Stained Glass


Living under an oppressive, round-the-clock surveillance by the KGB secret agency that bugged most homes in the Soviet Union, one girl had a dream to escape her country—the largest prison in the world of the twentieth century. But it was impossible as virtually nobody was allowed to cross the borders. Over the decades, because of the massive infiltrator-spy system, people grew fearful, bitter, hopeless, and suspicious of each other. Every summer, the girl had to toil in the forced labor farms. The work was compulsory, and any resistance resulted in an immediate exile or the death penalty as it happened to her grandfather. The girl dreamed of one day helping the oppressed, but every step of every citizen was systematically monitored and regulated, and each and every creative project was scrutinized or eliminated. Under the strictest observation were the most creative minds who participated in entertainment and arts such as the girl’s father, a theater and film director. The girl secretly assisted her father by participating in progressive projects, discussions, and performances. One of the girl’s composed songs unexpectedly won the first place at the National Song competition, becoming the most popular song of the decade . . . which was a raised alarm flag for the KGB Mafia. Her dream of freedom turned out to be short-lived: one spring morning when the girl was thirteen, a devastating tragedy struck—apparently intentional: she was run over by a dump truck while crossing the street, leaving her in a coma. The family was warned that the girl would stay paralyzed for life—in all likelihood, a very brief life—and that there was no hope for her neurological survival. The conditions at the hospital were brutal: hundreds of patients in the ER rooms were left for dead without any help as even the closest family members were not permitted to enter or assist. A few weeks later, the girl woke up from the coma. However, she could not move, see, or talk. Every day, just like the rest of the emergency room patients, the girl dreaded the nurses who brutalized them, beat them, derided them, and withheld food, water, and medication from them. The girl, however, did not give up: she clearly envisioned her healing, so one day she could help others, and within three agonizing years, the girl, against all odds, gradually recuperated. As soon as she was able to talk and walk she started learning foreign languages in order to learn more about the world. Since such type of learning was deemed unlawful by the KGB, who listened to each and every conversation, the girl hid her dictionaries and foreign language books under the covers in bed during her studies. She even risked her life by connecting with visitors from capitalistic countries. Any form of exchange and correspondence with foreigners was strictly banned. Therefore, at sixteen, she was apprehended and jailed in Moscow. Blacklisted as a dissident for life, the girl was soon released. From then on, the surveillance surrounding her became even tighter, and she was forbidden to enter any university or get any creative and respected work. The girl, however, still did not give up: she collected glass bottles from the city garbage cans and sold them in order to save money for her future escape trip that she was planning every single day. Along with the assistance of her father, she managed to circumvent the tyrannical system by bypassing the university and getting her educator’s diploma at a much-higher institution: an Academy of Sciences & Education, at the age of seventeen, but as soon as she began teaching at an innovative underground school she and her father had formed, she was immediately stopped by the Soviet authorities. The girl’s dream of escaping the iron wall continued, and after many years of waiting, thanks to her father’s new connections, and thanks to Perestroika, the Soviet Union’s new initiative, she finally received permission to go to the United States—but under one very unusual condition: the rest of her family will stay back in the Soviet Union as ransom until she sends a required bribe to the KGB Mafia. With such a precarious arrangement, at the age of nineteen, the girl arrived in Chicago, all by herself. Trying to fulfill her obligation, she worked countless menial jobs without any days off, sending every dollar she made back home. The exploitation of all illegal immigrants and migrant workers was despicable, but nobody dared protest, as they all feared homelessness or deportation. After the bribe was finally paid off, it was time for the girl to leave America, which no longer seemed as welcoming as she had once dreamed about. She bought a one-way ticket, packed her suitcase, and . . . was ready to fly back. Then something unexpected happened: the girl fainted and was rushed to the hospital. When she regained consciousness, she was again hooked up to IVs, and tubes were in her mouth, along with hundreds of other poor and destitute patients moaning in the dark Cook County Hospital corridors. But this time, it was in the wealthiest country of the world. Suddenly, the girl heard an odd but clear voice emanating from somewhere: GO BACK TO WORK. Still dazed from the mild anesthesia and nagging pains, she was guided by the small voice: she removed the tubes, left the hospital, and took the bus back to the restaurant located at the South Side of Chicago where she had been working as a waitress for the last year. As soon as she put on her apron, a man dressed in scruffy clothes opened the front door in order to have lunch. Without any delay, the girl brought him water. She guessed it right: it was just the way he liked it—water without ice. They looked at each other for the longest time. There was an immediate connection. It was love at first sight. But the meeting was abruptly interrupted. The resentful owner fired the girl right on the spot and threw her out into the alley through the back door. The man looked for the girl in every conceivable public place in the South Chicago ghetto, but he could not find her. The following day, he searched for her again. Desperate, he tried one more time to walk down the same street where the restaurant was located, and he noticed someone familiar standing by the bus stop. It was the same waitress with a raspberry barrette waiting for a bus and holding her small travel bag. She was on the way to O’Hare airport for her international flight. The bus stopped. Zigzagging through four lanes of traffic, the man dashed across the street toward the girl who was about to climb into the bus, stopped her, and begged her to stay, but the girl was overwhelmed with her predicament as she had only a few moments to decide what to do. The girl was confused: she missed her family, her language, and her culture. She did not want to stay in America anymore. Nonetheless, the girl did not get on to the bus, and neither did she get to the airport. Instead, she trusted a complete stranger—a poor chef from a ghetto whom she knew nothing about. She chose to miss her flight and stay with the most romantic person she had ever met. The chef was so much in love with the blue-eyed foreigner that he proposed to her the same day. No witnesses and no spies, no family, and no friends attended their unpretentious wedding that took place a few weeks later, yet the chef’s profound love for the girl was unparalleled for the rest of their life: not a single day did he ever spend away from her. It was my great honor to paint The Stained Glass as a tribute to the perseverance of one very special heart—Foreli—my mother. This is her life story . . .