina remains a likeable “villain”, able to trigger a spark of compassion mainly because one can occasionally relate to her amusing predicaments and moral dilemmas. After all, many have struggled with some of these issues – or similar ones – at least once.

If you’re heading for the beach this summer, Glass Slippers and Stilettos might just be that light, entertaining read you want. You can pre-order it on iBooks, Kobo and Barnes&Noble (release date – August 5th). I hope you enjoy it!

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Have a nice summer, everyone 🙂 .

Partners… Or Not

2Those who come to the beach on their own often tend to search for a partner… someone with whom to share a brief, torrid, summer fling… or maybe someone who simply enjoys the same kind of beach fun they do. Either way, it’s always amusing to observe their group dynamics 🙂

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But here’s a cute reminder that we do have the strength to get over all those bumps on the road on our own as well. Not having someone to lean on at all times doesn’t make it impossible. Some may have the certainty there’s always somebody ready to catch them, yet so many face the hardest challenges on their own… and that’s not always a disaster.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Partners.

Retro Gifts, New Memories

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A particular birthday present from a family friend really captured the essence of those moments… Not that it was expensive or out of the ordinary (it would certainly present no particular interest to today’s twelve year olds), not that it came from a person I so greatly admired at the time, what really mattered was the symbolism of the situation.

I had already decided that I was old enough to choose how I’d spend the big day – you’re practically a grownup when you’re twelve, aren’t you? – and not go along with the family’s dull ideas about the ideal celebration. Not surprisingly, the adults had a different take on the matter. They informed me that I was either having the party they had planned with the guests of their choice or no party at all… Naturally, I chose to be equally stubborn – if the adults were going to be unreasonable and childish about it, then I could be stubborn – and have no party. Not much of a sacrifice, considering that in our circle, kids’ birthday parties were more of an opportunity for the adults to show off and network than a chance for the young ones to enjoy themselves.

Shortly before that controversial birthday, this person I admiring from many points of view paid me a surprise visit, in order to bring a little token of her affection, a reminder that a special day is more than a good party. In her early twenties, beautiful and smart, about to graduate from a prestigious university, engaged to what I used to think should be the man of any woman’s dreams, she was my best friend, the big sister I never had. Her life was far from perfect and anything but easy, I would later find out, but that was not the reality of those days.

The nicely wrapped box contained her old photo camera, a couple of black and white film rolls and a brand new photo album. To my not so little little friend, so that she could make memories of her own, she said… I didn’t need to explain, she understood what I was going through; she always understood and she always knew the right thing to do. The days of mobile phones and digital cameras being as ubiquitous in a kid’s life as bubble gum weren’t there yet, but some of my friends were already allowed to occasionally use their parents’ photo cameras. Of course I wanted one of my own, but much to my chagrin, I was not considered old enough to be trusted with such technology…

When I saw the used, old fashioned, simplistic camera that was all of the sudden mine, I knew things were finally looking up. Memories of my own, I repeated, fiddling with the new toy. It had been a gift from her father, she was about my age when she had received it, and now it was my turn, I was the closest thing she had to a younger sister.  We wondered about all afternoon and she taught me how to use it, how to adjust all the settings and how to make the tricky machinery behave and capture all those memories for me. She was passionate about photography and she had a gift for it, but that cannot be taught, unfortunately…

I used the second roll of film on my actual birthday, for my non-party. My school friends and I decided it was a shame to waste such a beautiful day – my birthday, of all days – and time would be much better spent in a park, so we skipped school for the first time. A birthday I would spend as I pleased, starting to make memories of my own, growing up and independent from my family – she had gotten it right yet again – and the old camera played such a significant part in it, as the day turned out to be perfect in its simplicity.

The days when an old camera meant freedom and all the desired happiness and independence are gone; the kids running around the park that autumn day grew up and failed to stay in touch. The adults never found out about our little escapade; I used my savings to get the films developed and all my friends got copies of the photos. But those black and white pictures are still around, testimonies of days that sometimes may seem unreal.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Analog.

Beginnings, Beginnings…

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Adults were the enemy, no doubt about it… Yet they had all been young once, children, teenagers… So at what point did they start to mutate, when was it that they stopped understanding and started forgetting?

The 12 year old me had no answer to those daunting questions, and neither did any of my friends. But I was afraid it might happen to me eventually. No, no, never, that would never be me. Yet… what if forgetting is stronger than the human being? Not forgetting actual situations – adults seemed to remember many things, they all had childhood stories – but the feelings behind them, the implications, the reasons and the results. It wasn’t about remembering, it was about remembering it right.

There was only one thing to be done about it. I picked a nice mote book that I was saving for just such an extreme occasion and decided it would be the first of many. Everything had to be documented. There was no other way I would grow into one of those narrow minded, uncaring, depressing, oppressive people who accepted nothing but their own biased judgement and could not understand us… because they could not remember correctly how it was like to be us.

I was no exception, I soon discovered that most of the girls kept diaries… and even a few of the boys were bold enough to admit they kept “journals”. In fact, there was an absolutely hilarious afternoon when we were about 14 and we found one of these journals. One of the boys had been careless enough to bring it to school and leave it on my desk… My friends and I got our grubby little hands on it and the public reading that followed in a nearby park after classes turned out to be embarrassing to say the least. here were certain very private physical matters in there that no adolescent boy would like to have read by the girl he used to like in front of the girl he kindda likes… and all of her friends and his friends. Oh yes, we were merciless… But if you don’t want your classmates to read your diary, you don’t bring it to school, it was a known fact.

Whatever the reasons each and every one of us had, journaling was a widely spread activity. But that wasn’t writing, none of us perceived it as such… writing sounded too much like homework, that was just too tedious. Yet I was right about one thing – that first note book was followed by several others over the years. I may have denied their existence in front of my friends (that was just too girly a thing for me admit to), but the truth was that writing cleared my mind. It may have been meant for my eyes alone, but it was cathartic. It was calming whenever I could no longer control my anger; it was soothing when I felt I couldn’t control my tears; and it was comforting and motivating whenever I felt there was no hope.

I eventually came to understand my personal writing as the best way to gain some perspective. Writing then became dialogue. I would write letters to a good friend of mine who was older and had moved away. My closest friends and I had this notebook where we kept writing whatever went through our minds, everything that troubled us or that made us happy. We did start letting others in, but one thing remained the same – none of us could relate to, confide in or trust the adults in our lives, we had to rely on each other. That we did have in common, it was a fact, not mere adolescent rebellion.

Yet some adults were different. I couldn’t deny that when my middle school literature teacher came to me one day and told me I had won some prize in a writing competition. I vaguely remembered being told about that competition and I had dismissed it immediately; what did she want from me, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I didn’t write like that… She said nothing else, she just asked me to hand in another copy of a composition I had written as a school assignment. She send it in for me and apparently some people liked it… Hmm… who would have thought? She repeated the stunt whenever she got her hands on something I wrote and she liked; that’s how I won a couple more prizes in various writing contests for kids my age and that’s how I ended up accidentally writing occasional pieces for the school paper. Writing could help me if I let it, she made me understand. I didn’t have to take it too seriously, I didn’t have to make it into a career, I just had to allow it to be an outlet. That was my decision… unlike the various competitions she chose for me to enter unwillingly.

She was right, I later had to admit… everybody should have a hobby to sink into whenever they need to let go of everything. As for the life of the misunderstood teenager… well, there was more to it than I had initially imagined. Some of that lack of understanding and tolerance was not about forgetting or about not remembering it right. Some of it was nobody’s fault, neither the adults, nor the kids could be blamed for the incredibly fast paced life and for the way everything evolved beyond everybody’s perception.

I got my first taste of that bitter reality very early in my twenties, when a friend asked me to talk to his younger sister about sex… So many things had changed from social and technological points of view in less than 10 years, that nothing I had written down could have helped me with some of the scary question that perfectly average 13 year old had. I remembered it right and I remembered it all, yet the context was no longer the same. It wasn’t only about remembering, it was also about adapting what I knew to her context, if I wanted to convince the girl that she could and should be her own hero, first and foremost…

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Origin Story.

Forgetting What I Learnt

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The words and phrases are floating over me, trying to break free from a fog refusing to dissipate. There is a certain familiarity about the text, I should known what it’s all about. I knew it at a point… But I keep reading, pushing those feelings of disappointment and panic somewhere deep and far away in my mind.

That’s what happens when you promise to help… You’ve studied something like this at university, right? I had to say yes, I couldn’t have asked why he wanted to know before saying anything… Serves me right – live it, learnt it!

Hey, wait a moment, this isn’t the same categorization we were taught, what the hell are they talking about? Rather than going straight to the point, they just confuse everything… how’s a person who doesn’t know about it supposed to understand anything… oh wait, a few pages later they finally do it right… good thing I know what the story is, that saves a lot of time.

But that’s exactly it, I do know, I do remember! A sigh of relief… my memory is still what it used to be, it’s not failing me yet, the years haven’t changed me that much from that particular point of view. Yes, I can actually help with this, I won’t make a fool of myself, nor will I be a nuisance.

I may be able to jolt my memory, I may be able to piece together information that I’ve assimilated, but I would definitely be a lot more challenged if I had to learn it now than I used to be back then. Well, this is exactly what my friend is going through these days and I can’t say I envy him. We’re the same age and while we both got admitted to different universities after high school, life got in his way a lot worse than it did in mine, and he is only now working towards getting his degree.

We learn differently, he and I… and many of the things we had to learn, we learnt together, both when it came to academia and when it came to life and its struggles. I helped him understand algebra in middle school and I frightened him into learning the conjugation of French verbs in high school. I found it terribly annoying that many of my class mates took so long to understand what to me appeared simple things; but he could keep up with me, so making him see how easy everything was became fun.

So once again we go back to that routine, the one where we discuss the course material, because that way he remembers it a lot better. That’s how he learns. I, on the other hand, have always studied best on my own; group studying was a waste of time and it held me back. I had no problem studying efficiently while sunbathing on the beach, as long as I was left alone…

Here we are, once again… we spend a day and the better part of the night figuring out the course material I had studied too, although I attended a different university and took different courses. Sure, they labelled it differently for me, but it’s really the same dry, boring, theoretical stuff that I only managed to understand because I had a gifted professor who could create a context and challenging examples to get our attention… and apparently to help me remember something I hardly ever need to use. This might in fact be the first time I do…

That’s why I was worried when I thought I had forgotten everything… Not because I needed to remember it – I am aware of having forgotten a lot of useless things I studied and learnt mechanically – but because this had made sense at the time. I may have hated the theoretical side, but the applied part was great fun. And I always remember that which I have understood, that which has made sense, that which I could have even exemplify in an interesting way.

No, I am not good at forgetting. I have yet to learn how to do that. Just like this highlights of an irrelevant course, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced comes back to me one way or another, no matter how hard I try to not remember certain things. It’s exactly those instances I try to forget that have the bad habit of coming back to me exactly when I least expect it or want it. Good memory is an amazing asset… and it can be a tremendous liability as well. But once you’re used to having access to such a tool, no matter how challenging it might be to handle it, the mere thought of losing it is the kind of fear you still need to learn how to control.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Learning.

Apologies and Silence

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My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.

There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.

It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.

Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.

But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.

Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.

Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?

After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Apology.

A Time For Chance Encounters

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The car slows down and stops next to mine. We’re listening to the same radio station, I instantly realize, as our open windows allow for the warm wind, traffic noises and the same music to intertwine. I turn my head to the left, curious to see who else feels like listening to ‘80s songs today. Equally curious, the other driver looks to his right and just for a moment, through the dark tint of our sunglasses, our eyes meet. We exchange a quick, playful smile as our attention seems to switch back to the traffic. The light turns green, but we motion forward slowly even though ours are the first cars stopped at the traffic light.

Half smiling to myself, I scrutinize discretely while feeling scrutinized myself. He’s cute, he’s driving a great car and he’s younger than me. I know I don’t show my actual age and today I feel even younger, but it’s still flattering and amusing at the same time. I speed up a bit and so does he, keeping up with me.

It’s that time of year again… summer is in the air, it’s still mainly us, locals, so we still have the town to ourselves. First weekend this year when it really feels and looks like early summer and everybody’s enjoying the moment in their own way, it seems… From angry, aggressive, frustrated drives we become flirty drivers… at least for a few brief moments, until we get used to the summer routine and fall back on our jaded cynicism.

Nobody is in a hurry on such a day and it looks like many have taken their summer toys out for a spin, thoroughly enjoying them and showing them off. It’s fun to see 80’s music lover keeping close to my car even when I challenge him with a couple of unexpected turns. He’s played the game before, I see… But I must admit, today’s lazy traffic isn’t that tricky. As he passes my car and smiles at me once more, I can hear the same music. I catch myself inadvertently smiling and I effortlessly keep up with him for a couple of minutes and then pass him again. I’m a lady, he needs to chase after me, right?

I don’t normally drive with my window down, I simply switch on the AC. But even those of us, mere mortals, having to drive through life without a convertible, like to feel the wind messing up our hair once in a while. I don’t normally listen to that radio station either, but I’m restless today, I’m bored of the predictable, repetitive rhythms of the usual one and I don’t feel like playing something in particular either. I want to be surprised… And as I can hear the same music reverberating in the car next to mine at yet another traffic light, I realize the surprise is an entertaining one.

The car on my right is slowing down, waiting for me to do the same. As I don’t, he speeds up until he’s right next to me. While waiting patiently for pedestrians to cross, he points to the right, to the parking lot belonging to a trendy pub. They’ve gotten their umbrellas out and the terrace looks so inviting. I know they don’t play ‘80s music there… He still looks at me, his head tilted to the right, smiling crookedly and inquiringly. I smile back when the last of the pedestrians is on the other side of the street and I really have no excuse to be stopped there anymore. With a quick wave of my hand, I drive straight forward while he pulls over in the parking lot to the right. I can see him wave good bye as well. Then the street bends to the left and he disappears.

Yes, it’s that time of year again… when the sun brings out the best and the worst in us in this little corner of the world. It’s that time of year when the fun begins again, when it’s acceptable to be wild and young, no matter how old you are. This time of year, in other years, I would have stopped to have a drink with a cute stranger and see what chances a chance encounter stands to become more. Yet these days I keep driving, and not because of my age, but because I choose to. There are chance encounters and chance encounters… some of them serve as innocent reminders that the person we have in our life for the time being is one we have chosen, not one we have settled for, in lack of better options.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Chance Encounter.

Books, Reviews And Awareness – Carol Balawyder

Carnations are the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis, I recently learnt from Carol Balawyder’s blog. In order to raise awareness, she is offering one of her books, Not By Design, for the bargain price of 0.99$ the entire month of May. While I don’t usually review books on my blog (this is only the second time it happens), I find Carol’s writing worthy of such an exception. Not only is she a talented writer, but she is also very supportive of fellow authors, so if you haven’t come across her blog yet, perhaps it’s time you had. Summer is right around the corner and in case you’re looking for something to read on the beach, her books are a nice alternative – engaging, entertaining, yet also well researched and interesting.

Getting To Mr. Right

getting to mr right

Carol Balawyder has managed to create four relatable, strikingly real protagonists and this, together with the highly relevant and complex subject it tackles is what makes her book a real page-turner. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Prince Charming myth – under its various shapes and interpretations – occupies a significant place in a contemporary woman’s love life, regardless of her age, social status or background. No matter if she is desperately seeking this ideal man or she is incessantly trying to debunk the controversial myth, a woman cannot deny the relevance of this concept and the inner struggle it creates.

So much more than a selection of dating stories and disastrous sentimental experiences, the book gives a detailed account of the profound effect an absent father figure might have in determining a woman’s development and the way she will perceive and handle future relationships with men. Getting to Mr. Right is certainly not a “how to” manual. On the contrary, what becomes clear early on is that finding the right partner needs to be a journey to understanding and finding one’s true self.

Campbell, Missi, Suzy and Felicity could be any one of us and most likely, we have been in their shoes more than once. The four very different ladies have one thing in common, they all face some sort of personal, emotional crisis, and this is what brings them together. What might at first sight seem to be a narration focused on the relevance of finding the ideal man and the perfect relationship is actually an ode to female friendship. These four wonderful ladies manage to find their way, realize their potential, understand who they are and what they need not with the help of a man, but with the support of their friends. Once they heal, they make peace with their past and form a realistic view on relationships, they can find balance and love.

We are never too young or too old to discover ourselves or to make a change for the better, we are gracefully and discretely reminded. As for all those huge everyday questions we all have about compromise, independence, career and the way they affect or are influenced by romantic relationships and family connections… it’s a delight to see Campbell, Missi, Felicity and Suzy try to figure them out. At times hilarious, at times heart-breaking, their adventures and feelings are nicely punctuated and enhanced by setting and weather, thus improving the reader’s literary experience. But I’ll let you discover such details on your own…

Not By Design

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Sometimes we have control over our destiny… and other times life simply happens, and not by design. That’s what Felicity Starr, the protagonist of Carol Balawyder’s fourth book in the Getting to Mr Right series, finds out when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not By Design is not your typical “boy meets girl, they overcome various obstacles and live happily ever after” romance.

We find Felicity about to reach a fairy-tale ending – a spectacular wedding in Rome – but her life turns upside-down when she discovers her illness and Marco, her wonderful prince, turns into a frog. Struggling to deal with health and financial issues all on her own, left by the man she was about to marry, recovering after her father’s unexpected death, Felicity needs to accept the truth about her own life. In many respects, what she believed to be real turns out to have been an illusion and her choice in men still reflects some of Felicity’s past mistakes. It may have taken her a long time to see her father for who he really was, but that hasn’t obliterated her need for acceptance and approval. Not only does she acknowledge it eventually when she has to sort out all the emotions triggered by his death, but we see it clearly when looking at Marco and noticing how much his character and behaviour towards Felicity resemble her father’s.

The father-daughter relationship becomes secondary in Not By Design. Felicity’s relationship with her mother, Nicole, is emphasized this time, as the two finally get closer and past wounds start healing. Her need for a mother figure also plays a big part in Felicity’s choice to marry Marco, as it becomes obvious from her feelings for his mother. But the relationship that needs the most work is that with herself – her MS helps her grow, become independent and establish a new, more realistic system of values and priorities. First and foremost, she needs to accept herself. As her story progresses, we find Felicity using a cane, but she no longer uses people for crutches.

The setting complements the flow of the story, also enhancing our reading pleasure. Rome and its history infused streets are the romantic, almost surreal scene for the first part of the book, but as the fairy-tale mirage starts dissipating, Felicity moves back to Montreal, the place where reality takes precedence in the best of ways. That is where she finally finds her way and starts seeing her dreams come true, as soon as she understands what is important and what she truly wants.

Felicity is a strong character and the first person narrative brings her closer to the reader in what is a very enjoyable, interesting story. Just like in the first book of this series, Getting to Mr Right, Carol Balawyder has managed to provide us with relevant facts (this time about the physical and emotional struggles of those suffering from MS) without disrupting our reading pleasure. In spite of all these complex matters, Not By Design is a light, relaxing read, perfect for a lazy day on the beach or for a quiet evening at home, when one needs to clear one’s mind and forget about all those troubling daily issues.

Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

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As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.

The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…

She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…

Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.

The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.

Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Earth.

Dinner and Drinks

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I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.

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Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.

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Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.

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We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Dinnertime.

Names and Identity

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A word gains magical depths when connected to an individual, to a personality – that’s the moment it becomes a name, it can open or close doors and it can shape destinies within the blink of an eye. In spite of all the instinctive prejudice and socially awkward situations certain names might trigger, we tend to make peace with these words, accepting them as part of who we are, but not necessarily as the best description of our identity. Ultimately representing notions we’ve imbued with traits of our character as adults, names will still occasionally haunt us with some of their hidden memories and undesired associations.

Paradoxically, it’s often not the given names that exert the greatest amount of pressure on a young person in search of their identity. It’s all the other words gaining name-like valences and all their implications which are often the most difficult to bear, especially for those still struggling to discover who they are and where they belong.

Years ago, on the first day of high school, I made an unexpected friend – we knew each other since kindergarten, we lived in the same area, but it was only that day that we bonded instantly, in spite of not having anything in common.We never became best friends, but an inertial type of connection kept us close throughout those four years.

Like so many teenagers, this friend of mine – let’s call her D – was terribly insecure and had various self-image issues, constantly lashing out against what she believed to be a world conspiring to hate and destroy her. I remember all her notebooks had her name on their cover and first page, except for one – and this was the one that I and another friend of ours started to dread. Whenever she had a bad day, we would receive the nameless notebook with the explicit request for us to write her something, preferably what we thought she was feeling (because she wasn’t able to express it, she’d occasionally mention).

She didn’t like reading books, but she loved it when we wrote her various quotations from authors she hadn’t heard of, especially if we added personal interpretations, which she would later assume as her own. She didn’t like to be told what to do, but she wanted us to write her what we thought her behaviour should be like, pointing out real or imaginary flaws, often becoming hysterical if we didn’t agree with her self-deprecating attitude. Other times she simply needed us to write whatever thoughts were going through our heads at a particular moment. She would read everything over and over again, her joy perceptible whenever she could find some similarity between our thoughts and her own – that meant she was on the right track, she could say she was just like us, and for a moment all her identity issues were solved. Her only contribution to the big book of teenage thoughts was the colourful scribbling of our names around the written fragments. Her name was absent.

She eventually found herself an identity, but to this day I wonder whether it was a real one or simply an assumed version meant to help her fit in a group. I was there when it happened. All it took was one rock concert and perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the drinks we all had such easy access to, perhaps it was the surreal atmosphere, but by the end of the night D was no longer D, she was a convinced rocker. The following week brought a change in wardrobe and makeup aiming at expressing her newfound identity, the one described so much better by a word entailing her musical interest rather than her own name.

It didn’t take long for the other kinds to start referring to her as the rocker, rather than D, especially since there was another girl with the same name in the class. ‘Which D?’ was a question answered without too much thought or regard to personal feelings – there was ‘the cute one’, ‘the nice one’, ‘the hot one’ and there also was ‘the rocker’, ‘the crazy one’, ‘the bitch’… So many other words can become names without us even noticing it…

In her turn, D had no problem relinquishing her own interests in favour of those generally accepted as defining the social group she had joined. She still wanted us to be friends, in spite of my eclectic taste in music (much as I liked rock music, I enjoyed other genres as well, which disturbed her quite a bit), but all her future friends would be chosen strictly according to their musical preferences. She would still ask us to write various things in the big book of thoughts; but new names – those of her favourite rock bands – found their way in the nameless notebook as well, together with lyrics from their songs, which D would write from memory over and over again.

As time went by, those names and lyrics started to invade all her notebooks and textbooks, her desk, they were on the shirts she wore, on her backpack, on her jeans and often on her skin. She clearly didn’t pay that much attention to her own name and thoughts, but she needed those of others in order to define herself. She used to get upset when people referred to her by means of descriptive nouns, even when they weren’t offensive, but she saw nothing wrong in labelling everybody else with a series of rude, derogatory terms. The big notebook of other people’s thoughts started spreading over several volumes, but it never contained any personal expression of D’s own ideas.

After graduation, the feeble connection broke as suddenly as it had appeared. Other names got between us, names of people, names of universities, perhaps even some choice words she had addressed to me instead of my actual name. D continued her desperate search for herself in the names the abusive man she married calls her every day… and it makes me think that some of the saddest situations derive from those cases when names are merely a façade for despair and insecurity, when there is no real personal identity behind them.

In response to WordPress Discover Challenge – Identity.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 27

One of the things to value most about the town that Amalia had moved to a few years ago would be its honesty – nothing going on there is different from the normal life of any other big town in the country. Its people aren’t by far any worse than those in other places, although some of them might be richer, but they lead their lives acknowledging who they are and what they do at a far higher level than anywhere else in the country. The men lead double lives, so do most of the women, and although some social appearances are respected, everything else goes on in plain sight, out in the open, with no need for denial or pretence for their own benefit. Robert and his friends were by far an example of it, all of them successful and proud, some of them well-educated, others perhaps lacking in culture, but all of them married, with a nice family at home and a multitude of parallel lives aside from it. The paradox a myriad of existences creates is a simple one – honesty and deception coexist in twisted harmony, sometimes on different planes, other times even within the same context. People lie, cheat and steal, they are selfish in their own despair and fear, but they admit it and accept themselves and each other for what they are, they find no reason to be ashamed and they walk proudly, acutely aware of their superiority. The mentality of “honest” lies is what makes the town and its people true to themselves, or at least more so than in most of the other places, an enclave where depravation and sin are revered instead on being swept away under the mat, under the mask of religious social propriety.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 26

“What does your wife have to say about this? Where exactly does she think you are?”

Certain questions make a man feel as though he is interrogated and Robert was amongst those not used to accounting for their actions; vague information about where he would go and with whom usually sufficed when he left home.

“Where does your boyfriend think you are right now?”

“Which one of them?” Amalia was not going to give up. “I have no boyfriend, I have no husband, so there’s nobody who needs to know such things. Can you say the same?”

“She thinks I am exactly where I am, out for a night in a club with my friends. She would never join us anyway, it’s not exactly her scene, they have no fully equipped kitchen here,” he laughed at his little joke.

“You’re just being mean now.” It was true, even if it was just a joke; but the truth of the matter was that nobody at that table cared too much about what the wives left at home had to say about their behavior.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

One Love… Or More?

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“Forever desiring, forever weary of his conquests like the great trickster of Seville, he always subjected himself to just a single woman, only to liberate himself from her through his works.”

Brassaï about Picasso

So many ways types of love and so many occasions to experience them, if only we allow feelings to flourish… Each of us perceives love (in all its shapes and sizes) in their own personal way and it’s certainly too subjective a matter in order to be boxed in or limited by fixed, blind rules. But one general assumption might just be true for all of us: no two loves are the same, regardless of whether we refer to romance, family, friends, people we may not even have met, or to things, jobs, pleasurable activities that embellish our lives in various ways.

It might not last forever, but each and every love we have experienced leaves a mark, it changes us, it becomes a part of who we are. It is a growing and a learning experience at the same time, even in those (many) cases when the dénouement is anything but positive or when it has proven to be painful rather than pleasant. It might leave us broken, but as long as we manage to put together the pieces, we often emerge stronger, with a clearer view of who we are and what we need. And it’s in those situations when we reach out to those other kinds of love that we hopefully have in our lives, relying on them for support we may not even know we need.

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There are certainly more than one love related myths out there and aside from allowing us to hope and dream, they also set us up for disappointment, fostering unreachable standards and expectations, often blocking our perception of reality and true value. It’s funny how something that’s supposed to make us so happy actually frustrates us and makes us miserable because it doesn’t fit the pre-set pattern. Apparently we sometimes are so desperate to make ourselves feel inadequate by comparison to those untouchable ideals, that the already existing myths are not enough, we constantly come up with new examples of how love (any kind of love) should be in a perfect dimension… we even idealize examples from the animal kingdom…

Let’s be honest, even that generally considered a romantic symbol of monogamous, perfect couple is just that: an image, not reality. Yes, apparently sometimes not even swans mate for life, nor do they have a perfect couple life. They occasionally ‘divorce’ an unsuitable partner, they sometimes cheat on their significant other and they do look for a new mate in case the first one dies. Fun fact – it seems the black Australian swans are the friskiest of them all, on average one out of seven eggs is the result of an ‘extramarital’ affair. Sure, they have good reasons to behave this way; yet even when their couple life is successful, it’s not so much because of love or great romance, but because they’re practical creatures – they’re stronger together and they stand a much better chance to survive and thrive. Hmm… that sounds somewhat familiar…. 🙂

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So why not make love a personal experience, one that suits who we are, what we believe and what we need? That could prove to be so much more constructive than judging and labelling ourselves and those around…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love.

Gentlemen, I Apologize!

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Yes, I know for a fact there still are many of you left out there, although you are part of what appears to be a rapidly dying breed. To all of you who still open the door for us, who still offer us flowers on special occasions and not only, who still help us with our coat or hold the chair for us in a restaurant, who plan a romantic date and don’t suddenly remember they forgot to bring their wallet, to all of you who treat us with respect, appreciation and consideration, I offer a blanket apology. To all of you able and willing to make a woman feel like a lady, I apologize for all those times your kind gestures went unappreciated or scorned, thus pushing you towards overcoming your decent nature and good manners.

It can be a trialling time of year for any man wishing to show his love and appreciation for those important ladies in his life. Having barely survived Valentine’s Day’s trials and tribulations, now that spring is finally here, many of them have to deal with Mother’s Day and/or International Woman’s Day being celebrated in many places. It’s a murky pool of rules and shifting expectations out there and much as they may try, it seems that the kindest of intentions often turn against them. It’s not as simple as having good manners or being altruistic and generous anymore. Expectations vary from one woman to another and in a world of feminist tendencies, conservative needs and a variety of trends in between intertwining (often in the same person), it’s all about timing and intuition. Does she want/need/expect him to bring her flowers or open the car door or pay for dinner… or will she feel offended if he does any of the above, considering him a Neanderthal wishing to control her, treating her as an inferior, weaker creature rather than his equal? Or is she by any chance saying one thing and expecting another, in which case he needs to carefully anticipate exactly when, how and which rules may apply? None of this can be easy for them, so those of us expecting men to be gentlemen might occasionally have to stop taking such behaviour for granted and show some appreciation and understanding.

I used to think they have an easier time once they get to know the lady well enough in order to know what to expect and what she expects… but how many times have I been told they never really know what to expect from us and no matter how close they may be to us, we keep surprising them with our behaviour (and not always in a good way)?

The flowers hadn’t arrived. It was Valentine’s Day and her flowers and chocolates hadn’t arrived, so he was a bad, bad husband! Bad, inconsiderate, detestable man! But the flowers, chocolates and card had been ordered weeks ahead, the special day hadn’t gone unnoticed or forgotten, even if he had to be away for work. A thoughtful gift and a romantic dinner were going to follow when he got back home. Irrelevant! All of that was irrelevant, as was the confirmation email forwarded to her in order to prove the veracity of his good intentions. The delivery company had made a mistake, everything would get there the following day, but that was also irrelevant and he was still and awful creature who ruined her Valentine’s Day… because she had nothing to show off that day! Obviously, flowers are beautiful, chocolates are sweet, the sentiment is nice on that day alone and nothing else matters!

In case anybody expected this to be a teenager throwing a tantrum, I must add the story above involved middle-aged people married for well over a decade. If only this were the one situation of the sort I ever got to witness… I know the bad, bad man in question and while he certainly has his flaws, just like everybody else, he didn’t deserve any of that. It got me thinking – just how many men doing their best to be real gentlemen go through such experiences with those significant ladies in their life?

As a woman, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat small and petty… I keep feeling disgruntled and unfairly criticised when my gender is labelled materialistic, selfish, petty and ungrateful by men becoming irrational hysterics around various holidays and special occasions. I generally blame it on their unwillingness to be generous and understanding or on their poor choices in women, thus leading to frustration they spread around and for which they blame all womankind. After all, there are women looking just for what these men have to offer, so why should they bother with those of us wanting something else? Obviously, the situation is a lot more complex and the truth can no longer be denied – some of those men may have very well made significant efforts to be decent gentlemen, yet we ladies may have been exactly what convinced them it was not worth it.

Last, but not least, how about reciprocity?… Before turning men and their feelings for us into mere accessories we can brag about (although we complain bitterly if they treat us that way), we might want to take a moment and wonder if we actually offer something in return, thus justifying all those stellar expectations we often have… those very same expectations we blame them for not living up to… We are all guilty of occasionally taking for granted those people who care about us and who treat us well, but turning it into a way of life is something else. And since we were on the topic, Valentine’s Day (for instance) is a two-way street, we can and we should be generous and romantic as well – they may not look as delicate as we do, but that’s not to say they have no feelings, egos or insecurities. Oh… and apparently they might also have a sweet tooth, so it was brought to my attention that they might actually appreciate it if we shared those delicious chocolates they brought us. (Hmm… couldn’t I just offer a few roses? Pretty please? Asking me to share my chocolates with anyone is almost cruel… Oh well… that might be the ladylike thing to do, though…)

Therefore, I apologize to those of you, gentlemen we have been treated unfairly! But don’t give up on us or on that kind side of your nature. Just like you, we also make mistakes and once in a while, we even try to atone for some of those mistakes.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 22

“Honestly, I didn’t really know what to think. But I did hope you would appreciate this place for what it truly is, I was relying mostly on the fact that you grew up in a place that might have made you partial to such experiences.”

“True, I was raised as a city girl, but I also had relatives in the country. So I guess it’s all those weekends of climbing trees and running around in open fields that still help with keeping my balance on paths such as these.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed you are one to enjoy the country side… You hide it well.”

“I’m not. I may have been as a child, but even then I hated the village life and the people there, I only enjoyed the nature and the freedom. But you seem to like it out here too, how come? It doesn’t really go with who you want to appear to be these days…”

“You may be a city girl, but I grew up as a small town boy. Trips in the mountains, nature and wilderness were our routine, they were all just a few steps away. When I moved away to go to university, it was a cultural shock.” And an emotional one too, he paused. “You probably never noticed it, because you spent your childhood there, you took it all for granted, the city life with all its infamous, desirable evils, but it was all new to me. And it wasn’t the kind of thing to give up, from a certain point on I just wanted more of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t remember how great I had it in my own home town. And I can understand those that say they never want to leave it.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 21

“How about we swap that apple in your hand for a nice cup of coffee, in an air-conditioned restaurant?”

“Do you mind if we wonder about the ruins a little bit longer? I like it here, the world seems so far away. Look at it, aside from those suntanned archaeology students hoping to dig up God knows what hidden treasure, ignoring the obvious fact that they are simply being surrounded by it, what else is there that might drag your thoughts back to the dreary real life?”

Robert gave in immediately, it didn’t matter what time of day it was anymore, how long the drive back to town would be or whether he needed that good cup of coffee or not, because she was right. He felt the power the ruins had over you every time he visited them, he wanted to make himself disappear among the stones and never leave. But the person he was today would always surface sooner or later and he’d start blaming himself for all that daydreaming while rapidly heading to his car and driving away without turning his head to look back. The same would happen to her, they lived in the same world and once you get there, there’s no going back to the one you used to be; he knew it, but she needed to figure it out in her own time. However, he wanted to be there and observe the process.

“How come you can manage to approach these paths so well on those shoes of yours? At first sight, one might even think you’re too much of a city girl to be caught dead in a place like this.”

“You obviously don’t think so, otherwise you wouldn’t have brought me here this afternoon.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 20

“Careful, there might be snakes in the grass, just by the water.”

“Do you mean other than you? Are they poisonous?”

“None of us are,” he replied laughing, not at all offended by her all too familiar cynicism. “Not that I know of, anyway. But I would think twice before having an apple, Eve…”

“Why? You strike me as the kind of man who has had his fair share of apples…”

“Perhaps too many… that’s how you inevitably come across the occasionally rotten one and then you get to deal with the consequences.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t you that was the rotten one to begin with?”

“Not to begin with. But who knows, later on… Things change and people evolve to what their true nature is.”

The dialogue restored their sleeping senses, double meaning was a game that they were both good at, but more importantly they both enjoyed it tremendously. Double entendre is the entrance gate into that which finally allows for so many possibilities to materialise, it’s a plethora of opportunities to reach out and pick exactly what you want from a sea of endless interpretations; and the need for any sort of accountability fades away, as an endowed mind can shape the reality into whatever they might desire to understand it to be. Robert was finally near her, standing behind her, not close enough to touch, but close enough for Amalia to feel his breath though her hair, on the nape of her neck, to feel the warmth of his body emanating towards her almost like she had felt the heat of the ancient stones earlier. However, the sensations stirred up were not at all alike.

“How about we swap that apple in your hand for a nice cup of coffee, in an air-conditioned restaurant?”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 19

The sudden metamorphosis was striking – the cynical smile was gone and she looked real. For the first time she not only was young, but she looked young. He had not foreseen such an effect, all he wanted was to distance himself from the crowd and make Amalia notice he was somewhat different than the rest of the men who probably threw themselves at her feet. But this was something else, this was something he could relate to, she was a person he could relate to and he felt the time winding back, the same way she must have felt. There could have been no other explanation for her transfiguration. He felt an acute need to smile when he saw her gracefully jump over rocks, keeping her balance on the dusty path or on the slippery grass. An indefinite moment from his past wanted to take over him, but he shook it off immediately, finding his way to the stone wall she was leaning on now. She looked alone, having probably forgotten all about him, lost in her thoughts. What does someone like her think about anyway?

“Let’s go all the way down to the water,” she suddenly motioned back towards him and he almost had the feeling she would reach out and take his hand. Was she even thinking of doing such a thing or was it just what he would have liked to happen, in view of old memories and images from a different lifetime that seemed so intent to flood his mind this afternoon? Robert got angry with himself at the mere idea of it, that man was gone and so was that life, with all the people it had encompassed; the person he had struggled so hard to become over the years allowed for no such weakness.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Vibrant Abuse

Last time I heard a person banging at one’s door that loudly was when the oldest lady in the building fell asleep while cooking her dinner and nearly burnt down the whole place. The first to smell smoke knocked at all the doors, we all got out, hoping for the best, yet envisioning the worst. Fortunately, loud banging on her door finally woke her up before the firemen got there, she was taken outside while her apartment was being properly ventilated and that was the end of it.

I stood up, trying to understand the man’s words and figure out what was going on this time. As the loud door knocking subsided, the angry words became easily distinguishable. The building wasn’t burning down; there was no burst pipe; burglars hadn’t broken into anyone’s home. The current event was a lot more mundane, apparently a lot more insignificant according to general consensus, yet equally disturbing, if you ask me. It happens every day, everywhere, in all walks of life, yet it hadn’t happened right under my nose for a while, so it took me by surprise, it shook me a bit.

The rejected lover keeps knocking at his ex-girlfriend’s door… louder and louder, more and more violently. He is the man, it is only up to him to determine when and how their relationship ends. He knocks and knocks, while angry words try to punctuate his desires. She’s home, but she will not open her door. I cannot hear her, but the message is clear – he needs to leave, because she wants nothing to do with him. Minutes go by, pleading and knocking continue, yet the door remains locked and closed. As the woman’s determination starts sipping into his system, the man’s true nature starts surfacing without great difficulty. Manipulative words try to express the right reason for him to be there, the one that would make her open the door; he goes from anger to indifference to supplication and back to anger within minutes. He just wants to see her. No, she’s deluded, he’s not there for her, all he wants is to say goodbye to her child. Reasons alternate and when it becomes clear one isn’t working, he moves on to the next.

What? She’s called the police? He couldn’t care less, she can stick the police up her… He’s only here to get what’s his things, he needs his things after all. Yeah, that one jacket he’s left behind, that’s what he wants and that’s why he needs to be allowed into her apartment. If only the idiot woman that she is could understand such a simple thing… he’s not here for her, nobody would be here for her anyway, she’s just a worthless piece of trash. He’s leaving in the morning, he needs his jacket, she won’t hear from him again; he’s leaving the country. The destination changes from one sentence to the next – he’s moving to London, he’s moving to Paris, he’s moving to Rome and so on…. Clearly he’s paid attention during geography classes in school, since he can list most European capitals within one angry, abusive monologue. As his knocking and kicking at the locked door escalate, so do his invectives, ‘useless whore’ becoming one of his kindest terms of endearment.

I feel a very strong impulse to open the door and tell him off, ask that sad excuse of a man to leave. But I don’t. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. After having gotten involved in a variety of reckless situations as an adolescent and in my twenties, after somehow – miraculously – getting away untouched, I finally manage to control myself and avoid this sort of things. I see myself in my pink bathrobe and I realise I probably can’t accomplish anything more than become the next target for his abuse. She’s safe behind her locked door and I am safe behind mine, even if I’m still so tempted…

But where are all the men? After all, there aren’t only women living in this building; there are men of various ages too, none of them too old or too feeble to open his door and politely ask the intruder to calm down, go home and leave us all alone. Who let that creature in the building in the first place anyway? And where are all the so-called men who are my neighbours?

I have good instincts and they’ve always kept me away from abusive men, whose main means of securing a woman’s affection/obedience/loyalty is aggression. But I’ve seen and refereed so many of these situations between distant relatives, close friends and various acquaintances, that – as a woman – I find nothing to be more unacceptable and unforgiveable in a man than abusive behaviour.

As knocking evolves into constant kicking of the door and the voice settles on a course of endless insults, she will play her final card. Oh, so you’ve got a man in there with you, you say?… But after concluding that once a whore, always a whore and making his point with his fists against the door, he quickly decides he has to go home, leaving a trail of invectives behind him. The big bad wolf that kept everybody behind their locked doors couldn’t run faster at the mere suggestion that a man was standing by the side of the woman he had abused and was still looking to abuse for an indeterminate period of time…

Yet, where were all the men in the building? I know that was a fortunate situation, the aggressor being so easily deterred from torturing his prey. But it still was just one of him… And then a different thought slowly invaded my thoughts. What if it wasn’t fear? What if it wasn’t indifference? What if it wasn’t chivalry being dead and buried? What if, instead, they found that type of behaviour normal, acceptable? Moreover, what if they actually thought that’s what she deserves?

I couldn’t let it be. So even if I didn’t ask anybody in the building (because I like to stay out of my neighbours’ lives, hoping they would stay out of mine) I did ask a couple of men close to my soul, who I know would never treat a woman that way. One of them told me there has never been an occasion on which he tried to defend a woman abused in public by her boyfriend/husband without said woman jumping in to take her man’s side… He wasn’t wrong – all too often I was told of various incidents, only to be pushed away and be accused of malevolence towards their significant other by the women in question, as soon as they forgave their abusive partners. I was also told that a decent man needs to get his facts straight first – on one hand, one needs to know what sort of lunatic one might be dealing with, on the other hand one needs to know whether the victim in question I indeed a victim. And let’s not forget, one woman’s abuse, another woman’s foreplay….

All I can say right now is I hope that my neighbour who managed to escape her abuser can find the strength to stay away from him. I hope the majority of those locked doors were hiding indignation, not support for that kind of behaviour towards women, because that in itself represents a small step in the right direction.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant – This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 16

“The idiot is in love with you.” He didn’t know whether to get angry at her or just laugh at that guy’s stupidity – something from the past was trying to claw its way to the surface, but he instinctively pushed it back deeper, the way he had always done.

“Let’s leave this cliché for another time. He’s just in need of finding himself a new mother figure, someone who would tell him what to do, would control his every action and would relinquish all his responsibility when things go badly; because, after all, it was only her fault, as she was the only one with a say in it, and he can just relax, enjoy the ride and bask in the amount of drama him being the victim of the soulless woman would offer.”

“I almost feel sorry for the poor guy. You don’t appreciate him at all, do you?”

“Of course I do, we’re actually friends, but anything more than that is subject to certain rules. I do care about the fact that he was there when I wanted him to be there and about the fact that he’s a nice guy, but on one hand that’s not enough for me, and on the other hand, I get the feeling that by ‘appreciation’ people tend to understand changing yourself in order to fit some idea of what would please another person. And the irony is, the one I am now is what he’s obsessing over, whereas the washed-out cloth I’d become by changing to please him would hold no interest whatsoever.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Happy New Year!

2016

I simply wish 2016 to be a better year for each and every one of us – subjective and obscure as it may sound. For those of us suffering, I hope we find the strength to heal and move forward. For those of us away from someone we love and miss, I hope we find our way to them. For all of us who still have dreams to fulfill and goals to reach, I hope this year brings us closer to everything we desire. For those of us ready to give up, I hope someone or something to offer support and motivation comes along as soon as possible. For those of us who can still find it in ourselves to enjoy the beginning of yet another year… have lots and lots of fun! 🙂 .

Happy New Year, whatever you need it to mean for you!

Someone’s Birthday

It’s someone’s birthday today… a very special someone… No matter how pouty or grumpy he might get on this particular occasion, I know he actually likes it when people remember and acknowledge his birthday 🙂 . So, to the man who never tried to change me, to the man I never tried to change, to the man who appreciated me for my flaws, not in spite of them, to this unique man I now wish a Happy Birthday and that special brand of contentment he and I understand so well.

Happy Birthday!

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 13

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

“Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?”

“Did you ever have a pair of those woollen socks that grandma knitted for you?”

“Of course, several of them, I might still have one or two in some drawer, somewhere. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re the kind of thing that you don’t really need, you don’t really wear, but you can’t get yourself to throw them away, because of what they are. Sure, they’re ugly and the rough wool makes them unpleasant on your skin, but the truth of the matter is that you have worn them a few times, perhaps on a really cold winter night, or when you went to the mountains and the cold was too much to bear… you wore them and they proved to be exactly what you needed at that moment, in order to achieve a certain relative amount of comfort. So you can’t bring yourself to throw them out, you might need them again someday. Plus, there’s also the emotional factor – they mean something because grandma made them, you can connect them to certain memories you aren’t ready to let go yet – and that’s how they end up being kept on the bottom of some drawer, to be taken out once in a blue moon, when the situation is critical. But you would never think of wearing them in public, with your nice, Italian leather shoes, would you? And in fact, you probably wouldn’t even miss them much if you were to finally get rid of them when you cleaned up your wardrobe more carefully…”

Robert was almost laughing at her analogy. I can’t believe how much sense her idiotic idea makes… She actually perceives another human being – one who, by all accounts, cares about her enough not to notice such obvious things – as nothing more than some sort of outdated accessory to be trotted out and tucked away only according to her needs, with no saying in it whatsoever… He didn’t know what he believed about that, he wanted to disagree with her and disapprove of such an attitude, but the truth was he admired her bluntness, he was forced to accept that he himself had treated people no better than that, perhaps even worse, more than one time. But she seemed not to see anything wrong with it because she made no effort to hide it.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Three Is Not Always Perfect

I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.

I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.

Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.

We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.

Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.

Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.

She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.

Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: What comes in threes?

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 12

Amalia turned her head towards him; she couldn’t continue to admire the scenery that was unravelling outside the car window while sinking into her own thoughts on the matter, appearing to listen to him absentmindedly. She had had that conversation with other people before, including a couple of very close friends, and everybody – from the new guys she met who wanted to sleep with her, to her family – seemed intent on figuring out just that particular matter, ending up being more puzzled than they were initially.

“You really like labels: married, single, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend… It’s really a matter of perception for me, even if some people see me as having what they might call a boyfriend, I happen to believe it takes more than tolerating a person for a few years, allowing him to be part of your life when there’s nothing else better to do and no one else better to be had. It takes more to call it a relationship and no, in my book that doesn’t mean I have a boyfriend.”

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

“I see you’re just about as unable to understand as most of the other people are.”

“I’m teasing you, really. It’s just that people are known to build life-long marriages on less than what you just described there. So what’s wrong with this boy, that you think so little of him? And why exactly does he allow you to behave that way? Come on, tell me what your story is, I want to know.”

Robert’s voice betrayed his curiosity, but there was a hint of something else behind that half smile. She ignored it though; he wanted to know, then he would know. Amalia needed to figure out up to which point she had been right in assessing him and his character, just as she needed to be accepted exactly for who she was, and narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy were not flaws that she could tolerate.

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 11

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

“I get the feeling there’s a completely separate conversation going on in your head.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“How else would you explain the lack of continuity when jumping from one topic to another, entirely unrelated one?”

“Just accept the fact that I’m used to getting my answers,” he grinned at her, suddenly staring her in the eyes. “Why do you make such a big deal out of answering the question anyway? It’s almost as though you were ashamed…”

“You tell me… Do you have a girlfriend?” Her voice was somewhere between flirty and annoyed and he knew it wasn’t shame he had sensed in her evasive reaction, but he couldn’t quite figure out what else it might have been either.

He instinctively shifted his look from her eyes to his wedding ring and as he replied, trying to decide whether she was just mocking him or not, he noticed Amalia was aware of his awkward pause.

“First of all, I’m married, as I’m sure you must know, and I tend not to hide this particular piece of information; as for a girlfriend, I don’t have one at the moment, but I’m not adverse to the idea, and I make no secret of that either… well, maybe only as far as the wife is concerned, she might disapprove of my extracurricular activities.” Robert was pleased to notice her laughing at his little joke. “But I believe things are somewhat different for you… there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be seeing somebody.”

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 10

“I do know some of the out of town… let’s call them attractions… Most of them I can vaguely remember since I was a child and I’d spend my summers here, my mother’s friends helped me get acquainted with such places, since she wasn’t much of a nature person herself.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy our little touristy escapade today.”

He realised it was best not to ask her whether she had inherited her mother’s dislike of the outdoors, no need to spoil the afternoon when there was still some shred of hope that his plans weren’t completely inappropriate for her. It was a shot in the dark anyway, he knew it as soon as he noticed what she was wearing, but he wasn’t ready to accept that a person who had reached maturity in the same old place where he had spent several nice years as a student would be devoid of any sense of history and would shutter at the mere idea of an afternoon away from the noise and oppression of the modern town in which they crossed paths. Her old home town still lived on the shaky mirage of history, nature and culture intertwining in a desperate attempt to take the next step into the reality of the present-day. Robert tried to ignore the obvious detail that he had mistakenly left out – she appeared to be more than pleased to have left that place for good.

“So… do you have a boyfriend?”

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

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