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11/3/13

Death Has Entered Our House

Here in America we have Halloween, but where I was born they have Illumination, perhaps the equivalent of The Day of the Dead, when people go to the cemetery with candles and flowers. 

[IRINA imagines talking on the phone to her MOTHER who is dressed in black sits at a table with her hands straightening the lace tablecloth. She is exhausted and sad, yet full of dignity and relieved.]
MOTHER
Your brother died, on Saturday.
Death has entered our house.
Oh, my daughter, I was so worried about you. How are you? Life can be so hard for some.
Everybody is terribly, terribly sad. He was so young. The phone rings continuously and that’s why, maybe you can’t catch us.
He died next to me. Lord, I don’t know why I’ve been so cruelly punished.
I was never interested in luxury or other comforts of this world, because you are all my joy. God will help us get through all the trials!
Do you remember our neighbor Gyuszi? He died the same way a year ago. Exactly a year ago. His father came and said, “We can only follow His way.” We cannot do anything. [She crosses herself.]
Mihai had a heart attack. But it was because of… you know, alcohol.
He was sick from the last day of drinking and vomited at 6 a.m.
Then he ate a bit, drank the leftover coffee, and made another one and went to the market. He came back fast. It was Saturday morning. We argued and I asked him not to drink anymore. He said he wouldn’t drink until Easter. "But why do you have to drink on Easter?" "I’ll drink a beer because it’s holiday." We said that on Monday we’d go buy him some handsome blue jeans—I couldn’t give him a lot of money in hand, because he’d drink them with his so-called friends. He said he had to fix his teeth to which I told him after Easter. He said he'd go back to bed—he came drunk from the market. Later on people from the pub told me he drank a few shots of brandy and a Turkish coffee. He was very, very sick, Irina. He never ate anything and got drunk morning, noon and evening. And he drank such strong coffee! He had three teaspoons of Turkish coffee to a cup and drank about 2 or 3 a day plus two cigarette packs a day.
It was about 9, 10, I don’t remember exactly. He was on the floor. Adrian saw him falling on the floor, but the little scoundrel jumped on him, poked his nose with his fingers, such a naughty child! Then he came to play out in the yard and didn’t tell me anything! After awhile I went in to check on him and saw him on the floor. The coat he wore in the morning was rolled under his head, his face was turned towards the door. He had a cigarette in hand between his fingers spread on the rug. Maria told me I should take the cigarette from his hand to avoid putting the carpet on fire. I could barely pull the cigarette out, he was clutching the cigarette—probably he was already dead. I covered him with two blankets. It wasn’t the first time he was sleeping in front of the bed on the rug. He couldn’t climb into the bed.
After half an hour I checked on him again. I was surprised to see he was in the same position on the rug. I shouted at him, I shook him up, make him get into the bed! He was not moving! I rubbed his back, but he didn’t react in any way. Again I didn’t realize he was dead. I called the ambulance of course, then a neighbor, then Maria. The two women stated that Mihai was dead. I still didn’t believe it. Meanwhile the ambulance arrived and unfortunately the doctor too confirmed he was dead and there was nothing that could be done. He died in two minutes.
Heart attack. He didn’t suffer.
It’s in God’s hands.
April 12, 2003: The saddest day of my life.
Don’t fear, I'll be alright! You don’t need to come home now. I know it’s hard with the green card papers.
All that money. Of course you can’t come home! Take care of yourselves. Do you have enough food to eat? I pray for you every day. Every single day. You don’t manage too brilliantly in America. You have your own trouble. Please don’t get ill.
He was very, very unhappy! He went through a divorce. Being a handsome boy, the girls loved him, but he fell for those he shouldn’t have.
He never listened to us. We wanted him to go to college to Cluj, close to home, but he went to the Aircraft Institute in Bucharest. He placed 8 out of the 100 seats, regardless of all the connections the other candidates had. In high school he always got prizes in the national math Olympics.
He suffered because of the social injustice. He couldn’t find work. Without money or connections, his intelligence was worth nothing. He had no one to help him go abroad, and we had no money to give him to that end. Without an occupation he drowned his bitterness in alcohol.
After Gyuszi died because of alcohol, he got a bit scared and checked in at the internal ward. They diagnosed him with etilism and recommended him not to drink a drop of alcohol, but he didn’t obey the doctor’s advice. I tried to discuss it with him be it in a peaceful way, be it harshly.
Lord, how fearful I was for him. I saw him walking down the road of ruin and I couldn’t help him with anything.
Most of the time he wouldn’t acknowledge his drinking bouts. Lately he didn’t care about anything. At times he turned violent. He couldn’t control himself. My heart was breaking for him.
Not for a second did I think that he could die of a heart attack. We thought of cirrhosis of the liver, that has a slower evolution and meanwhile we hoped he’d give up drinking.
He was sent to the psychiatry ward at the state hospital, but he would not hear of it. I gave him money to go to a private clinic, but he kept postponing. He had no appetite, no desire to live. "Mother, tell me one single reason to keep on living!" he would say.
He was so kind and loved by everybody. Everybody knew him. Everybody came from all over the town, to tell us how sorry they were. Even the Gypsies came! Everybody loved him. Our townspeople are very kind when it comes to distress. The relatives came from Turda, cousin Nelu and Puiu, and from Bra┼čov, cousin Dorel and uncle Cosmin and Aurica.
The first part of funeral service was in the front yard. It was all black with people, the street too! We had three priests and a deacon. The sermon was two hours. Though it was a sad day, God was kind: it didn’t rain.
The hearse went along with your brother and sister in front, next to your father and a few relatives. I went by car. The cemetery is a bit out of the way.
We cried until we ran out of tears. Our poor son! The pain is killing us. Our relatives comforted us a bit. We are sadder, older and poorer…
The priests said we should focus on Easter and cleanse ourselves from sin. We should not gather riches, because we won’t take them with us. We should think of Jesus Christ.
It was a beautiful sermon.
I can’t remember all of it now. My head is in a fuzzy cloud. I’m tired. Your father hasn’t slept since Mihai died.
[She cries, heartbroken.]
We were very, very ill on Sunday, but your sister gave us pills and checked on our blood pressure. At least your father stopped drinking. He got scared. We told him, "Please, please, tati, don’t drink anymore, don’t drink, please." And he said, "No, no. I haven’t had a drink today. It’s the enemy number one, alcohol. No, no…"
Catrina didn’t go to work since Friday, but today she had to go. All her patients were waiting for her. She had to go.
How is Sorin? Is he tall and handsome like your father? He should take care with the bike, so that he should not get in trouble again. He should ride cautiously!
They did the autopsy and then we brought him home. At dawn I lit the candle for him, and we put him in the earth. The eternal place is a bit out of the way. We took the money that we put aside for our funerals and used it for him. Who would have thought?
Nowadays if you can’t fend for yourself, no one helps you. His wife gave us the place next to her mother, and we are thinking of buying two lots for ourselves there, to be near him. Though it’s a bit out of the way.
Not many came up to the cemetery. We had 45 guests for the memorial dinner. The priests sanctified the house, and his room. They put a crucifix in it.
I’ll start going to church. I’ll go to the little church on Flowers Street.
Oh, they fixed it quite well after the revolution. There are a lot of churches now!
I’m afraid I’ll go crazy, my dear. I was sitting at the table and thinking, I shall tell him when he comes from the pub how wonderful was his funeral! Then I thought, but he won’t come home anymore! Maybe I’m losing my mind, my dear…
I’ll talk to him. People talk to the dead, don’t they? They go to the cemetery and talk to them. Though they’re gone. We don’t know, we don’t know, maybe they are still around.
Such pain I don’t wish to any mother on earth. There is no greater pain in this world than to lose your child, the one you gave birth to, you raised him. I remember his first steps, his first words, his first smile. I loved him with all my being. A piece of my heart was torn away with him. Some console me, "Don’t be desperate because you have other children." But it’s not like that, because in the heart of a mother each child has his own place. Nothing can substitute that loss. I’ll take this pain to the tomb with me, that can’t be far. There we will see each other again. That’s my only hope.
We were like this, around the house, the two of us, all day. He was, you know, a… different kind of child. He didn’t listen to us.
Ever since he was small he was very energetic. When he came to this world he was 4.850 kilos—he was the maternity ward’s star. Each time we changed his diapers he kicked strongly with his little legs. He was a beautiful child, with a sweet smile, loved by everyone. When he was seven, he went with a friend who had a dog and didn’t come home in the afternoon. We looked for him everywhere. Oh, Lord, how I got scared! In the end I called the police and they searched for him and when we were desperate he shows up and climbs into the apricot tree! No matter how much the police or I begged him, he didn’t want to get down from the tree. We were happy that we found him.
We feel so guilty that we were harsh with him, but we thought it was for his own good. We wanted him not to waste himself. For his own good! We would quarrel, the two of us; he’d come and go about business. Now he’s gone.
Oh, there were so many wreaths on his tomb. His wife brought a white one, made of fresh carnations. It was covered with wreathes. I bought one on your behalf too. On the ribbons it was written: From Irina and Sorin. We’ll never forget you.
AUTOMATIC PHONE CARD ANNOUNCEMENT
You have one minute left.
MOTHER
I bought a red one, your color. It was made out of paper, so that it lasts for six weeks. Then we’ll have a memorial service and we’ll clean the tomb.
This is the situation. I’ll open the store tomorrow.
The neighbors come and tell me, "Open the store, stay among people, otherwise you might go nuts or fall sick." Father couldn’t go to the market these days. He felt ill. He talked all night with Dorel, and he stayed in bed today. Catrina takes care of us. Gives us pills.
Today I gave back the extra cooking pots to our neighbors. The guests left in the morning… Hello? Hello?
[The phone line gets cut off. Blackout.]

Written in 2004

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