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The Other Side (Part III)

Was this the most significant moment of my life? I would say so. Because, my brother’s death, for me, always will be the day when I became ‘Me.’ I knew that I crossed over to the other side, without the option of return, and that, like a child learning ho

In the memoir, Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther explores the process of dying, as his son, Johnny, fights a devastating brain tumor. Gunther's son was only 17, struggling against death, fighting against the spark of life. Gunther wrote, "A primitive to-the-death struggle of reason against violence, reason against disruption, reason against brute unthinking force--this was what went on in Johnny's head. What he was fighting against was the ruthless assault of chaos. What he was fighting for, as it were, the life of the human mind." As Johnny courageously faces death, his father raises important questions, "What does it mean? What is it like to face suffering, loss of a future, and death?"
I asked myself the same questions as my brother was fighting for his life. Then when Death came like a thief in the night and took him away, all the questions vanished. Reasons didn't matter. Answers didn't matter either. Recently, I read a collection of memoirs called, "Six-Word Memoirs," and I thought revealing your life in just six words could be a powerful storytelling. If I was to write my story back then in six words, it would have been: "Nothing matters because nothing is forever."

I was full of anger, which permeated through every cell in my body every time I tried to justify my brother's death. For the next few years, I was a walking zombie, ready to suck the blood out of anyone who crossed my path. I was angry at the world, I was angry at life. I was even angry with God. I do not follow any religions, but my mom would say I'm an Eastern Orthodox Christian, since Christianity was introduced in Bulgaria around 864 by the Tsar Boris, then it was banned after World War II found Bulgaria under the rule of Communism for 45 years.

After my brother died, I stopped praying for a while, a long while. I lost hope after trying to understand why praying three times a day on my knees with tears in my eyes didn't save my brother. I would give anything to save him. I believed it could be done if I prayed long enough and with all my heart. Now, in retrospect, it's easy for me to see how naïve I was. People would believe anything out of helplessness. I spent years living in anger, as I couldn't accept reality. "In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion," wrote my favorite author, Albert Camus. And that was exactly what I did.

Was this the most significant moment of my life? I would say so. Because, my brother’s death, for me, always will be the day when I became ‘Me.’ I knew that I crossed over to the other side, without the option of return, and that, like a child learning how to walk, I was irreversibly cured from my innocent view of a complex world. My expectations for the future became nothing more than enjoying in the present.

Slowly, after my brother died, I opened up and met great friends who conquered my anger. Artists, rock musicians, and painters, who understood me and gave me hope. They taught me that to be intrigued by life is to be intrigued by death. My best friend, a young painter, once whispered something I still remember as she was taking a puff of her long skinny cigarette, "Life is like a burning cigarette – enjoyable and poisonous – so addictive, you don’t notice when it’s over." Then, she put out her cigarette and lit another one. "It's ok to be dead," we often spoke about the subject. Being surrounded by people who were kind of unplugged from the world, truly artistic, brought out a rational sensation.

I decided to accept reality and stop fighting, since I was tired of looking for answers (something deep inside I knew I would never find). And I, now, am certainly more willing to accept my biggest fear. My enemy. "There will be no lasting peace either in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed," wrote Camus. Since my battle ended, I've not given up proving Camus' statement wrong.

"You have to train yourself to let go of anything you fear to lose," my dad told me once in attempt to heal my loss. These words stubbornly stuck in my mind and this was the first time I thought about moving to America, leaving everything I knew and loved behind.

Soon after my brother died, my mom moved to the United States to escape interactions with relatives who made endless comments about my brother's life. After the funeral, mom shut down for a while. She took Valium, more than the prescribed daily dose by the doctor. She couldn't eat, socialize, or even go outside. People were afraid she might not make it. After school, I would rush home, not caring to spend time with friends or be involved in social activities, to make sure she was OK. "We are all going to die one day," I would tell my mom every time she started crying, "His time was up, that's all." My mother didn't want to listen or understand. She didn’t want to let go. She lost her only son and she was devastated. She often told me, "I have no idea why I'm here." She would force a smile with mixture of resentment and shame. More shame than resentment. And I would smile back, and answer every time, "Because I need you." Deep inside, I hoped she knew I needed her.

Once I was ready to face my new future, I called my mom and told her I was moving with her to the United States. She didn't believe me at first, since for a long time I refused to leave my life and friends behind. "I will never move far from home," I used to tell her. But home is where you make it. Thousands of miles away from what I believed was my only home, I found new friends and a new reality. I started a new life. My mom would sometimes say, "Hard work is what saved me." Indeed, it worked.

Busy learning a new language and adapting to a new culture, we slowly came back to life. It was challenging to overcome more hardships and leave the old ones behind, but I did it. And my mom did it, or at least, wrapped in a whole new wave of problems and challenges, she kept going. Because at the end, life continues – hard at times, sad at times, yet so addictive and beautiful. I believe that we, people, have absolute passion for life and a feeling of eagerness because death is never timely. "Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed," is one of my favorite lines by Achilles, from the movie Troy.

My mom and I often take cruises together and explore new destinations. We have one planned for January, a 7-day trip to Bermuda. It's our opportunity to spend some time together, escape our busy lives, and have some fun. And even though sometimes she feels guilty enjoying life remembering that her son is six feet underground, my mom and I, together, have learned to deal with our past. Oftentimes, my mom would dive in memories and ask me, "Why destiny is so cruel?" In moments like these, I would act strong and tell her, "That's life, mom. Our time will come one day. It's normal." We would spend a few silent moments and then go on with our lives.

Nearly 12 years after landing at Washington-Dulles Airport, I have never regretted for a day my choice to move to the United States. I would never forget or regret my past either. If I was to write a six-word memoir today, it would be: "Everything matters because nothing is forever." In time, of course, I hope to develop understandings more sophisticated and write 1000 more memoirs throughout my life. Every time, more dazzling and shrewd, every time shorter than the last time. Until I slowly find my way to Death and write my last one with a smile on my face and peace in my eyes, "Welcome."

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