Thoughts on New Beginnings

 

New beginnings are about a lot of things. Mostly, though, they are about the moments to rise from the ashes of the past, see the world for what it is, and let go in order to let something else in.

The turning of the new year, for example, was more of a metaphor than anything else; my new beginning was born on a warm day in July, over six months ago, and I haven’t turned back since.

No. In fact, things have only become sweeter. Though there was suffering, I remained on my feet with a happy soul to cling to. Looking back over the last year, I realized every trial I came up against brought me further in my journey, prodded me back onto my path.

And now, here I am. And here is good place to be.

I realize, the more I go along, that it takes tremendous strength and courage to walk away from something that is not of my soul and to continue to walk on. But, the feeling that comes with it, the one that I wake up with everyday, is the validation that gives life its meaning. Knowing I am right where I am meant to be, regardless of what happens, is a freedom unlike any other. And this knowledge, coupled with a positive mentality, has made all the difference.

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A Silent Battle

He:

What is she thinking?

The question pounds intermittently through my brain.

I’m looking at her, I see her, see her tiny movements that display great defense. She wont look at me. That’s never a good sign.

She asked me how I felt. I, stupidly, told her. And now, here we are; across the table from each other but might as well be 100 miles apart, across an ocean, or better yet, 1,000 leagues beneath the sea.

While she is slowly coming apart at the seams right in front of me, I’m desperately trying to reconcile with the truth and heavy weight of my own words.

God, I never meant to hurt her.

I wish she would just look at me. Goddamnit! Just look at me!

Hurting her, causing her any type of distress, was the last thing I ever wanted. She’s been through enough.

I just wish I could give her what she needs; wish more than anything that I could find that something we are both looking for. If only I could; I would hang on to it and never let it go.

Letting go: I guess that’s what we’re doing. Neither of us want to. It’s a fight; a fight between head and heart, between reality and romanticism.

She’s finally looking at me. Her eyes are portals to the truth. The truth of the situation has crippled both of our abilities for speech.

How did we end up here?

Her:

What am I going to do now? Silly question. I’ll do what I’ve always done and carry on. Somehow.

After everything having been so optimistic  and feeling so positive, how did we get ourselves into this conversation?

It wasn’t supposed to go this way.

What is he saying anyway? Does he even know? Does he realize what his words tell me? That I’m not good enough, even on my best day.

But I am good enough. Or, I will be good enough. For someone, somewhere, someday.

I wish he knew how much he means to me; that he’s had a tremendous hand in helping me become a woman that I love to be.

You never know who the universe is going to bring you, and you never know how long they will stay, but they will leave something with you that will likely remain with you for the rest of your life. He most certainly will leave plenty of positives as a result of our chance meeting. I’m grateful for that. Because I will be OK.

I will.

In situations like these, honestly and respect are the two best things anyone can hope for. He afforded me both, and now I have to let him go.

I wish it could be different, but, deep down, he knows I’m not the one. And he deserves to find that person. And so do I.

Peace is sometimes hard to come by, but not with him. Not even now, where we are overturning everything we thought we knew.

Freya: A Short Story (Pt. 1)

Marie
*******
“So, what do you think about your brother and Freya? Has he said anything to you?”
She blinked at me. “Mum, that sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. She has a child. Hello?”
“You sound very bitter my dear, you know,” I replied, giving her a sympathetic smile.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But how do you know that they’d be a good match? Seems like a pretty strong claim to make since you’ve only met her once, like, forever ago.”
I sighed and looked her over sternly. “Because, Emilia, I see the benefit of her presence in your brother’s life. I notice how lively he is after they’ve spoken. Sometimes he calls me and his tone of voice is light, he sounds like he’s floating. And then he tells me all about how they just talked again recently and how lovely she is. In fact, I can’t recall a conversation recently in which she wasn’t mentioned at least once.”
While I thought for a moment, my daughter used the opportunity to play the skeptic, as per usual.
“Mum, people always talk that way in the beginning when they feel something for someone. Isn’t that how it always is? Doesn’t mean that they should pursue a relationship. Frankly, I don’t think he’s ready. I mean, are you truly considering the fact that she has a child? A child; he’s practically a child still himself. At least he behaves like one.”
She shrugged a shoulder and raised an eyebrow. Part of what she said, I couldn’t deny. It was true that my son was not keeping a strictly adultish schedule. But it was also true that it was high time he start getting with the program. I was tired of worrying about him.
“Em, it sounds quite plainly like you just don’t like her, hm?”
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow, and I did so as I folded my arms across my chest. She looked annoyed.
“It’s not that. I hardly know her. I just don’t think he’s really ready for a relationship of this caliber.”
“Caliber?” Interesting word choice.
“Yea. I mean, this won’t just be some woman who has some job, somewhere in the city, who can just be avaliable whenever, or go drinking. Whatever. You know what I mean.”
She ran a hand through her hair and took a sip of water.
“I do know. But they’ve been friends for such a long time. I’ve always believed that they have a special connection. I know your brother. I can see when something is working well in his life.”
I leaned back in my chair and studied her face. She drained her water glass.
“Well, its not like either of us will have much to say about it in the end. He’s sort of capable of making his own decisions.”
She gave me a half-smile.
“Yes, he is capable.”
Later that evening, I was speaking to the individual in question.
“Hello, Mama.”
“Hello, my dear. How are you this evening?”
I gave the kitchen window above the sink a little push and it creaked open, allowing the smoke from my cigarette to escape into the night.
“I’m great. How are you?”
The smoke billowed from my mouth and I nodded.
“Very well. What are you planning for tonight?”
“Actually, I’m on the line with Freya at the moment.”
I could actually hear him smiling.
“Are you indeed? That’s nice. I’ll let you get back to your call then.”
I was smiling. Smoking and smiling.
“Ok. I’ll call you later.”
He did. Several hours later as I was mixing pigments. Hands completely stained and caked with color, I tried to reach for the phone.
“Hello Tamaś.”
He was as good as his word. I smiled.
“Hello Mama, how are you?” There was that trademark post-Freya lightness in his tone. I tucked the phone between my cheek and shoulder and made for the sink.
“I’m covered in pigment at the moment. Let me wash my hands. Just a minute….”
There was silence on the line except for the rushing of the water from the faucet. I scrubbed at my hands, washing the clumps of bleeding color down the drain.
“Well, that will be as good as it gets for now. Tell me, how’s Freya?”
I smiled, anticipating his response.
“She’s good. Great, actually. God, she’s so talented. Every time I talk to her and she reads me anything she’s written, I’m just struck dumb. It’s so brilliant. She’s pretty amazing.”
“I bet she is. Do you think she will ever come for a visit? I’d love to see her again.” I said, lighting another cigarette. My fifth for the evening.
“We are talking about something like that right now. I’d like to see her soon too. It’s been so long. Too long.”

As I unlocked the door to the boutique the next morning, my head was full of dreams. I was pushing the nightmare about my ex-husband out of my head, trying to let the pleasantries of the night take over instead. I had had dreams of tropical islands and undersea scapes, of my children and their borderless happiness. Emilia I had just seen the day before, and I could say with perfect certainty that she was still plodding on with the same man because she had grown used to the security the relationship offered; not because she actually loved him all that much anymore. It was clear to me, and had been ever since they had reached the six month mark, that there was no way to make them fit together. But she wasn’t ready to accept that. So I wasn’t going to push her more than mentioning that I wanted her to have her best chance at a fulfilled life.
Tamaś I hadn’t seen in several months. The last time we had a visit, he was coming out of a relationship; it had been relatively short and yet he was pretty upset by the events that had taken place. He looked worse for the wear, as if he hadn’t had a full nights sleep or a proper meal in weeks. There were shadows that clung to his skin, and the dullness that hung in his eyes told me everything I needed to know about how he was feeling inside.
“Tamaś,” I had said, laying my hand over his, “you have to come out of this. You have a lot going on in your life, positive things, and it would be much better to focus on those instead. Get yourself on a regulated schedule and I think you will find that you wont have much time to be depressed. I love you son. I know that doesn’t compensate for the love of a partner, but I do love you nonetheless.” He had smiled somewhat sadly, and I had left it at that.
Where Emilia was a bit of an outright ball-buster, Tamaś was much more introspective. Things usually hit him much harder.
Several days later, however, after I returned home, I received a phone call from him. I was expecting complaints of a hangover and confessions of irresponsibility, but instead, he talked about Freya. Though he had talked about her before, I hadn’t heard her name in awhile. Something about the manner in which he spoke about her, though, made me suspect that things had changed.
“You sound like you’re doing much better than when I left you on Sunday,” I remarked.
“Yea, I feel actually really good. I got a pretty decent night’s sleep last night, I had a good day at work. Things have improved, including my mindset.”
“Oh really? Any particular reason? I’m thrilled to hear it, mind you.”
“Ah, I don’t know really. I had a pretty long conversation with Freya two nights ago. It had been awhile since we last talked and it was just really good to hear from her. It’s funny, I had been thinking about writing her, but she beat me to it.”
I noticed the smile in his sound.
“And how is Freya?” I asked simply.
“I think she’s pretty great. She looked wonderful. Beautiful, actually,” he said.
I found myself grinning as I folded a pair of pants in the shop, thinking back on the conversation.
“She’s just always so happy when we talk, and I think she’s always very honest with me, and it just feels good to share news with her.”
“That is very good Tamaś. I’m glad you’ve reconnected. I’ve always liked Freya. Plus, I’ve always believed that you have a special connection. So.”
“Yea, I think that too.”
I flipped the lights on inside and examined the aesthetic that the shop had taken on over the last twenty-four hours; the university students I had commissioned to paint, photograph, and create pieces had been busy all weekend and now I was seeing the fruits of their labor for the first time. It was incredible and I was overcome with emotion, a lot of pride. I swiped a tear away from my left eye and reached for the packet of tissues in my bag. Wiping at my nose, I moseyed through the space, sliding my eyes over the watery blues of the paintings, the black silhouettes of the photographs, and the life-like lines of the sculptures. For the trillionth time in my life, I thought to myself “Who says art can’t change a life?” It had certainly changed mine. For most of my adult life, I had been married to a man who had only seen numbers whenever he actually took the time to look around at his surroundings. I’m partially convinced that this wasn’t his fault; he was an accountant by trade, and a realist by nature. It was the strangest thing, but as time went on, I realized that I had not truly loved him in many many years. More like I was going through the motions in another life, while my true passions burned within the confines of my bones.
When it came to the point where I could no longer abide by the life we had built for ourselves, our two children were already grown and had since moved out of the house. The divorce was a grueling process, but with a little patience, and a lot of grace and forgiveness, I was able to fully move on with my life, blessed with the peace of knowing that I had done the right thing. Trying to explain this to my children had been another matter entirely, but in the end, I think they just wanted to see me happy. They had known for quite some time that this had not been the case previously.

Life thereafter had become a whole new adventure. I remained in my position as an art professor at the university, but also questioned my motives for doing so. I decided to go on sabbatical; I traveled by myself for three months, going wherever the wind blew me, meeting up with my kids for two weeks at the end. It was a time of healing, self-discovery, and rebirth. By the end of it, my eyes, heart, and mind were clear and ready to pursue things I had not previously thought possible. And at my age. 57.
Let me just say, it is a crazy life.

So, I bought a sliver of a building downtown, right in the middle of the pedestrian zone, and made it my business, both literally and figuratively, to make art a tangible thing. I pored all of my energy into brushing up on my sewing skills, and soon after began designing, re-engineering, and dying clothing. And, because I looked at this endeavour rather humbly, I decided that I couldn’t make it work on my own. I enlisted the help of my students, asking them to donate their work to the shop, which would then become a gallery/boutique hybrid. When I was finally ready to unveil my dream to the public, we had sold out of all of our tickets, and there was a proper queue at the door. Wearing something of my own creation and a huge smile, I served the guests champagne, and answered the same questions two hundred times. I didn’t care though; every time I answered, I felt my body become a little lighter. So this was what is was like to be free, impassioned, and appreciated. Good morning, world. How very nice it is to meet you.

I had everything I needed; a job I loved with all my heart, enough money, great friends, a huge circle of support, a growing network of colleagues, a quaint apartment to go home to, and my darling kids who were out pursuing their dreams in the big wide world. And, actually, it had become almost ridiculous how many men (of all ages!) had expressed their desire to spend extra time with me. In the beginning, I blushed a lot. As it went on, though, I learned to be flattered, but to only give hope to the select few. I would often stand at the mirror in the bathroom, speaking aloud to my reflection, asking her what in God’s name we had done right to be such a desirable human being.
“You have a badass aura, doc,” said Marv, one of my students at the university.
“A what?” I had replied, dumbfounded.
He looked over at me from where he was seated before his sculpture.
“I mean, you’re a positive force to be around.”
More silence from me. He smiled.
“You have a beautiful charisma. Your aura. It speaks for itself.”
“Oooooh.” I smiled and shrugged into my shoulders. He laughed.
To all of this, I must still admit that it is not perfectly easy to be alone in your late fifties. I come home to an otherwise empty apartment every night. The cat greets me, and I know she loves me in her own catish way, but she’s a bit brusque with her love. Cooking for one is bullshit entirely. Obviously there is no way around it, but I’m much happier to just eat a bowl of cereal and have two glasses of wine before I tuck myself into bed. Metabolism has slowed way down at this age anyway; who says I need a proper meal at nine o’clock at night? Not me, surely. Mostly, I’m happiest when I’m working long hours, coming home to work more, or getting dinner with my girlfriends. Oddly enough, quite a few of them happen to be single at this point in their lives as well.

I speak on the phone with my kids usually a few times a week. They send me a quick text to let me know they are alive and well, but I can’t help but give in to the desire to hear their voices as often as I can. My darling daughter usually never has time for a conversation that lasts over fifteen minutes. She’s either running herself ragged at her job, or taking care of every little thing her boyfriend may need. Sometimes I wonder if she actually realizes that she’s a person with needs herself. A beautiful person at that.
Tamaś, on the other hand, always makes time for me. I thank God all the time that I have a son; he has always been there for me. And he usually tells me something I didn’t know about what’s going on with his sister. She’s way more honest with him than she is with me.
Sometimes I blame myself for her situation. I think that, maybe, if I would’ve showed her how to be an independent woman sooner, then she might have learned to emancipate herself from oppressive relationships much more successfully.
Not that I’m complaining at all, but sometimes it’s very hard to be a mother, even at this late stage of the game. In fact, when I meet my girlfriends for much needed martinis, that’s what we mostly lament about; how to parent an adult without over-doing it. That, and dating.
Christ help us.

I have been seeing a man quite regularly for the past several months. He is incredibly nice, very handsome, honest, and creative. I think the first and the last of the traits mean the most to me. It is so nice to have connected with another creative mind. In fact, I had known him for quite a few years beforehand. He is another professor in the art department. Art History is his expertise rather than the hands-on, but I soon found out that he is incredibly capable and competent with his hands—in a lot of ways. He had gone through a separation from a long-term girlfriend a year before, and some time thereafter, we had bumped into each other in the cafeteria at seven o’clock in the evening— an ungodly hour for a coffee, but that’s what we both sought nonetheless. Ten minutes later, we were at a table in the corner, laughing ourselves ridiculous and making plans to have dinner that Friday. He’s nine years my junior.
After too much wine at a little Italian restaurant downtown, I took him to the boutique to unveil my brain child, and after he had perused it thoroughly, he was kissing me on the front steps, an open bottle of wine clutched in my hand as the passers-by made their drunken ways home.
He spent the night. We didn’t actually have sex, but there was a lot of cuddling involved. And snogging. So much snogging. What a kisser. The best ever, I thought.
My first thoughts in the morning were: 1. Why the fuck did we drink straight out of the bottle?! I have glasses! Who does that anyway? 2. I had a guy sleep over. Holy Christ. How long has that been? But then I looked over at him reclining next to me and thought, “Well, this is perfectly comfortable. Maybe we’ll go make pancakes.”

I guess that’s how it happens with people my age; we old souls. We are no match for the world of dating apps and hook-ups. Besides, I’d rather be alone than yoked to some chap who doesn’t bring me the pure level of contentedness that I can have when there is no chap at all.
I must say though, that this particular chap, Graham is his name, has been suiting me just fine. I just wish my kids would agree to meet him. They are still a bit shell-shocked I guess. I understand that, but they must know that life goes on. I know for a fact that their father has had a series of girlfriends. Social media is rather liberal with this sort of information.

One indiscriminate Wednesday night after I had just finished a four hour lecture, Graham took me out to an English pub for greasy food and a few beers, and we ended up back at my apartment where he was already kissing me like he meant it in the stairwell. The nice thing about him was that he always kissed me like he meant it. I had a fully stocked fridge, the exception to the rule, and we fed each other olives and drank a nice pilsner afterwards. After we had made love and I had cleaned myself up, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and called Tamaś. Just as he answered, Graham came in to relieve himself. He was courteous enough to sit down slowly, and I made my exit, tucking myself into a blanket on the couch.
“How was your week my dear?” I asked.
“It’s only Wednesday Mum, a bit early to say. But, so far its okay.”
“Good God, you’re right. I have no concept of time. Sorry. I’m a bit worse for the olives, too.” I said, laughing.
“Olives? Do you mean martinis?”
My son: he knew me too well.
“Actually, tonight its beer. Graham took me to the pub for a few rounds and then we came here and have drained the fridge.”
“Huh. That’s kinda weird. You must really like him.”
“I do. You should meet him. But that’s really besides the point. I want to hear about you.”
“Not much to tell, really. Work is really busy, which is good. I’ve been busy working long hours and then I go for a round with some guys and then I go home. It’s been fine.”
“Have you….talked to Freya?”
There was a startling pause on the line.
“Yea.”
“Alright, and how is she?”
I was shocked by his hesitation.
“She’s fine, I, I—I dunno mum, I think I really hurt her.”
“What?” Suddenly I wasn’t feeling the drunken cloudiness anymore.
“She, well, I, we’ve been talking about things. Been going in a whole new direction and…she asked me something yesterday that I was entirely unprepared for.”
“What could that be, I wonder?”
“She asked me if I wanted children, and if they needed to be my own.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I told her that yes I did, but not yet, I’m not ready. I just—God I never thought about any of that while I was thinking about anything with her. I feel really bad about it. I should’ve used my brain a little more.”
There was a sigh on the line and then I was certain he was lighting the end of a cigarette. I moved to the kitchen and followed suit.
“Well, what are you going to do? Was she angry?”
“No, not angry. I think just incredibly disappointed. Which may even be worse. I never wanted to hurt her. And I know that there’s something there. I’m just not able to commit to it all the way. I don’t want her to think I ever lied to her. I didn’t. I meant every word. And I still mean it. I don’t know what the future will bring. I’m just not able to give her the security she needs right now.”
We both were quiet
“We decided that she shouldn’t visit.”
At this, I groaned audibly.
“Tamaś.”
“Yes Mama.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re not giving yourself a chance. What if she gets here and you never want her to leave your life again? Ever.”
I took a drag from my cigarette.
“I know. Believe me, its occurred to me. She’s wonderful and I don’t want to live without her in my life. But I’m not ready to commit to what she needs.”
“My dear son, you have to commit to something in this life. It might as well be something that brings you unbridled joy and inspiration.”
“She does do that I think.”
“I know she does. I can tell by the sound of your voice. And how you talk about her.”
“I’m sure.”
“You’ve always had a special connection.”
“You say that all the time Mama.”
“And I mean it every time.”
“Do you think I’ve made a huge mistake?”
I was quiet for a moment, smoking and considering. In fact, I did. But I didn’t know if it was my place to say.
“I think there’s something there, and that it deserves a chance so that the both of you can finally know for sure where you stand with each other. You’ve been friends for so many years. If you’re feeling something for her now, I think that it deserves a second look. And a chance. Most of all a chance.”
“But her son, how can I deal with that? I’m really not ready.”
“Tamaś, she lives a million miles away. You could start with seeing her, see what happens, and then I think you will have more clarity about everything else.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Don’t you?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I really don’t want to hurt her, and that if she comes, there is no promise that I can make to her that will be enough.”
“You can’t possibly know that. Until you see her again, you can’t possibly know that.” There was a breath of silence. “Unless you really aren’t all that interested to begin with. Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Figure it out Tamaś, and whatever you do, be kind to her. And don’t be surprised if she tells you to go jump in the lake. You started it, and she may finish it, once and for all. Friendship may not be enough for her anymore after all of this.”

Shortly thereafter, we hung up, and I lit another cigarette. I was exhausted from the day, but couldn’t find a state of mind that would lead me to sleep. Graham came out of the bedroom, dressed in his chinos and a T-shirt.
“Marie? Are you coming to bed?”
I sighed and smiled.
“I suppose I will, yes.”
“Did you receive some bad news?”
“I can’t say really. Sometimes I just wish I could understand my offspring better.”
He smiled at me and held out his hand.
“Come on, we’ll put a round of mindless television on and I’ll hold you until you’re sleepy.”
“Am I a baby?”
I smiled up at him and took his hand. He chuckled.
“No, but everyone deserves to be taken care of at one point or another.”

Ausstrahlung

There is a word in the German language that, until recently,  I couldn’t quite define. More of a multifaceted feeling than a tangible element, Ausstrahlung can be defined quite beautifully and accurately by Roald Dahl’s astute definition.

This is both my favorite word as well as my favorite feeling. It is the “qua”, the something, that is undefinable yet unmistakable. It is the light, the radiance, that shines out from within. And that, my friends, is true beauty.

Inspiration for “The Last Ship”

IMG_0281

 

As I write, “The Last Ship”, these are the kinds of images I have in my mind as I walk with my characters through the fictional southern Italian town. Actually, though, the setting of the story is based on a town in the province of Salerno called Agropoli.  I spent time there visiting the extended family of some friends from Rome. So, many of the situations that Lilya finds herself in are similar to things I experienced while taking part in their family operations. The story is to be continued, so stay tuned! And I welcome feedback on the beginning, especially relating to the imagery of the setting. Cheers! And happy reading!

 

The Last Ship: a story in progress

My thoughts built up like the clouds piling up behind the mountains, nearly catching up to the sun at its zenith in the summer sky. Shading my eyes to look over the land, I saw the rocky pilings of the small beach where, years ago, fisherman had made a life out of the frutti di mare from those true blue and ever clear waters.

I dropped my arm and as it fell back to hang lazily by my side, I took notice of the burn beginning to assert itself on my bare arms and neck. I hastily pulled the gauzy shawl up over my shoulders and turned for home.

Everyone was sleeping; that’s what one did in the afternoons of the Mediterranean summer. We had taken lunch on the veranda, quiet today, just the two of us, and then Leo had kissed my forehead, helped me haul the plates inside, and had gone off to rest in a wine and heat induced snooze. Usually, I sat on the cool fabric sofa with a book or a magazine, successfully reading a few pages before nodding off myself, but lately I had taken to wandering the hills that composed the terrain in and around town.

As I meandered, I thought extensively about what had brought us here; it wasn’t a complicated story. We had been living in Portland, the city where we had met each other not quite three years ago. I don’t think I ever would have fallen for a man like Leo if it had been another time or another place. But, the combination of his eyes, patience, and persistence had not failed to make me realize that timing really was everything, and his was the right hand to hold through the next part of life. I had been living with an aunt, one of my most favorite women to ever exist, and she had given me a job at her start-up that she shared with a male business partner. When he became her husband and moved into the condo, I realized that a menage-a-tois was not the kind of life I wanted to be living going into my thirties. So, nine months into our relationship, Leo and I began to share his small apartment located a block away from the harbor. It was the kind of neighborhood Portland was known for; up-and-coming, trendy yet inexpensive, artsy, full of musicians, artist and actors. Serious young professionals came here to eat and drink, but Leo, never being able to shut off his brilliant mind, decided that this was just the kind of place for a teacher to find inspiration everyday.

And then, one fine Fall day just over six months ago, we got a call from the Old World; he had not mentioned to me that he had been destined to become a winemaker according to his family’s legacy and tradition, and with the ailing of his grandfather, it was time for him to take his place as his father’s assistant so that he could be properly groomed and educated on how to one day run the family business.
“I know its a huge leap of faith for you to make, carina, I get that. I understand it one-hundred percent. But, if you come with me, I promise we will be embarking on the greatest adventure of our lives.” He was smiling because he already knew what I would say. Despite not knowing more than a handful of ill-pronounced words in Italian, and would likely not be able to find a job very easily, with a furtive glance around our little apartment, I nodded once, nodded again, and agreed to something of which I understood very little. What I did understand of Italian culture were that honesty and trust were of the essence when it came to family matters. Leo called me his family, and so away we went. It was like his grandfather always said: “A man has his God, his family, and his name. If he loses one of these, he has nothing.” But I didn’t learn this until a bit later.

Everybody has to have a beginning. For Italians, life begins and ends with family.
The thing about southern Italian families, though, is that they are everywhere and in everything. The first time we took dinner at an aunt’s house, I hadn’t expected twenty people, let alone thirty plus. And if the sheer volume of bodies wasn’t enough, the extreme level of noise at all times put me into sensory overload. I couldn’t understand them when the spoke, not a word, and their constant vying for Leo’s attention left me to manage the giving and receiving of kisses on cheeks to the best of my feeble ability.

“Is your family always so confrontational?” I had asked Leo on the way back to his parents’ house. He had smiled and looked at me from the corner of his eye.
“That wasn’t anything serious, carina. They were just happy.”
I felt my eyebrows raise, but I continued to look straight ahead, contemplating how one could possible tell the different between felicity and belligerence at family dinner. I shuddered to think what actual anger would look like.

For the first year, we shared residence with his parents. His sister had graciously vacated the ground level apartment for our use and had gone to stay with a cousin in the city center during her summer break from university. I realized, however, that just because we had our space didn’t mean that it was actually our own. We had family guests calling on us, or rather, on Leo, just about every minute of the day. There was business to be discussed, family matters to be exacerbated, stories to tell, food to be exchanged, and everything in between. Most of the time, they just smiled politely at me, from time to time to acknowledge my presence, but I was otherwise more of a ghost who wasn’t quite privy to the conversation.
It was strange; I understood it and I didn’t at the same time. Therefore, I was quite at a loss at what exactly I should do. I felt it would be rude to sit on the couch and be for myself, but I also found it tiring to sit with them and be useless to absolutely everyone, including myself. So, I tried to do a bit of both, and hoped I wasn’t offending anyone either way. Cultural limbo, I called it. And it was exhausting.

One night as we lay in bed, I remarked that his cousins would likely come to bed with us if we gave them the slightest allowance. He smiled, kissed my forehead, and assured me that I was completely correct. “Who wouldn’t want to go to bed with you?” he asked with a huge smile. I looked at him, took it as a rhetorical question, and switched off the lamp. And for the next several hours, I lay there next to a snoring native, wondering how in hell I would ever manage to be part of this family, part of this world, part of something of which, the more time went on, I understood less than I had previously thought. Before I finally slipped into sleep, I remember thinking that Leo would be my guide; as long as he gave me an example, I would eventually be able to follow.

Treptower Park: a short story

Treptower Park

“Oh and Babe? Meet me in Treptower Park? Tomorrow after work?”
The text had come just before I had picked my bare feet up from the cold wooden floorboards to tuck under the duvet.

Treptower Park was an intriguing, if not ironic place to meet, for it is the memorial to the soviet soldiers who died in the fight to liberate Berlin. As I contemplated the relevance of this symbolism, I also thought that, at this time of year, if nothing else, it would be beautiful-If I made it there before dark.

The commute to Treptower Park from the Mitte neighborhood wasn’t a long one, it was just inconvenient. Especially after work, when the city’s workplaces emptied into the subway stations and buses.

Friedrichstrasse to Tempelhof. Change Trains. Suedkreuz on the Ring for fifteen minutes.
I sat alone with my thoughts, the last to snag a seat in an otherwise packed subway car.

It was true that Mathias and I had been struggling along for awhile; struggling from the pressures of entrepreneurship, mostly. He was compulsive and manic, obsessed with his work and passionate about his contributions. And I was absorbed in my own world of writing and orchestrating, perpetually calculating my days precisely, never really finding the time to waste a moment by actually living it. But, there had finally begun to shine a light at the end of the tunnel.

By the time I had crossed under the archway that stood as the entrance to the park, the twilight was already fading fast. I quickened my step, hoping to find the meeting place before the place became entirely under shadow. I knew he would be waiting at the end of the cobblestone path, standing in front of the weeping widow statue where dying roses were scattered at her feet. He greeted me, as always, with a small smile and a quiet voice.

“Come here. I want to hold you in the dark. One last time.” I came to him and took a deep breath. His leather jacket was cold against my cheek. I closed my eyes. He smelled of cigarettes, our favorite neighborhood bar, and the coal oven in his apartment.
“No flame burns forever,” he whispered. I looked up at him. “You and I both know this all too well.” The moment had come.
He sighed, sliding his hands down my shoulders, my arms, clasping my hands in his. His eyes searched mine.
“I’ve never been so lost,” he murmured. His forehead found rest against mine. I squeezed my eyes shut as the tears came. “I never tried to trick you, babe. I just wanted to work it out. But I was just swallowed up by doubt.” He sighed. “If only things were black and white, cause, really, I just want to to hold you tight without holding back my mind.”
The first tear broke loose and rolled down my cheek. I let go of his hand so I could wipe it away before it froze to my face.
“It’s alright,” I whispered, “I understand.” I shook my head. “No flame burns forever. No, they don’t. At least they say they don’t.” I searched for his eyes. “Most won’t even last the night.”

He looked away, hiding his own sorrow for the fate we had come to meet. Behind him, the statue continued to mourn the loss of good men.
“I do love you,” he whispered above the noise of the stealthy wind.
“And you know I love you, too. And I always will.”
“That is a gift I will never deserve,” he replied with a sad smile.
I took a deep breath of the cold night air and shrugged.
“I guess you only ever told me one lie, when it could have been a thousand,” I murmured, turning my face towards the far end of park where the monument stood at great heights, tall and proud.
“Might as well have been a thousand,” he said. I could feel his eyes on my cheek. I closed mine before looking back to him.
“It was never a lie. Every time I felt it, I said it. I’ve never lied to you.” His eyes were blazing ice blue in the darkness.
“Matthias, we could talk this round and round. But there’s no point, is there.” My voice was as cold as my fingertips, stuffed deep in my coat pockets.
“I guess we didn’t have to come all the way here to talk about this,” he said finally.
“No, it’s the perfect place,” I said shaking my head. “Remembering a man and mourning his loss is just what happens here.” My voice had grown softer, though the the ice in my throat felt solid enough to throttle me. He looked at the ground as the wind blew scatters of leaves across our feet.

Scattered to the wind. That’s what we had become. All the time wishing to stand as strongly as the monument behind us, we had merely been leaves on the tree beside it, awaiting our time to turn, fall, and be taken by something stronger than ourselves.
A tragedy in a place to remember tragedy.
I reached out my hand and placed it gently on the soft, cold leather of his jacket. The white of my skin contrasted brilliantly with the cracked and worn black. “If only I could hear you laugh, one last time.” He smiled a small smile that faded quickly.
“Good bye Matthias,” I said softly. I looked over his shoulder to the weeping woman. “May you find peace.”

I turned to go, my own words echoing in my ears. I thought I heard someone calling my name on the wind, voices from the past calling me back. But the past was gone, encrypted on blocks of stone, or disintegrated in the flower beds. And still, the voices followed as my steps drummed a rhythm on the cold stone walkway.

At the subway station, the scream of the metal cars sliding to a stop on the rails chased away all I had been hearing. As I walked to the open door, I glanced over my shoulder, expecting Matthias to be coming up the stairs. He didn’t appear, and the car doors slid shut.

But he wouldn’t appear. How could he? He had been gone since that dreadfully cold night a week before Christmas when a semi-truck had smashed through the Christmas market in front of the Remembrance Church. He had been there, out for Glühwein with a few friends after calling it an early day from the office. He and many others had been at the right place, celebrating the festivities of the season, but at the very wrong time. I had been on my way to meet him in Treptower Park when I got the call. By the time I had gotten to the hospital, hearing the screams of the ambulances echoing through the halls of the building, he was already lost.

I would therefore never know what he would have said to me if we would have met each other in Treptower Park that night. Imagining that he would have told me the last of our story has trained my heart to let him go. And some days, I think to myself that he is walking the streets of our old neighborhood, on his way to someone or something. And still, because it has become a habit to answer an impossible question, I go to Treptower Park once a month to walk among the sadness and loss that the place signifies so well, all the while trying to conjure the words he might have spoken.

As the subway lurched forward, the now black expanse of the park whirred past before disappearing entirely.
It was gone. He was gone; another ghost in a city that was always remembering.

Remembering, and yet moving, traveling forward everyday.

The Power to Be Moved

On a beautiful day in July, 2016, I found myself in a place of dynamic solitude; a place that I often had come to when I had been much younger and was distraught over whatever stumbling block life had placed before me. As I sat, contentment in my heart and peace in my soul, the words came to me as gently yet as assertive as a gentle wind. There, on that rock above a modest waterfall, with these words, a perspective that would forever change me was created:

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When Life Gives You (Moldy) Lemons 

Monday’s, especially the morning of, usually make the shit list for a lot of people. It’s an interesting, fairly understandable social phenomenon that usually makes me try all the more to make the start of the week a positive one for both myself and the people with whom I come into contact.

This particular Monday morning, however, had me feeling sour, dour, and otherwise unenthused about the coming week. Here’s why.

That word ‘rejection’: we’re all familiar with it, know it intimately in some facets of our lives to be sure. Well, (and here I am going to do something that I will try very hard to refrain from doing in the future) to generalize, anyone who has been out and about looking for a career–or job of any kind for that matter–may have noticed that this process is laced with rejection. The silent kind where one hears absolutely nothing after sending an application or having an interview, the flippant and generic email informing that the position has already been filled, or (my personal favorite) the formal letter that comes in the mail in a standard-sized envelope, which already tells you everything you need to know before you open it.

Additionally, of course, there’s always the unavoidable and somehow inescapable rejection of the dating world. Finding that balance of how much to put out there, what to say to be honest yet intriguing, and when to run for your life is not the easiest of feats by any means. And, often enough, you think you nailed it and still end up being ghosted, dumped, or given some bullshit line.

It’s all rejection. And it all finds its target to some extent or another.

So, this morning, while being fed up, frustrated, and quite frankly on the verge of either crying and refusing to stop, or finding some cave I could curl into and, thus, take a hiatus from life, I somehow managed to throw myself a private dance party, which, in turn, gave my blood enough of a rush for me to step back from the morose alley my brains and heart had been hanging around in. I sat down with my notebook, stared at the page for awhile, wrote something acutely depressing on one page, and then realized that I was doing nothing and nobody any good by being a defeatist. In a literal burst of inspiration that came out of some optimistic sliver of my mind, my hand began to scrawl something meaningful across the page. That’s kind of how it happens for me: I get going on something without being certain of where it will lead me until I’ve finished. What I ended up with was something that I was not only proud of, but I also believed it with all my heart and thought it might do a few people a little bit of good to read it as well.

And here we are.

I also realized, during the day (which continued to produce a roller coaster of emotions), that my art, my writing, is something that I would like to share. Not for my benefit so much as for a means to connect to others. Producing something that may speak to or touch just one single person is where it’s at for me. After all, who says Art can’t change a life?

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