Wonnemond

There’s no reason for me not writing these days.

There’s no good reason not to write, my high school Lit teacher used to say. She was young and beautiful and there were endless rumours of her seducing boys in my class. Sometimes I believed them. Sometimes I really didn’t want to. But something was certain. This was a woman with a secret. It didn’t take an expert to see it. Something bubbling, a darkness, a hint of danger. I’d watch her. I had little in the way of hiding myself those days, but I found mystery in people around me strangely thrilling.

She used to ask me what I wanted from life.

*

We’ve been traveling quite a lot and when we’re not traveling, we’re sleeping in, planting white geranium, watching old movies and it feels to me, waiting for something.

I read and read. Mostly about Romania and the Revolution these days, which reminds me of my childhood and makes me miss my parents so much that the feeling’s gained colour, taste and texture, and follows me around even in my dreams. There’s no such thing as one phone call away.

London is breathtaking and I’m back to being my 19 year old self. No matter what happens, who breaks my heart and how many days it’s been since my last cup of coffee, well, it’s enough to walk the streets and I feel better. Different city, different decade, same me.

I won an award at work a few weeks back. Sometimes it dawns on me that I have a job, that I’ve had jobs for ten years now and that I never seriously considered I would. That I can’t for the life of me pinpoint the moment I stepped into this grownup thing, if there ever was just one moment or if instead it’s one of those things that takes your world over bit by bit, like the Arctic melting.

Then sometimes it dawns on me that we’re living the time of our lives.

*

A couple of years ago, my Lit teacher and I reconnected. We exchanged a few emails, she actually put one of mine into one of her books (yup, published author here, people!), we even briefly met when I traveled to Romania for our high school reunion. Again she asked what I wanted from life (pretty much the same things I’d wanted when we first knew each other), she wanted to know if I ever wrote anymore (not really), made me promise I would, and last but not least, she wanted me to tell her about this boy who’d been in my class. What he’d been up to, what his girlfriend looked like, whether they looked happy. This is it, I thought. The secret, the bubbling.

I’d kissed that boy. We were carrying boxes across a parking lot, huge, TV-sized cardboard boxes filled with paper cups and plastic cutlery for a school event, and they were really light but impossible to manoeuvre between the parked cars, the wind was ruffling my dress and waving his jacket wide open and we kissed. We were sixteen. Our Lit teacher was waiting in the open door, arms reaching for one of the boxes.

Our lives are such strange, vaguely inhabited planets circling each other.

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 →

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.

We Have No Past

I bought a cactus today.

No bigger than a lime fruit, and barely rooted into a spoonful of  compost and what looks like a plastic shot glass. But now that I’ve temporarily made room for it among the piles and piles of crap on my desk, I find myself glancing at it and feeling plain old happy. And I’m glad I’ve reached this point where I need so little to brighten up my day. It must mean it’s not too dim to begin with.

Meanwhile, it rains. It rains and rains and I don’t mind it, despite it meaning it doesn’t feel like winter yet. On the inside, winter’s already here, and I’m slowly trying to find my bearings, as always slightly overwhelmed but secretly giddy with excitement.

I miss C.

Autumn has always been our season, and when I find myself thinking of him most often, but this year autumn’s been such a mess that I didn’t get my chance. So now he’s sipping into my winter, my darling friend C and the version of myself I was when I knew him.

It’s strange, how I imagined I’d grow out of it. Troubled friendships, a million little dramas, forgetting, misunderstanding in every possible way, acting up, giving up. I thought as an adult, things would be simple. People would just get along. We’d be too busy working at piling up our extraordinary futures to waste even a second of our precious time doubting and hurting one another.

And now, life is not a line. Or mine isn’t. It wriggles and spirals and I find myself revisiting mistakes and feelings I thought I’d outgrown, when really, I’m not too old or too wise for anything.

C would take photos of everything. This was before the time of digital cameras, when my parents kept our old Leica M3 in a green shoe box behind a rack of suits and raincoats, and we only took it out once a year, on the eve of our seaside trip, when Dad would spend the evening dusting and polishing it to perfection, then placing it in its leather holder, a soft folded towel and on the bottom of his most trusted suitcase, safe from bumps and scratches and stray fingerprints.

But C, he had a camera of his own.

There must be tens of thousands of photos of me on these discs. Years of focusing, zooming and clicking, printing, then later scanning every print to write on CDs, some of which I’m sure I’ve misplaced in time and still, I’m left with enough to browse through for days. For an entire winter maybe, no sleep, no drinks, no liking Facebook statuses, just breathing in and out and staring into our past.

There’s a closeup under very bright lights, my cheek covered in cake frosting. A friend’s 18th birthday party and I’m sheepishly smiling, trying to pick icing out of my eyelashes, someone’s hand resting on my shoulder. Then I’ve got my back to the camera, looking towards the sea, my hair tangled in a messy knot, footprints in the sand. I’m in our classroom, sitting at a desk, going through a stack of crumpled papers. In the park, leaning against a bench, friends kicking a balled up t-shirt down the alley in front of me.

A few are of the two of us together. You can tell they’re not taken by the same hand, and that we’re aware of the lens being there. We look right into it, shoulders straight, hardly aware of one another. We’re children. Sure, I’m wearing mascara, he’s cleanly shaved, but we’re clearly new at this game we’re playing. We’ve lived through what we’re certain must be the most difficult times of our lives, and together. We’ve shared fears and secrets, and now we wait. For things to fall into place, I suppose. Backs straight! Say cheese! Click.

I like this story. I think about it, not just in autumn. I loved this person. There was once a person I loved, and there’s mountains of photographic proof of it. A cinema adapted version of this narrative would have us walk into the sunset together in the end. Perfectly happy, slowly blending into the background, and you’d know we’d be just fine.

In real life though, things sometimes fall into place in unexpected, new patterns.

*

Plans of carrying my baby cactus home during rush hour crazies suddenly break my train of thought. I find myself drifting to other subjects, present and of little consequence. Like what pot I’m going to transfer the poor thing into. What ledge I’ll be placing it on. Our badminton game tonight, the first in many months, and the prospect of sleeping at last, rain falling against our windows, a favored pastime these days.

It’s meant to be Wordless Wednesday today, and I smile. Another pattern broken.

Collection of Walls

bit·ter·sweet
adj.

1. Bitter and sweet at the same time
2. Producing or expressing a mixture of pain and pleasure

Seventy-four boxes.

It’s strange how you can put a number on pretty much everything after all.

Layers we’ve worn, objects we’ve touched, things we figured we’d need one day but never did.

It took me six days to pack them all, physical traces we’ve left since we moved to this country, and once I was done and our living room became a a scale model of a cardboard sky-scraper-ed city I barely managed to Gulliver my way through from one surface to the next, well, I squeezed into an armchair and looked at it. A mountain of things wrapped to survive an Armageddon. I wished we could just drop them by the curb after midnight, and set on our way attachment free, hands in pockets and all. We’d keep our pockets, I decided. They’d come in handy when we started collecting new things.

We moved everything into storage instead. A few nights in a row, back and forth to a box infested, yellow painted hangar. We did it after dark, what with our so called lives keeping us busy until late, and it felt like an adventure of sorts, finding our way along the yellow, deserted corridors, burdened by boxes and armed with nothing but flashlights and the key to our lock.

And then last night we drove back to an empty apartment. No cardboard metropolis, no trace of life, and it suddenly felt like something was ending.

Sometimes I’m truly terrified of how you can’t really un-erase anything.

I find comfort in mistakes crossed out with a million crooked lines. I don’t care if it messes up the page, or that people will figure out I’m not perfect. I want to see them there. To draw arrows from them and scribble bright coloured explanations between the lines. Erasers scare me.

As I was scrubbing down our soon to be other people’s flat yesterday, I felt like I was erasing a part of our life.

There’s a whiter patch on the kitchen wall, where our Pairing Wine With Food print used to hang. A confetti sized red nail polish spot on the floor by my side of the bed, the aftermath of a manicure tragedy. Forgotten fingerprints on surfaces I was too tired to reach last night. But most of what “us, here” used to mean is gone.

I took the morning off today to meet the cleaners, leave the keys and say goodbye.

I shut the door and started down the poorly lit corridor. I smelled coffee. People rushing up and down their rooms looking for misplaced car keys. I remembered how I’d loved that door, the first red door I’d ever had my own key for. Poppy red, and how the colour always made me smile. There must be nice people living behind that door, I imagined our neighbors thinking as they passed it by. They must have wonderful lives.

I grabbed a latte and toast at a coffee place on the street corner. People were queuing for takeaway, their caffeine orders ready to jump off the tips of their tongues. I sat by the window and warmed my hands on the flimsy paper cup. The street was an explosion of colour and movement, and I couldn’t help thinking how I’d been so miserable these past couple of weeks, dragging my feet up and down this very street. Like a ridiculous, hopeless moron.

I have a wonderful life.