I went into central London a couple of nights ago carrying my knives. It sounds so funny to say that. But I was kind of nervous. I rocked up to a pitching contest hosted by Rain Dance (the London film festival organizers). I’d been trying to think of what to do this night, my son’s birthday, for about a week. It was an anniversary and I wanted to honor it in some way. Normally I would have prepared a feast and invited new and old friends to share a meal and some stories about my son. It was his birthday. I couldn’t ignore it. He has been dead for more than 3 1/2 years. But the day of his birth is the day my life changed irrevocably. From then on, from 19 years old, I was a mom. Nothing else really mattered.
I’ve been really busy lately. I think I have increased the busy-ness in direct proportion to the fear I’ve had of this birthday. In a few more months it will be the 4 year anniversary. This time of year makes me sad, in spite of the sunshine.
So, on the eve of his birthday I decided to do something really different. The moment I saw the email invitation to attend or participate in this pitching contest, I knew I’d found it. I’ve never pitched a fiction film idea before. I didn’t prepare. I had no idea what it would even be like. I’ve been writing screenplays off and on for the last 20 years, but just for fun. More recently I use this time to give me something to look forward to each week. I started another writing group a couple of years ago. It helped me go from week to week during my darkest times.
I walked into the cinema where the pitch contest was being held. Gulp. It was not what I expected. The cinema was filled, all the seats were taken and there was a big line up the stairs that edged the seats. Those in line were waiting to pitch. I’d be the last. What had I gotten myself into? I sneaked past the panel of judges, people with loads of tv and film experience, in the darkened theater and found myself waiting with my knives. I listened to the pitches and compared myself to those pitching. I could do as well as some for sure. But it was clear that there was so little space that if I were to open my knives during the pitch someone would no doubt call security. So I held onto them when it was my turn. My film is about a 30 year old woman who wants to open her own restaurant, but she is such a rebel that she keeps getting fired for changing the menu in restaurants where she works.
I’m obsessed with food. So was my son. He used to live in NY where this film will be shot. He used to work in the same kind of restaurants as the character in my film, but as a waiter while he was looking for acting work. And like the main character, he finally did fulfill one of his dreams and opened a restaurant, his very own, on an island in Spain. It was his own creation, a fusion menu, where he could riff around any themes he wanted to.
I did an ok job at the pitch. But it was more important that I even went out into the city and did something way outside my comfort zone, in his honor. Since his death my whole life has been outside my comfort zone. After the pitching there was a little cocktail party. A beautiful woman dressed in a gorgeous sari came up to me saying, “I knew I had to talk to you but I don’t know why.” Little by little my story of my son came out. She cried and later took me to dinner. “You didn’t bring those knives on the tube with you did you?” she asked. No, I hadn’t even thought of the possibility that my son’s knives might have been deemed dangerous and that I might have been seen as a different kind of gansta!
Sometimes life is just so challenging that it is necessary to fly way higher than is our habit, to soar where the air is thinner and things don’t look the way they usually do. Going home in the taxi with my knives gave me a funny kind of comfort. I live in the city where my son once lived. His knives are now my own. He is with me wherever I go by virtue of the artifacts he left behind and the incredible bond we still have.