All was not sunshine and roses in that long ago Spring/Summer of 2014. In April, my world shattered. My mom, the most vivacious person I have ever known, was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. We’d been living together (by which I mean I was living at home) for two years, since returning from Edinburgh. My mom was so stoic, we didn’t even know she was sick, and indeed, for a short time, she kept on doing what she needed to.
The effect on me was profound. In an instant, all of my creativity was sucked away, like dust through a vacuum running over high pile shag carpet. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and couldn’t write. I stopped going to my critique group. I stopped thinking about future classes and told the parents that I was closest to what was happening. I had agreed to give a few students private classes and agreed to keep doing that, but asked if I could do a more intensive schedule of multiple days per week. The parents of my students agreed, and so instead of doing a month-long session, I agreed to do it on a week by week basis. I was thankful for their understanding, and so I did the best I could under the circumstances. I think I deserved an academy award for my showmanship. I became very adept at not showing what I was going through to my students.
Looking back today, I can be grateful that my mom’s illness progressed quickly and that she didn’t suffer for a long time. I had seen my mom cry before, she’d been through a lot of physical and emotional pain in her life. She bore her diagnosis with grace and dignity. She only cried once during her illness: One night, shortly before she died, my mom fell and she was so bloated from the fluids that she was too heavy to lift. It was then, lying on the ground that my mom cried like I had never seen. This was not the delicate crying of tears rolling artistically down the face, you all know that single tear that just so gently rolls down one cheek. That night I saw my strong, invincible mother hyperventilating from her terror. Never, not even when she’d broken her leg in two places and dislocated her spinal cord in a car accident, not when she was put in a halo to stabilize her spine on the long trip from Greece that summer did she lose her composure. She was even stoic when the halo was put in without anesthesia. She cried so hard that night that my sister and I couldn’t get her off the floor until we’d calmed her enough that she could help. Still, it was so difficult that she bumped her head on the tile hard enough that the sound of anything hitting the floor brings me back to that night and gives me nightmares. So many things happened to my mom in the last fourteen weeks of her life, they are too numerous to count. The sound of sirens and the ringing of the telephone late at night still cause me to wake up with an irregular heartbeat and in a cold sweat.
Still, they were not all bleak those final days. I continued to teach my private students and go to educational fairs to promote Inkreadable Kids. I asked my mom if she wanted me to cancel all my private classes, and her response was “Hell no, this is for your future.” We also celebrated her last birthday in style. My sister, genius that she is, decided that we weren’t going to give my mom a party, it was to be a women-only surprise party. My mom nearly spoiled the surprise part of it though. When we started talking about her birthday, she said she didn’t want a party, and my sister started planning a surprise party. My mom could sometimes be true to her Gemini nature and change her mind. She did in this instance as well, asking us to plan a party for her, a day before her birthday. We had already started making arrangements for the party but were good enough actresses that we exhibited the right amount of annoyance at my mom’s change of heart. While the party did not go off without a hitch, and my mom wasn’t truly surprised having suspected something, she later told us that what surprised her was when a usually reserved friend of hers jumped out from behind the couch and shouted surprise.
The day after her birthday my mom went into the hospital for the final time. I spent the 11 days between my mom’s birthday and my own visiting her at the hospital. By this point, I had stopped teaching altogether but was getting calls from parents just to see how I was doing. On 28 June the doctors told us that they could do nothing more for my mom. My birthday came on the 29th of June and my mom called sang me and my twin sister, Tatyana Happy Birthday. I was in tears for the whole conversation. “Worst birthday ever” would be my facebook status for that year. It was probably the penultimate time I’d hear my mother’s voice. I can’t remember anything about the 30th of June.
In the early morning hours of 2 July Mom suffered “a respiratory event” and had to be intubated. I will never forget waking up from a fitful attempt at sleep, to see missed calls from the hospital. Seeing the exchange 444 on my phone would terrify me and I would have a knot in the pit of my stomach. My mom had such an expressive way about her that even unable to speak she commanded the room. She got things done with the crook of a finger and a glance. Afterward, the staff in the ICU would tell both my sister Alex and I that my mom was one of the strongest and kindest people they had ever had there. Also apparently the funniest as she joked with them while she was still able to write.
When the end came on 19 July, it was a relief. My mom hung on for 17 days. It was enough time for us to make the preparations for her funeral including going to get my sister Taty from the facility where she lived in New Jersey. My father was a godsend in this time as he came back from Greece to help us with everything, which was extra special as my mom and dad had divorced 30 years before and it wasn’t my dad’s responsibility.
For over a year, I went through life feeling nothing and everything. I couldn’t write or create. I certainly couldn’t teach. I went to work, I came home, and I dealt with the aftermath of my mom’s death. It was oppressive that darkness. For the longest time everything I ate or drank tasted like sawdust. I couldn’t swallow past the ever-present lump in my throat.
A couple of things were to happen that would pull me out of the dark and change everything. They deserve a post of their own. That’s up next.
That’s it for this Inkreadable Installment but stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.