“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up.” (…) ” Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling.” -Marilyn Monroe”.
We all experience heartbreak. And we all deal with it differently.
I learned about heartbreak in childhood. Heartbreak at my father’s problems, at our poverty and other experiences that I have no wish to talk about. I was a sad, shy, introvert kid. And I was far from pretty. I had no confidence, and I found solace in books, day-dreaming, spending few hours at my cousins’s house, and spending time with my mamaia, my grandmother. And in coffee. I know. But yes, coffee. I started drinking coffee when I was sixteen. It reminded me of my father, making his Turkish coffee every day. It was also my way of rebelling against my mother. I loved the smell and taste of it. Yet Mother did not allow me to drink it. Real coffee was hard to find in communist Romania. She drank a lot of chicory coffee as a substitute. So when she would find a box of Nescafe, she would hide it and keep it for special days. I would find it, break the seal and secretly savoring it every day after school. I remember the day she found the one open box. It was not pretty. Despite the harsh punishment, I reveled in my satisfaction. Upsetting my mother by drinking her coffee was a way of dealing with heartbreak. Yes, I was quite the rebel.
When the Revolution happened, I was fifteen. My mother worked in the Counter-Terrorism department of the Romanian Securitate. During the first days of the revolution, in the panic and the confusion that ensued, her group was considered the enemy of freedom. A group of her friends and coworkers were caught as they were protecting the streets, decapitated and their bodies mocked in the streets. Her friend’s 18 year old son was shot in the head and killed. In those days of revolution, my mother did not come home. My grandmother was a wreck. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had called in the early days and said her goodbyes. She did not think she would ever come home.
The worst part of the experience is to see that our neighbors wanted nothing to do with us and refused to help my grandmother. My mother’s friend, whom we called on, told us to never contact her again and hang up on us. For a fifteen year old, that was a tough thing to experience. To this date, I still have nightmares from the Revolution. That month of December 1989, I learned a different kind of heartbreak, and, I admit, I learned what the idea of revenge feels like. It brought some level of relief. And it brought the ambition and drive to overcome, attributes that have guided me later in life. I also learned to be strong. I took care of my kid sister, I went out to get bread and food and despite the fear, rejection and humiliation, I learned to hold my head high in front of the neighbors. I learned pride and I reveled in it.
Despite some horrid experiences of the revolution, I also experienced the best of what life, people and true friendship have to offer. I was horrified that when I went back to school, my classmates will react the same way my neighbors and Mom’s friend had. I was an emotional wreak. And yet, the day before I was due back to school, my phone rang. On the phone was my friend and former classmate Gino. He talked to my mother, asked her how she was, and told her he will be waiting for me at the gate of the school. Gino was the real rebel. He was always at risk of repeating the year because of chemistry and physics classes. All he cared about was basketball and he spent a lot of time on the court. He was the cool jock of the highschool. He asked for my help and we spent a lot of time making sure he learned his chemisty table so he could pass his tests. And when it was his turn to help, he never wavered. Next day, Gino escorted me into the school. Unbeknownst to me, two other classmates, Cosmin and Vali, had made the same promise. I don’t think I will ever be able to express my feelings upon entering the classroom, and seeing all my classmates gather around me, relieved my family and I were okay. I cried. Up until that winter vacation, I was the nerdy, shy kid, overwhelmed by the maturity of some of her female classmates, who were far more beautiful and experienced in all things boys and life than I. It was the status-quo of my life and I never questioned it. Up until that winter, I had never known my fifteen year old classmates could care as much as they did. The same day, as we proclaimed democracy and held elections for the first time in our highschool, they selected me class president. In those two weeks of the revolution and immediately after, I had matured beyond a normal fifteen year old. And I made lifelong friends. To this date, Gino and I are still great friends. The best attributes of our friendship are the honesty towards each other (who can forget the speech last year during his visit), and that we never waver in our commitment to each other, despite geographic separation or life experiences.
And now let’s talk about love heartbreaks.
It was in my first year of college that I had started to understand the effect I had on men. Sure, I had a highschool crush, but I never talked about it. Or with “it”. I was in love from afar. I thought of myself unworthy. I was far from cool, I was wearing third generation hand-me-downs, I was growing skinny and tall, and I hated my curly hair. I was so convinced of my unworthiness, that when one of my classmates called to profess his love for me, I laughed at him. What I was lacking in confidence, I more than made up in sarcasm. He never brought it up again.
In the year after highschool, I went to Gino’s 18th birthday party. It was one of the first parties I have been to (yes, I was brought up Spartan-way). I started to dress a bit more feminine. I started wearing make up and heels. (I should stop and credit my change to my sister Ruxandra, my biggest fan and critic, who always pushed and encouraged me; and to Dora, my friend and college classmate, who saw what I couldn’t see and helped change me for the better.). At the party I sat observing from distance, in my usual way, when couple of Gino’s classmates came by and asked who I was. I was annoyed they didn’t recognize me, feeling the re-iteration of what I already knew to be true about myself: always fading in the back, always unmemorable. I knew exactly who they were, who their girlfriends were, and which class they were in for all four years of highschool. They were surprised to learn I went to same highschool and in the same year. One of them said wistfully he would have remembered me. I shrugged and thought of them as immature. Never said thanks for the compliment.
I remember very clearly though the first time a grown man complimented me. Also in my first year of college. I was leaving the internship job to go home, when one of our partners came running after me. As we were walking together towards the bus stop, he said something that surprised and in a strange way, changed me. He said I had the most beautiful eyes he’s ever seen. I remember stopping and looking at him quietly for a long time, trying to decide if I should tell him he’s full of crap. Then I just left him standing on the street. I didn’t say anything. I just turned around and left. But that evening, I spent a long time in front of the bathroom mirror. And from that day on, I never thought of myself as unmemorable. Yes, I still felt self conscious and I still struggled in my relationship with men, but I did not beat myself up anymore.
Alas, “the most beautiful eyes”, newly-found confidence or life experiences did not protect me from heartbreak. Like most of us, I loved deeply and hurt deeply. I remember to this day, as if it was yesterday, THE heartbreak. Curling on the floor in a fetus position, crawling to the bathroom and throwing up from the pain. Wishing I had suffered a great deal of physical pain that would take away from the emotional pain. To this day, I remember the feeling of rejection, the pain of learning love is not always shared, no matter how much you will it so. And yes, to learn the one you love has feelings for another. How is that for heartbreak, Miss S? Still, I don’t regret any of it.
I will never forget my life experiences, my friends, my loves. Sometimes I found it a little harder, sometimes it took me a little longer to move on. I still struggle through rejection, lost friendships, life lessons. Because of friends (thank you, Livingston) and family (thank you, lil’ sis), I keep moving on. I hope to return the favor and make a difference in somebody’s life.
In the end, despite the heartbreaks, rejection and hardship, I am grateful my life has molded me in the person that I am today: the good, the bad, and most importantly, the strong.