You know how you don’t much care for a certain kind of food, and then you suddenly crave it? I went through that with bananas and melons. Now it’s happening again… only it’s not food, it’s countryside.
You know how you don’t much care for a certain kind of food, and then you suddenly crave it? I went through that with bananas and melons. Now it’s happening again… only it’s not food, it’s countryside.
I would have smiled at the sight of that coffee cup, had I not been so displeased to find myself there. I was invited to have a seat at the dining room table and I was flanked by the two of them, one on each side. My eyes wondered around the room I had known my entire life, a room which was unchanged, a room which didn’t feel familiar at all. I wasn’t saying anything. Neither was she, but I knew that look, that fidgety stance, when she just waited for a person’s first sentence in order to pounce on them with all sorts of accusations. Continue reading “Angles Of The China Pattern”
Now I have my own ornaments and stories to go with them. I somehow managed to hold on to a box of four glass baubles I got at some point in middle school, while shopping for Christmas presents with my best friend at the time. I can just see the store and how we went in looking for something entirely different. I spent a hefty part of my savings on these ornaments and a similar set that I offered my grandmother that Christmas (one of the very few presents she actually liked). They’ve miraculously survived the years and journeys and they went on every tree I’ve had ever since, even when they didn’t match the general colour scheme. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa (Part 2)”
She frowned and immediately dismissed the idea of a Christmas tree.
“I’ll get one when I can afford to decorate it properly,” she concluded, “not with all that cheap tacky stuff.”
Oh… I couldn’t help feeling my friend’s not at all veiled dig at me. So my Christmas tree was cheap… and tacky. Well, I could certainly give her “cheap”. Continue reading “No Trendy Christmas Tree For Me, Santa”
There are times when life is simply too hectic and overwhelming to notice anything that goes on around you; then there are those sunny lazy autumn days, when sensory memory takes over, distant moments flashing through your mind….
“You know, I don’t remember much from back when I was her age… strange…”
The woman in front of me was going on and on about her 14 year old daughter and how she hoped the girl’s adolescence wouldn’t be too wild or troubled.
“Really? I remember everything like it was yesterday,” the words escaped my lips before I knew it. Continue reading “Don’t Forget to Remember”
Our souls had dark sides too, we discovered up there. And black was the colour of death, I quickly remembered. We all knew what he was going to do. Continue reading “Grey (Fragment 2)”
What if it’s too dark? What if it looks wrong? I glanced at the instructions once more, without really reading them. I knew what they said, it was quite obvious how to use it. How stupid! I rolled my eyes at my own undecided reflection in the mirror. Such a fuss over something so small… I ran a comb through my towel dried hair and went for it.
When did I become so boringly cautious about my hair colour? I spread the coloured mousse on my roots with a new brush I got especially for the occasion. I used to be so handy at this sort of stuff, many many moons ago, when I used to colour my hair… when I was a teenager. I even had friends who would ask me to colour their hair too, since I usually did such a good job with mine. By the time I turned twenty I had experienced with so many shades that I almost couldn’t tell what my natural hair colour was. When my mother got married, I showed up with blue, red and black streaks in my blond hair; and they weren’t the clip-on kind. And now I was worried about touching up my roots with some coloured mousse… Damn it! Continue reading “Ch-ch-changes”
Sometimes it’s Paris or Madrid… sometimes it’s a snowy mountain peak… and sometimes it’s hiding in my car in a supermarket parking. Escape is escape, no matter where it takes you, and there’s a very thin line between exquisite and dreadful.
I’d rather be anywhere but here… Everybody has thought it and felt it at least on a few occasions, I’m sure. But sometimes the need to run becomes a constant, the fuel and reason behind one’s actions, when time gets divided in small, painful increments between escapes. It’s exactly these moments away that keep you sane, that give you the strength to bear that exasperating “everyday” and if escape plans fall apart, despair, depression, anger and frustration bubble up uncontrollably.
There was this large bag the contents of which I occasionally liked to spread all over the living room rug when I was a child, much to my grandmother’s exasperation. Postcards and stationary from countless hotels in what then seemed surreal exotic places were more amazing to me than fairy tales. I never wanted to be a princess and fairy tales weren’t real, even if I enjoyed many of them. But untouchable as they might have seemed, those places were real, and my mother had seen them all. The mere idea of it made her seem untouchable as well. Travelling wasn’t as accessible back then as it is nowadays, so that collection of postcards representing places she had seen was quite an achievement. An exciting, yet frightening achievement… I wanted to grow up and go see such beautiful places as well, I remember; I also remember having no clue as to how I would manage such an extraordinary thing. Grand things are in even greater in a child’s eyes.
I have a postcard collection of my own now. I travelled because I loved to, I wanted to see all those places. I travelled because at times I felt I had no choice. But I also travelled because for a number of years I felt I had to be anywhere but home in order to be alive. No matter where you are, who you are and what you have, it’s all worthless, I was raised to believe; everything that’s truly valuable is that which you have yet to conquer; once you’ve conquered it, it becomes worthless and you need to move on to something greater, or at least new. Only weak people savour that which they have and they’re happy with their existences, I was taught.
Thinking back, I don’t regret taking any of those trips, not even the horrible ones. But eventually I had to understand the real reasons behind my need to leave, so that I could allow myself to feel accomplished and content with what my life is when I stay. There was a time when “home” had nothing for me and I was right to want to run; that attitude was no longer appropriate after a certain point, wanting to leave everything behind was no longer only a token of ambition. Instead, whether I liked it or not, I had to admit that learning to find joy in my everyday life was not a sign of weakness. And I liked it, even if it wasn’t easy… It was certainly better than constant dissatisfaction.
Some trips weren’t really for me, much as I tried to believe otherwise; they were journeys taken to gain approval I would never really gain. Other trips I haven’t taken in order to comply with somebody’s expectations and image of the person I should be… an image that would never be me. The rest… the rest of them were all about me and where I wanted to be, what I needed, and that’s the kind of travelling that I wish to be doing from now on.
Nurture is not everything; there’s also nature… my nature. And by nature, I am a restless, ambitious person, who often gets bored too easily. I can accept that, the same way that I can accept the fact that early summer, and sometimes early spring as well, make me giddy with that familiar desire… I want to get in my car or on a plane and keep going, not looking back. I love that impulse, it generally makes me feel alive, if it stems mainly in the need to travel, not to run away. That’s not a bad thing; it’s not necessarily a good one either, I remember.
I also remember something else I could no longer deny after a certain point… We desperately need to escape sometimes; what we tend to ignore or forget when we plot our escape is that there are some people who love us and whose desperate need is to be with us, when all we think about is running away…
“Oh… sweetie… I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”
We skipped straight to a dish session – our patented way of diffusing dark, heavy conversations about to explode into a fight. The usual, who’s married, who’s dating, who’s getting divorced…. who’s married, and dating, and about to get divorced… But I didn’t really have any juicy gossip, and apparently neither did she, so our conversation was risking to dangerously slip back to the previous pattern.
Then I remembered – guess who got married? Continue reading “Moving On…”
In response to WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Windows.
“I don’t want any apartment plants, they’re just not my thing.”
That was my usual go-to reply whenever somebody wondered why there were no plants in my home. “I’m not good at taking care of them, I have neither the time nor the patience to keep them alive,” I would continue, if they insisted.
That was the easiest way of avoiding a conversation on a topic that was somewhat unclear to me too. I liked decorative plants. Yet I knew I didn’t want them in my home.
Frustrated and tired, I was walking fast towards the exit of the large store – one of my last hopes of finding the perfect curtain rail. Continue reading “Layered Emotions”
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.
Fine, fine, I admit it. I liked the Spice Girls for about five minutes, back in the ‘90s… or 20 years ago, as the annoying news lady decided to inform me the other day. That couldn’t be true… could it? But as I rushed from the kitchen to stare incredulously at the TV (as though that was going to change anything), I quickly did the math and horror of horrors, the lady was right.
Snippets of old videos followed on the screen and flashes of old memories ran through my mind. It’s been 20 years since my friends and I used to jump up and down in front of the TV, dancing to the Wannabe video, choosing our favourite Spice Girl and believing that “girl power” was a given. When the perky blonde came back on the screen, about to move on to some more depressing news, I made a face at her; in fact, I’m pretty sure I stuck my tongue out at her, a gesture strictly reserved for the most obnoxious drivers. But the perky blonde was not done with me, as her next piece of news involved a grey haired Jon Bon Jovi singing at a wedding, looking a lot older than a few years ago, when I saw him live in a concert. That’s what you get on a slow news day… although, ironically enough, lots of important things were going on in the world at the time. But clearly not important enough to push aside trivia reminding me that it’s been twenty years since then. In the ’90s sounds so much better than 20 years ago.
“You know, I told somebody you were 24 the other day.”
Ha? I paused, not knowing what one replies to that. Somebody had asked her how old her daughter was and apparently “24” was the right number for my mother.
“I see you’re not sticking with 28,” I finally recovered my voice.
She stopped counting at 28… not 29, not 30, but 28. I never lied about my age, but apparently my mother feels the need to, for several years now. I will try and preserve a little bit of mystery and won’t say for how many years I’ve been turning 28 according to her… suffice to say that she knows my age, yet she will not admit it to anyone, sometimes not even to me. And apparently, starting this year, I’m 24 again.
I can’t come up with a good reason why she chose that particular age, other than the fact that if I’m 24, she’s still in her 40s. In a way, it does make sense. She liked herself a lot more back then, so many things still seemed possible for her. I can understand why she would want to go back to those days, to somehow relive certain moments, so she could both have the chance to feel that happiness and make different decisions, take a different path. I know she chooses to often forget her own age and certain aspects of today’s reality, succumbing to the mirage of better days. Once in a while we all do that. Once in a while, when she doesn’t exaggerate, I understand her… after all, I’d rather say “in the ‘90s” than “20 years ago”… But I dread the moment she remembers how much she loved who she was in her 30s. If she keeps this up, I can see the day when I reach for my gin & tonic and she smacks my hand – soon enough, I won’t be of legal drinking age anymore.
Preserving time seems to be an obsession for all of us, trying to bottle up certain moments so we could repeatedly savour them at a later moment is not at all uncommon. Everybody has their own way of saving those instances for later use and their own reasons for occasionally sinking deep into those memories. For instance, aside from a plethora of photos, old notebooks and a variety of other things, I also have a couple of old dresses from back when I was about 18. I fear time, just like everybody else, so trying them on when I am really sad somehow makes me feel better, because I can still fit in them, and it also makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous I look. But what I don’t do when I’m sad is sink into happy moments and memories from the past, that’s just a recipe for depression. What can I say, we each fight time and preserve our sanity, our own way.
I’m not delusional about my past, I remember the bad at least as well as I remember the good. That’s why I think it might be about more than preserving time, it might actually be about preserving that person I was at a given moment – I may not have always liked my life, but I generally liked myself. That’s why the present can’t be overlooked and forgotten while we sink too deeply into the past – we need to set something aside for the future too. On that note, I think I’ll go and pour myself a glass of wine (while I still can) to go with my ice-cream and enjoy a nice summer evening, here and now… because who knows what’s to follow. Cheers! 🙂
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…
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…
There was a time every year when those dreaded words had to be uttered… I knew it, yet they always snuck up on me. Some teachers have a twisted, malefic sense of humour, I thought to myself, contemplating again the necessity of writing yet another composition about the person I admired most / the person I wanted to be like when I grew up. Not only was having such an idol (sure, call it role model and that will make it so much better) mandatory in my school, but apparently it was highly necessary to write said person’s praises on regular basis.
What was wrong with figuring out who and what I became step by step, rather than set a pattern for myself and try to mould my personality accordingly, I wondered… What was so terrible about simply becoming myself, rather than endeavour to be somebody else? I was able to notice and focus on, maybe even obsess about people’s flaws from a very early age; wanting to be like somebody else meant voluntarily taking on those flaws which were often unacceptable, not only reproducing their admirable qualities. If you add the fact it was generally expected of girls to write about their mothers (grandmothers, aunts, older sisters were also acceptable options in a pinch) and for boys to choose their fathers as role models, the banal homework assignment became a veritable ordeal.
Hmmm… I certainly didn’t wish to grow up to become my mother (talk about one’s worse nightmare…), other female relatives were even less desirable options so I was left with imaginary characters and a vast variety of people I had never met, yet I was supposed to get a clear enough idea about who they were and want to emulate all their qualities and flaws. So a fictional character it would be – at least you knew what you were working with in that case.
I remember Scarlett O’Hara was one of my early choices. I had yet to read the book, but I had watched Gone With The Wind and I liked what I saw. I honestly think I could notice my teacher’s jaw drop as I was reading. I wasn’t even 10 and acting out that way was absolutely unacceptable, she informed me in an angry tone. I normally wrote so well, what had happened to me? I rather liked my composition and I had trouble understanding why slightly incoherent girls got better grades. “I love my mom a lot” was the only reason they had for wanting to be like their mothers; the truly profound ones also mentioned mommy being a very accomplished cook or having pretty hair.
The importance of saying what a person wants to hear, not what you really believe was one of the main things I learnt in school; therefore I instinctively learnt how to rebel against this tendency. I generally got very good grades, so I could afford to splurge once in a while and speak my mind in glorious, hilarious, at times even offensive ways. As for the “idol” composition, I remember a masterpiece detailing what I admired about a stray dog that bit me; there also was that piece about my mother, a “how not to” account…
As we go older, it became acceptable for movie stars, singers and public figures of all sorts to be what we aspired to become, but it didn’t make it any easier as far as I was concerned, so that particular assignment remained an opportunity for mockery and entertainment. Of course I preferred certain singers, I had favourite authors, I liked certain well-known people better than others, but the truth was I didn’t like to dig into their personal life, nor did I enjoy learning everything there was to know about them, the way it was presented and fed to the public. I generally separated the person from the artist – I may have enjoyed the art, but that didn’t mean I would also appreciate the artist that created it. So school presented me with another ordeal, the task of looking into authors’ (or any other relevant persons’ we studied about) background.
The dry list of years and events connected to various individuals bored me to death… until I understood there were more comprehensive and fun ways to learn about them. If you perceived them as characters, you could simply read their story and if you were lucky enough, you managed to find all sorts of juicy details that were not included in the boring synopsis provided by teachers. There was also a positive side to this not so amusing endeavour. Those titans became a lot less intimidating, they were in fact people just like us, with flaws and shortcomings, and their brilliant minds didn’t necessarily guarantee their happiness; even success and recognition were often out of reach during their lifetime. So there was hope for all of us… Unfortunately, once you got to learn more about the person, it became more difficult to respect the work.
I did admire people for various reasons, even if I didn’t necessarily like them entirely and I learnt to take bits and pieces from them, to value those features that made them great, to appreciate what they offered directly and indirectly. It was sometimes as simple as enjoying somebody’s music (of course, it didn’t hurt if the way they looked made your teenage hormones wild and your knees weak with emotion). Alas, I was not allowed to put up posters, damaging the paint was a big no-no, one set in stone by my grandmother. So one day she came home to find the furniture in my room and the door covered in posters of singers and bands I liked, adored or even barely tolerated.
She had only mentioned the walls, after all… and it had become a battle of wills. It had all started from the one poster I wanted to have and since she didn’t allow it, it became crucial for me to display all the posters I could get my hands on. I found the loophole in her rule and there was nothing to do but look mortified. She appealed to a higher court, but since my grandfather couldn’t care less about what I did with my room as long as nothing got broken, I won. A few weeks after having made my point, I took most of them down, careful not to damage the furniture, and only left the one I initially wanted. Jon Bon Jovi showed off his toned body to all my visitors. Unfortunately one afternoon I quietly entered my room to find my grandmother ogling the image with a certain indiscrete, hungry look you really don’t want to see in your grandmother’s eyes…
Years later I saw him live in a concert and the experience brought up so many mixed memories and feelings… It was amazing, that much I can say, a child’s dream that the adult made possible. I may have been fascinated by the man on the stage and by his voice, yet call me a narcissist, but I was also my own “idol” for a moment there as well…
“Can you tell where the cracks were?”
Yes, I could. He had a keen eye for detail and unfortunately, so did I… But I knew there was only one right answer to his question. The piece of furniture had been beautifully restored, yet at a very close glance, you could tell what some of the most damaged spots had been. I knew he could tell, I knew he knew I could tell as well, so why was it so important to him for me to ignore the previous flaws? After all, he had done such a great job reconditioning the old nightstand… But I knew why, just as I knew I could work my way around that answer, if I wanted to be kind and compassionate to him.
“Not in this light… it looks great,” and that wasn’t a lie – it did look great.
We initially bonded over a somewhat shared interest for fixing things and an entirely shared love for shoes. No matter how badly we disagreed with each other or how great the gap between us would become over the years, those shared passions would always be our safe space, our common ground.
The first times he asked me that question I answered without hesitation and promptly proceeded to point out each and every little fixed problem I could spot. I thought he would appreciate my attention and interest in his work; instead he seemed angry and cold. He pointed out a few more marks I hadn’t gotten around to noticing and then he moved on to some impersonal topic. Every time, the same reaction… well, if you can’t handle an honest answer, why bother asking the question in the first place? Why such a childish cry for validation from a man his age? But then I got to know him…
Furniture restoration was his hobby, I had been told. In fact, it was so much more than that… He was truly talented and for a while, he really enjoyed doing it for a living (if you ask me, he would be a much happier person today if he hadn’t given it up; but nobody asked me, so…). But that had been in a rather distant past; the future of that past transformed the results of his talent into a hobby and a slightly touchy subject.
A great part of their furniture has been rescued and then patiently refurbished by him. The older, more deteriorated a piece of furniture was, the more stubbornly he would insist on saving it and restoring its past glory. Friends would bring him old pieces they no longer needed or wanted and he would carefully and patiently turn them into beautiful objects again. An antique mirror frame was the first item we ever discussed, my smug remarks igniting his anger. As I later learned, it had been broken into more bits than I was able to count on the restored version and a friend of his was taking it to the bin when he got his hands on it. To everybody else, it was a heap of rubbish; to him it had the potential of becoming beautiful again. It took him a long time, but he eventually devised ways of putting all the bits back into place and holding them together. It had a brand new life ahead.
He liked to show me how he went about fixing all the flaws, the small ones and those that appeared to be beyond repair alike. I had fun learning some simple techniques that I would later try myself. He wasn’t trying to hide the damage caused by time and by intentional or unintentional human error. It was important for him to know that the final result, the present version was appreciated for what it is and not judged for the sad state it had been in for a certain period of time. Once he was convinced of it, he had no problem talking about all the damage he had fixed, no matter who was pointing it out during the conversation.
He was like his furniture, I slowly discovered. Was he aware of it? Will he ever be aware of it? I doubt the future is able to bring any more answers than the past did concerning these questions. He put himself together and repaired his damaged being with the same patience he had when restoring sad, beyond repair furniture. He disclosed his past and his healed scars the same way he always talked about putting together broken bits of wood and covering the cracks – with a mixture of pride and shame, sometimes with anger referring to stupid mistakes, other times with sadness, thinking about unavoidable incidents.
I knew there was only one right answer in that case, because he deserved a caring answer, in spite of everything else. Once we finished going through all the details of the repair work the broken nightstand had required, he could pack it carefully and take it back to his mother’s place. For better or worse, he had managed to fix the damage caused by the past and instil future life in that piece of furniture. But who can tell how long it will take until it – until he – will fall apart again?…
The beam of light heading my way seemed out of place in the middle of the cold, dark field. I didn’t remember a road being there; yet there must have been one, otherwise… My right foot instinctively became gentler with the pedal, the car slowed down on the almost deserted motorway and I could focus on that puzzling light cutting through the field on my right. It didn’t take long and as that flash of light and I passed each other, heading into opposite directions in the night, the warm sensation of discarded memories invaded my body. The initial beam split into several, than many interconnected bright squares flickered for a few moments, only to slither away into the night as abruptly as they had appeared, the train heading towards the town I had left.
There was a road cutting through the field, parallel to the motorway. A railroad. But I don’t take the train anymore. I don’t like trains these days. I don’t think of them much or often. Yet that warm sensation was familiar. It might have been the hour. It might have been the route. Or it might have simply been that particular train. It all translated into the fact that it could have been ‘that’ train – the one I used to be on so many times, the one taking me to what used to be a destination and what is now a home. It was a sensation from a time long ago, a time of travelling by train and writing letters…
When was it that I last wrote a real letter? Or for that matter, when did I last open my mailbox to find an envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, enclosing pages covered in ink scribbling? I remember the last time I took the train, but I can’t remember the last real letter… That part of who I was transformed, evolved into something else… or perhaps it disappeared entirely.
When did those women find time to get anything else done, considering that most of their day seemed to be dedicated to letter writing? And how exactly did they know what was worth putting in writing for their friends, acquaintances and relatives to read? The contradiction was certainly puzzling – the heroines of those books seemed to spend so much time writing letters about what was happening, that I couldn’t understand when they managed to find a moment or two to have anything happening to them. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, but I knew I wanted to try it, because the child I was had decided that letter writing could turn any banal life into a fascinating, novel worthy existence.
That train in the night taking me to my holiday destination, taking me away from all my friends would often be the source and location of my first letter from each particular trip. Finding what to write about was easy, I immediately got to understand – every little thing needed to be shared with my best friend, the same way we used to share every insignificant experience when we were home. In return I got equally detailed letters, relating what now feels like absolutely nothing, yet what used to be pivotal happenings at the time. The most banal things were special adventures back then and riding the train for an entire night was no exception. The falling stars, the ugly towns, the picturesque places I’d see, the cute, nameless green-eyed boy who smiled quietly at me for half a night, while we were both sticking our hands and heads out the open window to feel the cool wind and the speed of the train, they were all letter worthy experiences.
I have a fairly large box full of such letters, most of them from my childhood and teenage years. I have letters from close friends. I have love letters from boys (now I am amazed that there have been teenage boys able to care enough for a girl in order to write her love letters and I actually knew some of them). I have letters that changed the course of my life and I have letters that made me wonder if I would still be able and willing to wake up in the morning and keep living. I have letters I’ve written and could never bring myself to mail and I have letters I’ve mailed and then asked to have returned. I have letters from people I don’t know anymore, because the children we were became adults who have nothing in common and no desire to even try to discover and accept the person the other has become. Regardless, they all have one thing in common: their colour and texture will always bring the past in the present, conferring it the weight of reality, as its silent witnesses that they were.
Signs becoming words, becoming stories, becoming communication, becoming life have always been important to me. Writing them down just as they happened made them real and objective, helping me analyse them in a more detached fashion. They’ve become hopes, disappointments and escape; they’ve become language and literature to be discovered, devoured, learnt, analysed and then learnt again. I may not always understand them and I may not always be willing to even try. But when it comes to letter writing, to correspondence of any sort, one thing remains unchanged: that thrill you experience when you just know somebody can hardly wait to read that which you want to share with them, the same way you’re looking forward to their reply.
We often need to see the bigger picture in order to understand the story behind the words behind the letters. And even when we do, it might still feel like a foreign language we can only grasp with great difficulty.
In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – This week, let the alphabet be your inspiration: find a string of letters.
Life is intricate…
Remember those old camera phones? Yes, the ones equipped with VGA cameras 🙂 Oh, that sense of pride and joy many of us have felt when having purchased our very first one… Well, this is a picture taken with such a phone many, many moons ago. While reminiscing, go ahead and see if you can find the butterfly 🙂
And now for something from this decade… It’s interesting to see how all those things so important to us can at time seem so small and insignificant, if perceived from a distance, within a larger picture.