Tag Archives: friendship

The Ring

There is one stainless steel ring I keep wearing all the time in this last period. Not because it has any particular material or sentimental value, but simply because I like the design of small flowers it features, flowers that manage to make some difference and let my thoughts drift away from this strange reality that is currently suffocation my mind, body and soul. It has also one pretty good practical advantage – if it gets wet or in contact with disinfectants, it doesn’t darken. Steel is tough and it doesn’t care what you do to it, precious metals do. Precious metals and gems need care, cleaning and pampering – it’s the treatment all special and rare things require in order to shine. But steel almost dare them all, it defies cold, dirt, liquids, it renounces fancy and expensive jewelry stores because they don’t let it sit on their precious shelves. It proudly stands in front of you, almost whispering: I’m not expensive, but I can be just as much beautiful as they are, those I’ll never belong to.

Last Friday I lost it, for the third time. I took my mother to eat ice cream in a shopping mall not so far away from our place. There was one of those usual offers: 2 ice creams for the price of one, so we took advantage of it. We sat and ate our chocolate and strawberry flavored ice creams in the middle of a huge crowd of those who came to eat their small portion of fast food and dwell around fancy stores, usually without buying anything that isn’t on sale. From time to time you would see those with hands full of colorful bags coming out of the hypermarket or cheaper stores, pale, with big dark circles under their eyes, victims to the modern slavery of corporate societies and their own families who expect them to exchange their exhaustion and lack of freedom during the week for material things on weekends, for an instant gratification and small endorphin surge that in many cases vanishes completely by the time they get home and realize that the hard earned money is gone and that they got themselves a ton of not so necessary or good things after all.

I finished my ice cream and left them immersed in their quest for material happiness, heading towards restrooms. I did the usual mistake of taking the ring off before washing my hands, even though water and soap can’t harm it. But it’s one thing when you take it off and forget it in your own bathroom, and something completely different to leave it on a sink of a super crowded shopping mall on a Friday night. It takes us two buses to get home from there and it was only by the time that we reached the bus stop of our second bus that I touched my finger and felt for the ring as I usually do by reflex. It wasn’t there.

I got an immediate flashback of the moment when I took it off and placed it in the corner of the dark sink – the memory of so many dark and metallic shades in that restroom gave me some completely vague hope that it could have gone unnoticed, small, insignificant and totally inexpensive ring hidden in a corner of a big, fancy and ultra modern shopping mall restroom. Yet the hope was vague and almost nonexistent – this is a country in which everybody is lacking something, many people even that totally basic stuff. In such a situation you can definitely expect everybody to collect any single thing that they spot unattended.

I can appear a pessimist or even a coward to many, but I have one quite strange personality trait for somebody with panic disorder – I almost never give up, and it is one of those few rare things in which I don’t resemble my father. He fought to be on the realistic side of things, but he inclined to pessimism. It was impossible to watch tennis matches with him – if you like tennis, you know how the situation can change all the time from one extreme to the other over the entire length of the match. It’s always about the change, but one thing is certain – it is not over until it’s really over. Until you hit the final point, you still stand some chance even though all the odds of the world might be against you. We haven’t witnessed once the situation in which the players crawled back from the bottom of the pit of what seemed long lost match to even the score and even triumph in the end. I believed in my father even when everybody said that he wouldn’t make it, when everybody gave up on him, when he gave up on himself and just begged to die. I believed to the last beat of his heart recorded by ECG brought by the ambulance doctors and even in minutes and hours after it. It just couldn’t seem real that we lost his battle. Maybe this is some kind of foolish idealism, but that’s me and I don’t think it is such a negative trait after all – if we want to live this life, we have to fight, and the only way to just try to win a fight is to believe that you can do it.

I suppose that many people would simply assume with disappointment that the ring was lost forever, go home and eventually stop thinking about it. In my case, things are not over until they’re really over – I had to go back and cast that final look on that sink and assure myself that it was really gone. I don’t know if I truly hoped to find it on my way back to the mall, it was just that my anxious and impatient nature wanted to rush the bus as much as possible to get back there in no time. Just one look, that was all I needed. The bus finally reached the right stop and I jumped out of it and started running fast towards the mall’s entrance – I had no idea that I could even just get back to this huge place at the end of a terribly busy day, let alone run that fast. Two flights of moving staircases, one final run around the corner and there I was, in front of the entrance door of the restroom. I hesitated to enter, as if there could be more than one of two solutions – it was going either to be there or not, it’s not a rocket science. But I stood frozen for God knows how many seconds, almost as if I could materialize it inside if it happened that somebody had taken it away.

Then the door opened and an old lady came out. I held the door with my hand and headed towards the remote corner of that sink. With hope. Hope dies last, but it still dies from time to time. It wasn’t there.

Two young girls were washing their hands and gave me odd looks as I stared at that empty place where I left my ring, flooded with disappointment and betrayed by hope. It was just a small, insignificant ring that I bought for myself four years ago on the street, in the pedestrian zone. The only sentimental value that it could have was the link with those moments in which I had a job with meaning, I was teaching Italian, that language that I studied and that I still love and miss so much these days, as nobody seems to want to study it any more here where I live. I parted ways with English many years ago and it got revenge on me – I have no longer the fluency and vocabulary I used to have, and paradoxically the only two foreign languages that seem useful in Serbia nowadays are English and German. I taught Italian and my father was alive, it was spring of 2013. I had no idea what 2014 had in store for me. I went out of the restroom and as I was moving away, I noticed the cleaning lady leaned over some boxes in the room for the staff. I don’t think that I had some true intention to stop to talk with her, but remember – things are not over until they are really over. I asked her if by some remote crazy insane chance she spotted a ring on the sink, expecting no for an answer. Instead, she smiled and reached for her pocket. She opened her hand in front of me and there it was, back one more time, as if it were cat with nine lives. I kissed this thin, simple woman with dark circles around her eyes who obviously has a really rough life. She said she wanted to give it to the security staff later when she finished her work but that she was happy that I found her – she could have been on either of several levels of the mall, but something brought us together in the same place at that very same moment. I think she thought the ring was a gift from somebody really special, and as it was hard to explain to her that this wasn’t the case and that I was simply overwhelmed with joy because of winning one more battle against all odds and recovering my only companion in my utterly silent days at work. I don’t think she would understand that a piece of steel could be a lot friendlier than people, so I decided to leave out this embarrassing part of my life story. I left my backpack in my mother’s arms who returned home alone, so I had no money to buy something for her and it felt bad. I do hope that I’ll see her again when I manage to return there and brighten up her day somehow, in the same way that she brightened mine with her honesty and friendly attitude.

She’s my hero of the day, the person who managed to prove that kind and dear people with human traits still exist. I will remember her every time I cast a look at my tiny steel ring with floral pattern. Psy, you were right, such people still exist – just don’t look for them among computers, they are hidden in humble masses like rare remnants of some totally different times.

 

 

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Friendship

keep in touch

Friends are people who are there by your side in both good and bad times – they keep you company, listen to you when you share either happy events or long rants on rainy days and give you the necessary feedback, they watch your back, give support and offer help in every sense of that word when needed. True friends are rare gems, they are hard to be found and require effort and care to be kept. Studies say that friends come and exit our lives at 7-10 year time increments, which means that with each new decade new people are bound to become a new and essential part of our world, while many if not almost all people we once knew get lost somewhere along the way. Rare ones that don’t are like gold, cherish them the best you can because these long-lasting unconditional friendships are among the most precious gifts life will ever serve you.

I wish this were a story about one such friend of mine. Unfortunately for some reason destiny made sure that I don’t earn such blessings, my friends all got chased away either by the passage of time or my health issues, or they simply vanished somewhere in the vast space of our planet far away from my country. For that reason this is a story about one of many lost friends, this one lost primarily because I didn’t put enough effort in keeping that bond alive. The bond was broken many years ago and while I don’t remember very well any more when exactly and how, I also can’t really explain why I didn’t take better care of this friendship in the first place.

My American friend I met almost 20 years ago kept in touch with me for several years after we got to know each other here in Serbia – we used to write long letters to each other and exchanged them mainly by fax, fast and easy way of sharing information and thoughts at long distances at the time. I would have tons of things to say about this special person and the place that friendship had in my days, but it would take thousands of words and cover too many different topics. This time I want to contemplate on just one of his phrases from the letter I still conserve: “Tanja – keep notes, keep a journal, keep in touch.”

I always loved to contemplate, which is already somewhere halfway between the idea in your mind and its materialization on paper, and my friend knew that. I was always very good at classes of writing in Serbian, but I had both luck and misfortune to attend those classes with the most talented people of my generation, as I went to high school for linguistic talents. It was luck because I could get the best education in the best possible conditions, misfortune because it’s extremely hard to outsmart the smartest people around. What I mean is that my writing was good, maybe even very good from time to time, but never excellent or extraordinary. No matter what I did or how much I tried, I could never top 2-3 my best friends who could just sit down and produce a masterpiece on any given subject in merely hour and a half given for the test. Someone else would see such a situation as a challenge and push further and further to go higher and higher. Someone else, not me. I was scared away by their brilliant literary achievements to the point that I stopped writing, convinced that if I can’t do that like they do, then I shouldn’t do it at all because it was pointless. Extremely black and white thinking – if you can’t be exceptional, don’t do anything. From today’s point of view really crazy philosophy and completely counterproductive, but that wasn’t exactly the worst conclusion I reached in life, worse was still to come. I went on downhill to spend almost half of average human life searching for something else I could do best, something that would come easy and naturally as an integral part of my personality and then turn it into profession I’d pursue till the end of my days. I generalized the notion of being untalented for writing by believing that I shouldn’t get into ANY of the fields where I can’t be great, no matter how much interesting or appealing they could be to me. I was and am insecure, I needed proof of my worth and seemingly nothing less than some sort of proof of greatness was good enough for me.

That was how I entered the world of learning foreign languages and “trading” one for the other working on translations. That’s a safe ground, although also creative one to a certain point, as perceiving the world around us doesn’t always match in different cultures. Safe is good enough for a nature precise like mine, but no matter how much verbal creativity can be hidden in the translating process, it’s still just a conversion of somebody else’s creation from one format to another. You trade one language for the other, but the content is still the same if you did your job well. However, that’s not nor it will ever be your content, as you’re just a conversion tool. It really is safer and you don’t risk much, but nobody will ever hear what you as a human being have to say to the rest of humanity. This realization truly defeated me. And I decided to take action. Translating and language teaching were put behind the scene and preserved for survival only, while I happily embarked on a new artistic journey. If I couldn’t excel with words, I opted for images.

For a long time I sadly contemplated on how tragically wrong this decision was, until i realized once again that it had nothing to do with decision itself, but with how I chose to react to the environment I found myself in. I was very happy when I was admitted to the art school, but the dream stopped right there. No matter what I did or created, I was always harshly criticized. Not only that I couldn’t excel in this world, I couldn’t even earn a single praise. That was extremely painful, to the point that I still feel that pain even though the nightmare ended 8 years ago. Today when I look back on that experience, I see little flashbacks of how my fellow students had nice words for some of the things I managed to come up with. I remember positive reactions from people from the outside of that world. I watch the notes I got for two photography classes I took, and even though I am well aware that I was and still am far from being a good and special photographer, I still had best marks in my generation. However, things didn’t look that bright at the time. Negation and denial was all I was presented with and not only that I accepted them as real, I implemented that attitude as my own thinking. Simply speaking, I began and continued thinking that I was artistically inadequate for good so I consequently left the images behind, the same way I abandoned words a decade and a half earlier.

As you already guessed, I didn’t listen to what my friend had to say in that letter from many years ago. I stopped keeping notes. I stopped keeping a journal. And the saddest of all, I didn’t keep in touch. If I kept in touch, I’m sure that my friend would encourage me to continue writing and that I would learn many more things from the exchange of our thoughts. At least my English would be much more fluent than it is today. Maybe he would have managed to illuminate me much earlier that what’s very good is good enough for everybody to keep doing whatever it is you do very well. Maybe he would have found the way to make me understand that the world would be a very small and almost empty place if only the extremely talented did some type of work in the fields they were born for. Maybe he would tell me that I had to believe in myself no matter what others say. To listen, but to stay who I am.

Sometimes critics may be right, but all the same there are ways and ways to point out to somebody how to improve their work, negativism and offenses are definitely not the instruments good people use to instill changes for the better in others. But on the other hand, sometimes critics are not right. People make all sorts of mistakes. I watched a movie last night and I wrote down this interesting line – “Nobody’s perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers on them.” Some of those mistakes are made out of ignorance because no one’s infallible eminence, not even the best experts. They are humans, too. Again, sometimes people just have double standards or they want to put you down because they perceive your work as a threat to their own success. Sometimes people are just plain mean. If you’re unlucky enough to meet people from this last category and end up believing their words and adopting them as your own way of thinking, world will be deprived of your precious creation for no reason. Sometimes people spend a certain amount of time doing what can be called average work and then all of a sudden their potentials just “explode” in the right circumstances. Imagine if they weren’t patient enough to wait for their stellar moment, what a tragic loss would that be.

On the other hand, maybe that globally approved greatness will simply never happen. That still doesn’t mean that we should sit and do nothing. Create. Write. Sing. Play an instrument. Draw. Paint. Cook. Do whatever makes you happy. Nobody can truly convince me any more that even a lifetime of “average” work can’t yield brilliant moments of their own. What matters is that you enjoy what you do and everything else your life consists of. When you get into that state of creative happiness, honestly only sky is the limit as to what can happen in the end.

Don’t repeat my mistakes. Don’t chase for too long intangible things believing that you’re chasing your true inner soul. Don’t waste time waiting to “find” yourself and then start doing something. You have yourself, here and now, you haven’t disappeared anywhere so that you have to go and look for yourself. Create if that is how you feel, without second thoughts and unnecessary questions. As long as you like what you do, you’ll find others who like it as well, I’m certain about it. This is one big planet, among all those billions of people there must be at least several kindred spirits for each one of us.

Keep notes. Keep a journal. Keep in touch, with both your inner soul and people you care about. And as for everything else, no matter what it is as long as it matters to you – KEEP IT.

My very first zinnias

zinnias

I’m dedicating this unusual post to my fellow blogger Jim who has such an incredibly fascinating garden, home of many fabulous zinnias, among dozens of wonderful flower varieties – In Jim’s garden

His beautiful photos can truly heal the soul and as I watching them on the evening before my birthday, I commented how much I loved his zinnias’ photos and that they don’t grow so easily here where I live. Actually I had never had a zinnias’ bouquet in my home… till the next morning! 😮 🙂 Was is some weird, unusual coincidence or something else I have no idea, but the next morning I got up, my mom wished me happy birthday and showed me the flowers she bought for me. I took these, she said, because I thought you might like something new… I couldn’t believe my eyes! 😮 It was as if somebody translated them from the computer screen into my real life and it was such fun having them around, so I had to immortalize that moment with some beautiful photos. 🙂

zinnia

zinnia

zinnia

zinnia

zinnia

Nothing ever stays the same

I’ve had a PC in my home for exactly 14 years. It was the summer of 2000 when I more than willingly traded my usual summertime trip to the seaside for a big plastic box full of metal, strange boards and interesting wires, something my parents couldn’t understand at all. I had already had some computer knowledge of course, if you take into consideration that I absolutely adored my little ZX Spectrum and loved playing on my cousin’s Commodore, moving on to TIM computers of domestic production installed at my mom’s office and connected to a server that took a whole room to function, requiring carefully maintained dust-free environment. After that, a whole new world opened in front of me when I could use those very first 286 and 386 computers bought exclusively for my high school, which was followed by a certain digital delay in my life due to horrible economic sanctions my country had to endure in 1990s, but I still used computers wherever I could – in libraries, offices, internet cafes… until that day when I finally got hold on my first very own, precious and perfect little desktop configuration. I felt like Golum in the Lord of the Rings, no question about it. 🙂 I remember how I personally chose each part of that configuration to be assembled and surprisingly enough, I did an excellent job. My father said that it was probably a totally useless expensive purchase as the “thing”, screen included, would probably serve just to gather dust in my room as I would grow out of it in no time. To his complete astonishment, there wasn’t a single day without that box any more and he couldn’t understand what happened, nor he has ever understood it to this very day. He simply hates computers and can hardly realize how many different areas of human life they essentially deal with in today’s world. Nevertheless, I was and still am very grateful to him for that first configuration that now lives only in my memory, apart from its box case which is the only thing I preserved from those distant and much happier days.

My peaceful digital days abruptly ended with one unusual power outage a couple of years later. Even though the computer wasn’t turned on at that moment, it was still plugged in and when the power came back, something simply “popped” out loud in quite a disturbing way. The power surge was much stronger than allowed and my shock was indeed tremendous, I just sat on the floor and stared for a long time at the box that wouldn’t turn on any more. My warranty had expired and the store where I had bought it didn’t exist any more, so I didn’t know what to do. I desperately wanted my programs and my data back, and the solution arrived as usual from my mother – sometimes I do wonder what would have become of me if it wasn’t for her in my life. I distantly recall that she knew somebody important from the IT sector in our Telecom, so we took the box with us to that at the time big and fancy Telecom building to be “cured”. We sat in a separate room drinking some juice and waiting for the “verdict”. It’s just power supply, we’ll fix it in no time, no worries. Wonderful, I sighed with relief. The box was supposed to arrive back to the room where we sat in any minute and we could go home. Instead, there was this guy who fearfully appeared at the door, rambling something about my desktop icons that for some strange reason got enlarged 10-fold and couldn’t be opened any more, all this after 15-20 minutes of completely normal work. He was hushed up by another guy who confirmed that the problem was very serious, but avoided any discussion on who or what caused the problem. Judging from their faces, it was them who did something, but didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t push things any further, the damage was done and there was no way back. The second guy said that there was this man – and he wrote his name and address on a piece of paper – who could help with such a problem. I will never forget what he said – if there is anybody in this town who can fix it and preserve your data, it’s him. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but I simply had to give it a try. It was just a piece of paper, but it made an enormous difference.

That was how I met my PC handyman and his family, which changed my digital life for the better in million ways. He sat with that computer for 3 straight days and nights and simply didn’t let it die. Everybody else would have given up much sooner, but he was persistent to some incredible point, which is one of his traits that I admire with astonishment to this very day. He saved all my data, refreshed my configuration, supplied me with surge arrest power cords and UPS, all at really modest costs. This humble and modest man would have made a fortune in a different country with his IT knowledge, yet he struggled and still struggles to secure a decent living for his family because of his decision to remain in Serbia. We met on several more occasions, either to upgrade the system or the configuration because there were times in my life when I foolishly aspired to become a successful graphic designer and wanted the best computer I could afford, or simply because of some minor conflicts I couldn’t solve on my own. We stayed in touch and exchanged all sorts of season’s greetings for quite some time, but eventually this ended just like everything else ended in my life, it vanished in the darkness and silence with the arrival of the worst PD episode I experienced so far. I remotely remember that I needed some sort of his assistance at some point less than 5 years ago, but it was my parents who took the box the box to him and brought it back as I couldn’t go anywhere. And that was it.

The box worked, slower and slower as the time passed, but it never failed on me, till that previously mentioned “the end of the world” that occurred 2 weeks ago. I should have known better and I should have worked on preventing that thing from happening, but I simply got lost in the vicious circles dominated by my own demons, that I failed to see the reality around me. When I was rightfully punished for yet another neglected job in my life, one more time I simply didn’t know what to do. I was all caught up in my photo-blogging routine and now all of a sudden I was facing this system32 fatal error… all I could think of was the true realm of data that system used to control and how indeed fatal such loss could be in many ways.

Surprisingly enough, I forced myself to visualize the worst case scenario and I didn’t fall apart. I did cry a bit when I was alone, but not for a long time. I felt some numb acceptance of my fate, convinced that if something should have vanished from my life, it was good that it should be only that box. I couldn’t recognize myself, that’s not how I would have normally reacted to a digital disaster in previous years. I still can’t name exactly what changed me in the course of these last several years, but I know for sure that it must be a combination of things.

I’ve dealt with so many vital losses in my life so far that I think that this trained me how to behave in case of another one. So many things in life are about practice, I don’t see why it should be any different when dealing with a loss – the more you practice surviving it, the better you get at it. Apart from losing entirely my freedom, all my friends, boyfriend, any possibility of having a family and children of my own some day, jobs, income, I also survived a cancer threat 2 years ago when my newly discovered thyroid nodule was eventually diagnosed as benign – such things make you reevaluate your whole life and reset you system of values, making you form totally new priorities. My nodule was and maybe still is benign, but it’s still in my neck. It can always turn malign for some reason as long as it’s there, and that’s something I’m aware of every single day. My parents are both in their seventies and I deeply fear being left completely alone in this world, being the way I am. I take care of two precious dogs and I know that in spite of whatever I do, something can happen to them which would be indeed a devastating blow, because I have no friends or children, they are like two babies who apart from my parents are the only beings that greet me with sheer happiness every single day. I went through some very deep PD pits and climbed some small way back up, but it can surely worsen just about any time – once before I made the error of thinking that I had seen the worst of PD and that it surely couldn’t get any worse, but I was brutally shown that oh yes it could get MUCH worse, so I’m quite aware that I must be thankful even for the moments when things are bad but at least without changes for worse. Or simply – maybe it was none of this that changed my attitude, maybe it’s simply time that passed, maturity I gained, life experience I collected… maybe it’s just depression resurfacing and I just don’t care any more… or maybe after all those horrific flood events I realized that I had no right to complain as I still have a bed where to sleep and a good ceiling above my head.

Taking all this into consideration, losing some “box” simply should have to fall off the list of life priorities for good. Yet, we’re not talking about just any box. This box still contained my precious data from as far back as that famous year 2000, it carried on its disks so many moments from my dear long gone and lost past, files that flash in my mind so many people, places and memories so dear to my heart which was an excellent reason for me not to erase them. There were tons of e-mails, tons of valuable business related data, tons of creative files I made while I attended the Academy of Arts, tons of photos, special songs, video clips, valuable manuals, language courses, translations, books, installed programs – killing it in an instant would definitely equal killing a 14 year old brain that gathered so many information and connections in its lifetime. OK, somebody will definitely say – oh stop the rant, weirdo – have you ever heard of the magic word BACKUP??? Yes I did, but up to a little while ago I didn’t have enough space to save so much information, I had two not very large flash discs and I burnt some DVDs, but that was hardly enough. I recently got a quite large external disc and wanted to start this massive backup, but things rarely turn out the way you planned, at least it’s that way in my life.

On the other hand, losing something for a mentally stable person is one thing, while such loss for somebody like me is something entirely different. If you’re healthy and well and have means, you’ll go on from the point of the loss and build yourself a life again. In my case, I’ll probably never be able to function the way I used to ever again and I have to live with it, but at least when took a look at my data I could have a sense of dignity, knowing that I could document with something tangible that I was not always the useless person I became due to my illness. I could open a file and motivate myself by saying – there, I made this – if I could do it back then, maybe I could try again. Fourteen years are quite a long time, there were so many people who left marks on my computer but are not present in my life any more – nevertheless, by just looking at those marks I could bring them back to my life in my memory, the same way as when you take a look at an old photo and travel back in time.

Among the last things but not the least by any means, that computer had on it my full size photos of things I published here, and those weren’t simply blog posts and nothing more. I took up my camera after a very long time, and it took a certain courage to do it and believe in myself. There were people here who liked my photos and inspired me to go on, making me believe that I was doing it well. I was building some creative meaning into my days after so much time and it was a step further up from the bottom of the pit I fell in. Taking that dignity away from me would be quite painful to say the least.

I was sitting on the floor once again, staring at the box. I needed badly my handyman again. To save my computer. To save my dignity and my nerves. To save that large portion of my lost life. To make everything the way it used to be. To make that familiar dolphin reappear on my desktop and convince me that everything stayed the same. To take away the tears and the pain. To restore the system, to restore hope. Hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel even just one more time before I die. To give me a second chance to motivate myself to give my life a meaning. To help me regain the illusion that I didn’t fall as low as I actually fell. People sometimes really have no idea what can be hiding behind simple “things”, just like they have no idea that PC handymen can sometimes heal human souls as well.

I had to find his phone number and his address again. It’s been almost 5 years. Where is he? Is he working? Is he well? How is his family? The words from the beginning of this story – if anybody can fix it in this town, it’s him – resonated in my head over and over again. I didn’t know what exactly to say to him if I found him after such a long time. Will he remember me? He lives way out of my comfort zone, and even though I’m doing better, that’s not something I can handle well. How will I do it? Who will help me? And… is there hope? His mobile phone rang and there was some weird operator’s automatic machine voice talking in some incomprehensible way till I got a word or two. He wasn’t available, but the phone was – in Greece, that much I figured out. Many Serbian people go to the Greek seaside during summer, nothing strange about it, I was convinced in my heart that it was just a vacation. His home phone was changed and I didn’t remember the address any more. I forced my brain till it came up with the street, but I couldn’t squeeze out the home number. Fortunately even just a street name was enough to locate him, and I dialed the phone number. A female voice informed me that he was on vacation in Greece and that he was coming back – the following day! I think that I shouted something like OH GREAT, leaving the girl totally puzzled. It must have been his daughter, but I was too anxious to realize that I didn’t even realize who I was talking with.

I left him two days to recover from the trip and time zone change, then I pulled together my anxious mind and dialed his number. Right there something happened, something that goes far beyond this whole situation, something perhaps small but immensely precious for me – I said who I was and he shouted – ohhhhhhhh it’s youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…… in such an incredibly happy way, as if he heard again from a long lost, but very dear old friend, it virtually brought tears to my eyes. It’s been literally ages that somebody was happy to hear me, let alone – that happy. And he said a strange thing, that he and his wife were talking about me a couple of days prior to leaving for Greece, wandering what had happened with me – telepathy? 🙂 He asked what computer I had now, and I said – the same as the last time you saw it. He replied – no way, no way, impossible… I would never believe that that PC was still alive, it outlived at least two times its own generation! He added that so many things had happened to him and his family since we spoke the last time and we agreed to meet at his place.

Deja vu continued, it was again me and my mom, one more time together, we put the box into a bag and dragged it to a taxi. The trip was more than unpleasant for me even though I was sedated for the occasion, but we made it. And there we were, in front of his building and images started coming back at full force – all the moments when we were there, what we did, how we did it… the building looked the same, the playground in front of it as well and it was comforting, as though I didn’t miss out that much of life in these last 7 years… but then the illusion inevitably vanished when I pressed his doorbell. There was that man, the face looked the same, but he gained a lot of weight, he smiled much more than he used to, he let me in and there was that room I remembered, only drastically changed. New, modern and stylish furniture, new TV set, new working point. “Waking up from a coma after a long time” effect started choking me again, then I saw his wife – at least she looks exactly the same, I thought with relief. We sat and started talking, and his wife confirmed that many things changed. Then she added in some automatic, seemingly careless and ironical way – among other things, we had cancer as well… I was like – wait, wait, what did you say?? Cancer, she repeated. Who had cancer? I did, she said. Breast cancer. What in the name… Yes, she added – I had the operation, radiations and chemotherapy, full pack. I took another better look at her and there was that face that I remember from before, not changed in any possible way, yet the woman went straight to hell and back again. Her mom died of stroke shortly after the end of her treatments. My handyman had bad issues as well with some huge blood vessels that burst somewhere in his respiratory tract which resulted in heavy bleedings which led to hospitalizations and all sorts of procedures. But I didn’t see any of that, I saw two positive and smiling beings, appearing strong and cheerful and really happy to see me and my mom again. I simply had to mention to my handyman that he seemed to me much more cheerful than I remember him, to which he said something that struck me deeply and still does – I am more cheerful, I have to be, I realized that life is very short.

I can’t define exactly how I felt after these words – humbled, ashamed, sad, angry with life, ready to pick up the box and dump it to trash outside…
Life indeed is very short, life is about us, people, about what we carry in our heads and souls and not about files on some discs that can vanish at any time. Suddenly it all lost weight and meaning, and I was just happy that we were all still sitting there, alive, talking, feeling more or less well at this moment in time. Me and my mom left the box at his place and wandered away in the night, burdened with many thoughts and questions without answers, yet I was for some reason convinced that it would all be well. I had a panic attack on the way back home because I wanted to be “brave” and use the public transport, I had to get off the bus and get back onto another one, but that was by far the furthest I went somewhere with the bus in the last 7 years, especially at night.

If somebody can fix it, he can…

It took him two days at his place and at work and another day at my place, it took us several additional phone calls during which he instructed me what to do, but we did it. Files are alive and kicking, Windows was repaired without re-installation which means that all my programs are still here, the dolphin is looking at me from the background… but most importantly, I got another huge lesson in life priorities. It makes me think again that everything happens with a reason, maybe that digital disaster was necessary because I had to realize something important and be pushed to the limits to see how much I can do.

I don’t think that my handyman will ever realize how much all this meant to me and how much he has helped me in all these years that we’ve known each other. I thank him and thank him and keep saying that he did a lot for me, but the story is way much deeper that he’ll even imagine. The only point is that as long as we’re all alive, computers will live as well, in one way or another. If we’re no longer here, the box will be nothing more than that mass of metal, boards and wires from the beginning of this story, useless object somebody will dump to trash without thinking twice about it. I don’t blame that person who will come after me and do it, life indeed is short and he or she will never have time or interest to go through all the bits and pieces my life consisted of, his or her time will inevitably come as well.

I got a second chance to go through my data and travel back in time with my programs, and even if it doesn’t last, I will at least hopefully have some more time at my disposal to come to better terms with those days behind me, which account for almost half of my entire life so far.

Agoraphobics hate leaving their comfort zone, but they loath change even more. However, no matter how much you try to run away from change, no matter how long your life remains frozen in time, that big life out there still goes on with or without you, it simply doesn’t care. And nothing ever stays the same. So take good care of precious people, beings and things in your life, because you never know how long you’ll have them by your side.

Farewell to my dear three-legged friend

Panic disorder is a very debilitating condition, in many different senses. While it’s not that much physically crippling, it certainly alters and eats up numerous aspects of your personality – your psychological strength, your belief in your own abilities, your self-image and your social life, to name just a few. It builds up a rock solid, invisible prison walls around your existence, cutting you off from so many things ordinary human life consists of.

The stronger the disorder hits, the more your social contacts are doomed to be at risk. There is always a chance for good odds in life, and somewhere among us there are certainly great people who can accept us without question exactly the way we are, but we were not all equally dealt fortunate cards to run into such individuals in this both amazing and horrible life. It’s been almost 7 years since my last, extremely dramatic PD relapse from which I’ve never recovered. Although my condition is much more stable now than it was 7 years ago, there are some consequences that I’ll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life. Lack of human friendship is certainly one of them. Not because all other people are bad or mean or ill-willing, absolutely not. And definitely not because I’m some very bad person myself, but simply because a true friendship needs nurturing, physical presence and tangible support at both good and bad times, a shift of focus from your own feelings to other people and their needs. This seems to imply that one simply needs to be healthy, strong and above all mentally stable in order to be a true friend for others, at least this is my experience.

There are less than 5% of people on this planet who developed this condition to such a bad extent as it happened to me and unfortunately, with all do respect, those who never experienced it will never be truly able to understand how I feel, no matter how hard they might try to do it.  It’s almost impossible to explain to a human friend why I, fully physically functional person, can’t go with them to a concert, cinema, restaurant, bars… People don’t understand why I can’t meet them somewhere far enough from my home and why they have to come to visit me instead within the limits of my comfort zone. It’s virtually impossible to give a reason why I can’t travel anywhere, even though I would really love to. People like me deeply suffer when we get mocked because of our inability to drive, attend big family reunions, celebrations, weddings or funerals. Sometimes we even get despised because of not being able to be physically there for others. We do our best to explain, we suffer a lot, fight to please, swallow hurtful words… but at some point, it gets too much. And we simply retreat, so that we don’t have to explain anything anymore. We’ll anyhow either end up being considered totally crazy which we are not, or even worse, lying bastards who just pretend for some reason, because looking from the outside, it usually seems that there is nothing wrong with us. Not good at all either way. However, the moment we retreat, others retreat as well. And this distance inevitably grows with each new day, until we become aware that our phones haven’t rung for several days in a row. Loneliness creeps in slowly but steadily, and loneliness is a very sad and heavy burden for anybody’s soul.

This massive panic attack 7 years ago that turned the course of my life in a completely unpredictable direction wasn’t the first one for me. It didn’t catch me unprepared or ignorant of what was happening. I knew I had to fight, in spite of my body that was rebelling against me in the worst possible way. It was either the fight or sinking down to the bottom of the life pit, and I chose not to give up. I was paying a fortune from my modest savings to taxi drivers, but I continued to move around, trying to pretend that nothing had changed. I forced my rubbery legs to carry me around, even though I had to lean on walls and clench to tables and chairs with sweaty hands in order not to run away and save myself from some seemingly inevitable non-existent doom.

On one beautiful, sunny morning two months after this life changing attack I gave up. I had an appointment with my dentist whose office is less than a mile from my home, and I was literally shaking at the thought of having to drag myself over there. As I was reluctantly waiting for yet another taxi to come and pick me up, there was a sudden growling sound followed by continuous dreadful barking that was coming my way at an incredible speed from behind the angle of my building. I remember shouting: “Hey, what’s the matter with you??!” An enormous, dangerous jaw with revealed teeth stopped at an inch away from my leg and the barking almost instantly turned into whining of recognition, as though the dog wanted to apologize for not recognizing me sooner. It was Žuća, a three-legged yellowish bastard stray dog who lived in our little woods and in our neighborhood. I knew that our neighbor took care of him, he was regularly fed and taken care of every single day, I knew who he was and he knew who I was, yet our roads had never seriously crossed till that unusual, crucial morning. We made peace, I went to the appointment and came back home, never to leave it again till some 18 months later.

Many mornings, months and years have passed since that day. I got to know Žuća very well and started sharing the best and the worst moments of my life with him and his two little companions, Maza and Laza, mom and son, stray dogs just like him. I got to know the best that there is in dogs’ soul, all that immense, beautiful, magic, unconditional canine love for me in spite of my disorder and being who I am on one side, and the worst that can dwell in human soul when it comes to attitude towards animals on the other side. I learnt about Žuća’s terrible destiny, about how he used to be a normal, four-legged dog until one night when he was shot by mistake by a mad policeman who was chasing a thief in our woods. The policeman though he had shot the thief hiding behind a bush, disappointed to find out that it was “just a dog”. He didn’t even apologize for shooting the dog. On the contrary, he said that he was glad. And that all dogs should be shot. Žuća’s surgery lasted whole night and there was blood all over my neighbor’s flat as the vet was trying to save his life. Žuća made it, but unfortunately lost a leg. That was 8 years ago, when I knew nothing about this drama. I was well and full of energy, oblivious of the fact that it was only a remission and that my no-PD days were counted. I knew nothing of his battle to learn to walk again on three legs, go potty, guard himself from all other now much faster and stronger dogs. It didn’t seem he could survive with his handicap in this ruthless life, but he fought like a true warrior. He grew to become a mascot of our building, an inspiration, a great and even pretty fast dog in spite of what happened to him.

While he continued to fight his personal battles, my agoraphobia grew worse and worse to finally limit me only to the boundaries of my little room. My life lost much of its meaning and there was no purpose why I should resist the dreadful panic to force myself to come out of my flat. My muscles lost their tone, my face lost color, my cheerful nature vanished and got reduced to an occasional, fake smile when I had to mask my “insanity” in front of others. My mother who never understood my condition and who has always been an improper but my only support in all these gloomy years, started making me try to go out to feed Žuća’ s companions Maza and Laza who at the time lived outside as well. It took me so much pain, so many steps forward and backward, so many days of trial and error to reach at first just the front stairs of my building, then the street and finally the woods across the street, carrying little bowls of food and water for Maza and her little puppy Laza. My mother didn’t allow dogs in house and the pressure of imagining them hungry if I don’t go out was stronger even than the mighty panic dread. For me, this was literally the process of relearning how to trust my nerves and move in life from the scratch, as though I was recovering from some sort of serious brain damage that brought me back to the first year of my life when I made my first steps. Slowly, as our routes in the woods expanded with time, Žuća started joining us in our walks, fighting for his portion of food and cuddling and constantly murmuring in his own unique and unforgettable way, trying to tell us some incomprehensible story. As Laza was growing up, Žuća was keeping him company day by day, teaching him all he knew and getting his protection in return because several years ago Laza was absolutely the fastest dog I had ever seen. If he had been born human, I’m almost certain that he would compete side by side with the amazing Usain Bolt.

Years went by, we survived both crises and happy days, Žuća’s and Laza’s illnesses, Laza’s ordeal when he ended up in an animal shelter by mistake where he was kept in completely inhumane conditions, anger of dog haters, me and Laza fighting against dog poisoning in the neighborhood, painful changes of city policies for dogs… Those were the days filled with massive waves of unlimited love of beings to whom I never had to explain anything in order to be accepted, intertwined with immense worry and uncertainty, but nevertheless I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world. I learnt so much about life and all those things I would have continued to take for granted if things had been different.

We did survive a lot, but unfortunately Žuća grew older and older, losing first his eyesight and then hearing as well, depending more and more on constant care and vigilance. Laza and Maza started living in my flat and slowly lost that previous constant touch with Žuća, with occasional exceptions when they would happily great each other in the woods and take walks together as they used to.  Žuća fought the best he could in spite of his old age, this year’s winter and ice, lack of time of his caregivers for him, walking courageously on his three legs, surviving against all odds. Until March 12th, 2014.

In my opinion, he could have definitely went on for at least a bit longer, but it was estimated that he should be put to sleep, even though he still wasn’t in a completely bad shape. It was a decision that can be questioned and it is still not comprehensible to me why he had to be prematurely killed, but nothing can reverse time and change the fact that he’s gone forever. The only thing that remains to me now is to say the last goodbye, farewell to my dear, poor, amazing, unique, special and above all extraordinarily brave three-legged friend. I’m very grateful for his company during these dark years of my life. I’ll never forget his constant greetings he had for me whenever he would see me and all those times when I would let him into the building and walk down the stairs leading him to the flat where he lived, mastering at the same time the path of my own recovery.

There is no Žuća anymore, there is only silence and emptiness in the woods. In the meantime my comfort zone has expanded to some 5 miles away from my home and I’m occasionally able to move around that much. Maybe that seems a very little progress in 7 long years, but it means a whole world to me. I’m not sure if I had made it if it weren’t for Žuća, Laza and Maza, and I do hope that I managed to do something good for them and that I’ll continue doing it in return for the good they did to me. It may sound dramatic, but they probably saved my life, because I’m not sure that I would still be here today if I remained closed in my room.

Farewell my dear friend, you who never questioned if I were capable or sane enough to be your friend. Thank you for everything and rest in peace.

Žukice, volimo te i mislimo na tebe…

Ja, Maza i Laza