Skip to main content
The farewell night, there was a party. Not a special party, by any means. It hit the same beats as any party did back then. There was food — a lot of food: Russian potato salad, deviled eggs stuffed with smoked mackerel, fresh bread, dips made from white beans, eggplant, or fish roe. With the fire roaring, my grandfather barbequed pork in the yard. When he screamed Simandol! it meant the fire had grown too hot and the meat was in danger so the children would race to the kitchen for a glass of water to throw on the coals. If you were lucky enough to get there first, you could expect a glorious reward: a tiny piece of meat which had roasted before all the others. There was music — old Romanian love songs, the Caribbean sounds of Boney M, heavy metal from The Scorpions — a mix that made perfect sense at the time. The adults drank wine and tuica, all made from the vines and trees above us. I don’t remember the conversations, but the feeling was good. I didn’t think about leaving, it didn’t even cross my mind. Then someone suggested we all take a picture together.
It’s hard to describe, almost 20 years later, how unnerving this was. I had taken only a handful of pictures with my grandparents, and they, in turn, had only taken a handful in their entire lives. The idea that we would all sit on my great-grandmother’s bed — my parents, my sister, and both sets of grandparents — was so foreign to us, so devoid of context, that when someone brought out a camera and suggested it, we all retreated into ourselves to finally process what was going to happen that night. I still have the picture. At 11, I’m the youngest, and the only one who seems to be smiling. It must have been the first time all my grandparents were in the same picture since my parents’ wedding. It was the last time I saw them like this, all together. The last time I could smell the ripe funk of barbeque smoke and tuica. The party ended there. After the picture, everyone started hugging and weeping. No, not weeping, grieving.
Grief is the feeling of leaving home. Hope is a motivation, it moves and drives us. It moved my parents to apply for emigration dozens of times. It drove them to learn French for their entrance interview. It made them lie about how much money they had. It made them act. Grief is the antithesis of hope. It asks you how things could have been. It wonders how many more last days, last nights, last parties, last pictures you could have had, if you could have seen your loved ones age, if you might have been there when they died. It makes you question the biggest decision of your life. It makes you need a return on your investment. If you’re not going to have a night like that ever again — if you’re going to be cleaning bathrooms in 3 months — if you’re going to kiss your mother goodbye, then this had better be worth it. Success in life now means your children’s success — your idea of your children’s success. You want good grades. You want degrees. You want a job. You want grandchildren. You want a house. Grief calls on you often. Why did you leave? For this? Nobody called you today. Nobody said thank you. Nobody cares. You gave up your job. You gave up your friends. You gave up being able to say what you mean. You gave up being well-dressed, well-respected, well-spoken. For this?