Daddy’s little girl

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Growing up in a strong matriarchal family, I always wondered what my dad’s role really was. He was and still is the most typical father figure: his main responsibility was that of a provider and second came that of educator.

The women in the family had the sacred duty to raise and enrich our lives. Most lessons about life, in all its complexity, the preparedness for difficult challenges that might arise, the vast and intrinsic values of our destiny as women were taught by my grandma, my mom and my aunt.

While little boys seem almost entirely attached to their mothers’ skirts for most of their growing up years, little girls, on the other hand, choose to “fight” every waking hour for the love and attention of their fathers. 

At first, I was debating if I should write this in Romanian, because it seemed natural to do so, but I chose English instead just because my parents might find this writing posted somewhere online and they might not understand; but most of all because my dad might get hurt by some words or the poor choice of words I used to describe our relation.

The story is long but in just a few words I’d say that most of my childhood had been tormented by the image of a dad that did everything right up to a point when he no longer found that purposeful. That is when he himself became the tormentor. Long battles with his alcohol addiction followed by his complete inability to deal with my mother’s illness have led to a cruel infidelity episode and temporarily abandonment of his home and family.

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My dad, in the center of the picture.

I don’t even know what hurt more: my dad’s refusal to get help or my mom’s suffering while trying to help my dad. Being the youngest in my family has been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I felt as if everybody loved me more and a curse because I stayed at home the longest and I had to witness all the scandals, sleepless nights and the vicious emotional shutdown that followed.

Raised by my grandma from my mother’s side meant that for almost 9 years she took the role of both parents, teacher, mentor, friend, companion and everything in between. She was my everything. When school started and I was going on 2nd grade I moved back with my parents and I thought that is going to be a great adventure, not knowing that the quiet and safe years of my childhood were coming to an end.

With both my siblings moving out of the house, my parents living under the same roof but not speaking to each other – I had to be something myself, either continue to be a kid and do what kids do at that age, or just mature abruptly and suck it up. It’s been a combination of the two, like a crazy growing pains emotional experiment.

I do feel that I was a little bit socially awkward, did not have many friends, but otherwise just like any other kid out there. I continued to go to school, being above average, studious, but non-conformant, great grades, respectful. My most rebellious moments were outbursts of anger and a faint warning addressed to my parents here and there: “I’m going to move back with grandma”. That never happened though, which really pained me.

As an adolescent I still chose to see my dad in great colors, meaning that almost every mishap was forgotten. I wanted him to be around, to help me with my science homework (he was a Physics teacher among other things), take me out for ice-cream. You know, simple things. In my head I always knew that I could count on my mom to always be there. She was a constant reminder that we can still have a family. But I was yearning for my dad, which put me in really embarrassing situations. Every drunken moment when I was sent by my mom to pick up my dad from the bar (which happened a lot) was digging deep in my mental well-being and scarred me for good. It was fear, and embarrassment and a lot of anger. I hated him every night he came home looking and sounding like a complete stranger and loved him even more the next day when everything was back to normal.

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Playing backgammon with my dad a few summers ago

In my 30’s now and I realized that my dad and I have never been on a trip together (considering my parents took both my brother and sister to the seaside during their summer breaks for over 10 years in a row). My school breaks were spent mostly with my grandma and my mom (especially after she was forced into early retirement because of her illness). I had a few trips with my sister and my first vacation away from home with my brother was 2 years ago.

My sister moved out in her early 20’s, so did my brother. I went to college at 19, moved to the capital city but spent every weekend with my parents. With time, things got better at home. My parents reached a reconciliation point and just like many Romanian families, they decided to stay together through thick and thin and work it out. I was mad at my mom for a long time because she decided to give my dad another chance. I truly wanted her to leave my dad and move on, but back then I did not realize what love can do. It changes life, perspectives, it changes everything. My parents were meant to stay together, live together, suffer and be happy together. 

Time has passed and old wounds have healed, but I can’t help wondering how my life would have been without my dad in it. My relationships with men have been deeply influenced by the connection I had with my dad. All his mistakes were projected unto the men that at a point or another were part of my life. And after all these years I still hold my dad responsible for some of my failures. He was not a perfect family man but in a way he was an amazing parent. I learned from his mistakes more than I learned from his good example; and that it’s something good to be left with.

It’s amazing how much we are willing to endure when we love someone. As a mature women I feel that I owe my resilience and endurance to my mom, and the power of forgiveness to my dad. I wish I could pay them back one day; all their endless love, and support and all the grace that came from offering their best advice every time.

My biggest wish is to take my dad on a trip to Rome (it has been his biggest wish for a long time). He is a sort of a history nerd, just like me, and the eternal city fascinated him for many years. So, I either have to start saving money today for that trip or win the lottery. One way or another I will make that wish come true for him.

 

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On the road…

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OnTheRoad-Oliver Fluck

Photo credit @ Oliver Fluck

For a long time now I’ve been yearning for a place that I could call HOME. I’ve been stuck between two worlds: my old home and my new home. As much as I want to call my new destination home, I feel as if that will take some of the spirit and essence away from my old world, which I still consider my safe go-to-place.

A feeling so hard to put into words.

I had no idea where the road will take me at 25 when I first came to this part of the world. I have always embraced the opportunity to travel and get lost in the unknown. All my experiences across the boarders have been carefully planned and except for the “unknown” parts of my travels, where I found myself lost on I don’t know what street in Amsterdam or Venice, everything else was another wonderful close encounter with the beauty of this earth.

The thing that I love most about being away from home is the chance to be alone, and to be able to acknowledge how small myself and my problems really are. In a place where no one knows me, where I know nobody, I often times feel like ‘home’.

I cannot say that I have traveled much but I have traveled far. And that in itself it’s scary. My grandma used to call my mom and I people of the road in that we look as if we came into this world always on the go, like nomadic tribes, without a home, whose offspring come into the world on the side of the road and all they do is move from a spot to another, with no destination, and not calling any place ‘home’.

I traveled for the love of traveling and the furthest I went was across the ocean. At first everything was a visit, a lot of comings and goings. My dream of finally becoming a perpetual tourist was coming trueThen life happened and adult decisions had to be made. “Should I stay or should I go now?” was ringing in my ears like a bad song on repeat. After graduate school and ‘not finding a job’ situation, money became scarce, I was too old to live with my parents and the embarrassment of not succeeding professionally made me become eager to hit the road. And I did. A few months after I graduated.

The summer I graduated went by fast and the thought of starting my PhD program in the fall was tormenting me. The 2 years of Master’s program proved that I no longer need that type of schooling. Plus I can learn and read all that stuff on my own. And not just that, but even with a PhD in my pocket there was still no real prospect for a descent job.

Mid-November came, and with a brand new visa and 2 pieces of luggage I found myself in Amsterdam looking at that awesome airport all decorated for Christmas. I felt small, nervous, but happy.

Then, for the next 3-4 years I kept traveling, visiting family, tutoring and doing most of my work from home. I started selling my clothes online for pocket money, learning how to appraise vintage and antiques… later on apprising homes and making an extra buck working from anywhere I could find an internet connection. And I absolutely loved it!

Something was missing though. Trying to find out what I really needed in order to feel complete, I went back to Europe for 6 months. Took on a teaching job challenge (which to this day remains one of my favorite and ‘awesome-est’ things I’ve ever done), traveled some more and then flew back to the States in the fall. Every time I leave from a place where I put down roots I leave with a constant feeling that I have lost something that I could never get back.

My travels came to a ‘slowdown’ around 2013 when I decided to get married and take on a new type of adventure, one that grounded me, but did not dissuaded me of my travel bug. If I gained something from this new adventure is responsibility and the true value of hard work. My mantra became ‘I need to work to pay bills, but I need to continue what I like doing while working and paying bills’. Sounds really ‘plastic’, but has worked wonders so far.

My next chapter is finishing my work at my current job by the end of December, then figuring out which of the 3-4 projects that I’m currently involved in will win me over. And I have exactly 4 months to figure that out.

To Be Continued…

Heil to the Unknown Badass War Journalist ~ Gerda Taro

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Gerda Taro in a few humble words: born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart, Germany; Jewish descent. Today is her birthday, so the curious people will find out more by checking the Google Doodle dedicated to Gerda Taro. Considered one of the first female photojournalist to focus and die covering the war frontlines (Spanish Civil War). Alongside Endre Friedmann (alias Robert Capa), her partner and companion, she embarked on a mission to capture life as she saw it through the camera lenses, with all its bitter and sweet casualties.

Educated at a boarding school in Switzerland, the young Gerda returns to Germany to find her family torn by decisions regarding their survival in the context of the rise to power of the National-Socialists. In her early 20’s she decides to head to Paris, while her family will attempt a relocation to Palestine. She will never see her family again.

She chose to oppose Nazi Germany’s politics and found herself fleeing Germany in the upheaval of anti-Semitic movements from the early to mid 1930’s. Shortly after she established her residence in Paris in 1934, she met Endre Friedmann, a Jewish Hungarian, whom she fell in love with. They shared the same passion for photography, Gerda starting her career as a photography editor in his studio. They made a living by selling news photography materials under the made-up name Robert Capa.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Gerda and her friends decided to contribute to the “war effort” by making it known throughout the world through heartbreaking, explicit shots. All photos were taken under Robert Capa’s “signature”, but later on it became obvious there were taken using different style/techniques (Gerda was taken square-shaped shots using her Rollei camera, Endre was keen about his Leica rectangular-shaped photos. For a short period of time, in 1937, they will produce photography on 135 mm film under “Capo & Taro”.

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Gerda and Endre. Photo credit: Fred Stein Archive

She worked in Barcelona, Cordoba and Valencia, her works being published in papers from Switzerland, France and U.S. that had a strong communist and anti-fascist direction. She turned down Friedmann’s marriage proposal and started her own temporary work station with photography material covering the bombing of Valencia from 1937, which alone brought her the most notoriety. She was soon seen as a reputable member of the anti-fascist Europe circle of intellectuals (associating herself with names like Orwell or Hemingway, who were militating for a Spanish Republic.

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Photo credit: International Center of Photography

Her war photography was standing as true testimony for the clash between the Nationalist propaganda, which was claiming that they have Brunete region (around Madrid) under control, and the Republican forces, that managed in fact to push the Nationalists out of the area. For more on the Spanish Civil War, see: https://www.britannica.com/event/Spanish-Civil-War and https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008214.

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Photo credit: International Center of Photography

“During her coverage of the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete, Taro hopped onto the footboard of a car that was carrying wounded soldiers. A Republican tank crashed into its side and Taro suffered critical wounds, dying the following day, 26 July 1937.” [Source: Ron Steinman, (October 2007), Capa and Taro: Together at Last].

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Riding imaginary horses

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Imaginary

Imaginary Art Work credit @Kelly Tan

We are the sum of all our memories.

Since I find it difficult to define myself I say I am defined by what I have lived. What remains of us after we are gone is how people left behind remember us.

In all its immensity and beauty, life picks some of us, from billions of other souls to show a path with circumstances, trials and tests that we have to adapt to and pass just like students have to in a classroom. Life draws a line, and then we get to answer for ourselves. Some of us have passed, some have failed, and failed, until the lesson is learned. No life’s trial is ever passed until we are learned a lesson.

A life well lived, as my grandma used to say, is a life that gives you peace of mind every night you rest your head down to sleep and a good well reason to want to wake up in the morning. “When you look back at all the years passed do not regret a thing. So do things that, in your old age, when you look back, will give you comfort. Do everything in full; women in our family have never been ‘half done job’. So do your best in everything you do, and when you will be old, like me, to know that you had a purpose.” [my grandma MARIA’s most cherished advice].

I have not found the purpose that my grandma was talking about and my biggest disappointment to this day is that I have failed in putting all my trust in myself. I could have gotten far in this life with what I already know, with my life’s choices and my family’s advice. Professionally, in my own words, I feel as if I hit a brick wall, fell on my butt and never got back up, and the furthest, literally, I’ve ever come is a matter of distance. I am now living 5, 000+ miles away from home.

The distance between me and my [expected] career is the distance between planet Earth and the nearest inhabited planet. You do the math.

But, on a more positive note, I have enjoyed the memories I have created. Every up and down on Oana’s life scale was calculated with the highest amount of sweat and anxiety. I know nothing in this life comes easy. All good and not so good things that have happened have taken something from me and left something behind, a replacement for what I no longer posses. And that’s okay too since, I probably never owned anything to begin with.

At 33 I am aware that my career ended with me living home at 28. I look back and I want to regret my decision, because regret will give me a reason for blowing up my professional life for a fantasy. Regret is a strong word. Maybe that fantasy of me traveling the world in my 20’s is actually my purpose. I’m not imagining things anymore and my naivete is now becoming an alley. I was not meant to be a UNHCR in my 20’s just like I was not ready to become a diplomat at 24 or a RFS at 25.

I am today the sum of all my choices. Later on, the choices have turned into memories; and those are good to have too.

I am not meant for a career I guess, not because I can’t define one as my own, but mostly because there is no career in this world that can define me. And I can live with that.

 

 

 

 

Happy Everything Part II

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I’ve had some (psychically) tiring few days. I am still trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. And most of all, why other people’s infringement on my well-being upsets me so.

I’ve been trying too much for too long. To be helpful, to please others, to JUST BE THERE. For whomever needed me. Anytime. Anywhere. Not sure for how long I can keep this up.

It takes so little effort to make me happy. So many insignificant little things that mean exactly nothing to others, might mean the whole world to me. Whenever I get to that level of pure joy and enchantment I soon find out how ephemeral that moment really was.

Then I try to look around for other small “pieces of happiness”, like broken glass that I try to put back together and make whole again. I call it building the jar. While looking around for my happy moment I ran into my favorite couple. The ‘happy everything couple’. <3<3<3<3<3

The beautiful elderly couple, who wished me ‘Happy Everything’ a few weeks ago, returned for a visit and this time, before they left, they made sure to wish me to have the greatest day I’ve ever had. Now, how beautiful is that?

I don’t think I’ve seen happier people in my entire life. The lady, who calls herself a chatterbox, briefly told me that we all have something that we’re good at. ‘My husband is good with numbers. Once he sees a number, he never forgets it. Me, on the other hand, I have a chatty mouth. That’s my gift.’ Their visit was short but they gave back so much. They helped me put back some of the pieces that I’ve lost these past few days while trying to help others. Their visit has been one of the nicest things that has happened to me lately. They concluded their “stop by” with their signature ‘I love you and may this day be your best one yet’. THEY ARE COMPLETE STRANGERS, but that did not prevent me from “yelling ” after them: ‘I love you too!’ A part of the love we feel, in general, comes from moments and people that make us, for a short period of time, experience pure joy. I only wish there were more of those.

To all those who, each and every day, or once in a blue moon, participate in ‘building my jar moment’ I say: May today be the happiest day you’ve ever had. You certainly deserve it.

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D & J during their visit. My ‘Happy Everything’ people ❤

Married with (no) children

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I’m a 33 years old Romanian woman currently living in the great nation U.S.A. I was brought up in a strong matriarchal family with my grandma Maria as the head of the family. My family is now scattered all over the world. From that uncle that nobody talks about anymore, who escaped the country during the glorious communist times and established residence in Australia, to my aunt, uncle and cousins from Italy and now me…the youngest of all kids/grandchildren to move abroad.

When we were younger, before everybody I know had the “audacity” to desire a breath of foreign air across the borders, my family reunions, birthdays, weddings, funerals, etc. looked more like bits and pieces of My Big Fat Greek Wedding than your typical kin gatherings. And that was just fine. Most people in my family talk loudly, they interrupt each other, they “curse and spit” at each other for good luck. No hard feelings. Just another Romanian family doing what it does best: eat, drink, listen to obnoxious music nobody understands and planning futures for everybody in the family. *Cos that’s what we do.

Not sure if it mattered to the family [read ‘elders’] that most of us had already planned our futures, had a clear picture in our minds regarding our life choices….whatever we thought we had figured out was immediately canceled by the “council of the elders”. Everybody was aware of what everybody else was doing, there were no secrets. Every single detail of our lives was dissected and analyzed. We were educated in a spirit of fairness and justice for all. We were taught to be humble and love each other. We had to attend Sunday mass at our Orthodox church and be active in our community. We were raised entirely by our grandparents because our parents were working all the time [helping in the building of a strong powerful communist state]; so for many years we were our grandparents’ children. We learned EVERYTHING we needed to know in life from our grandmas: manners, respect, language, religion, punishment for our mistakes, good food…and all the love in the world. Then we went to school, some of us dropped out early and started working at an early age, some went to school for 20+ years. In a way or another everybody was working for a living. During the communist regime – “unemployment” was a fictional word, “Lazy people go to prison”, my grandma used to say. For some of us, the next thing after school, was starting a family. And I mean right-away. No breaks, no vacations, no pauses. School-work-family. The Romanian holy trinity.

Now, some of us were stubborn and decided that marriage is not for us. Children outside the holy matrimony was “forbidden”. And with the new economy and the “millennial syndrome” some of us said ‘pass’ to marriage and children altogether.

In my family, the idea of not wanting children is an absolute abomination. At 33 all I want is peace of mind, a good night’s sleep, a good wine and all the travel I can get with a low income.

I genuinely love kids. I had my first official babysitting job when I was only 8 years old. And I was good at it. I wanted way more things when I was in my 20’s. Becoming a mother when I was in my 20’s sounded way more realistic than it does now in my 30’s. Not sure why. Year after year I realize that might not happen for me and not sure how to feel about it.

Married for almost 5 years now (whoaaa, 5 already?) and no kids in sight. And I have a distinctive feeling that I became the pariah in my family. And these things don’t get “unpunished”. The head of the family is no longer with us but she left 2 executioners in her place and they will make sure our family keeps the tradition alive. So we will have to continue to get married, breed and just perpetuate the loud breeding Romanian eaters (as a reference to MBFGW that seemed so appropriate [smiley face]).

Motherhood might hit me at some point…when I will hear my biological clock ticking. Until then, I beg you, please do not start a world of trouble for yourself by bringing up the subject of baby-making. This is an intimate, personal, none-of-your-business territory. Nobody knows what battles one fights in order to remain sane [and together] in a world that pretends to know what’s good for everybody. 

Everything you want is on the other side of fear

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Self-doubt has killed my dreams [maybe not all of them, but the important ones].

To my younger self I’d say: “do not worry so much, do not be afraid to make mistakes, dare more”. I would have been the best version of myself today if I would have looked up to me as the person that will lead me forward.

Forget the examples, good or bad, that you’ve been thought to follow or stay away from. They have put you in a box. Whatever you need to know about this life is already there. You got it. No school, no book, no lecture is going to teach you how to live and how to dream.

The way we’ve been brought up, society, our own experiences have created this structure, a background in which we are allowed to evolve. The amount of dissatisfaction that we experience every single day is larger than we’d like to admit. Part of that comes from the fact that we’ve let ourselves down. We managed to do that through constant and repetitive actions that have minimized us in our own eyes.

I have always had this feeling that other people are and should be more important than I am. That their lives and actions count more than mine. Not sure when I first started feeling this. And not sure if it did too much good for me either. All I know is that it taught me to be humble, altruistic and mindful of others. In the process I’ve lost touch with my own reality.

I’ve become scared, worrying constantly that I will disappoint, and always, ALWAYS staying focused on pleasing others.

Be helpful and take pride in a job well done, don’t harm anybody intentionally, be useful, but don’t make anybody or anything the center of your world. In the end you will become this miserable unhappy person that wanted to do it all and accomplished nothing. Just like me.

Are you afraid to put yourself first? Don’t be. Sounds selfish saying that? Maybe. I don’t know. But I have to start somewhere. Somewhere I’ve never been before. A place where I can love myself more, take care of what I want and go through with all the things that I’ve left unfinished because I was afraid I will disappoint. The only person I’ve ever let down was myself. The people that genuinely cared for me understood my struggles and pushed me towards bettering myself, the ones that where only there for the enjoyment of seeing me fall never cared about me to begin with.

All I know is that I WANT. Something, not sure exactly what, but the WANT is there…

Happy Everything

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Today, at work, this elderly couple (in their late 80’s), holding hands, had some words of wisdom for me. For a while now I’ve identified myself as a person who has lost the meaning of happy. “Lost” might sound like a harsh word so I will temporarily replace it with “misunderstood”.

What stroked me as odd was that they had so much to tell me in such a short time and they were so fluent in their conviction that we know each other or we have known each other for years [so no further explanation was needed].

“Life lessons 101” from people that that have (visibly) lived their lives to the fullest. Now, how did they do that? What am I missing?

Mind you, I work in an assisted living and dementia facility so more often than I could count I have people talking to me thinking that I am someone else. But not the happy couple from today. They “knew” exactly who I was. I would not put down here the things they’ve said to me but the sheer feeling of immense gratitude that lingered after they left is something I will probably want to carry with me for a while.

And at the end, on their way out they mimicked a hug and said “Much love…something, something [followed by]…I love you.” And let’s not forget the “Happy Everything!”.

P.S. This is the first time in my life that I hear the “Happy Everything” expression!

 

And this:

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The (short) story of my life

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mark twain and he's dog

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” — Mark Twain

The exacerbated mental visualization that my life is passing by. Some days faster, some days slower, but always passing. One thing that I must give to this fast-paced “aging” process is the realization that I am truly rich. That, of course, does not show in my wallet, but in the amount of satisfaction I feel when I know what I HAVE. And I became aware. I started paying attention to the small pieces that have, together, created my little universe.

With all this time that has flown by so have some of my memories, past relationships, people I loved and places I’ve seen. Year after year I see that the people I once called friends are now just distant memories and the few that are still around have become my family. With this small bunch of individuals I’ve learnt what the true meaning of sharing really is. I’ve learnt what that thing called love is all about, what it means to get down and dirty with life’s challenges and how to get back up, shake the dust and move on. Disappointments have been many and what has hurt the most in all these years have been my own expectations. People whom you love the most are also the ones that you love the most. They are the people you could never run away from.

The older I get I tend to avoid certain people and situations. Gatherings no longer interest me as much as they used to. I have to always be in a group of people with whom I share the same interests, values or opinions. I was asked to be more sociable (as if I was never enough)…whatever that means anymore. I AM a social person, a peoples’ person. Since I no longer tolerate small talk, dumb gossip and meaningless discussions I am subtracting myself from that equation. Choosing the group that I want to surround myself with does not make me unsociable. At best, it makes me organized.

Therefore, I am left with “just” the people that matter most. New people make me nervous. They are “outsiders” that either love me from the moment they meet me or they hate my guts. There’s no in-between. And “my level of giving a damn” about that is, well….about nonexistent. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have met some awesome people in the 2 years since I’ve been in this new town that I now call home, but our interactions are minimal. I like them, I think they like me and that’s it. Our mutual appreciation stops there.

So pause and look around for your riches. What’s in your wallet?

Yours truly,

O. (C.D.) Stiff

April 30, 2018

I Am Mine

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Today is one of those days I wish I didn’t depend on anybody and that nobody depended on me. For anything. I’ve been disappointed lately. And I know that it’s mostly my expectations from others that have brought me down.

From where I stand there is a way to pause things from happening, for just a while, enough to take it all in and just…breathe. One moment I can call my own. When I no longer have to give back, when I just become mine.

 

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