Dyssomnias (excerpt)

Excerpt from the novel “Dyssomnias” by Igor Stanojoski.

PART ONE

Everyone shouts their own truth. What a nightmare of nuances that is.

Svetlana Alexievich,The Unwomanly Face of War

It is July 25, 2014 1 o’clock and 15 minutes after midnight. Exactly half a year has passed since the moment I received the first message from Karolina Janevska on January 25 at 1 o’clock and 15 minutes. That is why, precisely at this moment, I symbolically begin to write down my still fresh memories from the past six months.

The quivering of the bed and the rustling of the bedding with their boring and endless repetition were not letting me leave the coastlines of my dreams. With the corner of my right eye or with one corner of my half dream I registered a light that I then assumed was coming from the full moon. The light was reflecting off Nastja’s bare legs, alternatively passing from one leg of hers to the other, first on the back side of the calf of her lower leg, and then on the lower leg bone. Nastja’s legs were like a moon to me: it seemed as though in their slightly distorted image they imitated a full moon, then destruction, then novelty. The phases of the moon were changing with every swing, which in the most acute part occurred every 5-6 seconds. The swing, in some sort of a dreamy manner, also imitated swaying on the waves of dream. In some parts of the half dream, it seemed to me as though two ropes were tied somewhere around the ankles of Nastja’s legs. Both ropes, as in some kind of a fairy tale, went out the window and the moon was tied to the end of one of the ropes, and one of the car tires burning down on the square was tied to the end of the other rope. With each swing of Nastja’s left leg, the moon swayed like when a child would pull their helium balloon, and with each swing of her right leg, the car tire swayed as if it were a child swing. The half dream was probably more blissfuly embracing me in the calming interpretation of things as the real situation was not at all idyllically childish. In fact, the half dream whispered to me the idea about the tire being tied to Nastja’s leg only because the despicable odour from the burning tires on the square felt as though it was climbing a rope to our hotel apartment, insidiously sneaking through the invisible cracks of the window and of my half dream. On the other hand, the idea of the moon tied to Nastja’s other leg probably came from the desire for times to come when we would be content enough to peacefully look towards the sky, which will be spring-alike, blue and clear, without the smoke from guns and burnt tires.

A few moments later, the sound of a small explosion or a shot came from the square, and like a strong wave pushed me further from the coastlines of my dreams. I sat up on the pillow and looked towards the window. The falling asleep battle was lost.

– Why don’t you take some tranquilizers? – I told Nastja.

– Ohh… – she just sighed with difficulty.

The advice in the form of a question was pointless, but I said it anyways probably because I was subconsciously encouraged by the fear of her blaming me for not sympathizing with her. We fought during the day anywise about something that perhaps seemed foolish to us at the time, however later became an important determinant of our lives.

I got out of bed and went to the living room, leaving Nastja alone to defy  the insomnia. I believed that her chances would get higher without me. I thought to myself that if I took a break from lying in bed, then the next time I went to bed my chances of falling asleep would be higher than the ones I would have had if I stayed in bed. As it is the case with every battle in life, when the battle for falling asleep is also lost, one should get up and consolidate the forces before the new battle.

I got up teetering, guided only by the mild rays of sunlight breaking through the crooked interior blinds and trembling eerily on the ceiling. They were coming from somewhere down and I decided for myself that I could only go to where the rays did not reach as the range of every possible stray bullet from the weapons on the square would coincide with the direction of the beam of sunlight.

With a sleepy gait I opened and turned on the laptop, and then opened the refrigerator and got a can of beer, remembering that B-vitamins from the beer are good soporifics. I took one sip and placed the can next to the laptop. I did not sit right away, but while standing up, enjoyed the sole pleasure that cannot be compared to anything else as it is inherent exclusively in cold beer.

I browsed through the new Facebook posts in a slapdash manner and literally every single one of them, whether directly or indirectly, was related to what was happening on the square nine floors below us. Not a single cat, not a single reality show star…

I took two pieces of bread and put them in the toaster, although I was not sure whether they would prove to be compatible with the beer at such a late hour. Then, I returned to the laptop. Someone had published a song from the new album of Okean Elzy, Koly navkolo ni dushiit was also in the context of the disturbing emotions that the revolution made us feel[1]. I loved this song. The laptop was not connected to the speakers and the sound could not reach Nastja in the bedroom.. When there is no living soul around, when my soul cannot sleep

The sound announcing a new message in an intrusive manner overlapped with one note from the song. Dissatisfied, I moved the cursor to the top right corner and on the red sign showing number 1. And let the whole world wait, not even their barbed wire will be able to separate you from me the song of my favorite band kept playing.

Both the content of the message and the language itself in which it was written affected me with equal power. The letters from the Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet seemed different to me from the Ukrainian ones, more estranged, they were mixing up and spinning around as if I had gotten drunk from the three sips of beer I drank. I narrowed my eyes and pressed the letters against the monitor as if it was a wall. That is when I managed to read the message and it gave me a feeling of bitterness along the entire length of the esophagus, which ended with a spasm in my stomach. The blood began to rise towards the direction of my head as gradually as I became aware of the overall weight of the message. At the exact moment when this weight pushed me to the ground, the bread slices popped up out of the toaster, and I banged shut the laptop. Both bangs came one after the other, making a sound similar to the one a car crash makes on the movies.

I went back to the kitchen to butter the pieces of bread while they were still hot, but I noticed that my hands were shaking, while the entire floor started swaying as well. I left the pieces of bread, I lost my appetite anyway, and came back, went to the window and looked towards the square, fooling myself I was interested. I returned to the kichen again and started pacing around the free space, with the exception of the bedroom, but those 7-8 meters were not helping my claustrophobia. At that moment, I needed to run 7-8 kilometers, 7-8 thousand kilometers… with such a speed that would enable me to come out of my own skin.

It seemed to me as though I was hearing voices from a dark corner, different from the ones coming from the square. Voices from the past, from home, from my primordial self. When I went back to my laptop, as I re-read the message and as I came to terms with its content, my heartbeat slowly started deviating, but the biterness and the constriction in the stomach remained. The message said: Your grandfather died. Your grandmother is very sick as well, it seems like she will not be able to hold on for too long. Come if you want to see her.

The sender of the message was someone named Karolina Janevska, a name and surname that at that moment I could not dig out of the naphtalene in which I had accomodated all thee memories and traces of my Macedonian life a long time ago. There was nothing on her Facebook profile that would be of any help to me. The only photograph that had a part of a human body was a photograph of a woman’s feet on green grass. The profile could have been fake, but that did not affect the content of the message that, regardless of whomever it came from, was undisputably credible and painful. My cheeks started burning up under the pressure of that extraordinary sorrow for the loss of a close person. To that end, there was also my conscience, trying to finish me off. I thought to myself that if it wasn’t for her (my conscience), everything would have been a lot less painful.

When I managed to gather myself as much as I could, I noticed that a song that was in no way related to the song that I actually played was playing on YouTube. It was an opera area, which was performed in Chezch by Anna Netrebko. Apparently, YouTube automatically played several songs, which through the chain of connection gradually led to the opera aria. I watched the performance of Anna Netrebko for a few seconds, and afterwards turned off the laptop and went to the bedroom. Nastja was already asleep.  I would have surely woken her up to tell her about the message from Macedonia, only if we hadn’t had an argument a few hours earlier. I whispered the prayer Our Father in Macedonian, probably for the first time in ten years, and afterwards added a few prayer words of my own for the appeasement of my grandfather’s soul – also in Macedonian.

The next morning I woke up when Nastja was already ready to leave. I usually woke up before her and prepared her a warm buckwheat bowl, which was ideal for the mornings before work, because it didn’t need boiling, but I only poured hot water or milk over it, it was nutritious, healthy and sweet. It was our favorite breakfast, our gastronomic kiss.

– You overslept today. – she said approaching to kiss me on the cheek without any trace of yesterday’s argument. I really appreciated this trait of hers, her anger disappearing so quickly. – Your buckwheat bowl is waiting for you in the kitchen.

I didn’t say anything. She was wearing a dark grey suit with a knee-length skirt. She looked classy and appealing. A woman every man would desire, I thought to myself .

I forced myself to get out of bed when Nastja was already in the hallway. She was probably planning to put on her shoes, so with her shoes on she came inside to kiss me goodbye. My entire body was overwhelmed by that feeling one has after a bad night’s sleep and my head was heavy. I placed my hands around Nastja’s waist, where her coat was crinkled and gave her a warm hug. The Chanel caressed my nostrils. I kissed her on the left cheek, a bit closer to her ear, and immediately moved one feet away, feeling guilt over the lack of awakeness.

The feeling of guilt over the lack of awakeness, over the waking up at a late hour in the morning and even simply over the fact of waking up later than others, later than someone else – it was probably a feeling that had remained from my childhood. Most parents impose on their children a sense of responsibility when it comes to longer hours of sleep, even though a healthy and long sleep is one of the most important elements of a healthy life. It is paradoxal to be guilty of sleeping. Especially when you are a child…

– I will wait for you to call me when you’re done, okay? – I told Nastja.

– Yes-yes. It shouldn’t take long. We could meet at a restaurant and have lunch, huh? We will talk later and arrange it, you think about it. I love you baby. – she added pinching me while at the door. Once again I realized that there was not a drop left in Nastja’s attitude of the buckets of cold negative energy which we poured over each other over the last couple of weeks. I remember that it was exactly at the time when the trend with dumping a bucket full of ice and water over a person’s head was becoming popular, the so called bucket challenge.

I slowly approached the window, measuring in my mind the amount of time she needs to come down with the elevator from the ninth floor to the hotel lobby. I looked towards Maidan through the drops of sloshing rain, coming down the window. From the ninth floor of the Hotel Ukraine, you could see a crowd of people who looked as though they were in the palm of your hand, gathered under colorful umbrellas and tents. Then, I looked straight under me: the door of the black bentley opened and Nastja got in the car.

I was left by myself. In general, I loved these moments, when people everywhere in world were racing around trying to solve their problems, to fulfill their work obligations, and I could stay home with my own thoughts. This was most favorable for my work, but also for my whole conception of life comfort. I had created that comfort, partly through struggle, partly through talent, partly through the charm with which I won Nastja over, and if I speak in more general terms, I would say that I achieved all that thanks to the love with which I responded to the love with which my new Fatherland accepted me. I enjoyed the fact that I could be the one watching the raindrops from the inside of the window. I especially enjoyed this in the Hotel Ukraine. I always did, except this morning.

I went to the kitchen and started my morning routine, managing to stay calm and not to think about the message from last night, even though I felt it like a shadow dragging after me everywhere around the apartment. I was aware that after the earthquake that the message from Karolina Janevska caused, there will be aftershocks and my body was yet to feel the consequences. I ate the light, modest breakfast that Nastja left for me and added water for coffee. A few minutes later, the smell of coffee reached even the most hidden corners of the kitchen. I looked at the magnet on the refrigerator: When we wake up, the Russian has already been awake for an hour, it said on it. It was pointing to the differences in the time zones between Kiev and Moscow, alluding to the need for waking up early as the enemy is already awake.

I took the mug and placed it next to the laptop. I took a deep breath and whewed, I opened the laptop and turned it on. I tried to take a sip of the coffee, but it burned my tongue a bit and I spit out the undestined gulp. Until that moment, I honestly had at least once percent hope that I had seen the message from Karolina only in a dream, explaining to myself that I had a bad night’s sleep and that that’s when you dream the most horrible dreams. Now that hope was gently bursting like a soap bubble. It was still there on the screen: Your grandfather died. Your grandmother is very sick as well, it seems like she will not be able to hold on for too long. Come if you want to see her. I thought to myself that even if that hadn’t been the case, even if there had been no message, the memory of my grandfather and grandmother would have by itself sustained the terrible twinge of conscience.

It is July 26, 2014 exactly at midnight. I will continue with the story I started yesterday.

It was in the year 2003 that I lost my entire family. I was quite young. I was preparing for the entrance exams at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje. We were planning a family trip to our mountain village, but I was rushing off my feet like every future freshman. They didn’t want to go without me, but my mother’s words were the decisive ones when she said that if they left me alone, it would be easier for me to concentrate on the exams. On the day when they were supposed to return, the landline telephone interrupted my studying. It was the police. There was no need to go to the place of the accident, neither then, nor afterwards. They brought them to Skopje. It was no longer them, it was a mash of burned arms, intestines, heads. They no longer existed. The police officers were trying to explain to me how the car accident happened, the direction from which the tow truck came, how the crash in the middle lane happened and how my mother, my father, my three years younger brother and my eight years younger sister flew off into the seventy meters deep precipice. I was practically a child: I had the need to call my dad and ask him to come and talk to the pollice officer and I couldn’t understand how it was possible for that to be impossible. My father suddenly had become unavailable. My mother and my brother and my sister were also unavailable. The entire world had become unavailable.

I missed the June entrance exams. For a long time during the summer I could listen to the voices of my family in the empty house. I cried, I shouted, I bent over backwards. I answered when they called for me in my sleep and teared the bed sheets while fighting to grab the hand of my 10-year-old sister and prevent her from flying off into the precipice.

The thing that was most difficult for me to understand was that they were neither alive nor dead, but they simply did not exist. When you own an item, it can become obsolete, broken, so you end up having an old, defective, dysfunctional, dead item, but it will not dissapear. It is different with living things. A person can be old, with reduced functions, but later that person just suddenly disappears. In the sentence “He is dead”, the verb “is” is incorrect, because “He IS not”. He cannot be anyone and anything, he does not exist. I spent a lot of time thinking about this within the empty walls of our family house. I came to some sort of a concilatory conclusion that it was like this because every person represents a system of stories. The system of stories of each person comes into contact with the systems of stories of the persons close to him. When a person close to us dies, then his system of stories, which is connected to our system of stories, dies as well, like it is the case with Siamese twins. Part of the stories of one of the systems is intertwined with the stories of the other system. Then their system of stories is teared up from us, from the flesh and blood of our system of stories. And because of this tearing, our system of stories becomes dysfunctional and it is just a matter of when and whether it will regain its functions. This tearing of the systems of stories is a feeling that cannot be called neither pain nor regret, but it is rather a single, unique feeling that doesn’t compare to anything in this world and that is stronger than common pain and common regret. This is how the 18-year-old me was thinking. This theory of mine originated from the storytelling of my grandfather. When I was a child, when I would say to him “grandpa, please tell me one more story”, he would often reply “we ourselves are stories”. So, everyone tells their own story. Every person represents a different story. After the death of my family, I agreed with him. This comparison afterwards seemed oversimplified to me: I thought that the story with which one human life can be identified is not simple and single, but a whole system of interconnected stories. And that system of stories is also connected with the systems of stories that would be identified with the lives of the people close to the person. My thinking went even further: how could it be possible to avoid the tearing up of the systems of stories in the case of death of close ones? It could be avoided with the inexistence of stories: that is, when people would live without representing a system of stories. What is essentially needed for a story to exist? Language, probably… Language gives the stories material. That is why the language would be the foundation and the primeval reason of the interpersonal love. Language is the first culprit for the pain caused by the loss of persons close to us. We remember them by what they said. The things they said are the text of their system of stories. That text merged through the dialogues with the text of our systems of stories. I thought that someone could dispute the fact that the presence of persons close to us is also meaningful when they sit silently beside us. However, this is only because of their previous words with which they have won as over, as well as the conversations we expect to have with them in the future. Our consciousness is never free from the memory and the expectation of their words. These were the conclusions of the 18-year-old me. I have ever since been fascinated by languages and stories.

At the end of the summer, when it was already certain that I was going to miss the August examination period as well, and when I was so exhausted that I strongly suspected that my system of stories would be able to heal after the tearing up of the four systems of stories closest to it, by a complete accident I saw an announcement in a newspaper about scholarships for studying in Ukraine. The announcement said that the Ukranian government, as a sign of “excellent bilateral cooperation” between Macedonia and Ukraine, decided to award 10 scholarships for studying in Ukraine. “The scholarships are equivalent to the scholarships recived by Ukranian students at the relevant university. The recipient university likewise provides free accomodation in a student dormitory during all years of study.” I was admitted to the embassy of Ukraine by the then cultural attaché. He recommended me the city of Lviv as the most European and most Ukranian one of them all. “It is the capital of pure Ukranian culture. More people speak Russian in Kiev, there is a strong Moscow influence there and you won’t be abble to get to know the real Ukranian culture if you go to Kiev.” – he advised me. I listened to his advice.

I arrived in Lviv on September 3, 2003. Ukraine gifted me a second life. I left nothing in Macedonia that I would like to remember. Some of my friends sent me a few text messages. My classmates asked me for my e-mail address, but I didn’t have one at the time. I wanted to tear down those last threads that tied me to my Macedonian life. Soon afterwards I completely succeeded in doing so by replacing the SIM card on my mobile phone. I didn’t have very close relatives in Macedonia. Fortunately, my father and my mother were the only children in their families. Only my grandfather and my grandmother on my mother’s side were alive. It was my biggest wish to cut off all contacts with them because, among other things, the car accident in that fatal June happened “because of them”. They live in the vilalge – my family went there to see them.

Actually, I wanted to bury all of the systems of stories that were connected to the systems of stories of the members of my family, and I was aware that in order to do that, I had to bury their suprasystem called Macedonian society. This could only be achieved by cutting the blood supply from that suprasystem, or the word supply, to be more exact, because, as I concluded later, only through the word can the suprasystem of stories called Macedonian society exist. In other words, I declared my own war to the Macedonian language because I thought that the Macedonian language was the one that reflected the phenomenon of the Macedonian society in the most precise manner. I was thinking about what else, other than the language, made the Macedonian society the way it was in the years before I left Macedonia. What was the force that was guiding the people I met on the streets of Skopje, which was the guiding thought that woke them up in the morning and pulled the invisible thread tied to their heads?

After the death of my family, I was incapable of being part of cheerful gatherings with the few friends I had. That summer, I observed more than I talked. I was sad, and my sadness made it extremely difficult for me to utter every single word that I sometimes had to say in a store or on the street. I observed and analyzed. What is the meaning of the systems of stories of the people I observe and what is the  supra-meaning of the suprasystem of stories, called Macedonian society. The most practiced activitiy by many people in the Macedonian society in the year of 2003 was the so-called drinking coffee. The supra-meaning of drinking coffee was the conversation, and even coffee itself as a drink should be understood as a booster of conversations because of the effects tha caffeine has. People talked about money, jobs, expensive cars. Nonetheless, I knew a lot of people who found all of this very important solely because of what other people would say.  And what if people did not have the ability to speak, what if they they did not have the language as a communication tool? Would they still desire expensive cars? – the naive 18-year-old wondered, set before the challenge to rethink the world. I came to the conclusion that everything revolves around speaking and that the supra-meaning of the suprasystem of stories is precisely speech, which is at the same time both the basis and the material of all systems of stories, and that exists as a result of the existence of language. Without languge, which simultaneously represents material, purpose and supra-meaning, neither the human life would be a system of stories, nor the human death would be so tragic.


[1] On November 21, 2013, mass protests began on the main square in Kiev, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which would later turn into a civil war. These protests were initially called Euromaidan, and later only Maidan, according to the place where they were initiated. The Maidan protests were sparked by the decision of the then President Yanukovych to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the EU.

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