It’s been nearly a decade since I left Poland and started building my life here, in the United States of America. I lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., after which I moved to New York City where I spent almost five years. For the last forty-three months Los Angeles has been my home. I speak English on daily basis. I think English. I dream a combination of languages. My mother tongue, however, is Polish. You can hear it in every word that comes out of my mouth, even though you understand what I’m saying. I say ONION, you hear OHNIOHN. I say ALMOND, and you hear AHLMOHND. Sometimes you can read it between the lines on these pages just as easily.
I am Polish to the core despite the fact I chose a different place on the Earth to settle down, and soon to start a family. Today I am heartbroken.
I woke up to the news of an immense tragedy that touched my home country hours earlier. The plane that carried the Polish president, Mr. Lech Kaczynski, his admirable wife, his advisors along with other Polish notables, crashed as it came in to land in Russia. No one onboard survived the tragedy. 97 people were killed in almost an instant.
At first, I couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing from my mom and what I was reading in the news. How is that possible???
Messages and phone calls poured in from my friends. Thank you all.
I tried to go about my day; there was laundry to be done, groceries to be purchased, the house to be cleaned. Jason left to do some rock climbing with a friend, a thrill he doesn’t get a chance to experience too often despite his Indiana Jones’ sentiments.
I kept my hands busy, but their sense of touch was asleep. Instead, all the feeling was stuffed inside my chest. That cage underneath my breast was the heaviest part of my body, but I did carry it around when stocking up our pantry, shifting wet clothes from a washing machine into a dryer, and when strolling down the sidewalk with Cosmo during our midday walk.
The images of the President and nearly one hundred people that surrounded him on the plane just minutes before it smashed on the ground kept intruding. I looked for comfort in my kitchen, the place where, while alone, I’m the happiest. I had a large turkey breast to roast that I could later slice and use for Jason’s lunch sandwiches. We finally had said NO to the processed, pre-sliced turkey breast one gets from a store, even the one dressed with a low-sodium label. Two red bell peppers jumped with joy knowing they would keep the turkey company in the oven. What a better sandwich combination than a freshly roasted slice of meat with roasted bell peppers enveloped by two crunchy toasts?
Then I found a bunch of leftover arugula, half wilted and sad. Or maybe it was just mirroring my own melancholy. I didn’t want to throw it away into the dumpster. Today’s headlines of all major news broadcasters flashed before my eyes. I hit up a cup of fruity extra virgin olive oil in a small pot. I thought of the families of the killed in the plane crash. I crashed and peeled two garlic cloves. What if it was somebody close to me on that plane? The President’s daughter has just lost both of her parents. The food processor was set on the counter and ready to work. I was oblivious to the greens that went inside. Garlic. Pinch of salt. Put the lid on. Click. Press the button. ON. There were no survivors. The feeling in my chest doubled in size like bread dough. It tripled. Warm oil slowly poured into the feeding tube. Warm, salty drops of my overwhelming sadness dripped into the arugula oil.
Tears well in my eyes as I type these words. Every few minutes I walk to the bathroom to wipe my face and to blow my nose so I can breathe between paragraphs. I would have never thought the death of the Polish president, the president who had not gotten my vote, would have caused such deep grief in me.
He wasn’t alone. Polish military leaders, bishops, deputies, the president of the National Bank, they are all gone. They are… were my fellow Poles. Just like them, I took my first steps on the Polish ground, I mastered my language, I gained education. They were kids once, too. Just like them—I’m sure—I fell off the places I wasn’t supposed to climb and thus collected bruises and bumps on my knees and my head. I read the same books they did. I loved the same great Polish actors they admired. I grew up eating the same pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms they enjoyed most of their lives. And I shared their pride of Fryderyk Chopin, Maria Sklodowska-Curie, Mikolaj Kopernik, Wislawa Szymborska, Czeslaw Milosz and Henryk Sienkiewicz, et al.
I look around and everything seems the same as yesterday. Cosmo lounges by my side, as lazy and happy as can be. Our house is just as cozy and homey as ever. The aroma of roasted meat and vegetables wonders around the apartment and lurks into its every corner. The sun still shines through the windows covered with ubiquitous dust of this polluted city. The squirrels keep chasing each other on the brunches of trees outside our bedroom fighting over whatever nut or other delicacy they find. Our buddy hummingbird stops by and peeks into the kitchen, then BZZZZT and he’s gone. Everything seems unchanged. And yet I know it has.
Today I’m mourning. My tears, my heart, my prayers go out to my Polish Nation and the families of the deceased.