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.

The book

I woke up at 5:30am, made myself a coffee, a few sandwiches for all of us, and then woke up the kids. I seated them in the car with blankets, their neck pillows, and doudous and we were on the road before it was 6. It was dark and warm inside the car. And then there was a heavy smell of smoke as we passed Sonoma and it made us all dizzy for a few minutes. Close to 7 we saw the first rays of sun on our right. The road was smooth and empty.

The book with the red cover and the word “Persepolis” in white letters was on the passenger’s seat, next to my handbag and the black winter jacket. I saw the book with the corner of my eye as we drove north through villages and hills.

That day the fall occurred suddenly as we were on the last stretch of the road before Tahoe. The trees were yellow, red, and green. And there was some snow on the branches. The mix of colors became fall and reminded me of how it was in Moscow in my childhood. The kids were singing on the back seats when we parked at the coffee shop for breakfast at 9. We had arrived to the lake. For an hour I read the book. I did not notice how I left my coffee unfinished and I have no idea how the kids entertained themselves meanwhile. With the book I stepped into some other life, that life was not mine, but nonetheless was very familiar. Almost as the fall in its present colors.

The whole day we hiked and played in the snow. And as I enjoyed the simple things with kids I was also thinking about my uncle that was sick in Moscow and I was worried about him. And then I told myself that there is nothing I can do and I just have to live my life and take care of the kids. In any case, if I would be very sick, this is what I would like others to do. I would not want my family to be worried about me. Life was this way – you have to live through things finding balance between being present to every side of life and not worrying worthlessly.

I opened the red book again when the kids were swimming in the pool. I first read in the hot tub, but then it became too crowded and I sat on a sofa facing the pool. I stretched my body under the last beam of afternoon sun, my legs were still wet and I was getting cold. And then the book got the rest of me.

The moon was beautiful that night. It was the thinnest moon I have ever seen, with the outline of the full round moon as a shadow. It was low, right above the mountains, and I looked at it while the kids ate their candies. I held my son’s hand, it was small, cushiony, and a little bit sweaty. We had an argument before dinner and I had to raise my voice at him quite a bit. And he cried and I felt the pain of having to be angry at him. He looked helpless, as if he never did anything right. And the pain was the shadow of my love for him.

I finished the “Persepolis” book laying in diagonal on the opened sofa bed in our hotel room. The kids were getting ready to sleep in the bedroom as I read the last page and closed the book. I remembered how I was left to live by myself when I was 14. I was in Barcelona and I could not remember if I was scared or not. I just remember how my dad bought me a table set that consisted of a few plates, a cereal bowl, and a tea cup. It was purple and made in Portugal. And when my parents left I looked at this set on my kitchen counter and I felt very hollow. But then I had committed to a new life and there was meaning to it.

I still had two of the purple plates and the tea cup. The cereal bowl broke years ago.

I went to the hotel lobby and as I was going down the stairs there was a couple. They were American, in their fifties probably. He had a kind and simple face and grey hair, and she was making some remarks about fishes in the pond. There was no complexity behind his wrinkles. And I suddenly understood why I could not fall in love with American men. It was not the lack of kindness.

I got an espresso from the bar, went back to my room, filled the bathtub, and kissed the kids goodnight. In the bathroom I took off my clothes, got into the tab, and did not think about anything. Or else I was afraid I would cry. I just sat there peacefully feeling the water on my skin.

Two Gold Elephant Pins

We were staying next to a square window. All I remember was the right lower corner of the window. It stroke me how perfect the straight lines of the window corner were. Through the window I could see the swimming pool. It was a large rectangle. Blue, white, and very still. The corner of the pool did not fit into the corner of the window and it created an intersection of geometrical figures. And I was staring at these figures trying to see some hidden magic behind them. But there was none.

When I looked over the pool there was a straight line of cypress trees. The cypresses were perfect. Tall, elegant, not like on Van Gogh paintings, but unnaturally perfect, like plastic Christmas trees. They created a straight line on the further end of the pool.

I looked at him and I knew that he saw the same lines that I saw. His son went running down to the pool. And we stayed next to the window looking at the blue water below and waiting for his son to appear next to the pool and jump into the water.

*     *     *

There were a lot of dark corridors in that house. Finally I found the room I was looking for. The room had no shape, or I could not see the shape in the darkness. And there it was, the old piano in the corner. I could barely see it. The top of the piano was covered with small boxes and chests. Those chests that you put jewelry in. I opened one box carefully and there was a necklace enrolled in a thin handkerchief. I closed the box. I opened another one, this one was a large black box tied with a ribbon. I took the ribbon away, a purple velvet ribbon, and opened the box. There were some coins, a small statue out of malachite, an old watch, and a few precious stones. My grandmother loved malachite. There should be a small malachite box as well. I looked for it but could not find it. May be it was lost. Then there was a wooden box, and I opened it and then I clearly remembered what I was looking for. Two thin gold elephant pins. Those were extremely old, from thin gold with ruby eyes and some more jewelry decorations on their backs. One elephant pin was bigger than the other. I could not remember the story of these two elephants, but I knew there was a story behind them. My grandmother told me the story many times. Somebody brought those elephants from India as a gift to somebody in our family for saving somebody’s life. I was four then, I used to take both elephant pins in my hands, admire them, touch their ruby eyes, and then pin them on my lapel and run around the house imagining I was a princess from India. And I felt hidden magic power when I wore them. All the jewelry my grandmother had was magical. I felt the ruby ring on my finger and continued opening boxes looking for the two gold elephant pins. They might have lost their polish but I knew they must be in one of the boxes on the piano. It was just very dark around.

*     *     *

We were staying outside. The breeze smelt of sea water and we felt it on our faces and bodies. We stood next to each other on a wide lawn, our feet on the grass. It was very soft and warm. As it is in spring in this part of Europe. In front of us there was the road, the sandy beach, and the sea. And the sky was blue and open. I kneeled with one knee on the grass to pick up something and as I was lifting my head I saw a line of small uneven bumps on his skin above his waistline. “What is it?” I asked. “A scar from an old cancer,” he answered. “It is all past now. Do not worry.” I looked at him and I did not worry. I knew it was all fine.

*     *     *

I woke up at dawn. Cold morning air was entering the room through the blinds. I felt scared of my night dream. Two gold elephant pins. I needed to find these two gold elephant pins. They had the magic. And I remembered every detail of them, as if I saw them yesterday.

How being a girl affects my time managment


As most people I have hard time setting time for myself, be it for reading, learning something new, writing a blog post (since I’ve started I have been interrupted twice by Skype questions from my coworker, and I replied), or even for watching a movie. With years I got disciplined and made a few rules for myself that I try not to break.

  1. I set time for work. And even if I work from home I am not going to touch our dining table or sweep the floors. I literally forget that I am at home and do not stress out about that piece of cucumber on the floor, our lunch today or the guinea pig cage that desperately needs cleaning.
  2. I set time in my calendar with clear start and end time. For example, Tuesday from 8:30am to 2:30pm work on community building for the brand. I figured out that six hours is good enough time. And I do not schedule any meetings for these hours. I also do not answer calls that are not project related.
  3. I leave 30min slots between each large task or project, this allows me to walk around, breath through, and answer this urgent email from my mom or text a friend who is inviting us for dinner on Saturday. Generally speaking I lose these 30 minutes. However, losing them allows me to save chunks of 4 and 6 hours of uninterrupted time without feeling bad that I am not being responsive to my family and friends.

These three steps allowed me to concentrate on my work and to do a good job when it comes to business. However, I am still struggling to find time for my own growth.

For growth and “feeling good about my life” I need:

  1. To read in chunks of 1-3 hours
  2. Study (I am fan of Coursera courses)
  3. Write my thoughts (via email, blog, or just in a notepad)

And it has been challenging, because I never seem to find a solid block of time to do these things daily. It seems the reverse of my working scheme. I focus on something for 30 minutes and then lose 3-4 hours on just stuff, mostly small stuff (helping kids with homework, fixing dinner, finding my son’s lost sock, scraping magic putty from my daughter’s bedsheets – No, she did not put it there, my son did. And if you are interested, you can only get it off by scraping the putty with a butter knife from the wet and soaped sheet.)

Today a friend sent me two articles on time management and maker’s vs. manager’s schedules. Here they are:

Article about Google email about time management strategy

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham

After reading both I started to think how come I have such hard time finding chunks of time for myself when I am not working. And then I thought, what’s the purpose, I am going to be interrupted anyway. And this is it: we expect to be interrupted.

As a kid I grew up first in Russia and later in Spain. A girl, a woman, is always supposed to help at home. When my mom would be cooking I would be asked to help clean the counter or set the table. When she would be cleaning I would be asked to help water the plants. When the friends were at the table I was asked to serve the tea or bring something from the fridge. Those were not hard tasks at all, and most of the time I enjoyed doing them. However this daily routine set me for “I am going to be interrupted” mode. It made me not start anything that would require deep concentration and absentmindedness. On the other hand, my brother, who by the age of 10 was sitting long hours at his computer playing and then programming, was considered a lost case. He was hard to get hold of, everything would take him 30 min more, considering it got him 30 min to just get off his chair, and at the end he was asked much less than I was.

I grew up expected to jump off my sit and help right away. I think that most of the girls are raised this way.  When it comes to simple household tasks girls are asked more than boys to help. And we grow up with the “schedule” where we can’t sit at home for 3 hours without being interrupted. Most of the time we will be asked to do something every 30 minutes if not more often. This sets us up for future manager’s schedule, but prevents us from working as makers. Those are my thoughts on why I find it so hard to set 2-3 hour chunks for myself every day to just read and learn.

I am raising two kids. One girl and one boy, and the truth being said, I ask my daughter to help more, exactly as I was asked to help more when I was 10. The simple reason is that my son would be so involved with his legos or books or whatever he is doing that it is hard to get his attention. I would need to repeat the same thing 5 times and to go fetch him, and then chase him, and then he will negotiate with me (in most cases unsuccessfully) trying to get more iPad time in exchange for help. My daughter would just come and help. And I chose the easy way.

Ok, as the next steps, I will set up some uninterrupted evening / night time for myself. And yes, I will have to do something with my kids’ schedules. In the past few days I had to leave them for a few hours at home by themselves, and each time I wrote for them a list of tasks they had to do before they could play iPads. Miraculously every time I got back home everything was done in the best possible way (I mean it! They literally cleaned what I asked them to clean). I think I can try this strategy for a bit and see if it works. This way they can do things at their own rhythm, and my daughter gets a chance to be a maker as well.

Small red light

A close friend told me his son got sick during a vacation trip. And I vividly remembered that night in a Croatian port. And how I was scared then.

We were on a short trip to Dubrovnik. My husband, our then five-year-old daughter, and me. On a third day of our trip our daughter got sick. She started having fever towards noon and we thought it would go away by itself. We returned to the hotel and watched her. By dinner time her fever only got higher and she was shivering. Since the trip was a very short one we did not have any medicines with us. We were staying in a hotel in a touristy downtown. At nine I went to a pharmacy that we spotted earlier, but it was already closed. It had a note on the door with the address of a 24-hour pharmacy. The pharmacy was far away, outside of the touristy area. I got back to the hotel with the address. We checked the location and decided not to go there.

By eleven our daughter’s fever only got worse. I told my husband that we need to get some ibuprofen for her. He said he is not going anywhere at that hour. I told him I would go and left the hotel room. I was able to catch a taxi and gave the piece of paper with the address to the driver. He told me it was far away in the port. Not a good place to be at night. I said this was the 24-hour-phramacy. He did not say anything in return. We drove out of the bright tourist city to the dark everyday Dubrovnik. There were no people on the streets and soon instead of the houses we were driving through the industrial hangars till we reached the port. Next to the port there was a small square with some trees and the driver stopped on the side of the square. “Here it is,” he told me and nodded towards a dark house with a metallic door and a small red light over it. I paid and got out of the car. I asked him to wait. But I am not sure he understood me. He stood with the inside lights on for half a minute while I was ringing the bell and then left. The truth is I was so scared of this darkness and the strange city that it took me a few seconds to realize that he had left. And then it was too late to run after the car.

It was dark. No lights except the small red light over the pharmacy door. The park on the square looked dark too. Across the park were the port docks. I rang the bell. It said “24-hour Pharmacy” over the door. And I had a hollow feeling that nobody was going to answer. Still I rang it again and again, because I did not know what to do next and I was scared. Probably ten or fifteen minutes have passed. It was clear that the door was not going to open. I had some money with me and no cell phone. It was past midnight.

Slowly I started crossing the park to reach a wide street that the taxi driver took. In the park I saw a group of Croatian men, may be 4 or 5 of them. They were drinking and talking. They said something at me when they saw me. And I just imagined that I was made out of steel and did not have a heart, and kept walking looking straight ahead. I was scared and my shoulders got tense. The men did not follow me.

On the wide street I felt better. There were almost no cars. I walked in what I thought was the direction towards the tourist center. Shabby houses on my left and shipping docks on my right. No people. I do not remember how long I walked but I reached a bus stop at some point. I stood there looking at the bus schedule which I did not understand. Then a bus stopped. It was empty. The driver asked me something in Croatian and I just told him I was a tourist. He switched to English. He was an old man and his English was not good, but we understood each other. “Tourist center?” he asked me. I nodded. “Go in,” he said. Then he handed me a tourist booklet and said. “Read. It is a long road.”

“The bus is off service. But I do not want you to stand alone there. Not safe.” he said. He continued talking as I sat on the second row. I rested my head against the window and felt asleep as soon as the bus took off. I think he kept talking all the way.

I woke up when the bus stopped and the doors opened. “Tourist center,” he said. I offered him money for the ride, but he just waved his hand and said “No, no. Go.” We were at the entrance of the Dubrovnik fortress, a few minutes away from the hotel.

It was close to three in the morning when I got inside the hotel room. My husband was sleeping. My daughter was laying feverish next to him. I went to the bathroom, soaked a towel in cold water and put it over her body. He woke up and told me he was worried and I should not have taken so long. I told him the pharmacy was closed.

I sat next to my daughter and kept changing soaked towels on her body and forehead. At seven the pharmacy under the hotel building opened and I got some ibuprofen there. I gave it to my kid and when she was feeling better, towards noon, I took her out, to the hotel terrace and ordered a coffee. And we sat there calmly. She coloring her new book and me enjoying the coffee on a bright October day.

Then I did not want to think about what have happened the night before. The darkness and fear seemed so far away in that colorful touristy city.

But when a friend told me his son was sick during a vacation trip I suddenly felt the fear of that night in Dubrovnik. Ringing the doorbell under the small red light. Shipping docks, dark streets, men drinking in the park. And me, blonde, blue-eyed, in jeans, beige sweater, and high heals. And the hollow feeling of nobody answering.


Heart of a warrior

Smart is sexy. When people think and say what they think I want to fall in love with them. And sometimes I do.

Falling in love is like a dance. A dance on your own orbit. No need to greet the other or to say good-bye. No need to say anything. It is a flow. You never really say good-bye to people you love. You move with your orbit. They move with theirs and the love flows.

And I am asking myself why we build barriers against out hearts. I have built so many of them.

May be because when we are young and our hearts are tender we protect them with barriers. We call them “point of view”, “habit”, “tradition”, “religion”, and “the right thing to do”. As we grow our hearts get stronger, but we keep the barriers there. They are no longer needed, but they make us feel safe. They also take away the free flow. And without the flow the dance and love do not happen.

Love is acceptance. Full acceptance of the other person. It is love of all the traits, of all the wrinkles, and of all the smooth sides. If I am attached to my “point of view”, or any other of my barriers, I can’t accept you, and as a consequence I can’t love you. Love means I do not want to change you. I do not want you to be any different from who you are right now.

Love is flow. And through love, and because of love, and for the sake of love I am learning how to take all the barriers down. What I used to call happiness turned out to be a glimpse of feeling the flow. Because when you smiled one of my barriers felt down and I stepped into the flow for just a moment. For just one moment till I put that barrier back up.

With the barriers I can’t think freely. Because thinking is also a flow. To truly think, as well as to truly love, I need to free the heart from all the barriers. This is why thinking is sexy. It is a part of the flow. It is a part of a dance.

I will grow a heart of a warrior that is not afraid to be free.

I will become a dancer with a heart of a warrior.

Moonlight People

I woke up and was laying quietly in my bed. The sheets were warm and smooth. As smooth as they get in the morning when the first rays of sunlight hit the opposite wall and it is almost time to wake up. But it was still dark and the moonlight was squeezing through the half closed blinds. Light breeze moved the trees outside of the window and the moonlight moved with it too. Then it slowly filled the room.

It felt very peaceful. And suddenly I was not worried about anything. I noticed that my hair was spread on the pillow around my head and had the shade of the moonlight. The skin wore moonlight color too. My body, now half made of moonlight, slid under the sheets until it touched his warm skin. Another half-moonlight-made body. I put my hand on his arm and he reached for it in his sleep and I held his hand our fingers interlaced. His eyes closed while moonlight kept crossing the blinds. He was breathing peacefully and the smile settled on his lips like a beautiful night butterfly, slowly moving it moonlit wings with each breath. I kept my eyes on the butterfly and knew that nothing could happen to us while the butterfly kept moving its wings. Light sound of the breeze outside and the moonlight.

I woke up again a few hours later. The room was recovering its morning colors and I kissed him lightly, got out of bed and turned on the coffee machine. In the bathroom, while brushing my teeth I looked at myself in the mirror. I liked what I saw. I was still half made of moonlight.

I went to check on the kids and they were sleeping in their beds cuddled with their stuffed toys. It was too early to wake them up for school. They could sleep for fifteen more minutes. I stood in the doorway looking at them. And it felt as if moonlight was looking at them too. I took the coffee from the kitchen and sat on the bed. He never had coffee that early in the morning. But he knew I was back and he opened his eyes and looked at me. And we both smiled. I half closed my eyes as if I were looking far far away and looked back at him. And we did not say a word because moonlight people do not have to talk to love each other. Or may be they talk but very slowly and in low voice and almost nobody can hear them. Silently. And I stretched my body along his till it fit perfectly and then only my hair reminded us of moonlight. And we did not know how much time has passed.

Finally we all woke up and had breakfast. And he prepared kids’ lunches while I cut fresh fruits and toasted the bread. And we sat at the table together and I realized that I have never loved the kids that much before. I was looking at their eyes and I was seeing them. And I was not in a hurry. And nothing worried me because I was full of moonlight.

He had to leave to a meeting before we left the house. I was brushing my hair and he interrupted me with a kiss and I loved being interrupted. I did not mind it at all. As we kissed I could feel the night moonlight butterfly on his lips, and I was extra careful to touch his skin with mine. His lips were as soft as the the wings of the butterfly. “Whatever moonlight touches…,” and I did not finish the thought because he left through the door and took the rest of the sentence with him.

I looked at my face in the bathroom mirror and saw a little blue bump on my nose. I touched it and it hurt. It must have been from yesterday’s kickboxing. I tried to remember if I was hit in the nose, and I thought that I was. I looked at myself and realized how moonlight has changed my body. It was smooth and elastic and there were no signs of past fights. I did not have to defend anybody any longer. I raised my arms as I put on dark red sweater. And as I stood there with the raised arms I instantly knew that the future will move with the grace of the moonlight.

There is no better warrior than a butterfly that sits at nights on your lips.

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After I dropped the kids at school and before I headed to work I had coffee with another mom from school. We had never had coffee before. We sat next to a big window in a cafe with red brick walls and she asked me, “What else can you be as a person?”. She must have been a witch but I did not mind.

And I thought that I could be made out of moonlight. Or at least half out of moonlight.

Birthday Cake

I waited for him to call in the morning. It was eleven o’clock and he has not called yet. I decided that it was too late to go out for lunch with him. I called the lady who was going to babysit the kids and told her that I had a change of plans. Then I told the kids to put on their shoes and take their jackets. I told them we were going to a cafe and then to get my birthday cake.

Close to the cafe there was a lego shop. I parked at the lego shop entrance and told the kids that they can get one lego set each. A gift to them on my birthday. The lego store was closed, the sign on the door read that it would open at noon. I promised the kids that we would come back when it opens.

We got pastries and coffee at the cafe. The kids jumped excited around me, they loved the cafe; they were also very happy awaiting to get the lego sets. Kids get so happy with gifts. I thought of when I was a kid and how I felt asleep excitedly on the night before my birthday all wrapped in the magic of what I will wake up to.  I still loved gifts. I just rarely got any in the last years.

I looked at my phone. It was half past eleven. Then I took the book and started reading. The kids were running on the street in front of the cafe. I was sitting at the high bar table facing the window. A bouquet of fresh flowers in a transparent glass vase was standing next to my coffee cup. I thought that this cafe always has beautiful flower arrangements on its tables. It was pleasant to look at the orange flowers. Then he called and it was noisy at the cafe. Besides as we talked I started to feel sad and I thought that my voice sounded like an echo and I had to make an effort to talk. I would have liked to see him on my birthday, but I understood that I could not. There were too many family things happening for him on that day. And I wanted to end the conversation because I was afraid I would start crying.

I left my coffee unfinished and called the kids. We went to the lego store at noon and it was already open. And they each selected a toy and I was glad to see them that happy. Their smiles and the fresh air made the desired effect. Then we drove to get the cake. I let the kids chose the cake for me too. It was a chocolate decadence cake at the end.

After lunch kids placed handmade cake decorations on top of the cake. And as I lighted the candles the decorations caught fire and I had to blow it all before making a wish. And it was quite funny and we all laughed. The cake was dense and good. And there was a lot of it left.

I had a work call with my team and then decided that I will go to the gym at night for the open mat. I wanted to see people. Seeing him would have felt like a gift. Seeing people at the gym felt like a gift too. You get to love people after you have been wresting with them on the mats for over two years. And all I wanted was to spend time with the people I loved. Kids were happy to play a few hours at a friend’s house and I dropped them there on my way to the gym. I also thought of taking the rest of the cake to the gym, but then decided against it. May be he could come over the next day and then we could finish that cake together. I smiled at the thought of it and left the cake in the fridge.

He called as I was approaching the gym. And we talked for a while. The connection was breaking because he was driving on some mountain road, and I did not hear a good portion of it. He said he would not be back the next day and he hoped that I was having a good birthday. He asked me how I was doing and I said I was doing ok. And I wished I was. I thought to myself that I should have taken the cake to the gym. And I felt silent. And then he asked about work because the conversation was getting very quiet. And after a few minutes the connection broke. It was windy on the parking lot. I sat in my car for a few minutes staring at my phone, through the large glass window I saw people moving inside the gym. I took my bag and went in.

It felt peaceful inside. I smiled. First half crooked smile, and then widely. Happy birthdays and hugs. I missed that warm human touch of other shoulders. My sparring partner walked in. We put on our MMA gloves and started. The world was quiet and simple and warm. And you felt like a kid rolling in the snow. And in the second hour we rolled with all other guys in the gym too. And I did not notice how my right hand got bruised. And I also did not notice how all the sadness was gone. When you are fighting you are never sad. That’s the virtue of fighting.

We finished the last sparring round at eight. I took a quick shower at the gym, picked up the kids and drove to my best friend’s house for dinner. Her family had just returned from Hawaii and it was good to see them all. We drunk wine, ate food she cooked and I told them to come over the next day for coffee and birthday cake. And they said they would.

And then at home I did not know if I wanted to write about it all. I did not feel like writing it because I did not want to tell the truth. But I did not want to fake it either. I just wanted to write.

So I said to myself ,”If you are going to write it, at least, write how it really was.”

Driving at night

It felt pleasant when on the curves my hair touched the sides of my face. The hair was thin and the touch was light and gentle.  The car drove smoothly on the night road. My son was sleeping on the back seat. It was past ten. The serpentine road opened up new curve with more pine trees. Then the road went up the hill and then we were driving on the top for a little while.

The air was clean. The moon was high and round. And the road was lit with the moonlight and it did not seem night at all.

I had picked up my son from the friends’ house where he had spent the whole day together with his sister. My daughter stayed for a sleepover, my son wanted to come home with me. He told me we will make a deal, he would only stay for sleepovers when I needed to be in the city till late for work. All other nights he would sleep at home. I told him it was a deal, he does not have to sleepover at his friends’ if he does not want to, unless it is needed. Reassured he felt asleep in the car. He liked to sleep at home. He liked to sleep in my bed, and on Saturdays I let him sleep there, because I did not have to wake up early on Sundays. He was the only person who sometimes slept in my bed. He curled with his “doudou” (this  is how you call your favorite plush toy in French) and he did not move much the whole night.

And now he was asleep on the back seat of the car and we were driving. The car felt safe and the night forest was all around us. You could hear the night like a melody, a little bit sad and easy to hum. And tears started rolling down my face. It has been a long day and I have been working since morning. I have been typing work emails and having calls with my advisors and the developer. And talking. And yet I did not hear one gentle word in the whole day. And I barely said any. Of course we talked, but there were no love in those words. And I was wondering now if a day was worth living if no love was in the words one said. The kids were getting used to the rooms where no words of love were pronounced.

And then I thought that people said it was good to cry. And I wondered “was it?”. And it occurred to me that it was not. It was much better to laugh than to cry. It was much better to love than to cry. Crying is just a part of our humanness, love is the whole.

As we were driving the road was like velvet. Smooth and even, and the wheels rolled calmly and the whole world was calm. And finally I was calm too. And I thought how we would arrive home and how I would help my son climb into my bed and how peaceful his face would be. And I thought that there was still a lot of life ahead of us and that I should build our next house with love. They need to know what love is. They need to know that love is not two people who live under one roof fighting. They need to know that love is more than one person alone doing pretty much everything but rarely laughing. They need to know that love is balanced, abundant and makes all people under the roof happy. Or else how would they learn to build their families with love?

And it was quiet in the car.

And then it got even quieter.

Driving down the hill, after another curve, two stars became visible high up in the sky and, surprisingly to myself, I prayed.  And on the next turn my hair flew over my face and the touch was sweet and gentle. Like a loving hand. And combed by the moonlight the night road shined at the bottom of the hill.