Friday, March 29, 2013
"I was afraid to have another daughter."
Ruth raised her eyebrow, but didn't say anything.
Anna Goldberg reached out, resting her hand on Ruth's arm. "It's not that I didn't want another daughter," she said, "it's just that...I was afraid."
Ruth's eyebrow went higher.
Anna nodded. "Yes, afraid. Boys are...different. You know?"
"You expect them to get into trouble," Anna continued. "You can deal with that. But, your sister...she was always—"
"—perfect," Ruth completed for her mother.
Anna shrugged, her thin shoulders rising off the pale linen sheets for a moment.
"Yes," she said. "And I was afraid another daughter would be different."
Ruth laughed, resonant, self-deprecating.
"Well," she said, "you weren't wrong about that." Her face grew serious. "And yet," she said, "here I am and your perfect daughter, Myriam, is far away."
"She has her husband and children to care for," Anna said, growing animated.
Ruth held her hands up in front of her. "I don't disagree."
"If you had children," Anna said, "you would know."
"I have a mother," Ruth countered. "I know enough to be here when you need me."
They fell silent for a time, Ruth staring at the wall beside her mother's bed, Anna searching Ruth's face for the pain she knew was there.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. "Sorry for what I said. I know you can't..."
Ruth shook her head. "No, I can't have children. Not birth them anyway. Not even contribute to the process." Her voice wavered slightly. "But I knew that."
The only sound for a while was Anna's labored breathing. Then, "I knew you were different," Anna said, "not what I expected."
Ruth laughed again.
"I wasn't what I expected either, Mom," she said. "That took a lot of time and pain."
"But you're happy now?" Anna said.
Ruth shrugged. "I'm me now," she said. "Happy? Who's happy?"
Anna laughed and then convulsed from pain. Ruth gripped her hand until the spasm passed.
"Please," Anna said, her voice weak. "Please don't make me laugh. It hurts too much." She smiled.
Ruth smiled in answer. She looked around the room, little changed from the years when she was growing up. She looked at the large wardrobe that dominated the wall to the right of her mother's bed.
Anna saw her looking. "I used to find you in there almost every day when you were five years old," she said.
Ruth nodded. "Even younger," she said. "I loved the smell and feel of your clothes."
"You grew out of that," Anna said.
"I just switched to Myriam's," Ruth said. "She was closer to me in age."
Anna nodded and silence again fell in the room.
Ruth's gaze drifted to the photograph of her parents that stood on her mother's bedside table.
"Your father," Anna said, "he never understood—"
"My father," Ruth broke in, "understood perfectly well. It may have taken him time to deal with it, but he did. I was with him when he died."
"A dutiful daughter is a blessing," her mother said.
"Better than perfect?" Ruth asked with a smile.
Anna reached out and patted Ruth's arm. "Yes," she said. "Yes."
She looked at Ruth, searching her face. "I was afraid, as I said, of another daughter." She paused, and gripped Ruth's wrist tightly.
"But not now, not now. Even though it cost me a son, I'm happy I have my daughter Ruth here with me now."
Ruth placed her hand over her mother's. She frowned slightly at the reminder of who she had been, of the son Anna felt she had "lost".
"It's OK, Mom," she whispered. "I'm here. I've always been your daughter. I just didn't look like it for a while."
Anna nodded, saying nothing. She lay her head back on her pillow and closed her eyes.
Ruth sat, watching as her mother slept.