by Noemi Szadeczky-Kardoss
For the first time in my life, I don’t know which way to go.
When I was little, it was easy. I just had to follow the arrows, and they lead me to you. You drew them on the sidewalks with white chalk so that I would find my way from the playground to your workplace. Do you remember? You used to let me play as long as I wanted, but you never stayed with me. The work couldn’t wait, you used to say. But before you left, you always made sure the arrows were still visible on the sidewalks. If the rain had washed them away, you drew them again.
I was about five years old then and alone in a big, gray city, but I was not afraid. I knew those arrows would tell me when to turn, and I wouldn’t get lost.
I have only a faint recollection of the place where you worked that time. But I know I liked being there. I still remember the wall-to-wall carpet, the warmth in your room, and the humming of computers.
After I started school, you changed workplaces, and I have more memories from those years. I was older and a frequent visitor in your office. Do you remember that day when, after we finished my math homework, you told me I could play on one of the computers while you got some more work done?
I sat down in front of the machine, and you gave the mouse in my hand. The tiny arrow on the screen followed my hand’s movements. I was fascinated! You showed me how to use the drawing program, and I got addicted in five minutes.
After that, I found it harder every afternoon to concentrate on my math homework. I couldn’t wait to get it done and run to “my” little computer. There was a whole new world for me to explore. I wanted to try everything, every pattern, every fill effect, but every time I opened up a new menu, I found even more options.
Most of the time, I drew houses. Do you remember them? I selected a pattern that looked like bricks, and I filled the walls. Then I used another that resembled tiles to fill the roof. For the curtains, I looked for one that was similar to fine lace. I could draw very pretty homes. I just wished I could’ve used the colors of that little apple that was painted on my computer.
Life Is Full of Tough Decisions
You always worked so much, even at home, that to us is seemed all you did was working. Sely and I used to watch you post enormous sheets of paper on the wall of your workroom, displaying boxes filled with incomprehensible text and connected with arrows.
“What is that?” we used to ask.
And you replied, “It is a block diagram.”
I know you like to call everything its proper name. But we were too young to know what the word meant. Sely even found it hard to pronounce it.
“A blog diagram?” he asked. “And what is that?”
And you said, “It helps me write programs. It helps me see every option in the program at the same time.”
Then we kept asking, and you told us more.
Okay, so there was a box asking a question. Then two arrows labeled ‘true’ and ‘false.’ Then another box giving an instruction. To us, this sounded like a fun game!
And Sely and I drew our first block diagrams.
He put this question in the first box: ‘Do you need to go to the bathroom?’ If you followed the arrow labeled ‘true,’ you got this instruction: ‘Go to the bathroom.’ The ‘false’ arrow led to a box containing the word ‘stop,’ as you told us that was the proper way to end a program. And Sely, being a good programmer, thought of every possibility, and continued with the following question: ‘Are you a boy?’ This time, the ‘true’ arrow led to this instruction: ‘Flip up the seat…’
Were you proud of him that he could draw a ‘blog diagram?’ And did I ever show you mine?
It was no less concerned with everyday problems. ‘Are you hungry?’ asked the first box. In case you were, you got this instruction: ‘Go to the kitchen.’ And my options were no less limited either. ‘Do you want a salami sandwich?’ was the next question. If you did, you were instructed this way: ‘Ask mom to make you a salami sandwich…’
Learn How to Escape
I remember that not much later, you got a computer from your company to use at home. Our apartment was never the same again. We had something extraordinary sitting in the corner of our living room. It didn’t let us finish our Sunday lunch properly and convinced us that the most important thing in our life was to help the Prince of Persia save the Sultan’s daughter from the dungeon.
I know, sometimes we didn’t let you work, because we played that game day and night. First, because we wanted to solve it. After we solved it, because we wanted to solve it in record time.
In the beginning, we often got lost. There were too many gates, gaps on the floor, openings on the ceiling, and we wanted to explore each of them, because we were curious to see what was hiding behind them. And many times we didn’t find our way back, our time was up, the prince died, and the princess had to marry the evil Jafar.
But our persistence led to success. One day, after months and months of sleepless nights and neglected schoolwork, we found the solution. Just seconds before our one hour was up, the prince found his way to the princess. Happy ending.
We had to come up with something to still enjoy that game, so we started a race against time. Who can solve it faster? In forty-five minutes? In half an hour? In twenty minutes? I think my record was eighteen minutes. By that time, I had played through the whole game so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed. My fingers found the four arrows on the keyboard instinctively. I didn’t have to look, and like clockwork, I knew exactly when I had to make the prince jump over a gap or climb up a floor. I would never get lost again.
Billions and Billions
Sometimes, you did have a little free time. And then we watched Cosmos.
Do you know that roasted peanuts still remind me of you?
Mom always used to tell us, “You shouldn’t eat so much peanuts. They’re too salty and very unhealthy!” But you opened the big container anyway. I think she didn’t understand that watching Cosmos without eating roasted peanuts simply wouldn’t have been the same.
“Noemi,” you said in your serious tone. “It’s true that the peanuts are very salty. If you eat a lot of salt, your body needs more water. But you can eat peanuts, just always make sure you drink enough water.” And you already had your blue mug filled with fresh water next to you when we sat down to the TV.
So we ate the peanuts and waited for Cosmos to begin. Sely came in the room, and asked what we were watching. We told him, and he sat down to watch it too. We started our journey among the stars and planets with Carl Sagan. We had endless questions. But you had the answer to all of them.
I’m so glad that you recorded every episode! Soon, Eva was old enough too to appreciate it, and we watched all the tapes. And then we watched them again and again. We loved every episode, but we had some favorites. The one about traveling with the speed of light, for example. Or that about Mars. And of course the last episode, ‘Who Speaks for Earth?’
One day, mom came in the room when Eva and I were watching Cosmos. Carl Sagan was talking about the great library of ancient Alexandria. Mom looked at him and noted, “His nose looks like your father’s.”
I thought about it, and I think she was right. But not only that, you are similar in every way. You both have a passion for science, doubt everything until it is proven, and can tell stories about amazing things in a way that people can’t help but listen and wonder.
And, I’m sorry to say this, but neither of you have any idea how to dress…
I think I will never forget December 20th, 1996. It was you who told me Carl Sagan had died. Why did I feel like I had lost a close friend? I never even met him. But I was on the verge of crying.
Out in the Wide World
So I used to play on the computer and watch TV as a break. I’m really thankful to you that you took us hiking so often and prevented us from becoming real couch potatoes! You know, I still love the smell of forests because of you.
Mom always teased you about taking you so long to get ready for the trips. First, you cleaned your boots. Then, you changed the film in your camera. Of course, before you could do that, you had to locate the film and the camera. Finally, you would never leave until you found your compass and got all the maps of the area. And it really did take you forever to find them, our apartment always being a complete mess. But I know you just wanted to make sure we wouldn’t get lost in the middle of the woods.
You always went in front, leading our little group of five, the compass dangling from your neck. Sometimes you stopped and glanced at the small arrow that always pointed towards North.
We picked mushrooms, and you could always tell the name of each of them and whether they were safe to eat. We wanted to climb trees, and you helped us to reach the lowest branch. When we got tired, we sat down to eat mom’s salami sandwiches, and we drank from a spring.
I loved being with you, mom, Sely, and Eva. Why did I want to travel so far away from you then? I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to try every option I had.
Several years later, I was at the airport in Frankfurt am Main. I was alone, and I just got off the plane that came from Budapest. “One of the largest airports in the world,” I remembered the words I had heard from many people in the previous few weeks. “I hope you’ll find the gate in time.”
It was easy, I just had to follow the arrows. My destination was Washington, DC. I was going to college not only in another city or another country, but on another continent.
Dad! I’m graduating in a few months, and I don’t know which way to go from here.
I just rented my favorite episodes of Cosmos from my college’s library.
I’m watching those, and I miss you.