My Mother, Laura
By Enlik Tagasheva
The art of caretaking.
Much of my adolescence was spent taking care of Laura.
I remember living in Kazakhstan, sitting on the wool carpet with its striking yet simple red and black design, listening to my grandmother wail in disbelief. Her oldest daughter was now paralyzed, alone in America.
Before that unforgettable phone call, my grandmother would tell me, “America will make us rich.” Everyone in Kazakhstan hopes to “make it in America,” and Laura working in the U.S. as an interpreter was a dream come true. Every day, I’d peek around the corner, watching my relatives crowd around the landline, listening to Laura talk about the different cities she’d visited.
“Miami? Did you swim in the ocean? What’s it like?”
But Laura never called to talk about Miami. She called to see how her only child was doing. My aunt handed over the phone, and I raised it to my ear.
“Приве́т жаным” Hi my love.
We boarded the plane to New York only hours after that phone call. I watched the skyscrapers expand through the window. I turned to my grandmother, who sniffled after blowing her nose into a handkerchief. “America will help her,” she whispered. She noticed me staring, and I could see the worry in her eyes. How would we afford the rehabilitation? Medications? A wheelchair?
When we got to Mount Sinai Hospital, my eyes followed a woman being wheeled out of her room by a blue-scrubbed nurse. She came closer and stopped, stretched out her thin arms, and I ran to embrace her. I heard my grandmother weeping as she came to join, a moment of euphoria born out of tragedy.
In the following days, I watched Disney Channel for the first time on our thrifted couch, muting out the clashing sounds of kitchen pots as my grandmother attempted to recreate ethnic Kazakh meals in an American kitchen. Each morning, she yanked the blankets off my warm body to dress me for the first grade, then hurried over to do the same to Laura. Her break came when the home attendants began their morning shifts; they cooked Mexican rice and beans, Hungarian goulash, or Jamaican red pea soup. Exhaustion plagued my grandmother’s bones. “America is not for me,” she told me while packing her suitcase. “But it’s for you.”
By age twelve, I found myself following the same routine that my grandmother did: dressing, feeding, and bathing Laura. I, too, experienced constant exhaustion. I couldn’t leave as my grandmother did, nor could I escape that I was never going to be a child again. Instead, I’d be a permanent health care aide for my disabled mother.
The whispers of my peers echoed in my head when Laura and I entered school. Their curious eyes glanced at my mother’s motorized chair. When we boarded Metro-North, the eye rolls of delayed passengers permeated my thoughts. Laura, to me, was like a boulder that blocked the bridge to normalcy.
But as the years passed, the boulder became a pebble. My mother’s disability became invisible to me. If passengers on the train glared at us, I glared back. My mother was no longer someone I needed to care for, protect, or defend– she became my mom. We discovered what it meant to be a mother and a daughter. We are not perfect, that’s obvious, but when I look at my mom and see who I could become, I wonder if she sees in me who she could have been. When my classmates asked what happened, I told them truthfully: she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck. I watched their grins of curiosity slowly turn into confusion and disbelief. Perhaps they assumed that a single mother who was quadriplegic couldn’t possibly raise a child, let alone the perfectly normal one standing in front of them. I was my mother’s prize to the world— a living breathing example that she did something right— even when everything went wrong.
The frustration and anger I felt as a pre-teen has dwindled. I often think of the moment we met in the hospital, when I was five and ran into her arms. Now, as a college student, sitting in an empty computer lab at midnight to write this, I can not neatly wrap up a continuing story of my mom and me. Instead, sometimes I find myself staring at my mom, not at her chair or the scar that runs down behind her neck. Just at my mom: my mom, Laura.
This piece has been edited, revised, workshopped, and completely torn to pieces just to write the same thing throughout this past year. The story of my mom and I immigrating to the U.S. is incredibly dense and through working with my Girls Write Now mentor, I have been able to finally be confident and open with the piece. I struggle with ending my stories because I used to think that endings need to be neatly wrapped and finished, but how can you do that with an unfinished story? I’ve learned that you don’t need to have a grandiose ending, as long as it’s authentic and ties all the beautiful ideas you wrote together, then that’s a finish!
Enlik Tagasheva grew up in The Bronx after immigrating from Kazakhstan when she was five. She studies Written Arts and Russian at Bard College and is a 2021-2022 New York Times College Scholarship recipient. Enlik has previously interned at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, doing social media for their educational programs and continues to work in media at her college. She loves exploring the nature of the Hudson Valley and hanging out with her dog. In the future, she hopes to travel back to Central Asia and document the lives and stories of the people there.
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