Saturday, April 23, 2011
in our hearts they are staying there
pour a little salt we were never here
"There are wounds in our hearts and they are staying there," Barbara wrote to me once, "Promise me you will be safe? Promise me you will not hate. Trust me, I know what I say."
She did know. She grew up during the Yugoslav wars on a borderland between two warring people that were, the day before, neighbors and friends, and the day after, cutting off each others' heads and setting all that they shared hatefully ablaze. As kids, they used to count the seconds between the lights in the sky and the sounds of the bombs, like we counted the lightning and thunder. She said after the war, when the smoke cleared and the minds settled and the insanity had calmed into a regret heavier than the ocean, the neighbors came back over with freshly baked bread and no words for sorry. Barbara simply walked upstairs into the bedroom she shared with her sister and started to put away her dolls. Such a little girl, yet she just knew it: her childhood was over.
So many things she witnessed then stayed with her, gave her such a heavy melancholy. When she became sick, she told me she just knew it was because she let that sadness stay with her, she didn't fight hard enough to transcend it. I told her this was not true, that she could not blame herself. I wanted to say if anyone was to blame it was the corporations that poison our planet and are never held accountable for their mass murders. I wanted to say this just as I want to say it now, but it's so much easier to be angry at oneself then to fight the entire world.
She was sad. Often. But this melancholy came as a natural response to the most open heart, the bravest soul, and an energy so attractive and kind, you always wanted to be near her, to cry to her, to have her on your side. She was one of the enlightened ones and I am not just saying that because she's gone. I always knew it, rebelled against it, even hated it sometimes, just like some people hate it in me. But her heart, what a gorgeous heart. What a painful thing to have a heart that huge. It's a splitting sound similar to the feeling of fingers tearing into the flesh of a coconut or a mango, something you want so badly your mouth is already watering when you begin to rip into it, but this ripping comes from the inside out, trying to break free and be in the world whole- God or Love or Some Terrible Glitch that meaninglessly and mistakenly makes some of us so cripplingly sensitive while others can watch all of the horrors of the world without wincing. It hurts to carry that splitting fruit inside of you. But, Jesus, what a beautiful way to be in the world. Barbara knew she could go at any moment and with that knowing, Barbara planted flowers and wrote to friends asking about our lives and fears and she refused medicine and chemo because she accepted death and wanted to be fully awake for it.
It's hard to believe I will never see her again. I wanted to tell her so many things, to see how we turned out as mature women, no longer teenagers. One of the last things I received from her was a letter that read, "Sweetheart, are you happy? Talk to me. I am here for you and always will be. I love you so much. I know I feel you and I know I can understand you."
I have been reading that over and over again. She loved me so much. She loved me so much. See? She said so. She loved me so much. So much. I was loved in this single speck of a life amidst aeons of stars and lives, I was so loved by her. And there will never be another love like it. She did understand me and that is so rare. Now she is gone and I don't know what to say except I want to wear those words of love like a badge of honor as I walk through my own life to say to anyone who cares, she loved me.
We went to the prom together in suits. We sat on the huge stones of the Széchenyi Chain bridge throwing rose petals into the Danube under the huge stone lions that looked so angry but couldn't speak and she told me that the legend says that the man who made the bridge made a bet with his life that it would be flawless and, so, had to jump to his death when it was discovered that the lions had no tongues. Imagine being that full of lion rage and not having the tongue it takes to scream, I said. She remembered that later and said that's how she felt about her cancer.
Someone mentioned time travel today and everyone talked about where they would go if they could. I thought of my Barbara. I thought of being a teenager so young and naive and full of hope and ideas with my Barbara in a country that, to me, seemed, like the land I grew up on, so frozen in time in the most beautiful way. I remembered us sharing an apple in the gypsy markets as we walked through the chickens and swishing, colorful skirts at dusk swapping stories of our childhoods. She told me about dancing to a frenzy of broken dishes in candlelit bars during the rolling blackouts of the wars and I told her about baseball and spin the bottle and bonfires in the woods. I remembered watching a Romani boy taking his cows home on a long country road we were walking on and seeing the dust they kicked up with their hooves and Barbara said that the word for the dust that the cows kick up on their way home at night in Romani is the same word for twilight. I remember being so sad because a certain boy didn't like me and I cried in her lap on a crowded train full of women with baskets and babies wrapped in cloth and old men with handlebar mustaches in threadbare suits smoking cigars and she played with my hair and taught me the Hungarian words I needed to know to be angry, to be hurt. When we stepped off the train into the immense heat and witnessed together the fata morgana mirage that put an ocean of quivering light between the land and the sky she said it was something Hungarians loved and were so proud of and their beloved poet József Attila would walk hundreds of miles to see it and there it was, right there for us. We watched the sun go down behind the rickety wooden train-stop no bigger than a tool shed with the raised flag and a bare bench, surrounded by the the plains of tall grasses and draw wells. We stopped and waited for a shepherd taking his flock of sheep across the road. I thought of this today when my friends talked about time travel and I didn't say it, but I thought, I already have. And there is no other place I'd rather have in my history and no other girl I'd rather love in my heart, even if she is gone.
She is gone. Were we ever here? Were we ever girls riding on bikes to her grandmother's to eat soup and her grandmother greeted us bare-chested and smiling in the sun painting her fence and waving so naturally when a man came by on a horse and buggy and said hello- no one at all uncomfortable with an old woman baking her breasts in the sun? Did we ever sit at her big wooden kitchen table in candlelight poking holes into the ends of eggs to blow out the yoke and trace traditional patterns with wax on the surface before dipping them in paint, then peeling off the wax to reveal the finished egg? Did we then dress in white dresses with starched lace collars to give the eggs away to boys who came in suits to spray us with perfume as the Easter tradition dictated? Did I ever see that mean Hungarian teacher make her stand during the entire class because she was Serbian and made one mistake in her otherwise perfect grammar? Did we ever sit in the Chinese restaurant in Budapest when I decided I was a born-again Christian and Barbara said she just couldn't understand it, but she would give it some thought because I was the only one who understood her so if I believed it, there had to be something to it? And were we ever together laughing in the school yard the day John Lennon came on my headphones and the thrill of that music made me say to hell with being a Christian? Am I wrong in thinking I have experienced a lot more death than most people my age? If it's true, what does it mean? Why? Am I supposed to know something others don't? Will the deaths just keep destroying me until I am utterly empty and ready to give up everything I thought I cared about and walk into the desert to meet some burning bush? Or is it all just meaningless?
Barbara had bone cancer and thought it was her fault. She loved me so much. I loved her so much. That's what I am remembering and holding onto tonight. I can't even begin to wonder why someone twenty-eight years old and in perfect health suddenly got cancer and is now gone, her incredible future erased. My future with her erased. A future of showing off our babies and introducing our lovers and remembering together what it was to be girls together. If I think too hard about that, I may lose it. There is someone, something to blame and, even if I did know who or what, what could I do?
Tonight I'm in a rented room with crooked shelves and old lady decor and a blue afghan on a very small bed. There's a busy city outside and rain on the window. There is a cross-stiched pillow with a Dostoyevsky quote that says if we wish to seek God we should not look to the firmament but to the face of human love. And there is someone I love so very much up the hill that I want to hold on to and sleep next to, but taboos of breakups say that I can't even call him, that I no longer have a friend. There is no time for this kind of bullshit. But there are no lights tearing through our sleep. There are so many friends out there right now that I need to reconcile with, but we are not in the right consciousness and maybe it will never happen. Maybe it never happened anyway.
We think we have so much time. We think we know it all. We think we are just supposed to forget them, but I have never been able to forget even one. Not even one.
Come over. We are already dead. The world has already ended. What do you have to lose? Promise not to hate. There are wounds in our hearts and they are staying there. I know what I say.
Photo by Jamuna Cseh. "Csodálatos lány volt, csodálatos barátnő, csodálatos filozófus, csodálatos forradalmár, csodálatos küzdő, csodálatos teremtés! Minden pillanatot köszönök neked!"