Month: November 2016

The Old Lady That Looked Familiar

Another night when worries kept me awake. Insomnia came to pick me up at the same time every evening and we walked hand in hand until it became pointless to fight it. The lack of sleeping made me dizzy in the mornings. This Sunday dawn wasn’t different either. I crawled out of bed and washed my face, but I still felt like a marathon runner a mile before the finish line. I stopped drinking coffee because it made me jittery and somehow I felt more exhausted after having a cup.

I needed some fresh air to clear my head. The view of the mountains across the sea and the sound of water splashing against the rocks always made me feel better. So I headed to the harbor just like every Sunday morning.

I was walking down the coast and trying not to think of anything. It’s a difficult thing to do and I always find myself thinking of the nothingness I’m supposed to think of, which is thinking after all, so it never works.

The marina was quiet just like on any other Sunday morning.  The rising sun has painted the sky in a pinky shade and the fog hasn’t lifted yet. There were barely any people around, mainly dog walkers and elderlies that couldn’t sleep too long. 

Despite my best efforts, thoughts kept chasing each other in my mind and my head became so heavy I could barely keep it straight. I stopped and squeezed my eyes shut. I took a deep breath and massaged my temple and pressed on certain points on my face a reflexologist friend suggested once. It helped a little.

I rubbed my eyes and when I opened them again, I caught sight of a strange figure in the distance. She was hunching forward and dragging her left leg as if she was keeping a quarter under her foot to hide it from others. Even like this, there was something noble and elegant in the way she carried herself and although I couldn’t see her face as she was far away and walking the same direction as me, I imagined her to be a proud and poised woman. Her moves were like that of an old, broken music box – a few sounds were off, but the melody still filled your heart with joy.

As I was watching her, an unexplainable feeling of familiarness overcame me. I couldn’t tell why, but I thought I met her somewhere already. I got curious, so I picked up the pace to catch her.

All of a sudden, she halted as if she wanted me to gain on. I startled. And then something happened that made my blood freeze in my veins and the realization struck me in the head like a giant hammer that could break a skull open with one single hit. I knew her. Who else would do such a thing? She opened her arms and bowed to the sun, then spun around twice. Once clockwise and once the other direction. Otherwise, she gets too dizzy. How silly is that, really?! I know only one person who does that. I know her well.

Tears filled my eyes as I started to move again. Slowly but confidently, I was walking toward her.

I had to meet her. I needed to talk to her. I was sure she would know all the answers. I wanted to ask her and tell her that it was okay. In case, she felt differently. The distance between us started to shrink and I was less than a few feet behind her when she abruptly turned. I flinched. We were face-to-face and I could clearly see her then. A shiver ran through my body. My legs were shaking and breathing felt so heavy as if Mount Everest was resting on my chest.

It was her. No doubt. She hasn’t changed a bit. I mean, she got older, you could tell. The wrinkles and the silver hair were new, and her skin looked somewhat paler, but that mischievous sparkle in her eyes and her slightly crooked smile were the same. And that triangle-shaped scar on her forehead she got when she fell from the apple tree in her auntie’s garden. Those would give her away even if she disguised herself as a man.

We made a few more faint-hearted steps toward each other until we got so close we could have touched. She was a little shorter than me, and I could see the cowlick on top of her head that made it impossible to have a stunning coiffure for the prom. A bittersweet smile appeared in the corner of my mouth.

She lifted her head and gazed into my eyes. Her face was peaceful and warm, it made me feel calm. It felt like she could see right through me and I got scared that she would be disappointed and a lone teardrop escaped from the corner of my eye. She raised her shaking hand and put it on my shoulder. “Everything is gonna be fine,” she encouraged. Her voice trembled but there was something undeniably confident in it. Like she knew it. For sure. And I believed her. I wiped my face with the tassel of my scarf and looked at her puzzled.

“I have nothing,” I avowed in a hoarse voice. It sounded like I haven’t talked for days. “Don’t be silly,” she said with so much compassion I haven’t felt since Mom died. I had to swallow the knot in my throat and cough to be able to carry on speaking. “No roof over my head, no family, not even a job I would enjoy.”

She reached for my hand and buried it in hers, then lifted it to her face and gently pressed it against her cheek. She slowly moved her head, so my hand was stroking her skin and I could feel her smooth but cold lips and warm breath on my palm. She stared at me again. “You have this,” she said softly and put my hand on my heart. I could feel my own impatiently racing heartbeat with the tip of my fingers. And as I felt the warmth of her hands on mine, gratitude flooded my soul.

“Am I gonna be happy?” I asked. And as the words were leaving my lips, I felt ashamed and started shaking again because I realized it was the wrong question. I took a deep, anxious breath and slid her hands in mine. I squeezed them a little and looked into her eyes again. “Are you happy?” I asked fearfully. She moved away so I couldn’t reach her anymore and flashed that cheeky look of hers at me one more time. Then she opened her arms, bowed, and spun around twice.

I burst out laughing but couldn’t stop the flood of tears running down my cheeks. They weren’t sad tears, though. They were tears of relief and love. And a sense of wholeness. She just giggled like a kid that catches sight of a butterfly for the first time and walked farther and farther away from me. As her silhouette started to blend into the mist again, fear overcame me. “Wait,” I shouted after her. “What’s the secret?”

I heard her heartfelt laughter fading in the distance as the morning breeze became stronger.“Share it,” the wind carried her voice and she disappeared on the horizon.

Were you an easy teenager or a nightmare for your parents?

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I Was an Easy Teenager… Just Don’t Ask My Mom

I’ve been living my adult life in the absolute conviction that I was the greatest child and the least troublesome teenager ever, who never gave any reason to her parents to worry, freak out, or be unsatisfied. I excelled in school; I was good at sports; I had drama-free friends (sort of); I didn’t drink alcohol and never used any drugs. What else could a parent dream about, right?

If I could choose, I’d still prefer to be a college student for the rest of my life, but being a grown-up has its advantages, I can’t deny that. I’m wiser and understand things better. (Or so I believe.) I see things from a different perspective and finally have a normal relationship with my mother. We can actually talk for an entire hour without getting into an argument.

Taking advantage of that, a few days after my thirtieth birthday, I took my mom out to dinner. I planned to have one of those groundbreaking mother-and-daughter talks where we bond over a glass of wine while she’s telling me hilarious stories about my childhood and adolescent years. I started our conversation with a bold “I was a really awesome teenager, right, Mom?” question, which was more of a statement. This created an expression on her face that people would have in a packed metro car if a passenger took off all her clothes and started belly dancing. Confusion, a mixture of shock and surprise, and a sense of insult. “I wasn’t?” I asked in such a high-pitched voice I didn’t even know I was capable of. And then she started to talk.

She said it was “extremely” difficult to deal with me. (How dare she?) I got upset and gave her a dirty look. “Why?” I asked again in the voice of a Japanese cartoon character. So, here is a collection of anecdotes she recalled about my “easy” teenage years.

I love dancing. And I loved it already when I was fourteen years old. (That’s practically a child. With boobs. Barely noticeable boobs, in my case.) I had some older friends I hung out with those days, but they were fine, and Mom knew and trusted them. Kind of.

One night, I decided to go out dancing with my “mature” friends to a club out of town. I was going to stay out all night, of course, because that’s what disco is about, right? Dancing all night. According to my  fourteen-year-old self. I started getting ready in the bathroom when my mom appeared in the door and asked me where I was going. So I told her I was going dancing.

She didn’t get mad or anything. She quietly said, “You’re not going anywhere,” and calmly walked back to the living room. I ignored her and continued whatever I needed to do to feel pretty that night. Every now and then, she would pass by while I was doing my hair and repeat in a measured tone: “I told you, you are not going anywhere,” but I pretended not to hear it. When I finally got ready, I – very thoughtfully – reminded her that she shouldn’t wait up for me because, most likely, I would come home only in the morning.

That’s when she lost it. She raised from the couch, walked up to me, and shouted in my face: “Are you out of your fffff… mind?” That’s how she said it. Fffff. “I told you, you are not going anywhere, so you’d better move your ass back to your room and chill out.” We started arguing. It was pretty boring for the first couple of minutes. She would say I couldn’t go, I would ask why, then she would reply that because she said so, and I would say that was stupid and I was going anyway.

After minutes of word battling, I made my way to the hall and announced that I was leaving. She blocked the door with her body and wouldn’t move. We started shouting at each other and when I had enough of it, I looked her straight in the eye and in a calm but firm tone, I articulated, “I am going, Mom,” emphasizing every syllable, and with a gentle but solid push, I got her out of my way and left. Horrible, I know. But back then, I had absolutely no idea what her problem was, knowing that I was a “good girl.” In my understanding, she just forbade me from dancing, and that I found unreasonably stupid.

My next “stunt” that caused my parents a micro heart attack occurred when I was sixteen. It was in tenth grade, and I was still a top student. On a lazy September afternoon, I decided that I didn’t feel like going to classes anymore and I’d rather be home-schooled – only without any parental or tutorial help. I thought I could manage it all by myself without going to classes and only taking exams at the end of the school year. I’m not sure how this works in other parts of the world but where I come from, you can’t just not attend your classes if you are enrolled in a school. You have to be present all the time and can only miss a certain number of lessons if you have a medical certificate to prove that you were ill.

There are two ways, however, you can go around this. Either you have to be an exceptional talent in sport (and I’m talking Olympics level here) or a doctor, a neurologist or psychiatrist, has to give you a piece of paper, which states that school visits are not recommended for you. (Basically saying that you are mentally impaired in some way.) My decision to join the basketball team was solely based on the fact that I was in love with one of the players, so you can guess which option I went for.

My mom went to school with a guy, who – lucky me – became a neurologist. So I convinced my dear mother that she asked the dude to give me the required document. And she did. And then he did. So I filed the paper and stopped going to school.

You need to understand, though, that my intention was never to not finish school or not go to college. I wanted all that. I liked studying and I was good at it. I just felt at the time that I couldn’t be in the school, among all those people. (Whom I’m still friends with.) But no matter how hard I tried to explain to my parents that I still wanted to be an exceptional student, they took it all in the wrong way. Huge drama.

My dad thought that beating me up would be an efficient tool to change my mind, but all he’d achieved was that I got upset and didn’t talk to him for months. Mom was only desperate and confused, so she cried. But the point they both agreed on was that I needed to get a job and pay for my lodging because “now that I stopped going to school, I obviously had all the free time in the world.”

This I found unreasonable and ridiculous because I thought that learning everything on my own was much more difficult than sitting in school and absorbing everything there. (And boy, I was right.)

I couldn’t see how I would have the time to work after all the studying I had to do, but in the end, I did take a part-time job to make them feel better and also enrolled in a Saturday language course to prove them that I was still into studying, and that gave them some peace.

The school year flew by quickly. I passed all my exams with good results, and one day, I woke up with the idea that going to school wasn’t that bad at all and I wanted to go back. So I started the eleventh grade in the same class with my old classmates like nothing had happened. Until this very day, I couldn’t figure out what made me not want to go to school in the first place. But who understands teenagers, right?

Another episode of my adolescence my mom didn’t handle well was dating a guy, who was ten years older than me and had a girlfriend he shared his home (and life) with. Our affair lasted for more than a year, but eventually, I dumped him. He didn’t take it well, which made him do all sorts of stupid things. He followed me everywhere; threatened every single human being I was in any kind of relationship with; stalked my new boyfriend and held him captive in his car for hours; ruined my holiday with my classmates; and made a habit of embarrassing me in front of the entire school.

But that’s a story for another time.

Wanna know why there are so many single people these days?

Why Are We Single?

I know so many attractive, fun, and intelligent young people (there’s one right here, typing this) that are single. Why is that? Why are there so many eligible and available women and men alone? Why don’t we find our partners in crime, better halves, soul mates, lovers, buddies for life – you name it?

Have we become too picky? Or too ignorant? Or are we just blind? Have we become people that only pretend to be longing for a relationship but secretly prefer to be on their own? Because it’s easier and effortless, it doesn’t require any compromises, and it’s safe? Or is it because we don’t need to shave our pubic hair that often? Convenience. Comfortableness. Security. Laziness.

I travel a lot and rarely stay in one place for longer than a couple of months, so my family and friends always blame my lifestyle for not having been in a stable, long-term relationship for quite some time.

I thought about it but when I took into account those friends of mine that have been living in the same place for years yet are still alone, I realized there’s more to this.

So what is it? Why are we single?

One of the reasons must be the past. Many of us had nasty and painful experiences, and fixing a broken heart isn’t a walk in the park and takes a long time, so we’ve become more cautious and reluctant to get into anything that could potentially hurt us. And for those, who only had these dreadful experiences and no positive ones, it’s not as easy to change the I’ll-never-find-love-and-die-alone mentality to an I’m-an-open-book-let’s-make-babies attitude.

I consider myself lucky because even though I haven’t had a proper boyfriend in years, I was fortunate enough to have had healthy and loving relationships in the past, so I know what it feels like to be in one and what I’m looking for. (Don’t worry that one of these loves happened seventeen years ago, it burned into my memory forever.)

I’m an unconventional person in many aspects of life, but when it comes to relationships and love, I’m probably more traditional than anyone from the same age range and background. I believe in love, and I think that no one ever should settle for anything less and be in a relationship just for the sake of not being alone. To me, being together with someone I’m not in love with is a burden and it feels suffocating.

I want spark and passion and laughters that shake my whole body, butterflies and fireworks, long gazes in the eyes, hugs so tight I can’t breathe, and rose-colored glasses. And as an eternal optimist, I’m convinced that we all find true love sooner or later, but I’m not surprised that it’s difficult to find someone that sweeps you off your feet.

Although there are a lot of free “catches” out there, we don’t always bump into each other. And not everyone suits everyone and the chance to encounter a right fit is getting slimmer and slimmer as we age. Meeting new people used to be easy when we were in college. Not only because we had an infinite pool to choose from but also because we had the opportunity to meet on a regular basis and were forced to talk to each other, at the very least in class. So we had the time and “setting” to get to know one another and pick accordingly.

As life got more complicated growing up, so did meeting somebody – I can’t deny that. But we can either whine about it or do something. In case you don’t belong to that one percent that meets “The One” on a subway ride, you won’t fall in love if you don’t go out there to see people, and loneliness will become the norm. So my advice: move that sexy ass of yours and increase your odds.

And don’t ask me where and how to find him or her because I don’t know! Go jogging in the park, volunteer, join the local community theater or attend yoga classes, go to Meetup events, stalk people in that new juice bar around the corner, put aside your prejudices and give a chance to online dating, pick up a new hobby, get funny-drunk in bars and dance the night away, send a smiley face emoji to that hot colleague of yours, or accept invitations to friends’ friends’ birthday parties where you don’t know anybody. And show up. Whatever suits you best. Experiment. And stay receptive.

Being single is a choice. It’s a way better alternative than getting stuck in an unfulfilling relationship or being with someone just because you can or don’t have anything better to do. So if you’re single because you’re not willing to settle for less than you deserve, give yourself a pat on the back and be proud. And if you don’t like being alone anymore, do something about it.

Start looking. Initiate. Talk. Dare.

Maybe that girl from your local grocery store is thinking about the same thing whenever you two cross paths with each other.
Or maybe it’s your neighbor’s cousin who visits every Sunday.
The bartender of your favorite club, the guy you see on the subway every morning.
The last listed name in the book you borrowed from the library.
The stranger that glanced at you at the entrance.
The person you’ve known for a decade but never looked at “that” way.

Anybody.
Everybody.
Go and get them.

Want to know how I had pancakes with my dead mother?

Pancakes With My Dead Mother

I lost my mom when I was twelve. It happened the day before I got my first period and when I saw the blood on the sheet in the morning, I thought I killed her. What a stupid idea. But how would I have known, I was just a kid with no mother who could have told me it wasn’t my fault.

She didn’t suffer, they say. The bullet hit her head right in between the eyes and went straight through her brain. It was a quick death, an accident, they say. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could have happened to anybody. That’s what they say. Like this would make it more acceptable or less painful.

 

Well, it didn’t. Because it hasn’t happened to anybody. It happened to my mom. And I didn’t know for a long time how to forgive her for leaving me behind. And I didn’t know how to be a kid anymore because it felt like I wasn’t one and I had to grow up overnight, but nobody taught me how to be an adult.

Nobody told me what to do when I awoke at night in cold sweat, gasping for air, with my heart wanting to burst out of my chest, and feeling not only sad but with an emptiness of a hangar inside. So I cried as long as there were tears in my eyes and when they ran out, I just lay like a piece of dead wood, staring at the ceiling and praying that I could fall asleep at some point to not have to see my mother’s face in front of my eyes.

 

When the crying didn’t want to stop, I took one of Dad’s leather belts and wrapped it around my neck. I buckled it and pulled it tighter and tighter until I couldn’t breathe and when I started to choke, I couldn’t cry anymore.

There weren’t always tears, though. Most of the time, it was just pain. It hurt in a way I never experienced before. Not like when you fall and scrape your knee or like a wasp sting. More like as if someone took a pair of scissors and cut out tiny bits of the paper-thin skin under your eyes.

But pain wasn’t always a bad thing. There were times when it hurt so much inside that I couldn’t bear it. I thought of dying. A lot. I needed a distraction. I dug out Mom’s tweezers from the drawer of her bedside table and started to pull out my armpit hair one by one. It’d just begun to grow, a few months maybe, so I didn’t have much. On bad days when that wasn’t enough to numb the pain, I plucked the hair in my genital area. And when it hurt so much I got tears in my eyes, I suddenly felt better.

Dad and I hardly spoke to each other. He stopped talking to me. He barely even looked at me, but when he did, I could see the same pallid sadness in his eyes I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Not that I felt like talking, mostly, I didn’t. But there were days when I wanted to say things and would have needed him to listen. But he didn’t. He couldn’t, I guess. I heard him crying at nights when I was awake.

I started talking to the doll Mom gave me to my sixth birthday. Her name was Lola. She became my friend. She listened to me when I wanted to talk and gave me company on my sleepless nights and when I felt lonely. But she couldn’t answer my questions and I got frustrated, so I locked her in the closet and didn’t let her out, not even when she was crying. And I cut all her hair off because she reminded me of Mom too much. 

One morning, I woke up to some unusual noise. Actually, it wasn’t unusual at all, I very much knew it, it was just unusual since… you know. It was humming. Mom always used to hum and sing in the mornings while she was preparing breakfast. I sat up in bed and listened carefully. It was the same French song she always sang when she was in a good mood.

Mom was French. Classy and beautiful. Dad fell in love with her when he studied in Paris, on the stairs to the Sacré Cœur. À la claire fontaine,” she started singing. I walked to the door and listened. Loud clinking shattered her peaceful voice like someone would have dropped a metal container on the tile floor. The smell of cinnamon and pancakes floated in the air. I ran down to the kitchen, and there she was.

When I walked in, she turned and smiled at me. “Good morning, sweetheart. Are you hungry?” she asked and put a plate and my favorite mug, the one with the rainbow, on the table. “I’m making pancakes,” she chirped and showed me a tray full of steaming hot, golden brown pancakes. I sat down and just stared at her. She was more lively than ever.

“What are you doing here?” I finally asked. “What do you mean?” she asked back smiling and poured tea into my mug. I kept goggling at her confused. “I live here, remember?” she mocked. “Not anymore,” I whispered, keeping my eyes on my empty plate.

She pretended not to hear what I said, but I knew she did because her hands were shaking as she slid a pancake onto my plate. And then she started gushing about the decoration she was planning for Christmas and a new recipe she discovered in a long-forgotten cookbook she found underneath her bed, and a lot of other nonsense while I could only focus on one thing: what the hell is my dead mother doing in our kitchen?

I looked up from my plate and waited until she was facing me. “Mom,” I addressed her with unexpected authority in my voice. She winced and almost dropped the syrup she was holding in her hand. We stared at each other for a few seconds; it felt like hours. My heart was pounding in my throat.

“What are you doing here?” I questioned her again, and this time she could hear in my voice that I wasn’t going to take a bullshit answer.

I was watching her face. I could tell she was trying to smile but the muscles around her mouth refused to make the effort. Tears appeared in her eyes. “My clever girl,” she said in a choked voice and stroked my head. “You never believed any silly things adults tell their children, did you?” Now she smiled. She pulled up a chair and sat down opposite me.

“Do you remember when you were little and Dad and I tried to make you believe that they built the tunnel by the river to protect the bridge from rain?” I nodded and tried to smile a bit. “We told you that they would push the bridge into the tunnel when it rained, and you were protesting so vehemently that you moved to the other side of the bus and didn’t talk to us for the rest of the ride,” she recounted.

“I remember,” I mumbled and my face became serious. We stared at each other again. A thousand words were trying to escape my lips but I couldn’t say a word. She was still smiling but her eyes were the saddest I’ve ever seen. I was about to pin her down again, but she put her fingers on my lips and looked deep into my eyes.

“I’m here to answer,” she said softly.

“Answer what?” I asked. 

“Anything,” she murmured.

My eyes welled up with tears and I felt dizzy. “Why did you leave me?” I muttered and wiped off a teardrop that rolled down on my face.

She cast her eyes down for a second but then looked at me again and grabbed my hand. She squeezed it so strong, I hissed. “I never wanted to leave you. Do you understand?” I closed my eyes. I couldn’t bear seeing her face. “Please look at me,” she said calmly and stroked my face. I obeyed but could barely see her, everything was blurry. “I’ll always be with you… Here,” she whispered and placed her other hand on my heart.

“It’s not the same,” I snapped.

“I know, darling,” she cooed and was touching me all over my face and my hair. Her eyes became wet. “But this is all I can offer.” She was fighting with her tears. “Leaving you was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but every time, I watch you tossing in your bed at nights or hurting yourself, I want to die again.” She couldn’t hold her tears back anymore, they were flowing down her cheeks relentlessly.

“You can see me?” I asked in awe. She nodded and wiped her tears off with the back of her hand. We stopped crying, but our faces were all wet and we were biting our lips not to start again.

“It’s not fair,” I objected and looked away. She took my face in her hands. “Look at me, honey,” she said and wiped the remainders of my tears with her thumbs. “Life is not fair. And sometimes people – even good people – get hurt. Life can be mean and let bad things happen to good people. Things they don’t deserve, things that don’t make sense, things that make them suffer and cry.”

I wanted to run away. Or die. But every word that left Mom’s lips felt like a warm cuddle for my soul.

I missed her voice so much. And her hands. Her laugh. Her beef stew and even the chewy but delicious escargots. And the way she pronounced “ratatouille.” She’d left France when she was five and spoke perfect English, but her accent came out when she said certain words. And she was so beautiful. All the boys in my class were in love with her. And I think some of their dads, too.

“You are strong. And smart. And you need to keep going with your head held high. You need to push through this, honey.”

She sounded so confident and I believed her; I wanted to believe her, but I still struggled to understand. “Why do I need to carry on?” I questioned her.

“Because life is worth it. Because there’s so much you are yet to experience and learn. There’s so much beauty out there. And I want you to see it all. You have to travel. You have to see the world. You have to fall in love, get your heart broken, and fall in love again. And you have to find your passion, and follow your dreams.” She paused for a moment, gave a heavy sigh, and continued, “And because you have to teach all the things I wanted to teach you to your daughter one day.”

She smoothed her dress down over her hips. “Do you understand now?” she asked. I was hesitating for a second and then nodded. “What do I do with Dad?” I wanted to know.

“Be patient with him. Give him time. He needs you more than ever. And he loves you, he is just a little lost now. Hold his hand and remind him of the beautiful things. You.” She smiled and for a blink of an eye, I did, too. “You can help him,” she added.

“And who helps me?” I asked sheepishly. She took both my hands in hers. “I will,” she said in that soft tone I remembered from when she was singing me lullabies when I was little.

“I’ll lie next to you when you can’t sleep at night and put my arms around you when you feel cold. I’ll wipe your tears when you cry and laugh with you when something joyful happens. I’ll hold your hands when you are scared of doing something and tell you that it’s okay to fail sometimes because that’s how you grow.”

 

She gazed at me as if she was trying to memorize every single detail of my face and continued, “I’ll be the warmth in the sunshine that strokes your face and the light breeze that catches your hair. I’ll be in your heart and you can always speak to me when you need my advice or just want to share something. I’ll always be with you. And even if you won’t see me and can’t touch me, know that I’ll always be there, watching and protecting you.”

She kissed me on the forehead and squeezed her eyes shut for a second. When she opened them again, there was no sadness in them anymore. They were clear and green and happy. And I could see my reflection in them. It was a happy reflection.

***

I woke up in my bed and Dad was standing in the door. “Are you OK?” he asked. I pushed myself up and my head felt a little hazy. “I think so,” I replied. “What time is it?”

“Nine in the morning. You must have been exhausted,” he answered. I looked at him puzzled, so he added, “I found you sleeping hunched on the kitchen table.” I was looking around one more time to see if I was really in my room and when Dad saw my perplexed face, he added, “I didn’t want to wake you, so I carried you upstairs.”

 

Then he stared at the floor. “This was the first time you slept through the night since…” He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to. We both knew. And we both wished we didn’t understand each other without words so easily when it came to Mom’s death. But pain was a language we shared. “I should get back to work,” he murmured and off he went. “Daddy!” I shouted after him. He turned back to face me. “Thank you,” I said. He gave a brief nod and dashed off.

I stretched my arms and rubbed my eyes. Something has changed. I felt differently. Lighter. I wriggled out from under my blanket and sat on the edge of the bed. As I slid my feet into my slippers, one of my toes got caught in something. I took off the shoe and shook it out. A gold necklace with a pendant fell on the floor. I picked it up and had a look. I’ve never seen it before. It was engraved and said, “Always with you.”

If It’s Possible to Die From Tea Poisoning, I Might Be Getting Close

I gulped down a gazillion gallons of hot tea and shocked my body with a pile of Paracetamol pills but I still don’t feel strong enough to leave the house. What house, I’m chained to my bed. My whole body aches, my head is heavy, and every miserable attempt to swallow my saliva feels like somebody was stroking my inner throat with a rake. Sounds familiar?

When the three-minute walk to the corner bodega I took to replenish my home remedies made me so exhausted that I felt like lying down on the sidewalk, I decided to crawl back to my bed and embrace the malaise. As in wearing pajamas the whole day and not showering. And drinking so much black tea with honey and lemon that I needed to gag just by thinking about it. It’s supposed to alleviate cold symptoms.

Just to make sure I do everything I can for my quick recovery, I bought a box of Belgian chocolate chip cookies because shockingly, I have no appetite for any regular food but still crave sugar. Who understands this? The combination of eating crap food and lying in bed all day surely is a great way to keep fit.

Staying in drives me crazy. Not so much the “being home” part but rather the “not having a choice” part. I’m held hostage in my own house because even though my mom is not here to forbid me from going out like she did when I was a kid, it feels too hard to get dressed or walk to the door, so I stay in, by choice.

I tried to look at the bright side and the idea of catching up with emails, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, and finishing at least one of the sixteen books I’d been piling up on my bedside table for months cheered me up for a second, but my enthusiasm rapidly vanished when I realized that I didn’t feel like doing any of these. As if being ill would have turned me into a completely different person. I just wanted out. Of the house and the feeling of miserableness.

It used to be so much fun to be sick! When I was in school, not having to attend classes for an entire week felt like hitting the jackpot. My grandma would stay home and take care of me. When my tea got cold in the mug, she would always refill it with freshly made, steaming hot brew with lemon and honey. She would tuck me in tightly and open the windows for a couple of minutes to “air the bacilli out.”

She would always ask me what I felt like eating for lunch and even if I’d said Boeuf Bourguignon, she would have made it for me. (Don’t worry, I usually stuck with boiled potatoes or pancakes.) From time to time, she would put her hand on my forehead to check my temperature and ask, “How are you feeling, sweetheart?” and the empathy, selflessness, and love in her eyes made me feel better already.

I enjoyed being my granny’s patient so much that I made a habit of it. From sixth grade on, I “scheduled” sick leaves for myself, at least one per term. When I got tired of school and felt like having a break, I decided to become sick. As in pretending to be sick. And I must admit, I’m a little proud of how I mastered the ability of simulation over those years.

I didn’t only have to fool my mom but also the doctors, so I had to make sure that my illness seemed real. As much fun as that would have been, I couldn’t fake mumps or chicken pox, so I stuck to the good old flu. I knew most of the symptoms from my previous experiences, but just to be on the safe side, I also did some research in the school library.

Timing mattered too. School always started on Monday, so around 2 pm on Sunday, I started to complain to my mom that I wasn’t feeling well. When she asked me what was wrong, I said I felt weak and my arms hurt and put on a miserable face like every move would exhaust me. It worked every time, and with worry in her eyes, she would always say, “Oh, I hope you don’t have the flu, darling,” and put her hand on my forehead. “I don’t think you have a temperature,” she said, but she would bring the thermometer anyway.

And that was always a risk until I learned how to fake fever. My first attempt for hacking the thermometer failed miserably. I held it under running hot water and it exploded in my hand. Being the most hopeless empirical learner in the world, this encouraged me to experiment with other methods. On the next occasion, I was rubbing the thermometer against my pajama pants. It required more effort and time than the hot water trick, but it worked perfectly and was completely safe.

I wanted to seem credible, so I always kept my fake temperature around 100 °F on the first night of my fake illness. This wasn’t as high that my mom would freak out and call the doctor but high enough to make her believe that I had the flu. I went to bed earlier than usual that night, proving that I really wasn’t feeling well and my mom would always say, “Sweet dreams, darling, I hope you’ll sleep it off and feel much better tomorrow.” And that’s when I had to raise the stakes. It was time for some serious coughing fits and frequent toilet visits.

I fake-coughed the whole night and made sure that I did it loud enough to wake my mom. If that wouldn’t have been sufficient, I also went to the bathroom at least three times, made a lot of noise, coughed a bit more, and let the water run – just to be absolutely certain that my mom was aware of my night-time agony. And she always was. She would always come to my room in the middle of the night, hand me a glass of water and a coughing pill, stroke my head, and give me a sympathetic look.

Just as planned, I looked terrible the next morning when my mom came to wake me up… to tell me that “there was no way she would let me go to school.” I could barely hide the victorious smile that appeared in the corner of my mouth. She kissed me goodbye and from the door she shouted back, “Grammy is on the way; she’ll be here in an hour, try to go back to sleep until then.” And as she closed the door behind her, I jumped out of bed and did the dance of joy.

I know it sounds like I was manipulative and took advantage of my mom’s good faith, but oh boy, I miss those times!

Adultness sucks. None of the parts of being sick can be the subject of enjoyment anymore as we have all these annoying adult responsibilities to deal with. Like trying to make a living and feeding ourselves. When you are on sick leave, nobody does the work for you. The longer you stay away, the more swamped you’ll be upon your return. Where’s the fun in that?

Nobody takes care of me now when I’m sick. My grandma resides in a nursing home and needs to be taken care of herself, my mom lives a thousand miles away from me, and I don’t have a significant other who’d be sitting on my bed and feeding me with chicken soup. Or maybe I just keep to myself when I’m sick because I don’t want anyone to see the dark circles under my eyes, my grayish-colored, lifeless cheeks, and my unwashed hair hanging in my tormented face. Or smell my pajama top I haven’t taken off for longer than twenty minutes in the last three days.

Whatever the reason is, being sick is just one of those things that was more fun as a kid.

It’s always the little things we love, isn’t it?

The Little Things

The curve of your hips,
The way your nostrils move when you’re upset and trying to tell me why but don’t know how,
How your eyes smile when you look at me,
And that little birthmark on top of your right shoulder you always try to hide even though it’s so sexy.

The ice-cold blue light in your eyes after waking up,
The softness of your skin between your shoulder blades,
And how you slide your hand in mine when you turn in bed in the middle of the night and realize we aren’t cuddling anymore.

The goosebumps you get when I kiss your neck,
The way you wink hello when you spot me in the crowd,
That one lock of hair that always falls in your eyes and never goes away when you try to blow it out of your face and how you roll your eyes and brush it away with your hand.

How your lower lip twitches when you tell a fib,
The taste of your tongue after a café mélange,
The warmth of your lips when they touch mine,
And that you always think for five minutes what flavor of ice cream you want and then pick mint chocolate chip every single time.

The short, high-pitched moan you make just before you come,
The way you hold me so firmly I can’t move yet kiss me so gently that I’m melting in your arms,
And how your voice trembles a little when you say “I love you.”

Your moves when you dance – so ridiculous but the most adorable,
The little wrinkles around your eyes and the dimple in your cheek when you smile,
The mixture of the scent of your skin, sweaty shirt, and cologne,
And how you bite into your fist when you see me in sexy lingerie.

The silky touch of your hair and the satisfied grin on your face when I run my fingers through it,
When you make me coffee in the morning and take a sip to see if it’s sweet enough and not too hot,
The wholeness I feel as you keep your hand on my knee while you’re driving,
And the dimple in your chin I always want to put my finger in.

The way you stick your tongue out when you try to score with a paper-pellet into a bin,
And how you fold your arms and frown like a ten-year-old when you miss it.

That one deep wrinkle that forms between your eyebrows when you are reading the ingredients on the cereal box,
Your gentle slight touch that starts on my back and ends on my bum when you pass me by,
The way you brush the hair out of my face and take my cheeks in your hands,
And when you look at me, bite into your lips, tilt your head, pause for a little, smile, and say, “I’m so lucky.”

That a shiver of excitement runs through your body when I caress you and you call it a love wave,
How you do things that needed both hands with one only just to not let go of mine,
And the way you swallow in awe when you’re watching me change into my pajamas.

When I stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes and you wrap your arms around me from behind, pressing your lap against my bum and whisper in my ear,
And our conversations in the bathroom – you sitting in the tub, running hot water on your body, me sitting on the toilet with the lid down, watching you through the lifting thick steam.

That you pee like you were in a movie – resting one hand on the wall in front of you, “accidentally” flexing your triceps, keeping your other hand on your hip that you’re pressing forward to aim right, and making a face as if it would be the biggest accomplishment of your life. 

And when you kiss me goodbye and walk out the door but run back and kiss me again like it was our first time.

That you are

That we are. 

That you make me the person who I am.

And that you let me make you the person who you want to be.

I’m sure you had one of those days when nothing worked out. Me too.

The Morning I Hated My Life And The Moment I Started Loving It Again

It was my last day at work. I quit my new job after a week. You might think I’m crazy (and you’re probably right), but I had my reasons. And the daily commute in London was one of them. Unlike thousands of ambitious, hard-working dwellers of the vibrating metropolis, I couldn’t deal with it. It consumed me. Every minute I was forced to press my body parts against strangers added another layer to the rage building up in me. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded the extremely close human contact if I had only been surrounded by well-groomed, good-smelling, handsome guys. But how many of those you see in an average morning on a London train?

As I was walking to the station, I kept wondering whether I’d made the right decision. Knowing that I’d burned all the bridges and there was no turning back made me anxious. The crowd at the entrance of the station was massive. Everyone looked confused and stressed out, and that was before eight o’clock in the morning. I was already late (and therefore agitated) because my roommate sneaked into the bathroom before me, and I don’t want to know what she was doing in there, but I couldn’t get in for forty minutes to brush my teeth and pee.

I tried to push myself through the throng to see what was happening, and a couple of tskings and eye-rolls later, I learned that there was a signal failure (the second one within a week) and we wouldn’t be moving for at least half an hour. We were advised to look for alternative travel options. This was a thoughtful suggestion, except that the Internet didn’t work on my phone and I’d just moved to the area, so I had no clue where to go.

And I didn’t know how long it would take me to get to work on a different route.  I followed the crowd and so I found out that I could take the train. I headed down the stairs and when I saw my fellow commuters fighting for a spot on the platform, I couldn’t help but think what an amazing move it was to resign and how grateful I was for not having to participate in the rush hour nightmare from the very next morning on. That put a huge smile on my face until I had to get off and change to the subway.

Hundreds of people were lining up like sardines from the train platform through the exits to the stairs that led to the even more packed metro platform. We were moving in chicken steps and I could see how everyone was trying to keep it together, but you could almost cut the tension with a knife, and I kept thinking how badly I wanted to let out my frustration in one giant scream.

I bet I wasn’t the only one thinking of that, but we are so vexingly well-behaved all the time, so no one did anything. We all just swallowed our anger and exploded inside. Some were muttering under their breath, others were staring into space; I tried to distract myself by observing the people around me.

I got lucky on my left: a suave guy was inching along next to me, almost rubbing his broad shoulders to mine. Less fortunate on my right side where a poor five-foot girl was trying to save her larger than five-foot plant from people breaking its leaves. Eyeing up the hunk gave me more pleasure, so that’s how I kept my mind occupied for the next few minutes. As I was watching how his suit strained on his biceps and how perfect his jawline was, I realized I could have used that opportunity to get into a conversation with a cute stranger. But yeah, I’m a pussy and I don’t hit on guys in public. Funny enough (or sad?) that I caught him watching me out of the corner of his eyes. So maybe he liked me too and had been thinking the same. But that we’ll never know. A few minutes later, I lost him in the crowd and my excruciating journey became a lonely fight again.

When I finally reached my destination, the usual exit was closed and we were diverted to an alternative route. After following signs for minutes, I came above ground only to realize I had no idea where I was. So I followed the herd again, and after a huge detour because of an on-going construction, I finally recognized the place. What a successful start of the day!

Waiting at traffic lights, crossing roads, another construction.

A worker was trying to signal something to me with his hands, but I couldn’t make sense of it. In the next moment, I got a decent amount of water sprinkled on my head, so I guess, his gestures were trying to prepare me for that. By that time, I was so late that I thought I might as well have a tea and popped into the Starbucks around the corner.

Needless to say, the credit card reader was broken, which I was only informed about after I happily wrapped my hand around my hot spicy Chai. You know those coins you never have when you needed them to do your laundry? This is why. I scraped together all the pennies from my pockets, rolled my eyes at the poor barista, who squirmed and said sorry three times, which made me feel like an asshole (I did behave like one), so I apologized to her and dashed off.

In front of the building, I spilled the tea on my blazer, and it didn’t even catch me by surprise that my entry card didn’t work when I tried to swipe myself into the office. I’d only been awake for two and a half hours, but I already wanted the day to be over.

But then a sense of harmony overcame me as I realized that the next day was the beginning of a new era where I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this for a long, long time. Or hopefully ever again.

What are you dreaming of?