Our Little Orange Home

Our Little Orange Home

The greying sky almost jumped out at me as I got off the plane. Quickly the smell of smoke and gasoline invaded my nostrils. So foreign, yet so familiar. Up and down small roads, finally arriving at the small orange home. Windows square and simple reminded me of a face. One of happiness as it smiled back at me. The building was unrenovated, had old paint, yet had made the greatest of first impressions on me. I looked around the neighborhood and saw nothing but grey. The monotone swirling trend of darkness was like a galaxy and our little orange house was the single star. Although not completely ours, it was accompanied by two other families on the top and bottom floors. Leaving us in the middle. Just the most perfect placement for a visit. I wondered how many generations of my family had been up these same stairs and how many of them had lived, breathed, and stepped on these same floors. Upon our first entrance, complaints flooded the kitchen as I got to hear about how many things were going wrong with the home. Creaky floors, unpainted walls, old windows, troublesome bank issues. At such a young age, I had no cares in the world. I turned up the radio that replayed the same three songs over and over and over again. I didn’t mind. The kitchen was probably the size of half of ours at home. I didn’t care. I loved it too much to care. For some reason, this house infected me with this need and urge to learn, listen, and understand. My sister and I practically inhaled books as they were given to us. Then came the need to cook. After that came the interest of our past. My grandma introduced me to other generations of relatives through pictures and books. Oh– where would I be without this house I thought as I tried on old clothes my mom had. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for this home. Our little orange home unlocked my past. Our little orange home brought me peace and inspiration. Our little orange home in the middle of Bulgaria.

Kittens in the Rain

Just upon the perfect sunny day, our little orange home was pounded down by rain. Drop after drop of beautiful glittering water poured unrelenting, harder than I had ever seen… even in the winter months of Southern California, where I grew up. Accustomed to the constant bright sun of my home, I stood in amazement under my small pink umbrella side by side with my sister. It was so cold, so extremely cold. My shoes were wet down to my thin layer of socks and I found no solace in my singular jacket that soaked up each and every droplet of rain. I begged for my family to rush home, out of the miserable dreary clouds and away from the raging heavens. In all honesty, I had never been one to see the good in things, unlike my sister who always had a glass half full mentality. This may be the reason why she had always been the model for my life’s path. She walked at a different pace than me, one with dignity and strength while my feeble knees bent at any sight of change. I carried on complaining about each and every flaw of the current situation. Not to my surprise, eventually my persuasion worked. But, just as soon as we turned around, my sister and I both focused our attention on two small cats curled up on the front portion of a car, being heated by the engine. We admired the little kittens who despite all odds had found a place to reheat. They both appeared so peaceful… and their expressions– almost content. Then at that very moment, I realized that I wasn’t a stranger to this type of warmth. The kind to entangle you in a hug, or help you with your math homework. The kind that was like a giant blanket, at times leaving no room for air. I found myself walking at a new pace, one slower and more appreciative than before, for with every step in the gloomy darkness the feeling was bittersweet, because while my exterior was nearly frozen, I felt my sister’s warmth on the inside. 

Strays Cast Astray

I had no reason to feel alienated. I had a family, some friends, my school, a house, and of course our little orange home, but for some reason I felt empty. The same emptiness my sister had found when she accidentally impaled a snail while playing in the soft Bulgarian grass. I recall her cautioning tears as they fell slowly down and around the rim of her mouth. And the same emptiness my five year old self felt as I had to say goodbye to my first dog who was ridden with illnesses. For years, this pain would still linger, and everytime i found one of his toys, the pain would spring back up, just like those unsightly whackamoles. No matter how hard I beat down the memories of my dog, just another would spring back up. Yet, nothing else really drastic ever happened to me. I had never broken an arm, never got detention, never really gotten grounded or in trouble. Yet for the life of me, I couldn’t brush away my feelings. Sometimes I am reminded of the stray dogs I saw while in Bulgaria. They sat with their drooping frowns that lingered on the floor. They each watched as person after person passed them by, and never said a word. Some starved, some immoble, and some just sad. Loneliness was a routine for them. Now, they have a reason to feel distant– I really didn’t. But of course, I still related to them. I felt cast off at times, like when no one wanted to be my partner for the school science project, or when I kept losing friends year — after year — after year — and had no clue why. Maybe it had been that my ears were too big, or that my teeth were too sharp. But– who really needs acceptance… right?

Deserving?

I studied hard. Not for myself, but for others. To show my grandma that she hadn’t been helping me all these years, in vain. And to show my parents that I could be like my sister. Determined, strong,—- smart. But I had always been addicted to a simple five letter word. Not of my own, but I desperately needed it to come from the mouths of others. To roll off their tongues gracefully, with purpose and force. I wanted to be the topic of conversation at Thanksgiving meals, right after the oohs and ahhs of my cousin’s Carnegie Hall experience. But day after day my parents made it more apparent that this word was not going to be given to me easily. Sometimes it came in pity, which was the worst, or, in Bulgarian, “не заслужено” meaning “not deserved.” In Bulgaria, there were so many people living on the streets. So many whose only income was selling their little bouquets that they forcefully tried to get you to buy. So many who huddled together at night and scavenged for food in the day. And, oftentimes I felt guilty. Why did I have this orange home for once in a lifetime to come and sit and whimper about my life. Why did I deserve to complain about school, when some didn’t even get to go. That’s right it wasn’t deserved. And now I realize, I never really deserved the word “proud” either. 

Gift, or Burden?

At one point or another, the little orange home was occupied by just one. An empty nester. My beautiful grandma, Tanya. First, it was my mom who had moved out to go to college in America, and then my grandfather packed his things and headed upstairs into the clouds. I liked to think that those few years alone provided some much needed peace— no one really believed that though. She told me once that for a time she slept only on the couch because she couldn’t dare to sleep in the bed that used to be occupied by two. Then, after some time, she described to me of the January miracle… my birth. Although the emotions around my birth have been heavily disputed over the years (I wasn’t always the easiest child to manage), I knew for a fact that my grandmother was happy to see me. After I had been born she moved in with my mom and dad to take care of my sister and I. When I was younger, I had always felt like the best thing that happened to her, probably because she told me she was the luckiest person in the world several times a day, like clockwork. It was as if I had saved her from her loneliness in that orange house, like I had been some sort of gift from God. But the more I heard about her life the less worthy I felt of her time. She retired from her prestigious engineering board, and left all her friends behind to come and take care of me. Worst of all, she left her sick dad with her brother to come to America. And the “January miracle” I spoke about before had come with a price. Her dad had died just days before I was born, and she wasn’t there to see him go. My situation is comparable to if you gave a New York City rat a one million dollar townhouse — just truly, unbelievably unworthy. Some people ask me why I love my grandmother so much. Why for the first 14 years of my life, and still oftentimes today I walked to school with her, when I could get a ride from my mom. And why I always heard her through, always took her advice, and always, always, always considered her my best friend. Well— obviously they didn’t know about my million dollar townhouse— and everything else that came with it.

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