"Hey, mom. Thank you for calling me to wish me Happy Birthday."
"Ksenechka! Listen to this. I found these old photographs with everyone. Everyone is there, at a big table."
"Great grandma's relatives. The sisters, and the aunts, and the uncles. When grandma is lucid, she points out to me who is who."
"How is she doing?"
"She is stable, not very good, but stable. There are moments...like tonight, I thought she would die. She stopped talking, and she only looks at me now, and there was such sadness in her eyes. Then the other day I caught her pinching her nostrils. I said, 'What are you doing, mama? Stop it.'"
"But Ksenechka, Ksenechka. Listen. In one of those photographs she is really young, twenty-five, young and beautiful. This is a year before she gave birth to Sveta [my aunt]. And there was Valentin, the uncle, and his wife. And she was looking at mama with this one bad eye. I tell you. Her eyes were always crossed, and she looked at her with so much spite and meanness."
"Was she jealous of something?"
"That eye, it was that evil eye. And I thought, that's when it all started."
"What started, mom?"
"Our family started falling apart. It's all witchery. She laid an evil eye on mama. I keep searching, keeping trying to understand how it all happened, and maybe that's it."
"I read this book recently. Nastya [my sister] gave it to me. It's about childbirth. This French doctor Michel Odent says that how he child is born is very important. Everything is laid as a foundation in that moment, the successes, the pitfalls. Everything. The first contact with the mother is so important. And I thought about you. You were born very weak, feeble, and so small, 2 kilos and 700 grams. It was freezing outside. They took you away from me, and I only saw you on the second day. Maybe that's why there is a strain between us. That's why you never took to me."
"I thought about Nastya. All this animosity. They took her away only for one hour, not for one day like you. Then why? Why is she so nasty to me? Where is it coming from?"
I bit my lip so as not to explain because mom won't hear. Putting in a word is hard. She talks non-stop.
"In his book that doctor says that we will have an age of love when we stop giving birth in hospitals and breaking this connection. This first look in the eye. It's magic. Without it the child doesn't know you're the mother—"
"Yes, mom, it's called bonding. I—"
"—that's how people become drug addicts, and alcoholics, and killers. You should read this book. The title is—"
"Mom! Mom, I've read hundreds of books. I've read about it. I'm so glad you're reading about it too now. Maybe we can start talking about it. I've been researching psychopaths and murderers and my own disorders and how they're—"
"—Michel Odent is the author's name—"
"—I got it, mom. I'll be writing a book about a serial killer—"
"—yes, yes. It's all good. And another thing. I read this article about American nurses and how—"
I give up. I simply sit and listen. But it's a breakthrough. Who knows, maybe one day we'll really be able to talk about this, about why both me and my sister rejected our mother, and why I came around and am not hostile to her anymore and why Nastya still is, and how it's NOT OUR FAULT.
But I don't know if mom will have space for this soon in her life. Her life is still hard, but her tormentors are thankfully leaving her. Her father died, my grandpa. I wrote about it. And now her mother is dying, my grandma, the woman who was raising me when my mom was absent.
I truly believe that after her mother's death she will begin to feel free at last, and there will be hope for me to glimpse some of my history from her without her shutting me out with the wall of "Stop digging! Stop asking me! You're hurting me! Leave it alone! I don't remember!" And so on.
But she called me. SHE CALLED ME.