today, Barbara would have been 38 years old. it’s a strange fact to fathom. it always has been. i was more suprised when she turned 30 than when i turned 30. when amadej turned 40? yikes. when i turned 40? meh.
two things hit me when i was thinking about Barbara’s birthday. one, this was the first year after her death that i didn’t wonder what to get her. it never even occured to me. i suppose i’ve come to terms with the fact that she no longer needs a present. two, i don’t remember the last time i spent her birthday with her. living on different continents’ll do that. you can only schedule visits at certain times. those are usually in the summer. usually.
the closest i came to spending Barbara’s birthday with her was in 2017, the year of our last christmas with the original five members of the čuden family.
december for musicians is usually hell. and i say that with all the gratitude of my musician’s heart. it’s hell in terms of the sheer amount of work that you have. gigs. student recitals. juggling seeing family and friends. trying not to get sick. if you’re still in university, your own recitals and exams and papers. it’s something you learn as a musician very quickly. you get used to the idea of having busy days when most other people have days off. it’s been normal for me for most of my life. not just my adult life. my entire life. there’s no ‘thank-god-it’s-friday’ for me. it’s fine. honestly. i love my musician’s life.
so it was a little shocking in 2017 when i suddenly had an entire week off over christmas. this was weird. shows before christmas and in the new year but nothing from the 19th until the new year. saša was busy. nutcrackers all over the place. but for some reason, i didn’t have anything. out of blue one day he says to me, you should go to canada. and i thought, yes, i should go to canada. and not tell anyone. that was kind of a thing in our family. surprise visits. they worked out most of the time. but let me tell you, they’re one hell of a thing to plan.
so i only told amadej that i would come for a visit over christmas. our parents would have already been there for a few weeks and Barbara would arrive after me.
everything was set to go. and it all seemed to work out fine until westjet. which didn’t comply with the rules of the game. they cancelled my flight out of toronto and i had to wait for the next one to ottawa. IF there was going to be a next one. i didn’t know until i was actually on the plane. instead of arriving in gatineau, which is where my brother lived at the time, for dinner, i arrived at 1 in the morning. everyone thought amadej was having an affair because he kept checking his phone during dinner – which went ahead without me. my flight info kept changing and i kept texting him. it was funny later.
be that as it may, the surprise worked out and we had a truly wonderful christmas. the hallmark movie kind. i kid you not. we made gingerbread hockey players which were three times the size of the gingerbread rink. how canadian is that, eh? making gingerbread hockey players. we decorated the entire house. we sang songs on christmas eve and nobody filmed it, so everyone enjoyed it because everyone was present. there was a peace and quiet about it that had never existed before. it was bliss.
then Barbara left for toronto and i left for europe. at least, so i thought.
westjet cancelled my flight from ottawa. there wouldn’t be another one until the next day. i. was. freaking. out. seriously, westjet? jerks.
but, alas, my brain turned on a lightbulb. i heard its message coming out of my mouth, can you at least fly me to toronto and book the overseas flight from there tomorrow?
yes, we can do that.
like i said, bliss.
i call Barbara, hey, can i stay at your place until tomorrow?
grumpy and tired, i arrive at her doorstep at around 10pm. we take a quick selfie to send to mom and then she heats up some pad thai and pours me a glass of red. we curse out westjet but we also laugh about it.
the next day, i take a video of us walking towards the subway station. it was so fucking cold, which was unusual for toronto. minus 20 something. yeah, that cold. we go to the mall, do a little shopping, meet up at the foodcourt. you know, the usualy shopping behaviour. then head back home, have a drink, and off i go to the airport and back home.
i admit, i was angry at the time. angry at westjet. but then in 2018, Barbara got really sick and i realized that westjet gave me an opportunity to spend at least one more day with her. an entire day. a couple of days before her birthday, no less, so i count that as a big win.
now here i am in 2022 thinking about that extra day with painful affection. it was the last time i saw her walk and i heard her talk to me in person. the last time she cooked food for me. the last time she poured me a glass of wine. it was the last time she and i took a selfie together. it was the last time i heard her crack a joke and laugh. it was the last time she could hug me. the last time i saw her step out of her apartment. our last subway ride.
i cry because it’s so close and so far away and i cry because it was our last day and because every once in a while i am still surprised that i will never see her again.
somewhere beyond the darkness that i’m currently feeling there is a silver lining. at least, i have to believe that there is. something her husband said to my mom. that she’ll always be young.
there is that i guess.
happy birthday, Barbara. forever 33. forever young.