We were watching Before Midnight the other day, V. and I, and it got me thinking. Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling it for you. Or at least I’ll try my best not to. But I will say that there’s this guy, Ethan Hawke’s character, who’s worried he’s not spending enough time with his teenage son. The boy lives in another country with his mother, and only gets to hang out with his dad a couple of times a year. Now, Hawke’s character is going on and on about how he didn’t think their life would turn out like that, how he’d imagined they’d be living together and he’d be teaching his son baseball and stuff, and how instead they have to go through all these complicated, tiresome rituals in order to get to see each other: airports, hotels, awkward reconnections and goodbyes, a slow but continuous falling apart.
All this felt eerily familiar to me.
Ever since I left Romania, I’ve been feeling like I was going through and then slowly recovering from a messy, painful divorce. I’m the partner who left the relationship and the marital home. I’m a liar, a cheat, an abuser. I’ve yet to decide which exact one, but I’m sure I must be something really bad, or worse, a combination of several bad, despicable things. I deserve my fate. Living, as my mom likes to remind me ever so often, out of a suitcase, no place to call my own, no stability, no shoulder to cry on.
Ok, maybe it’s not that bad.
But my mom is right. I’m a divorcee. My other half, the one I’ve so shamelessly left in order to chase a stupid dream (mom again), might not be an actual person, but is everything I’ve been and known for more than twenty years. My other half is everyone I’ve ever loved and every place I’ve ever called home. And now I’ve put a couple thousand miles between us. A clean break.
When you’ve been with someone for a couple of decades, as me and my Romanian self have been, breaking up is never easy.
I used to think I saw my Romanian friends in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. It didn’t matter they weren’t speaking Romanian, or that they looked nothing like my friends at all; if there was something about them, even the tiniest of things, like the way they raised their eyebrows or how they play punched a buddy in the shoulder, if there was just a speck of a resemblance there, I would almost run to them and grab them and shower them with a million corny interjections. I always stopped myself just in time though.
I’d decided I’d keep myself under control, no matter what. Who cared if every little pebble or leaf reminded me of a particular Romanian pebble or leaf, and one of vital importance, a pebble I felt I couldn’t possibly survive without? Who cared I sometimes had to practise my Romanian on my own, praising my washing machine out loud or verbally abusing my laptop, because I felt guilty my English was invading every corner of my life, even my monologues and thoughts and dreams, slowly erasing every other language I’d ever loved? Who cared about all that? It meant absolutely nothing. It was just my stupid, stubborn way of not letting go of the past. Relationships end. People drift apart. I just needed to get over it.
And I did. It happened slowly. At first I’d been annoyed at people pronouncing my name wrong. I would relentlessly repeat it the right way, one syllable at a time, every time they messed up. About sixty times a day, that is. But after a while, I just didn’t care anymore. And then, miraculously, I started pronouncing it wrong myself. It didn’t mean anything, I wasn’t betraying my Romanian self or anything like that, I assured myself. I was just the bigger person. I was making things easier for everybody.
These days, I hardly ever mention I’m Romanian. It just makes things easier again. These days, I sometimes talk to my mother and it takes me half a second to find the Romanian word for something, while the English one is right there, shiny and new and close at hand. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and what can it mean if not that I’m slowly healing after the messiest breakup of my life so far? We’re over. There’s no turning back.
We’re civilised people though. I might have been the wretch in all of this, but I’m trying my best to be well behaved now. Distance helps. And I’ve got visitation rights, so I guess we’re doing the best we can to keep everything peaceful and fair for both sides.
Once or twice a year, I pack an indecently large suitcase and drag it across streets and airport terminals towards what used to be our common dwelling. Weeks in advance, I drive myself insane looking for the perfect gifts, which never seem perfect once I’ve bought them, but then again what’s the right gift to make up for leaving and never really coming back?
Then we meet.
Everybody seems to feel I’m skinnier than the last time, so there’s a lot of eating involved. We talk about insignificant things, like fashion, and money, and the president. We cook, we go on trips. We do things. By the time we’ve grown used to each other again, it’s time for me to pack the mammoth suitcase once more, this time half full of Romanian provisions, and head back to my single gal life, away from responsibilities and commitment.
I enjoy my selfish independence. I feel all grown up and important and like there’s nothing stopping me from having yet another exciting affair, this time with another country or who knows, even another continent. I’m my own master.
Then sometimes, I just miss everything. Every face. Every word. Every version of me.