Milan Cubrilo’s Smile
When my dear father passed away, it was the saddest day. I had all sorts of conflicting emotions, but deep sadness sat at the core of my soul and started to spill its aroma in and around my being as if it couldn’t wait any longer to get a hold of me.
If I set aside the strongest emotion, utter sadness, which set in determined to settle for many years to come, the second strongest emotion was pride. I was proud to be his daughter.
My mother inconsolably cried and my, older, only seemingly stronger sister cried, even my brother who was never seen publicly crying, cried, ‘like a little lost boy’, as my daughter put it, running away into the garden urged to escape the reality and the heaviness of his tears. She has always been fond of my brother; he was a father figure for her: a tall, strong minded, man who knew the answer to many questions.
But the irreparable pain in my Mum’s soul was obvious when she said, ‘Now days will be colder and nights longer; food will be tasteless and words will lose their real meaning.”
I’ll talk about pride a little bit later as I am aiming, for the sake of my own soul, to narrate the story from some sort of beginning, or aiming for some sort of closure or just, purely, indulging myself egotistically in my pain.
That morning a very unusual dream awakened me, which I am not willing to retell right now, as it is something I consider to belong only to me. But, the flavour of the dream stayed with me whilst I was preparing my breakfast, while eating it and driving to work a little bit later. I was preparing the morning news, looking for some other interesting feature- stories and often my mind went back to review the dream I had. I said, it was an unusual dream, but dreams are often more than usual… Somehow, I thought that there should be some meaning attached to it; something that would change my day … for the better, sure.
I live with my daughter, a beautiful dark-haired young girl that, by rule, everyone at first glance assumes is my sisters’ child. My sister has dark hair and big dark eyes and I always wanted her almond-shaped warm eyes, whilst she thought that I was blessed with our mum’s fair, soft looks. My daughter took after my sister instead, and that made me, some years ago, truly happy, for in some way my wish was granted. My daughter never calls when I am in the studio running the program, no matter what.
I came home and found her with moist eyes, sitting with her guitar. She said:
“Sit next to me, mummy, I want to tell you something.”
I sat attentively assuming that she might have had one of those little things to share… like, someone who told her would ring has forgotten it, or she was again anxious to go to live in Switzerland for an entire year… or, something else. She hugged me and said:
“Mummy, your daddy passed away.”
I just felt a terrible, terrible, unfriendly, violent and inevitable pain grabbed me somewhere … or everywhere: by my shoulders, by my head and hair, pulled me down and inward, pushed me into different directions, the sky grew dark, my heart grew dark and weak, and my eyes stopped seeing light, and my throat started to squeeze the life out of me. She held me tight, I don’t remember for how long. Once again, she held – me.
He was gone without warning. He said nothing; had a shower before dinner and sat in his favourite armchair waiting to be called when dinner was ready. But he never made it to the dining room.
Was there anyone to blame? For I wanted to blame someone… like, poor government or disinterested doctors, or some sort of entity who was so malevolent, on the constant lookout to harm.
But there was no one to blame. We have our days given in the right order and numbered on each and every page. His book was due to be closed.
It was a beautifully, neatly written book. With elegance and grace, with the right amount of laughter and the strong sense of justice.
I wanted to tell him that my latest novel was dedicated to him and the famous scientist Nikola Tesla, to their origins and shared family background. I wanted to tell him that he was a good man, the father I wanted to have… I wanted to thank him for all the right things he taught me, or showed me, and I wanted him to know how proud of him I was.
Above all I wanted to tell him how much I loved him.
But I couldn’t.
Awareness grew: I would never be able to express it any more.
In the chorus of crying people, I started to reflect on those days and emotions that made me smile, which made me proud.
Many people came and sent cards, flowers and words via different avenues. Each and every word was exactly the same as if they were tailored in the same beautiful-word-factory. Words can’t bring him back, neither change my memories, but they confirmed what I knew all my life: he was a kind, cultured, good-hearted and just man.
I was wondering, ‘Is it ever possible to fill the void?’
Why did I think he was immortal? Or, that his life would be extended to suit my needs? Mum told me that he was, ‘very quiet last week’. He was a quiet man, but ever present. Mum said, ‘his quietness required solitude.
I still didn’t grasp the meaning of such a need. Am I to blame? If I had only understood those little signs! What would have happened then?
While everyone cried, my train of thought went down the lane and we walked all the paths we walked before, once again: I saw myself as a six-year-old holding his hand, walking down to the beach, carrying a little back-pack and a rubber toy, my golden locks bouncing while I was skipping and asking him questions to which he would comment, ‘How on earth could you come up with such questions?’
“Because I am clever.”
That would make him laugh. Holding hands, we walked right to the moment when he accompanied me, last time, to the airport. I hugged him and said:
“Look after yourself and see you next year.”
He shrugged his shoulders saying:
“Hopefully. One year is a long time at my age.”
“What are you talking about?!”
“Just being realistic.”
“Being a pain, now that I’m leaving.”
He hugged me and said:
“I am being silly. See you next year… but hurry up.”
When I cried again, I cried because, ‘why he couldn’t wait another three months.’
What am I going to do in those three months?
Age has nothing to do with it; we grieve the absence of someone we deeply loved. The void: the hole, which swallows everything, as it is hungry for the feelings, yet it cannot be satisfied.
Time: the biggest healer. The reorganizing of the family. New roles. A stronger bond.
On the morning my father passed away, I didn’t know that I was going to feel like a little lost girl for a while. I had that peculiar dream, the symbolism that I could not figure out what it might represent.
He bought me a brand new car and I wrecked it. Once, twice, then the third time, in my dream.
Once he told me:
“To lead a good life the best driver is needed. Take that steering wheel and own it, take the curves with caution, leave enough space between, don’t break suddenly or when it isn’t needed.”
When everyone sobbed, I looked at my daughter. That was the first time I saw him in her colours, in her fine jaw-line and those smooth movements.
And this is the circle. It could be that my daughter’s wish for ‘mummy’s blue eyes’ will be granted when her daughter sees the world and opens her eyes for the first time. I will live through my granddaughter as my dad’s life goes on together with ours: pictures and stories, gestures and colours, unique wording and expressions, a certain way of doing things…
On the day when my dear father passed away something invisibly but drastically changed. That book was closed, but I opened a new chapter.
When I dedicate my latest novel to my father, together with the protagonists on its pages, it will give him some sort of immortality.
I just wanted to say again, how much I loved him, and that conflicting emotions can go hand in hand. While deep sadness is nestling in my chest, pride is pushing it gently away, taking more and more room in the silent but determined attempt to rule this kingdom wisely.
… And there, in the near distance, I see him with the Mona Lisa smile on his gentle face… approving my story.