A smile from Mom
She was born dead
Mom was born dead. The story goes that her mother Stefka was performing in “The Taming of the Shrew.” The theatre was located in Sofia and was called “Трудов Фронт” which would translate to “The Labour’s Front”. Stefka was in the lead playing the shrew when her water broke, but she insisted to finish the play. The stage manager alerted the fire station which was adjacent to the theatre. In 1951 you could choose to have a home birth. The family doctor lived in the neighborhood and Stefka’s mother was a seasoned midwife, a few blocks away, at home, another midwife stood by to deliver the baby. Everyone was confident the birth would go well, the mood was festive for it was also March 8th, 1951 - International Women’s Day!
Curtain. The applause. I wouldn’t know if grandma took the bow. Can you imagine the performance she gave, pregnant, practically delivering mom on the stage. Surrounded by her colleagues, Stefka was rushed to the firetruck and then, home. The baby was born dead. Half an hour passed. In the meantime, the midwife left. The family doctor went home to write the death certificate. But Stefka’s mother, who had delivered hundreds of babies since she was fourteen, prepared an injection. I wonder if she consulted her daughter before she stabbed the baby in the heart and revived it.
Seventy two years later mom, Nelly, lives with us in Seattle. In fact, she manages the building we reside in. Her apartment is two doors down from ours. I’m in Virginia Beach writing this while on a tour with my film. I just called mom and asked her to email me an essay I wrote about her a few years ago. Some of the older subscribers here might have read it, but perhaps you will discover something new in the text this Mother’s Day. Perhaps you will look at your mother or pick up the phone to hear her voice ring, having gained something from our story.
Mom signs her emails and texts with SMILE 😊. She is one of my best friends!
Ashamed Looking At My Mother
I keep seeing you frozen in 1995. I don't remember you sending us off. Did you come to the airport? I have never asked how you felt.
My first memory of you is the Word. The sound of your typewriter putting me to bed, tucking me in, and typing me to sleep. I sleepwalk into one persona after another, each key strike etching new meaning into my bone marrow. Your love for words is my love too. Your passion for language is my lover. How can one forget your typewriter constructing my childhood, block by block, ascending a green pine-tree mountain or pounding at a sea, blackened with ink.
Are you at the airport? I keep looking for you. At seventeen, I make the journey across the ocean. In less than twenty four hours I become a parent to my fifteen year old sister. My heart skips the next four years of youth, to dump the thrills of adolescence into the unconscious. Are you at the airport? Are you crying, mother? How desperate must you be to send your teenage children into the void. Alone. America. America! Time is an insurmountable spiral. You and I are happening at once. Our destinies being deciphered by our unspoken bond.
My next memory is you sitting dressed in black on the right of the red brick fireplace. Crying. I must love you deeply, mother, for your suffering in the winter of 1990 is the clearest memory of you I have. Your father has passed away. A renowned theater actor and revered community leader, he has the misfortune to die just when the regime changes over. Do you cry for your loss or do you weep because of the gray inherent in human nature? My grandfather dies a communist. His friends and colleagues stay home afraid to show face at his funeral lest they betray their futures, in solidarity to their friend. Under the snowfall that is but ash to a weeping heart, your father lies in the coffin. Waiting to say his goodbyes until he finally turns over and in silence observe his only daughter, by the fireplace, lighting a cigarette. Your mascara running, you inhale the smoking mirror that is life, and let go in the exhale that is death. I am watching from across the living room. I'm still watching. I'm still watching.
Nine years have passed since I last saw you, mother. I’m no longer seventeen, but twenty six engaged to get married. But of course, you know that. My sister is no longer your baby girl, but a spirited twenty four year old, raising two children. You never cared for pictures - I must have seen one or two vague photographs of you in all those years apart. Gone is the sound of your typewriter. Yet, I chase after it along with the memories of the morning birds announcing my childhood. And so every week for the past nine years, I run to buy a calling card. To hear you voice. Your voice, mom, the universe wrapped in two words - unconditional love.
I hear a story about a mother (she could be anyone’s mother, but happens to be you, my mother). Once a year, this mother journeys to the American embassy in Bulgaria in hope to journey much further. But fall after fall, her documents are denied. Denied once. Denied twice. Denied eight times. On the ninth, she doesn't even look at her passport when she picks it up. The clerk, who at this point knows the mother by name, shouts after her, "Nelly, won't you look inside?" She smiles. How can she tell him that ever since her children immigrated, nine years ago, she has been looking inside every day. Until one day she quit trying to figure out if she did them wrong. Until she allowed herself to dream again. I have never asked my mother what hearing my voice each week meant to her.
Mom is expected to arrive in Los Angeles. The year is 2004. She will be age fifty three. My sister, two grandchildren and I, her son, wait. She packs her suitcases, turns over the keys to her landlord - she is not coming back. She has given away her cat. Her closest companion is gone and in the hours before she boards the airplane she feels truly alone. She takes to the skies with a smile, but her heart stops when the engines malfunction. The passengers wail, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, saying their goodbyes. A mother takes and squeezes the hands of the young woman in the seat next to her, "I waited nine years to see my children. Now it is Death’s turn to wait." The plane turns around to make an emergency landing. Time is a sculpture and a mother's love for her children is the mold.
When you finally come down the escalator, I am overcome by shame looking at you. This is not who I remember. You have aged before the altar of uprooted change. I fight to recognize you, but my eyes can't find anything to hold onto.
Ashamed, looking at his mother, the boy, the son I once was and will alway be exclaims, "But, mom, I do recognize your words!"
Next “Kaval Park” showings & tickets
Washington DC - May 16th - SOLD OUT
New York - May 18th - The showing is at the Bulgarian embassy and it’s without tickets. Please RSVP here. We just released 10 more tickets!
Sofia - May 18th, Dom na kinoto - Buy Tickets Now
Seattle - May 21st - Buy Tickets Now