Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rise of an Angel

.There is no pain like this pain.
No bone, no tooth, no injury of any sort has hurt, scarred or bled me dry like the loss of my loved one.
.More than loved one.
.A pillar to my home.
.My wisdom. My protector. My story teller.
.My grandfather.

We are a very small family. And by family I don’t mean “neam” (our keen – cousins, remote once or twice, step brothers and sisters etc). By family I understand mom and I, grandma and grandpa. This is my family. Four trees bending in the wind; two older, one younger and one still in her youth, still learning, still reaching for the skies. Thankfully, I have grown in their shade just when the sun burnt stronger, sheltered from the rain when the storm hit harder.

After my mom’s divorce I spent my early childhood with grandma and grandpa. They were working shifts. Grandma was working during the day at the city laundry where they took care of all the laundry coming in from the hotels, while grandpa worked night shifts as a security guard to a cement factory up the hill from our home. So I spent my days with grandpa, doing “professional carpenter work” (which mostly meant ruining huge quantities of nails by sticking them everywhere – in a creative manner of course!) while at night I would bore grandma to death with my stories. The same stories grandpa would tell me during the day.
Waiting for us to come home
See, they were different personalities. Grandpa, so calm and meticulous, unexpectedly funny despite his rather silent type. He was 15 when the Second World War started and he ended up on the front as a cook’s help. One of his older brothers actually went missing in war and was never heard of. So he would tell me all these war stories sitting on the porch with me, drawing roses and I loved to watch the rain drop from the roof in little tackling notes, while listening to his thick voice, explaining, slowly, all those long ago stories.

I did most of the stupid crazy things when I was with grandpa. Obviously! Our house is basically sitting at the foot of a hill and I would risk laying in the middle of the street to check if drivers could see me when coming down hill. You can imagine that project didn’t go well with grandpa when he found out and he chased me around with a nettle until my ass was on fire! Then again, I was always playing football with the boys, until one day, I was about 6, I slid down to catch the ball right through some garbage. A pretty big piece of glass went through my clothing and right under my left (I think! Haven’t checked in a while haha) ass chick. There’s no prettier way to put it, I’m sorry. So I came home bleeding like hell, grandma was at work and so was mom. Grandpa, with barely three classes in terms of education, but the wisdom of life at hand, did not call in for medical help. There was no time anyway. So he poured some good old tuica on the wound (that must’ve been excruciating!) and slapped the other healthy chick for having scared the hell out of him coming home so bloody! Then he bandaged the wound and that was the end of it. The cut was actually so deep it needed a few stitches but by the time mom came back home, it was too late for any of that. But who cares. Grandpa saved the day and I have the scar to prove it. Well. It won’t see the light of day very soon haha!

See that black spot on my face? That's me climbing trees and falling :)
Grandpa was my main “weapons” supplier! After 10 years of age mom tried (directly and indirectly!) to manipulate me into becoming a “little lady” and forget my tomboy attitude, military training routines and “archeological” scavenging which led to a massive stone collection in the front yard. But alas! So I asked Santa one time for a sword and a bow. And “Santa” wrote back saying that a young girl such as myself should not play with swords and whatnot. I figured Santa didn’t know me all that well so I went to grandpa and he made a wooden sword and bow for me. Nothing was safe anymore! Haha. And then summer came and I told grandpa that real soldiers have a tent, they don’t stay out in the open in the sight of the enemy. So the poor man, who obviously had no material to build me a tent, made me one out of cellophane. Now you try to figure it on your own, exactly what it is to stay in a plastic tent for hours in mid August! Death by asphyxiation! But no one could take Mela out of that tent for the love of God! Soldiers suffer and must go through pain to achieve their goal, so “civilian” mom stood no chance to get me out of there.
When I was 7
In highschool with him peeling apples for me
On my 18th birthday he was the official bartender
Grandpa also taught me how to build the best tree houses in town! Man, I was the best of the best of coming up with on ground and suspended tree houses! I am so looking forward to have my own kids and teach them how to build those. He gave me the knowledge, I added my wild imagination and there I was, having my own living room, serving apples right from the tree in our back garden and no kid was happier than I was.

On my college graduation day in Sibiu. he had brought me tulips and he was so excited that during the ceremony he broke all of them. So mom "donated" her bouquet for the picture :)

When I was a toddler he was my Santa. Back in the day we didn’t have the sophisticated Santa costumes we do today. Mom had a fur coat grandpa used to put on and this stupid plastic mask with a fake beard made of cotton. I asked mom why Santa is wearing a mask and she said because he is very old he has to protect his face from the cold. He used to take one of the wooden sticks grandma used to tie the bean and tomato bushes and used it as a walking stick for “Santa”. He often forgot it in the house when leaving and I would urge grandma to catch up with Santa and give his stick back because he’s old and he can’t walk in the snow without it. She’d always mumble some blasphemy at “Santa” and his stick and usually threw it outside when I wasn’t watching. Then when grandpa would come back she would threaten him jokingly to stop stealing her sticks. Or come inside with his shoes all muddy and wet. Sometimes mom would fool me that Santa came in with a sledge pulled by rabbits and then grandma would have to be careful and keep me away from the rabbits because I would always try to make them pull something to see if they’re strong enough. Same happened with the dogs. They actually made it!!!! Haha

Well 58 years ago, in the month of February, my grandpa and grandma got married. 58 years later, on February 2015, death did them part. I loved them since I laid eyes on them and learnt what they are to me. I loved them when they were annoying me with their care, I loved them when they suffered, I loved them when they were happy, I loved them when they were away and I love them still when they are gone.

Their 50s anniversary.
It’s been 5 days since grandpa past away and I walk the world in some sort of a different dimension. I cannot understand nor imagine going back home and not finding him there. Just like I couldn’t fully comprehend that he had died when mom told me on the phone as I came out of the subway rushing home, hoping I was going to make it on time to see him one last time. The connections between Bucharest and Govora are so bad it took me over 4 hours to get there. I arrived at almost 10:00PM and in the dark as I walked down the silent street my heart sank lower. No word I possess can describe that feeling.

Two years ago when I went looking for my father’s grave in this old cemetery, walking each line of graves, waiting for my eyes to lay on the one cross bearing his name it seemed creepy and unworldly to me. In fact, it was nothing compared to the moment when from around our neighbor’s house I saw our house all lit up. And I knew why those lights were on. And my heart exploded. I stopped in front of the gate, with my backpack still hanging from my shoulder and I cried. And I cried some more. I knew that once I opened that gate life will never be the same. It took me 10 minutes to enter the gate as if each step was drawing me backwards than forward. I walked the long path to the front of the house and as I came closer I saw the lid to the coffin resting against the wall on the porch. The same porch where he had been waiting for me so many times. Nothing from what I have seen so far in 32 years of life looked more sinister, more horrifying, more desperate to my eyes. I stopped in the middle of the yard and burst into crying, something that was pulling my lungs out, uncontrollable, beyond anything I’ve cried so far. I don’t know for how long I sat there crying, all I know is the dogs sensed me at some point from the back yard and started barking. Grandma came out on the porch and I wanted to run away. She couldn’t see through the dark. The dogs started barking even louder. Grandma was confused. Mom came out and she did see me hiding in the dark.

She came to me and as she walked my way she recognized who I was and started crying herself. She literally dragged me inside. I did not want to go there. I did not want to pass that coffin lid. That could not be there for my grandpa. Not for my beloved and only grandpa. I could write this in Romanian, in the mother tongue of any reader in this world and all words would be empty next to the sharp pain and desperation in my heart as I entered the house. There were friends there, all dressed in black. The door was open to the room where he was and my eyes glimpsed unwillingly and saw his feet in that coffin. I had just reached the fridge in the middle of the hallway. I let go of the backpack and held to the fridge to stop myself from moving any further. To stop them from opening the door and force me to see him. Iubitul meu. Iubitul meu bunic. Goanga mea. Singura mea Gonguta. I wish I soaked this paper wet with tears and drops of blood and perhaps then it would show, just a trace, a mere trace of the pain shouting in my chest.

There was not enough of him for me to hold. There was not enough room and too many things covering him for me to hold his hand. Those big heavy hands that had soothed my worst back pains. Last time I saw him, he was half dozed with morphine and still he rubbed my back gently as he lay in bed.

I spent Wednesday night at his side, making preparations for the next day, taking breaks to talk to him and cry my misery. Like John said: the funeral is for the living. And it truly is. My grandpa had gone to a place of no pain and no sufferance after having lived 89 full years, together with a family who loved him and he loved them back. No sleep the entire night. But he looked asleep and peaceful. So beautiful, not a wrinkle of concern, none of the traces of the pain he endured until hours before. Grandma would come in and cry. Pain, exhaustion and desperation deeper than I can imagine or ever want to experience pushed through her wanting to get out. I saw her trying to scream but she couldn’t. There was so much and her mouth so little, it just chocked her and remained inside. Then she would leave and drown in organizational details for a while to later on come back and cry again.

At night watching over the fire in the back while the food was being cooked
Thursday at dawn I finally fell asleep on the side of the bed. I woke up an hour and a half later to a dead man in my house. As I came downstairs I didn’t know what to expect of myself when entering that room again. It felt silent. A silent rainy morning and he didn’t say hi to me. So I sat at his side and combed his thick eyebrows that always fascinated me. I called him by fairy tale grandpa. He really looked that way. A few white hairs covering an ever shrinking head, with large deep brown eyes and bushy eyebrows frowning when he was mocking at me. Large heavy hands and bulky fingers bearing the scars of many cuts and injuries he had caused to himself with his carpenter work.

Nothing compares to the coldness of a body. No ice, no frozen stone, no freezing temperatures will ever feel like this. But I didn’t care. By noon more people have learnt of his passing away and one after another, neighbors and friends alike started pouring through the open gates. Then the grave digger came to bring the candle stick and mortuary flag. I helped him set those aside to the coffin lid. It stilled my heart yet again. I went inside so I don’t look at it anymore. We left grandma behind with friends and we went shopping for groceries for the food packages that we had to give away as well as for the meal after the funeral. It took us 4 hours and when we came back the house was so packed with people we couldn’t go inside the room anymore. Flowers and candles burning everywhere, bags with rice, oil, juice, sugar, more candles, fasting waffles were aligned across the hallway. People were sitting or standing everywhere around the coffin, drinking water or orange juice, snaking on pretzels, remembering my grandpa. Sometimes laughter burst through in the room and I never thought my grandparents’ bedroom could ever fit so many people. I would sit in the hallway and listen to them and my heart filled with immense joy and immense sadness.

People who have never set foot in our house came to see him. People who did not know him personally, but knew me or knew mom, came to see him. Our neighbors from Valcea (the entire family!) came in twice, brought supplies, helped with whatever was needed. His friends from back in the day, people as old as he was, some in crutches, some assisted by their grandchildren, came in to pay a last homage. It did things to me that I cannot describe. Thursday was not our day. It was his day with friends. Not relatives. Friends. Strangers who were friends. Strangers who simply respected and appreciated him. Grandpa was a silent man in his way; he didn’t like the fuss and noise nor to be the center of attention. So unlike some funeral customs here, no one yelled or cried loudly. People would just chat and laugh and enjoy their time together an old friend, without much hustle and bustle. But it all changed the following day.

Thursday night we cooked for the funeral next morning. The priest was supposed to come in at noon and hold the mass before they took grandpa to the church and then to the cemetery. Mom was exhausted. We had managed to fool grandma into sleeping a few hours every night but mom hasn’t shut eye at all. At 3AM I had a huge argument with her over it. I did not want to see her collapse. She had witnessed her father die just when she rushed in with IVs to attempt and revive him one last time. Only that this time she couldn’t. This was his time to go and no medication could help anymore. And now under the pressure and the stress she had become  a crying machine. Eventually she got so mad at me for bitching at her that she gave in and more to avoid arguing with me further she went and crashed on the bed, thinking she’d just stay there for a while to appease the bunny from hell (namely me!) and then sneak back in the kitchen. Fortunately, she actually fell asleep immediately. I stayed behind to roast the nuts and finish the “coliva” (a specific dish made of boiled barley, mixed with sugar, rom and so on that we serve at funeral or the Day of the Dead and so on). I let mom sleep for about 4 hours. Eventually I crashed at her side at about 5AM. She came to wake me up at 7AM to tell me that the soup we had made in a huge pot in the back of the house (in the country side for occasions such as this, we cook in huge pottery on an improvised stove) was gone. And by gone I mean the pot was turned upside down and the soup was gone. Grandma went berserk. When would we have the time to prepare another before the priest came in, before the people came in for the meal after the funeral? Of course everyone came with a theory about what dog or cat had caused the misfortune. But all the dogs were locked and so were the cats and no one could really enter that space. Eventually I just turned around and said stop. Grandpa didn’t like the soup so he threw it out. Let’s make one without potatoes. You know he never liked potatoes anyway. Plus it’s fasting time so a veggie soup comes in perfectly. Unexpectedly, mom loved the theory and with 4 hours of sleep on board she seemed a bit more cheerful and ready to take on the challenge to cook soup for 40 people on the spot. We rounded up some neighbors and chopped the veggies while grandma came around a bit and stopped her frenzy over the situation. Finally, with a crowded kitchen, mom set breakfast for everyone to have a bite then they spread around the house to help set the tables and get everything ready before the priest arrived.
So I was left alone in the kitchen to decorate coliva. You usually make a cross on it from coconut powder, cocoa, nuts and other small decorative things. I have never done this before. And God knows I didn’t want to start then with my grandpa’s coliva. But I had to. Three large portions and I cried for each and every one of them, so much that at some point I gave up and kneeled next to the table. “Grandpa I don’t want to do this for you. Why did you make me do this for you?” No one there to answer for me. Eventually I finished. I wish I had taken a picture. I spent an hour decorating them. I wish I never spend my creativity on something like this again. They were beautiful.

By noon the house was full again with people and about 6 cars had pulled out in the street. The priest came in and during the sermon, mom, grandma and I sat at his side, lost and silent. I went out to greet those who had come to walk him to his resting place. So much black. So much silence. Then the car that would take him to his grave pulled in front of the gate and I hear a sharp cry from inside the house. Grandma finally screamed. I died. I am dying now writing this. Desperation, that’s the closest word to my pain. Utter, sheer desperation of knowing that physically, he would never be there again. Ever again. I walked to the gates like a blind dog following a scent. I struggled to open them. Then they called me inside. I watched them take him away and I pulled the little table on which his coffin was placed to make room for them to get him out. And I stayed there crying until they called me outside again. Grandma could barely hold on so I got her in the truck next to him. She hugged and kissed him all the way to church. Silent and crying. I got next to her in case she felt sick or dizzy. Finally the convoy moved out, followed by people on foot and 6 cars carrying as many people as they could fit and the things we needed at the grave.
Two days it had rained, gloomy and muddy. But not Friday. It was perfect spring day, sunny with perfectly clear skies. A touch of wind cold enough to keep me sober from my tears reminded me of my loss on this beautiful day. As we approached the church I heard how they rang the heavy bells and there was no joy in their usual sound. It got darker and clouds rushed to cover the blue skies. This is not poetry. It’s how it happened. Mom looked up and saddened even more. The sermon was beautiful. The priest knew our family and had known grandpa since visiting so often during his last months of life. In his final speech he spoke of grandpa so nicely. Grandma had to sit down. She wished she had held grandpa’s hand all along the one hour sermon but she couldn’t, so she just caressed his forehead on and on. And then finally, the time came for us to leave on his final journey.

On Wednesday, the same day grandpa died, another good family friend of ours, passed away as well. Twenty years younger, but that is of no importance. We past his house by on our way to the cemetery. Govora it’s such a small town and everyone talked about how two close friends happen to die the same day. The driver slowed down when we reached his block and it was an eerie, odd, Hitchcock like movie scene seeing his family, all dressed in black looking at us from the windows above. While we, all dressed in black looked at them looking at us. We made the sign of the cross for them. They made the sign of the cross for us. It was terrible. I wanted to get down from the truck and run upstairs and say hi to Nea Gicu, tell him I’m sorry, tell him to look after grandpa. Tell him I’m sorry. But the car moved on.

As we approached the cemetery a few drops came down. Enough to cool down mom’s cheeks flamed with crying. I have never seen mom cry like this. Mom, such a strong introverted woman, who hardly ever lets anything out, not pain, nothing bad, only good. She was bitter. Putting him in his grave was an ordeal because it had been raining the and soil had turned into clay and it kept tumbling down into the grave. They hustled with the weight of the coffin and the soil at once. I panicked, I dropped to my knees in the mud to help the way I could bending over to push the pillars holding the mud away. Eventually it went in but I got sick and had to sit on the side of another grave. I was so so fortunate that Ioana, my little “sister” whom I’ve known since she was 2 years old was there by my side the entire time. How I have come to grow and be loved by such wonderful people I don’t know, but I hope I keep being that person they love so they never go away because they are beautiful.

She took me in her car on the way home and I picked up all of her son’s toys off the seat and it made me cry. Life goes on. And I had her to think of and her cutest sweetest 1 year and 8 months old Eddy who was waiting for her at home. And so much more out there and grandpa wouldn’t want me to get stuck.

John spending the winter hollidays with us many years ago
People came in and left, we cleaned the house a bit and washed a hundred dishes. Finally, I had a little time to answer emails, and texts and calls and write back to everyone who had somehow reached to me. My friends from here and abroad, people I have never met in person sharing their regrets. Mom and grandma and I sat down over a cup of tea when finally alone and read them all. It made us cry some more, but this time, in gratitude. John, my dearest friend for more than, I don’t even remember, 12 years or so, called me from Tunis and we spent about an hour and a half on the phone. It was soothing. With his Romanian skills he was able to speak to mom and grandma himself and convey his message. Grandma was all over the place. We went to bed at 8PM. I went to check on grandma before crashing in myself. She had crawled in grandpa’s side of the bed with the two cats purring at her side. And she was crying. I thought then - I want to be alone. Single for the rest of my life if this is what means losing the love of your life. It’s stupid, because in fact I know I want it. I want the love and the pain that comes with it. But how do you live without him, when since you were 19 years old up to 77 of age you woke up to his face every single morning? Mom just called me now. She has taken a week off to be with her and help her adjust to her new solitude. She called to tell me she slept with her last night and throughout the night she kept looking for him in her sleep and cried when waking up to see mom. How do you teach loneliness to someone? I’ve been on my own for a while, before I got married and afterwards. I am built differently. I don’t see my single status as loneliness. Mom has been on her own for so long she is more than used to it. But grandma doesn’t have a clue what it means to have no one to talk to, to make a life outside your life in two. And no one will fill in the empty space. Not now, not ever.

Sanda asked me, Mela how are you? I snapped this picture and sent it to her. I had just burried my grandpa.What do I say? How do I feel?
We slept until 10AM the next morning just to dress up in the same black and go to our friends’ funeral. It was like a déjà from the day before. We saw him to church; we saw him to his grave then attended the funeral meal. Then finally home to what seemed an empty house. We sat down not really knowing what to do.

We cleaned a bit, we had something to eat. At night fall we stood up until 2AM remembering grandpa and the beauty of our family. We have always made fun of him being the only man in the house next to the dog and rooster. Now we have lost that man, have no more roosters and we have two lady dogs. It’s a female ruled household. Better watch out! These are grandpa bread and born females. He was a strong man who after having been married once before and having been cheated on, found grandma, a poor abandoned girl, with no dowry other than her beautiful personality and inner strength and he took her home. That was 58 years ago. Together they built a future, faced the hardships of time and people.

Now he left behind a beautiful legacy. A woman who will love, adore and miss him for as long as she lives. A daughter who has had a row model in him, who has followed in his footsteps and has given him as an example of wisdom and calmness. And a granddaughter who found a father figure in him, a story teller, a solid foundation to build her life on.

Goanga mea, mi-e dor de tine dincolo de cuvinte. Ma sti de cand m-a adus mama acasa si eram cat « coada de la lingura. » N-am pierdut nimic in viata cu adevarat. Unde am gresit, am invatat, unde a durut s-a vindecat. Unde am cazut, m-am ridicat. Unde am pierdut ceva, am gasit altceva. Tu esti singura mea pierdere. Singura mea durere curata. Nu stiu cum sa fiu fara tine. Nu pot sa intru inapoi in cursul vietii fara sa te gasesc acolo. Nu stiu cum sa invat asta. Dar atat te rog. Nimeni nu ma cunoaste ca tine. Daca am pierdut un bunic, parte din casa mea si sufletul meu, sper ca mi-am castigat un inger. Tu sti ce imi doresc, lucrurile pe care nu le spun niciodata. Lucrurile care raman nerostite in fata lumii si pe care numai tu acum, si Dumnezeu le poate auzi. Ajuta-ma sa ajung la ele. Arata-mi unde sunt ca dupa aia merg eu catre ele. Multe s-au schimbat de cand imi faceai arcuri si sabii, dar soldatelul ramane si lupta in continuare. Te iubesc. Sa fi tanar, sanatos si frumos acolo unde esti.

Goanga, I miss you beyond and above words. You’ve known me since mom brought me home and I was no bigger than “a spoon handle”. I have never really lost anything in life. Where I was wrong, I learnt, where it hurt, I healed. Where I fell, I got back up. Where I lost something, I gained something else in turn. You alone are my only true loss. My only clean cut pain. I don’t know how to be without you. I cannot step back into my life and not find you there. I don’t know how to learn that. But I ask this of you. No one knows me better than you do. If I had lost a grandfather, part of my home and soul, at least I hope I gained an angel. You know what I want, the things I never say. The things that remain unspoken before the world and that now, you and God alone can hear. Help me get to them. Show me the way and I’ll walk there. A lot has changed since you were making me wooden swords and bows, but the little soldier is still here and is still fighting. I love you. Stay young, healthy and beautiful, wherever you are.

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