Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Navel gazing is easy, when your belly button is this pristine.

By Anci CL

I'm in a starbucks, sipping on a foamy cappuccino, silently judging everyone around me. It's true: I judge what I can't relate to. (but luckily, due to the mixed bag that is my upbringing, i can relate to a whole hell of a lot.)
 Here I see women opening their mouths a little too widely when they laugh, or speak and it irritates me, and I don't want to fucking unpack the reasons why. I don't want to think about what anger they're trying to conceal-- I want to sit, and stew in my irritation, because dammit, it's comforting.

Growing up, my mom used to always call me out when I was laughing or smiling fakely. Because that's one thing Croatians don't do--pretend to be happy. And that goes for grocery store clerks, and cashiers. If you catch them on the wrong day, they will roll their eyes at you, as they weigh your potatoes, or your plastic bag of blitva.

it's okay to make this face once in a while. because sometimes it's too cold to crack a damn smile.

In a way, I prefer that. Because it somehow feels more human. Seeing women with hysterical, unconvincing grins  plastered to their faces always makes me shudder. Like, why not fucking say "i'm not in the mood for this shit? I don't want to sit here and laugh at your micro aggressions, and your sly digs, and your prying questions about my alcoholic son?"

When I was 12, my school put on a production of Li'l Abner. And naturally, most of the performers were terrible. (because they were 7th graders.) The lead however, was fantastic-- he was confident, and perhaps aberrantly mature in his stage presence. so my mom walked up to his mother and warmly related that "your son was the best." Another mother overheard, and decided to correct my mother's heartfelt praise, with a snippy "ALL the children were  equally great."
"Oh please," my mother smirked good naturedly. (If you've never heard of a good natured smirk, well.. then you haven't hung out with enough Slavic immigrants.)

You can't sell bullshit to a Croatian. Don't tell her all the children were equally good, when one was clearly better. It's not harsh, it's cultural. 

me, my sister my mother... several summers back.

I get up, order another cappuccino-- I sit back down on the computer, and i peruse old photos.

I stumble across the only picture I have with both my grandfathers. (Obviously, one lives in Mexico, one lived in Croatia.. so it was hard to get them in the same place.)

Looking at this picture though, their feelings toward me are so fucking clear. one grandfather is posing for the camera, while limply clutching one of my chubby baby legs. The other is gazing at me warmly, with both arms wrapped protectively around me. I wish I had known my grandpa Nikola better-- I wish the war hadn't separated us for six fucking years.

He came to live with us in Boston for an entire year, when I was a baby, just to spend time with his little American grand-daughter.

My mother says he adored me-- and I can see that by the way he beamed at me proudly in photos. I actually have a video clip of him, practically purring with happiness the first time I walked up stairs ALONE. "she's doing it herself!" he croons in Croatian.
Whenever I relive this moment onscreen, I am moved by his joy-- a departure from his usual stoic demeanor. (my sister inherited that from him by the way.) He was a man of few words, and he sometimes stuttered on the "ch" sound.
I know all of this from stories my mother tells me.

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