MamaBlogger365 – With(out) by Catalina Florina Florescu, Ph.D.
15 June 1993. I finish high school. Get a very short haircut. Prepare myself for entering college. Failed that that fall. [Mom is not there.]
13 June 1998. I get married. I wear an ecru-and-white dress that is not even a wedding gown. But I think I look cute. Soon after I get married, I finish college. A month after that, I leave Romania and come to the United States. [Mom is not there.]
x-x-2005. M is born. I am a mother. [Mom is not there.]
7 August 2007. I earn my doctoral degree. [Mom is not there.] [Dad is not there either.]
XX; 20; twenty; 10 + 10; 30-10; 1 x 20… No matter how I write the numeral, it is still a number that, in this case, means the exact time that has passed since mother died of breast cancer on 27th October. I knew nothing about cancer back then. What was even worse, the doctors did not know much either.
Medicine in post-communist Romania was in a state of advanced primitivism. However, we did hear about the surgical option, later to be attributed a name: “mastectomy.” But mother was a proud woman who admired symmetry: “I will not live with only one breast.” She kept saying this over and over and over and over… Stop. The echoed voiced vanished in the air. I am not even certain if I ever heard mother saying that, or if it was an afterthought, like grandma saying, “Maybe she should have had her breast removed…” The counterproductive “what ifs.”
So, mother did not have that surgery. Mother died. In agony. True, her agony was controlled by morphine. Every now and then, mother had brief episodes of hallucination. I remember one: she was saying that dogs were chasing her. Was she in an enchanted forest? Was she dead already and dogs were after her? I was shocked to acknowledge her fear. I was horrified to listen to words that did not cohere, gasps, pauses, more agitated, wheezing breaths, and then, the predictable silence… Mom turning her back to us.
I start to read a lot until everything in front of me, that is, everything real, becomes irrelevant. I drag my body to school, as a reflex, that’s it. I smoke and cry. I drink and read. My colleagues are in love. I am, too. Only that my object of affection is literally an object; mom as a memory: mom in pictures; mom in clothes; mom in self-made drawings; mom in hand-written recipes; mom in shoes. Mom, as parts, everywhere. Mom as a whole, nowhere.
My sister and I found a tape. Mom recorded herself when she could not think of anything else to do, when her friends were at work, her daughters in school, her spouse somewhere. All of us were somewhere, busy with our own lives. Or continuing to do our routines, despite mother’s gradually dying. Her voice on the tape was very sad, yet sweet. A typical mother’s voice that’s always too subtle to reveal all that a woman is.
And then she is not. Nobody came up with a better saying that Shakespeare’s succinct “to be or not to be.” The famous slap in the face or the negation in front of “esse,” Latin for “to be.” I do have recurrent moments now when I ask myself, “I did have a mom once, didn’t I?” To ask this question is beyond shame. To have this doubt is only human. To raise such nonsense means how much… how much… how much… I cannot possibly write this without crying, I LOVE HER. Still. Always. Until the end of time where there is not a negation in front of being… when dear lost ones appear, tap our shoulder, and jokingly, yet naturally whisper: “So, where were we?” [Mom is here!] [Dad is here, too!]
(Photos 1 through 7: Mom, from author’s personal archive; all rights reserved.)
Bio: Catalina Florina Florescu, Ph.D., is our newest monthly contributor. She holds her doctoral degree in comparative literature. She is the author of Transacting Sites of the Liminal Bodily Spaces.
MamaBlogger365 is a blogging project coordinated on behalf of the Museum of Motherhood, now open in New York City! Exhibits, events, a Meet the Expert series, playgroups, arts programs and more – visit MOMmuseum.org for hours and info.