Monthly Archives: November 2014

Lonely, yet not alone

There are always people around me. This is a pretty big town, it’s been that way for as long as I remember it – busy traffic, busy streets, everybody running somewhere and pushing you aside if you fail to keep up their pace. I was part of that pace once, running every day to fulfill that self-destructive personal mission of overachieving in every possible way. I surely pushed aside somebody myself being completely oblivious of that, with my mind obscured by the image of goals I was constantly setting up in front of me. Then I stopped running and started hiding, taken by that false primordial belief that my home is my shelter and that as long as I don’t leave it, nothing bad can happen. Conscious realization is one thing, instincts are something completely different. Unfortunately enough in my case, instincts always won because that’s how nature works. Fighting those instincts is one of the toughest tasks life can impose on you, but it’s not something you can give up on, because giving up on it would mean giving up on yourself. If you choose to live in these conditions, you have to be ready for a rough fight. So I started running once again, this time from all those anxiety provoking situations which is just about everything real life out there away from home consists of. I probably pushed some more people aside in those mad rushes to save myself from the invisible enemy, but those are moments that I surely don’t remember. Runs turned into fast walking and that’s pretty much where the progress stopped, until I had to live the tragic loss of my father. Maybe you thought that all that happened with him made me run again, but that’s not the case. Grief, just like any somewhat more serious body illness slows you down, tames you pace, makes you drag yourself, stop or even sit down and ponder, watching powerlessly the world around you. I guess it’s body’s way of protecting you from losing even those last tiny resources of energy left in your stores. Tears wash out tons of anger and anxiety related chemicals and give you that much needed natural sedation for a moment or two. When you walk slowly like that in the middle of the previously mentioned mad crowd, it’s only then that you really see how much those around don’t even notice your presence, let alone your problems. They push you, hurry you, walk past you, sometimes even address you a couple of bad words if you’re standing in their important way. They are around you, you’re not alone, but somehow you feel lonelier than ever.

It’s not much more different with acquaintances or those considered real life friends. I remember reading somewhere some time ago that the more time passes from the loss you experienced, the less and less frequently people will contact you. At first, your phone usually rings all the time, this person wants to know how it happened, than that person calls who heard from this person, then you inform somebody who cries and informs dozens of others and so on. You repeat the story over and over again, slowly ending up totally exhausted. In the coming days phone still rings, people check up on you. They usually offer help in general, but you usually never ask for anything. By the time you reach approximately two months from the tragic event, you realize that something is not right, that life is dominated by even more silence than usual. You look at the phone and that’s when you get it, it has virtually stopped ringing. Other people had just about enough of all that already old story and turned to other different life battles. They don’t call you, but you end up finding out about what’s going on in their lives – standing on a no man’s land of your own life, you observe other people’s weddings, birthdays, promotions, smiles, gestures of love, expressions of happiness. You can’t participate in all this, nor they need you around if you’re numbed by grief. Sometimes it seems to me that grief is considered a dangerous contagious disease, the further you go away from it or the less you talk about it, the stronger is the illusion that you’ll never catch it. I was walking the other day down the street and the woman who knows me was approaching me, holding her little son by the hand. The moment our eyes met, she gave me some strange look which was a mixture of pity and dislike and moved to the other side of the street, pushing her son to her right, away from me. I overheard her mother asking her why she did it, and she replied that it was because she didn’t know what to say to me. Hello would be just fine, there is no need for anything extra special. A bit more than a week ago there was a wedding we all should have attended as a family. When the word about my dad’s passing away was spread, we didn’t even receive the invitation any more, attending weddings is improper in my circumstances. My mom and me still mustered the strength to prepare and deliver the present all the same because we consider that person important, only to discover today that the present is still lying where we placed it, untouched and unopened. There were around 400 shiny happy people on that wedding, so indeed why should a present from two grief stricken women be taken into consideration on such a crowded event. The same happened with a birthday present I traditionally give every year to a friend – this person didn’t have time even for a small talk with me and didn’t even look at what I brought. I waited all evening with my cell phone in my hand for at least a short text message to know if the gift was liked, but there was none. I’ve always loved giving out presents to people especially when I nail what they truly like, but I guess that right now it’s all about my inability to spread happiness around me. There is this one line from our quite good TV show where a woman begs for love and the man replies: “How can you Sophia make me or anybody else happy, when you are so unhappy yourself?” Whatever the case is, the fact is that I feel lonelier and lonelier every day, sitting alone in my black clothes and with that black sorrow in my heart. Maybe it’s still too soon, the day after tomorrow it will be two months without dad. Or maybe I’ll never truly get used to it. Just like when Dr. Brennan talks with agent Booth at the end of one episode of Bones and asks him – How do you overcome a loss? He replies – You never really overcome it, you just survive.

Technically speaking, I survived. For now. But it feels like standing in the middle of the field, after the war ended. You’re free to do whatever you want, but you have no idea how to live that new life. And you’re very much alone in all that, no matter how many people move around you in that reality.

How important is a PhD title?

Coping with the loss of a very close person who used to be the true pillar of your family can have very unusual implications. I have heard about these things before of course, but it’s only when it hits you personally that you get to know the strangest depths of human nature.

I’m living in a country that has been trying so hard lately to fit into the most advanced values of the contemporary planetary human society, yet it’s still centuries if not millenniums far away from paying true respect to female abilities to do the great majority of things just as well as any man could do. Women still earn up to 30% less than men for performing exactly the same job and are still highly encouraged to think that their only true life purpose is to find a good “opportunity” to marry well, which in turn usually means to stay at home, cook, clean and raise kids, which are all tasks Serbian men in vast majority of cases wouldn’t tackle even if their dear life depended on it.

In the spirit of these cultural values and taking into consideration the fact that my little family consisted of my dad, my mom and me, the attitudes of people who know us changed dramatically after my dad passed away. Life is now about two women only, and the consequences can already be felt. There is that lost sense of security and protection, as though we’re suddenly living life in a house without a roof above our heads. Everybody thinks it’s their duty to give us advice, to remind us of our vulnerability, of our incapability to perform men’s muscle related tasks, and some people are surely trying to take advantage of the situation. One day not so long ago, I was warmly advised to hurry and marry as fast as I can, because I can’t go on without masculine support in my life – basically according to this person I had just about enough of “fooling around” till now, I could have done so as I had the support of both of my parents but as this support is reduced by 50% now, I should urgently do something about it. Besides, your clock is ticking you know, this person added among other things, obviously forgetting that my biological clock is my own business and nobody else’s, but never mind anyway. I’m not really sure how somebody’s father can be replaced by hurrying to marry the first guy that comes along and how this can erase the images of the last month of his life that will haunt me as long as I live (not to mention my ongoing PD issues which are a “wonderful” recommendation for any possible groom-to-be of mine), but from this particular person I wouldn’t expect anything different, so I managed to accept the words and dismiss them as fast as I could.

But hey, these things are like weed, no matter how often you pull it out of the ground, they still grow back. It happened again. This time it came from a person I considered a friend, in the sense that I thought I could lean on her at least to the extent of the fraction of how much she had leaned on me for many long years. She had met a wife of an important person and it turned out that the couple has two sons, both single. Considering both the fact that this woman is not of an advanced age and also the fact that her sons are single in this country, I told her well in advance that it would most probably mean that they are too young for me, and that anyhow I’m clearly not interested in anything arranged in a similar way, now in my situation or never in general. She went on a relatively long trip with this woman and insisted on mentioning this crazy idea to me again on several occasions, even though as it turned out she never ever mentioned to her friend that I existed in the first place. She had to “secure her position” in this important family first, so she had to make sure that I don’t jeopardize it in any possible way. Then all of a sudden she calls me last night to tell me that I shouldn’t have hopes, that she apologizes if she kept me falsely hoping that I would marry soon????!… because you know… both her sons have a… PhD title! Yep, you heard well, a PhD title. OK, just like many other people in this world, and with that?? (much more important would be the fact that they are some 10 years younger than me, but she doesn’t care about the age difference at all). Well you know Tanja, you don’t have a PhD. You’re not at their “level”. Differently speaking, I have nothing to look for in those circles. Besides, they’re very well off as well and travel around the world all the time, they wear just famous brands, they have perfect complexions and great looks… WOW WOW WOW wait a minute, hooold on…. I had to pinch myself to verify if that was just another of my usual nightmares or some badly twisted reality, but very sadly enough it was more real than these words I’m typing right now. Later I was lying in my bed in darkness, staring in emptiness and trying to count how many times exactly she offended me in those descriptions. And what’s even more weird, I still can’t get why. I didn’t ask to marry anybody. I didn’t ask to meat anybody’s friends, no matter if they’re good, bad, handsome, ugly, educated or illiterate. I didn’t ask for anything AT ALL. I don’t give a damn. The only thing I do give a damn about is that I don’t have a father anymore and that I miss him more and more with each day that passes without his return. I didn’t ask for anything, I didn’t express any opinions, I didn’t explain the hardships I found myself in since the dad passed away… and most importantly, I never offended her in any possible way. So what on Earth was all this about??

I don’t have a PhD, that’s a pure fact. I “only” have double Bachelor of Arts degree which I earned after being a student of generation in both my primary and special secondary school for very talented kids. God wasn’t very generous with me in this life and I don’t have much extra special qualities and abilities apart from a few talents, but the only thing I’ve always had in spite of everything were “brains”. Or simply speaking, I’ve had that IQ somewhat above the average and it helped me stand out and recompense for all the other things I lacked and all the health problems I had to face. That head is one pretty big reason why I’m still alive, in spite of the episodes of truly total occasional disability due to a really hard case of PD. And now this woman calls and tells me that I’m not smart and educated enough to be introduced to some people, that I’m simply not at their level. When agoraphobia wasn’t limiting me, I was attending conferences with really important people and translated complicated things in real time. I think I knew really well how to act and talk in front of even famous people in my country and abroad. And now, all of a sudden, I’m unfit for a conversation with her friends because they have a PhD? What kind of friends do they have, just those with the same title? Speaking of that, I failed to inform her that there are postdoctoral studies nowadays as well, so I’m wondering if these guys would be fit for talking with those people who took their education even further…

To sum up… I’m a woman without male protection any more, which is bad by itself. People pity me and take me much less seriously. I’m not educated enough, I’m not rich, I don’t have expensive branded clothes, I don’t travel the world in the first class and visit 7 star hotels, and I don’t have perfect complexion nor I can boast of some drop dead beauty (by the way, I’ve never heard that grief made anybody look particularly nice, shiny and beautiful). All in all, I’m a total loser, unfit for either scientific or rich circles. I don’t belong anywhere. Maybe I’m not even fit to write these lines, as I don’t have a PhD. I’m just curious, if anyone with PhD is reading this, how important is that title to you when it comes to human relationships? And do you occasionally just speak with common mortals like me?

I forgot to mention, the woman who attributed all these “wonderful” qualities to me doesn’t have a PhD herself, which makes me wonder how well fit is she then for making friends with this family. And she can only dream of speaking English the way I do. But that doesn’t matter I suppose, she must be much better person than me for some reason which I’m obviously unable to grasp. Intellectual flaw of mine, I’m afraid.

Childhood memories

As I was going to let the dogs out this evening, I discovered a little girl’s hair ornament imitating a string of multicolored pearls with Hello Kitty decoration lying in the corner of the corridor between our and the neighboring apartment. It must have been the neighbor’s little daughter who lost it, so I picked it up and secured it on the wall right in front of their door so that they could see it first thing tomorrow morning.

Maybe she has already forgotten about it, or maybe she was complaining all evening how she lost it and how much she missed it, children get attached to things which you would never believe they could care for that much. Then when they grow up and search for some favorite special memory from the old days, it often happens that if they find it they end up being disappointed with it, because they remembered it as something extra beautiful or very extra special and charming, only to discover that that long sought charm vanished for good.

This hair ornament triggered one similar memory from my childhood – it was a sunny day and I was playing with a tennis ball on our terrace while my dad and my grandmother took care of me. You surely know how nasty tennis balls are when they bounce really high and mine was no exception – it hit the terrace ceiling and jumped all the way down into the terrace of the neighbors living at the ground floor. I stared in disbelief and some strange misery possessed me as I saw the old lady come into her terrace, take the ball, say something bad about how my intention was to throw things at her head after which she came back inside, slamming the door and shouting that I wouldn’t see that ball ever again. Ok, one simple tennis ball, that should be something easily replaceable, right? That wasn’t the case back then in my country, tennis had been the sport of the noble and rich and it only started having its first appearances in front of the massive audience with the success of few older sportsmen, Monica Seles being the most famous among them in the times when I was growing up. We had only that one tennis ball in the house, and I received it as a present, along with one of those ancient wooden heavy racquets I literally adored. First my grandma and then my dad went down there to ask for the ball and to explain that I was just a little child who surely didn’t mean any harm to anybody, but she insisted that this small ball could have meant the end of her days. I sadly pondered over my little loss for several days and I was promised to receive another ball soon, when the old lady for some reason changed her mind. She sad she felt pity for me, but that she was still suspicious that the dad or granny could drop down something much heavier and more dangerous on purpose… 🙂 I could have never imagined the two of them being capable of anything similar, but the neighbor trusted no one.

I was out of my mind with happiness when the ball returned and I never used it on the terrace ever again, scared that she could definitely not return it any more. Later I got or bought those nice three ball packs of all sorts of famous brands, there was even one period in which I very happily tried to play tennis almost every day and it made me contented even though I never had any sort of true talent for it, but I always remember that one particular ball from my childhood. On one of those little “training” sessions I was hitting balls right next to the court where a tennis coach held a proper class for some young couple, and I noticed that she had dozens and dozens of balls that she intended to leave behind and dispose of. I approached her and saw that all the balls had the “US open” print on them, so I asked her about them. She said that she coached some juniors who participated even in Grand slams and that these balls were definitely from New York – balls get replaced quite often during matches, especially because they “break” or simply soften from hard hits, so when the event ends they should all end up in waste, but coaches often collect them for the first beginners’ practices. The softer the ball is, the easier it gets to make it bounce over the net – you surely can’t get the precision out of those shots, but you can practice the technique. What I saw in those balls was primarily US open souvenirs, so I asked her if I could have some, knowing that it was highly improbable that I’ll even attend any Grand slam tennis match. She packed an entire bag of balls and handed it over to me, telling me that she really liked my determination and love for the game.

That bag is still in one corner of the living room, behind the door. There is an open space there left after the big wall closet occupied the place intended for it, so what was left served us for many years to keep there bulky memories of various sorts. I don’t know what happened to that first, precious ball. It could be easily there in that bag of Grand slam memories, balls hit maybe even by some old important players as well. If I find it, no matter how long it remained there temporarily forgotten, it will still carry the weight of the past times and bring back the memories of that afternoon and voices of those three people who are no longer among us. The neighbor passed away several years ago, my granny and my dad are together now at that far away cemetery out of the town.

The old lady wanted to destroy that yellow-greenish object, failing to see anything good or important in it. Yes it was just a ball, but that ball makes her as well live even today in my thoughts and in these lines. It also reminds me how much my granny and my dad cared for me and tried to make me happy by helping out to restore happiness in my life in any possible way.

I wish I could talk to them both, even just only one more time. I miss you guys so very much.