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The screeching, yelping, and huffing of all those horrid machines sent an all-too-familiar chill down my spine. My mother looked just like my stepfather had. Countless wires came from all angles and veins. Although she and I were locked in a stare, she wasn’t quite there. We held hands, or rather I held her limp palm against my own, just as I had held my stepfather’s two years prior, before his demise from cancer. Only now I was the one telling her that “everything was going to be all right, that the doctors knew what they were doing, and that we all would go home soon.” Those words could not have felt more insincere. Perhaps seven months of fruitless hopeful thinking, family visits to the chemotherapists and school nights in hospitals with Lester had turned me into a pessimist. But I just couldn’t ignore the tremendous similarities between the two hospital rooms; the sounds of the life support machines, the smell of the sterilized rubber and the quiet whispers of the doctors buzzing around me. I could hear her heart beating and I could monitor her blood pressure, but she was dead to me. “Everyone has always left me, and they are always leaving,” I thought to myself. I was a slave to my past. It drained me. It controlled me. Even the day my mother, well her shell, came back home, I felt terribly empty. I had no hope. Even as a thirteen-year-old girl I could recognize that nothing after the surgical removal of a grapefruit-sized brain tumor would ever be the same; for it never really was.
Life is sensational, magnificent; it neither waits nor listens to any man, but it shapes all. My stepfather’s death from cancer and the removal of my mom’s brain tumor all happened within the span of three years, before I turned 13, and this shaped my home. My mother and I were so caught up in our own worlds, so heavily stained by death and disease, both so uniquely impacted by each, that we failed to recognize the other’s needs. We began viscously fighting every chance we got. We were each other’s enemies. It is not that my mother is unbearable -she isn’t- we have now developed a close relationship, although we live a distance apart. It is just that life’s vicissitudes caused us to completely shut all doors, seal all locks, and close every shade until some sense could be made of this messy universe.
It was a school night. I was awoken at 3:00 A.M by the sound of my stepfather violently vomiting in the bathroom. I came out of my bedroom and gazed down the corridor. My mother was hovering over Lester while patting his back; she was terrified by the site of my presence. Darting toward the hallway she begged me “Lizachka go back to bed please” and quickly shut the bathroom door.
The following morning was grossly quiet. I didn’t hear Lester’s walkie-talkie, with all of his friends babbling jokes and cunning remarks. There was no breakfast being made and the comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee was not there to greet me. As I brushed my teeth I noticed little specks of blood on the bathroom wall.
“MOM!! What is that?” I cried out in fear. Standing near the kitchen, she squinted in my direction.
“I thought I cleaned everything up,” she murmured under her breath and zoomed toward the bathroom with a wet soapy towel.
“Mom, where is Lester?” I questioned.
“He just had to go to the doctor, he ate something terrible,” she informed me.
“Will he be home for dinner?” I wondered, hoping that his appetite would be back that night.
“I’m not sure, but he’ll be back before you know it.” She flicked her wrist matter-of-factly, “now get dressed flower.”
After Lester’s death my mom’s psychologist suggested that the only way to heal was to start over. Her depression was unbearable. This battle was not easy. Lester had not been the only one fighting. My mother was right there by his side. She was there everyday, sometimes nights. Losing him, made her unreachable; trapped in a dark world. She became obsessed, she kept all the mirrors and windows covered with sheets. Our family portraits vanished from the walls. I once witnessed her crumble like a lost child at the site of his picture in my wallet. The living room, where we spent our time of leisure, was dead quite. Our home turned into a cave of mourning. So we ran. We ran to the other side of the country. Our refuge? Palm Coast; a developing town that is still being carved out of the Florida jungle. After the removal of my mom’s brain tumor we tried escaping our problems once more, this time we moved to Brooklyn; the straw that broke the camel’s back.
For three years, home didn’t felt like home. For three years we communicated by shouting at each other. For three years we were unable to find a common ground.
I moved out on October 1st, 2007; I was sixteen. It was a school night. The weather was pleasant and sunny. The previous forty-eight hours had been incredibly stressful. Sunday had been the last day in our old apartment. We put my things into storage, slept at a friend’s house, and the very next day we somehow managed to find an apartment, sign a lease, and move all my things into it. Then we fought. I don’t remember what about, not that the subject really matters anyway. But she insisted on sleeping in her car. Our previous apartment had been sold and the weather was turning cold, yet bitter stubbornness would not allow such circumstance to bring us together. This reassured me that we were making the right decision. I didn’t hate her. I loved her. I had just given up on her, or rather we had given up on each other. In the morning she left for Florida, just like that, out of my life - but only for a short while.
This wasn’t the first time we parted. Ukraine doesn’t offer too many job opportunities. Shortly after I was born my parents began producing bathtub liquor. They often left for days to neighboring towns to sell their product. I was only two then, I have no recollection of this. But when my mother left on one of those trips, my father locked my twelve-year-old sister and me in our apartment for two days. He took all of the family’s savings and we never saw him again. It’s not like it was the first time he left, either. He has another family. Coincidentally his two daughters are the same age as me and Anastasiya, my sister. Apparently when my mother was pregnant with my sister he divorced her…only to come back ten years later; then I was born. Unable to support two children and frightened by the violent threats from her business competitors, my mother left Ukraine for job opportunities in America. My older sister moved in with my aunt, and I stayed with my grandma. I learned responsibility at a very young age. I helped tend the garden, feed the farm animals, clean and cook until the age of eight, when I moved to a tiny town called Bangor, in Pennsylvania, to reunite with my mother and meet my stepfather…who would die only two years later.
As a sixteen-year-old, living in my own one bedroom apartment in North Brooklyn was very different from Ukraine, Florida, or Pennsylvania. It was an arduous experience. “I’ll always take care of you my princess” were my stepfather’s last words to me. I wish this wasn’t the way his promise was kept, but it was his social security that has been supporting me until this day. The only support I felt I was getting. A forbidding sense of isolation grew over me. I spiraled into a deep depression. Thoughts of life and death, heaven and hell resided in my mind. I felt insignificant in a world so full of chaos and uncertainty. Ominous clouds of bills, deadlines, papers, errands, snotty neighbors, and controlling landlords frightened me. The pillars resting on my shoulders had the weight of a thousand ships. I felt incredibly alone, that I couldn’t possibly relate to any of my peers, or confide in any adult. How could anyone possibly understand me if my mom, my own mother, couldn’t? Even my sister, my other half, was oceans away; getting married extinguished her chances of getting a visa.
But it was in these moments of deep disquiet that I started reaching for different paths, and truer answers. As I lingered on the haunting thought that there was no star to guide my wandering ship. It dawned on me. I could not see the stars because my eyes were shut, no one was beside me because my arms were crossed, strong fortress, but from what enemy? As Ambrose Redmoon once said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." I found that living life is so much more worthwhile than being petrified of it. Learning and growing is much more important than stewing in resentment. In the face of adversity I discovered my strength, my resilience, my independence. A deep sense of stillness and peace dawned over me, as I grasped my hands around these truths and accepted my faults. I was tired of running. I understood that although life offers profound challenges -a fact that never changes - the way I dealt with these challenges had to change. It is only with hope that life is bearable. In letting go of the shore, I found magnificent oceans; in the midst of the winter, I discovered my invincible summer.
I now appreciate the little everyday wonders, true treasures; the quite of a morning walk to school, the smell, the sound of crumbling leaves beneath ones feet, the song of laughter while children are at play. I have become very receptive of life’s simple beauties because I now understand that sometimes things will not work out how I would really love them to, sometimes I will get disappointed, frustrated even aggravated, and that’s all right, I just can’t linger on such things because I will drive myself crazy. People will come and they will go; relationships will flower and they will disperse, that is life. I now understand that we should treasure our every connection, we need to be open minded and patient with each other, because while our lives and relationships are in our control, we can not always control when and who slips away.