I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on a computer. It had somehow mysteriously appeared in my home one sunny day, but later, I found out my brother-in-law bought it. It had a password lock on it, which was surprising, for who knew a box could have a password? The strange box just sat there. It seemed dead, like any other box, only this one had people in it. Living, breathing people. I found myself curiously attracted to it, eager to discover its secrets. Now, what could this box do? I heard that people had started using it for work purposes. Hmmm, uninteresting and boring. Then I heard you could play games with it, so I made it my life mission to discover the password.
I was twenty at the time, so what did you expect? The girl wanted to play her games, and a code could not stand between her and her burning desire. Nope. My brother-in-law was not very friendly towards me; he was too absorbed in his career and life with my sister. I needed a plan, so I used my father as bait. He would not refuse my father, would he? Of course not, you must have some respect for your father-in-law since, after all, you are screwing his daughter, are you not? The plan worked, and I spent every hour my brother-in-law was working away from home playing games on his computer.
Were you also initiated into computer game playing with Super Mario? ‘Cause I can tell you...he became my closest friend for a while, I knew him so well. There was nothing this little man with a red cap could do that I did not know about. But just like the sometimes cold, ugly reality of life, when you get to know something completely you get bored and need to move on. So I left my little buddy Mario in the company of his tricks to focus on something new. But what?
You might be wondering why I had so much spare time on my hands. Well, I was off work for a few weeks and had to make the best of it. Yet games didn’t seem to be cutting it anymore. So I placed myself in front of the mirror like I usually do when having no idea what to do with myself. It’s as if when I see my face, a flash of inspiration strikes me and renders me creative again. This time, I just stared at the image of my clone staring back at me. No inspiration. Well, at least, she is beautiful, very beautiful...the girl in the mirror. How else can you be at twenty, 1.70 m tall, 58 kg, long, silky blond hair and very green, very deep and very alluring eyes? Beautiful, right? I was also modest, contrary to what you might be thinking right now. Very humble, forgiving, kind-hearted and soft…feminine and sensitive.
So sensitive that all my past boyfriends...well, just one actually, left deep wounds on my tender heart. Hold on! This is it! The lightning bolt of inspiration hadn’t left me; I knew it! It was just hiding behind some cloud to make fun of me. Yes, this is what I am going to do...search for people, men (maybe soft-hearted themselves), potential next boyfriends on the Internet! Yes! That box has potential alright, that www thing (I wondered what the initials stood for) will fix my boredom forever and a day! After all, all I ever truly wanted from this life, except for a pup, a house on the beach and sufficient money to buy all the cosmetics and new gadgets in the world I could possibly want, was LOVE. Yes, love. You can laugh if you want; I am used to it. And I got used to people being ashamed of the fact that they, too, need love. All the songs and movies and poems in the world have this beautiful word in them, yet most people are ashamed to admit how deeply and desperately they need love. Some even praise their not so attractive qualities like toughness, rudeness, cold-bloodedness, yet they blush at the very thought of love, as if it would destroy them somehow, dampen their carefully and meticulously built egos. And yet, they all need love more than they are probably ready to admit. And like all those people, I too needed it, but the difference is that I was not ashamed of it. I could have written it on a banner, covered myself with it and went parading into the streets of Bucharest. My birth city. I shall tell you more about it later. For now, I must stick with my new revelation of finding love on the mysterious www.
I found out I was so behind with technology and stuff. Others, guys especially, already knew so much about it, and I envied them. They also had accounts on dating sites long before I knew what those even were. Not dating, dating I knew. It was dating sites I didn’t know anything about. One of the few way people in Romania could meet strangers, until the fancy box appeared, was through the newspaper. I still remember how terribly amused my colleagues and I were when reading these ads…
"Nice looking guy, no obligations, 1.55 m tall, brown eyes, with a job, owner of a Matiz, Air conditioning, four seasons, string wheel on the right side, registered in Bulgaria, lower taxes. My motto in life is: ‘Who wakes up in the morning, gets really far.’ My gross salary is 2700 Lei. I will offer anything to the person who will pull me out of my abject loneliness; sex is not important (I don't do it anyway). Marian, Bucharest.”
Are you at least smiling? Cause I'm on the floor again, trying very hard not to pee my panties. Here was another one.
"Nice looking guy, handsome, cute, having a very comfortable financial situation (a house, a table, and some chairs), looking for a lovely lady not older than 35-40 years old, to spend Christmas Holidays together. If she, by any chance, has an approximately 80 kg pig to sacrifice for our Christmas meals, it would be my ideal. The rest of the preparations for this holiday I will take care of, myself. Bogdan, Bucharest.”
So there I was, all single. By now you are surely not wondering why, it's pretty obvious: I didn't own 80 kg pigs! I used to live comfortably in my mom's condo, had tables in every room of the house, and lots and lots of chairs. But I was really hoping men's gray matter had also improved along with all the recent technological advancements. And yet, I wouldn't have bet my life on that, so it was with great reluctance that I opened a dating account. I forgot the exact nickname I used, but it was something with "love" or "heart" or...anyway, you get the point, something very appropriate. The nickname wasn't of any great importance, but what was paramount is that I became so excited over my newly discovered entertainment that I overlooked the disappointment that surely awaited me. I've said already that I was very young, and pretty, so it was no wonder that I was instantly bombarded with messages, winks, virtual flowers, hearts, cakes and...what is that? Oh my God...wait…whoa??? Is that a penis? Can they do that? Send me pictures of their penises? Why would they think I would want to see their sometimes flask, sometimes erect penises??? Well...that one is somewhat impressive…ok! Stop! I shall file a complaint to the owner of the site and have my revenge. Yes, this is what I am going to do. No one should shove their private parts in your face like that. What if I would have had a heart attack, or a commotion or something, or my father would have entered the room at the exact same moment while I was analyzing the thing? That would have been embarrassing for both of us. After all, he raised me as a virtuous woman, and never had any clue that I had discovered those porn magazines under his bed. Unimaginative people find common hiding places. I mean…Duh! Children play on the floor! Or, that I tried so hard to fall asleep every night he was watching porn movies with his neighborhood buddies, whose socks used to stink to the point I almost fainted. Or the time that I found he hid my mother's cookie rolling pin under his pillow...I remember how hard I tried to discover the meaning of this...was he planning to bake some cookies and surprise my mother? Or was he trying to beat the shit out of her as he usually did? But with a cookie rolling pin? My mother got her surprise to be sure, but I have never found out what it was.
The following days I spent my time trying to make adjustments to my judgmental side. I have never been overly judgmental anyway, but now it was as if that quality was up and alert all the time, screaming in my ears:
"You see? Do you see? This is all you will get! Mad, bad and dangerously horny motherfuckers! Is this what you want? What happened to your love ideal, Alina?? Do you hear me, Alina???!!!"
"I hear you alright! Stop yelling!"
Of course, she was right...my friend, the Judge. So, I shut down the bloody box, jumped into my bed and hid deep down under the blankets. At least I was safe under here from the crazy world out there. I wish I had a puppy to squeeze lovingly to my chest so I could bathe myself in his innocence, I needed his innocence. I remember thinking just before I fell asleep of a long forgotten fairytale my mother used to tell me every night before going to bed. A new bud sprang joyfully to life one sunny spring morning. She could smell the green grass surrounding her, feel the cool dew drops resting on her petals and the soft wind caressing and swaying her gently. She couldn’t contain her joy at all these new and fascinating things happening to her. And like every other new bud, she received a visit from a most pleasant guest, the Fairy Godmother. The Fairy was there, she said, to grant the little bud a wish. She could choose any trait of character she most wanted to have in her life. After a long moment of reflecting the bud said: “I want to be innocent and naive forever so I can always feel the same joy I felt today.” The Godmother was uneasy and worried, but granted her wish. It was time now for the bud to spread her petals. That she did, and she was now a flower, a most beautiful and delicate flower. The next morning she went through the same joys of yesterday and was euphoric with the choice she had made. But later that same day some unusually hot weather for a spring day engulfed the surrounding area and, opening her petals, she was almost instantly burned by the heat of the Sun. She cried out to him asking why he did such thing to her. The Sun only laughed and said, “Why haven’t you chosen more wisely? You asked for innocence and naivety when you should have asked for strength and toughness. There is no place for you in this world.” The flower felt her soul breaking and with her last breath, she called on the Fairy Godmother and pleaded with her that if she ever sprang to life again, to remember to give her strength and toughness not whatever she might ask for. “My dear child," said the Fairy Godmother, “this is the same thing you asked me the last time you died. Yet, I am here only to fulfill your wish; I will never impose on your desires...” but the flower couldn’t hear anymore, for it bent forward and fell into the great unknown.
Why did I remember that then? No wonder I had nightmares regularly. And yet, reflecting on the wisdom that always exists in fairytales, I understood. I could have any trait I wanted in my life. I would just have to choose with either my heart or my judgment. I knew already I will always choose with my heart, just like the little bud did. I realized that same night, that my spirit was born with an innate toughness and strength of its own, and if I would listen carefully to it, I will always know. If I always stay true to my spirit, then no heat great enough from the world around will ever be able to ruin me. I knew the heat would only dissipate when it met an even greater heat, that of my heart. And for that I must remain open, I must never give up listening to its whisper.
A good old sleep solved my philosophical streak and the next morning I was up and ready for more penises...I mean pictures of potential mates. I discovered a new button, the Block button, and then I was safe again. Yet, I was afraid. Not of the pornographic material I was in danger of still getting - that was interesting scientific material to analyze - but of men themselves. I know I said earlier that I would have walked the streets yelling that love is everything, but as much as my desire for it burned my soul, there was yet the counterpart feeling of fear of it burning even stronger. What I needed was a goddamn hero. A hero who would never run away from my awkwardness, who would be patient enough to discover the scared little girl inside and love her. A hero who would put up with all my defenses and patiently work on breaking them down. A male hero who would understand that the feminine side of me strangled to death the masculine one, and I had to put up all those defenses to protect that tender, sensitive, forgiving, bla bla heart. A hero who would fight for me, with me, and win. I needed a Superman, or a Spiderman, or one of those flying heroes. Yet, I wasn't sure such heroes existed outside movies; I wasn't lucky enough to have found one. I lost my virginity only because the ex-boyfriend insisted so much that I decided to get it over with just to stop hearing him whine. God! A man whining for sex is so like the Chinese Drop method of water torture. Dripping at your head until you give in. No wonder we, women, excuse ourselves with headaches so often. I was even more afraid of his mother hearing him - we did it at her house - and wake up to give her little boy a good old spanking. She was not yet prepared to let her boy do the spanking.
And I was awkward, alright. I remember a gypsy boy who had a strong crush on me when I was in fifth grade. He was a year older than I was and had his courses in the classroom next to mine. Each and every break, he would send me love notes. And every morning before I started school I would find little gifts in my wooden school desk, whether a flower, or a sandwich, or a pen. Pens were highly popular around that time since we only had pencils. Yes, Communism was very stingy, but we just got out of it. Anyway, my responses were always violent. Who the Hell does he think he is to pry into my privacy like that? And why on Earth does he want to be around me? And those notes filled with such cheesy words? I'll fix him. I'll tear all his love notes into pieces and throw them at his head. Said and done. There you go, that should scare him away, and he will never bother me again. But the more aggressive I became, the more infatuated his heart grew. So now, the only thing left to do was to solve the aggravating problem in my father's way...with a good old thrashing. I told him to wait for me after school hours, prepared to collect my punches. I threw my backpack onto the floor, and so did he, to the loud cheers of our classmates. I beat the shit out of him. I do not know if I managed that because I was stronger and so used to the daily thrashings of my father, or because, in his loving heart, he let me have my way. He never bothered me again. Many years afterward when I was just a feminine girl in loose skirts and he a mountain of a man wearing a few pounds of gold chain around his dark neck he asked me:
"Do you remember the slaps you gave me long ago?"
"Yes, do you?" I asked still afraid that he might start reciting a love poem or something.
"What if I returned to you just one of those slaps right now?" he said.
"Well," I whispered, "you would probably break my fragile neck." We both laughed, and left it at that. He found a more responsive lady to shower all his love upon.
When I was a little older, let's say in my eighth grade, another guy fixed his eyes and ambition on me. But now I was different. Still awkward, but different. The gypsy boy I managed with a punch, this one I fixed with my silence. I couldn't bring myself to talk to him. Utter silence. Not one word. Nada. He said I was not a very sociable human. I had no idea why he still wanted to take me and show me his place. The entrance was very nice; a heavy, tall, concrete arch with a logo engraved on it greeted guests. I didn't recognize the language. The house was also nice, with really tall windows that permitted a splendid view of the backyard. A backyard! I chirped to myself. There I should feel free and less weird among the trees, and grass, and singing birds. But those were not the only things in his backyard; heavy stones placed symmetrically at exact distances from one another piqued my curiosity. As I got nearer to them, utter astonishment invaded me and for the first time in his presence, I spoke: "This is not a backyard; this is...a graveyard..." I heard my trembling voice and, of course, those were the first and last words I ever uttered to the guy before saving my scared ass by running like there was no tomorrow. The man was living in a cemetery. Are you kidding me? How can someone sleep there at night with all those possible ghosts walking around whispering, screaming, playing pranks on humans? You don't believe in ghosts? Well, I do, I had my own encounters as a child, but I will not go into that for fear I might be looked upon with disbelief. But trust me, they do exist alright, so you do understand why I almost broke my shoes running like a madwoman. Later I realized why he liked me. I used to talk the same amount as his backyard companions. Sayonara!
The following weeks I got back at the computer every day, proudly inserting the password, and resuming my search. Yet, disappointment was constantly there, breathing down my neck. She was not loud and screamy like the Judge. She was totally the opposite. I could feel her silently breathing on my skin, giving me goose bumps. Even when I wasn't computing I could still feel her, she just wouldn't leave me alone. I needed some time off from my search, from my dreams, from myself, so I went to sleep that night at my best friend's house. Carla was going through some similar shit, and thus, we enjoyed each other’s company immensely. We stayed up for long hours into the night, eating junk food, drinking our favorite alcoholic beverages and talking. Talking and laughing until our mouths and tummies hurt. We remembered past experiences that we were now able to laugh at, but also sad ones that forced us both into consoling each other, and made us look all grown up and wise. I love friendship almost as much as I love romantic love. No strings attached, no judgments, no unreasonable, suffocating demands, no jealousy or possessiveness, no cutting off one's freedom, and no attempts to change the other to suit one's needs. Yet, friendship is missing one essential ingredient that would otherwise make it better than romantic love: Butterflies. In the stomach. You know...those nasty little worms with wings that change all your habits. Take the habit of eating for example, when you feel you don't need food anymore and just when you're about to faint you grab a banana or apple or something, just to make sure you won't die stupidly of starvation and never see your love again. Or, your sleeping habits, when sleep is the last thing you'll do, for fear you will just waste the time not thinking of your object of veneration. Yes, those butterflies are quite amazing, they change the entire chemical order in your system, and you are high, so high that Xanax dies in shame. I wonder if I should hunt down some butterflies and eat them. Would that do the trick? If anybody has tried that, please let us all know.
I think it was about four in the morning when Carla and I fell asleep. I don’t know about her, but I had the strangest dream. In the morning, over a breakfast of lemonade and toast to treat our hangovers, I recounted my dream. I was in my living room, sitting on the sofa and looking at the floor where three big pieces of luggage rested on the carpet. Suddenly, I jumped up and started looking desperately for my passport. I had misplaced it somehow and wasn't able to find it for a full half hour. After I found it, I was even more exhausted from the stress of the search so I fell on the sofa again. I remember thinking in my dream: Look at me, I am leaving my country for good and nobody is home to bid me goodbye. At that moment my mother entered the house, she had taken a few hours off work to be with me. We hugged, and I cried.
"And that was it?" Carla asked
"Pretty much, yes" I replied
"Where were you going?"
"What? Why Canada?" she asked in amazement
"How would I know? I was moving to Canada for good. In my dream, Carla, it was only a dream."
"Your dreams are not always simple dreams, you know that."
"Well, this one must have been just that, a simple night dream. Now, please pass me another glass of lemonade if you don't want me to puke all over your kitchen. Thank you."
I checked out that familiar sounding country on the computer just to be sure where it was. I was not great at Geography in school, all those crappy things to memorize. I hated memorization, it always made me feel like a regurgitating cow. That should not be a method of learning for children, but who am I to argue. So, Canada was resting proudly above the USA, and it was so huge, forty-four times larger than my own country, the site said. My Geography teacher would have been so proud if she could see me now. Ok, that was enough boring information for one day. So, I resolved to forget my dream entirely and forever and got on with my fresh, sunny day.
I believe now it would be sensible of me to take you on a quick tour through an even earlier part of my past. Who knows whether or not my childhood experiences programed my past, present and future needs and desires? But isn't it like that for all of us, even if we are not consciously aware of it? I believe it is. I first saw Earth's daylight on the cold Sunday of February 25, 1979. Actually, it wasn't until the next day that I would see it, being born at around ten p.m. And not of my pre-infantile free-will. Mother was scheduled to give birth to me no later than February 15. But I didn't agree with the doctors and decided to stay in that warm, secluded, tiny, safe place a little bit longer. Why rush to come out to such a nasty environment? Mother and I were happy in our symbiotic relationship, but Father was not. For all the nine months I was a parasite feeding myself off another human being, he argued and fought with everyone who dared to say that I was to be a girl. He wanted a boy so badly that he could not stand the idea of having another useless girl in the house; he already had my two-year-old sister, Maia. Regular ultrasound tests weren't heard of in the small, communist country I would soon make my exit into, let alone 2, 3 or 7-D imaging and God knows what other alien technology.
On the early evening of my birth date, Father was drinking beer with his old pal who had a most impressive job, that of the second man in the Ministry of Health. And just like every other night, he would drink far too much for the people around him to still be safe. They played cards and drank some more. Mother was around, trying to make herself useful, serving them their beers, preparing their food and being up and ready for any other requests. Her more than nine months old belly was somehow miraculously invisible to the two men in the house. Nah, a bit of housework can't do her any wrong, can it? As the fumes from the alcohol grew denser and denser in their light heads, they started playing the old game...arguing. Over my sex, of course.
"It's a girl, mate," the Ministry guy said.
"Impossible. Look at her belly!" said Father pointing at Mother. "It's so goddamn huge I'm still in wonder how come she's not yet floating to the ceiling," he continued charismatically.
"Trust me, I have seen many more pregnant women in one day than you in your entire life. It's a girl."
"Well, I'm the father, and know for sure what seeds I planted in there!"
"I bet your spermatozoids were far too drunk to follow any of your orders."
"Watch it, you are starting to get on my nerves..." threatened Father.
"Ok, Ok. Why don't we make a bet?" the decorated dude asked further.
"What kind of bet?"
"We shall bet on a thirty bottle case of beer. If I am right, you owe me big time."
"And a lamb for Easter," pulsated Father.
"And if I'm right," continued the friend, "she will also take my first name...”
"Jeez...Ok, it's a deal," said Father utterly confident that he would win. "I can hardly wait to eat and drink what your money buys when you lose to me!"
"That will never happen, ‘cause it's a girl!" the politician insisted.
"Prove it. Right now. Prove it."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You know exactly what it means," Father said, and after exchanging conspiratorial glances for a few seconds, they both turned their eyes toward Mother. Serene and unaware as she always was about the things happening around her, she just smiled sweetly at them before the paunchy official grabbed her arm. "Dress up. You are giving birth tonight." Still serene, she followed the orders just like a good old soldier. That same night others followed orders too, the hospital personnel who was immediately instructed that a very close friend of their big boss must get rid of some heavy biological weight a.s.a.p. You don't mess around with orders from above, so by ten o'clock, I was already goo-goo ga-ga-ing against my will. Curiosity satisfied. I was a healthy 3.5 kg baby girl with strong lungs, so strong that the nurses were amazed. I was probably still complaining about my induced exit. I received the mark of ten, but as far as Father was concerned, I was overrated. After all, I came out with the wrong organ between my legs. My birth also brought some collateral damage with it, the home phone through which Father received the bad news ended up in the wall next to it. The hole that the impact produced remained there for many years, and after I became old enough to understand its story, the daily sight of it was a constant reminder of my imperfection. When it finally got covered up with sky blue wallpaper, I was so happy, although pink would have been a more appropriate color for a little girl, wouldn't it? Just saying.
After the initial disappointment of my wrong sex, Father had another reason to be pissed off when he had to take big money out of his pockets to pay for his unwise bet. A thirty bottle case of beer was bought, and an order for a newly born baby lamb was placed. And yet, Father had good moments too, and in one of them, he decided that the third agreement of the bet could not possibly be fulfilled. His buddy's first name was Ciorica, which in translation would roughly mean "little crow." So because you always have to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, I must be kind enough and thank Father for his decision. I really couldn't picture myself being called a Little Crow so many times in a day. "Little Crow eat your food!" "Little Crow clean up your mess!" "Little Crow listen to your sister!" And so on and so forth, until my psychological well-being would have been impaired forever and three days.
As I was growing up and started to distinguish the events around me, I noticed two very different things that marked the environment in the house. First, was the love of my mother spreading around to all the members of the family, Father, Maia, myself and the two grandparents who were living with us. The second was the violence, aggressiveness and disturbed behavior of Father. My memories run down as far as my third year of life. It was exactly my third birthday when Father asked me what I would like to receive as a gift. I said I wanted a real horse. For some reason I knew I had a horse before, my imagination would picture him so vividly, so I said I wanted my horse back. Father laughed and agreed. I believed him, and it was the first time in my short life that he had made me happy. But just as with all his future promises, this one never came into being, so he taught me my first life lesson: Mistrust. I got a poetry book instead, even though I wasn't yet able to read. I wonder if the gypsy boy got his ill treatment thanks to my first birthday gift. The next lesson came shortly afterward and was to be repeated almost daily.
"Did you eat?" he asked one day on his return from work.
"What did you eat?"
"Bean soup, granny cooked. It was very delicious." I must have said something wrong because his gaze froze the blood in my veins.
"Take off your clothes. You too" he said toward my sister. His request was a strange one, and I remember feeling excruciatingly afraid. I was just staring at him, eyes wide.
"Ok, I will do it myself," he said and took our clothes off pushing and pulling at our small bodies. He next disappeared into the adjoining room and returned shortly with a belt. A wide, thick belt, the one he had from the time he did his military service. He ordered us both to bend naked on the couch, and what followed I shall leave to your imagination. When all his anger and energy wore off, he would start crying, and placing us both on his lap, he would hand over the belt to us and plead that we punish him for what he did. We would both sob, my sister and me, and would both forgive him. Until the next time he would be in his devilish mood. What was even more painful is that the event proceeded to repeat itself almost daily. I made it a point not to eat anymore but that wasn't good either, and I would still get thrashed pretty nastily. Mother taught me a prayer, but at night, I used to pray for something else. I would pray that I would grow up faster to be able to reach the stove and make my own food. I used to believe that if I did that, then the beatings would stop. They never did. There was always another dumbfounded reason to cash in on and I soon lost track of what to pray for.
And yet, as much as this treatment startled and hurt me, I would suffer tenfold seeing it applied to Mother. He would lock her outside the house sometimes and made her beg to be let in. Other times he would call her to come downstairs and then send her back up again, on and on, only to make fun of her, having no requests. Still, at other times, he would bring his hooker into our house, and force Mother to cook for her and keep her company. I wonder what he was forcing them to talk about. Other peculiar things would happen at night that would scare away my sleep, and I was only able to fall asleep after the air under my blanket would was exhausted. I was, in fact, fainting myself to sleep. Every evening Mother would iron Father's shirts for work. It was my favorite part of the day, sitting on the floor at her feet and watching her doing the ironing. Her face was always sad, sometimes tears would fall onto Father's shirts and she would immediately place the iron on them to dry them away. But I always saw them from my quiet place on the floor. Much later, I remember my boyfriend asking me to iron a shirt for him. I instantly flew into such a rage that I, myself, was astonished. It wasn't until some years later and plenty of reflection and self-analysis that I was able to discover why I reacted like that. It was those painful memories of Mother ironing that were acting in me.