My Bones Are Shifting In My Skin

So.

A few nights back I dreamt I was pregnant.

It wasn’t one of those dreams that turn you upside-down-inside-out and haunt you for weeks, deliciously relentless and so vividly alive that you end up wondering if you’ve actually dreamt them. Or if they’re in fact part of a parallel reality in which you’re perfectly content with your life, an infinitely more wondrous one than what real, dreaming you has to deal with.

But no, it was just a regular dream. My belly felt like one of those Halloween pumpkins piling up in Tesco veggie aisles these days. Round and firm, ready to sink your teeth into.

Then I woke up. Made coffee. Had half a biscuit. My brand new wisdom tooth was killing me, so I inspected it in the bathroom mirror for the longest of times, like a wild animal caught in mid roar, volume muted for some reason. It looked a lot less painful than it felt, which I guess is to be expected with most things in life.

Then, on my way to work, I fainted on the train.

It wasn’t hot or crowded and I hadn’t run into George Clooney or anything. Just a regular, celebrity free day, and my regular body making its complaints heard in its regularly annoying way. Half a biscuit is not enough. Sleeping with a throbbing jaw for eleven nights in a row is not sleeping. Fainting among strangers can be just as bad as getting a bout of morning sickness among strangers.

I wasn’t phased by any of it, the evil fang, imagined pregnancy, surprise loss of consciousness, but went on with my day like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I do this more and more these days, ignore the extraordinary. It’s less energy consuming.

*

I guess I’m going through a weird phase again.

Which is fine, you know, I seem to thrive on weird somehow.

We flew to Barcelona last week for a few days’ visit with my old friend B and his new girlfriend. We hadn’t been, V and I, but were both so exhausted with the year long house hunting/moving crazies, that I wouldn’t say we were in the most happy-happy-joy-joy of holiday moods. On the flight back last night, I felt like I was leaving the heaviest of burdens behind me and couldn’t wait to get home and just lie there, fallen against the oak ribs of our still mattress-less bed.

We cannot, I understand it now, be happy.

Me and my friends, me and my family, happy is simply not something we do.

I don’t know if it’s the Romanian way of dealing with changing relationships, or the expat vs. people left behind way, or the me way. But whatever it is, it’s here to stay, evil grins and sticky tentacles and all.

I don’t know how and who to be among these people.

It amazes me that I can’t do the simplest of things with them watching me. Stupid things, like ordering a sandwich. If I do it in Spanish, which I’ve spoken for a decade, way before I moved to London and our friendship obviously derailed for good, it’s called showing off. If I do it in English, why do I need to do it in my silly Queen-of-England accent and make them all feel small and Eastern European? Why does my sandwich need to cost €1 more than theirs? Do I absolutely need to remind them I make more money than they do?

I sit at this tiny cafe table across a person I used to share Tequila bottles with, and watch grenades explode over our heads. I don’t get it, so I say less and less as time goes by, I order tap water, no lemon, thank you very much. Gracias. Whatever.

I don’t want to end up having a bunch of kids just to surround myself with newly made people who, at least for a while, don’t hate me.

But I don’t get it, I really, honestly don’t get any of it, and it breaks my heart.

My English is good. I’ve been in London for almost five years, and studied it in school for more than a decade before that, is it really so surprising? I’ve got a Cambridge diploma for crying out loud! I called you after I got the test results in the mail, remember? My mother had opened the envelope and I was so mad she hadn’t waited for me to get home, and you laughed. You got it, who cares who tore the letter open, you said. And now, is it really so unusual that I’m constantly working at improving a language on which I build my livelihood and most of my social interactions? How is that belittling to anyone around me? And why? Why have we even reached this point in our conversation? Why is it so vitally important how much my freaking sandwich costs, is it not the same couple slices of bread with gooey stuff in between it’s always been? What does friendship mean these days?

As I type this now I’m so mad I’m crying.

I miss everything, you know. The boring, the bad, the scary, the let’s-never-go-to-bed-again-this-is-the-only-thing-worth-doing-until-we-die. And talking, I miss talking the most. I rarely ever do it these days. I can’t discuss any of my problems with my friends and family from home. How can I have problems when I’ve just bought a flat? When I’ve got Netflix?

I sip my lemon-less water and wait for the smoke to clear, secretly hoping my brain has learned its lesson well over the years, and will prove appropriately selective in terms of Barcelona memories. A map of broken friendships is the last thing I need in my perfect, British accented little life these days.

*

I bought a couple of picture frames on my lunch break today. I’ll spend tonight nailing things to the walls, leaving more permanent scars into the surfaces of this place. Then on Friday, my book shelves are coming. I’ve taken the day off and I’m planning to spend it sipping indecent amounts of Spanish wine, dusting, stacking and re-stacking my hardcovers. We’ll probably have a little house warming get together around Halloween, so I’d better learn how to turn the oven on by then.

My high school friend M gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. We spent the morning on FaceTime laughing and crying like silly teenagers, and I’m planning to open that first-night-in-the-new-flat bottle of champagne we’d forgotten about tonight, in her honor. Teodora. Thirty hours old. A piece of someone I used to share secrets with. Crazy how you can love a person based on just that. I guess there’s a very thin line between the everyday and the extraordinary, and the latter, exhausting as it is, is worth it sometimes.

On the Inside

Things are happening.

We’re almost there on closing the deal on a flat we’ve found. Of course, there are legal issues on the vendor’s side. And yes, you’ve guessed it, she refuses/isn’t able to sort them out. So we might not get it in the end. Which is nice. It’s only been eleven exciting months of house hunting, sleepwalking and almost breaking up once or twice.

*

My parents are pretty much forcing me into getting married. They’ve told their friends we’re buying a place together, so obviously we need to get hitched now. They’ve looked into Romanian marriage licenses and bridal bouquets, they’ve booked days off and pretty much picked wedding bands, all of it while I was unassumingly trying to live my unexciting little life a continent away, bridal plans as far from my mind as they’ve ever been. And all of a sudden, it looks like they’re actually doing it now. Getting me married or something. I don’t think I’m in the best mood to comment on this, maybe another time.

*

It’s my sister’s birthday tomorrow. I spent my morning trying to pick the perfect bouquet of white roses, stressing over every single petal and pointy leaf.

We haven’t spoken in months.

It’s been so bad that I turned thirty this June and she never called. Then I got a Romanian stamped envelope in the mail the next day, and my heart jumped at the sight of what I thought was her writing. She cares, she cares, and I ran up the stairs to the flat, because I didn’t want to read it in the dark, stew smelling corridor. A letter from my sister deserved proper lighting at least. It was a birthday card from V’s sister (or should I say my soon to be sister in law!), and I literally felt something snap inside me, like really, making a noise by which you can tell it can’t be repaired. She didn’t care.

So I ordered these roses today, because it’s her birthday, and I’ve been sending her white roses every year since I moved to London, and that’s something, that’s really something, something you don’t just stop doing just like that, because people don’t write letters when you’d like them to.

Then I was on the phone with my mother and in between “You’d better get your ass over here and do it! We told all our friends!”, I mentioned I’d ordered flowers for my sister and hoped she’d like the surprise.

“What’s she going to do with flowers?” And then, to my sister, who I had no idea was in the car with her: “You don’t want stupid flowers, do you?”

Snap.

***

It’s just a regular day, today.

I walk, I sip, I click. It’s getting cold and I seem to remember this as my favourite time in the year. I used to love going back to my sweaters, to scarves and my precious dark green leather jacket with its leather scratched on the left elbow. I used to love going back to school, to friends, to my comfortable rituals. Summer was often exhausting, with its skins on display and races to the edge of the frightening waters. Autumn was a comforting return to things known and loved. In a way, I still feel the same. But in a way, I don’t know. It’s like those tea coloured tissues you get with a cup of latte to go. 100% recycled in bold brown letters on the soft paper, and that’s how I feel. Like I’ve been used and put back together to be used again. What awaits is a future of spilled coffee and lipstick smudges, and a hot, delicious sip in between.

Friends and Other Demons

I conveniently blame each and every new flaw I discover in myself on this rainy city in pursuit of which I uprooted my entire life:

  • I simply can’t have a proper conversation here, I decide. I’ll never get all of their jokes and I’ll never pass for a native speaker, no matter how stubbornly I rehearse my made up British accent to myself in the shower every night.
  • I’ll never make a real friend in this place. We didn’t grow up watching the same cartoon shows or trying the same ice cream flavours. Heck, I’d never even seen a real life ice cream truck before I came to this country, and by then I was already in my late twenties. And still, even if we manage to somehow make it past that, there’ll always be London, this horrible London with its millions of different postcodes and miles of tube tunnels, keeping us apart. No one’s really one phone call away, I tell myself. No. They’re one phone call, two buses and 12 stops along the Bakerloo Line away. What friendship can possibly survive that in the long run?

So I give up. I slowly give up on all things I believe are not meant to be for me in this country. Closeness. Friends. Being myself, restrictions free. The only constant throughout is me blaming this place for it all. In some deranged, I’m-not-really-happy-but-happiness-is-overrated-anyway way, it’s been working fine for me so far. But these days, I’ve been thinking.

When I was growing up, my mother never had girlfriends over for coffee and cake like all the other mothers. She never exchanged chicken casserole recipes with anyone. She never borrowed anyone’s party shoes, she never spent hours on the phone telling secrets. I used to ask her about it, her unfriendliness, and she’d say she found it difficult to make new friends in her thirties. That my father had taken her a hundred miles away from what had been her life, to this place where she’d spend the rest of her days picking casserole tips and tricks from cookbook recipes and wearing her own shoes if there ever was a party. There never were, and my mother grew into this person I rarely ever remember surrounded by other people, but most often on her own, coffee cup in hand, nagging me about spending way too much time with my friends for my own good.

We’re very different, my mother and I.

I grew up with a hunger for other people’s closeness. I’d love to play games where you got to grab people’s hands or at least share your most intimate secrets with them on a dare. I used to love school, to really, really love school, even when I hated it, because it meant I got to be close to my friends. I’d spend hours on the kitchen phone talking to C, my mother standing next to me sipping her coffee and stomping her foot, outraged at how I could possibly be so irresponsible so as to endlessly hold up the only line in the house with my silly giggles, when there was surely an emergency and a dozen people were busily trying to get through to her. There never were any phone emergencies in our house. Just the permanent, unacceptable danger of me turning into other’s people’s friend.

This wasn’t meant to be another one of those posts where I moan about my mother ruining my life, because she didn’t really. She just didn’t know how to handle a daughter who needed other people, when she’d molded herself into not needing anyone at all. We fought about things. My freedom. Me obviously turning into a bit of a floozy, not studying hard enough, taking everything for granted, looking for comfort in the proximity of strangers instead of that of my own family. A time of screaming and slamming doors it was, and we both came out of it bruised into somewhat, if minimally, changed people.

But this is not a post about my mother. It’s about me.

These days, I’m someone else. I blame it on this country but in fact, it’s me. Not this tunnel infested city, not this slice of continent keeping me from getting somewhere, someone, anyone. It’s nothing but me, I have changed, willingly, or at least consciously, into this person who doesn’t know how to do friendships anymore.

I stopped talking to C a while back. It wasn’t anything dramatic, we were meant to meet and I canceled a couple of times, then he called and emailed and I wasn’t in a mood for talking or writing, and slowly the most extraordinary friendship of my life faded into this thing where we like each other’s photos on Facebook, and I often remember him, episodes of us, but don’t really do anything about it. I could probably pick it up, this shriveled thing that used to be our relationship, and work at bringing it back to life, but I don’t.

And then, there’s new people. They’re nice. We run into each other, we connect, even in this friendship-unfriendly country, I’m fine with talking about why London’s great and why it often sucks, about my favourite colours and TV series, and then I reach a point where our proximity makes me anxious, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I build walls.

I stay in, I make myself a cup of tea, I wipe the table top clean. There’s things people won’t like about me. There’ll be times we’ll have nothing to talk about. Every once in a while, we’ll make plans and those plans will fall through. I’ve lost the ability to deal with all that somewhere along the way. I seem to have passed through adolescence with flying colours, self esteem intact, only to crumble into an insecure shell of myself into my late twenties. And here I thought things would be getting more fun and games as I advanced into adulthood. Oh well.

V and I went out with new friends this weekend. We walked the streets, had great food, played UNO (I know, talk about geeky), lied in the grass. When it was time to part and they invited us up to their place, my psycho friendship-is-dangerous alarm went off in a way that would have made my mother proud had she been there, coffee cup in hands and all. I don’t know how to make friends anymore, I told V as we were driving home. You’re still better at it than I am, he answered, and I laughed. It’s a miracle we’re not too anxious to hang out with each other.

I’m turning 30 next week and V and I are leaving London for a birthday holiday in the sun. When I turned 23, back in Romania, my friends threw me this amazing surprise party at my place. I remember turning the key in the lock and unknowingly stepping into an explosion of purple coloured confetti and Happy Birthdays. There are photos of me snapped at that very moment, T-shirt covered in purple flakes and this huge, unattractive, happy smile on my face. I wonder if my mother ever had photos like that taken of her and her pack of friends she left for love and a daughter she never could relate to. I wonder if she’s right, and I’ve forever lost my friend making skills as I was slowly reaching the edge of my twenties. I hope I haven’t. That confetti breathing chick looks on top of the world.

I Made This Bed, I Built This Wall

The thing I miss most is feeling at home. Among known objects, down familiar paths. Safe from the uncharted.

It’s strange how I’ve changed from this adventurous, explorer of new worlds person, into this permanently craving for shelter version of myself. “Men hunt and women nest”, isn’t that what Seinfeld said? In its context at the time, it made me smile. But it was just a joke. It had no roots in reality, not in my reality for sure. I most certainly did not nest. I traveled and discovered and lived. I hunted adventure.

It’s the thought that I used to have a home that’s been bugging me. A windowed cement crate with my name on the letterbox. Strange how this idea of owning things, of putting your name on them, has suddenly become important to me. Strange and superficial and materialistic, and I’m ashamed of it. But this is it. This is something that matters to me now. Having something. Being somewhere mine. Being somewhere homely.

We’ve been changing homes so often, I don’t get a chance to even leave fingerprints on every surface before it’s time to pack up again. I don’t get to buy books, blankets, cereal bowls, we’ve got enough junk to pack and unpack as it is. I miss it. It may be ridiculous, but I miss my things. I miss my books. I miss my chair. I miss my floor, my windows, my light. I have this deranged fantasy constantly rewinding in my head, how if I could get all those things here, whatever here may mean, or if I could attempt to build them over again, pick a new shelf, nail something to the wall, get a new toaster, well, if I could somehow do that, everything would be just fine for us in this country. For me.

You can’t really nail stuff to these walls. You can’t throw anything out to make room for your dream shelf. They’ve put it all in your contract, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, and most of all, you can’t pretend this place is yours. It’s like you live in someone’s pocket for a while. Nothing to do but attempt to be yourself, with that stranger’s heart beating loudly, uncomfortably close, until it’s time to move into someone else’s shirt.

When we found this flat, it had everything. There was no need for us to buy anything at all, we could just go ahead and start living our super duper newly relocated happy life. I hated it. Nesting me wanted to, well, nest.

Of course this was very much frowned upon by our landlady. So I didn’t make plans, I didn’t replace, I didn’t paint. I moved some things around, it’s true, just so I’d feel I’d made a decision, left a mark. And I put some black and white portraits on a wall. No nails, I’m not that much of a rebel, blue tack worked just as fine.

So this is it, my nest. Less than a dozen photos on someone else’s wall. They’re not even symmetrical, I just tacked them on as I got them, with no final pattern in mind. There’s a window to the right and a few are beginning to fade. I see this as a little wonder. We’ve been here long enough for my wall to fade in the London sunlight. Do you know how miraculous that is? And London sunlight, who’s ever heard of that anyway?

It’s ridiculous how attached I am to this wall. I remember when and where I got each card. A couple I found in Foyle’s shops in London, others in little bookshops and museums in Amsterdam, Prague or even Las Palmas (I know, black and white postcards in Las Palmas? The world really must be coming to an end, and quite a depressing one at that.). V. suggested I’d just order them online, a batch of a hundred of them or so, enough to cover all our walls once and for all. I guess he’s sick of waiting for me to obsessively go through stacks upon stacks of cards each time we pass a stationery shop. But he doesn’t understand this nesting business.

Each card has a story. Each is a mark on the map of our life in this country. We are actually building something here, even if it’s just a tiny black and white postcard collection on a foreign wall. We’re very slowly building a home. It’s true it’s made of paper and it probably won’t fare very well in this who-needs-four-seasons-when-it-can-rain-all-the-time weather, but it’s a start.

 

wall

The Sea, The Sea

They say we come from the same puddle.

Not even a puddle, they say, but more like a cup of old, lukewarm water, sheltered from dangers and direct sunlight. It only took us a billion years to meet, to find a place of darkness and dampness where we could explode into a wondrous cell, one that would grow leaves, hearts and hands to build skyscrapers with.

They say we’re made mostly of water even now. We haven’t grown into some extraordinary new substance shaped to fit in tight jeans and t-shirts; in fact, we’re still part of that same muddy puddle, only it’s so diluted now that I sometimes find it hard to believe we’re flowing together towards the same thing.

When I moved to London, this girl who’s never really liked me and whom I hadn’t talked to in years took the time to write me a message on Facebook: “London. Well good for you, I hope you love nasty rainy weather”. Hostility turns out to be as resilient as all other human sins.

It’s been a while and I guess she was right.

I’m most likely in the rainiest place I’ll ever be, surrounded by waters on all sides. There are times when an umbrella left at home turns into a tragedy. There are days when the invention of waterproof mascara seems to beat the discovery of electricity. And yet I’m here still, closer to the ocean than I’ve ever been, walking my 70-percent-water body down these streets of gray. Breathing in. Looking at you. You’re something else, you’ve got limbs of your own and countless hopes and dreams I’ll never know, yet your eyelids and fingertips are as watery are as mine, and I sigh with relief. I am not alone in this puddle of ours.