Childhood and Civil War
I reached over and filled her glass with wine.
"I had the best dog," Sophia said. "He was afraid of everything, and it was terrible when the war started."
"The 2008 war?" I asked.
"No, this was the 90s. I'm from Abkhazia, the part of Georgia that's now occupied."
"I've heard it's beautiful there."
"Yes," she said, looking off wistfully, "it was."
"But you left when the war started?"
"No, we stayed until we were forced to leave. I was only six, so I remember it differently. When you're a kid, it's hard to understand, and you see it as normal."
She took a sip off of her wine and chuckled to herself, remembering something.
"There was this store of weapons near where I lived, and I used to go there with my brother. I don't know why, but I loved taking things from there."
"What did you take?"
"Those things, like bullets, but for tanks. I liked those for some reason. So, I took some."
"No one noticed?" I asked.
"No, we were just two kids, and there was a door in the back, well, not exactly a door. It was so small that only I could fit. My brother was ten and already too big to crawl in the entrance."
"We had very different childhoods, but my sister is also four years younger," I said.
Her story reminded me of how my sister and I had played in the river with our childhood friends. We wanted to make a tiny village there on the river bank. There was a strange beauty in the juxtaposition of how we grew up. While I had been building log rafts with my sister, Sophia was stealing weaponry during a civil war. However, our stories shared a common thread of adventure. The childlike disregard for danger and overwhelming love for the fantastic is more robust than any tree I can imagine. Even in the most infertile land, childhood sinks its roots of imagination into the ground, seeking and twisting, looking for mischief and creativity, where adults long forgot where to look. It's these very roots that lay the foundation for the soul.
"What did you do with everything you took?” I asked.
"Eventually, my mom found everything in our room, but she blamed my brother, and he got punished."
"And you never said anything?"
"No, not at first, but one day later, I came home with a stack of boxes with that sand that explodes."
"Gunpowder, for the bullets?"
"Yes, I liked it because it would crackle when you threw matches at it. So anyway, I came running back home shouting to my brother, 'Look at how much I found!' But my mother was in the yard and saw me first. She wasn't happy about it."
I snorted into my wine glass as I imagined a petite six-year-old running with boxes of gunpowder while grinning ear to ear, as Sophia was now.
“She was like, ‘So it’s been you the whole time?’ ” she said, doing what I figured was an impression of her mother.
"I love that you found a way to have fun even when everything was awful."
"As I said, you can't understand these things when you are a kid. It was actually after the war that my memories become worse."
Sophia paused and studied my face. “I really don't want to bring the mood down. How did we start talking about this again?"
"We were talking about our pets." I reminded her.
Sophia took a deeper drink from her wine.
"Right, we weren't rich, but we had everything there. We had a lovely house and a yard with fruit trees: oranges and pomegranates. We had to leave everything, even my dog. Everything that's happening in Afghanistan right now reminds me of that day. We got on ships and fled. The ships were full, and people were trying to climb on as we were leaving. We landed in Poti, if you know where that is."
"The government gave us a room, but it was just one room for all four of us, and it was really small."
"That had to be a horrible change after the way you grew up."
"Yes, and my parents had to find work. So, they moved to Russia to get jobs."
"Jesus, to have to do that in the very country that is now the occupant of your region."
"People do what they have to. Anyone would have done the same."
"Just as well, it sounds like you have exceptional parents."
"Yes, I was lucky for that, but it didn't last. My mother died of cancer very young, and that left just the three of us, which was devastating. Times were hard for everyone then, but especially if you were a single parent. I still remember overhearing someone telling my father that no one would blame him if he had to abandon one of us.”
"That's so unbelievably heartless."
It doesn't matter. they were different times and my father would never have done that. He did everything he could and worked to give us a home. We grew up fast. My brother and I had jobs to help as soon as we were old enough. I was the one who went to the bank to get a loan, so my brother could go to the university.
"Your father couldn't?" I asked.
"I think both he and my brother were too afraid to take any more risk, but I've never been afraid."
"You don't seem to allow anything to get you down. You could easily have let all of that crush you, and no one would blame you, but you just keep right on going," I said, reaching my glass out to hers.
"Thank you,” She said as we touched glasses. "I don't know, but I've always lived by this: If you do things with good intentions in your heart, the universe always helps you out."