From the mountains

There is a lot of happiness in wandering in the mountains, waking up at the break of day, climbing high, higher than you think you could, looking at the rocks and snow beneath your feet and at the planes down below. The mountain air is clear, the breeze is frosty in the mornings, the towns are prettier than usual, the coffee is stronger, and the stars are more visible.

After an adventure it is wonderful to go back, and look up and be in awe at how far you managed to get the day before. Seems unreal and almost impossible looking from the road that runs between the mountains. So far away from home.

There is another slice of happiness getting back home, to my data, to my work, to planting little carrots in the flower pots filled with fresh soil. Everything looks magical and filled with peaceful light when you come back from the mountains. Closest I’ve ever got to happiness.

Taqueria San Jose

I have never been to this place. It was a small taqueria under highway 101 in San Rafael. I have seen it almost every time I drove through the city. And it happened often. Coming back home from the gym or shopping I saw its yellow lights under the bridge. It always looked empty and the light coming from the insides was dense and yellow, like moonlight. “Cocktails”, “Burritos”, “Tacos” were written in green paint over the stained brown walls of the taqueria. Staying on the stop light under the bridge I used to stare at the few people eating or waiting for their orders. The insides always looked shabby. In my head I marked it as the “happy place”. I thought that you had to be very happy in order to eat there. I thought to myself that once I’m in love I will go to this taqueria, and I will be so happy that I will not notice its shabbiness and the dissonance with the rest of the world.

For years I have been driving past this taqueria. I welcomed its light before I would hit the highway. It was the mark for entering or leaving the city. It signaled the start or finish of my errands. Today, once again I was stopped in traffic right in front of its doors. There was a red and white sign that read “Open” and a man left the taqueria carrying a take-out order. There was nobody else on the streets. I lowered the window of my car to smell the air. The day was warm and silent. Just a distant roar of the cars on the bridge.

Sitting comfortably in my car, I felt certain desperation about everything. I was falling into it gently. What came to mind was that I loved math. I loved numbers. I loved logic. And there was nothing else to say, because these things don’t require many words.

Lately I have been falling in love with things that aren’t human. I loved to read books about robots. And in my head I had conversations with robots, I shared things with them, I discussed my ideas with them. With them I didn’t sound crazy being concerned with the future of humanity and exploration of space. I dug myself deeper in coding and data, it made me advance in my job, but the true motivation was bigger than that. It was beyond visible, I sensed that it was helping us build the future. I couldn’t talk about it much with people around me. Every time I touched this topic at my work I saw glazed eyes, my friends also preferred to talk about mundane things, and there was really nobody else around to talk to. I resorted to learning and conversing in my head with yet-to-be-developed AI. On the outside I was becoming laconic. On the inside I was always trying to solve a problem.

If I imagined I had a robot for a friend it was easier to deal with my shortcomings. I knew I would never be as good as a robot in many things. My shields were down and I never had the need to feel reactive. I also felt secure, because there would be no emotional battles. Robots can’t take your words in a wrong way. You can’t offend them, and they can’t offend you. Offense is only there when we suspect a wicked intention. And I thought that conversing in my head with a robot I was at my best. Or was it the peaceful silence around me?

I was driving along the streets of San Rafael slowly emerging from these thoughts and looking at the green trees and Oleanders in bloom. The smell was sweetish. There were a few people on the streets modestly dining on the spread apart tables. The streetlights were on, illuminating the lack of evening vibe. I thought that the taqueria must be shining with its deep yellow lights like a lighthouse. But I have passed it already and couldn’t see it, however the thought of it made me feel a bit livelier.

Summer of 2020

The summer of 2020 went by fast. I looked at the desk next to my bed, there was a yellow book and 3 playing cards, three aces. I was trying to finish this book for my work for the past few months, but the reading went slowly. It was a long summer that went by fast. I was feeling melancholic and bored.

It was probably the lack of physical exercise, of challenges, the lack of seeing people, and now the smoke. The fires have started in California about a week ago, right when I took a week vacation to go hiking to Lassen with the kids. We had to cut our trip short and turn back home after day one. Heavy smoke from fires was all over Lassen and I still remembered how hard it was to breath there. The skies were yellow, the sun orange or red, and the ashes felt over the tent, the car, and the food while we ate it. The rest of the vacations we spent enclosed in our apartment, since the air outside was unhealthy. It was still hot, we were still  in covid and not seeing people. I tried to study or to read but would turn to screen of my laptop or phone all the time reading news or watching snippets of funny videos. The vacation week was wasted.

Overall we were doing well. While the country was suffering from unemployment and covid, I was lucky to have a good job, which I loved and that was meaningful. We were healthy and kids were good kids. Since this summer we weren’t able to go to Spain to see my parents (Europe didn’t admit Americans because of covid), my parents organized math and Russian classes for the kids almost daily, which took the kids away from video games and built a better relationship with their grandparents. We also took up hiking and doing difficult trails with elevation above our skills. I got us a tent and tons of camping and hiking equipment and we got good at setting our basecamp. On our escape from Lassen we packed our basecamp in 31 minutes, which I consider a record for the three of us.

When covid started I was in an uplifted spirit suddenly having so much extra time on my hands. However, this was all gone now. I still had the time, but the spirit disappeared. Most of the days I woke up early, meditated, made breakfast for the kids and myself and moved to my desk to work. I didn’t do almost anything else during my week except work. Lack of challenging exercise, lack of seeing people, too much screen time, and sitting at my desk had negative consequences. In August I have been wandering around the house without any motivation. I didn’t feel like myself. In my free hours I moved between my books (mostly on cosmology or science fiction), a mars rover model that I was starting to build as a hobby project, my data science classes that I took online for my work, and my startup that has been limping for the past few months because I have hit yet another wall.

I felt tired. After doing the grocery shopping this morning and breathing in a portion of smoky air, I sat on my bed with the book. I barely read one page. There were 3 aces on my bed, my son left them there earlier. I took the aces. I looked at them and started thinking about green pastures, horses, mountains. About fresh air. About courageous and strong men. About how beautiful and strong I could be. And I thought about running away from the Bay Area, somewhere else, another country may be. Because I thought the life was short and we will all die too soon. What’s the point of living tired? But I didn’t do anything. I needed time to understand how things really were, and not how I felt that they were. How objective can one be about what one lives? And if there is one card missing?


Strengths are weaknesses

I used to think that our strengths and our weaknesses were two sides of the same coin. That with each strength a weakness comes attached. If you wanted to be friends or love somebody you needed to evaluate if you could live with the weaknesses that come with their strengths.

Two things recently happened that changed my way of thinking about it. First, I finished reading “The Naked Sun” by Asimov, where at the end of the novel the detective Elijah Baley lists the strengths of the spacers as their main weaknesses. Spacers’ robots and their long lives, what was considered their strengths, ultimately prove to be also their weaknesses.

Second, this morning on a team zoom call my manager said that she is getting involved into one of our projects on managerial level. And I felt relieved as she said that because this project has been quite a mess till now, with different teams participating and many arguments. I thought to myself that my manager being so measured and objective was the best person to bring some structure to this new project. And it caught me by surprise because these are the qualities that in each annual review I listed as her weaknesses. I had to write something in that portion of the review and these were the only things that came to mind, her being very measured, being able to keep the distance, always being able to have an “outside” perspective. Till I got to know her better I had an impression that she wasn’t passionate about the work we do. And now the same exact qualities that came to mind as her weaknesses were also her strengths.

This made me question if our weaknesses are our strengths and vice versa. I thought about my own strengths and weaknesses. I can push things through and make it happen, this is my strength. I don’t give up. And this is also my weakness, I destroy things (relationships, feelings, people) on the way. I work a lot, I am passionate about my work, this is my strength and it is also my biggest weakness. I do less of other things, I spend less time with kids, family, friends. I’m less passionate about family life or friendships.

I have a friend who is kind, it is his biggest strength and also his biggest weakness. I have a friend who is extremely smart, and this is also his strength and his weakness. I have a friend who is creative, and now that I am thinking about it, it is her strength and her weakness.

It seems like strengths and weaknesses are not the sides of the same coin. They are literally one same thing. Once something becomes your strength, it also becomes your weakness.


There is this thing about accents. When I look back I have never fallen for anyone who didn’t have an accent. Majority of people I dated had accents. My ex-husband had an Argentinian accent in Spanish when I met him. We met in Barcelona and we spoke Spanish and I used to be attracted by his accent.

When I moved to US the few people I loved or was in love with had accents. My best friends had accents. Thick and beautiful accents that made them stand out. When I heard them speak they were brining a new perspective to the topics they covered. They made mundane things interesting. They made boring things new. I wanted to hear them speak just for the sake of the accent.

Accents were like clothing. Some were made out of silk, some bore the heaviness of nordic wool, some were honest and breathable like cotton. All made one look intricate and memorable.

And yet, my own accent always bothered me. I thought it made me sound ugly and shallow. I worked with a speech coach. And then I worked with another speech coach. It taught me to speak slower, but my accent survived all the coaching. People, random people, would tell me that they loved my accent. And I would not believe them. I would think they were just being nice. I was embarrassed by my accent for the major part of my life. By my accent in any of the languages I spoke. I think, all the immigrants, we feel like this at one time or all the time.

I was working with a lot of immigrants lately and it struck me that I often wanted to talk to them because of their accent. I enjoyed how it sounded. It was beautiful. Like listening to the waves of the ocean. Like nature. I was talking to an Azerbaijani woman a few days ago and as I was listening to her I was conscious that I received pleasure hearing her speak because of her accent. And yesterday I made some small talk with a guy from our gym, he was from Eastern Europe and had a distinctive thick accent. I kept up with the small talk because I liked the sound of his voice. His haircut had personality as well as his accent.

As I became conscious that I loved the accents of others and may be I liked them because of their accents, I realized I was ok with my own. My accent is my personality. Trust me, there are people out there that love your accent! Don’t get rid of it. Enjoy the sound!

The Power of Clarity

It was today before 9am at a cafe in Berkeley where I finished reading this book. It was neither the title nor the subject of the book that stroke me profoundly.  It was the long forgotten notion of clarity.

Something I was good at before: making decisions. I could make a decision trusting myself and go with it and never look back. This clarity of what I should do and what I should not do was what made me strong. It also made me ruthless and less emphatic, because I would see things for what they were and not for what me or others wished them to be. No bullshit, no wishful thinking, not too many gray areas of doubt.

And then I had problems in my marriage, got divorced, had to take care of my kids fully since their father wrote them off, a few years later felt in love again with somebody who was married, stayed in that gray area of “almost love” not making any decisions and bouncing between wishful thoughts and unwishful doubts.

I always thought that not being able to make a decision is one of the biggest faults of a human being. This frozen state of inactivity is almost death, it is where damage and loss happen, because the time moves forward and you are staying still.

Another thing that happened is that I was a victim. Ok, let me backtrack here. I was not a victim, but I used the power of being a victim. In life we all go through losses and damage, it could be a loss of a loved one, a loss of a job, an unhappy marriage, a health issue, a bad relationship with a parent or child, you name it. Carrying this loss gives us power of a victim, this power allows us to expect more or special compassion from others. We may change the course of a conversation, of a relationship, we may win attention or extra warmth with this power. We all have this power and we all use it one way or the other. This power prohibits us to grow. If we want to be strong and grow we must renounce this power. It was double hard because I never recognized this victimhood in myself, however I would think and say something along the lines that I already do more than majority of other moms. I would reject volunteering or say “no” to an invitation and add “I am a single mom I do not have the bandwidth”. It was a petty excuse, and I did not have to say it at all. But I said it because it gave me power of a victim of a situation. And I hated these words “single mom” with all my heart. They do not have the same connotation as a “successful woman” or a “great warrior”. And this is who I really am.

The book talked about this too. And I suddenly remembered how to make decisions and how not to be a single mom and never use this power of circumstances again. Strength and power are not the same. Do not grow power, grow strength. The only meaning in life is the one we give it. I love to say what I think, to love when I love, to laugh as if nothing else except laughter mattered, to fight (ok, I just enjoy martial arts, no other reason), to be truthful, to be direct, not to walk in the gray area of doubt. To have the clarity. To feel the power of clarity. To have the eyes open to what things really are, and to call bullshit by its name, and kindness by its name, and cowardice by its name, and love by its name.

I walked out of the gray area of my last 4 years after the divorce. Well, almost 5 now. I had no shady relationships, no hidden truths, nothing to lie about, no more “single mom” stuff. I saw what I saw, the life was that: people around, coffee, my closed book, the upcoming work meeting, then a drive home, picking up the kids from the gym, getting a Xmas tree. And tomorrow I would go to the gym early in the morning and train and spar and I looked forward to it. I missed all these guys with broken ears. You develop an unspoken trust with people after you have been in bodily fights with them.

Leaving all the gray areas behind I felt strong. I admired strong people and wanted to be one. Everything was simple and clear and full of love and meaning that I gave to it. I made my decisions.

They came with the December sunshine and the power of clarity.


On fennel, immortality and sunset in red

(for Neli, who says it makes a difference in her life when I write)

This summer I would wake up at 5:15am. Usually I would wake up even earlier than that and lie in bed and wait for the alarm to sound. When the mornings were hot I would push the blanket away and roll halfway across the bed and lie on its cold side. I felt rested and lazy and tried to find an excuse to not get up and to skip the dojo. At 5:20 I would get up, brush my teeth, put my gi on, take my sports bag, my phone and my car keys and walk through the door into the morning. The air was fresh and not cold in July. At 5:30 the sun was still behind the horizon but the darkness had already disappeared giving way to the gray air full of greenish trees.

Later in the day I would occasionally have breakfast at a cafe next to the dojo, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own. A few times we went to ride horses on the fields at sunrise.  And the sunlight on those fields was mixed with the strong smell of fennel, the same fennel that was in my toothpaste when I was a child. The scent of fennel, wild flowers and sunlight stayed on your skin till you showered that day. And then July was part of you.

At 9 I would be working. I would spend hours pulling customer data for analysis and designing tests. And the hours would braid into my work so smoothly that I would not notice how it would become afternoon and then evening. The kids were spending summer with my parents in Spain and there was nobody to interrupt my days.

There was a man that I cared for and when I would have a moment I would call him and if he could talk we would talk for a long while narrating our day and things we did. Sometimes we would meet for lunch or dinner and it seemed that summer days were still too short to say everything we lived through. We laughed a lot too. This relationship grew like the wild flowers on the fields grow: suddenly, growing under rains, spring winds and unyielding sunlight, and away from people’s eyes. And like the scent of fennel and wild flowers on early summer mornings it made one feel immortal.

In summers I had time to think and so I thought about what love was. Wasn’t it as simple as being able to put yourself in the other people’s shoes and see the world like they see it for a second, just to understand them? And then being able to say and do things in such a way as to make their day a little bit better from their point of view without taking anything away from yourself? This was the same love that you would have for a child or a friend or a parent. And yet it was so difficult to achieve taking the rational path… The walk across the field with the wild flowers that smell of fennel and immortality took you there directly.

This summer I had a lot of freedom. Like the wild flowers I had the freedom to grow. And so I worked two jobs, contracted on small projects, trained in bjj almost every morning, took a few courses on speech and kept working on my company. The kids were taken care of and I felt asleep at nights with a smile on my face first thinking about them; and then feeling the cool calmness of the sheets on my half-naked body and finally imagining the eyes and the hands of the man I cared for and gradually dissolving in the darkness of my own sleep. Summer nights were still, like the fields without wind, and I slept deeply.

A few times this summer I observed with certain surprise that I never regretted my divorce. First time it was because my mom asked me if I ever regretted not being with my ex-husband and, caught off guard, I bluntly said “no, not a day.” And this made me look back a few more times and realize that I did not miss being married. Our relationship was bulky, unkind and painful towards the end. I was young when I married and I lost my sense of direction and wandered away from the flowery field into a well-know path that took a lot of space and energy and that ended up in a big building resembling a shopping center. I was glad to be far away from it now.

On the summer mornings when I did not work or train I would go on a hike in the redwoods. And walking on the narrow path I would hear birds sing and would be taken aback by the sounds and by the beautiful silence around me.  I was not that present before. Once at home I would take a shower to wash off all the dust and before putting on my clothes I would stay in front of a large bedroom mirror and look at my naked body. The skin, with slightly darker arms and legs touched by the summer sun, the muscles, the breasts, the visible neck bones, the hips, my face, my wet hair with the water still dripping around my neck, and the red nail polish on my fingers, the only bright spot in this human nakedness. And I would look at myself and feel kind towards this body that was mine; and slowly, like a raising wave in the ocean, love would settle in, taking away the objection of the slightly full hips. And then I would’t be serious any longer and I would smile and make faces and tell myself to go get dressed, or at least wrap myself in a towel before going into the kitchen to make coffee.

Those were summer days in July when I would wake up loving my mornings, work a lot, think tenderly about people close to me and feel wrapped in the smell of fennel and immortality under the morning sunlight. I was waiting for the kids to come back from Spain to start another school year, and for more work to take on to be able to pay for all of it. And I wanted to hear what his next project would be and see how my own projects would unfold.

And one evening I saw an immaculate sunset filled with small white clouds sprinkled with golden aureolas from the setting sun. And I thought that almost nothing could be as beautiful as that. That day I sat back on the sofa with the laptop on my knees working in front of that sky. And gradually, making its pauses, the sky turned red. The little clouds became golden and I sat there slowly falling in love. As if everything before that was not beautiful enough.

Like a Dance

Love relationship, specially at the very beginning, is like a dance. If you look at it, a dance is a series of steps that take two people closer to each other or separate them. Dance is rhythmical and beautiful cadence of getting a step closer and then separating to keep the distance to allow the movement to flow. If two people just stay in each other arms there is no dance. If they decide to distance too much the connection between the partners breaks and the dance dies.

Dance, as love, is made of tension and intimacy between two people. You observe the other close and alternate the follow and the lead. He takes a step back, you follow in the same direction. Then there is a pause and you take the lead to make your step and let him follow. If I do not know what to do in real life, I imagine it is a dance and then it all becomes clear.

And then, once the dance is complete you stay in each other arms, at least I did. And this hug was limiting because it first lost its tension, then its intimacy, and then there were neither dance nor space to move. We forgot how to dance, and with it how to keep the beauty of life alive.

In love, as in dance, we should never become lazy.  Always keeping the flow of the movement, the distance, the closeness, feeling with all your being the moves and intentions of your partner, being fully present. The embrace is not the goal of the dance. The goal is to create beauty in between of the steps. A beautiful relationship.

Tiny White Flowers

It was exactly a day before it would be one year when I first kissed him. I should probably say we kissed, but in my memory I kissed him first and then we kissed. Also I did not remember the date on purpose, it stuck in my mind and I didn’t manage to forget it. My brain found a lot of small hints to make sure I remember it was the tenth of November.

This first kiss was followed by intimacy of looking at each other, of listening, of long conversations that always seemed short. By intimacy of laughing together. Laughing first with our eyes, then with our mouths, and then laughing with our whole bodies.

Once we were driving and he kissed my hand and I told him then that you could never be angry at the person that kisses your hand, because it is the less selfish kiss ever. And I was never angry at him. There was the intimacy of never being angry.

During one of our lunches he offered me to taste his soup. We were at a restaurant in Palo Alto that had very wide tables and very good wine. He had to lean forward over the table to give me the spoon and I tried it and passed the spoon back to him. After he ate another spoonful of soup he leaned over the table again and told me in a low voice that he just stole a kiss. He told me there was a poem where a lover steals a kiss by eating from the same spoon as his beloved. And so there was the intimacy of poetry between us.

And at another time, yet at another decadent restaurant, this time with a lot of velvet chairs and somewhat of a hunter’s spirit, we had our first and only argument. It was in the middle of winter and it was raining very hard that day and he ordered some warm food to share and I did not touch it since all I really wanted was roasted duck and a good glass of red. And we argued for a few minutes about the food. And I saw that he got upset. Not seriously upset, you do not get seriously upset over the food, but still upset and this was our first argument. And I wish I would just ate that food. And he said he was sorry. And at the end it was just funny. We always ended up laughing at everything.

A few times we saw stars together over the lake Lagunita. On one of our walks it was really dark, and there were no lights along the path that went around the lake. And we could see a lot of stars and then heard the sound of the frogs jumping into the lake and the sound of an owl flying somewhere near. And it was cold, and I would lose my balance when he held me tight and kissed, but then I did not mind losing my balance if I was in his arms.

And there was this huge oak tree on the top of the hill. We went a few times for a hike there and climbed that oak and sat on the lower branches. It was a huge beautiful oak tree, almost like a country of its own. With its cities and rivers. And one felt like a king and a queen sitting on the branches of that oak, you could not have a better kingdom than that. On those hikes we would tell each other stories from our childhood. And together with the stories the oak tree was from our childhood. And I loved his stories more than my own.

When I would not see him for a few days I would imagine how the next time he comes we would kiss each other before saying “hi” and how then I would ask him how he was doing and with a warm smile he would say “I am good now.” And we would continue kissing and I would hear his heartbeat just to realize that his heartbeat is all I wanted to hear. I never heard so much heartbeat before, at least not so clearly. Once when he came over he was tired and sleepy, and we took a mid-morning nap on my bed and my head was laying on his chest and I could hear his heartbeat. This is how I learnt the true intimacy of poetry. Not the one behind all the written lines, but the one behind the heartbeat of the person you love.

Once, in the early spring there was a beautiful almond tree in blossom on the corner of my street. I made a picture of this tree and sent it to him saying that this is what I always thought love was. It was a tree with tiny white flowers. Each flower is a moment of intimacy and beauty that you live through. First there is one flower, then a few, then a full branch. And then you have a tree full of tiny white flowers. And this was as close as I could get to the definition of what love was. Of course there were other definitions of love, such as kindness and care, and thinking first what he needs and how he would feel if I do that or say that, but still when I thought of love involuntarely a beautiful almond tree in blossom would come to mind.

My love for him, or better to say what my love for him made me go through, should also include all the week-ends and holidays that I did not see him, because he was married. And all the times we could not talk or we could not see each other. The moments when I missed him dearly and would have given five years of my life to just see his eyes and how he looked at me. The moments when I wanted to be there by his side and be part of his life and never could. And then at some point in April, and for some reason I want to think that it happened on a cold and rainy day, these moments tipped over our love, and all our stories, and the oak tree, and the poetry of the spoonful of soup, and even the heartbeat. And we said we would be friends. All those moments that made it tip over did not blossom as tiny white flowers and now it does not even seem that they belong to this story.

We were friends in summer and we were also friends in fall. We both tried hard. At least I tried hard, so hard that I never slipped into hearing his heartbeat again. We still talked and had coffee or dinner together from time to time. And there were still the same warm kindness and inability to be upset at each other. And we did not lose our laugher. We laughed a lot. And I received a lot of pleasure from seeing him.

And it was exactly a day before it would be one year when I first kissed him that we were planning to get sandwiches and eat them in my car after I finish working. But then something was going on with one of his friends and he had to cancel our dinner at the last moment. And I said that of course I did not mind. And I did not.

I finished my work and as I sat in my car I started crying. I turned on the radio and put the GPS on to see the traffic. There were a lot of cars on the roads at that hour, and I just looked at the driving directions and tried to concentrate on making the right turns. It was raining outside and I had tears in my eyes and everything looked blurry. And the only thought in my head was what the MMA coach had told me recently, “You have to follow the directions. You can win the fight, you just have to listen, not have any say, and follow the directions.” It was an empty thought but I held to it as to a lifesaver. And this night I did not get lost on the highways. The drive was long and calming. And I said to myself, “God, let me fall out of love with him, or at least not get hurt.” But then I did not really believe in God. And I thought that when people pray to God they are praying to themselves, to their own minds. And somehow this thought made me smile.

I was quiet as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I do not remember if I still had tears in my eyes or not. But the yellow lights on the bridge were blurry. In any case I did not mind the tears since they were part of life that had an oak tree for a kingdom.

Arnaud and me

Precisely this day, a year ago, there was a Halloween party at Arnaud’s house. I was thinking about it this morning because today we had a Halloween party at my house and also because Arnaud is in France right now and could not come. And this party felt like a small victory. Because last year I sat the whole party in a car sobbing desperately. The car was parked next to Arnaud’s house and I could not manage to calm down and go to the party and face all the happy people. I felt miserable because I had no money and no job, because the business was not going anywhere, because I had no support, because I was alone, and because my kids depended on me, and I didn’t even get them Halloween costumes.

So, all I remember is how it was getting darker and darker, and then the moon was up, and the sky was dark; and Arnaud brought me food in to the car, and sat there with me. And it felt priceless that somebody knows how you like your hamburger.

And then I started to think back to when we met and everything I learnt from him. We first met on a school playground, at the Lycée. Three years ago. And from the first time we talked we got engaged in joking, and our sense of humor matched almost perfectly, and this made everything else extremely simple. Our kids became best friends (they both arrived to US and to school on the same day) and a few weeks later I stopped at Arnaud’s place for lunch and he made pasta with cheese (the two things I do not eat). But I ate it then just to make things simple and because he was French (I assumed French people must know what the good food is 🙂 ). And yes, I had stomach ache the rest of the day. Then I also became friends with Lucie, his wife. And I think this became the best friendship I’ve ever had.

None of us had family around and we started to have dinners together two-three times a week. And we still have them. We joked. We laughed. We ate home-cooked food (I do not think we ever went outside to eat during the week). Our conversations revolved around life in outer space (there is none), zombies (I have no opinion here, but Arnaud likes to talk about it), fights (half of our talks are about fighting and martial arts and how to do maximum damage in minimum amount of time), prisons on the moon (possible plan), God (we agreed that it does not exist), how to run a business (here it gets complicated, but basically it takes a lot of hours), education of our children (here we all were clueless, but raising the voice helped at times). But mostly we laughed. We laughed a lot.

There are a few things that happened in that first summer of our friendship

-first, once Arnaud got quite sick and the next day when I asked him how he was doing he did not reply to my messages and my calls. I was worried about him. Instead of going to the gym I drove to his house (I knew that he never closed the door). I was glad I came, he was on a sofa, unable to move, suffering from severe food poison, I cooked him rice and stayed with him for a while. That day we both learnt one important thing, that if I don’t hear from him, I will show up at his door to make sure he is alive.

-second, on one of our dinners at my house we were talking about life and I made a comment that since I got divorced I finally could have the bedroom the way I wanted, the colors, the bed, the sheets. And Arnaud said, “I do not care how my bed looks, I do not care if I sleep on a mattress on the floor, if my sheets are that color or that other, if we have furniture or not, all I care is that when I go to bed Lucie is there with me.” I do not think I have ever respected a guy as much as I respected him then. (There could have been a lot of reasons to respect him, he run a successful business, he provided for his family, he was a black belt in Judo and on the national French Team; he was good at everything he did; but this one sentence inspired so much respect for him that nothing else really mattered.)

-third, he taught me how a friend’s hug and kiss should be. Before that I really do not know why I hugged or kissed friends. It was just the right thing to do, that everybody does at greetings, but since it was not the most intentional thing I tried to wiggle through it quickly, forget about it, and get to the next thing. With Arnaud I realized that he actually meant to hug and kiss me as a friend when he did it. It was not a formality. There was a lot of intent and warmth in it and it made me feel loved. I never noticed before that friend’s hug can mean so much and be so comforting and loving. I learnt it from him. I started hugging people with an intent to hug them, not with the idea of getting fast through it and moving forward. And it made a huge difference in my life.

-forth, Arnaud trained with me in martial arts. I knew so little and I was so new to it, that at the beginning I could not take seriously him training me. But I appreciated every second of it (I say second because when you are 120 Lbs and you are getting hit, gently, but hit, by a 220 Lbs guy your time count is in seconds). He went with me to my first tournament, as my “corner man” and as my coach. And he did not stop talking the whole way to the tournament and I lost that one badly. Here I gave myself a word not to take him to any of my other tournaments because he does not let me focus on the fight. He is still my best friend, he is just not going with me to the tournaments.

I could go on and on telling how much I have learnt from him. From his thoughts on each man’s personality by how they shake your hand to how to make crepes, from what to do in case of zombie attack to how to hit people in the nose with the palm of your hand. But mostly, how to care for people you love. In one of the conversations Arnaud said that once he sells his company and puts enough money on the name of his wife and kids to live a good life, this is when he can rest. And I saw him working till he is green in the face, days, weeks, years, to make this happen.

There are probably two things worth respecting in any man or woman, first is providing for the family they created and second is sleeping every night with the person they love.

Arnaud and I talk a lot. We are very alike, and we became very good friends. Our kids believe that they are cousins or at least twin brothers. We have family dinners a few times per week. Informal home dinners, meat, vegetables, rice.

A few weeks ago we were having coffee in his yard and he said, “I read your blog on dating. I did not know you were such a romantic person.” And I laughed, because I thought it was so obvious. And then he told me about his reckless adulthood. A complete opposite of mine.

Sometimes when we talk about business or sports, and when he is giving me his advice, I hate him. Because he knows so much and he is so much better at it, and I feel like nobody. Of course what he says is right, I just can’t do it that way most of the time. But if I have to hear this from somebody I’d rather it be from him. It is good to be able to chose the person who will give you the advice you will hate.

A few days ago I was having coffee with a close friend. And he asked me how Arnaud’s company was doing, and I said “I do not know, I have not seen him in two weeks. He is in France.” “Well, two weeks is not that much for a company,” he replied. And at that point I realized that not having seen Arnaud for two weeks was quite a lot.

And I also thought that Halloween was coming and that things have changed a lot from the past year. Things were ten times better. And he and Lucie were such a huge support all this time. And I have learnt so much from him through care, conversations, laughs, and friendship. And now I was hosting the Halloween party, and kids had costumes, and even if Arnaud was not here, his kids were coming to my place. And it felt like a tiny victory over this hard year. Not just my victory.