These Are The Days

Dear friends.

I’m living days of beautiful, exciting things.

Being thirty one and as grown up as can be, I’m of course, reluctant to write about it all because I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.

So I carry my secret specks of happiness up and down these streets, and try my best at not making a hopeless mess of the other layers of my life. Because believe me, they’re more susceptible to mess than ever.

First, there’s my family.

Consistent as ever in my failures, I’m still more or less a disappointment. But I think we’ve reached this point in our lives where years and years or constant unrealistic expectations and eventual letdowns later, we’re ok with our mixed-up, deranged relationship. That’s not to say it’s easy. I still have the ocasional phone conversation with my mother by the end of which I’m so mad I’m crying, and focusing every fleck of my will power to keep my voice from breaking. Because if she can tell I’m crying, she will have won, and we can’t have that now, can we? Have I mentioned I’m thirty one? Oh well. Families are tough.

And while we’re on tough things, there’s my job.

As luck would have it for a rather volatile, can’t-take-other-people’s-crap-for-too-long-without-turning-murderous person such as myself, I happen to currently work in Crazy Town. I know, I know. It actually sounds like it could be fun, right? And surely the kind of place someone as crazypants as yours truly would thrive in? And the funny thing is, I am. Thriving. But holy cow, is it giving me half a dozen tiny heart attacks a day! These people are crazy, blood thirsty monsters and one day, soon, I’ll be on the menu. Until then, I’m losing sleep, keeping my claws sharp and a drawer full of stress balls at hand.

To top it all, and the main reason I’m not hitting the road and finding another, less cancerous job, I’ve got money on my mind.

V and I (well, mostly me! he’s the more balanced half of our family) are nervously entertaining this miraculous idea of paying our mortgage a million or so years early, which is super realistic and putting zero pressure on ourselves and our relatively unchanged salaries since we got said mortgage. But hey, what are our thirties good for anyway, if not for worrying and stressing and counting and saving, until there’s little will to live left. So far, it hasn’t been all that bad to be fair, since we’ve managed to squeeze in two seaside holidays this summer and are already planning our next trip for later in the year, but at the back of my mind, little clouds of digits and percentages are growing bigger and bigger and are already casting a shadow on me every time I find myself caught up in another impromptu shoe shopping spree.

Now, to be perfectly honest, apart from these little nuggets of madness clearly making my life more exciting and enviable, I’m pretty much ok.

Which is, I think, why I’m not writing more often and why these last few posts have all ended on annoying, optimistic notes. But don’t despair. I’ve got a performance review at work in a few weeks! And family visiting! And summer’s over! I’m sure I’ll get back to my hate-my-life, regular little self in no time!

Until then, have a lovely sunny Tuesday, wherever you are!

*

Later edit: Also, this is my 200th post here, people. Is that amazing or what?

Fabric

I used to own a green scarf.

I can’t remember if I’ve told you this story before, it was the green of the first grass, bright enough to hurt the eyes. A bitter color, I imagined, one you’d sink your teeth into and feel it seeping through the membrane of every cell, stirring juices around. And I was wearing that scarf, for the first or second time ever. It was winter, and I was very young, or at least that’s what I’d say now. Back then I thought I was old enough for anything and everything.

The city felt like it was growing from me, from a stray seed stuck to the sole of my boot, and not the other way around. I walked the streets like they were of my own making, I faced the endless parade of people and buildings like I’d invented them, I and no other, and they were there for nothing more than morning entertainment on my way to wherever I was going.

By the fountains, I ran into this man I knew.

In retrospect, he was just a boy. We’d met on a bus, if you can believe it. For years we’d been taking the same bus from our home town to the city on Sunday evenings, often sitting together, our elbows touching through layers of fabric.

The lights never worked. On the bus. We’d ride through the snow for a while, leafing through papers or looking out the window, until it got dark and there was nothing left to do but try and sleep or stare into the night and think your life over. We never spoke. We nodded when we ran into each other at the bus stop, and one evening he offered to help as I was trying to push my embarrassing, overstuffed suitcase into the luggage compartment, and introduced himself.

So I knew his name now, and he knew mine, and when we met by the frozen fountains that morning, in full light for the first time ever, me wrapped up in my apple green scarf six times over, cheeks flushed from the cold, his name was right there for the picking like I’d kept it close at hand on purpose. I rolled it expertly in my mouth and said hi.

He said hi back and smiled. Half a second later we were walking past each other in opposite directions, but I knew. Something was beginning.

Remember when every little thing felt like the beginning of something extraordinary? Like anything could happen, and probably would, because you knew, you just knew you were meant for great things.

That’s exactly how I felt as I was walking away from the fountains that day. We’d meet again, I knew it. We’d run into each other a few more times, by fountains and museums and random newspaper stands, my curls perfect in every way each single time and my lips painted his favourite shade of plum. Then we’d finally go out for coffee. I’d be charming, didn’t my mother always say I could be terribly charming when I wanted to? I certainly wanted to now. He’d fall in love with me, of course. We’d be perfect together, one of those couples you feel have got a secret too valuable to share with the rest of the world. “How do they do it?”, people would wonder, sometimes out loud, and we’d just smile and he’d lean in to kiss my cheekbone.

I wore that scarf every day for months, well into the spring. He’d noticed it, I was sure, the sheer greenness of it, and would now see me from a distance. He’d run to meet me, I’d be charming, cheekbone kissing would ensue.

*

My favourite scarf these days is black, white dotted. It’s not a metaphor this, green to black, young to old. They’re just colors, and not meant to mean anything. There’s no lesson to learn.

It works well with my red winter coat, that’s all, the scarf. The most special thing about it is that the moment I saw it in a Mango shop a few months back, it made me think of the sky at night. A proper one, stars and everything, unlike what I normally see in London these days.

From my home town too, you couldn’t see the stars. When we were small, my sister and I spent our summers at our Grandpa‘s house, and I remember I’d fall asleep in the swing every night, out in the open at the edge of the field, despite being grounded for it time and time again. I just wanted to look at the stars. I thought God covered the planet with a large black umbrella at night. And that the stars were nothing but tiny holes in its canvas, worn thin from so many centuries of using, through which sunlight seeped through.

I check myself in the mirror one last time before I’m out for the day. Everything’s in its place, and somehow not really in its place at all. Also it seems that as I grow old, my eyes, if slightly more wrinkled at the edges every time I check, grow bigger. Or maybe the rest of me is getting smaller. I do feel it, sometimes, when I walk the streets of this city. Like I’m the morning entertainment, a tiny one at that, and not the other way around. It doesn’t sadden me, how things have changed. But sometimes I catch myself expertly knotting my scarf in the mirror, my fingers moving of their own accord like they’ve slipped out of my reach and become better at dealing with life than the rest of me is, and it hits me: I was a kid once.

Remembered: First Friendship and Other Sailing Vessels

When Dana was four, her mother turned into a Siamese cat.

She’d been one good looking lady, her mother, but just a lady, you know. Long hair, lipstick, high heeled shoes. No hint of magic. No promise of how she was going to make her sudden, high heeled exit and subsequent soft pawed entrance into their lives, changing everything.

Because things really change, you know, when your mother is suddenly a pet. Pets don’t need raincoats and dresses and their own half of the family king size bed, they don’t cook you dinner or check your socks for holes. And it really seemed that Dana’s mother had used all of her magic on growing fur and whiskers, and had no special powers left at all. She was just a cat, and that’s what she was fated to remain, a quiet creature by the name of Mama, who sometimes came when you called her, but most often just looked your way from a distance and decided she had better things to do.

In time, Dana’s father gave away his wife’s dresses, threw away her lipsticks, and took to sleeping in the middle of the bed, his limbs stretched out to form a snoring human starfish. He had no magical powers of his own either, and found he couldn’t possibly keep up with his daughter’s curfews, homeworks and tattered socks. So Dana came to spend her days in her grandmother’s house, chasing her mother through tangled forests of living room table and chair legs. It was there I met them both, the morning my parents too gave me away.

– Come out from under there, child, say hi to your friend.

The old woman leaned towards the patch of darkness under the dining table, her hands reaching wide. She was a big lady, thick legs wrapped in wool stockings under a dark skirt and white apron. Her hair, a dust coloured braid reaching down to her lower back, ended in a green ribbon which looked pressed and starched six times over, and like it could cut your finger off if you weren’t careful. I’d never seen anyone looking so neatly dangerous. Or anyone wearing an apron. And I’d definitely never met anyone named after a small cloud. Had it rained the day she was born? Had her parents fallen in love over weather talk? Did she have any other siblings named after meteorological phenomena?

As Tanti Norica’s presence was slowly sipping into every nook and cranny of my frightened body, two pairs of eyes made their appearance from under the table, and Dana and her mother entered my life with a smirk and a hiss. My own mother, high heeled and lipsticked but clearly devoid of any trace of internal magic, squeezed my shoulder and I automatically blurted out a faint hello, and offered an open, sweaty palm. The cat hissed again and the girl held her tighter, grabbing her stretched out paws in the cup of her free hand.

– I’m Dana. This is my mother, she doesn’t like strangers.

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.

Lines and Dots

I was in London when Grandpa died. A sunny day for once and I was sitting in this windowless office, typing rows of letters onto a window scattered screen. My sister called. The ringtone, a couple of notes from a Romanian folk song, made people lift their heads and frown.

I knew something had happened. You move across the world and never think how bridges may be broken and connections lost, but this weird umbilical chord you didn’t even know you had, will effortlessly stretch over rocks and waters, tying you down. Not an ounce more freedom than you can handle.

In my mind, I went over everybody I loved, beads on string, each with their possible illnesses and arrays of domestic accidents. Fast growing tumors. Crushed limbs. Chests shattered on impact. Preparing myself for the worst.

It was Grandpa.

It comes with growing up, I think. We get wide open spaces, alcohol and speed dating, and the chance to ponder over the eventuality of everybody’s death. I think about it all the time. The death of my parents, my friends, my own. With grandparents it’s always been different. As a child, I knew they were old and could be gone at any time. I dreaded being left alone with them, thinking they’d die on me and I wouldn’t be strong or tall enough to unlock the front door, run out into the street and cry for help. But then nothing happened. I grew older and they did too, but at a such slower pace that at one point there I was, an almost fully formed human being, while they’d stayed pretty much the same. They were beyond dying by now, I was sure. Forgotten. They’d slowly be getting smaller and whiter for decades, then surely I’d catch up with them. We’d end up looking so much like one another that people would get us mixed up on the street.

They found Grandpa fallen on his kitchen floor. He hadn’t been picking up the phone. I picture Mom’s worries, hastily making their way along her umbilical phone cable, towards this destination that was slowly dissolving into nothing. She must have felt the cable snap.

So they broke down the door and found it, this thing no one thought would happen anymore.

It’s strange, the things we forget. I don’t remember what colour the kitchen walls were painted. Or what slippers he wore. But I remember that screen door. The mesh had rusted in places and it was so thin that I was sure if you pressed your body against it hard enough, you’d break through to the other side. A pile of bloody spaghetti strings they’d have to bury in a pot shaped coffin.

*

I dream about them, the people I’ve lost. I see their faces, every wrinkle, every pore, closer I think than I’ve ever looked at them in real life. I miss them more than I miss my young self, more than I miss my happiest of days. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of death in the way other people I know seem to be. But I am mad with hatred towards it, and death knows it. Doing its nasty business behind my back, what kind of thing is that? Waiting for me to drag my suitcases across half the planet, and then strike. When I’m not looking.

*

Grandpa and I had the same birthday, 60 years apart. We almost shared a first name too, if my parents hadn’t changed their mind at the last moment, picking a fancier, more modern name for me. Something I never really forgave them for. Perhaps it was a way of protecting me. Would I have remembered him every time someone called my name? Would it have hurt? Or would the pain, like all feelings these days, have faded out in time, a dubious spot on a table cloth washed over and over again in a million waters?

Tomorrow, Grandpa would have turned 90.

I was in London when he died. It’s been four years and still, I haven’t cried and haven’t said my goodbyes. In a way, it’s like it didn’t happen for me when it did for everybody else. Like he’s still there, close enough to reach if it weren’t for that mesh door keeping us apart, dissolving him into a million tiny squares. In fact, I know the door doesn’t exist anymore. They took it down along with the rest of the furniture, before they painted the walls clean and replaced the cupboards with more modern, plasticky replicas of their original selves. Nothing looks the way I remember it now. Like it never was, my childhood. This man and his loneliness.