In Which We Regret Our Mother Did Not Smoke
Friday, May 9, 2014 at 12:25PM
Alex in THE PAST, sumeja tulic



I remember the bathtub at the end of the compound, all rusty, its sides suddenly white and then rusty again. Somebody had put this small tub there, at the end of the world, where apocalyptic riders and misfits turned leaders traded goods. A silly wire separated the compound, a European socialist enclave, from the Desert. I knew nothing about the end. I didn’t really know death yet, but I was always scared there. On these soft, lemonade-like afternoons, my father would take my sister and me to the tub. I understood that The Shining was a horror film before seeing it because of the shining from the half-garbage, half usable random items that were around the tub. The fact that someone put a bath there, and that my father took us to it so that we could "bathe" frightened me.

We would bathe in our underwear while he talked to men who passed by. Mostly men working in the same firm as he did, mechanics or manual workers. Men who couldn’t sleep in the afternoon because they were genuinely strange or just plain pedophiles unable to resist glancing over the four and five-year olds putting on a show of content and amusement for their father, the lazy mustache guy who silenced his guilt over not taking his family to the sea by taking them to a miserable setup that included stray dogs barking from the other side of the fence.

My father loved swimming more than my mother, at least longer than he loved her. I know he is himself there in the sea. A very different man than the one I know. He gets to be who ever he truly is. He gets to be the man he will be at the end of it all. Released from life, forgiven, walking through Paradise in shorts.

My father doesn’t keep a journal and I’ll never know how right I am about him. To know him I’ll just keep at loving men like him. To feel that hollow and muted horror that accommodated his fatherly love on those afternoons in that tub, I will take the street with the dimmest lights and the hungriest, creepiest cats at night.

This has little to do with the love of a father who stopped his car once in the middle of a sandy storm so that I could pick poppies. Before I stepped out of the car, he folded his shirt around my face. I looked like a hippy Bedouin picking flowers in a midst of a storm. I sat in the car later while tears rolled over my cheeks. I wasn’t sad the poppy pedals were everywhere but where they should be. Instead, I cried because my mother, sitting in the front seat, couldn’t understand my father and me. She was young then and her disapproval was much more cold and poetic. Today she is oblivious of who I am, by choice.

Still, nothing comforts me more than seeing her sleep. It reminds me of the times when she was young and could sleep forever. Eventually she would wake up and turn her blue eyes on like a set of neon lights. She could see through my pathetic little girl’s sorrows and would offer me a cup of black coffee at the age of nine. My sorrows were baptized in coffee mugs, I think. If only my mother smoked. My sorrows could have choked and killed in an ashtray. Instead, they lived to be 29.

Childhood is the short description of our entire lives.  Everything else is a remake.

Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sarajevo. You can find her tumblr here.

Photographs by the author.

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