I was born an old soul, ready molded into this world but rarely allowed to be part of it. I was always in a fight, either forced to meet standards or rebel against rules I didn’t agree with. I don’t know why, but I was never at peace with how the world was presented to me by others, I had to try it on my own and feel it as it came to me. One might call it curiosity, another mistrust, but mine was not based on an urge to ask the eternal question Why then plainly wait for the adult version of an answer. I wanted to find my own answers, imagine my own solutions, and take my own paths. Some could call this leadership, others loneliness. My paternal grandparents’ 1300 books personal library helped enormously in starting this lifetime imaginary independence.
I grew up in an unsuccessful world of high standards. It was a must to be good in school even if the outcome was the same as barely passing the class. In reality, in that leveled society where everyone was forced to be equal and act like a mass-brain, it really didn’t matter. I guess it was a reason for my grandparents, extraordinarily intelligent, self-educated, and creative individuals, to overcome their own failures. Just as my parents, they were blue-collar factory inmates with no horizons or hopes for the better. In a world increasingly becoming dominated by fear, informants, and communist ideology, they probably hoped that an intellectual development would open some sort of successful gate inside an already dead society. They made it worse when they sealed my brothers and I from the outside and pushed our noses in books, creating an even bigger discrepancy from reality. Books were good but up to one point, after that biting the dust and falling in the mud had to come into play. I was fortunated enough to taste both.
My early childhood was oblivious I would say, before I could realize how crooked the puzzle was I saw only happy little pieces of it. Summer vacations with my grandparents at the Black Sea shores, while my mother was beaten at home by my drunken father; visiting our relatives in the country, while my father was sent to jail for two years for stealing from the factory where he worked; camping trips, while food became scarce and finding it a serious struggle. It was always this beautification of reality that deteriorated my confidence in life, this protection from the evil around me that made me look for solutions in others rather than myself. So, I pushed back into it with all my might. I loved the closeness of chopping wood in the summer with my father and grandfather so we could have heat in the winter, I enjoyed sweating in my grandmother’s kitchen learning how to cook, I was ok when stung by bees while picking grapes from our vineyard and crushing them into wine, I had a sense of belonging while waiting in line for hours for milk and bread when food was hard to find. I had beautiful birthday parties with plenty of guests around; Santa Claus came every year with toys and books, many, many books, for Easter and Christmas I remember good homemade food and my grandfather singing old songs. But no matter how much I tried to be part of and feel reality, when I was a child I felt their impotence in changing our crooked world. I grew up with a fundamental sense of sadness, especially when I understood that life itself played a gruesome joke with my family, that by being honest and proud they were left behind and stepped upon. My grandfather fought against it and got twenty years of political prison out of it; my grandmother struggled to keep the family together and lost all her teeth in the interrogation room; my father scrambled to raise a family and was crushed by the failures of his own dreams.
The more they pushed me to be good, the more I understood, or at least I do it now, how slim my real chances were. But I didn’t know another way, everything we had was based on hard work and sweat, so from this dilemma I grew a sort of mistrust in myself and tied my efforts to please them to a sense of lost.
Fortunately, there were examples that worked against this mind-set; I just had to remind myself about it. I remember that once I had to take a math test, I think I was in 3rd grade, and fifty min out of an hour allowed, I tried to look for answers in my colleagues’ results, without thinking once that I could solve the problems myself. I ended up not get anything from them so in desperation I focused on my paper and I finished the test in the ten min remaining. When I got the results back, I was the only one in class who got an A+. It’s always been this way; a dull insecurity that followed my entire life, mixed with a sharpening of the senses when in times of crisis. I can’t say precisely why, but I know that my best results were instinctual and not intellectual. This doesn’t mean that my logic was weak, au contraire, it always worked like a Swiss clock, but it could of been that my grandparents were always there, like guardian angels, ready to reap apart anyone that could harm me, it could of been that as I grew up I started to feel and see that the so called happy life balance in my family was just as tweaked as the world they tried to protect me from. Doubt and confusion started to grow, but unlike most of teenage rebellions that are external, mine was inside and got deeper as age related issues started to pile up. Nothing came easy: an endocrinological dysfunction affected my physical growth and I had to fight for a place in the soccer team, for the girls I liked, for conquering the fear of always being the smaller kid in class. My antidote to everything was my stubbornness in not giving up; if I was pushed I pushed back; if I was loved I loved back.
Regardless of insecurities and untamed emotions, one feeling that never left me since I can remember is my lack of fear in facing moments of crisis. When I was nine, a massive earthquake hit the city leaving ten thousand dead and half of its buildings down. I remember my grandmother screaming for us to get out of the house. I wasn’t panicking; I wasn’t scrambling for a pair of southing arms, I was calm and even curious of what happened. Another time, I was probably ten or eleven, in a summer camp a much bigger boy pushed my younger brother Michael to the ground and started to beat him up. I jumped in his back and started to throw punches in his face until he backed up. I didn’t care how big he was or that he could of beaten both of us, I just knew that I had to save my brother. I was so fierce that he ran even if he was huge. Again, I felt calm and strong. Last but not least, one summer we spent a couple of weeks with our grandparents at the Black Sea and Michael and I got lost at the beach. I was probably ten and he was nine, we went to buy some ice cream and lost our way back to our grandparents’ blanket. There were thousands of people there and the more we tried to find them the further we went. Michael got scared and started crying but I still remember a strong feeling of calmness and focus. We looked for long time, the ice cream melted, we got really bad sunburn, but I never gave up. I had to stay strong for Michael so I kept looking until a coast guard saw us and took us to his station making an announcement that fixed everything.
This feeling of calmness and power under stress saved me many times. Sometimes I like to put myself in this situation just to push my own boundaries. Maybe it’s just a reaction against how protected I felt when I was little; maybe it’s just a suppressed sense of freedom by the society I grew up in.
To me, was always about the others, about their needs, problems, insecurities. My own were hidden deep inside and very rarely I was thinking of them let alone trying to face them.
I don’t even recall in my childhood the presence of the so-called best friend, someone to share my deepest secrets with. Don’t take me wrong, I wasn’t a lonely wolf, I had a large group of kids my age to play with, and I wanted to get closer to some of them. I guess they didn’t wanted me to be their closest friend so I continued to grow wanting to do my best in showing them how good or trustworthy I was. What I developed from this denial was an urge to dig deeper into my own-self and imagine extraordinary ways of how or who I should be. It was the beginning of acting. Because I was in the unfortunate position of a leader without followers, I never exhibited my findings in front of others. Nonetheless, they kept growing and suddenly I realized how much pleasure and satisfaction I could get from those internal escapades. I could lie in bed for hours and see myself in extraordinary circumstances, visions that triggered changes in my body, my mind, my spirit. I felt powerful and rich, my grandmother thought I was daydreaming, but if the homework was done, she just let me be. At that time I had no idea who Stanislavski or Brecht or Grotowski were, acting was not something I could elaborate about, but inadvertently it pushed it’s way in to the point I couldn’t stop. It was my escape from the flat world outside, my physical limitations, my freedom of speech I wasn’t allowed to express. Through acting I had no limits. I considered it my most treasured property, no one was allowed to know about it, but it evolved in a multitude of activities meant to rebalance my spiritual overflow, all of them silent. I liked to draw, write poetry, read. It took me a great deal of time to find the courage of letting others know about my fundamental quest: my artistic freedom.
I don’t really know when my childhood ended, probably because I always felt old and responsible. Maybe was the older brother syndrome, maybe it slipped away from me after my grandfather’s death when I had to replace him at the very long lines to get food and supplies, maybe my father stole it from me every time I had to pick him up, dead drunk, from under the table in the local bar and drag him home. I didn’t miss my childhood that much, it felt much better being responsible at an age when people expected me to be so.
I like to keep the past with me while digging into the future. It reminds me where I stand in a world that grows strange.