By: Ana Vidosavljevi
It all started when I was 7. As far as I remember, my parents were fighting and arguing all the time. They couldn’t talk normally, actually, I think they couldn’t stand each other. I wonder how and why they stayed together and why in the first place they had got married. Well, maybe the first few years before I was born, things had been different between them. By the way, they named me Igor, but that is not so important for this story.
Just a day after my 7th birthday, there was a big fight between them. They were yelling, breaking cups, plates, bowls, throwing at each other chairs and storming that it seemed the whole house was shaking. I had enough and decided to run away from that house. I packed, in my small school backpack, some things I couldn’t leave behind. For a seven-year-old kid, the treasures are his favorite toy, book, half-eaten chocolate, basketball cap of his favorite team, a pair of socks and a rain coat. Luckily, it was spring so I didn’t have to worry about cold weather. I didn’t have any plan where to go and I just went out and started walking along the main road. It was the late afternoon and after 15 minutes of walk, I realized that it would get dark soon. But I kept walking. On the way,
I met some of the people from our hometown and politely wished them good afternoon and it seemed no one noticed that I was running away. I even met my friend and his mum. They were probably on the way to the hospital since that day at school he was not feeling well and the teacher called his mum. When I met them his eyes were red and his nose was running and he was carrying a handkerchief. After 30 minutes of walking, I left my hometown. I passed by the shoes factory and petrol station and continued walking towards villages that we often passed when we went to visit our cousins in the big city which was just half an hour by car far from our hometown. But on foot, it would probably take much much longer. I remember that I was already maybe even half a way to the big city when it started getting dark. It must have been dangerous walking along the road with not many street lights since cars were stopping and people were asking me if I got lost or need a ride, but I told them that I was fine and that my house was in the first village from there and my parents didn’t let me enter a car of people I didn’t know. So they would just leave me alone and continue driving. I must have been walking for more than 2 hours and I was getting tired and thirsty.
I realized that, stupid me, I didn’t bring any water. But luckily, I had some pocket money. I saw a small shop not that far from the main road, at the entrance to some village. I turned away from the main road and I went to the shop to buy some water. The girl who worked there seemed surprised since she probably knew everyone in the village and she didn’t know me. She asked me where I was going and I told her I was going to visit my grandma in the village next to this one. She seemed like not believing my story but she didn’t say anything. I bought the bottle of water and continued walking. Finally, I started feeling tiredness kicking me. I was looking around and couldn’t see any place where I could sleep. There were just big houses in distance and nothing else next to the road, so I continued walking. Another half an hour of walking and I couldn’t stand it any longer. Finally, I saw some shack next to the main road. It was a bit spooky and all in ruins but I just needed a place to hide and roof over my head in case it started raining. I opened the door and put my rain coat on the ground next to the open door. I decided to sleep next to the open door just in case. I fell asleep immediately and I woke up very early in the morning when the sun started creeping through the open door. I ate the rest of the chocolate I had and continued walking along the road. But not for long. After five minutes of walking, a car stopped next to me and I saw my parents and a police officer in it. What can I say?! My running away was unsuccessful and when we got home, my father slapped me few times pretty hard but instead of me, my mother was crying until evening.
My next running away from home happened when I was 12. My father taught me to ride a motor bike. He had some old motor bike that he used to ride around the town and after begging him every day, he finally accepted to teach me how to ride it. It was pretty easy and after few days I got so confident that I drove it too fast. I know it was stupid but I was only 12. My mum was not happy that the father let me drive it alone and they fought over it. At the end of summer, my father came home very late and he was very drunk. I was in my room getting ready to sleep when I heard him and mother yelling. Then, someone hit someone else and shouting became even worse. Again, there were broken glasses, slammed door and a lot of yelling. I couldn’t stand it. I sneaked out of my bed, put on my jeans, T-shirt and jacket, took my backpack and packed few chocolate bars and a bottle of water, another T-shirt, my reading glasses, the book I was reading and I went to the garage. I pulled out my dad’s motor bike and waited when the shouting was loud enough to start it. I was almost sure both my mother and father didn’t hear me starting the engine since their yelling prevailed over other sounds. I started driving toward the center of our town. I didn’t have any specific plan where to go. I just wanted to ride. It made me feel so free. It distracted me from thinking about anything. I felt as if my brain had been empty, no thoughts, no thinking, no pressure, no headache. Just wind in my face. But I guess I was not focused on the road. And the last thing I remember from that drive was the tree in front of me. After that I woke up in hospital. They told me I was lucky since I did hit the tree but I was not driving fast so I ended up only with a broken arm. It was not very successful attempt to run away.
When I was 17, I finally finished high school and I decided to go to the university in the furthest city north from my hometown. That was not the most beautiful city and the university was not the best one but I needed to go somewhere far far far away from everything that I had known and that had surrounded me the last 17 years. I got the scholarship and moved there. During the first year of my studies I came to my hometown once in few months, but then those visits became less frequent.
My parents didn’t push me to visit them either, so everything was fine for all of us. After I had finished my studies, I found a decent job in the same city and stayed there. One rainy day, after work, my mother called me. She told me that the father had passed away. He had been drinking too much the last few years. Luckily, I was not there to witness his alcohol-fuelled outbursts. But poor mum. She was the victim of his craziness and violence. I felt guilty that I had decided to run away.
But I couldn’t help myself. Running away was in my blood. I just couldn’t stay. I couldn’t explain that. I couldn’t stand staying with people for a long time. I couldn’t stand getting attached. I felt like I had been trapped, or I had been in prison, or shackled.
Every girl I started dating was pretty and nice. Anyway, I was not a womanizer. I dated only few women. However, after I left my hometown I was almost always surrounded by nice people. But the moment I felt a girl started getting attached to me or I started having feelings for her, I would get scared. And I would leave her. Or I would just start avoiding her. It was not something that I really wanted but some animal instinct, something inborn or programmed in me pushed me to do that, to run away. And no matter how much I liked the girl, that feeling to run away, to break free, to be alone, unattached and uncommitted was stronger than anything else.
There was one girl that I particularly liked and loved. Her name was Silvia. We dated for a few months and I started feeling that I really liked her. As the time was passing by, we started seeing each other more often. But then she also started calling me almost every day, and I flipped. I couldn’t stand that. I got scared and I started avoiding her. The more I avoided her, the more persistent she was. Silvia was leaving me messages that I never replied to. She was asking my friends if they had seen me. And then she even started waiting for me in front of my building. I was getting crazy and I decided to change the apartment. I rented a small apartment on the totally opposite side of the city from my previous place. I couldn’t understand why she was so persistent.
Couldn’t she get it? How come she didn’t realize that I didn’t want to see her?! It took her few months to stop chasing me. When I started slowly forgetting her, one day, in a park, in the center of the city I saw her. And I was shocked. She was not the same! She was bigger, not fatter, just her stomach bulged. Silvia was pregnant! And it stuck me! She had been so persistent in talking to me and meeting me because she had wanted to tell me the news! I was frozen and couldn’t move. I was just standing there and I knew she saw me and saw my shock. But she didn’t come to me. She turned around and went in the opposite direction. I was probably standing there for more than half an hour with a lost face expression, since an older woman approached me and asked me if I needed some help.
The next few days I couldn’t eat or sleep. I called my mother and I told her about the baby. She seemed not listening to my outcry for help. She was too excited that she would become a grandma.
She was like a parrot repeating the same things over and over again: “Oh, Igor! It is amazing! It is wonderful! I will be a grandma!”
I had no one else to share my fear, anxiety, and confusion with. I was walking every day marathon distances hoping that these longs walks would give me an answer what to do. I was sitting in a park watching children playing and no matter how funny and interesting they were, they were someone else’s children. The fact that I would have my own child who would turn my life into a prison of fatherhood and family life, into some kind of bond, dependence, commitment, scared the crap out of me. On the other hand, how could I have been such an idiot and leave Silvia alone to raise a child?!
One evening, I decided to go to Silvia’s house and see her. I didn’t find a solution for the whole situation and I didn’t know what to do but I just wanted to see her. Before leaving my apartment I drank a few glasses of vodka. I needed alcohol to help me cope with that situation. When I came in front of Silvia’s house, I stayed in front of it for 10 minutes thinking what to say and do. I still didn’t figure it out. Then I knocked on her door. She opened the door and the wave of surprise hit her face.
She was holding the door knob and probably hesitating if she should shout the door in my face or let me in. Finally, she let me come in. I sat in a chair and asked her how she was. She didn’t answer, just have me a scornful look. There was a moment of silence and then I began apologizing and telling her that I was scared of commitments and attachments. I wanted to explain to her what it meant to me to get attached to someone. I really wanted to describe how hard it was for me, but I failed because the words couldn’t describe it. She seemed ignorant to my explanation and somehow distant as if thinking about something else. When I stopped talking, because I understood that she didn’t care for my words, she told me that I had no obligation to accept the child. She decided to take care of it alone. I was looking at her and Silvia seemed so cold while telling me that. I told her that I wanted to try to take care of it as well. I told her I was not sure if I could be a good father but that I was willing to try. She looked through the opened window and didn’t say anything. After few minutes of complete silence, she told me she had to think about if she wanted me in her and her baby’s life. I said “alright” and stood up from the chair to leave. While I was on the way to the door, she called me and told me that I had hurt her and she was not sure if she wanted to forgive me. I saw tears in her eyes and I felt awful. I told her I was sorry and I left. I was not sure what I was thinking when I told Silvia I would like to take care of baby as well. But I know that seeing her so fragile, distant, sad and lonely made me put some efforts to try not to run away. The next day, Silvia called me and said she had thought about what I had said and she wanted to try again. She said the baby would need a father and since I, Igor, was its biological father, she couldn’t think about anyone better than me to take care of it. I was not sure if she was right. I knew nothing about babies and I was not sure I would fulfill the role of a father. But I said I would try, so I had to try.
After few days, Silvia moved to my apartment. It seemed strange to live with someone after so many years of loneliness. In the beginning, I couldn’t stand the idea that I had to share my sacred place with her and going back home after work was a bit unpleasant, but after few weeks, I got used to. Silvia also put efforts not to disturb too much my daily routine, so she made sure not to be too present everywhere and she gave me a lot of space. She would prepare meals before I came back home and then retreat to the bedroom leaving me the spaciousness of living room. She knew I liked watching TV while lying down on a couch. She didn’t talk much either. It seemed as if she had understood my weirdness, as if she had realized my deformity and tried to adjust herself to it and I loved her even more because of that. I started thinking that probably she was the only person who understood me. And it was not easy, since often I didn’t understand myself.
Then, the big day came. Silvia had a long and difficult labor. It was a cesarean delivery. They had to cut her. But a baby girl was healthy and fine. We named her Dori. How did I feel? It was a mix of shock, or better terror, and happiness. Dori was crying all the time. She was purple and pretty ugly but there was something spectacular in the whole process of being a part of the creation of new life.
And this baby girl was part of my blood, skin, cells. I didn’t know how to behave in the hospital but I know that there was a smile on my face. And Silvia, my unwed wife was happy. I tried to hold Dori but my hands were shaking so after a minute I gave up.
After a week, when we brought Dori to our apartment, a new scary part of my life began. Dori was sleeping during the day and crying during the night. I tried to ignore her and let Silvia take care of her, but even her mother was struggling to calm her down. We had our nerves on edge. I couldn’t stand listening to Dori crying. And I told Silvia I would spend some time in the hotel not that far from our apartment. She was upset and started accusing me of being a lousy father. She said she had known this would happen. I told her that would be only temporarily and that after few weeks, I would come back home. She said that the baby would not disappear after few weeks. And it was the end of our conversation.
My days in the hotel were like a holiday. It was a real vacation for me. And I couldn’t stop thinking that for the last 9 months of my life with someone else I had lost myself. Only when I was alone did I feel alive and at peace with myself. Maybe I was not meant to share my life with anyone else.
These thoughts started harassing me and I stayed in the hotel much longer than I had initially planned. I spent 2 months there. Finally, I picked up courage to go back to the apartment. But the next days were unbearable. While before Dori was born, Silvia had done everything to make me feel comfortable in that apartment, this time, she was putting efforts to annoy me and piss me off. She was loud, sloppy and had some weird emotional outbursts. One moment, she was crying and the next she laughed like a maniac for no reason. I started feeling like a stranger in my own apartment. I tried to talk to her, but she seemed not willing to listen to me. She talked all the time, actually shouted and told me that I could leave any time because she didn’t need me. And that’s what I did.
One early morning, when both she and Dori were sleeping, I packed the necessary things I wanted to bring with me and I left. I didn’t have plans, schedule, idea where I was going. I sat in my car and started driving. I left the city and continued toward the small town not that far. I found a cheap motel and stayed there two nights. Finally, I pulled myself together and started looking for jobs on the Internet. And I found one! In a foreign country, on the other continent! But that was what I needed and wanted: to run away from everything and everyone. I applied and after two days I got an answer. They scheduled me a Skype interview and I got the job! I was supposed to leave within three days. As far as I was concerned, I could have left the same moment they informed me I had got the job.
The morning before my departure, I called Silvia and I told her that I was leaving but that I would keep sending money for her and Dori every month. Silvia didn’t want to talk and she didn’t say even a word. She just hung up the phone.
I did what I had promised. Every month, I sent the same amount of money and I knew it was more than enough for the two of them to lead a normal life. And I also knew that the money couldn’t make up for my absence from my daughter’s life but I didn’t know any better. I was a sad man with a strange deformity which was irreparable.
The new country, new climate, new language, new people. I got what I wanted. I was a complete stranger in a new place. No one to stifle me, to ask me to stay, to look for me. But my heart was heavy. I knew that I left my child. That thought forever cursed me. It tortured me. But I also knew that I would never be a good father. And I wished Silvia would find someone else who would be a decent father to Dori.
Few years passed and I never called them to ask how they were. Yes, I know. I was the last living bastard. Then, my cousin called me one day. He told me that my mother passed away. I was sad and I even felt like crying but my self-sufficiency taught me not to cry over anyone. I knew she had been probably the only person who had loved me the way I was and never tried to change me or judge me. And she died. I packed my backpack, booked the first flight and went to her funeral. I didn’t spend the night in my hometown. Instead, I went to the city where I used to live and where my daughter now lived. Somehow, I believed and felt that the two of them still lived in the same apartment. And some strange curiosity, guilt and sorrow pushed me to walk the streets nearby. It was a sunny afternoon, and kids were playing in the park. I found an empty bench far from people and sat there watching the kids playing. Somehow I hoped I would see my daughter. Half an hour passed and I didn’t see her. It was silly of me to think that she would just appear there because I wanted to see her. Finally, I stood up and started walking toward the bus station. And then, I saw them: Dori, who was a beautiful 5-year-old blonde girl in a purple dress, Silvia, who hadn’t changed much and a man in a jeans and dark blue T-shirt. The three of them looked so happy. They seemed like a happy family coming back from the zoo or cinema. They were giggling and smiling. First, I was confused by the scene I had witnessed but then I felt some weird dose of happiness and comfort that the two of them were not alone, that they had the man who was able to take care of them. He was probably everything I was not able to be: a father, a husband, a lover. It made me even more deformed, since I couldn’t believe that I was happy because some other man replaced me. What a weirdo and freak I was! But I was happy, indeed.
I went back to the country which then I called my home and I continued my simple hermit life of non-attachments, simplicity, quietness, loneliness and work. Many many years passed. On my fiftieth birthday, I got a birthday card. The only birthday card I had received in the last 25 years. It was a shocking experience. Someone was thinking about me even if I didn’t think much about anyone in particular. And probably the only person I thought about once in a while was my daughter but she probably didn’t know that I existed. I doubted her mother told her about me. But I was wrong. The card was simple, with blue and white stripes and a small teddy bear who was holding a birthday present in his arms in the right corner of the card. It said:
“Happy birthday dad! Wishing you a lot of love and happiness!” I was holding it in my hand for who knows how long. I can’t explain how I felt. I just know that unwanted tears started filling my eyes and when my eyes were not enough to hold all the tear flood, the tears started falling down on the birthday card and within a minute, the card was all wet and the letters smeared. I let the tears fall down and I sat in the chair with my face buried in my hands. I don’t know how long I stayed in that position, but I know that when I finally stood up it was pitch dark outside. The rest of the day I spent drinking vodka, and when I was so drunk that I couldn’t see anything in front of me except some blurred images, I guess I fell asleep. The next day was a working day and somehow I managed to pull myself together, take shower and decided to walk to my office. I had a bad hangover and didn’t feel capable of driving a car. Even while I was walking, I still saw blurred images and my balance was not great. I was staggering, swaying a little and even though the thought of calling my boss and asking him to take a sick day crossed my mind, I didn’t feel like spending a day in the apartment. So I decided to go to work anyway and somehow. I was going slowly since I couldn’t walk fast. Then, something weird happened. I started having a headache. The pain in the right side of my head and whole body was getting more and more intense. It seemed that with every new breath the pain was getting stronger, and at one moment, I felt that it paralyzed the parts of my body. I wanted to ask someone for help but it seemed that I was not able to speak.
Actually, my muscles started getting weak and motionless, and the next thing I remember was blackness all around me.
I woke up in a hospital room. First, I didn’t know where I was and it took me some time to remember who I was. My brain was working slowly. I couldn’t remember many things: where from I was, what language I speak, how old I was. Somehow, it took me so long to remember these. I wished I had had a remote to speed up my brain. Then, I realized that I couldn’t move my left arm and left leg. My left side seemed paralyzed. There was that sharp stabbing pain all around my chest and my vision was still a bit blurred. The doctor came and told me I had had a pretty bad stroke. He told me I couldn’t talk and I had difficulties moving the left side of my body. Luckily, my right side was still fine. But he told me that I would have to spend some time in hospital since they were afraid that my condition could get worse. They were afraid that I might have another stroke and wanted to monitor my condition. Since I couldn’t talk, the doctor asked me to write down if I needed anything. And he left me a notebook and a pen. I didn’t know what I was feeling. I guess I felt pain and numbness at the same time. And I felt like crying but for some reason the tears wouldn’t fall down. I was all alone and I asked myself: wasn’t that what I had always wanted? To be left alone. Well, I got it! I didn’t have anyone to be there with me and I didn’t want anyone I knew to see me in that condition. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Dori. Actually, she was the only one I wished had been there. However, I would have never called her. I would not like her to see me and meet me in that condition. However, I felt that I owed her explanation of who her biological father was, how he felt, how he grew up, how he ran away from everything and everyone constantly through his life. I wanted her to know all that. So I took the notebook and the pen and I started writing. I couldn’t write fast. I was writing maybe half a page per day, and here I am now still writing but finally finishing what I wanted her to know. My hands are shaking and I am so happy that I have managed to more or less write everything I wanted to tell her. And again, maybe some parts are not very well-written and I am not sure she will understand how I have felt my whole life, I am afraid that she will not understand my deformity, my devious character, my distortions. But I honestly hope she will. That is the only thing that comforts me. And I feel that I will probably not be here for long and that is not at all a scary thing. What scares me is that Dori will never find out that I love her. And I have always loved her in my weird way. Maybe I have never been a normal human being but my feelings for her are as strong as any father could have for a child. Maybe even