‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ … almost fiction

Rita Sebestyén photo

Rita Sebestyén photo

‘We could all live on drugs, pee in our pants, drown in mud and puke sitting in the streets, covered with self-pity, if we really insist on indulging our hardships and scars, right?’ says R.

No, he does not say it. He spits it, he yells, thunders it with his glass-blue eyes lightning through the room to slap my upset face. R. is Danish and has spent considerable time abroad. The homesick, missing-friends, trying-to-get-a-job and have-to-learn-new-language type of bullshit narrative won’t work with him – he knows wallowing won’t help. Funnily enough, whenever he sees me ruminating over the wounds of my very precious self, he bursts into these speeches till we both end up laughing.

R. is Danish. This fact started to emerge in my mind as an association for healthy boundaries of the self that might be perceived as reserved, cold or even unpleasant – a person who could just sit in a room for hours with lots of people around without any apparent sign of mingling or even uttering a word, not to mention the eye contact that is so utterly-totally-weirdly taken as an offensive intrusion into the others’ brain or soul if sustained for more than five seconds. R., for example, is firmly convinced that one day I will stare him dead with my curious and intrusive long glances that drill into his skull burning out his nerves and reaching to his guts – but why on Earth do I always and repeatedly and overwhelmingly have to do that?

So R. makes me ponder why I stare. He gets me to think about why I find a special joy in letting myself be swallowed by self-pity, why I keep crying over my past and past-perfect experiences, redundantly and obsessively turning back to the most torturing memories of my life. Do I miss that living hell, or what? Who do I think I am to indulge in this emotional self-cutting luxury?

Still, I rush through Copenhagen, along the streets from the loft district through the churchyard where the prostitutes exchange occasional and very practical words in Romanian, that melodic, harmonious language that was compulsory to learn back in my traumatic childhood, a time when I was frightened and humiliated by the methods and dictatorial teachers. And yet from the moment I, the half-kicked-to-death Hungarian minority, left my country – Romania – I have always found consolation, bitter-and-sweet embracing, in remembrance of this Slavic and neo-Latin warmth whenever I heard it. I can roar when listening to the familiar tunes of Romanian folk music. This was the most embarrassing thing to listen to back in my high-school years. And even later, unfortunately. So now, those scattered, often pragmatic, broken dialogues of the prostitutes in the churchyard (Kierkegaard in Danish, if you will) almost make me cry, as well.

‘But who the hell do you think you are?’ R. asks bluntly – ‘to afford yourself mourning when you have had all these lucky turns in your life?’ Lucky turns that didn’t seem so lucky at the time: over and over being pushed to the margins and fighting my way to a new path – survival abroad. So I rush through this bizarre and not very safe area up to the central station and back, the same route several times, several days, for a couple of weeks. The church and the churchyard, the redundant music played until eternity at the exit door of the central station, the mixture of Romanian-Danish language, the Vietnamese girl sitting on a bench talking to herself, the Turkish butcher and the miniature Jesus statue in the cheapest shop of the town.

Who the hell do I think I am? Why do I allow myself to get depressed, sitting comfortably in my new home that opens a view to the Øresund, Sweden and the castle of Hamlet, his highness himself, from a minimalist apartment? Who am I? What is my identity? I don’t even know for certain which is my mother tongue. Is it Hungarian, which I learned from my mother as a minority and which often placed me on a lower rank, pushed to the background or even put me in danger for using it, as happened in a restaurant once? Is it Romanian, the language spoken by the majority on the land of my birth, the language of those teachers and professionals and artists who taught me the most powerful, creative, mind-blowing ways and methods of my profession, gifts that keep me walking still? Is it English, the most reliable and comfortable channel for me to reach out to the world? Or is it Danish, which I am hesitant to learn because of its tongue-twisting pronunciation, but which is the language of the society that finally, after half of a lifespan struggle, reassured me that all my gut feelings regarding dignity, rights, healthy boundaries and equal opportunities can be put into practice – and even if failed, can be reflected on, talked about?

I could repeat the same set of questions regarding my homeland, colleagues, friends, and yes, even family.

Who the hell do I think I am? Sometimes I think I am the only survivor of a plane-crash, stumbling from the wreckage of an earlier life trapped in unceasing manipulation and aggression. The elegant expat finding her way into elegant Danish worlds of academia and art. The lone – and lonely – wolf stuck between two worlds, wandering forever in her lost memories, never to find her future. The one who left behind all her relationships without looking back, cast in the role of the traitor for reaching to success. The one who hides herself in the cocoon of her memories, friends, colleagues and family back in time and far in space.

All of them? Fluctuating among these modes? Changing places? Shifting priorities? Switching languages? Swapping identities? Lost in translation/transition? Seen from the churchyard or the plane that in many ways surely crashed, I am – simply by having the opportunity to compare and reflect – one of the luckiest.

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