This Time Last Year: Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

I’ve decided this is what I’m calling you now, though you know you’re not, and I know you’re not, and we’re both OK with it.

But they tell me everybody needs a name, and everybody needs a friend, so I guess I’m just killing two birds with one stone.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a little while, but I hadn’t yet decided what to call you, and you need to at least know that when you start a letter. So I didn’t. And then last week Facebook said you had a birthday coming.

So here it is, my birthday gift for you. A name and things you never knew. Read the full post here →

Five Things Today

1.

We’ve had no hot water in our shower for three weeks.

Get a plumber look at it, you say? Well, you’re probably not up to date with the latest developments in London’s flourishing plumbing industry.

There. Are. No. Plumbers. Not one.

Sure, you’ll find plenty online, or recommended by friends, and believe it or not a handful of them will even return your calls and/or emails. But getting one to actually come and LOOK at your shower, now that’s a different story. They are busy, these people. Doing… not sure what really, but definitely not shower tinkering.

The last person we spoke to was quite funny. Too busy to come over, obviously, but kind enough to suggest we take our shower apart ourselves and keep the pieces in lemon juice overnight. And you know what? After nearly a month of freezing cold showers in the middle of winter, lemon juice sounds like it might just work. So yeah. Fancy joining me in a lemon squeezing marathon tonight, anyone? Anyone?

2.

Several of my friends have quit or are on the verge of quitting their jobs, with little to no future career plans in mind.

No, they’re not all Romanian.

Yes, it might be mid-life-crisis early-thirties-crisis.

And yes, I do worry about it being contagious. But then I just turn off my alarm clock and jump out of bed, dragging myself towards a keyboard yet again.

3.

I am, if somewhat reluctantly, making friends with people at work these days.

After a year marked by one or two social disappointments, I’m testing the waters again. I guess it’s true what they say, that we’re social animals above all else, even the most self-proclaimed antisocial of us.

So I’m hitting the pubs for the now compulsory after work pint, catching up with former colleagues for lunch, mingling at office parties. It still feels a bit like I’m walking around wrapped in an unfamiliar skin, but it’s not an uncomfortable one.

I was chatting to an old friend the other day, and he said something that made me think.

Growing older, he’d realised he could no longer judge his friendships like he’d used to. He couldn’t just walk away from people who’d disappointed him at one time or another anymore. He couldn’t dismiss people based on one or two incompatibilities with the perfect friend image he’d built for himself. His best friends now weren’t people who finished his sentences or got all his jokes. His best friends were the few people who’d stuck around. Imperfect in their friendship, but still there.

4.

Do NOT give me Amazon vouchers.

I’ll just buy ELEVEN books in one go and then you’ll find me feverishly browsing for another bookshelf, because there’s only so many paperbacks you can stack on your windowsill before they’re blocking the light. Who knew light and reading go hand in hand anyway?

For what it’s worth, I’ve so far read seven books this year, which is a miracle considering how much of my time I’ve been spending glued to a pint. Alcohol and books is the way to go, people! That is, if you want to make it out alive of this forsaken, snowed-three-times-this-month London winter!

5.

In other news, V and I are very busy these days.

We’ve just thrown a belated New Year’s Eve party for a friend who had emergency surgery during the real celebrations, we’re taking another friend on a post-breakup seaside trip this weekend, joining a bunch of people for a clubbing night out (Don’t. Ask.) for Valentine’s, and leaving London for our yearly anniversary trip the following week. Then guess what, it’s spring! Season of concerts, bank holidays and tennis tournaments!

So yeah, I’m excited to say the least. There’s something absolutely delicious in browsing your Google Calendar to see brightly coloured squares marking the end of each and every one of the coming weeks. I’ll try and document our this and that as much as I can, especially now that it seems I’ve finally kicked the January blues away, and I’m feeling more like a living, breathing, and only occasionally moaning human being.

Wishing you all a lovely, brightly coloured weekend!

Breakable Girls and Boys

I think a lot these days.

People tell me things, and I listen, and then I take them with me, their sentences, their stories, and grow them into thoughts that need constant rethinking, thoughts that end up keeping me awake at night.

I feel more alert than ever.

At times I catch my reflection in a computer screen or a random shop window, and I’m surprised that my eyes aren’t three times wider than usual, that my pores aren’t visibly open into little black holes, that I’ve still got membranes keeping the outside world at bay. Because lately I’ve been feeling like I’m breathing everything in, with all my senses, painfully gulping every sound and every idea and every speck of light, until I’ll have swallowed the entire world and everybody in it, and then what.

I doubt this makes much sense.

The other day, a friend told me she didn’t have anything left to live for.

We’d been chatting on Skype for a while, about our plans for Christmas and my recent adventurous furniture shopping sessions, when these sentences suddenly started filling the screen, these frightening sentences threatening to drip onto my desk and my keyboard, stain the carpet and sip through into the guts of the earth. So I had no choice but to swallow them up. And here she is now, carrying her unhappiness back and forth inside me. She’s lost, she whispers constantly in my ear. She can’t think of anything, not one thing that would make her happy, she says. She gets home after work sometimes and just sits there. Just sits there, you know? No book, no TV, not a light on, until it’s time to go to bed. She knows something is wrong and then sometimes, she doesn’t. Because who knows, perhaps this is it. Her life from now on. A new phase. Something that can’t be helped.

I think a lot these days.

It’s not easy.

Yesterday morning I jumped out of bed troubled by the unexpected peace and quiet. 8:45 and I started yelling at V to get up already, I’d be in such big trouble, and just as my contract is up for extension, why was he looking at me like that, let’s go!

It’s Saturday, he said, as I kept slamming drawers and trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans. I don’t care it’s Saturday, we need to get a move on!

Hey, it’s Saturday, he said again, and smiled. I sank to the floor and almost cried, jeans tangled around my ankles. It’s too much, I said, and he must have thought I was talking about work. But I meant all this thinking. It’s getting to me.

And it scares me how we’re nothing but other people’s memories in the making. Such responsibility, isn’t it, to grow into someone’s good memory. Such hard work it takes.

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.

Art of Conversation

Ten years ago today, I’d just finished my first year at Uni and was traveling back to my hometown for a couple of weeks of sipping iced drinks by the local pool.

My main worries those days had to do with how perfectly straight my eyeliner marked my upper eyelid, and intricate plans of accidentally running into this guy I’d had a crush on for years.

I’d wear cropped shorts and roller blades and my hair down my back, and skate up and down his street and sometimes we’d meet and chat for a while, about people we knew, and places we’d go, and how this-town-was-so-small-we-always-ran-into-each-other-it-was-just-crazy. Then he’d go wherever he was going and I’d skate away as fast and gracefully as I could, never allowing myself to look back, afraid of course to discover he wasn’t looking back himself.

Things were different those days. Simpler, I’d say now, but in many ways I’d be mistaken.

I wore a gem-less, square looking silver ring on my right hand and had just pierced my left ear a second time.

I wasn’t entirely happy, not 100% of the time, but there was no Facebook yet, and no chance to endlessly ponder over other people’s happiness, so it wasn’t that bad.

*

Nowadays, I could paint my eyelids perfectly within seconds, while riding a unicycle and juggling a book on the top of my head at the same time.

I never purposefully run into anyone and I rarely ever look at people’s faces on the street anyway, so the truest of true loves may very well walk me by and I’ll never know it.

I’ve redefined it all to myself anyway, things like love, fate, meaning, distance, happiness. Things are simpler now, in many ways, and then in many ways they’re not.

I wear a gold, single stone ring on my left hand, picked for me by a man with fingers unused to handling such dainty ornaments. Sometimes I’ve still got two earrings in my left ear, but most times I settle for only one, so my piercing is slowly closing up.

I’m still not entirely happy, not 100% of the time, but I’m rarely ever on Facebook, so it’s not that bad.

*

I’ve had a friend from high school visiting a couple of weeks back.

We weren’t particularly close in school, but once we moved to Uni, we made it a habit of meeting every couple of months or so to catch up on things. We’d go out for tea at this fancy place in the city centre, where they played jazz and had real tulips and roses on the tables. We’d talk about common friends and business ideas. It was never awkward, there was always some new love affair to gossip about, an inner joke or a tiny tragedy to debate over.

These days, we walk the streets of London together, along our other halves.

We talk about our jobs, but only for a little while, because we’ve professionally drifted more and more apart and we can’t pretend we find each other’s careers even remotely interesting anymore. Our common acquaintances provide even less subjects of conversation. They’ve all gotten hired, married, pregnant, things that are not interesting nor outrageous enough to excite us.

We no longer dream of extraordinary business ventures. Instead, we discover we don’t watch the same movies, read the same books or get the same jokes.

We find that sometimes, when I ask about Romania, I sound somewhat superior, arrogant, though it’s never my intention. We find that whenever he asks about London, all he wants to hear is how much money I make, then decide whether I’m worthy of that or I’ve just been lucky to be an averagely attractive, exotic woman in a male dominated industry.

We end up choosing sides we’re comfortable in, me talking to his girlfriend about this season’s fashion trends and him asking V about the specs of our car. London unfolds its streets and skies around us, but no one pays any attention: we’re busy yapping about animal print loafers and miles per gallon.

– It’s not my kind of thing, he says as we stroll along a path in the Hampton Court Palace gardens. Everything is too clean, too perfectly aligned. It’s unnatural.

I look around. The trees are cut into perfect, leafy umbrellas. The flower patches are perfectly square, their colours bright. The statues are milky white, muscular, the grass green. Even the baby swans, fluffy gray and unsteady looking on their brand new feet, are slowly on their way to immaculate perfection. The only imperfect thing in this place is what our friendship-not-friendship has grown into, and I feel guilty.

– I don’t think they liked it here, I say to V as we’re heading home in the evening, our guests safely on their way back.

– Weren’t much into any of our jokes. Never laughed.

– They should have said something, we can be super serious people if we put our heads to it.

– Nah, they need to get used to a bit of fun.

But the thing is, they used to be. Fun. We used to laugh our heads off whenever we met. There must have been different jokes, I imagine, or maybe there simply were more things to joke about those days. I mean, I used to wear cropped shorts, for one thing. That must have been hilarious. And I regularly fell for random guys who didn’t know my name. Ridiculous, right? I had no career, no life insurance, no resistance to alcohol. Fun, fun, fun.

It’s been the leitmotif of these last couple of months: connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting with people. Or it may just be one of those themes I always seem to turn to when there’s little to write about. Funny, really, what this place has turned into when I wasn’t looking, have you noticed? Less of a proper, characters-plots-settings story, and more of a fragmented, internal geography not even I find particularly interesting to look at most times. I keep at it though, perhaps because I crave for constant, reliable things, while everywhere around me, everything and everyone is evolving in relation to everything and everyone else.

In other news, I’m shopping for a sofa. It needs to be nothing less than perfect. Not Hampton-Court-Palace perfect, but perfect nonetheless. You think human friendships are tricky to deal with? Try finding a sofa you can see yourself building your perfect little life around for God knows how many years to come!