I was waving furiously at her, trying to be seen, trying to make an impression on this imperturbable scene. Trees and summer. Birds and kids playing. The rumbling and thundering of the flying train. The sun which shone with the power and strength of life. And I saw her waving back at me. The small figure of my grandmother, she was smiling. Small, yet a giant. One piece of the puzzle, yet the most important.

This is a memory I quite distinctly remember. I had no idea why. It’s not a heartbreaking scene when one of the lovers dies and says “I will always love you.” Nor is it an epic battle of armies clashing, and gods throwing lightning and thunders to smash their foes. It’s just one of millions, billions of memories, which has found its place in my mind.

This is a recollection of the time when I was 16, the summer of 2006.  I suppose it will remain there for quite a long time, say till my last conscious days. How many times when I close my eyes I relive this instant (because it was just a moment). Sometimes I even feel the wind blowing my hair and smell the salt in the air. Sometimes I feel the dirt of the window next to which I was standing; I can hear the people talking. But when I open my eyes, it’s 2017. I am on the bus and a little girl with cornrows is looking at me curiously. Some teenagers are pushing each other, trying to get off the vehicle. Cars are honking and the animal called urban life claws at my wrist and takes me away.  Away from summer, away from freedom.

When I was a teenager, quite normally, I was a confused person. To me, my life was the single most dreadful and terrible thing on Earth. A fate which only I had to endure. I often felt miserable and depressed; felt like a prisoner in an invisible confinement. My mind used to play tricks on me and be my arch enemy. But the end of the school year meant the beginning of the summer vacation. My only consolation. Then, I could escape for a little while to the only place where the tentacles of my complicated life turned into the simplicity of living– my grandmother’s home at the seaside.

It was nothing special, just a one-story house with old furniture and a bathroom that wasn’t even inside. How many times have I wondered what attracted me to this place? What was its allure? How come spending nights at 5-star hotels with impeccable service faded away like dew on a summer morning? How come I still longed for this village and this small, old house? It simply radiated warmth. Despite its being gray, it shone with the brightest colors a man can imagine. Perhaps, I have an answer after so many years.

It was because of my grandmother.

She was a very simple, uneducated and hard-working woman. She could barely read and wasn’t particularly good at giving public speeches. She knew nothing but work, honesty and life in its purest and most admirable form – the fight to go on, the fight to see another day despite all the misery from yesterday. Yes, she was a powerful pillar of life and health. As a teenager, I used to be quite insecure therefore arrogant, cocky and superficial. I remember talking to her in English trying to show how great I was; a second-to-none genius. Even though she couldn’t understand anything, she smiled. I didn’t know why but I was satisfied with my inability to face my fears and lack of confidence.

She made this place special because she loved me, my brother, my sister, my cousins. She gave us unconditional love and sympathy, without asking for anything in return. Love that is beyond the one between lovers– they need each other, rapaciously and greedily. She would always forgive, even when it wasn’t deserved. She would always forget even though there were unforgettable things. I felt safe and protected. This was the place where I first kissed freedom and met real friendship, things I cherish and use as an endless inspiration.

My heart always felt as light as a feather when my eyes caught a glimpse of the old house and the familiar faces of true friends – one cherry tree, several wise lindens, a playful plum tree and the small vineyard. It meant I could be free for a little while, I could be happy walking barefooted and exploring the vicinity. Oh, believe me,  the Bulgarian seaside offers unforgettable summer days and nights. The calm breeze blowing, crickets storming the night fields, the feeling of eternal tranquility. And upon leaving, the ugly crooked and distorted fingers of misery and desperation crawled out of their dens and reached out for my throat.

Because I was leaving summer, freedom. Home.

A home where I could find things I never knew. Place where I could meet friends and feel wanted. She gave me hope to dream. Because a world without dreaming is a man without lungs.

Reflecting on these memories, I understand that my gratitude goes far beyond words and deeds. Whatever I say or do, won’t suffice. Only after my grandmother passed away did I start thinking about this. I’ve been feeling it for years, I’ve known it for years, but just now I realize why this memory haunts me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say goodbye to her when she was dying, which I deeply regretted. Now I don’t. Perhaps it would have shattered my whole perception of the world if I had seen her weak and helpless. Now, this memory has a special place in my heart, and the farewell we had to say to each other – me standing on the dirty train and her silhouette in the distance – will last as long as I breathe.