Tag Archives: people

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.




Missing the old times

Yes, I miss them. A lot. Times when I was writing while lying on my bed with a notebook and pen, creating words on the paper and not by typing and making them appear on a screen. I miss times when you actually had some time to sleep, stop and think twice what to do and how to do it in a better way. When something you managed to create or write lasted for more than several hours or a day before becoming an old and unnecessary string of words. But above all, I miss times when people actually cared about other people. At least I’m fortunate enough to have certain number of years that permit me to remember those days.

I watched an episode of an old Serbian TV series tonight, “The Policeman from Petlovo Brdo”. There is this moment when the police inspector is threatened by his superior that his absences due to the needs of his 5 kids would not be tolerated any more and that if he continued to “behave” that way that he would either loose his job, or had to go back to work on the streets again for much lower salary which wouldn’t permit him to sustain the needs of his large family. He turns to one of his ex-wives, successful manager in a big company to help him find a job and she asks him:
– Well… anyhow what kind of job are you actually able to do? Are you good with computers?
– No, he replies. I’m good with people.
– Well, in that case nothing, there is no need for people like you any more.

This was 24 years ago. In Serbia, country that was by no means as technologically advanced as the rest of the world at that moment.

Today, 24 years later I found some completely undefined job that absolutely requires the use of computers. I have no idea how long I will have this job because jobs in Serbia last much much shorter than people, but I’m not really sure that when it finishes that I’ll regret it. 24 years ago you had to be good with computers, but people’s feelings still counted. Today, you can’t avoid computers any more, but people don’t speak among themselves. They all stare at their own computer, lost in their own world, totally disregarding those around them. When they make a pause to eat, nothing changes. They go to the “dining room” and eat together in silence, staring at their smartphones or tablets. When the time comes to go home, they walk in a crowd in the same direction without speaking to each other. At most you can get one dull, mechanical hello from them during the first and last daily encounter. The worst thing is that they don’t care about themselves either, about tomorrow, about consequences of their actions. The only thing they care about is the paycheck day. And some of them are only 24 years old.

Oh yes, I miss the old days so much.

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.