Purple

Not even the cleverest makeup can conceal certain marks on a woman’s face. I could imagine her sitting in front of her vanity mirror in the morning, sad and lonely, trying to make those ugly shades of purple disappear under layers of foundation, concealer, powder and blush.

Sometimes they were easy to hide. But even then, when you saw her walking down the hallways in her elegant outfits, head rarely held high, you knew something was out of place. She normally wore only a touch of makeup… when there was nothing to hide.

Her husband was a doctor. She was a teacher in my school – a beautiful, intelligent, highly educated woman, with a great sense of humour. Everybody knew. Nobody seemed to care. If anything, they turned up their noses and shook their heads, when her private life was in plain sight, written on her face, scarring her delicate, still youthful features.

Sometimes, she would miss work several days in a row. One some rare occasions, she would disappear for a couple of weeks. Once, her voice wasn’t the same for a while, some broken teeth affected her speech. Then she disappeared again and her teeth were absolutely perfect when she returned. Everything could be fixed, everything could be covered…

Everybody gossiped, nobody interfered… because it wasn’t out of the ordinary. It happened in all walks of life. Cultural and social status may have been a catalyst at times, but it was never a deterrent. I wonder, how many of her female colleagues – the ones who were only too thrilled to spread the word – went home to a similar life? I wonder, how many of her male colleagues went home to dispense the same kind of loving treatment to their wives? Envy was the one thing most of them shared – what was a few bruises, some broken bones and teeth, compared to everything she had? She certainly couldn’t afford all those nice clothes or that home in a nice part of town on a teacher’s salary… And many women put up with much worse… And maybe she deserved it… maybe she even liked it.

She would leave. All her friends and acquaintances had heard her talk about leaving him. She shared her incredible plans for a better future with anyone who would listen. And people listened, because that’s what you do. You sit down and have a cup of coffee with this woman who seems so together, she all of the sudden becomes unhinged, while calmly telling you how she would leave that home of horrors. She doesn’t even feel the need to explain why she would leave, because she knows you know, in spite of all those stories about walking into doors and falling down the stairs. You nod and agree with her, because you have no idea what else to do. But just like everybody else, you don’t believe her, because she’s been talking this way for years. Nobody believes her, not even her husband believes she could ever leave.

Then it becomes clear – that was her plan all along. She wasn’t as unhinged as everybody thought her to be. One morning, she was simply gone. First, nobody paid too much attention to that particular matter, she occasionally spent the night at a friend’s place. Then she failed to show up at work… or at home… or anywhere else.

She was gone.

Gone were all her personal things as well. Her wardrobe was empty. Her jewellery box was empty. Only most of her makeup was still on the table, in front of her vanity mirror. She was nowhere to be found.

Pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. She had systematically taken her things to a friend’s place over the preceding months. She had everything set up – a new job, a new home, a new life. And once her child was old enough, once she had that child’s future secured, she could finally buy a plane ticket.

Suddenly, everybody believed her. She hadn’t only left him, but she left the country. The saddest part was that most of them considered her happy ending, her new beginning, as nothing more than a pathetic, insane, unacceptable choice.

Here’s to hoping that more and more women in her situation manage to find the strength and resources to make such a choice!

Atop

Sometimes, we need to escape more than we know… Only when we start to travel, only when we put some space between us and our “everyday” do we realize how desperately we needed to do exactly that. I don’t know about you, but the right trip at the right moment makes me feel on top of the world – at least on top of my world 🙂 .

In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Atop.

Valentine’s Day…

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Sometimes, it’s “Swan Lake” and dinner at a nice, romantic restaurant… sometimes, it’s beautiful red roses and phone calls, because everyday life doesn’t take a break for special occasions… and other times, it’s nothing but disappointment and frustration. Like many other socially branded times of celebration, the controversial Valentine’s Day will do that to us. Or… really… let’s be honest… we do that to ourselves.

It may not be my favourite holiday, but I’ve made peace with Valentine’s Day many years ago. Call me jaded, call me old, but I couldn’t have a meltdown because of it, even if I tried. And that’s mostly because I am who I am, I like what I like, and I honestly don’t care if those around me approve of it or not. I no longer try to adjust my expectations in order to fit their needs, nor do I feel guilty when I’m labelled as “spoilt” just because I want to be treated in a certain way. I get to choose who is close to me. We all do. We all should. Part of this choice is being aware that there are persons willing to offer me what I want, people who wish to make me feel special… people for whom I want to do the same.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again many times – celebrating a loved one, a relationship, showing them how important they are, can be so fulfilling. Perhaps some people are able to do that each and every day. Personally, I often drown in everyday nonsense and I generally need those pre-set occasions to shake everything up. I like thinking ahead, I look forward to birthdays, anniversaries and holidays and I have great fun getting and preparing all sorts of things for the ones I love, even months before any of these occasions. I once had two years’ worth of gifts for my mother, that should say it all. That’s also part of who I am, together with my expectations.

Yes, I like flowers – no heart shaped knickknacks, no cutsy teddy bears or other plush toys, no, thank you. It’s not that I need someone to buy them for me; I don’t mind getting them myself, if I need some cheering up. But I want somebody who cares enough to offer me flowers, just to make me smile, just because that’s what I like, and that’s important to them, even when it might not be their favourite activity. It’s about being offered what I want, not what somebody thinks I should want. I’ve learnt that such people exist. I’ve learnt that I’m also willing to compromise and make these people happy. These are the persons I want in my life, not the ones I need to change, not the ones who want to change me. They are the ones I think of when it comes to celebrating love.

Undeniably, I like the romantic side of the holiday. There’s something so adorable about watching a man get all dressed up for a date with me (even after being together for years), struggling to pick the right tie, the same way I struggle with choosing the perfect shoes. It’s fun to see him happy and elegant, impatiently waiting for a compliment, inevitably choosing to wear one of the ties and the cologne I gave him on some previous occasion. I know that at some point, he’s going to move his wrist just to make me notice he’s wearing my favourite watch as well. All these are small, irrelevant matters in the grand scheme of things. Yet it’s small, happy, fun moments together that make up the good part of life, the one that keeps one going through all the murky, unbearable times.

But this scenario is not always an option, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s also not the end of the world when it doesn’t happen. As I’m listening to Bon Jovi, enjoying the red roses I received earlier and the delicious pralines I offered myself (first and foremost, I love myself), I’m thinking that a nice dose of realism is absolutely necessary on Valentine’s Day. A date on Valentine’s Day doesn’t guarantee love, nor does it reflect a person’s worth. Knowing what we need from others and from ourselves, seeing the value of who we are, celebrating it and those we love (be they a partner, a friend, a relative, the self) might be more important.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Find a little something that gives you pleasure and treat yourselves to it… or share it with somebody important to you.

Solitude

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

Parallel Lives – Ana Linden

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In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Solitude.

Picking Up The Phone And Speaking Out

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Winter Moments – I Must Be Getting Old, Because I Felt Like A Child Today

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I gave the car mat a good shake and put it back where it belonged. I had dragged so much snow on my boots, getting in and out the car, that I couldn’t just leave it. That was that, no driving anywhere for the day. I finally turned the key to stop the engine, grabbed my bag and my gloves, locked the metal igloo on wheels, and walked away.

I could actually walk to the park… Hmm… It hadn’t even occurred to me, I was so stuck on the little itinerary I had established for myself, that nothing else registered. I was going to drive to this spot where the sea would be spectacular, with all the snow and disturbingly low temperatures we’d been having. Then back to the park, for a nice walk in the snow and some more seasonal photos. Sure, I was going to brave the cold, spend some time outside, in the snow (mostly shovelling it off my car), but I wasn’t going to walk there… Remember Lorelai Gilmore’s “love affair” with snow? Well, I’m nothing like that. It is just frozen water falling from the sky at inopportune times, and pretty as it may be, it is just a nuisance, the annoying cause of bad traffic, countless broken limbs and stupid car crashes. (Fine, I watched Gilmore Girls, you can stop rolling your eyes now. What, don’t you have any guilty pleasures?).

Walking through the snow to the nearby park and thinking back of some pictures I recently found, an old, almost forgotten sensation started defrosting my soul. Since the first snow this winter, something has been nagging me; and when I found those photos and started going down on memory lane with my childhood friend, I couldn’t deny what used to be… Just as I once used to run in the rain, I also used to like the snow.

We had real winters, cold and white, in the little corner of the world where I grew up. There was always snow in December and we often got the first flakes in November. As the winter progressed, we got sick and tired of the frozen intruder, but for a while, it was the centre of our childish existence. What sort of mysterious energy did we possess, what kind of superpower drove us? We spent all our spare time building snowmen and snow forts, and plotting snow fights. Even as teenagers, we weren’t above snow fights; and much as we pouted and complained about wet clothes, messed up hair and smeared mascara, we secretly loved them. Unless, of course, the person(s) you really, really liked didn’t throw one single snow ball at you, that’s when the drama began…

Something miraculous happened. I stopped feeling angry about all the difficulties snow drags along. I stopped thinking about stuck cars, blizzards, bad traffic, icy roads and a myriad of other depressing things. They’d be there tomorrow as well… and there was nothing I could do about all that, except give myself worry lines. If I could detach myself from all that noise in my head and just enjoy something as simple and natural as a snowy day in the park, why shouldn’t I?

You know you’re getting older – no, let’s call it “more mature”, it sounds better – when you realize you’re feeling like a child. You recognize that sensation, you can associate it with specific moments, and you welcome it, because in some cases it can be such a joy to relive a version of it. The wind had calmed down a bit and the snowy park was beautiful. Narrow paths had been carved across the thick layer of snow. As soon as I strayed from them in order to take some pictures, I was really glad I had decided to wear my over-the-knee boots.

A few steps sideways and I could get the perfect photo of a tree bending to the ground under the heavy burden of snow… or I could have got it, had my behind not hit the snow at that very moment. Half a second later, I was back on my feet as though nothing happened – after all, I know how to fall. I immediately got rid of all the snow I had picked up during my unexpected incursion while worriedly looking around for members of younger generations. I was ready to smile at my own lack of grace, hoping they wouldn’t make too much fun of the thirty something woman with the crazy hat. But there was nobody around… my fall had slipped unnoticed.

Then it sunk in. There wasn’t anybody around… In fact, there weren’t too many people in the park, even though as far as snowy weekend afternoons go, this one was a lovely one… and most of them were adults. You know you’re getting older growing more mature when you feel like starting a thought with “when I was a kid…” I’ll take my chances. When I was a kid, we spent hours and hours outside, in the snow, in the cold, playing, sledding, having fun; we had to be dragged back home. Then, when we got a bit older, we did our best to spend as little time at home as possible; even being outside, at disturbingly low temperatures, was preferable. The parks were always full of children and teenagers. Now, almost everybody was over 50.

It was something along these lines that my friend and I were remembering, looking at old pictures of us in a snowy park, from our high school days… And we could not figure out how we managed to do that, spend all that time in dreadful cold, and not mind it. We didn’t just grow older and jaded, we also became overly sensitive – and it’s not only an age related matter, it’s a state of mind. That strength, that resilience, that mystical superpower, I think we drew it from being able to enjoy every little thing, regardless of all discomfort and inconvenience that also came with it. Was it madness? Was it recklessness? Perhaps it was – up to some point – but it was also a type of simple, instinctive wisdom, which we outgrew.

At least I can remember it, therefore I know that as a human being, I am able to feel it – and if I focus and dig deep enough in my soul, I can even overcome my jaded, cynical self. My toes were starting to freeze in my boots, but I could stand it, it was a good feeling, just like so many years ago.

I could hear laughter in the distance and I could see somebody making a snow angel. Then I walked closer. He helped her up, laughing as well. They were having a snow fight and they were still laughing, yelling loving threats to one another. As I was walking towards the park exit, I met them again. She was throwing one last snowball at him, while he was picking up her designer bag. He came close to her and brushed some snow off her elegant coat. She broke free and they started laughing and running through the snow again. They were feeling like children too, even if they seemed to be in their forties. They had their own memories, their own impulse to feel like children. Too many don’t create such simple memories that might rescue them later, not anymore…

I was frozen, tired and exhilarated when I got home. So I can still occasionally enjoy snow, even if I still hate winter cold. Who knows, maybe I can still run in the rain as well.

First Snow

1There’s something special about the first snow… that day when it doesn’t only smell like winter, but it also looks like winter. It always takes me back to some of the nicer days of my childhood, to snow fights, and snowmen, and sledding. Coming in from the cold, enjoying the warmth and comfort of my home, it reminds me other moments as well…

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That warmth and comfort I now take for granted haven’t always been quite like this. Maybe I should be more grateful for small things. Something a friend told me many years ago comes to mind – happiness can be the relief of not having to be out in the cold, struggling, on a day like this, and instead just be in a warm, safe place you can call home… Coming from a kid, this statement left an impression. My childhood may have been far from perfect, but others had it much worse. So for a short while, I enjoyed this winter’s first snow on the beach, putting up with the frozen air; knowing that warmth and comfort were within reach only made it better. Besides, I only like the first snow, so I might as well take full advantage of it, right? 😉

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Anticipation.

Shifting Horizons

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Sometimes, perspectives shift right in front of us, radically and so fast, that we are rendered breathless, speechless, utterly unable to react. Sometimes, the change is discrete and gradual, until we lift our eyes one day and no longer recognize what we see on the horizon or what’s brewing behind that image. And sometimes, we can just tell something’s coming, something needs to and is about to undergo deep metamorphosis. However, we cannot really tell whether our horizons will be broadened or simply turned upside down, becoming an incomprehensible mess.

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in response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – New Horizon.

Relaxing

7I have my little ritual every year after I decorate the Christmas tree. Once I tidy up and the empty boxes go back where they belong, I switch off all the lights in my home. Only the Christmas lights are on, the ones in the tree and those decorating the windows. I listen to sappy Christmas songs, just as I do while decorating. I just sit on the sofa, enjoying a well deserved glass of wine or perhaps a cup of hot coffee, whatever I feel like, and I think of past Decembers, good and bad alike. It’s just that calming tree and I, and even if I am practical these days and no longer get a real fir, it serves its purpose. Every year, it brings some joy and pleasure into my life, rewarding the child in me, awakening the child I once was. I… we… put such effort into setting the stage for Christmas, so we might as well relax for a moment and enjoy it, remembering how those lights seemed magical to the children we once were.

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And sometimes my mind just wonders off and I can’t help thinking of warmer days… 🙂

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax.

A Realist’s Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic.

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