Chapter Twenty-three: the final chapter of My Life Without Me by Jasmina Tesanovic

23. Flying

How on earth did I get a flying phobia?

Ever since I was a kid, I was flying, being flown… I could fly with my eyes wide open. When I told her about this, my mother wanted to take me to a specialist.

- Mom, you know, I can fly.

- What do you mean? she asked looking at me sideways.

As a doctor, she always suspected a brain tumor, whenever things became weird or hairy.

- Well, I just rise above the ground and I fly wherever I want.

- OK, she said slowly, looking intensively into my eyeballs. I guess that is where a brain tumor shows first: eyes bulging from their sockets, like in the cartoons.

- No, you don’t understand, before I had to use a flying carpet, but not any more. Now I just fly using my own body. I don’t even flap my hands.

- Mina dear, people don’t fly, come here to your Mom, let me see your eyelids…

I do come humbly. I love my Mom. Even if she plucked my eyes from my head, I would still love her, blindly.

- OK, now look up, fine, now down, then to your right , left, please…

- Yes yes Mom, exactly! When I do that with my eyes, I start to levitate.

- Aha! are you levitating now? She is making me lift my arms from the sides of my body.

- Yes, I am.

- Do you feel vertigo, my child?

- No Mom, I am doing fine. I am crossing the room and I will fly out of the window.

- Mina, stop that nonsense! The Mom beats the doctor in her.

She pulls me strongly to her side.

- I will slap you if you don’t!

- Ok Mom, I don’t want to upset other people just because I can fly and they can’t. Especially not you.

I don’t want my Mom to slap me, she would feel very embarrassed afterwards as a doctor.

- Tomorrow, we will go and scan your brain. I hope the lesion is not severe.

I spent a restless night. I hated to go and scan my brain, they might do something to make me stop flying. So I decided, to tell a deliberate lie. The truth hadn’t worked on my Mom, so I had to lie. It was traumatic moment to cross that borderline. Also because I feared she would find me out.

My efforts to skip kindergarten by feigning sickness had never fooled her. She kept me home but I knew she didn’t believe that I was sick. She knew I lied because I hated that teacher. The one that didn’t let me play with my doll in class. The one who scolded me for refusing to eat my kindergarten lunchmeat.

A doll! Poor children are starving in this world, and she wants a doll! Those children are hungry and she won’t eat her lunchmeat!

But this time was different. I lied, because I had to make her believe. And this time, she did.

- Mom, I lied when I said I could fly, I lied to her the next morning.

- Shame on you Mina, she said, visibly relieved. I almost believed you.

I felt sad at my success, but somewhat happy. To add to my power of flying, I had the power of deceiving my parents. Wow, I was supernatural.

For many years I exercised that power when alone, in the sun, in the darkness, for fun or for magic, And never, in all those years, was I ever afraid to fly. Flight was part of me, and my life with me. It was my safe place, my secret. It was my way of being human.

Then many years later, I had a real bad flight.

I was grown up. I was drunk in the plane. I was happy to be travelling, and yet that severe turbulence changed my life in a couple of hours. People around me were screaming vomiting and praying aloud. Plates were bouncing. The plane was rattling as if torn by the angry winds… I was trembling where I sat, especially my knees… I wasn’t afraid of death. I was afraid of dying: the ordeal went on too long.

My head started spinning, I was slumping over dizzily, even in a seat secured by a tight belt… At that moment of swooning terror, I lost my ability to fly. I became human. I became afraid of being airborne, of not touching the ground, of being swirled, of being deprived of gravity. I became afraid of being free of death. I became mortal.

I survived the ordeal. Rough weather is part of air travel. The next year, at the same part of that route, at the same time of the year, a plane of the same airline company, crashed. All passengers were killed. Among them was a woman who could have been me: a Serbian flying to New York for a grant.

When I myself safely landed in New York after my rough flight, I forgot about my grant and how proud I was of getting it. I spent weeks on end unable to regain my balance. Sometimes I had to crawl to find my way across hotel rooms. I was visibly changing my behavior and my looks. I grew thinner and more pensive.

I remember, I sang a song one night that impressed my friends — writers from all over the world. I got a voice, instead of my wings.

My attitude changed again when I was bombed by aircraft. Seeing the NATO planes fly low over our heads in Belgrade, sitting on a terrace and hoping they won’t drop anything deadly on us mortals, I started trembling again. I identified so strongly with the bomber pilots that I felt I was flying myself. I had become the prey, the hunter and the gun.

It was even screened on the TV, live. I could not get away from that reality show, which, escaping the confines of my own head, had now become the world . The whole world was bombing a whole bunch of us sitting on our terraces, being bombed. I identified with the imperilled planes that might be crushed by defensive fire. I became posthuman.

Whenever I enter an airport, anywhere in the world, I feel at home. Whenever I make a home anywhere in the world I feel trapped, obsessed. I have an urge to leave it and go to an airport.

I never really had a home, a single place where I felt safe in the world. I used to think that everybody feels that way about a home. Then I realized that people fight wars for their homes. Now, I think that they imagine the safety of home, and have no idea of their own ferocity where homes are concerned. They would rather bitterly lament the loss of a home than to dare not to have one.

But I can dare it. I am daring it now, and not lamenting.

If you are ready to kill for your home, for your homeland, then you are preparing to be killed in your own home. That approach to life is not wise. Life should be more precious than a patch of sacred earth.

Both of my parents died at their home. One in the left room, other in the right one. My mother’s room was blue velvet. She was looking outside the window and remembering her garden and a lemon cake.

My father died in his satin green room, still plotting about money and small errands. They were happy to be at home. For me it was terrible. Death turned their home into a tomb. This moment of intimacy with a deathbed, a piece of furniture, and the person you will see in it for the last time, is something unbearable, painfully raw; beyond the sense of life as it is.

The airports, like the Pyramids, transcend this parochial sense of belonging. In the airport, we all belong to each other, and the rules of nobody’s land are enacted. Your ego is deflated from its pathological aspects by the anonymous open spaces and practical issues such as boarding passes, security, right destination.

Once I am beyond the reach of a concrete city in this airport culture, full of its totemic items such as perfumes, bags, and airport-ethnic fast food, I have a feeling that I can change my boarding pass for any destination. A couple of times, I even did that: changed my ticket for another place, and the pleasure of making the change was greater than the change itself. It was like websurfing on the surface of the earth. Why write a masterpiece, if you can imagine it? Why imagine it, if you can do it.

And I did it.

I had no body, I had no name, I had no country or anything that was mine. Nothing belonged to me, I belonged to nothing. I danced and sang my way through a life without me.

And I lived happily ever after.


1. My Mother page 1

2. My Parents 7

3. My Father 19

4. Dad’s Funeral 25

5. My Grandmother Zivana, my Grandmother Lile 38

6. My Daughter 46

7. Marriages and Divorces 58

9. My Aunt Rada, 65

10. Words and Languages 75

11. Nobody at Home 88

12. First and Last Love 100

13. Sex and Money 111

14 Birthdays and Funerals 125

15. La Dolce Vita and the Cold War 133

16. Love Stories and Marriages 143

17. Nobels and Writers 160

!8. Witnessing History 172

19. Cheap Life 182

20. Sanctions 192

21. Parties and Wars 205

22. Women Who Loot 211

23. Happiness 225

24. Flying 233


one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

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