October 21, 2010

Old Friends

Posted in Children, Friendships tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:02 am by Liliana

Old Friends

Old Friends

I had dinner with an old friend while visiting New York last week. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years.

Donna and I met as high school students in 1973. Our families had just immigrated to New York, hers from Poland, mine from Yugoslavia. Neither of us spoke English.

Together with my sister Branka, we became fast friends.

Our American experiences and identities unfolded in similar ways.

We took ESL classes together, and learned to love and appreciate the English language. As our communication skills improved, our confidence grew. We started venturing outside Queens and expanded our explorations to Manhattan – the three of us on our own!

We roamed the streets, walked around Central Park, visited every famous place we had heard of.

By the time we were juniors, we bought our first tickets to a Broadway show. We almost fainted from excitement as we sat in the very first row, watching Yul Brynner in “The King and I.” Branka and Donna threatened to stand up in the middle of a song and shout to Yul Brynner how much they loved him. I was relieved when they didn’t have the courage to actually do it.

We walked all around the Museum of Modern Art for an amazing Picasso exhibit. I had bought brand new, high healed red sandals, and they started hurting my feet. I complained but the girls had no patience or sympathy. They were transfixed by the wonders in front of them. I took the sandals off, and barefoot but comfortable, delighted in the beauty of the art before me. New Yorkers didn’t even notice.

When John Lennon was shot, we went to his Central Park memorial service. It was an overcast, freezing winter day, and the crowds so overwhelming, the police feared that someone would be trampled to death. We were told to all sit on the ground. So, we sat on the frozen snow for hours, listening to speeches, to music, to remembrances. Afterward, the three of us were sick for weeks.

One winter, for New Year’s Eve, the tree of us decided to welcome the new year at the Times Square celebration. Again, we froze. Again, the crowds were so great, they were not for people who were claustrophobic or faint of heart.

But the tree of us, best friends, intertwined our hands and held on tightly to each other.

And here we are, still reaching out.

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September 10, 2010

The Best Years

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Liliana

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

My grandmother lived to be ninety five years old. Throughout the years, whenever she talked about people who happened to be her age at that particular moment, she would make a comment – “they are enjoying the best year of their lives!”

For my grandmother, every year of one’s life was the very best year.

It took me a long time to understand what she meant, but I think that I am getting there.

Many years of my life were painful and difficult and did not seem enjoyable at the time. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. My sister almost died from pulmonary embolism. My family in Yugoslavia  lived through tragedy, violence and hardships. I was sick with cancer.

But when I look back on all this, all these misfortunes, together with all the joys, construct a picture of my life. I would not be who I am without them. I hope that I have learned from them to be a better person.

One thing I do know – I am much more compassionate, accepting and kind. To my family, friends, strangers, the world around me. And to myself.

Today I am fifty one years old. Happy birthday to me!

June 10, 2010

Mark Twain and I

Posted in Books, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:19 am by Liliana

Mark Twain and I

Mark Twain and I

From my earliest childhood, I loved to read. My favorite memories are of sitting in some dark, snug corner, straining my eyes, losing myself in a reality very different from my own. Any book, comic, pamphlet, magazine – anything with words or pictures (or both) – was fair game.

I don’t know how old I was when I first discovered Mark Twain. It was love at first sight. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn became my favorite people in the entire world. I loved the mischief, the humor, the danger, the exotic atmosphere of the land that I knew nothing about. I loved the English names of the people and curious words like Mississippi and Missouri. I loved the sense of adventure.

Years passed. My parents, sister and I traveled to the US and I went to college in New York City. I moved on to other writers and other worlds. I hardly thought of Mark Twin in those days.

But during my senior year of college, while deciding where to go to graduate school, a professor suggested St. Louis, Missouri. And that word, Missouri, brought with it a flood of memory. I applied, was accepted and got a scholarship. All the stars were aligned just right for me to travel westward, and I decided to get my degree there and then move back to Yugoslavia.

The first month in St. Louis I met a young man named Jeff.  We went to movies, theater and poetry readings. We talked about philosophy and argued about Nietzsche and Heidegger for hours.

But the way he won my heart was by suggesting, on a whim of a moment, in a middle of an ordinary school day, that I miss my Milton class and that we drive the couple of hours to Hannibal, Missouri. This is the town where Mark Twain lived as a boy and where he set two of his most famous books.

Jeff had a very old, ugly and beat up yellow car that he called – the frog. We drove the frog down the banks of the Mississippi and I looked out in wonder. Here I was and this world was real. Mississippi. We walked all over the small town of Hannibal and it seemed frozen in time. It was touristy, and tacky, but I loved it. The old houses were small, the rooms miniature and childlike – fitting for memories of a young girl. We ate fried trout at the Becky Thatcher diner. We had ice cream in the Tom Sawyer ice cream parlor.

I never made it back to Yugoslavia.