“I didn’t raise you to be self-conscious,” Mama says nonchalantly as I cringed when she was sifting through the photo pile.
Looking back at high school photos with my Mama I realised that maybe I had a bit of extra baby fat than originally thought. I mean, not every photo can be a bad angle, right?
No one really prints photos anymore, but my Mama managed to capture some amazing memories on film before it became a filter on Instagram.
I was a sporty nerd that managed to get through high school mostly unscathed. Looking back on the photos, I’m not sure how I would have gone in a world of social media and constant comparisons, which is why I will forever be grateful for my Mama.
She came to all of my soccer games, dance eisteddfods, school assemblies and even to my first theatre play where I was given the very important role of the ‘Carpet’. I was laying there, only to move my ‘tussles’ (arms and legs) when the wind sound was whistled by my drama teacher from the side stage. It happened twice in the entire hour-and-a-half play and my Mama and Aunt were almost kicked out of the performance for laughing so hard.
I was so proud of that play and so was she, I could tell, even though I get teased about that role to this day.
When we arrived in the country, a lot people in our neighbourhood in Skopje would talk, she was not your average woman, the single mother - how would she get along in the world with no one to protect her? Her family wanted her to go to Australia solo, leave me in Macedonia, save some money for a few years and then come back with enough money to live the good life. That was a hard no, wherever Mama went I was sure to follow.
Two full time jobs, day and night shifts, two nights a week when most people would be relaxing, she was learning English at TAFE.
Some nights I’d go with her and she’d get me some hot chips with extra chicken salt, of course. It was and still is my favourite meal.
While I may have got the upper hand at school to learn the English language, my Mama wasn’t too far behind, her ethnic accent being the only thing that gave her away. She knew she’d master the language and she did - faster than anyone ever expected.
Although I’d only introduced her to my boyfriends in the past, she didn’t bat an eyelash when I told her about my girlfriend, instead embraced her as one of her own and vowed to speak out at anyone that dared say anything different. She ordered me to be proud of who I am and live as my authentic self, whoever that may be. I never felt like I would walk any path alone and I was raised to believe that love is love.
Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and having an ethnic background has its own demons to battle but I don’t think I could have picked a more amazing supporter if I tried. The fear of potential rejection and discrimination amongst the community can sometimes be overwhelming, but I know that my Mama will always be there to pepper her unconditional love light over me when things get dark.
When we bought our first apartment after renting since arriving in Australia from Macedonia in 1995, we played noughts and crosses on the walls as we were repainting them, then had takeaway in the middle of the living room. In hindsight, I will never know just how much she sacrificed and endured to get us to that point and beyond.
I remember moving in after painting each wall a different colour, splashes of yellow, blue and orange.
She carried all the boxes up all the way up two flights of stairs herself – they were each twice her size. She set it all up herself. She was told to wait until someone could help her because she was only one woman and wouldn’t manage.
She set my bed and desk up the same day it got delivered. I don’t ever remember feeling as peaceful as I did that evening.
Having witnessed my Mama endure hardships and persevere have given me an infallible shield of ‘I can do anything’. I’m lucky to get to call my Mama my best friend.
At almost 30, she is still my hero, she still supports everything I do, not without giving her sometimes too-honest-for-my-sensitive-poetry-writing-heart-to-process-at-the-time first. I know that she will always be in my corner and have my back. I’m a Mama’s girl through and through.
Makedonka is a Macedonian-born Sydney-dwelling funny woman that loves stand up comedy, making art and writing stuff. She tries her best to take the time to enjoy the little things in life. You can follow Makedonka on Instagram @_makedonka.
This story was originally entered in the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition and forms part of a special collection curated for Mardi Gras celebrating LGBTIQA+ writers and stories.
Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.
The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV (geo-block removed for viewers internationally).