Speed. I am speed.

“Okay, here we go. Focus. Speed. I am speed. One winner, 42 losers. I eat losers for breakfast. Breakfast? Maybe I should have had breakfast? Brekkie could be good for me. No, no, no, focus. Speed. Faster than fast, quicker. I am Lightning. Speed. I am Speed.”
I don’t know how many times we watched this. It was one of his all time favourites after all. Pixar’s box office hit, The Cars, the computer-animated story of Lightning McQueen who intends to be the first rookie to win the famous Piston Cup race. The movie would start with the above monologue by McQueen, a self-motivating mantra he repeats before each race. When time is up, the doors of Mac, the veteran trailer which carries him, would open; and we hear the rallying cry “Oh yeah” while the cameras are flashing in the background. Every detail of this opening scene was carved into our minds; so was the timing of the exclamation. We used to shout with him: “Oh yeah”. For we were McQueen.
I had never thought how much McQueen’s mantra described me, from my mannerisms to my overall philosophy of life, until he was gone. I was speed; I had to be faster than fast, quicker than quick. I had to be active, or “pro-active” if you are into those fancy neologisms, to simply live. Speed and action was a means of survival. I felt I would die, cease to exist, if I slowed down, let alone stopped.
Now people are telling me to slow down. People who truly love and care about me, with the best of intentions. I know they are right. Both in their diagnosis and in their suggested cure. “Slow down”, they say. “You’ve been racing all these years. Now it is time to slow down, to take care of yourself.”
Some, like the wise P., introduced me to “slow living”, the movement which was born in Italy in 1999, through the idea of cittaslow, or slow cities. “Towns where men are still curious of the old times, towns rich of theatres, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and charming craftsman where people are still able to recognise the slow course of the seasons and their genuine products respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs,” as explained in the Cittaslow Manifesto.
Others warn me about the dangers of speed, in particular in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. “We know that you want to see concrete results, and start life anew. A life that is not structured around him. A life that includes him, but that does not consist solely of him.” “This is all very understandable”, they say, “but not feasible”. Again, I know they are right deep down inside. It is neither realistic nor healthy to expect others to keep up with my pace. Why should they? They haven’t experienced what I have experienced. They might have had similar traumas in their pasts, but there is no set way of recovering from them, of coming to terms with loss. And people are different. For what we know, they may have the opposite need, not only to slow down, but also to isolate themselves, to enter into a dialogue with their inner selves. Who am I to expect them to hold my hand and run with me, towards an unknown, undefined destination?
So where does this leave me? How am I supposed to break through the impasse? It is not that I don’t try to slow down. To breathe, and to enjoy each and every breath. But the moment I slow down, my mind starts playing tricks on me. I start asking questions, soon ending up facing the worst question of all, “why?”. Failing to come up with a reasonable answer, I go all van Gogh, vanishing in a dizzying maze of memories and images, crippled with a sudden burst of anger. Like van Gogh’s, the anger is directed at myself because, as he put it in a letter to his brother Theo, “I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”
And this leaves me nowhere. My impasse is a deep dark well. I fill in the well with projects, words, (often failed) connections, but the well leads to the void. It is indeed deep and dark. Speed keeps me alive. So is anger. For now.
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Homeless

It doesn’t feel like anything else. I feel like someone who has been unconscious for years and has suddenly woken up to another reality, another world I am unfamiliar with. As everything else is so new, so alien – and since I cannot remember the past – I don’t now know what to do, or how to handle that strange feeling of emptiness inside me.

It is not similar to what I felt after the death of my father who passed away in my arms at the end of a protracted struggle with another illness. Yes, my father died at a relatively young age; still, he had lived life to the full. We knew why the illness chose him; he had called it upon himself. He had turned a blind eye to doctors’ advice and opted for a prolonged, slow suicide. But he wasn’t five-and-a-half years old. The life he had was probably longer than the life he would have had.

Luca, on the other hand, was not there yet. As the famous Turkish poet (indeed a close friend of my father) Cemal Sureya said, “every death is an early death”, but he has not had enough of life to be able to say “keep the change”. Not to mention the fact that he did not give up on the future voluntarily. There was no known cause for his disease. The angel of death, who selects one among 1 million children every year, had decided to fill his annual quota with him.

Thus, what you feel doesn’t look like what you would feel when you lose somebody you love, even one of your parents. Since the memories you have collected are limited, when you close your eyes, what punctures darkness is not happy moments or memories. The last few weeks, the last day, in fact the last night – that indescribable, excruciating last night – creep through every single hole, like a lethal chemical gas, filling the void and asphyxiating every bit of emotion it encounters. It leaves only an eviscerated, soulless shell behind.

Of course life goes on. You don’t want to stay in bed the whole day. You cannot sleep anyway. Alcohol, anti-depressants, or different combinations of these don’t work. You don’t want to stay alone, because whenever you do, the chemical gas returns. Just for the sake of living, you are obliged to get by. You try to distract yourself and build a routine that reeks of “the normal”.

And you do. You spend time with close friends who won’t make you tell the story from the beginning and don’t repeat clichés like “words fail us” or “there is no way to describe your grief” (not that they are wrong or you don’t appreciate them; they are a thousand times better than utter silence); you eat, drench your suffering in alcohol, watch the World Cup. Then, suddenly, while chatting about something trivial, you find yourself talking about him. “He loved football too. When he grows up, he’ll play football probably”, you say, and take a pause there. What did I say? Did I use past tense? “Loved football?” Did I say, “when he grows up”? But he won’t grow up. And you reach for another bottle of beer.

Even when you realise you are being emotional, in fact simply irrational, your compass is him. You want Sweden to be defeated by England for example. When they concede a goal, you rejoice. Then you remember that only a few days ago, you were rooting for Sweden – how you were explaining Swedish jerseys to him. “Like the Minions. They have the same colours as the Minions”. He laughs, feels a sudden joy. “Minions!”, he says. Grandfather, grandmother, bonus grandmother cheer for Sweden shouting, “Go Minions!” He wants to stand up, to jump. He cannot. Because he cannot stand up.

When that memory interrupts your fragile routine, your attempts to reconstruct a new “normal”, you collapse. You are instantly detached from the present, your surroundings, even the whole world. If your friends are close enough, they notice it and bring you back to the present, quietly. You return, until the next interruption.

Some time after, you start reflecting on some of the things someone you care about told you, “slowly, step by step”. Or the gentle reminders of his doctors, a mantra you have memorised over the years, “one day at a time”. That all sounds reasonable but weren’t we supposed to get rid of this when all is over, one way or another? Weren’t we going to be able to re-establish the link between the past, present and the future? Why can’t I still make plans about the future? Why don’t I want to remember the past at all?

The present? Well, it is the incarnation of Dante’s Inferno. I have already passed through the door upon which the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter” (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate) are inscribed. I have started travelling down the concentric circles of hell. I have been conversing with sinners and damned souls hoping to come to terms with anger and the feeling of injustice. Knowing of course that no matter what I do, I cannot bring him back.

As I know that I cannot go back home, that there is no home anymore, that I have lost my sense of belonging, the only thing I believed in, the deepest and most genuine love of my life.

💚

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The void

“My heart is void.” For some time, I thought it wasn’t. I thought I found true love – the meaning of life some say. I felt I belonged. The love had a name. His name was Luca.

My love was unlucky. A rare disease found him. He was only 11 months old. He fought bravely for 3.5 years. The beast was strong; he was stronger. There were times the doctors lost their hope. There were times everybody lost their hope. He has proven them wrong. For how long, we don’t know. But right now, he is a happy, healthy boy.

I am not. Therapists call this “compassion fatigue” or “burnout”. I need to stay afloat; I need to heal. And the only way to heal, at least for me, is to write. Not useless academic crap. Not equally useless repetitive op-eds. Just write. About Luca, about his struggle, about our struggle… About life and most of all, my life.

Why share? Because I have never written for myself only. And maybe, maybe there will be things in our story that others facing a similar fate would find useful.

That’s all really.

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