Ashamed Looking At My Mother
I keep seeing you in 1995. I don't remember you sending us off. Did you come to the airport? It's been twenty five years and I have never asked how you felt.
I don't cry. I'm not afraid. I'm two weeks shy of eighteen. America. America! You are forty-four, just two years over my age as I write this love letter. I realize I'm one of those blessed children who have a profound connection with a parent. 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 strike of the keys etches a 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 the lush green pine-tree mountain or pounding at the sea, blackened with ink.
Are you at the airport? I keep looking for you. Not yet of age, I make the journey across the ocean in the spirit of an intrepid adventurer. My heart skips the next four years of my youth, to dump the thrills of adolescence into the unconscious. In less than twenty four hours I become a parent to my fifteen year old sister, a child of my own flesh. Are you at the airport? Are you crying, mother? How desperate must you be to send your daughter and son into the void. 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 of 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 of memories I have of you. 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. You are not in tears because of your loss as much as because of the gray inherent in human nature. My grandfather dies a communist while his friends and colleagues stay home afraid to show face at his funeral lest the finger of accursed change accuses them of betraying the future in solidarity of 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 to silently 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 gone by since I last saw you, mother. 1995 changes into 2004, seventeen into twenty six engaged to get married. My sister changes into twenty four raising two children. Technology changes, but not fast enough to show me your aura. You don't care for pictures - I must have seen one or two impressions of you in nine years. Being apart, we travel to my first memory of you. The Word. 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, I run to buy a calling card. No one can put a price on your voice. And to any child, a mother's voice is the universe wrapped in two words - unconditional love.
I hear the tale of a mother who, once a year, 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 as 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.
She 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, the kitten her daughter brought home in 1990. The kitten changes into a grandfather before her eyes. Does he love her like she loves him? Her closest companion is gone and in the hours before she boards the plane she feels the true nature of solitude. A few hours into the flight the plane's engines malfunction. The passengers wail as they face their trespasses. A mother clasps the hand of a young woman, "I waited nine years to see my children. Death will have to wait." The plane turns around to make an emergency landing. Time is an effigy 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. You are not how I remember you. You have passed on and, in your own birthright, 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 seventeen year old boy dissolves and as he does, he shouts, "But, mother, I do recognize your words!"