I spent my childhood terrified of the word “death”. I can remember lying in bed feeling my heart swell in my chest every time the thought of death crossed my mind. I feared death because my parents were much older than the parents of my peers — the thought of losing them scared me.
I have never truly gotten over the death of my mother. In September 2013 a phone call from my sister woke me up in the middle of the night — she was sobbing. As soon as she told me our mother has died, I begged her to “wake her up” and “do something”.
There was nothing she could do, you see, death is infinite.
As days passed, I started thinking of the meaning of life and death. The more I thought the more unbearable it became, so I stopped, and started drinking heavily instead.
With a glass of vodka, I left the idea of my mother resting in peace
Just recently my friend, and my best friend’s fiancée, the love of her life — died. Again, I was informed of this in the middle of the night. His death came as a great shock to all of us, as he had no previous health issues, and he was only 28 years old.
The following morning, I still could not believe that he passed away, I didn’t want to believe it. I looked around searching for a bottle of vodka to pour myself a glass or four, to forget, but then I remembered — I gave up drinking.
I started scrolling down our messages, unable to grasp that he will never answer back again. I looked up his LinkedIn profile as if seeking assurance he is still among us. I wasn’t ready to accept the truth — he is gone.
It wasn’t fair — they were supposed to have a long, joyful future together.
They were supposed to get married. I was supposed to be the maid of honour. He was supposed to become a father.
He was supposed to grow old. Their children were supposed to be friends with my children. We were supposed to go back to our childhood seaside town, where we all met in the first place and where our childhood memories lie.
All of this was supposed to happen.
See, I’ve known my friend and his fiancée since I was 6 years old. We had an amazing childhood together; we were the lucky kids who had the opportunity to spend all summer holidays by the seaside in a small rural town in Montenegro. It was our “town” that shaped us the way we are today.
As children, all three of us were very energetic, mischievous, active, and excitable. Together though we were often up to no good. We used to get in trouble of all sorts: on two occasions our families had to call a search party as we wandered off into the mountains seeking “treasures”: we scavenged old, abandoned houses and found many “black and white” photos which sparked our imagination — we created stories of all sorts.
We were the Indiana Joneses of Montenegro and the rural village was our Ark.
Instead of going with our mothers to the beach, we stayed in the village to have fun and cause trouble. One summer we decided to put up a poster of the singer Beyonce and announce her as a missing person, back then, no one knew of her. We also added that an old Lada car is being sold and we provided the phone number of my mum.
As my mum’s phone rang relentlessly she soon realized that it was our doing. The same day people gathered in the village discussing the poor missing girl. It was impossible not to laugh when a neighbour exclaimed that he has just seen Beyonce and he believed she must have gotten up to the natural water streams, and perhaps got lost — he was certain she was a tourist.
Upon our discovery, we were grounded for a whole month of July, which meant we were unable to go out to the town in the evening to attend concerts. We didn’t care, as we had much more interesting things to do in the village.
One year we decided to “shoot a movie”. I was the screenwriter and my friends were supposed to play two strangers who fall in love over a summer holiday. I had a double agenda: first and foremost to improve my screenwriting skills, and second to hook them up.
The only issue is that we had no camera, but it didn’t stop us from making the best summer rom-com of 2010. I used my imaginary camera instead. We had to do multiple reshoots as somehow the two of them could not stop laughing whenever I told them to look at the camera aka my hands.
I wish we had it all on tape.
I had my first alcoholic drink with them: our budget for the night outs rarely exceeded 7 dollars, so we had to choose wisely how we will spend the money we had.
See, one alcoholic drink was about 2–3 dollars per person. The cafes and clubs were 5 miles away from our village which was situated high up in the mountains and if we wanted to go to the beach or to the city, we had to make sacrifices — sweat a lot. Back then, we were some of the strongest kids I knew. It took us approx. 40 minutes on foot to “climb and crawl” back home, so either we could take a cab that cost 4–5 USD and limit our drinking or we drink more but walk and regret later.
We were facing some very tough decisions back then.
And as if this wasn’t enough already we also had a curfew — we had to be back by 1 AM.
On one occasion we came back way past our curfew, we knocked on my mum’s door and she told us to sleep on the balcony as a punishment and so we did. It was one of the best nights in our lives, we chatted the night away, shared dreams and wishes, bonded even more so, and as we watched the sunrise we made a promise to keep coming back together to Montenegro.
In August 2011 my friends’ parents decided to sell their houses, as did many people in the village. It was a good time to sell the property to foreigners, mostly Russians.
In 2014 the two of them finally officially hooked up, and the following year they moved in together. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering and started a successful company. She graduated from med school. They were a power couple.
I was still drinking and partying in Montenegro during summer, awaiting them. However, they had other plans, they were building their home and in 2016 they purchased a flat together. Once in a while, I used to get a text message from him asking:
“Can you smell the watermelons?”
The only thing that we used to miss during the months of June and July was the watermelons. See, they were too heavy to be carried all the way to our village and as our mums didn’t drive the car and rarely spent money on taxis, we had to await the return of our fathers.
Our dads returned in August to spend the remaining summer holidays with us. That was the time we were able to drive down to the beach, pick up as many groceries as our parents could afford, and indulge ourselves in juicy watermelons.
August also symbolized the end of the summer and it was time to go back home. My friends lived in Serbia while I lived in the Czech Republic, so we kept in touch via letters or calls. Our friendship and love for each other were stronger than any distance between us.
Our happy memories and our childhood together bound us.
Foreigners live now in their homes in Montenegro, and my friends started vacationing elsewhere: Greece, Croatia, Zanzibar, you name it they went everywhere together. I was always invited, but somehow, I choose to spend my free time elsewhere with someone else.
I felt as if we can always return back to Montenegro together — my childhood friends, my house, the village, and Montenegro will always be there awaiting me.
In 2018 we agreed that this time we will reunite once again in Montenegro. At the last minute, however, I changed my mind and travelled to Cyprus instead, the following year I went to Italy.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and my friends got engaged. The wedding was in plans, and this time I had the duty, as the maid of honor to keep my promise. They were supposed to stay in my old house for a short period of time, and afterward, they would embark on a honeymoon cruise to the islands of Montenegro and Croatia.
However, the plan didn’t work out — he died before the summer.
I use this word a lot: they were supposed to. Grieving makes me say these words over and over again. I realized that people tend to plan their lives in a certain way.
We plan it all out, and then death happens.
Death never comes empty-handed; it gives us lessons. It ultimately shows us how to live better and with purpose. It reminds us of what it was like to live in the first place.
I don’t remember my childhood without him. Having spent so much of our young lives together, his death left me feeling overwhelmed with heartbreak. Months passed and seasons changed while I grieved. I laid awake at night revisiting our old memories, revisiting Montenegro and asking myself “what if I just went to Montenegro with them, instead of going elsewhere” a million times over.
As I opened my childhood albums, I could see that the important moments in my early life were all accompanied by him and her — together. The photo albums were overflown with pictures that captured many precious moments in time: our Indiana Jones expeditions, our beach walks, playtime in our gardens, experiments with alcohol, and so on.
The memories he left, provided a chronicle of our short story that could never be put into words nor on camera — it documented the time that we felt invincible; when days were never long enough; when every sunrise brought new exciting challenges for us to tackle as the team; when the rainy days made us sit around the TV and watch our favorite shows; when the smell of watermelon brought back our dads, the wind whispered through the pines and the summer rain drops lullabied us into sleep after a day of playing outside, the excitement of coming late home and not knowing what our punishment will be, the thrill of pranking our naive neighbours and the ambitions of making the best drama-romance movie in the stunning seaside scenery.
Misfortunes never come alone, as they say.
The night my friend died his fiancée’s aspirations died with him. She sold their apartment, left her medical career, and moved to Germany.
The night my friend died his mother’s faith died along with him. She stopped going to church.
The night my friend died his father relapsed. It took him 22 years of determination to stop drinking alcohol — one phone call stripped him of his willpower forever. He lost his only child.
The night my friend died, my childhood died with him. I didn’t go to the funeral as I selfishly wished to cling to our memories of when he was still alive. I decided to spare myself of the last memory of him being a black coffin put down into Mother Earth.
I thought we had plenty of time, but we don’t.
His fiancée kept her promise: she went back to our little rural village in Montenegro. She stayed in my house, she walked the same roads we walked as children, she bathed in the same sea as we bathed, and she watched the sunrise on the balcony.
On August 2nd at 5 AM she texted me:
“I can smell the watermelons again,” she said.
At that moment I knew she will be okay, and so will I.
What is lost can be always found, as long as you keep searching.
Because as long as there is love, there is life.
Thank you for reading.
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Mila’s articles cover clinical and experience-based standpoints on topics: Parental Alienation, Narcissism, Malicious Parent Syndrome, Stepparenting and Shared Parenting in TAR situations where children are involved. She provides practical, vulnerable, and real-life examples to help men recover and overcome their fears. She will help you heal: one article at a a time. She is also a Co-Founder of nonprofit organization TAR NETWORK that focuses on victims of PA: children, adults, and families. Please check the organizations which are still underdevelopment here:
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