Then came the second surgery. Before the final one. Without any of the grueling specifics reaching my ears. For my mother made my father and my uncle promise not to interfere with my newly formed marriage by telling me how serious her condition was. I would find out after it was too late for me to unite with her one last time. She had made them swear by her life – a demand too many in my family took way too seriously – to keep their promise under any and all circumstances. When I finally gathered my courage years after my mom’s death to question their decision, they both spoke up about her iron will – a trait of hers I, too, was very well aware of. Their eyes, welled with tears, voices trembling, and their faces, etched with permanent lines of pain. Whenever they told me that they had to honor her last wish – sometimes in elaborate details, at other times, in what seemed to me to be a cruel matter-of-factual brevity, I wanted to know more. Hear more. Find out more. To be able to pretend I was there with her as long as they had been, all along her final year. She must have also calculated in the importance of my studies, I had no doubt. She was so very proud of me for having attained not only admission to a highly respected U.S. university but also for having been hired as a full-time teaching assistant.
It was near the end of my first semester in my doctoral program when the phone call came. My uncle, still active as the head of the hospital he entered years ago as an intern in Germany, was now telling me to come for a visit, if I could. While my mother was being treated under his care for something quite routine, as the word was. She had just undergone another surgery to relieve her from water collecting inside her abdomen due to “a non-alarming reason,” was the fleeting summary. Feeling faint, I immediately thought back, remembered how her abdomen looked like back in Doluca, before the wedding. How stupid could I have been all this time to believe what everyone told me back then: “she is suffering from a rare case of arthritis”? How uninformed was I to settle for such an idiotic reference to her diagnosis? About two years prior to her first-time hospitalization, my mother had, indeed, been diagnosed with a severe case of arthritic rheumatism, with an unset of stiffness and swelling of her joints suggesting that diagnosis to her doctors. But, the swelling of the abdomen?
After my brief phone exchange with my uncle a sharp pain settled in me, all over my body. My head, in a swimming sensation. My breath, hard to take in and let out.
The ticket had to be bought right away. I finally realized the situation must have been grim. No other phone conversation with my uncle before had any mention of me going there for a visit, if I could. Everyone knew my semester was approaching its end with all its high demands of papers to complete in addition to the classes to finish teaching. Of all the people in my family, my uncle wouldn’t ask me to come, if I could. Also, knowing how difficult it was to attain an entry visa as an entire process, let alone in such a short amount of time? Impossible, I concluded in despair. Yet, one urgent appointment request over the phone to that wonderful man – whose name I thought I would not forget, ever, but did – in the German consulate on a Saturday morning nevertheless, made my sudden trip to Germany possible. I had to ask for two incompletes. One of my professors had decided to give me an extremely difficult time. Preaching to me about the sense of responsibility one should possess when involved in such serious academic endeavors; the honor in abandoning them altogether, if one were to take family matters first. I didn’t care less then. I couldn’t care less.
Our financial situation was not of great standing. Our salaries as first-year students were rather miniscule but our friends pitched in for the money to get me in to the earliest, hence, very expensive flight. Only the business section had seats available. For the first time in my life, I was now going to travel “business class.” What a nonsense, I thought. At a time like this. I would of course have much rather flown in the baggage section, if that had been allowed. Instead of having to travel among the financially privileged, only to end up facing what I felt deep inside me to be a dire reality. Throughout my trip of grueling length, I tried to shake off from my mind’s staging powers the fatally sick image of my mother. Trying to picture how carefully I would be hugging her at the airport. After all, she would be weak and fragile for certain, after having force her doctors to travel regardless of her condition, in a wheelchair nevertheless, to greet me herself as soon as I landed. Smiling at me and telling me that all is fine. That all will be fine.