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

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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

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Robert Burns wrote to a friend:

“I myself can affirm, both from bachelor and wedlock experience, that Love is the Alpha and the Omega of human enjoyment. All the pleasures, all the happiness of my humble Compeers, flow immediately from this delicious source. It is the spark of celestial fire which lights up the wintry hut of Poverty, and makes the chearless mansion, warm, comfortable and gay.”

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“What signifies the life o’ man,

An’ ’twere na for the lasses O”

(Robert Burns – Green Grow the Rashes)

Happy Valentine’s Day! Whether you choose to celebrate it or not, I hope there is at least one person in your life who loves you – your own beautiful self 🙂 . All I can say is I wish we managed to remember and dedicate more than one day a year to those we love and do something nice for/with them as often as possible. Have a wonderful day!

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.

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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.”

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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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Papallel Lives – Sample Fragment 9

Afterwards? After what? The fear was back, suffocating her a little bit, pointing out to the fact that she was in a car with a virtual stranger, having no idea where they were heading, relying strictly on her instincts telling her nothing bad would happen and that the thrill she was feeling should be that of the new, not of fear. She had the innate ability to avoid men that no woman would be safe with and her instincts were always correct in assessing the men with whom she interacted, so she breathed in and closed her eyes tightly for another moment, taking the leap of the person who knows they are always right, the leap from fear to almost forced excitement.

Let’s just see if he proves to be gas station coffee – a colossal disappointment – or Italian espresso… She was annoyed by the tacky gesture of offering her that lousy cup of coffee, but the fact that he clearly had something in mind, he had already planned the afternoon, intrigued her, and that was much more relevant at the moment. She desperately needed to be intrigued, she desperately needed a man who could amuse her in any other way than by prostrating himself at her feet like a big, sheepish dog.

“How long is it that you have been living here? A couple of years already, I think you said last time…? Did you get to know the area well enough?”

“Yes, it’s been a few years now, and I did get to the point of knowing the place better than I actually knew my old town.”

“You see… I was referring to the area in general, not necessarily to the town…” She tried to catch a glimpse of his eyes, but he had decided to pay attention to the road as they were clearly about to drive out of town, so she couldn’t really get a clue what his mysterious destination was.

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 8

“Wear something comfortable,” he told her on the phone.

“I don’t do comfortable.”

Her dry reply played back into his years while he was looking at her approaching his car. Something about this woman made him think that no matter how much comfort he might find in any sort of a relationship with her, he would never be completely comfortable in front of her silent, drilling and draining looks. He smiled to himself, getting out of the car to say hello to her, as she was only a few steps away now. She was wearing a long, flowery dress that clung nicely to her body, making her look tall and accentuating her figure, without being tight or revealing. The heals were lower this time, he thought, so that must be as comfortable as she gets; the sun glasses hid her cold stare, but – oddly enough – they made her look even more distant, in spite of her smiling when seeing him. Clearly he wasn’t right to hope it would be any easier to find a way of approaching her today, but the idea of trying seamed even more tempting under these circumstances.

“You did say comfortable, right?” Her smile was full of sarcasm when she made it clear she noticed him measuring her up. “I do hope I won’t be out of place, wherever we’re going.”

“Oh, you will be.” And he burst into a friendly laughter, closing the door on her side of the car, then getting himself behind the steering wheel. Game on, he told himself again. “Your coffee, miss,” he uttered offering her one of the coffee paper cups to go, which he had picked up from the gas station on the way over. “I was thinking a less traditional coffee cup could be a nice break from the routine.”

“Funny, what you call a nice break from routine, other people call cheap.”

She does have a comeback for anything, doesn’t she? But that was refreshing; in fact, he wouldn’t have been too pleased if she were actually impressed by some cheap gas station cup of coffee, offered to her by a man she hardly knew, while they were driving away in his car.

“It’s a really beautiful day and I don’t know about you, but I thought it would be pleasant to enjoy it somehow other than just by having drinks on a crowded terrace. Don’t worry, you will get a decent cup of coffee, to your heart’s content, afterwards. But I think you might find our little trip interesting, it will certainly give us a chance to talk about all sorts of irrelevant things.”

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 7

“Do you have any plans for this afternoon or could we meet for coffee?”

She liked that he hadn’t even alluded to the summer job as a pretext for him to see her, even if his call came as a bit of a surprise – she was pretty sure he would call her, she was pretty sure he was interested in the same kind of interaction she was thinking of, but he was clearly a lot more determined than her and there was no room for doubts as far as he was concerned. She was quite sure of knowing what she wanted too, but the difference consisted in her lack of actual experience on that territory – there are steps that might be more difficult to take than others and she had been oscillating on a very thin line ever since they had met, trying to decide whether to jump or not. It wasn’t any moral issues holding her back, she knew that the only immoral thing would have consisted in being deceitful to herself, given that she was surreally aware of the world she lived in, with all its implications, with all its joy and lies. But it was the side of the coin where everything was happening openly and open-mindedly, so there was no problem with that. It was the going back to that side of the world she had known up close as a child, with all its beautiful excess and spirals that made her nervous, she had to wonder whether she could belong as well as she thought she naturally would. She could never be bothered to fit in, to merge with an environment that did not respond immediately to her needs and to her personality; that would have only meant surrendering one’s character and personality, and she just moved on as soon as it became obvious she didn’t belong there. But not belonging to his environment was not something she was able or willing to accept, that would have translated into a landslide of severe proportions in her world of values, and a re-evaluation of her entire system of ideas was the kind of undertaking she was unwilling to assume; because she knew his world was her world too and nothing contradicting that conviction was an acceptable variable. There is a certain type of emotion which only results from considering yourself in control of what you want and value, and that was exactly what took over her anxiety, culminating in her closing her eyes tight and accepting to meet Robert that afternoon.

“Wear something comfortable,” he told her on the phone.

“I don’t do comfortable.”

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