Ivan Dimitrov's novel Life as a Missing Spoon was shortlisted in the 2012 Bulgarian Novel Contest of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester
I found out that I was a junkie the next morning. I woke up and headed for the kitchen, urged on by the desire for a hearty breakfast. I had crisscrossed the country hitchhiking, and that is tiring. Hitchhiking is what it is, and doesn't make for an interesting story. Take Kerouac's On the Road, which is considered his best book, or at least his most famous one. Most hitchhikers I know don't like it too much. One of the most charming things about it is precisely the chaotic hitching, but they've experienced that many times, so when it comes to Kerouac, they prefer The Dharma Bums or Desolation Angels. So not a word about hitching.
During summer travels, you don't eat regularly and it's not that you experience some distinct discomfort at any particular moment, but when you get back you feel like pouring the entire contents of the refrigerator straight into your stomach. When traveling, you make do with little, but the first days after you come back, you want to wallow in abundance.
I caught sight of my parents at the table, smoking cigarettes. They hadn't smoked in years. I wondered what was behind this change, while they, instead of smiling, set on me like a pack of dogs.
"Out with it. Out with it, you goddamned punk!" my father yelled.
They lashed out at me, yapping away. They screamed hysterically – how could I have fallen so low, rock bottom, you see, heroin is the absolute worst. They never for a second imagined I would show such inclinations. I'd set off down a bad path that would lead me to the dregs of society. Is that what I really wanted? Is that how they'd raised me? Hadn't they given me their unconditional love?
I was witnessing the most absurd lecture of my entire life to date, which was reminiscent of the prosecutor's opening statement from a mediocre legal thriller. I tried to say something, to defend myself, but it was already a lost cause. The scene resembled a trial à la Kafka – the accused was present via his absence, and there was never even a shadow of a doubt in his unspoken guilt. At a certain point it all got to be a bit too much for me and I started screaming with rage, but this only succeeded in making my parents up the decibels themselves.
"You've got to escape from drugs," my mother was trying to convince me.
"We'll help you," my father chimed in.
I tried to emphasise the fact that they did not have a single scrap of objective evidence of my transgressions, but they were deaf to the voice of reason. To them, it was the voice of withdrawal and, driven by their convictions, they continued trying to convince me to give up heroin.
"Enough of this ridiculousness! You're imagining things, people!"
"If it were only your mother and I, perhaps you'd be right to say we're imagining things, but it's not just us! Do I have to list every last name, Nikola, before you realize that your game is up?!"
Game? Jesus Christ!
"You understand me perfectly, don't play the unjustly accused with me!"
"You've lost it, people! I'm out of here!"
Extremely pissed off, I went back to my room, cranked up Underworld and opened up my favourite book of Zen parables. I'm not a particularly religious or spiritual person, but Zen parables are something else. They manage to show you that your problems are the result of nothing but your point of view and that the present moment is everything. My favourite parable is about a villager who is working in the field when he gets chased by a tiger. While trying to escape, he reaches a cliff, grabs on to a wild grapevine and hangs there. Beneath him, another tiger appears, ready to rip him to shreds. Two mice – a white one and a black one – begin gnawing on the vine. It's perfectly clear – the villager will soon fall and be torn apart. At that moment, he notices a wild strawberry next to him, picks it and – how sweet it is! A true triumph of the moment. Nothing but the present exists. The past and the future are an illusion, born of certain grammatical categories, nothing more.
I read for a bit and, as was to be expected given my late-night misadventures on the road, fell into a deep sleep.
Irked by my behaviour, my parents spent a while wondering what to do and after a long discussion decided to put me on probation. Which is to say that they left me alone for a short while.
For a few days my little world went back to its normal rhythm. I went out to parks, clubs and apartments with my friends, we strolled the streets of Sofia, which, like all streets in a capital city, are proof positive that surrealism is still alive and well and that it is highly probable that even before Andre Breton's manifesto, dozens of years before that, it was standing there on the street, waiting for someone to discover it. During those few days I made sure not to drink, so as not to reawaken my parents' suspicions, but still I managed to have an excellent time. Alcohol cannot be happiness in and of itself, it is either an addition to it or an attempt at escape.
My gang of friends consisted of 15 or so people and was one of those united urban crowds that hung out together everywhere and existed in a peculiar vacuum, removed from the rest of the world. I had met most of them two years before at the sea. At the sea, where miracles occur. I was so into this group mainly because it wasn't soulless like most such groups had seemed to me until then. This one had something that attracted me. Tosho's raw personal philosophy, which caused him to sink his teeth into life and drain it dry; the discussions about books with Kamen who, like me, had dedicated himself to philology and considered literature an inseparable part of his life; the energy with which Vihren threw himself into every task, small or large, until he had seen it through. And all the others: Boyana, Danny, Michaela, Grisha, Alex, Veso, Blago, Katya, Katie, Vanka, the Hippie… I felt so close to them.
Immediately after I got home from that trip to the sea, I started seeing them almost every day. And I could never get tired of that group of friends, who soon became mine as well.
With glass beer bottles in hand (me with Coca Cola), we knocked about our kingdom – the city. Back then, the only ones with jobs were Alex (stock boy at a store), Boyana (at a computer company), Katya (bartender at a pub in the center) and Vanka (soundman at a Sofia club). The rest of the group was either looking for work or waiting for the new semester to start. The first few days in Sofia were tolerable, even nice. Like every year, when you get back from somewhere and revel in the city's new packaging – until you get sick of it in about a month. Then the basic question of your urban existence arises within your consciousness: "How can I get the hell out of here for at least a weekend?" You come up with complicated schemes, you try to free up every free weekend – and immediately take off for Rila, Pirin, the Rhodope, the Balkans or wherever, just so long as it isn't Sofia. Any longer stretch of vacation days has a revitalizing effect, you don't like hurrying the return. The time off around Christmas and New Year are the climax, followed by a certain lull. In spring you explode, at the start of summer you spontaneously quit your job and head off to wherever your feet lead you. Regardless of whether this is a cave near Kamen Bryag, some empty beach, a small town, a village or simply wandering. Some people prefer extreme travelling, others not so much, but I'll always remember one trip to the Strandzha Mountains when we deliberately avoided all inhabited places. We didn't even buy bread, we made our own chapattis from white flour, and if we passed close by some village, we would wait and go at night. And so on for two weeks.
One evening, when my parents weren't home, the doorbell rang. It was Dobri – an unsavory character. I knew him from back in my high school days when I had hung out at punk and hardcore shows. Some people stick such individuals with the unambiguous label "freaks." We didn't hang out often; recently such events had seemed too noisy to me and I had quit going. That's how I am – constancy is not my defining characteristic.
Dobri and I had walked home together after shows countless times, we lived close to each other. He was a punk. If we were to translate that into the language of external appearance, we'd get the following result: a face loaded with piercings, on his arms we'd be hard-pressed to find a spot to jab in the rattling and sweetly humming needle of the tattoo machine, his combat boots had red laces. His jeans were skin-tight and the collar of his leather jacket prominently displayed dozens of pins: circle-A, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Toy Dolls, Bad Brains, SKA, a crossed-out swastika and so on. On his head a pink Mohawk proudly rose, which regularly attracted the glances of passersby, mainly thanks to the fact that it was nearly a foot high.
As a representative of the new generation, he stood firmly behind experiments with his external appearance. Yes, indeed, at one time they thought it was okay to express yourself beneath the surface, but those times have long since passed. Today you must be sincere even while getting dressed. I admit that sometimes this is difficult, yet still necessary. In times like these, external appearance is a lifeline.
Unfortunately, the neighbour upstairs did not share these opinions and as soon as she saw Dobri, she narrowed her eyes knowingly and said "Hm!" to herself, because she was one of those neighbours who was always the first to know everything, so she was in the loop about my drug problems. Shortly after Dobri coaxed me out of my place despite my initial reluctance and we headed for a loud and ultra-crazy party where I would forget my bad mood, my parents came back home and the ever-obliging neighbour told them how earlier her peace and quiet had been shattered by the appearance of a certain drug-addicted lowlife, sadly infamous in the neighbourhood, who had come to see none other than myself. And I had met him with open arms and quickly set off somewhere with him, most likely with a single, solitary goal. At this unexpected news, my parents ground their teeth and for a second time awaited my return, extremely upset by my flagrant behavior.
During that time, I was raging on the first floor of a big house somewhere in Lozenets. I didn't know anyone besides Dobri, but I didn't care, either. I wasn't the first time I had been to a punk party, where some window invariably fell victim to the pogo, beer was sloshed on the floor, the music was more than loud, and the neighbours had taken cover, cowering. After the third beer, concerns connected with my parents evaporated in the sweet haze of alcohol. So I ditched beer and turned towards a bottle of cognac.
The explosion was huge, yet unfortunately every party ends at some point and despite falling asleep on the floor or in some unclaimed bed, the time always comes to go home. For me, it arrived in the morning and stepping lightly, so as not to wake up the hangover that was now slumbering in my head for one memorable moment, I reached the grey building where I lived and painfully climbed the stairs to the third floor. When I'm hungover, our lack of an elevator pisses me off to no end. What's the point in living in an old building, since you have to drag yourself up the stairs every time? I was already imagining how long I would have to rummage around in my backpack to find the keys. But what's this?!...
Ivan Dimitrov (BG) is the author of Local Foreigners, a book of short stories, the novel Life as a Missing Spoon, and the book of poetry Poet on a Portrait. In 2012, the English translation of his play The Eyes of the Others by Angela Rodel was chosen with nine other plays from among 430 from all over the world to enter the official programme of HotInk at the Lark International Festival in New York. In September 2012, the play was produced there at the New Ohio Theater under the direction of Samuel Buggeln. His newest play, Time Disease, won the contest for Youth play organised by Youth Theatre Nikolay Binev and will have its world premiere in Belgrade in 2013.