Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My Own Personal Guardian Angel

Do you believe in Guardian Angels (G.A.)? 
Trust me, if you had one your entire life you would!

Hello my 9-yrs old self!
Take a look at this kid with pig tails. It is1978 and bell bottoms and pointy collars is so much the raging fashion that my mom thought that only a flower-hat pin was needed in order to make me look picture perfect! We were vacationing in Greece, the Island of Thassos (where my father taught me how to swim!) It might have been my birthday; I'm a summer baby.

It took me a good thirty years to look this girl in the eyes and see what my life's guardian angel always saw: PERFECTION.

My only uncle, the favourite person of my childhood, peacefully fell asleep on December 6th. He had a great family and a great life and although I would have bargained with the heavens to keep him with us just a tad longer, I am grateful he didn't suffer. And I'm thankful we're 'departing in birth order' as my wise ancestors described lucky families. And I am richer for every minute I got to have him. This story is about him.

Imagine a giant teddy bear. Then imagine that he is real, he is funny, he is handy (a mechanical engineer who knew how to fix everything!) Imagine that he has a body-guard streak. And that he possesses the sensitivity rarely found even in mothers of daughters, let alone a father of two boys. And then imagine my luck - that the daughter he never had but always wished for happened to be me!

My Teddy Bear's name was Zoran - a common Serbian name - but for me he was Koka. His lap was my safe zone! As a fairly mouthy child - alas, not much has changed - I used it very often. It was "Geneva" - offering full protection from being disciplined no matter the offence.

Remember that school chewing gum incident? I never told how that ended, did I? I went home and told my parents. They empathized as my mom cut a chunk of my hair while hoping I 'learned a lesson'. Chewing gum was no good for my teeth anyway. 

Then I called Koka. A minute later he was already sitting in our living room sipping coffee.  
"What did you say the teacher's name was?" - he whispered in my ear as I found my shelter right away, retelling the school drama. 
"And this week you go to school in the afternoon? A-hmmm" - his acknowledgment sounded more like he was engineering a project. The eyes behind the thick-rimmed glasses suddenly looked as if they had a powerful calculator at work. 
      "Is she doing this to other kids?" 
      "You have math tomorrow?"

I was running down the stairs with friends after the class, eager to get the best spot under the tree for our magical recess games, when I saw two men in trench coats in the school lobby, looking serious. The somewhat surreal recognition turned into wonder as his barely-visible wink signalled me to keep going to the yard. From under the shade my eyes were glued to the glass door. Like in a silent movie, I saw our fierce math teacher pause as someone introduced her to the two gentlemen. Her blank stare was replaced by a red face, her head vigorously shaking as if she was a child being scolded. Our game started, I got distracted and by the time the bell rang and we rushed back in, the trench coats were already gone. 

My body-guard, my G.A., my Koka was a man of both justice and action. It took him 24h to show up at my school with his much fiercer colleague Miško, the two of them looking all FBI-like demanding the teacher to never, ever punish another child again if she didn't want them to return. Not only did it work, this big mouth here managed to never tell a soul about it - up until right now! 

My entire life Koka has been my safe harbour, my mischief buddy and my confidant. When he caught me crying - mean girls at school were calling me names for my protruding ears (you are welcome to scroll back to the photo above) despite my parents' finding that I actually looked charming, he took me to his plastic surgeon friend who agreed to perform the first aesthetic surgery in Belgrade's Children's Hospital in exchange for a before and after photo for her office. Dr.Gordana Janjić - I have never forgotten your gift! I was 10 years old and coming back to school with my ears beautifully fixed gave me a quantitative confidence boost that ensured the survival of my late starting puberty.  

Still, the real treasure was enjoying Koka as my G.A. long into my adulthood. He was my back-up parent of the best kind. He was the one who taught me how to let go of failed man and marriage. He was the well-needed second grandpa to my son; the kid felt like a little king in his care! He was the favourite teddy bear I never grew too old to hug. And he was my only bank - the one that loaned me the money needed for immigration, even though those years were tough on everyone and that was rainy-day fund. 

My Teddy Bear - Belgrade 2013
The unexpected gift of immigration, after we all survived the initial grief of being separated, is that our forever began right there. As in true life-long friendships, dimensions of distance and time mean nothing. We stayed close and grew closer even though a decade and a half passed before we would see each other again. And when that day arrived and I saw my G.A. waiting for me at the Nikola Tesla International Airport, my heart exploded and rejoiced as I threw myself into the best embrace on Earth. That week in Belgrade my life got prolonged. Endless hours of talking, laughing, drinking coffee, reminiscing our fun times, analyzing tough moments - that week will forever stay preciously stored in my heart. Yes - for the unbelievable abundant love and optimism and energy I'm still kindling inside of me. It will never expire. But more so for regressing into being their 'baby', the youngest of all kids in the family, the one with special privileges and my own personal guardian angel.

The night my Koka fell asleep I woke with an answer to a pressing question I've had for a while. The answer was so crystal clear it brought instant relief that helped me fall sound asleep right away. A few hours later tears streamed down my face as I read the message from my cousin - my loss will always be immense. But somehow I know Koka hung around as long as he could to have this one last real lesson sink in and see the tide change. 

What I feel is true is that there is no departure - we were already pros at long distance! The absence of the physical only means that Koka is so much closer to me now - riding along with me. I'm safe, comfortably nestled in for what's to come, his lap wide as heaven itself.

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