Ioana

With everything going on at the Black Sea, I’d like to share a short story I wrote years back, when things were more hopeful. From the Romanian Black Sea coast.

IOANA

Wayde watched the beach dancers, Ioana in their midst. The sand clung to her feet, the sundress to her body. Eyes closed, she seemed to relish the moment—a free soul led by music in harmony with nature.

The evening breeze pierced Wayde’s skin. Strange being here, in Romania, his defenses lowered, emotions still fragile. Only last month he’d given in to the impulse and bought a one-way plane ticket to Europe. Fled the memories hiding beneath the surface, waiting to attack.

Shimmering across the waves, the moonlight spilled over the water. The sunset framed the dancers, students he’d met on the Sofia-Bucharest train—a moment to freeze in memory, like a tableau vivant.

Spitting a fiber of tobacco, Wayde raised the bottle to his new friends. Noroc. Cheers. The Romanian moonshine sloshed down, burning his throat. His mind flipped through mental images, new and old: the rocky beach, the sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge thousands of miles away, the playful smile on Kim’s face.

His Kim, who in her giggling youth had promised she’d live to be a hundred.

***

As the evening grew cooler, the students harnessed the sun within by drinking and dancing. A percussion beat picked up steam, one that made it hard to keep still. The circle moved through spins, and at their center twirled Ioana.

Wayde stubbed out the cigarette, blowing smoke into the air. The sun left a lilac afterglow above the light of a brilliant autumn sunset. The red hues, smudged across the sky, were fading into the past of a land both old and new.

Romania. A country so different he could get lost in it.

The music slowed, a wistful tempo, then picked up until the sand vibrated under his feet. Highs and lows, fast changing as if skipping through dreams. As if defining his life.

He’d lingered in a dream daze each morning, imagining himself on a business trip not roaming through Europe like Joe College. Imagining he’d go back to Kim; take her to Café Eight in the Bay City for their tenth wedding anniversary. But the fog dissolved when he woke to sounds of Moscow or Sofia. To different people and places. Tonight, in the village of Lazu, a sea from Noah’s ark pulled him into the realm of legends—the Black Sea, bounded by Europe and Asia.

“Still agitated,” Cezar, the history major said, catching Wayde’s eye. “The sea. Still trying to rid itself of blood from past battles.”

As if showing divine approval, the wind picked up over the water. It blew onto the land, a quick swirl, before moving toward the sea. Against the roar, beat-up six stringers and bongos took center stage, pulsating in harmony with the waves.

“Music by the sea.” Cezar laughed, pointing to the bongo player. “To settle the negative energy and let go.”

Hard to imagine Eastern Europeans ever letting go. These days they were waging a different war to the east, one close to the brink of disaster yet subdued by outside pressure. No big spark yet, nothing like 1989 when the populace toppled oppressive governments, when political volcanoes erupted, shaking the ground for years to come. Today, anger at corruption and financial repression bubbled under the surface, causing the rare spark, but it stayed buried there.

Wayde took another slug of rachiu, and handed the bottle to Cezar.

The Romanian youth led what some called a silent revolt of feelings. He’d seen the phenomena all throughout the region. These were the post-Revolution musicians, poets and ideologues, hopeless but too jittery from sensory overload to raise their voices in protest.

Near him, Cezar looked past the dancers, into the water, the vast horizon. Watching as if unseeing. Life in a depressed but democratic part of the continent had numbed the students into obedience. Music and neuron-frying moonshine were the escape choices in Lazu. The sea was their home.

Wayde pushed the thought back to the neglected corner it had occupied for weeks. Home. He’d left San Francisco, searching for a feeling of sedation after Kim. But Eastern Europe pulled him into its twine of grievances. Folks had critical words for the west, for prices dictated by corporate greed, but the biggest complaint was aimed at their children, those who’d abandoned their homeland in favor of promises elsewhere.

“Leave, never stay. Always go.” Shaking their heads, parents told of news from a son or daughter, of crushed hopes. A people with their rich history, folks lamented, going back to the Danube Valley, ought to stay and rally for the motherland.

Tensions eventually died out and the parents told of a conglomerate opening a factory in town. Still a rough part of the world, loud about history and politics, but the region that had been a hotbed for political and social unrest struck Wayde as weary of itself.

The music, marked by the wind as heard in a seashell, whirled Wayde’s thoughts for long stretches. What had he learned in Lazu? People everywhere trudged through life carrying burdens. His new friends cleansed their souls of stress hard, like one might scrape off dirt. They brandished worries aside, but only for the night. A volcano very much alive.

***

The beach bonfire popped and crackled, warming Wayde’s skin while the moonshine scorched his throat. In a delicate haze of alcohol and tobacco, he watched Ioana dance. She swayed her hips, all young, all woman, all lure of delight. When she looked his way, she smiled as if to pull him into a trance. Or his mind played tricks on him. It happened a lot since Kim’s death. He saw things that weren’t there. Ran after a Kim lookalike once, and scared the woman half to death.

A pretty girl when glimpsed in passing, Ioana’s beauty grew on Wayde until she commanded his attention. Light brown hair past her shoulders, pale skin, dark eyes. Big eyes that flickered between Wayde and the sand when he glanced her way.

The tempo rose over the sound of waves rushing to the shore. The group threw their hands in the air, hollering as if possessed, louder and faster.

Cezar grabbed Wayde’s hand, pulling him to his feet. The younger man closed his eyes, becoming one with the others. The beat, the energy seized Wayde, and this time it happened—he shook his limbs, his body. He surrendered.

Laughter echoed in his ears, the sky spinning above, a seagull screaming in the distance. His body trembled with the beat, his head spinning into a free fall. The shock gave him a high, a sense of release. A natural euphoria came over him, almost as good as sex. Well, a different high, but complete control and satisfaction. Freedom.

When the music stopped and he opened his eyes there was no mistaking. Ioana stared, as if daring him to blink first. The ray of a hidden smile followed, a quick nod. A look that said “feels good to surrender, doesn’t it?” Then she turned and walked away.

In the distance, the lamppost illuminated her silhouette. She stopped at the end of the footpath, under the willow tree. Wayde covered the distance fast.

“Congratulations,” she said, a smile barely there.

Wayde glanced toward the group then turned to her, unsure.

“This is your first freedom night.” She gathered her hair into a ponytail then let it bounce onto her shoulders.

Freedom night. The rachiu hadn’t killed all his brain cells, thank God. “The dance?” Wayde searched for a laugh. “It was fun.”

She laughed, her eyes warm. And he couldn’t have imagined it, because soon an inviting smile filled her face.

His friends in San Francisco would call this his lucky day—a younger, beautiful woman, standing under a willow tree in a far-away country, watching him. Not walking away as he stepped closer.

“What happened to your wife?” She took his hand into hers. “You never said.”

The words slapped Wayde’s face like the cold sea. He pulled away, racking his mind for an excuse, something better than a nicotine fix, but the expectation on Ioana’s face was too great. “She died.” He faced the sea. “Sarcoma. A rare form of cancer.”

“I’m sorry.” She looked out into the water.

For the first time Wayde noticed hardly a trace of accent in her words. “You speak English well.”

“My father.” Her voice shook in the night chill. “He was a visiting professor at the George Washington University. We had English Wednesdays and Thursdays at home.”

“He’s a wise man.”

“Was. He passed last year.”

The temperature dropped at the sound of her words. “Sorry.”

“Grief lessens with time if you talk.”

The roll of the waves blended as a backdrop to the world around them. He relished the cool breeze ruffling his shirt, his skin pricked with goose bumps.

“What was her name?” Ioana stepped closer, yet kept her distance.

“What? Oh, Kimberly. Kim.”

“Is this the trip to forget the past? Going to another part of the world, so different from your own?”

It struck Wayde that if big-hearted curiosity hadn’t originated in the Balkans, it must have been perfected to an art here. The trait defined folks as much as their beef patties, too spicy and heavy on a westerner’s stomach, but delicious.

“Forget?” Maybe he’d overstayed his welcome. “No one forgets.”

“But we try.” Her eyes, two emotion brims, widened. “In this part of the world, we are a people with a painful past. Fifty years of state rule, not many hopes for the future. We must try to forget and focus on the times ahead.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets, silent, somehow lulled by her words.

“My grandmother used to say plec in lume sa uit. Means, I’m going out in the world to forget. We are an impatient people. Impulsive, too. We leave home as a way to cope all the time. We have to forget.”

Wayde looked at the seascape, at the waves slamming onto the beach rocks. He’d left home without a clear plan, maybe seeking peace or new company. Hiding from family and friends who pressed him to follow the phases of grief. They’d had it all worked out—five stages of grief, and he’ll be better. A stupid concept.

He’d told everyone he’d always wanted to go back to Eastern Europe, revisit memories from long ago when his family had ventured as far as the Soviet Union. A mysterious world, his father had said, hidden behind a curtain. Twenty years ago, he’d watched the curtain come down on television, wondered how life might’ve changed. Maybe seeing what emerged would shock him into a state of relative unconsciousness. A semi-coma, when you hear noises but aren’t sure what’s happening.

Truth was, he’d call anywhere home so long as he found peace of mind.

“It’ll hurt more if you don’t talk,” Ioana said. “Maybe that’s why we are a talking people, too. Talking and always on the move. Can’t let the pain win.”

Wayde shook his head. Medicinal talks sure came in unexpected forms. “Yes, can’t let the pain win,” he heard himself say.

“Shared grief is lighter. Don’t you think?” Ioana offered a gentle smile.

He laughed under the realization of how heavy and delicious her curiosity sat in his stomach. “Sure.” Wayde let his gaze wander to the sand and back to her. “Sure,” he said again, because he believed it.

—-

Image: Canva.com

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The Answer May Not Be at The Beach …

… but shouldn’t we at least check? – Unknown.

How is your summer going? 

It’s extremely hot everywhere, if you’re not at the beach. 

A friend shared a picture from the English countryside that looks more like dry-heat Southern California that cool, humid, rainy England. 

The beach makes everything better, thought, doesn’t it? 

I’m not one for sunbathing, but love walking along the promenade, looking out into the vastness of the Pacific. Maybe going into the water. And of course, enjoying the weather. 

It’s 25 degrees cooler at the beach – a mere thirty-minute drive from my house. Driving there alone, watching the temperature drop, rolling down the windows, and you feel the stress level drop. 

One day at the beach and it’s easy to forget yesterday’s worries. 

Weather ran the gamut – from overcast to blue skies, from cold to sunny – and I loved it all. 

If anything, I prefer the cooler, overcast days at the beach. The silence of the waves. Because there is a certain silence there, within that roar. The seagulls, the waves, the surfers bobbing at the surface of the water, waiting to catch a wave. It’s all part of a meditative silence. 

It’s easy to get lost and find yourself again at the beach. 

To set yourself right. 

So, we kept going up the coast, not ready for the drive back home. Beach after beach, town after town.

Just one more day, then one more. 

Your Jam

Passion is the energy that keeps us going, that keeps us filled with excitement and anticipation. 

“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” Jon Bon Jovi

Each new year brings new questions to be embraced, and loved. 

I’m excited about finding answers to those questions. 

Now that my son is a teenager about to start college in August, busy with his life, the newfound me time is here.  

I’m still a long way from retirement, and nothing but me time, but there are so many things I discovered or rediscovered in the past couple of years. I have more time to write, more time to read, to remodel and redecorate.

I rediscovered photography. 

My husband and I are going to take a road trip – just the two of us for the first time in forever.

I have more time for fitness. 

That brings me to Zumba. 

I’ve started taking Zumba classes a couple of months ago, because at this point in my life I need my exercise routine to be fun not a chore.  If exercise is work, I won’t stick with it for long. 

And that’s what I found. Fun. An instructor and a group of people ready to have one hour of dancing fun. (sorry about photo quality. It’s apparently not easy to take pics of moving people)

So, what is your jam (as my son calls it) – your passion, or skill applied to passion.

What did you discover or rediscover you like to do more of?

Color and Joy

Have you ever associated color with joy? Have you noticed that certain colors – or combinations of colors – make you feel naturally happy?

Moreover, have you noticed a correlation between color appreciation and age?

I remember walking the paseos around the neighboorhood with my mom, and she would stop and admire certain colors in flowers, trees. She’d want to talk about it. I didn’t see the point in talking about plants back then, and just wanted to keep going.

A decade later, I find myself rediscovering colors and the joy they bring into my life. I caught myself mentioning the striking blue color of the sky to my son the other day on our drive someplace. All I got back was a umhh, his attention on his phone.

Color. Joy.

There is endless color around us; and it has the power to bring us so much joy. To elicit positive emotion.

Take a moment to look at your surroundings right now.

What color do you see? How does it make you feel?

image cr: pixabay