Breaking the Chain that Binds Us.


A man walked by a herd of domesticated elephants. As he was looking at them, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. It was obvious that the elephants could, at any time, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why the animals made no attempt to get away. The trainer said, “When they are very young and much smaller we use a chain to tie them, and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, we gradually replace the chain with a smaller one, until, when they are adults, we use only a piece of rope. But by that time, the elephants are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, like the chain once did, so they never try to break free.”



All men fail. We know this to be true. But some men have made a lifestyle out of failure, and I should know that…because I was such a man once. From very early in life, I was plagued by a debilitating inability to express myself, speak up for myself, and stand up for myself. Others lived; I only watched. I lived mostly inside my head, and when you live in hiding for too long, it becomes harder and harder to reach out into the world. This was my story; slow, awkward and clumsy around other children, unable to be open and free like them, or play football the way they did, I shut myself in, finding refuge in fantasies and books. Even though I loved the water on a sunny day, I had a paralyzing fear of it – fear that manifested every time water ran down my face while I showered – and so I could never learn to swim. It was the same with friendships and the same with sports. In school, I took part in PE classes only because I had to; I was always the first to give up during exercise, and always the last on the running track. Little did I know then, that my body was simply manifesting the inner reality of my being; when I felt too weak, uncomfortable or embarrassed, I always had the physical symptoms to prove, mainly to myself, that I had real reasons to quit. Feeling that ‘stitch’ on the side of my abdomen, the overwhelming weakness, the strange heat inside, or the shortness of breath – it was all real, and it all served a purpose to hinder my physical exploration and development, and, subsequently, rob me of my joy from simply being alive. Later, after I had finally tip-toed my way into high-school, while staying well away from sports or any spontaneous activity that could expose me, I struggled with a terrifying lack of willpower. It was made evident physically – as in when I happened to be coerced into an arm-wrestling contest with another boy, and felt too weak to resist, even when we were the same size; it was also true psychologically, as in the cases when I had to speak up for myself or for something I believed in. I simply failed, again and again, and after each failure, I drew even more careful of my next actions, words, and movements. My life was robbed from any spontaneous joy and free expression of uniqueness, and I seemed forever doomed to a life of fear and hiding. But I did not have much time to feel the sadness of my life, for I had soon discovered the numbing effect of alcohol and promiscuous sexual intimacy, which later gave way to drugs and all-night parties. Anger was there, too, but it was never near the surface and healthy enough to energise and enable me to act with courage; it was deep, suppressed, old, and ugly, the stuff that comes from a childhood lived only in theory.

Why did I sometimes stammer when I spoke? Why did I dig my fingernails into a few chosen spots on my skin, until the skin turned dark and calloused?

Why did I avoid the eyes of those who appeared to be stronger and more confident, or simply more at ease within themselves?

Why did my mind ‘switch off’ whenever I was faced with someone like that – a teacher, a confident man or a woman, or anyone else that appeared able to see through my disguise; why was I then able to do little but think about my own clumsy, self-conscious self, unable to learn or respond in the way I wanted, or to simply live in the present moment with that lively interest and abandon of self that seemed so natural to those people?

Why did I never believe that I could do something I hadn’t tried before; why was my ‘default’ always negative?

Why, until recently, I was never able to know the feeling of ‘giving my all’ to anything – from a physical activity, like running, to an emotional one, like investing in a relationship; I did not know how to give it my best, for I did not have my best at my disposal. My best self was locked away, trapped in deep darkness, and I did not know it even existed. If I decided to test my limit at running (which I almost never did because I hated tests and challenges since I always failed) I got hot, or felt that ‘stitch’, or some other pain or discomfort – I felt those things long before I could get even close to reaching the full limit of my lungs. Looking back now, I can say that in those days, I really did not know how to reach the full capacity of any of my faculties – be they physical or psychological.

Why was I so weak, in the face of challenging situation and people – situation that required my unique outlook and input; people who needed me to draw the line – for them, and for the good of all of us…why did I always hold back, in everything I did?

Hard questions; for most of my life, I did not want to ask them – not because I did not believe they could be answered, but because I did not think I could handle those answers…

I did not think redemption was possible.

Rarely do humans believe that a real, deep change is possible, and this is where our biggest tragedy lies…for who could save a person from his own inner hell, his own fears and inner oppression? And if he cannot be saved from them, who could make him get up in the morning and live a life of selfless love, meaning and joy?

Depression, sorrow, and all the ways of numbing the pain – from drinking, hidden sexual addictions, to food, and long hours in the office – this is what we are left with, if no true freedom is found. For many of us, this inner nightmare is accompanied by a mask of niceness, a permanent ‘smiley face’, forced over our true face, who knows when, who knows by who…

It is not much of a life, I know.

By the time I was in my twenties, I was a nice, educated young man; I also knew that I was a loser in many aspect of my life. But…nice.

You who read that, might not have been like me; you might not have lived a life of such inadequacy, repression and hiding – but you too have known defeat, and you too have suffered.

If this is true for you, please continue reading…

Because I must tell you this: the deepest the darkness is, the brightest the light shines. And once I began to dare thinking the dangerous thoughts of freedom, I bit hard at the new hope and didn’t let it go. My inner world began to shift, and as many of us know, once your beliefs change, your outer reality soon follows.

Not too long ago, I began to make the first steps toward the freedom I did not believe was possible.

I fought hard against the fear of the water, and defeated it. Today, I can swim – not perfectly, not with the total freedom I desire, but I no longer fear the cold blue water; it is now my friend. That same summer, I took a dreaded journey to the Scottish Highlands, with a group of men I didn’t know, and, having no rescue plan to fall back on, no bench to sit on, I faced my deepest fears of weakness and the lack of willpower; I endured the tests and challenges, I endured them, and returned home ‘lighter’, having left a big part of my ‘I can’t’ mental baggage on the mountains. No, I did not became a professional swimmer, or a wild mountain man; this was not what I wanted. My pursuits were not about the activities themselves – it was the joy that they brought me, that I was after; and it came back to me, that old childhood joy, flooding into my life. I tasted real freedom, and I felt the feelings I should have felt when I was a boy – the sense of comfort and ease within one’s own body, the feeling of peace, safety, and quiet confidence in one’s own abilities, and in one’s own worth. Yes, I say worth, for, unlike girls, when boys experience inadequacy in one aspect of their lives (PE class, say) it spills over the rest, and, if their failures are repeated, they change, they really change. No longer is the boy simply ‘no good at football’; in his mind, he becomes simply ‘no good’ – not worthy of being a normal boy, and indeed, of being a man.

This is what darkness his future, and this is what drives him into hiding; this, and much else besides…

But he does not have to stay there.

Breaking barriers is possible; it has been done by others, and it can be done by you too. You see, what is exciting about stories of success, especially when the victory is won against high stakes, is that the people in those stories are ordinary, flawed individuals.

People like you and me.

It is difficult, I know, to imagine yourself as being more than what you have always been; but if you only allow yourself one, little, dangerous thought, one little ‘what if’, who knows where you might be taken. You need only be willing, and say ‘yes’ to the challenges and tests when they come. Instead of seeing them as weapons directed toward you, they could become tools, used in your favour; hacking, cutting, chiseling you into the shape you were born to take – physically or psychologically. But you need to be wiling to endure such challenges.

If you are willing, good. Perhaps this could be the start of something new and exciting.

It might be a time for change – a time to live again, and feel the joy of living; a time to pull that old chain that has enslaved you for so long, and break it!

And who knows, perhaps you will discover that it was only a piece of string…






The Father. The Power. The Wound.

baby-22194_960_720When a father and son spend long hours together we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger. The contemporary mind might want to describe the exchange between father and son as a likening of attitude, a miming, but I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The son`s body – not his mind – receives, and the father gives this food at a level far bellow consciousness.

Robert Bly — Iron John: A Book About Men



I had always wanted to be like him.

He was a good man, a strong man; he was a man who did not shy from telling it as it is, and did not let bad people get away with their badness.

But now I know. I know the truth…

He could not love me, and he never did. He could protect, and he could provide — but he could never father me. My little body needed his big body; my boyish skin longed for his touch — in an embrace, or a wrestling match…

I did not see what he failed to give me, for how can one sees what is not there? But I grew with a lack, a void, an emptiness of soul; and I knew I would never be a man like him. Yet this is what I have always wanted, in a deep and primal way, far beyond the reach of reason…I wanted him, and I wanted to become like him.

After boys are born, they do not become men; they must be made men. That ‘making’ happens through the active intervention of the father, as Robert Bly once put it. In other words, we must be loved into manhood, in those precious first years, and then trained and initiated into it.

But love comes first.

Masculine love is the baseline of manhood.

The father’s love is the power that works within the boy and spurs him on to do more and be more, later in life. The lack of it…well, you probably know its effects…

I certainly do.

Not being able to give me what he himself had not been given, the great man left me with a deep hole in the chest, and a deep question:

am I a man?

The question came from the curious, hurting soul, and my wounds provided the merciless answer:


You will never be a man; you must pretend and cover your weakness…do not let them see the child within — do not even allow yourself to see him.

They whispered dark and dreadful things to my young and trembling soul. In my weakness, I believed them; in my fear, I obeyed.

Kill him and bury him. 

And I did.

Then I wondered, year after year, why I was so hollow inside — why the sex, the drugs, and all the falsehood and pretense, failed to make me alive, save for a few fleeting moments?

Inside, I wept for the boy, and I searched for him — an orphan, searching for his lost life, the family he has never known…

Or a murderer, searching for his victim in repentance.

A father holds a great power over his son, a power to make or break him with his words or with his absence. Harsh words, or the lack of words; scornful look or an absent smile — it all pierces, and it all kills…

How can you, years later, give to your family from a full heart? How can love overflow from a soul in which love has never been poured? How can you be strong and make strong decisions, if you have never been trained and fathered into manhood; if your empty, father-starved heart has either been shut down — abused and pushed out into the world — or left alone in the dark, forever waiting to receive that which only a man can give…

That which only a father can give.

A grim message, to be sure, but it is not the end of the story — only its beginning.

I will not ask you if you are ready, only if you are willing…

Are you willing?

Have you suffered enough inadequacy, shame, and emptiness?

If you have, good.

This is your time; this is your chance to re-write your story.


The father-wound must be entered, for beneath it lays a golden heart; the pain of the past must be re-lived, for only then it could be healed.

Do not fear.

You are not alone.






What Have You Become?


Life batters and shapes us in all sorts of ways before it’s done, but those original selves which we were born with and which I believe we continue in some measure to be no matter what are selves which still echo with the holiness of their origin… I think that among other things all real art comes from that deepest self—painting, writing, music, dance, all of it that in some way nourishes the spirit and enriches the understanding… And I think that from there also come our best dreams and our times of gladdest playing and taking it easy and all those moments when we find ourselves being better or stronger or braver or wiser than we are. This is the self we are born with, and then of course the world does its work. Starting with the rather too pretty young woman, say, and the charming but rather unstable young man who together know no more about being parents than they do about the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us into what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves we originally were. This is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.

Frederick Buechner — Telling Secrets: A Memoir




I was twenty-four. It was the most exciting time of my life. Indeed, a day would not go by without me thanking the heavens for being alive; it was as if I had been finally given the right to live the life I was always longing for.

This new life began in Varna, a city known as the ‘sea capital’ of my home country. I had gone there to be a student, and for a while, I was — right before I became the happiest man in the world. You see, it was not that I had suddenly become rich, or had met ‘the right person’; I did not win the lottery or finally had that million-dollar idea…no, I worked, like most people.

Yet my new job was different from the work I was previously doing — being a doorman in different clubs in the city; it was even different from the golden, haunted, dangerous summer I had spent in Sunny Beach, working in a big club — a job which could hardly be called work as it seemed like a dream come true at the time. No, my new work was different; not only did it pay well, not only did it provide me with opportunities to meet new people and learn more about the world of those who were successful, but it finally gave me the thing I sought the most — acknowledgment and respect, even fascination, in the eyes of people who were worthy of respect.

I remember it all; it comes to me still, whenever I decide to evoke it — that time of restful glory, of basking in the sparkling glow radiated from the deceived eyes of those who thought they knew me.

There were nights of loud music and young, lithe bodies; the sweet smell of the bourbon danced together with the tantalizing scent of perfume and made the pungent odour of cigarette smoke pleasant, even desirable to me. The inside of the car smelled of leather and expensive eau de toilette — a smell of importance, which, as soon as the door was opened, was enriched by the freshness of the sea breeze and the feeling of youthful promise for a life in which the best was yet to come…

The car was not mine of course; neither was the one bedroom flat which was being prepared for me in a building recently acquired by my employer, a place where I could live rent-free — an incredible honor bestowed upon a country boy whose only great achievement in his work was honesty and willingness to learn.

Who would have ever thought that? Who would have ever believed that the boy whose life was, at best, doomed to obscurity — or indeed the permanent despair which often befalls a soul too sensitive for its own good — would become a happy man, a man with a smile on his face, and a bright future ahead of him?

Life was good. Life was good at last.

* * *

But I was deceived.

You see, at the time, I found life incredibly good, and indeed it was, at least on the outside. Yet, I did not have very high standards to measure it by; I did not even have the faintest idea what inner peace was, what inner strength and true manly confidence felt like. Thus, I settled for what I thought was the best I could ever have and the best I could ever be. I had wounds, yes, but did not know it at the time; I did not know the darker story of my heart. I did not see that my soul was groaning with unbearable pain; I did not know that it had once been shattered…

It was all a lie; it was an act, and I was the actor. Every time I showed my face to those others whom I had empowered to grant or take my self-worth away from me, I trembled; I feared the exposure of my real self more than I feared death itself.

Yet, I did not know anything of my true self at the time; the roles we play in life are meant to deceive the world, but in the end, it is we who are deceived…

* * *

One day, me and the man I worked for (who, being only thirty-two, had become something of a friend of mine) decided to visit the countryside. We planned a day out, like tourists; our path which began at the shores of Varna, would take us through the pretty little villages of the formidable Balkan mountains and downwards, down to the very place where life began for me — a small, quiet village called Botevo. My village.

Secretly, I trembled with anticipation and joy, wondering about the reaction of those local people who would see the car — a large, silver BMW sedan — parked in front of our house. Would they be envious? Would they think I have become a criminal?

Well, let them.

We arrived just before dusk. The village, as it had done many times previously, accommodated me once more, becoming my home once again, though only for one brief night…

After we had eaten with my parents, I whispered to my boss and his girlfriend that we should go out — the town of Yambol was only fifteen minutes away, and it offered more than the gloomy little village I once called home. After some quiet persuasion from my side — for my companions did not wish to offend my parents by leaving too soon — we departed. I had much to look forward to that night as, with the much-needed help of a certain website, I had arranged to meet a girl in town, and, as always when I was about to meet someone new, I was brimming with tense anticipation — the only kind of happiness I truly knew in those days. Life was good, and life was worth living.

* * *

It was well past midnight when we drove back. For me, the night was still young and, while my companions were yawning from the back of the car, I was wide awake, alert and ready for more of life — that life which always turned the tides in my favour, and was always on my side. I was savouring the past hours with delight, bringing the sweetest moments back to life, calling them back to me, unwilling to let them go.

The powerful machine sped down the dark, bumpy road as we rapidly covered the distance between the new world and my old world — a world I had recently grown to be ashamed of. The new — this was us inside, surrounded by the comfortable, pleasant interior of the new car, by hope, and by our idea of love. The new — this was me, the young man who rested in the leather embrace of the sedan — a man with a stylish black shirt and trousers, clean-shaven head, and a fresh, tireless smile on his face: this was the new, and I loved it. I drove on; I was happy, and I did not see…

From the outside, the old was peering in.

We were fast approaching the village when, as we drove through the hushed emptiness that surrounded it, a glow of light caught my eye. I turned to look, and I was pierced.

I do not know how to evoke the moment to you; words will fail to describe it. Still, I will try:

The full moon shone brightly — directly at me, it seemed —  illuminating the fields through which ran a little river…the river that me and my friends once fished. Our river. My river. My fields. My land, and my world.

At that moment, as I looked upon that moon and its haunting white light, I found myself ambushed by sudden sorrow; I could not bear the enduring serenity of the fields and their accusing silence; desolation, sudden and severe, swept over me, and my heart felt weighed down by an unseen burden.

The land I found myself beholding was the forgotten world of my boyhood. The fields that I was passing, sitting in an expensive car, isolated and protected from all things past and from the threatening glow of this haunting, vindictive moon, were the fields I once walked almost daily, as I searched for the treasures of the natural world…

But I could not hide — I was caught off guard; I was seen.

It took only a second, maybe two; I could not avert my eyes in time, and when I did avert them, it was too late. I had seen, and I had been seen.

When I looked at the moon, I saw it as I had seen it once, through eyes much younger and a soul still filled with wonder; when I beheld the fields I had once walked freely through, I looked upon the lost world of my childhood. It pierced me, though I did not know why.

I turned away, and drove ahead, fast, toward the sleeping village.

* * *

Tell me, you who read this — where is the place where you first knew joy? Where did the mystery of life first called to you, while you were still a child? Do you know — can you find the answer?

Have you lost it, this heart of yours; have you buried it, killed it, stomped on it, like I once did?

I could not bear to look at the moon of my old days because I felt accused by it; I did not want to keep my eyes on it for I knew that its exposing light was cast over the place where I had buried my true self, the self I did not want to see resurrected — the self I hated more than everything in the world.

Friend, are you the man in the car? Are you the man who is clasping the steering wheel, clinging on for dear life, for survival; the man who hides behind a borrowed facade, presenting a face not his own to a world that has never showed him pity? Are you the man who is desperately struggling to keep this facade from crumbling and drives on toward the place of safety, faster and faster, while the night around you calls you to return — to come back, to shed the false self, pick up a shovel in your bloodstained hands, get down on your knees and dig for that lost treasure?

The treasure that you once buried. The heart that you once killed.

Your lost heart is calling to you now, just as the full moon called to me there, on that night where, in the sacred place of my beginning, new visited old but it could not defeat it.

Do not wait like I waited — do not turn your face away; your lost heart can be yours again…

You, who are the man in the car, hear me as I say this:

To be the man you wish to become, you must become the man you were born to be. Your design is revealed by your deepest desires, and to recover and liberate your true self, you must take the journey of the heart. A great quest is awaiting you, and you must only be willing…

If you no longer wish to play roles, say yes. If you no longer wish to live a life of an impostor, say yes. If you are tired of feeling insecure around others, of feeling ambivalent, lonely, and hopelessly attached to objects and deeds that defy logic and thwart your progress in life — say yes…



This is your time.




You are not alone.










Thoughts From the Village: on Fishing and Friendship


The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms



There are only a few days left from our holiday now, and, as always in such times, I find myself becoming a little more alive; as if, having realised the loss that I will soon suffer, I suddenly become better in using my time to rest and enjoy the place in its fullness. I savour it all, while it lasts. Oh, how I hate this mortal impermanence, the ever-looming death of all that is good…

Last night, as I walked up the outer stairwell of the house, trying hurriedly to make myself ready for the arrival of  the regulars — the few childhood friends that came almost every night — I caught sight of an orange-red glow above the neighbouring house. The setting sun sent its last rays over the roof as if to say goodbye to somebody it knew well. On the other side, above the house of my friend Stoycho — a house which I knew as well as our own, and a friend whom I knew as well as myself — there sat the thin, sharp crest of the moon. It hung in the darkening sky with an air of jolly anticipation, as if it was welcoming an old comrade into a night of forgotten adventures and renewed joy. In this no man`s land, the place of timelessness between the old and the new, there stretched the vast canvas of the dark blue sky, dotted with bright, hopeful lights — an enormous, glorious realm, invaded by burly pink clouds and old childhood memories. Ah, the memories — they flooded my soul and I remembered the children who once played on the same street, under the same glorious sky; I remembered the sounds and the smells, the stag-beetles and the toads; I remembered the laughter.

I also remembered the two great fish, one as big as myself, that were brought to our house during one such night. My father, who worked in a thermal power station near a big lake, had bought them from some fishermen and now the hysterical cries of a young boy resounded in the warm summer darkness.

Sharks! We have sharks in our house! Come and see the sharks!

I screamed the words with delight and unbelief as I dashed off to the house of my grandparents, in case they had not heard and would miss the opportunity to see the monsters that lay on the concrete near the outside sink. It was an unforgettable night for me.

I have always loved nature and wild animals. From my earliest years I have always felt drawn to every wild place where a living creature may lurk — from an abandoned patch of the garden, rich in grass, rocks, and life, to the open spaces around the village where hills, forests, canals, and ponds, all merged into one — a realm that held a promise of eternal joy. Unlike my father, who never had the patience to sit and wait beside the river for hours, I gradually took interest in fishing. My father had many friends who regularly went fishing and, seeing my passion, he often arranged short fishing trips on which he also came. Soon, though still very young, I began my own fishing expeditions; always within the realms of our village, always close…and yet, so far into the wilderness. My young heart, already filled with beauty from films, books, stories and dreams, saw steppes and prairies there, in the green wildness that surrounded my home; it saw beyond what was seen; it beheld the great Amazon, the crocodile-infested African lakes and the cacti-strewn slopes of the Far West — the world of rattlesnakes, cowboys and adventures. More often than not, I was accompanied by my trusted friends — Stoycho, Peyo, and Victor — the boys who shared my love for the outdoors.

But the depth, the knowledge, and the intensity of my love affair with the natural world were taken to a completely new level when another boy entered the scene.

Marin`s parents had moved to the village when I was around twelve years old. He was the same age as myself and, after they had settled permanently in the house where his grandparents previously lived, we began a friendship that is still as strong now as it once was…perhaps even stronger.

He was unusually tall and incredibly good-hearted; a hard-worker who has had to grow up too fast, he regularly helped his family with taking care of the livestock. Marin was a boy with a heart for adventure, my own Huckleberry Finn. He thought of adventures that led us deep into the wild, unexplored places of our village — the places where creatures hid and waited for us to discover them. We marveled at the anteater`s predatory larvae as it lurked in its sandy hideout, waiting  for an unfortunate ant to pass by; we waited long in the dark for the little owl to appear; we crawled on our bellies to get a little closer to the snake that swam in the water-filled pit near their house…

We drew close to the wildness and it revealed its secrets to us. The myths were true. The tales were true. The size of the beasts and the danger in those stories grew enormously as we told them to one another; the hope in our hearts, the belief that the best was yet to come — this too, grew, as the horizon of our wild world broadened.

Oh, the wild places were known by many — the land was rich and there was much game; there were many hunters and many fishermen…

But rarely did they see.

The little, hidden corners of the wild were not known; they were not respected. The innocent inhabitants of the hidden places were at best ignored, or, sadly, destroyed without as much as a thought.

Me and Marin did see. We saw not because were better than the others; we saw because we looked harder than them. Not wishing to abandon the wonder of childhood too soon, we hungered for the wild world and it embraced us; we read and watched films about it; we gazed in awe as the live mysteries of the wild kingdom unfolded before our young eyes.

There were evenings of stag-beetles and flying bats; there were unexpected glimpses of weasels and martens. There were stories about horned vipers and wild boar in the woods. We generously shared it with one another, this passion for wildness, and, quite literally, we turned every stone in search for its fulfillment.

And then there was the fishing.

Never before had I seen so much of the wild world; never had I been a witness so so many wonders… The little river and the ponds offered us far more than the small Crucian carp which, though they were little, were abundant at the time. Each one of our journeys, done either on foot, or with Marin`s rickety donkey-cart, was a quest — a mission of exploration and new frontiers — always rich, always deeply rewarding.

Sitting on the bank of the little river, we laughed, we watched, and we felt much. We watched in hushed amazement as the water snake swam lazily with a fish in its mouth, and the terrapin climbed a rock to dry its wet shell in the sun. We gazed in wonder as the hawk chased sparrows overhead and the carp leap from the water with joy; we marveled at the heron, the stork, and the bee-eater…

* * *

Lines, hooks, and rods; the sun and the surrounding greenness, the smell of the freshly caught fish and the dirty fingers that seemed doomed to smell the same way forever — all was good, and all was shared between us.

But it did not last.

You see, by the time when I was well into my teens, my soul was already under a heavy strain, a deep sickness, the symptoms of which would not take long to surface. Events had taken place — attacks that dealt a merciless blow to my connection with the natural world, the connection to my own self. The rock that was previously solid, now had a crack, a wound that would slowly deepen, gaping wider and wider as time wore on.

It was around that time, that I began to slowly drift away from the goodness of my golden days; the fishing trips became less frequent; the wonder began to fade…

Life had shown me that I was not good enough to live it fully; the world required me to become something else — somebody else — or I would never find my place in it…

Or I would never be accepted.

I did not know… I chose death and did not see it at the time. I killed my true heart; I buried the gold and did everything I could to forget that child and his stupid village, his weakness, and his love for fish and water. It became easier to notice the profanity of life and the emptiness of dreams — my eyes were opened and I saw. I saw the empty plastic bottles and the cigarette stubs strewn around the riverbanks; I felt the sun that burned too hot in the summer, and the stubborn mud that would simply not wash off. The summer changed too; it began to offer other adventures and other comforts…

This was when Marin became too inconvenient to be my friend.

He did not fit well under the neon lights of the club, even when he was dressed in his best; he did not belong in a world of pretending, the world of masks and many faces…he remained there, by the river, with a rod in his hand and an impish grin on his eternally young face. He sat there, where an abandoned, forgotten part of me still stood, waiting in vain to be embraced again.

I shunned him as I had shunned my heart; the sight of him drew me back to that heart and its insistent, stupid love of childish games and old, forgotten places…

Tell me, friend, about the people you feel uncomfortable with; the people who make you writhe and squirm, or the ones you simply dislike: what do they call forth in you?

Do they, like Marin, draw forth a part of your own self that you detest? Could they, perhaps, be representing a weakness — the weakness in you which you are trying to forget — while you are doing your utmost to remain strong? Do they look to you like a stupid child, while you are striving to behave like the adult you so wish to be?

I know that well; I have had my share of revulsion and contempt: those who were weak and needy, despite my deceitful politeness, were not truly welcome in my presence. Nor were the children, for I did not wish to gaze too long into their hopeful, silly eyes.

That which I had rejected in myself, I detested in others; that which I hated in them I feared in my own divided self…

Is this not the way of hatred? Is this not how violence is born, how division is created, whether it is racial, social, or religious? Is not this division within, the separation in ourselves, which makes us divided from those without, and separated from all others?

The ‘different’ ones in life scare us; we fear them — the outcasts, the pariahs — to the degree we fear the leper within, and, though we smile to them, we would never enter their world…

For this would mean entering our deepest darkness…this would mean facing the one that waits within us, with weak, pale arms outstretched, hoping to be embraced again.

Many would rather die. Many have died already.

* * *

It is not new governments, new weapons, and new customs that can put an end to wars, terrorism and genocide; it is only love that could do that.

But this love, the true Love, does not have a place for force, not even the force toward oneself, that external effort to love another which we so often need. No, true love begins by embracing one`s own broken self…

Love thy neighbour as thyself — this is the command we are constantly breaking, over and over again, for we have not loved our own selves enough; we have not had the courage to go back to those old, forgotten places, and pick up that heart-broken child in a long-awaited embrace…

We have hated the lost one within us — how then will we love them, the unloved ones, that are all around us?

* * *

 Years after our slow alienation, and soon after I had finally heeded the cry of my heart, I found myself sitting on a forgotten river bank, beside the man with whom I had once shared so much. The autumn sun shone happily down on us, and the first hopeful tugs of our bobbers had already began to show us that we would not wait in vain. There was no shame; only wonder, anticipation, and joy…

And then he asked me, in his pure, lazy fashion, about the reasons which had brought me back, doing the things I once did, suddenly remembering a world I had long since forgotten.

This was when I told him the story of my heart: the long, dark journey of emptiness and sorrow, of forgotten dreams and lost hopes…the story of renewed longing and resurrected life. And he, who rarely displayed strong emotions or desires, using that well-familiar, quiet voice, told me that he too was dying, and that he too wanted to live.

An old friendship was renewed on that day, and a heart awoke to new hopes.

Me and Marin never miss the chance to go fishing now, and the others often join us when they can.

But it is rarely about fishing…

True friendship with another is impossible unless one has first become a friend with one`s own deepest self; it is only from that love that every other love is born.

Seek it — search for that love, and search for that lost self. Go to the wild places, hear the forgotten music; visit the old world again.


You may find that someone there is expecting you.










Thoughts From the Village: on Permanence and the World We Hope for


…And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.

Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It



We are still here, and so is the heat. Thankfully, the breeze is also here, and thankfully, we are still within the time-frame of our August vacation.

I love this place.

Of all the places in the world, this is the only one where the deepest pain and the highest joy of my past are so present. In contrast, our new home on the beautiful Sussex coast in England is something that, for the first time in my life, I can truly call home. It is my nest — an independent and separated place, away from any other person in my life, save for my wife and our little daughter. In this new home joy is abundant and the flow of life is light and clear; memories are yet to be made there, and the sense of calling, of the greatness of the human soul — its art and its place in the world — is strongest there.

But it is not this home I wish to talk to you today; not the nest of pure beauty and clarity, that place of sea and greenness; of late gulls and moonlight, of foxes and hedgehogs. No, not now. Today, my soul roams the very place that surrounds my body. Today, there is not much clarity and very little purpose. The fog of confusion is strongest here, and the battle is most fierce. Much is felt here, yet very little discerned; there are too many shadows and not enough swords; there are too many barriers against feeling the unfelt and too many signs and signals to know the right way.

Oh, but it is so breathtaking… It is so calm, so deeply mine, and so haunting…

 * * *

After a long and sweet night with old friends, I woke up feeling raw and tender on the inside. It was a night of depth, of memories and stories. The gentle breeze, the garden lights, the freshness of the vines, and the darkness of the old familiar street — they all came together in a fragrant, colourful amalgam; and our souls were light and free. In moments like that friendships can be richly intoxicating — every uttered word is met with knowledge and joy, and each felt emotion is joined by knowing, loving siblings. Loneliness cannot exist in such environment; falsehood and hostility are banished.

In this old and richly deep place, late at night when my parents — my old family — are sleeping in the cool bowels of my childhood home; when my wife and child — my new family — rest in the rooms above; when the old friends are around me, merrily raising glasses — in those times, I feel truly happy and known…I am home at last.

But I wake, and there is longing again; I have dreamed, but my dreams fade too soon…

As I open my eyes, the breeze of my sweetest times gently kisses my face; I look up and see the deep sky, and before I have the chance to rise and become and adult, my heart is pierced, and I am defeated.

How is it that we can gaze in the heart of eternity and go about our business without batting an eyelid? How is it that we can stand in the presence of holiness, and not weep and fall on our faces in worship?

Tragic is the fate of the human trace; darkened and numb we have all become…

But I am returning, and though the road is strewn with pain, I am gradually arriving home. And the closer I get — the more I am pierced by the pain of grief and longing — the more hope and joy I also feel. Here, for a brief moment or two, I gaze upon the heart of Laughter…

The sky that smiles at me in the morning also weeps, for I have gazed upon it when I was little — back when my soul had not yet succumbed to the numbness of the world. When I see that sky, and the roads, and the trees; when I bask into the warm dark air that surrounds my old home; when I hear the crickets and the laughter of my old friends — this is when joy is merged with grief…

Because I know that it would not last.

* * *

The message we have all been given by life, often too early, at the very start of our earthly sojourn, tell us that, as MacLean wrote, ‘life is not a work of art’, and that ‘the moment’ — the best moments of all goodness we would ever know in life — would ultimately not last.

Is it any wonder then, that we have all lost heart? Does it seem so strange that our race is locked in an endless cycle of reaching and grasping, endlessly trying to hold on to our best times and make them last, while keeping darkness and death at bay for as long as we can?

We have all been made for more, and deep down in our hearts, we know it — if it were not so, we would be content with our misery, and indeed not be miserable at all; for it is namely that — our misery in the face of mortality — which proves our hidden eternal design. We must therefore see these two messages — the ones that tell us that life is not a work of art, and goodness does not last — for what they are: lies.

The realm of my youth — the village and its hills, and the friends who still laugh as they once did — all of these things fill my heart with joy not because I want to return to my childhood — God forbid! No, but I long to come back to the heart I once had; the freer soul which was far more open and wondrous, far more aware of the deepest truths of life than the one I am bearing now. Then, I was closer to the Promise…

Yes, children know, and this is why the world is ever set against them; this is why their knowledge of eternity is quickly shamed and silenced, long before they are old enough to see the lies. This is why we have all become wraiths…

This is also why we must all come back to the heart and its desires. For without the heart there is no life, and without the heart true hope does not live…

* * *

Through that immortal longing, awakened by the spirit of this haunted place, I am searching for the self I once had — the heart that had not yet suffered its fate of latter times; less suppressed in its emotions, less dark and less burdened by shame and defeat. Yet, it is also true that there is more, much more, that I am actually searching for.

My heart, as do the hearts of us all, seeks permanence.

It looks not simply to return to carefree days, for there are no such days in the realms of mortal men; but it looks for deeper, older things, in deeper, older places. Places and times that once were — the heart in its immortality remembers them; places and times that will be again — or else the heart would not hope for them with such fierce intensity.

The summer evenings when I was a little boy… The time when all the grown-ups sat around the table of my grandparents; the time when the smell of fresh tomato salad, of peppers, onion, and spices (all homegrown, of course) preceded the aroma of the roasted meat and the laughter…those times spoke to the little heart about home, and about lasting goodness. Later, when I am sitting under the same sky, under the warm caressing embrace of the same evening air, it comes again…the friend on my right lives close by and knows me and my whole family well; so does the friend on my left. No, I cannot go back farther in the limitation of this finite world; I cannot go deeper than this. The happy celebration with people who know and love me, the sense of effortless belonging in a place where the very rocks are soaked with the happiness of my younger self… Endless joy and comfort in my own skin, in the old fellowship of those who feel the same and would never become less, never in a thousand years — this is what my heart yearns for, and this is what I am always seeking.

Moments that would not end. Peace that will not cease. Love that will not fail. The brief whispers of my most romantic childhood hopes becoming a solid, tangible truth. The world that we already know and love; the world as it was meant to be. I think it is a world where all people…no, wait — I will let a better writer describe it:

I have seen a land shining with goodness, where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all races live under the same law of love and honour.

I have seen a land bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mother’s arms and never know fear or pain.  

I have seen a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water over the land, and men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty, above comfort, pleasure or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hill, and love like a fire from every hearth…

Like Taliesin in the Pendragon Cycle books, like king Arthur in Stephen Lawhead`s amazing works, I have seen it too, though only in few brief glimpses. I have read the signs of immortality and redemption, back when I was a little child; back when I listened to the sounds of peaceful human existence merge with the songs of crickets and owls; when I looked at the bright stars in wonder and knew that I was known. I saw the same stars again last night and I recognised them; my heart leaped, and I knew…

You too, have seen your glimpses of this world, though perhaps you have forgotten. Be not afraid to remember, for in your pain, there is redemption. There is also a Promise, and it is a promise for permanence…

Where have you searched for permanence in a world that offers none?

Remember — even the best the human life is a long string of great victories and great defeats — both measured by time; both passing.

Do not despair…come back, and face the heartbreak; be brave and face the broken hopes within…

And if you are brave and face your battles; if you do that well and hold nothing back, who knows, you may find that which you have always searched for…you may find yourself returning to that first true Love whose touch once sensed, back in your times of wonder, even though they have been cut short by the darkness of this world.

Go — go against the currents of your life, and against the defences, habits and escapes of your own broken self — go deeper and go higher, for the truth is waiting for you there, and the life you search for is waiting to be lived. You are known, and you have a destiny.

Believe not in the loss of your darker times, but trust in the hopes hidden in your heart…

They do not lie.








Thoughts From the Village: on Emotions and Bulgarian Stoicism


Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
Mike and the Mechanics — The Living Years
1984 — this is when I entered the world
this is when I entered my home

We have been home for a couple a weeks now. August is always hot here, often nearing the forties; sometimes, like the year before, even reaching beyond that. This vacation is no exception; after suffering through our first week when the gauge hit thirty-nine almost daily, we can finally take a breather — it is cooler now, and there is a pleasant breeze almost every day…

As I write this sitting under the shade of the vine, in the comfortable nest of my old home, I leisurely behold the sights of my past. Looking at the old, familiar street — the walls, the fences, the people, and the clear sky of my childhood — I feel the old, familiar sense of…what do I call this…?

A sense of feeling less, and being less; a kind of suppression and a block to being fully alive; something like a dam, made to be a barrier to strong emotions — the good ones as well as the ‘bad’ ones — a wall, erected against their expression…

I see my old friend: one of the oldest, truest comrades I have ever had, going in and out of his house — but why is it that I do not feel the joy which I have when I am away from him and think of our next meeting? Why do I feel so numb and unable to express how I really feel on the inside? Why am I so reserved; why do I always hold back?

And I know that, just like me, my friend also feel the same way.

Perhaps it is the culture here; we have all been brought up like that. We are all gravitating between unspoken love, hidden hatred, and well-controlled joy; we are all, to a degree, living a life which is stifled life. It should come as no surprise then, that I do not know how to live from the heart — that heart which feels so much and has so much to give, yet is often silent.

I do not know whether it is a cultural thing, like the proverbial ‘stiff upper lip’ of the British; I am no expert in nationality and culture. But I have become a student of my own life and, after years of one painful and glorious discovery after another, I have learned a thing or two about myself and those around me.

On this little quiet street, in the green Thracian lowlands, me and my few peers grew up as happy as any group of average children could be, perhaps even more, yet expressing our true emotions was never trully a part of it all; it was always that missing, unmentioned, and seemingly unimportant part of life. Later, when we entered youth, we drank and celebrated young age as most young people did; then we embraced and kissed each other, but those displays of our affection toward one another were never carried into the new day — we left them behind, abandoned and hidden in the dark smoky corners of the old restaurant, waiting to be remembered and picked up again the next weekend. The restaurant, just like ourselves, came alive only on Friday and Saturday night; it became a nightclub then, and the old Soviet-style interior took on a colourful and glorious glow, along with our own neglected selves.

But our joy could never last.

What we felt while we were basking in the fleeting light of our short-lived glory, we could not take with us; what we were when we were most alive and most able to express our hearts — their nobility and beauty, but also their ugliness, their sickness and their pain — we could not be permanently.

This is why we so chase our addictions — the addictions we all have, for we have all been born into a world that has no room for our true selves; a world that offers no fulfilment for our deepest desires.

And so, even after years of facing my old pain and offering the most secret places of my heart to be healed, I am finding myself locked into the old patterns still, in the days when I am too weak or too tired. During those times, like the proverbial dog, I am readily returning back to my own vomit; back to the dirt and the death from which I have been lifted. I know the river well; the old river which, flowing for decades within my soul, has eroded a deep bed for itself. And since the direction of its flow has been my path for decades, I do not need to do much; I only need to simply let myself be carried by the waters, back to the familiar, back to the effortless comfort, back into the mire of my past.

Being home always brings me on the bank of that river, as close as I have ever been; for this is where the river first flowed, and this is where its deadly, wicked course was first set. Yes — deadly, for in my life, like every other life, there are unseen forces that seek my destruction; those were the hidden powers that once preyed upon the child…

I must make it clear here that my parents, like most, did their best to raise me in a good and healthy way. Sadly, like me, they are broken human beings, and, back in those times, their best was rarely enough to protect me from that which they themselves have not been protected…


* * *


While we were in my wife`s hometown — a little, charming spa town called Varshets — we met a spectacular young woman, and she quickly became our friend. This woman, who had, until recently, a professional volleyball player, had traveled the world and seen its wonders; she had also traveled her inner world, and explored its light and its darkness…

She was tall and lean and fit, glowing with the sunshine of Israel where she lived; she was radiating something else, too…

She was a warrior who had fought many battles; a heroine who had found and reclaimed a great deal of her truest self, and for this reason she was calm, free, and happy, totally unashamed to be — simply be — herself.

It was this — the power of her presence, this unhindered being — that so impacted both me and my wife, and made us want to know her better; this was also what encouraged us to keep walking the path of redemption, and not let the constant battle steal the joy of the present moment.

I am bringing her into this story because, during one of our conversations in the swimming pool, she put words to, and answered an unspoken question that had formed in my mind ever since we began our vacation.

‘Most of us around here,’ she remarked in her fiercely passionate way, ‘ might not abuse our children physically, but we crush them with our words!’

She was right: words that have the power to darken the eternal glow of the child`s heart; they can bring shame, worthlessness, or inadequacy to the soul so early in life, while the little one depends on the parents’ words for self-worth and identity as much as the body depends on oxygen and food for its survival.

Stop crying…

You are such a baby…

Behave — or else!

You should be ashamed of yourself!

And even:

You are worthless

We have all heard at least some of these; we have all felt their bitter sting. And we  have all been changed as a result of their message.


* * *


Although words have the power to change and shape the soul by bringing life or death to it, there is something more dangerous and deadly than words. Dangerous, for it is much harder to discover, and deadly, for it does its work in secret and, if left unaddressed for long, can shorten and even abort even the most promising life.

This is the unspoken coldness which creeps in from our parents to us while we are still young and helpless; this is the voiceless whisper in their eyes that tells us we must conform to this world — their world — and be less, simply because they have become less, and do not know any other way of being. Perhaps they have also felt threatened by the brave dreamer, by the little beauty and the young hero in their child, whose bright eyes speak of immortality and tell of a life that is too wild and too free — too eternal — to be manageable.

The Stoic-like mindset which me and most of my peers have inherited has indeed been a result from words — mainly the words of our mothers and grandmothers, for the women in our culture are far more free and unashamed outspoken than the men. It has also been a product of that unseen and unheard message which, like poisonous fumes or deadly sickness, once spread over us from our fathers` silent eyes…

And we all became like them, in one way or another — seemingly connected to those around us; never alone, yet lonely and silently suffering inside, bearing the curses, the wounds and the scars of all the generations past; the unhealed and unredeemed pain of the grandfathers who once groaned inwardly but could not make a sound as the heavy boot of the Sultan crushed their neck.

Today, men here die quickly, one after another, long before their time. Some are drowned in alcohol — their only escape from the pain; some are lost in sudden or gradual madness…

Most of them, however, the strong, upright, working-class people like our fathers, simply fade away; their once strong and powerful selves slowly erode with the merciless onslaught of time which steals their dreams and hopes. Then comes the final blow — normally, a sickness of some kind, an affliction which has been laying dormant for years, waiting for the weakness of spirit to set the stage and open the door for the destruction of the body. This murderous work is often done by the cancer which is so prevalent here, especially among the men; this most feared terror of our time kills, steals, and destroys with an alarming rate in this green, fertile place. Yet, we must know that in too many cases, maybe even most of them, what is seen is conceived by what is unseen — and the sickness of my people is no exception. Think of a broken spirit, too shameful to be acknowledged; of old pain and past heartbreak that are too painful to live with; imagine a lifetime of denial and repression of the true self and its feelings…

Take the strong emotions of grief, or better yet — anger, which has been cut off and stifled, pressed back down in the soul during childhood, only to surface later as a mysterious condition of weakness, lifelessness, or some other living death…

And you will see why we suffer as we do; you will perhaps learn something of your own suffering too.

But you do not need to flee from it as the people of my homeland do; you do not need to seek numbing pleasures and fleeting comforts as most people in the world do.

For I am here to tell you:

The way up is down and the way out is in. Go against the flow of the old river; turn against your own deep patterns; rise up and fight, even though you do not see your foe…

Do not fear your pain, for it hides a great treasure; indeed, it was once sent as a weapon, as a veil, to cover and silence your true, glorious heart; it is the device forged against you and the expression of your truest self…

There are diamonds in the dirt; there is new life and joy to be found, only by those who are brave or too tired to live in the shadows of grey, compromised existence…

You are brave, I know; and I know you are tired — tired of the endless search and the endless charade. Do not despair, for it is now time to find that lost treasure; it is time to enter the battle…


Do not fear.

You are not alone.







. . .






A Story. A Heart.



I’m standing before my old high school
It’s been 10 years since I touched the door
But to heal the old pain we must face it again
So I’ll walk down that hallway once more

David Wilcox, Last Chance Waltz



The following story is from the life of a boy – a boy who once lived and now lives again. It is a story the telling of which I will leave to him, for it is his story and it is best that he tells it. Hear him now…



The Lost Heart


Life was slow in the village. But life was also fun, and full of hope. At that time, American films and television shows, as well as most of the other foreign programs had only been in the country for a few years, but I did not know that. I simply enjoyed them. In those days I took everything for granted, and oh, how happy I was. It is only now, after some time in the darkness, that I can see clearly how sick the world around me has been; it is only now that I can see my own sickness.

But this is now, and I will not speak of the present. This story is about my past and I must tell it well…

As I said, life was quite slow once. Slow, before it got faster, and very fast, before it slowed down again. Back in those first slow times, I was a king. I was the prince of my little world; I was the center of the universe.

You see, one of my problems was that I was too sheltered. Nothing big was happening at the time I was born; the war of my grandfather had been fought and won long ago, and the war of my father – that endless striving for staying afloat – was being fought for me at that very time, and all I had to do was feed of the spoils.

At the time when I was still locked inside myself, confused and self-obsessed, my father had already started working and had been expelled from five schools; never for doing badly at his studies, mind you, but always for fighting. He was a beast, my dad, just the opposite of me. At the age of fifteen, I already knew that I was not a man like him. I knew, deep down in that mysterious place where knowledge is turned into understanding, that I will never become a man worthy of my own respect, and the respect of anybody else.

I was, in other words, a loser.

When the other, normal boys kicked the football and ran around like maniacs, screaming and hollering at each other, I stayed away from them – I could not do that; neither of those things were natural for me. Most of my attempts at being an athlete ended with the others jeering at me and mocking me, and even though we did not have any really ‘bad kids’ in our village, the others` opinion about me, as being a not-quite-like-them type of guy, filled me with self-pity, bitterness, and resentment. I was no good and I knew it. I know now, I can see it, that I was inwardly comparing myself to my old man, that I was trying to race against him as I was growing up. But this was one race I could not win, and the knowledge of this deepened with every passing year, until that one night, when it finally cemented itself over my heart, freezing my dreams and stifling my true voice. From that night, I began to change.

From that night, I began to die.

You see, we were never close, me and him, and I always wondered why. Why was it that everything I did was not good enough for him? Why was it that we never enjoyed any time together, apart from the times when I helped him, quite fearful and anxious, with his chores around the house? Why was it that he always expected me to be ‘strong’ and not allow anyone to ‘push me around’, to be as he had once been and do as he had once done?

Did he not see that, while he loved sports, I loved reading; did he not see that while he was strong, I was weak; did he not hear me when I woke up at night, screaming with terror, waiting for the embrace that never came?

He was my hero, yes, and I held him up as a standard – no, as a god that must be pleased and appeased. ‘What would dad do if he was here’ – this is what I always asked myself, deep down in that forgotten chamber, the place that is abandoned and shut up in most people. Yes – but I was not like them. He was more like them; he has shut the door within, and could now simply live and be, undisturbed by what people thought about him, knowing he was always in the right…

And in the right he was, quite often. This was what made it very hard to know the truth; this was what made it impossible for me not to adore him.

This was also why, in that deep and secret place, I hated and feared him.

He was not my father. I had no dad. He was my king and my god; he was also the slayer of my soul.

I am getting too deep again, and this was not my intention. It was the facts that I was after, not all the stuff behind them. I must forget, I know, but I cannot help it; I have been cursed with deeper vision and a bleeding heart. And death; I have been cursed with a slow and painful death. It began on the night I was telling you about.

I was fifteen…

On that night, I was wearing a black T-shirt which was stamped with the name of The Prodigy and had the terrifying face of their frontman Keith Flint on the front – you see, back in 1999 they were my favorite band. In those times I devoured their music like a ravenous teenage beast; in return, they gave me hope. I hoped that, after my immersion into the world of music, after my entrance in the local party scene (though you could hardly use that term for what used to take place in that little rural community), the others will forget my clumsiness as an athlete and my weakness as a person; I hoped they will forget that I was what I hd always known myself to be, even before that day – a weakling and a pushover, a boy not worthy of his father`s name. And my hoping, it seemed, worked, at least for a while.

It was my sense of humor, I think, that began to turn the tides; it was that good-hearted desire to simply have fun and be the life of the party (but that only when there were none of the more serious males around) that made me a good companion, liked from both boys and girls. And it was in those years – the time between the end of my first decade and the half of the second – that I was at my happiest. You see, I was a believer back then, a true believer in the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. And because, in those few short years, I had finally achieved the nirvana of my adolescence – that living when I, left undisturbed by all, disturbed none – I was as happy as anyone could be.

Life was good and the world held promises. There were treasures, I began to discover, riches hidden in the darkness of life; there were jewels hidden under the cloak of night, gems that I could not see in the daytime. The eyes of the girls shone like precious stones, reflecting the light of the moon, the stars, and the projectors in the restaurant that turned into a nightclub every weekend. And that was when my weapons, those tools forged to secure my survival in the world, were most used. A fighter I could not be – this I knew only too well – and my nice-ness overflowed; I could not stand up and face another when it was called for; I could not be right and stand my ground – but I was forgiving, and I was accepting, even of those who did not want to be accepted. The stories I had read back in those lonely years, were now used for fuel, and the fire of my pretense bathed us all in its warm, seductive glow.

All was forgotten, and all was now well. I was new, and life was good again.

Until that night.


* * *


I knew the boy, of course I knew him. And he knew me too, but this did not stop him. He needed someone to fight with; he wanted to test his strength but had no courage. And so he found the perfect man to meet those needs.

After his provocation, to which I half-jokingly protested (I could not hear my voice, it was too weak and too quiet) he grew serious, and this was when my knees started shaking. I know, it Is hard to believe, but I have always been that way around other boys  – all those that seemed to be more confident, more alert, or more aggressive that I could be. And I know why…I know why now.

It was him, my father, whose image they evoked…

But it was him, my father, whose strength I needed to become a man; it was his love and his fury that I needed to face them! But how could I receive anything from him while we were so far apart? And how could I be closer to him if he was so cold and scary?

But this is now, and that was then. Now, I am strong, and I am dangerous. Then, I trembled like a leaf.


* * *



The first blow landed on my jaw and made my head snap to the side. I saw stars and felt no outward pain, though the pain within was growing every second.

‘What have I done to you? What have I done?’

My voice sounded weak and feeble and I was disgusted with myself. Why, oh why didn`t he just kill me and get it over with.


This time, it was my nose. My face was already burning at that time; whether with shame or pain, I could not tell.

Slowly, methodically, my assailant worked me as if I was a piece of raw meat, pounding me with his fists in sadistic, youthful delight. I did nothing to defend myself – my body felt overcome with an apathy that came from deep within, from the soul that knew well its weakness and the futility of any action I could have taken. This had been, after all, my lot in life: I was a weakling, and weaklings got beaten.

We were in the darkness behind the nightclub, at the back of the old Communist building. I had always found it comfortably dark there, but there was no comfort for me that night. The old, good things of my previously quiet life, the things I had always looked at and loved for their warm familiarity, were growing more hostile and more remote around me with every second. Even the music sounded hollow, empty and void of life. The song that shook the old place from within as I myself was being shaken from without by slow but accurate blows, was called ‘Ghetto Superstar’; its tune I will never forget. Months and years later, I played that same song at home while, trying to ‘toughen myself up’, I practiced blows and kicks on my mother`s pillows, rehearsing a dreaded confrontation with my enemies.

I don`t remember how many times he hit me, five six, or maybe ten. But I remember well the feeling of despondency that overcame me as I dragged myself back home. I was not hurt, save for one blackened eye and a reddened face, but, as far as I was concerned, I had been destroyed; I had been attacked, violated, and left for dead – left as good as dead. Yes, death was far more desirable than the fate that awaited me in the next days, months, maybe even years. I did not even know if a wholesome, happy life, the life I had just begun to find, was possible for me anymore. How would I look at my peers; how would I look at the boy who had beaten me – not with anger, as I had none; how would I look at myself – that stupid, childish self whose face I disliked ever since I could remember?

Hot with shame and inner torment, I opened the door of the house. It was not yet midnight and it was hot. My traumatized soul recoiled with horror as I realized that my father was still awake, watching the football game. It was a couple of years before the first air conditioner was installed in our house, and all doors and windows that had mosquito nets on them were opened, apart from the front door.

Inside, the man whom I respected but did not love, waited for me.

As I stepped into the television-lit room, I made a big mistake. I was a rookie in everything I did in life, no matter how long I had done it for; I was also a weakling, and weaklings never win.

Congratulating my father briefly, before my eyes could meet his, I pulled the T-shirt over my head, proceeding to take it of me as I quickly walked away from the danger zone and toward the back of the room.

‘Wait,’ he said sharply, a vigilant bulldog, suddenly alert and ready, an old, battle-hardened warrior who, though wearing only his boxer shorts, was fully dressed, clad in the ageless regal robe of his grim dignity.

‘Come here and let me look at your face.’

Sheepishly, I obeyed. Had I not been humiliated enough already?

‘Who hit you?’ he asked me sternly. I looked at him. He was brimming with a scary tension that seemed to have shed fifteen years from his back. The tattoo on his chest was no longer old and grey, belonging to the past; it was now alive, and it was dreadful.

A coffin and a cross, this is what it was; and it was my coffin, and my cross.

I told him who had done it; I spoke in a hushed voice, void of emotion, void of any pain, though God knew, there was enough pain to drown us both. I was silent, dry, and broken. I felt shame but it was far from my lips; I felt sorrow but it did not touch my eyes. I was barren.

His blue eyes pierced me with fierce intent. They were for me, I knew, but I knew it in my head only. The hard blue gaze penetrated deep into the very depths of my lost, confused soul. It swept through all the masks, pretenses and defenses; like a blade, it ran through me and traveled fast down to the most secret chamber of my being, to discover emptiness and loss. I was disarmed and I was beaten, but it was not the enemy without that had done that. It was the wolf who hid under my roof; it was he who murdered my heart; it was he who drank my bitter blood.

‘Listen now son…listen to me now.’

The blue gaze was now too firm and steady, too hard and impossible to bear. I squirmed but I made no sound and did not move.

‘In the days to come’ my father began in a low, controlled voice. ‘You must find him when he is alone. And you must beat him, and beat him well.’

‘None of those brats should push you around — you must not let them!’

His voice was now raised and that dreadful tension was gripping him again, making his aged body young and brilliant with some dark, malicious potency. He was a god, and like a god, he was immortal.

‘If you let him get away with what he did to you,’ he continued, knowing little of the torment in my soul. ‘They will all try to do it, they will all think you would let them do what they like to you…’

My father`s voice dropped again; it sounded cold and unfeeling to me, like the voice of a general who sends his best troops, already beaten, starved and ravaged, back into the battle, back to their certain death; like the voice of a crime boss who orders the death of an innocent man; like the voice of a father who, intending to make his son cold and invincible as steel, cares nothing for the soul of the boy, the soul which should have been nurtured and loved before it could be hardened for battle.

There were no feelings within me, save for the shame and the confusion. I did not know what to do, or what to be, and I walked over to the end of the room and sat on a bed, making myself busy with changing my clothes. Even though it was more than twenty years ago, I still remember it all – the brown tiles on the floor, the broom in the corner, my black socks…

I think that perhaps he saw what I had no strength to utter and, I can at least hope, he sought to make things right. It was then that he drove the dagger deeper into my heart.

‘Ah, forget it…’ he said in a voice that failed to appear gracious and understanding; he could barely hide his disappointment. ‘You are not like that. You are not made for this sort of things.’

The last sentence did not even have the thin coat of pretense that clothed the previous ones; it struck its mark, clean and true to its malicious purpose.

I was dead.

There were no tears. There were no emotions. My family had never had the time and the freedom for such things. Within me, there was only emptiness and some vague, dry sorrow. Oh, but the emotion did come, and it poisoned my whole being. But it was not strong, not in that way, it did not have to be expressed and released; this was not its design. It was a hatred for myself and a burning desire to die and finally be done with. My mind formed words that my lips did not utter; instead, they floated back and forth within me and around me, keeping me numb and occupied, taking my attention away from the bloody throes of my dying heart.


A worm…a worm, and not a man…

Never…you will never become a man…you will never be like him…

I hate you…little, twisted, ugly boy – a boy that has not grown and will never grow…I hate your dull, ugly face, and I hate your slow, clumsy body…

Why are you still alive, worm? Don`t you know the world doesn`t want you?

I want you dead; you must not live, you hindrance, you burden, you awkward, heavy load – die and be gone forever!

I want to kill you, and raise another one in your place…you are a mistake – a mistake!

You must die.

Curse you. Curse your very life…


I will kill you…I cannot let you live.


I don`t know how long my torment lasted; maybe a minute, or fifteen minutes. But I remember that, when I finally got up and left that hot and heavy room, each slow, heavy step of my feet took me further away from everything that was good and real in my life.

A child cried in the dirt and I did not pick him up to comfort him this world is no place for children; I stomped on him and kicked him until his screams were heard no more. He is still there, rotting in the darkness, and I am still here, empty and alone.

I did not know what I was doing. None of us know…it happens too quickly, or in a slower, more secret way, but the result is always the same – we lose our heart, or we give it away. It is taken from us, or it is killed. Look around you, you who read this, or better still look in the mirror if you dare. Look at them; look at us all…

Do you see the walking corpses? Do you see the empty shells of life, the souls that are dead but are still living? Our land is full of shadows…

They were once alive but are now empty; we were once ourselves but we gave it all away without knowing. A sad story indeed, and a fate we all suffer.

No – if these wraiths are running the world, I want no part of it. There is not much more I can tell you now…you heard it all; you have seen the beginning of my downfall.

Oh, life went on, on the surface, and the seasons came and went as they did before. But in this new season, as my dying soul withered inside of me, my body grew stronger and my wish was granted — a new self was raised at last. Masks, as many as the stars over my quiet village, were put on and taken off – so very often. Hard muscles covered a heart that was too soft to be left exposed… A new regime had taken power and the great purge had begun, for this new rule had no mercy for the past. Old dreams were put to death and old desires perished. What was new was cold and gleaming and it had no truth and hope; but it had efficiency, and it had power to survive. The world no longer seemed that bad, and in the years to come, joy began its gradual return.


* * *


Oh, the smells…

The stale, dusty aroma of the white powder as it hit the nose; the scent of perfume, youth, and gentle skin; the smell of victory and triumph; the sharpness of the whisky and the sweet softness of the cocktails – it all connected, blended into one, and day after day I chased it, and I caught it. I was not like the loser Gatsby who reached pitifully for the distant green light; my life was in my hands, and I took in through my pores. I was alive – alive! The front – oh, the front was nice; it stayed nice, for I had not become a beast. Not only nice, of course, but effective too. Did I not tell you – there were exams taken and work done; names were whispered and love was pledged; there was a plan for success and a promise for life…

But let me tell you something, you who read this – it all came to nothing in the end, for I could not live without my heart. I could not love without my heart.


* * *


No more. No more…

I cannot bear it any longer.

Long have I sat into the nothingness; long has my soul suffered while I toiled day and night to heal the ache that would not heal…

I am going on a search, on a quest if you wish, and I will plunge down into the darkness. The coward does indeed die a thousand deaths and I have died many…

I will leave this live of endless dying; I will take the risk and go back into the darkness. It was there that I lost my heart, and it is there I must return…into the heart and into its pain; before the heart dies its finall death and my sentence becomes final.

There is terror that awaits me there, and this time, I will face it…

And if I live, I will tell you of my journey.