I bolted. I was out the door, in the corridor, out the front door, and ran what was my fastest 5K ever. 365 days. Give or take. Hopefully the former, but couldn’t take that chance, could I? I had 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months, one single year to do the million things I always wanted to do. Whenever my friends would do something that felt like a waste of time or their potential, I would tell them, “When you’re 85 on your deathbed, what is it that you want to remember?“ I was being incredibly optimistic, it turns out. How about 35 instead…?

Suddenly, the important “grown-up things” meant very little. It’s funny how, while we’re okay, everything matters. Jobs, careers, mortgages, people’s view of ourselves, the neighbour’s noisy dog, how much fat the milk has, how old our phone is, and a million other things that suddenly become irrelevant as soon as we realise we’ve very little time left. Having just gotten back to my apartment, I realised, fuck mortgage, I have life insurance. There’s no debt collector in Heaven and if there is, I’ll have an eternity to pay it back. With that thought in mind, I quickly popped open the AerLingus app, and searched for the first flight to Budapest. 17:45 was the next available flight. Suddenly caring much less about the state of my bank account, I bought what seemed to have been one of the very last and most expensive tickets for that day. It didn’t even cross my mind to search for a flight to Bucharest instead. Efficiency over cost. I instinctively opted for the shortest path home. Three hours later, I was on a flight to Budapest. No luggage. Just a credit card, my phone, a passport I couldn’t even remember picking up, my chock-full of stickers, trusted MacBook Air under my arm, and a heavy, very heavy heart.


It’s funny how there’s this moment, this little knot in the seemingly infinite yarn of time where something forever changes and off that little knot a new timeline appears. Something happens in a split second. I happened in that split second. At 20:44 there was no I, and moments later, at 20:45, 21st of December 1985, I was. Completely and entirely independent of me, a decision was made nine months before that moment, that I should be. An undefined constant. At that point in time, the snowflakes dancing lightly onto the maternity ward’s windowsill were better defined than I was. They were complete, mature, well-formed ice-crystals falling from the heavens attempting to shed peace on the world and on my mother’s heart and mind. The snowflakes that night drew the longer end of the stick, while I drew the shorter. The snowflakes that night were a complete marvel of nature, while I was neither complete nor a marvel. I failed to be the miracle that every parent awaits anxiously. The face a mother wants to smile at for the first time, I did not have. What I had was a gaping hole in my face, and my mother, terrified tears in her eyes. I was crying because I was scared of the world I’d just been brought into, while she was crying because she was scared of me.

My name is Attila, and I was born with what medical science likes to call “Cheilognathopalatoschisis“. It translates to, “It sucks to be you“. Okay, not really, but you’ll get the joke later. What it really translates to is, “Cleft of the lip, upper jaw, and hard and soft palates.“ You know you’re really fucked when the Latin term they use for your fuckedupness is very long. For me, pretty much every extra syllable meant an even bigger crater in my face. The Romans really knew how to deliver a message, didn’t they?

There is no Santa

Chaos. The 25th of December 1989 was probably one of the bloodiest Christmases in Romanian history. The president and his wife were executed by an ad hoc tribunal. Capital punishment was abolished only in 1990. The scenes on the street were downright bizarre. Between bodies being carried away, tanks driving through the main roads, and soldiers fighting off alleged “terrorists”, some were fashioning Christmas trees and giving random gifts to other folks on the street. It’s not every day you see fear, blood, hope, rage, and kindness all in one image. I’m pretty sure few painters would have found the colours and the appropriate artistic style to express something as mind-boggling and bizarre as that.

She liked me back

She wasn’t particularly great looking and wore baggy clothes. I, on the other hand, was a budding teenage rocker just recently having discovered Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson. Definitely not a match made in Heaven, or hell for that matter, but somehow we got along. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in her, but I knew she was interested in a friend of mine. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I thought so little of our time spent in each other’s company that I even helped her connect with my friend. At the time, the only thing I found intriguing about her looks was that she was blonde. Now, in fairness, she wasn’t just any blonde. At the right angle, when the sun shined on her hair, it almost looked like emerald green. Anyone catching a glimpse of that would definitely stop and stare for a second. At the end of the summer camp, we exchanged contact details, and I genuinely thought that was the end of it and retreated back to my LEGO collection.

As I said, though, these things sneak up on you. She sent me a letter shortly after camp and told me about her dog, her dad who was travelling the world as a second officer on a ship, and how she was hoping that this friend of mine would turn out to be a nice guy she could go out with. I politely responded, then retreated again into my LEGO collection for a good few months, only to find myself disturbed again by another letter sent for my birthday. You gotta understand that, back then, sending a letter took actual effort. Most of today’s generation doesn’t know shit about putting together a message longer than a few words. Writing a letter involved forethought, buying envelopes and stamps, and mailing it, hoping desperately that it would reach its destination and the person on the other end would do their best to respond within a week’s time. Sending a letter for my birthday, to me, was an actual act of kindness, one I definitely did not expect. She wrote to me about how her dog died, how she missed him, her plans for Christmas, and her hope to see me again next summer. I found out that apparently my friend wasn’t keen on dating her, but she didn’t seem too bummed out about it. It must have not been love… but everything that followed that letter was.