I opened the door with the frantic urge of collapsing into my bed; though overly smitten, I was physically drained from the past four days I had just spent in Belgrade. I could barely drag myself up the four flight of stairs, a herculean effort, only for me to trip over an obstacle on the last few meters: a large box of whatnot placed right in front of my bed. I startled before suddenly recalling that my brother decided to spring clean the basement while I was away, throwing out what no longer belonged, saving room solely for essentials. Old diaries, handwritten letters, scrapbooks and photo albums. My first thought was to call him and ask why he would bring these up from the basement, my second was to jump over the box to land directly in bed. I did neither. I sat down, and for the next few hours, the past consumed me completely.
Between tears, laughter and Eureka moments, I could not help but howl at the naive girl I used to be — and on some level, I howled because I am still that idealistic today. Then, turning the page, I could not help but smile proudly at the studious and disciplined student I once was – and on every level, I smiled because I still am an eager learner today. I had a harder time flipping through some photographs though – not because my sense for fashion was downright generic or because my baby fat followed me well into my twenties; but there it was, in the midst of essentials, a collection of moments I very much remembered, with faces I had nearly forgotten.
Sure, a few of these people are not entirely out of my life if we consider the facebook friendship state of affairs. We have not seen each other, even less talked in long, long time – but I do know that you had coffee at Starbucks last Saturday. By all means, it is a vice versa phenomenon. I post a lot; and often. I am fairly certain I have been unfollowed. Do not get me wrong, I am not undermining the intricate power of social media, but it will always only be a parallel universe that is far from being a reflection of real life, real relationships and real friendships. It serves its purpose, allowing us to stay connected — or rather updated (of course the irony of it being whether we want to or not). I fully accept it, thankfully so, harmfully so. Then on the other hand, many of these individuals I dug up from this box never even made it to a digital friendship. Now I do not know which is worse.
I reread declarations that promised forever, that heralded being there in good and bad times, foreshadowing that things would never change. Truth be told, I think I have heard it as often as I have said it. We all have. And we all meant it when we declared it. Nevertheless, in time, and with a handful of bad experiences under the belt, we discover the (hard) way that forever will not necessarily last a lifetime, some friendships cannot survive the test of hardships and ultimately, things do change.
There are various reasons as to why some friendships fall apart, partly or categorically. A monumental fight becomes the point of no return, on other occasions, it is a slow yet gradual regression. At times, the realization that shared history is the only thing keeping an alliance alive can be, yes, insufferable. As I was scanning the faces of those who were once part of my everyday life, I could actually pinpoint the exact moment I or we decided to bid farewell. I am aware that I let a few of the people go because regrettably, they somewhat morphed into artifacts of a time frame that caused me pain. The delicate downfall, unfair as it was, meant that we gave less and less news, assured one another to catch up one day, only never to fix a date. And it bothered neither of us. I grew up with some, then absolutely everything made us grow apart. I also embraced that others were, quite frankly, nothing more than on-demand acquaintances: time- and circumstances-specific. It was good while it lasted. Finally, more often than not, the answer to what happened?, no matter how trite this might sound, is really the bullshit, cheeky, by-the-book response: life happened. And you stopped caring about each other. Point blank. Is it sadder to have a reason for a friendship to go astray? Or not having one? Life indeed happens, we spring clean our social circle: throwing away who no longer belongs, only saving room for essentials. I have learned that we choose the company we keep, gratefully so; and if there comes a time I have to put in a herculean effort to light it up, it is the sign that I am no longer comfortable, or rather not as comfortable as I used to be, in their company. The thing is, there are enough odd situations in life, a friendship should not be one of them.
The more I analyzed when, how and why a handful of people became strangers again; flipping the coin, the more it made me appreciate why and how most of them hold their ground in my life. And I still, always and forever will want them to. For sure physical presence is not the reason: I have not lived in the same city as a number of my closest friends, since Vienna 1998, Stockholm 2004, Geneva 2006, Oslo 2008 or Zurich 2014; but not only do we "jump start" as soon as we talk, message and/or meet; in my heart, the bond is indubitably as solid as ever, perhaps even stronger, after phases not connecting on a regular basis. Furthermore, having an array of things in common is not that will make us soul mates for life: the dearest whom I am glued to, day in and year out, cannot be any more different from me. But together, we blend like a tasty smoothie, coping – accepting – where it would usually shatter. What constitutes a long-lasting, and confidently a life-long friendship, I believe, fundamentally comes down to one simple thing that applies on all premises: whether we know a friend since birth, since childhood, since university, from traveling, from work, from a night-out — or even from the most random point in time; and regardless of whether we meet every day, once a month, a couple of times a year –– or once in a blue moon, if we are still in each other's lives, it is because we grow -- continue to, are still able to -- not always together, but definitely always alongside each other.
There was a huge black chalkboard that read "Before I die, I want to..." placed in front on the serene Ada lake in Belgrade. I surveyed all the answers. One could chuckle at absurd messages such as "... have sex in Miami" or be touched by hopeful ones such as "... love again". I had to think twice when I stumbled upon the last one that stated: "Before I die, I want to be alive". When people get to meet my boys Simon, Andreas, Daniel, David and me, they often ask us when, how and why we became friends. When is that we knew each other prior separately, but a fateful night put the five of us in the same room back in April 2012. Immediately, it seemed like a beginning we had been waiting for -- the one we were preparing for -- on the spot admitting how unique this could become. Geilovic was born. How is because our personalities, so multifaceted, so multilayered, sync. Effortlessly. The different characters utterly compliment and complete each other. And as to why? It is easy. Reality is, "some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss; but every once in a while, [we] find someone who is iridescent, and once [we] do, nothing will ever compare." (Flipped, 2010) I found that unfailing spark in these very special men and they found it in me. I have honestly never been more free or more at ease to just be myself than when I am with them -- caught in winds that change, yet still feeling like I am breezing on a paper plane. This little web we made defined –– more accurately, redefined — my yen for this kind of deep, pure, inspirational, intangible connection. Having experienced it, nothing really does compare; and I cannot settle for less ever again. Before I die, I want to live. I want to be alive.
I am. I am alive when we are together.
We never see hardships, difficult days or fights in a photo album, but those are the ones that get us from one happy snap shot to the next. We took a million pictures during our extraordinary stay in Belgrade. More than committing our moments to eternity, it was to celebrate that we are still here. We grew. And we continue to, are still able to – not always together, but definitely always alongside each other. Caught in winds that will change, forever flying on paper planes.