Transient Moments

Every time I go to the mountains I am somehow pulled towards these seemingly insignificant water streams. I could almost say that the sound of undisturbed nature is incomplete without that murmur of rushing waters.

Once in a while, it stares you in the face, the enormous strength and consequences of something apparently so small cannot be denied or ignored. Bit by bit, over what seems an eternity, water droplets have carved their way through impenetrable walls.

There’s nothing else to be done other than admire the force of repetitive transient, apparently insignificant moments.

Fleeting instants and unexpected people walk into our lives and leave it just as fast, like water streams… They occasionally leave indelible marks, the consequences of which we only notice much later. Once we do, we need to accept that nothing can ever be the same.

Local Knowledge

Summer arrived particularly early that year. For us, locals, it felt like a well-deserved, yet unexpected treat. It may not have been my native town, it may not have been that long that I lived there, but I liked to think of myself one of them. Of course, being a student who had to not only survive exams, but actually maintain a certain grade average was something of a drawback… but nothing I couldn’t handle gracefully, I figured.

I’ve never been one to study well in libraries or excessively quiet places, so that early summer weather was a real gift. I could simply go and study on the beach, the sound of the sea drowning all that unwanted noise in my head. It was still too early for tourists to flood the shore, so we had the beaches to ourselves, a few people here and there enjoying the perfect weather, delighting in that sandy peace.

I passed my exams, I managed to get a bit of a tan and the study experience proved to be a lot more enjoyable than I could have ever expected. I certainly had to make a mental note and return to that particular beach the following year, in case the weather was going to be on my side, I decided.

I was quite proud of my little discovery, in fact. Not far enough from home to feel guilty for the time wasted to get there, the place wasn’t completely abandoned. Bur the best part was that the very few people populating it seemed to be single, no screaming children disrupting my study sessions. There were other single young ladies working on their tan and it felt like a stroke of luck to have stumbled upon that place where men seemed to be rather polite and civilized when trying to approach them. I remember being offered drinks a couple of times, but they took my refusal very well and I could just burry myself in my study material again. I didn’t really feel offended that after trying to approach me, one gentleman proceeded to try his luck with another girl – she was gorgeous and I had admired her designer beach bag from the moment she arrived. A while later I lifted my nose from a book and noticed they were both gone.

My friend burst into loud, incontrollable laughter. I really didn’t see why my study experience was such a thigh-slapper.

“I had no idea you were looking for a summer job,” is all he manages to utter between fits of laughter. “So how much did you make,” he wants to know next…

I may not be the blushing kind, but I could feel even my earlobes burn as he imparted his knowledge. Clearly the ladies on that corner of the beach were working, but not only on their tan… on the bright side, I was informed, it was a high-end corner beach. Everything – details I had completely ignored – fell into place. Some strange looks I got while sitting there, in the sun, surrounded by all my study notes started to make sense; some of the guys’ giggles when telling them where I had studied were clearly justified. However, the girls seemed oblivious to it when I later shared my hilarious, yet somewhat embarrassing faux pas. Hmmm…

It may have happened many moons ago, it may look entirely different now, but I still smile when I pass by that place and I remember studying on the beach that early summer. You can know a place… and you can know a place…

The Order of Things

She had a “cat that ate the canary” look on her face, but I chose to ignore it. I was too tired, too hungry, and the only thing I craved more than food was a cup of coffee. If nothing else, you could always count on her to have a fresh pot handy when she was home.

I blindly reached for a cup, but my fingers wrapped around what turned out to be a wine glass. Nothing was where it was supposed to be and I was pointed to the most illogical place for a coffee cup. She had taken upon herself to reorganize my kitchen cabinets, the way she would have liked them to be. The same way her mother used to do to her… the same way her mother-in-law used to do to her, until they took back the spare key they had so gracefully offered her. Who cares that this is my home, not hers? Who cares that she knew what a nuisance this type of behaviour can be?

As I was being given a tour of my own kitchen, I tried not to choke on the cigarette smoke. Who cares that I’m not a smoker?

“Do you like it?”

I hate it.

“It’s fine. It was fine before too…”

I was a student and it was the first time my mother was visiting me, in my own home. Of course I wanted everything to be perfect… as close to perfect as it could be on a student’s budget. Sure, everything was old, but I took pride in how spotless and tidy the place was. I had worked really hard to get it in such a decent shape. But I didn’t feel like arguing after the long day I had had, considering everything I still had to do that evening.

“Did you go out today?”

“No, I was waiting for you to come back. Do you really have to spend this much time at the university, even when I’m here?”

Ok… just let it go… breathe and ignore her… one more sip of coffee… you can do this…

“Well?…” She gestured widely around the kitchen, clearly waiting for some sort of comment.

Well, what?

“Have you nothing to say about all the work I had to do for you today?”

I knew that tone of voice. Just breathe, choose your battles.

“Oh, you mean the cabinets… thanks, it was very kind of you, but you really shouldn’t have bothered.”

“The cabinets? Is that all you have to say? I break my back for you and that’s the thanks I get, you don’t even notice… you and that husband of mine, two peas in a pod, just taking me for granted.”

I looked around carefully, only to notice that aside from a heavy cloud of cigarette smoke and some dirty dishes in the sink, the kitchen was just as I left it. Then she angrily grabs at the old fridge, pulling it aside.

“Can’t you see I cleaned behind the fridge,” the voice is shrill, bordering on hysterical.

Forgive me for not using my X-ray vision… and for being one of those few deranged people who don’t go looking behind the fridge, first thing when they get home. But most of all, sorry for not generally noticing you cleaned a place that had already been scrubbed clean and disinfected only one day earlier. And that was only the second day from a three week visit…

Those who know me, tease me about being a neat freak… but I’m nothing compared to the neat freak my mother used to be. Whenever this tendency of mine seams to take an unhealthy turn, I remember her scrubbing the spaces between the tiles with a tooth brush when I was child. That will never be me.

Many things have changed since that visit of hers. Many things will forever stay the same. She no longer cares about having a spotless home; but she bitterly criticizes everybody else. I no longer care about her approval, but I do tend to go overboard when expecting her for a visit. I do eventually manage to step back, take a deep breath and say to myself, “The hell with it, nothing will ever please her anyway.” Last autumn, just before her impending visit, I had that revelation while polishing the exterior of my entrance door. The following day, she was waiting for me to find my keys in my bag, while noticing my neighbour’s door.

“What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know the door is the first thing one notices about their home?”

“Don’t you know that’s possibly the last thing anybody cares about?”

I smile and she smiles back, because she chooses to consider such comments part of my strange sense of humour, cynical ways.

Many of us spare no effort in our endeavours to change that often perverted order of things, where we become our parents. Difficult as it may be, it is doable; and it can often be a great self-control mechanism. Yet it can only go so far… Certain things are beyond our control, I realize while staring at a recent photo of my mother. Tired and in a foul mood, with no makeup on, she looks exactly like my grandmother when she was about her age. So I wonder… as the years go by, will I end up hating my reflection in the mirror, simply because I might feel my face belongs to somebody else more than it does to me?… All I can hope for – worst case scenario –is to only ever see that reflection in a mirror, and not when the two of us are face to face.

Carol Balawyder’s “Mourning Has Broken”

Instead of sharing an image of a spectacularly dangerous corner of nature or of anything else around us that might suggest great peril, I’m stepping outside the confines of this week’s challenge. In fact, I’m dropping the “photo” part of the challenge altogether, and I’m focusing on the topic alone. Thus I would like to share a few thoughts on a book I’ve read recently, a book written by somebody you might already know from the blogging world. And yes, there is a connection… As I see it, one of the relevant dangers of being human and of allowing ourselves to experience the greatest joys of our nature is loss. Death is part of it – an unavoidable part of it. So we are all confronted with it and we have no choice but to learn how to deal it.

“Death is messy and often is accompanied with unfinished business. The leaving behind of everything and everyone you could possibly imagine. There is no way out of it.”

Carol BalawyderMourning Has Broken

Putting pain into words is one thing; putting those words in writing is another. But putting that writing out there, for everyone to access and interpret is an act of bravery. After reading Mourning Has Broken, one can only admire Carol Balawyder’s courage to share her experience with grief and loss.

I’ve read other books written by her, but this one touched me the most. Perhaps it’s the disarming honesty with which Carol writes about the pitfalls of dealing with death, loss and grief. Perhaps it’s the fact that everyone who has ever dealt with such issues can relate to the tone of the book and the emotions shared, if not also to some of the exact manifestations. Either way, a sense of gratefulness and respect builds up as one keeps reading – gratefulness for sharing and respect for the woman who has managed not only to work through incredible loss, but to also find hope and meaning in her experiences.

Grief is personal and there is no sure “recipe” for surviving it, and Carol’s book doesn’t try to give advice; but in trying to make sense of pointless, heart-breaking events, she does manage to cleverly insert a sense of hope. Somewhere, underneath all the pain, guilt and regret, there is strength – strength to move on, strength to remember, strength to hurt and fall apart, yet somehow continue living. The dead survive through the memories and feelings of the living, and allowing this connection to manifest itself once in a while is not only natural, but it can also be helpful, we are reminded. Memories of the past find embodiment in the present – a recipe, a book or a clothing item are not only a reminder, but a way to reconnect, to understand, to find peace.

There are numerous kinds of death and they never really find us prepared. What we know may seem useless, so we despair, but we also try and create our tools to help us deal with such situations. If nothing else, Carol’s book is a ray of hope from somebody who has survived and wakes up every day knowing she has to keep working at surviving. This is something that had to be said, Carol Balawyder’s fluent style convinces the reader – the same reader who gets a distinct feeling that the writer not only knows what she’s talking about, but has also thoroughly researched the matter, to facilitate the mourning process. The answers she found, she shares with us… and for that, we can only be thankful.

“Mourning, I realize, must come in small parcels. To realize the immensity of the loss at once would be too overwhelming and unbearable. It must be done in bits and pieces of dreams disappearing one sliver at a time.”

Carol Balawyder – Mourning Has Broken

Wanderlust

The snow covered mountain tops seemed… they seemed familiar. We had been driving up and down through the mountains all day long, we were heading towards yet another landmark, but… there was something about those peaks, like I had seen them up close. All day I kept trying to figure out which mountain was which, as terrible at geography as always. My sight oversaturated with all those wonderful landscapes, I still couldn’t help staring in that particular direction. Then I noticed the signs, as we drove into possibly one of the dullest small towns I had ever seen.

My throat closed with emotion for a moment, as I recognized the memory and remembered the place. The name of the place typed into the GPS, I never even glanced at the route. The destination was the main concern. I turned my head and as our eyes met and we smiled melancholically, I knew my friend was thinking the same thoughts.

For a week we woke up to see those peaks first thing every morning. An indescribably old, barely functional truck drove us and our rucksacks several kilometres down a terrible, pothole filled road. Not too long a hike and we were finally at what we chose as our camping site. I stare at the mountain and I remember all the drama and adventure of that trip as though it was yesterday. The guys who climbed all the way to the top of those steep rocky cliffs… the guy who abandoned his girlfriend on the mountain, on a storm, in the middle of a passionate fight, and then went after her… that day I decided to hike up the mountain on one of the more accessible trails and how I decided that torrential rain wouldn’t stop me, even if that meant I had to drag my boyfriend after me, even if that meant my best friend felt compelled to come after us, worried something might have gone wrong. I remember how intense love felt back then; I remember how friendship used to be more important than anything else. But above all, I remember those nights around the camp fire… we were just a bunch of teenagers, having little else in common but our wanderlust and our need to escape our lives. Somehow, right there, in the middle of nowhere, having nothing else but a fire, our tents and each other, we felt safe. And we were happy.

We look at each other again.

“Were we… what, fifteen, sixteen?… Sixteen, we must’ve been sixteen… that’s right…”

And we do the math, but avoid actually saying how many years have passed since then; we feel old, and at the same time, we’re giddy like children. We keep driving down today’s road, giving voice to yesterday’s memories.

As the days get warmer and longer, this crazy urge to just pack my bags and go – anywhere, everywhere – takes over me. Sometimes it finds an outlet, and it also finds company. I can’t help appreciating the irony of then versus now… just like I can’t help noticing how many various ways there are to reach the same destination. We keep focusing on the destination and finding value in the journey that takes us there. How about the company we choose? What if that’s the most important part, especially when it comes to the more difficult journeys? I only know this – if wanderlust hits and I want somebody with me, that person is somebody truly special to me.

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…

1

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…