‘It will never happen,’ I tell Lukaš. ‘We’ll never go back to the Czech Republic. I just can’t imagine having to move again with all the stuff that we have.’
I think I tell him this somewhere in the end of May. I might be wrong but the memory of these words of mine smell like a spring storm, hitting us on the motorway on our way to Burgas.
A few months later we’re on the motorway again, this time going to Sofia… and beyond. I am sitting in the back of I. and J.’s van, pressing on some of their clothes and a ukulele on one side and being pressed by a wash basin on the other. We’re moving back to the Czech Republic. With all the stuff.
As trivial as it might sound: never say never.
The beginning was promising. Not wonderful – promising. Our short life in Bulgaria was like a mirror image of the changes in nature. It began in a fragile, cautious way, like the tender stalk of a flower that had hardly gone through the heavy soil above. It grew up. Not as fast as it should have – perhaps there was too much shade in this place. But it blossomed, it opened itself. It spent the entire summer getting intoxicated with the light of the sun. It went as far as to forget what it was. And then it didn’t believe in the coming of autumn. The winter? It never waited until winter. It didn’t hide deep in the earth to keep itself warm. It weeded itself out.
I remember the beginning very well. The smell of a freshly painted room and smoke from the wood-burning stove. I spend the evenings by the fireplace, reading books on permaculture gardens. I dream about the summer when we’ll be picking delicious, free range vegetables. I work for a few hours a day in my unheated child’s bedroom. I translate three or four pages from the book I’m working on and then get downstairs, my hands freezing, to have dinner and watch some TV series with the others. I, mum and Lukaš. An unconventional family which back then seems like it’s going to work.
With each new day the grass outside becomes greener. I take pleasure in spending my time in the plastic greenhouse, warmed by the spring sun, where I grow seedlings and plant parsley. We make a composter, buy chickens, prune the vines. Things don’t work out easily but we’re driven by the feeling that whatever we do, we do it for ourselves.
Lukaš spends some time looking for a job but the only one he finds is seasonal. He must wait until the summer. He goes back to the Czech Republic to shoot for a company and earn some money. I find the fact he has to do it really frustrating but try to ignore it.
Summer comes and with it the wedding looms nearer. This single event defines everything we do to such an extent that we barely have time for anything else. Lukaš works as a pirate on a ship in Pomorie and I translate and write from home or teach kids English from time to time. Our garden isn’t as generous as we hoped but it gives us cucumbers, tomatoes, beetroot and basil. We buy apricots and peaches in crates from a garden in the neighbouring district and eat them unwashed in the car. I pick figs, putting them in my T-shirt, and then I wolf them down without even peeling them. We rarely go out. In fact, ever since we came, Lukaš and I haven’t taken a single walk with friends in the centre or in the park by the sea. He stays at home to repair, clean and build. I often think he’s just lonely. I know very well how he must feel in this foreign country. He does however get through the life abroad much better than me: he transforms the energy of loneliness into energy of work. The things are still stable. We realize we’re living in a bubble slightly bigger than our house and the garden but taking care of home fills our little world with a feeling of purpose and satisfaction.
And then something happens. Some strange match of circumstances which suddenly bursts the bubble and breaks our life. At the same time summer’s over, I start a full-time job, Lukaš ends his, our relationship with mum gets worse and we start fighting over inherited property with the rest of the family. At some point the strength that has got me through the spring and the summer leaves me – I go back from work just to face the consequences of yet another conflict which has happened in my absence. Our sense of purpose is suddenly gone; the house we’ve been maintaining and cleaning and into which we’ve been putting so much effort – both physical and mental – suddenly turns out to be less ours than we thought. We feel pressed, blamed, offended and then even threatened by people from my own family. We, who left everything we had behind so that we could go back to Bulgaria and take care of mum, eventually end up to be a pair of greedy frauds who came here with a hidden agenda.
Life becomes too hard. In order to support the family until Lukaš finds a job (which, judging by the low salaries in Burgas, seems impossible), I start teaching after work too. My days suddenly lose their colour along with the thick clothes that have replaced the summer dresses in my wardrobe. The only thing that keeps me alive are the rare days-off when Lukaš and I go somewhere by car, searching for mineral baths, nature or records. We’re only happy to be homeless when we’re on the road. Upon returning “home”, however, this word gives us pain.
We haven’t given up yet. We’re weighing out options. To move to a bigger town where it will be easier for Lukaš to find a job. To get a mortgage for a small flat. To rent a garden in a neighbouring village, I think, completely unprepared to go back to Sofia again. To be close to my family but also far enough to be able to live normally like we used to.
However even this last goal fades out very soon. One of the hardest moments in my life is on the anniversary of Dad’s death. Stuffed in a corner of the big room, where none of the guests can see me, I’m crying because it’s the first time I’ve realized not only my father but my entire family is dead. My own mother acts in a completely inadequate way and helps me with nothing even when I ask her to. My own sister directly attacks me in front of the others as if to receive their support. In the end everyone leaves, feeling uncomfortable. I’m sitting at the table covered with food and I realize Dad was the foundation of our family. Without a foundation our family has fallen to pieces.
I am sitting in the house Dad built himself – he even baked his own bricks – but all I see around me is ruins. And suddenly – as if this is the first time – I see among the debris a tiny, incredibly tender little stalk. Some sort of a flower that must have lived pressed under the foundation of the house and now it can finally look up at the light. Life born of destruction. A stalk I can’t leave here. I need to save it.
I am the destruction. At least that’s how I feel in this moment. But the little stalk is inside me. It’s still too small and fragile to even be able to tickle me. Too susceptible still to everything within and without me to give me the certainty it will grow and become a flower. But in the depths of my soul, or at least what’s left of it, I vow to protect it. To carry it somewhere else where there is soil instead of wrecks.
Or… if, hard as it may be, I ignore the metaphors for a while…
… to leave my mother in order to give a chance to my child…
…to leave my family in order to start another one…
One of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make and which sometimes fills me with a feeling of guilt. But then I mentally dive into myself, deep there where there’s a tiny heart beating in me and the guilt disappears under the weight of the duty and the belief that I did the best to protect the new life within me.
I have no idea if we made the right decision. Our comeback to the Czech Republic strikingly resembles our comeback to Bulgaria. One of them, however, was driven by death. And the other – by life.
Our drastic decision only shows what the real reason for coming back to my home was – an illusion. An illusion that by returning to the place where my childhood dreams ripened, I’ll manage to go back to myself. An illusion successfully nourished by the promises and the hopes of spring and the abundance of summer. But also an illusion that wrinkles, dries up and falls off with each autumn. Which is dead by the winter. I no longer have a home or a family where I can go back and find warmth and support. Where I could be a child again. There’s only a house, a mother whom I love by the power of blood but who I can’t live with, a sister who thinks I’m a betrayer. And a grave.
Perhaps that’s why I went back. As meaningless as it may appear – our long journey to Bulgaria and everything we built there to just leave it – it probably wasn’t in vain. I had to go back to break the illusion that my childhood will last forever as long as there’s the house, the garden, the walnut tree and the neighbour’s figs and then leave, already an “adult”, ready to have my own children.
Perhaps I had to go back to realize that, as Bono says, “a house doesn’t make a home.”
And something else – that you should never make caring for somebody your priority especially when it goes against you in some way. Not just because, having chosen the other, you ignore yourself but also because it might happen that the person you wanted to help suddenly turns against you. Helping others, as a whole, can end up to be an extremely useless thing especially when those others don’t want to help themselves.
Although… what am I doing now? Isn’t it the same? I turned my life upside down again because of someone else. Someone who’s still part of me but who’ll soon become a semi-independent person and then, inevitably, a completely independent person. And then? When this happens, will I remember that I don’t need anyone else to feel whole?
I hope so.
I hope that next time I’m faced with a tough choice I’ll choose myself.
Even if it means to be alone.