Why It’s Called The Practice of Medicine

My cell phone rang loudly in my purse  as I was waiting for a test to determine if there was something wrong. The calcium in my blood was going up, a sign that  perhaps the small glands on top of the thyroid, called parathyroids, might not have functioned right.

Everyone in the waiting room looked at me disapprovingly. Doesn’t she know to read?

“NO Cell Phones.” A big red sign clearly stated right in front of me. I felt ignorant. I was ignorant!

I stepped out of the waiting room and  looked at the number calling me. It was the girld’s school. I answered because why would the school call at 11:00 A.M.?

“This is the Nurse, Natalie is in my office, she is throwing up and needs to go home.”

I drove quickly and grabbed my pale, half-fainted daughter. She was petite, a gymnast, diver and swimmer, an active, happy 12-year old.  Why was she suddenly throwing up?

“Did you eat something?”

She shook her head,’ No.”

The next day I kept her from school and because the “bug” wasn’t going away and she was dehydrated, I took her to the E.R of our local Hospital, Abington.

She was admitted, but the doctors didn’t know why was she having this odd problem, which was occurring suddenly, as one was talking to her. She clearly had no will of her own or saying in what was happening.

Now she had a slight fever and abdominal pain and after a few days of running irrelevant tests it was decided her appendics might be the problem. 

After the appendectomy she stopped throwing up and two days after the surgery we went home happy she was going to be fine in time for her 13th birthday and Christmas.

A week into our new-found bliss, the nightmare started again, even more violent.

I took her to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.

Puzzled looks. She was again dehydrated, pale, weak…

She was admitted in the hospital, first in the Adolescents Department, but soon it was decided she had a gastro intestinal problem and was transferred. Tests and more tests. She was given enormous quantities of acid blockers and other medications meant to make her stop and “keep” the food.

I called my clients, cancelled all appointments and slept on a chair by her bed. She was loosing wait so fast, the doctor informed me if something was not happening soon they will have to put her on a feeding tube.  But nothing was getting better and for days I watched my child unable to keep food and disappearing to 86 pounds!

The endoscopy showed she was healthy. All tests showed she was fine. She looked like a ghost and loosing more and more wait. I feared she’d die!

One afternoon, I had to leave my post by her bed to go to my office, as rent was due. I asked Kevin to replace me at the post by her bed, for a few hours.

I came back as fast as I could.

“Did anything happen? Did any doctor visit?”

“Yes, a team of psychiatrists.” He announced. “They asked if we had marital problems in our family and I told them yes.”

Now they wanted to see Natalie and evaluate her psych. Since the tests showed she was in perfect physical health, there was one answer: It was in her head! Our marital problems were traumatizing her…

The possibility that perhaps the tests weren’t the right tests never entered the doctors’ minds, especially that the father confirmed we had problems in our family and now, the poor child, subconsciously was vomiting because of us!

The team of three therapists and a psychiatrists interrogated her, as she reported to me, for over an hour and told her she, Natalie, “trained” her throat to reject the food, but with a lot of work, they will help her learn to eat again.

Natalie had always been precautious, outspoken and as young as she was, the absurdity of the diagnisis, made her walk out  of the meeting.

 Oh, now this was even worse. The patient wasn’t cooperating and her mother, me, was totally crazy too and rejecting what was now a done diagnosis of a psychiatric condition which much later, I learned it was called conversion disorder. In all fairness to the psychiatrist, now I know that a diagnosis of a mental disorder was made after ruling out any medical conditions. So, it was in fact the mistake of the medical doctors who told the psychiatrist Natalie was physically healthy. I wished we, especially Natalie, knew the way people are diagnosed then, because that incident triggered a life-long mistrust of therapists in my daughter. I could not blame her, I could only wish she would accept there are good therapists  around and not all medical doctors misdiagnose. Only an exceptional doctor has the confidence to admit not knowing everything and always being opened to learning more. Isn’t this how new discoveries continue to be made, isn’t this the essence of progress in science? 

Meanwhile, Natalie continued to lose wait and the tube was scheduled to be inserted in a couple of days if some miracle didn’t happen.

Angry and desperate, I checked her out of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and took her at Saint Christopher’s, the other large children’s hospital in the city.

The new doctor ordered only an x-ray of her abdomen and looked at her: pale, thin, ready to faint.

“Your daughter has a severe intestinal bacterial infection and because she was treated intensely with acid blockers it got worse. Acid kills bacteria and because acid was blocked this aggravated the condition. 

“But she had an endoscopy.” I protested. “They took samples and they were all negative!”

“The infection was in her small bowel, where the endoscope probably didn’t reach. She needed Flagyl, a strong antibiotic and also Nystatin, which was an antifungal. It would prevent fungal infections because she was to take an antibiotic.

 Suddenly I wasn’t crazy, I was just the grateful mother of a very sick child!  No long explanations, no “looks.”

After less than a week,  Natalie was back to her own happy self and went back to school. She was eating normally and surprise, the throat which she so skilfully trained to not accept food, was accepting it again!

Gratitude would be an understatement. My child was not going to die, she was not crazy, I wasn’t crazy. What a relief.

But the entire trauma of being in and out of hospitals for three months, of being doubted by so many reputable doctors and my child traumatized by the very people, the therapists, who were supposed to help her, took a toll on both of us. It had been a life-changing experience. 

I had insomnia and obsessed with the whole nightmare because deep in my heart I believed  if there would have been flexibility in the doctors’ thinking, they would have concluded what Dr. Blecker at St. Christopher concluded in 15 minutes by looking at an abdominal x-ray.

The root of the problem, I thought, was at Abington Hospital when suddenly, after her appendectomy, she felt fine for a few days… why? Why did she feel better and then the problem attacked her again with a vengeance.

In the middle of the night, I had a revelation:

Wasn’t it routine to give patients a strong dose of antibiotic before surgeries, to prevent possible infections following the procedure? I bet, I told myself, she was given a strong antibiotic before her surgery and when the antibiotic warn off  and the symptoms of infection came back and she started throwing up again.

This was a theory.  I needed to prove it to myself I was right.

With that thought in mind, I took the elevator to the basement of Abington Hospital, to the hospital file room. I asked the clerk. I wanted a list of all the medications Natalie was given while in their care. I waited, and waited and she finally produced a printed list. No antibiotics listed on it.

“Are you sure this is the complete list?” I insisted.

She looked at me with the same look as most doctors: “Crazy, pushy, no good!”

I didn’t even care they thought I was crazy, I was getting used!

“That’s all the doctor ordered for your daughter!”

“Are you sure? I think she was given an antibiotic before her surgery. Isn’t it routine before surgeries?”

I had a point… she stopped arguing and the look of “she is crazy” disappeared.

“Well… there is only one other way to know for sure, if we go to the hospital pharmacy and look up their list. It almost NEVER happens, everything the doctor orders goes on this chart, but… may be because it was a one-time shot the antibiotic wasn’t written in her chart.”

The clerk and I went to the hospital’s pharmacy and she asked to see all the medications ordered for Natalie while in the hospital.

We went down the list… and bingo!

Before the surgery she was given a strong dose of… Flagyl!

That’s all I needed to know to stop feeling crazy.

I  never sued the hospitals which almost killed my child and implied we were both mentally ill, but because I had a “thing” for justice and sometimes it may have  looked like craziness, but it wasn’t, at least in my heart, it’s a matter of principle. I needed to know we were not crazy!

The lessons we learned were to ALWAYS trust our gut, in an abstract way, certainly! Also to have good health insurance which would allow a second opinion because to stay alive is not a luxury, the alternative is… death!

And finally, after all. that’s why it is called the practice of medicine, it’s not a science… or is it?

The Healer Needed Healing!

The Center for Human Integration (CHI) was located in North East Philadelphia,  on a few acres of wooded land belonging to The Medical Mission Sisters. Wilde life lived in safety and freedom on this oassys of peace and hope God placed in the mist of the fast-paced life which  taught us  from infancy that doing, not being, was all that mattered.

I turned into the long, winding driveway which dead-ended at the Center which  also housed  the Chapel, while most of the nuns lived in small,  spotless and simple houses on the grounds of the Mission, to the right of the Center. Medical Mission Sisters was a group of Catholic Sisters whose members had a medical background.  Their  work, healing the poor and hopeless, those forgotten by our fast-paced culture around the world, was known and respected in the communities of faith. What was most extraordinary, was the acceptance of a variety of healing methods which was taught and practiced at the Center.

The Center was managed by Sister Mary and Sister Sheila. Life-long friends, strenghtened by their faith in God and the belief in the integration of mind, body and spirit, they complemented each other in their work. over the years, they lead thousands on their way to discovering the power of their minds, the possibilities of their bodies to heal in an environment of love and faith in the mist of goodness which  still existed in our world, if we only sought hard enough, if we only trusted.

I started my training in the Healing Arts at the Center and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. The foot reflexology, the BASIC massage,  reiki, aromatherapy, cranyo-sacral therapy, and even a certification in hypnotherapy, to name a few of the many wonders I had had the privilege of learning at the Center.  What made the learning complete, were the people I met there, who, like me, believed in the power of the human mind, the unseen but powerful energy we all possessed naturally but which we had been taught to ignore, suppress and deny.

Many years have passed  since the trainings, but the friendship with Susan overcame obstacles and  distance. It reaffirmed that when a friendship is real, it lasts in spite of inconveniences and it grows stronger with time.

After the basic training, as part of the requirement to graduate as a certified massage therapist, I had to perform a number of documented massage treatments. I grabbed whoever dared to be touched by my eager to heal but inexperienced hands.  Most of  the people on whom I practiced, became paying clients. Amazing, I thought. I didn’t have to beg anyone, no one was insulting me or dying in my living room! People started to tell me there was a heat in my hands which was more than soothing, and soon the words “healing hands” were used when others described my work. I wasn’t advertising my new business, people were calling me, friends told friends and I was treating whole families. I had more requests than I could handle. It was a miracle!

It was the best of times, a time when I felt I was earning my living doing something which was truly helping others and which I loved. It felt good to not be rejected, to not being told “no, thank you.”

Soon after I graduated, I was hired in an MD’s office. Most of my clients suffered pain following accidents and after five years of working in that office and having performed over 2500 treatments, it was time for me to move on.

In 2000 I took a leap of faith and rented a small office in Wyncote,  PA.  I owned my business! What a dream. Work didn’t seem like work. Hours flew by and between taking care of my daughters, now in school, and working long, but rewarding hours, my life seemed to have reached a peaceful balance, at last. I had found my niche!

Beside, it really helped that I was again bringing money into our household and Kevin seemed relieved the burden of supporting the family was now off his shoulders.

One morning, he left for the office to only return at Noon.

“What happened? Why are you home so early,” I asked and I already knew the answer, but didn’t want to know it, my shoulders weren’t strong enough to bear the entire weight of a household.

“I quit,” He said. “I am going in business for myself!”

Every morning he went in the office on the third floor of our house, turned on the computer and worked! What was he working on, I never knew but two years went by and every month he told me a “deal” was going to close soon but while my hands continued to heal ailing bodies and soothe hurting minds, the promised deals didn’t close and there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to make enough money to support the entire household.

When I was done working, late at night, I ran cold water on my “healing” hands wishing and praying the water would heal me… I even tried hugging a pine tree and visualizing all the hurting energies leaving my body, being absorbed by the roots of the tree and dispersed into our loving Earth… I inhaled calming  lavender and visualized my hands cooling off and becoming healthy again. By whole body ached, but there was no one to touch me as I touched others!

The healer needed healing but the healing was nowhere to be found.  I was worried and those damn deals wouldn’t close!  I was lonely and angry…my mind was betraying me, I was loosing faith and I knew sooner or later my emotional pain was going to manifest in my body…it was only a matter of time!


The Voice from the Past Comes Back!

The day after my surgery, as I was still pumping morphine into my ailing body, Kevin and the girls came to visit me.

The pathology was back and it wasn’t cancer, time to celebrate life!

The girls told me all about their babysitter, the dogs, the T.V shows, while Kevin stood by my bed silent. I knew it was hard for him and I wanted to appologize, but what was I going to say? ” Sorry I had a tumor, I really, really didn’t plan on one? ”

“So,” I tried to encourage communication, ” How are you doing? How’s work?”

On second thought, perhaps asking about work was not the best opening, but he ignored it anyway, and unrelated to me question said:

” Your ex-husband called yesterday while you were on the operating table.”

“Who? What did you say?”

“Yes, you heard me, your ex called because he said he had a premonition something was wrong with you and he wanted to know if you were okay!”

“So… you spoke… the two of you spoke? What did you tell him? Where is he?”

After the frentic calls from Austria, after we mailed him money and books to learn computer language and various remedies for back pain, the communications stoped. I had not heard from him in a few years…

“Cristian is now in the States. In Atlanta, Georgia, working for Coca Cola. He told me he is very happily re-married and has two boys by his  third wife…”

 “Third wife? What happened to the one for whom he left me? He already had a baby with her, remember? When they defected he sent her back to Romania to be with the baby… she was supposed to follow him later, she and the baby?”

“I really don’t want to get involved in this!” Kevin cut me short. “All I know, when I told him you had major surgery he said he is coming to Philadelphia.”

“Who is coming to Philadelphia? My ex-husband? Why?”

“To see you, because I told him  you were really sick and Cristian said he’d stay in a hotel, but I offered to have him stay with us. The house is big, why should he spend money… he has all these kids to support.”

There was no feeling in Kevin’s voice. He didn’t look surprised, happy or unhappy, he was just reporting the facts: My ex called, they spoke and he was coming to Philadelphia. What was more incredible, Kevin invited him to stay with us!

And… what was wrong with this picture? Was  Kevin a perfect gentlemen or he didn’t care? Which? Should I ask or let it be, just go with the flow… Weak and stunned, with my head swarling from pain medications I made the right decision and kept my mouth shut.

I told my family I was tired, I needed to sleep and closed my eyes conveniently.

Being sick was a good excuse, I thought, as I was trying to understand why did my ex call, did he really have a “premonition” and why did my present husband invite him as a house-guest… didn’t he care or was he nice?

The bottom line was I might never find out but the fact of life was Cristian was going to come and  after 11 years, for the first time, see me weak, pale, bend over in pain… he was going to see the ruin of the woman he secretly married at 18!

Perhaps that’s why he was coming, to see it with his own eyes, just how deplorable I had become! And on top of it all he was going to be in the house. Day and night. I wouldn’t even have time to put make up on, unless I slept with make up, just in case I ran into him first thing in the morning.

And what was I going to tell the girls? Who was he? A friend from Romania? I didn’t think they were old enough to understand the concept of divorce and now he remarried and had a child and remarried again and had more children, all boys! Yes, a friend from Romania was the simplest explanation. I consulted Kevin. He shrugged his shoulders:

“Tell them whatever you want!”

What I really wanted was for both men to go to Hell and leave me alone so I could sleep and heal, but what I had to articulate aloud to my husband was:

” I just can’t believe you invited my ex to stay with us… ”

I had learned by then to limit my questions to a minimum because I never knew what could trigger unexpected reactions in my husband and if he chose to invite my ex-husband into our household as I was coming home from major surgery, such was life, I had to embrace the experience. How many husbands would even do this? How was this going to work out? I tried to see the humor in this unexpected twist of life. Yes, another twist!

When I was checked out of the hospital I was told to keep a small pillow against my abdomen and press gently.

Bended over, holding my pillow as  instructed, I steped out of the car and as I looked up, there was Cristian and my two children in the doorway of our home!

Kevin supported me by my arm:

“You said Cristian was coming tomorrow?”

“I wanted to surprize you,” He said, guiding my steps slowly.

Now, really, if it weren’t so bad, if I weren’t in pain and felt lie the ugliest woman on Earth, it would have been funny.

Actually, it was funny, if I could only step out of the grotesque picture in which I was surrounded by my present and ex husbands and more importantly, I had to explain to our children who was the man who showed up after my surgery. Was he a psychic?

Cristian came to meet us and supported me by the other arm, while telling the girls I was in pain and to wait until I sat down to give me hugs and kisses.

Miraculously, they listened to him. Obediently they waited until I sat on the couch. They behaved like Cristian was their friend, as if they knew them forever. INo need for me to explain… but time to find the truth, and the first words coming out of my mouth were:

“How did you know I was sick?”

“I just felt something was wrong and called and Kevin invited me over. I was right, you are very sick, you look sick.”

So… he was going to stick to his story about premonition!

Just what I wanted to hear from my ex. I looked sick! Yeah, now I was sure, he wanted to see me defeated, sick, perhaps dead!

“It’s only temporary. I will get better,” I assured him.

“Tell me about you… haven’t heard from you in years. Yes, more exactly, the last time I heard of you, not from you, was when Ingrid, Richard’s wife, wrote me a letter about how she was in love with you. I put you in touch with my friends in Austria and you broke up their marriage, didn’t you?”

He looked away and didn’t answer.

“I re-married a wonderful Austrian woman. She is 13 years-younger, she is perfect! We love children and already have two boys. Would you like to see pictures?”

“Wife number three? What happened to number two from Romania and the baby you two had? Are you supporting them?”

He looked away again and didn’t answer.

“She is the love of my life! I didn’t mean to leave my second wife, but you know… things happen and we fell in love!”

“You mean you and the Austrian girl, 13-years younger and who conveniently supplied you with Austrian citizenship?”

“I work for Coca Cola. They sent me here, at the headquarters. I make good money and support my family!”

The meds were wearing off… sure, he was supporting them but never supported us for the 14 years we were together. My mother’s work of a life-time and my work supported him in Romania. Through my mind paraded images of when I worked my entire summer vacation packaging books in a warehouse, images of blisters and bleeding hands while Cristian sat at home studyng for an entrance exam in the Polytechnic Institute, an exam he finally passed the third time he took it.    

What was it about me that no men ever supported me? How come now he was supporting his younger wife but when we were together I supported us?

Yeah… I heard enough about their happiness, their perfect children, their love and his amazing career. I felt sick in my stomach and pressed the pillow harder.

“Okay now, I am in pain. Make yourself comfortable, because I am going to bed.”

“The girls and I will play! Do you want to play hide-and-seek or another game?”

“No, no, pick me up and throw me in the air!” Eva demanded.

“Me too, me too!” cried Natalie hanging on to him.

He lifted them both and they were dancing in circles, around and around until dizzy with happiness they fell to the ground and laughed some more.

Kevin was no where to be seen.

I swollowed a pill and went to sleep.

The following day Cristian left and the girls cried.

I didn’t cry, I was glade the mascarade was over. However, before I came downstairs to say good-bye I carefully applied lipstick and blush so I looked alive, so he wouldn’t be left with an image of me half-dead.

He kissed my forehead and whispered:

“Remember, when there is a will, there is a way!”

Was this a parable I was supposed to unlock? Was he talking about himself? About us?

I decided it was about me and said aloud:

“Don’t worry, I have the will to get healthy again!”

We all waived good-bye as the cab was driving away, but Cristian didn’t wave back. He was gone!

Was I to be a Ginny Pig?

It was inevitable! The tumor was getting bigger and more painful. I had to have surgery, there was no way out. Major surgery meant six weeks of recovery time. Six weeks of being limited in my daily activities and unable to drive our children to their activities, but the unspoken fear was, “was this cancer?”

Unlike at the beginning, when I was assured times and again it was a cyst, nobody was taking the responsibility any longer. “Only pathology could tell for sure.”

My first priority was to speak with our Minister, Keith, and made him promise he would look after my girls, should I die… and made sure he prayed I didn’t die!

I  prepared the house for when I came back from the hospital. Froze meals, cleaned, laundry. One morning, I even got dressed in a red outfit, not realizing on a tape, red made me look fatter, and I  taped myself reading  to my kids several of their favorite books: ” The Run Away Bunny,” “Good Night Moon,” several  Dr. Seuss’ books, just in case I died.. they would remember their slightly overweight mother dressed in red and reading them children’s books.

I was prepared for the worst, I hoped for the best!

I knew I was in the best of hands, at one of the top hospitals in the country, The University of Pennsylvania. I trusted my surgeon, but over the years, I heard and saw people crippled as a result of an allergic reaction to the anesthesia and let’s face it, sometimes due to the inexperience of the anesthesiologist.  After all, it was a teaching hospital! I had to make sure about the anesthesia, to be done by someone experienced because I had small children and I justified in my head, because I had responsibilities I shouldn’t take risks and possibly die. As if it would have been okay for anyone to die!  Such selfishness! Unfortunately, I’d lie to make up a story, as I was totally focused on our problems and my fear that my girls might become orphans,  alone, with an unpredictable father who broke things out of the blue. I had to stay alive!

The hospital seemed to recognize the importance of anesthesia because two days before the surgery I met with the anesthesiologist. I liked him. He seemed reliable and knowledgeable.  I asked my questions and calmly he answered all of them. He even called me the night before the scheduled surgery and I really liked such thoughtfulness. It was reassuring  that my fears were taken seriously and respected. I was so lucky!
The following day, Kevin drove me to the hospital.

A nurse took me in the pre-op room, took my vital signs, I changed in a hospital gown and she placed me in a wheel chair and wheeled me in another small room with no windows.

“Wait here, they will take you to the operating room soon!”

She left. I started looking around. Bare walls, some equipment… no magazines. I started hyperventilating thinking of the surgery.

Suddenly the door open wide and a very tall, very handsome and very young doctor dashed in.

“Hi, I am your new anesthesiologist, there were some problems, you know, last-minute changes, so I’ll do your anesthesia! Let me quickly look through your file…”

No! This was NOT happening! He was young… that immediately translated in my mind as inexperienced. He was “quickly” going to read my file! Like, how quickly?

He was leafing through my file. He probably had graduated from a fast-read course but I was definitely not going to trust him with my ovary! Oh no… he was handsome, and I’d have loved to meet him perhaps at the opening of a museum or any party or fundraiser, but here, in the small room leading to the operating room where he was going to perhaps put me to sleep forever… no, the fact that he was handsome had no effect on me! I wanted an older, bold anesthesiologist, preferably with spectacles, because that could have been a sign he studied a lot!

“…and where is MY anesthesiologist, the one I met two days ago, the one who called me last night?” I finally asked him.

For a moment he looked perplexed, as if he didn’t understand what I was saying, or that a voice was coming out of my body!.

“Oh, that anesthesiologist! He was busy, something came up!”

“Really? Like what could have possibly come up between last night and now? Is he sick, is he dead?” I was furious and when I am furious I have no fear or common sense!

The handsome doctor stopped leafing “quickly” through my file and just looked at me in silence.

“And how many times have you done this before?” I continued and the anti-anxiety pill the nurse gave me wasn’t doing its job!

“Did what?” The handsome doctor asked.

“What do you mean what? The anesthesia you were about to try on me!”

“Oh, that! Rest assured I did this several times on much sicker and older people than you! You’ll be just fine!”

Oh, he said “several” like exactly how many times? He said “older and sicker people.” Oh, my God, Pastor Keith was probably not praying hard enough, I was about to become a Ginny pig, I definitely didn’t trust  this doctor at all!

“I am not going to do it!” I announced and tried to step out of the damn wheel chair.

“What do you mean? Where are you going? We are ready to take you in!”

“Sorry, I don’t want to die and if it weren’t my life I were concerned about and my kids being orphans, I wouldn’t hurt your feelings, but I really, really don’t want to die! Sorry. I am out of here!”

“I wasn’t going to kill you! I am a doctor!”

“No! Sorry!”

“Please wait, I’ll call the chief of anesthesiology,” He announced and dashed out the door closing it behind him.

Did he lock me in? I wasn’t going to try  to open the door because if it were locked I’d have really freaked out.

I sat back in the wheel chair and looked at the white walls. My heart was beating hard. I wondered if my blood pressure was up.

The door opened again and the handsome, young doctor came back  accompanied by an older doctor, which looked like my fantasy of an anesthesiologist: bold, glasses, middle-aged…

Yes! I liked him. I wanted him!

“I am the head of anesthesiology, I understand you would prefer that…”

“Could you please do my anesthesia? Please? I have two small children, I really can’t take any risks.”

The two looked at one another and the Chief said:

“Sure, I’ll do it, no problem, anything to make you comfortable.”

They wheeled me in the operating room and the Chief asked me to count to ten while the medication was sending me in La La Land…

Who really did my anesthesia I’d never know because next thing I remember was Pastor Keith leaning over my pained body and praying for me.

I was still fuzzy and disoriented but not fuzzy enough to not notice a vase with a beautiful white orchid.

I looked closer. On a small, elegant golden rimmed paper it said: “Get Well Soon!”

No signature…

Oh, it was probably from one of my many secret admirers… but I had none to know of!  I’d never know for sure. So many things I’d never know for sure and I’d have to apply what a very wise woman, Emily told me when I first arrived in D.C. ” Sometimes you have to have suspended judgement!.”

All that mattered was that I was alive and my daughters weren’t going to be orphans.  Yeah… he probably did do my anesthesia after all,  it was a teaching hospital…

The orchid was surely beautiful!

Was This Domestic Violence?

Our dream-trip to Holland, with all its ups and downs became one of those few memories I looked back to and felt better and hopeful when things were falling apart in my life.

May of 1990 was one of those times, when I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze, knocking at all doors and none was opening, and the oxygen was less and less and I couldn’t breathe anymore, yet I couldn’t find a way out! I was doomed to wait for my own death patiently, in the maze of life I so foolishly chose thinking it was the Garden of Paradise! As all adult children of alcoholics, I felt the load of the world on my shoulders. Even when those I loved and trusted did something wrong, it wasn’t their fault, it was always mine. I must have done something to trigger the rage, the beatings, the insanity! Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, it was always my fault! Had I only learned to please my husband, to keep my mouth shut… but even silence was interpreted… I was definitely hopeless in my attempts to please, I just didn’t know how!

It was May 22, 1990 and I had just signed up for courses at the Medical Mission Sisters’ Center for Human Integration to learn foot reflexology, with the hope that Sister Mary, as a result of me being good enough, will then invite to me become a student in their renowned BASIC Massage therapy training school. I had paid for my trainings with my last saved money. I was broke and financially dependent on my husband.

Beside always being fascinated by how the body heals, by the mysteries of the Universe and  how, we, as individual human beings could make the world a better place, I must confess,  I also had a hidden, personal reason to want to enter the profession of the healing arts…

At the beginning of 1990 I started experienced sharp pain in my right ovary and the gynecologist assured me it was just a cyst, meaning it was filled with fluid and most likely it will absorb. However, she decided they will “keep an eye” on it, just in case… it could be a tumor, but chances were slim…

Every month I went for check ups, as the pain and discomfort increased, every months, as  the “cyst” became larger and larger, until my doctor had to admit it was a tumor which needed removed.  She suggested laparoscopy, but I was so afraid I’d die, that I went for a second opinion to a famous doctor at Jefferson Hospital. After performing a thorough pelvic exam,  his opinion was the tumor “felt borderline,” meaning that until it was taken out and pathology performed, nobody could tell for sure whether it was benign or cancerous. Given the specifics, he did not recommend a laparoscopy because if anything went wrong and the tumor was punctured, if it were cancerous, the cancer would  spread… What he suggested, was  major surgery and carefully removing not only the tumor, but my whole right ovary.  He gave me the name of an oncological surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania and it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do with my life, a decision even harder to make, given the fact that I had two small children.

Kevin listen to my dilemmas and shrugged his shoulders.

“I am not a doctor, do whatever the doctors tell you.”

He was distant again, the glimpse of the man I married and whom I saw for a few days before our trip to Holland had disappeared again!

I felt so dependent on him. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t earning money and I was sick and in pain and trying to smile and keep up with the motherly and wifely duties expected of me, but it was clear I wasn’t doing a good job because Kevin acted more and more aggravated and distant.

I was mortified I might lose him to another woman. He started going out again after work, the pattern from before we married was repeating itself! I was jealous and helpless! Often  I called him at work, generally about an hour before he was supposed to leave for the day, so that I could time cooking and having the food fresh and hot on the table when he arrived. Secretly, I hoped he would be attracted by the promised marital bliss and not go out after work with people and in places I felt threatened our marriage.

That fateful afternoon, I called  around 5:00 PM and the receptionist, a woman I didn’t know, first probed whether I was his wife, because as far as she knew he was single!  She assured me, he left at Noon and never returned..

“If you were his wife, as you claim, you should know where your husband is!” She said and hang up.

Six o’clock arrived but not my husband. The children wanted to play house, but I felt we might not have one for long. Where was he? Why didn’t he let me know he was going to be late?

I was pacing back and force thinking… what to do?

At about 8:30 the door unlocked and Kevin appeared in the doorway. He looked pale and wasn’t smiling.

I reasonable wife would have probably just say “hello honey, welcome home.” The ideal wife, would have taken his coat and brought his slippers and pulled out the chair for him to sit and served the overdone meal apologizing it was slightly burned… yes this is what a normal wife would have probably done, but I didn’t! Instead, I asked:

“Where have you been? I called your office and the receptionist told me you left after Noon…”

That was all I managed to say. He threw his briefcase and screaming banged his head on the walls several times.

“Stop! Stop, you are bleeding!” I managed to say. “I am sorry I called, I…”

“Don’t ever call my office! It’s none of your business where I am! You are checking on me…”

He broke his glasses and smashed an antique chair , a present from his mother.  He pinned me to the wall and punched holes in the wall with his fists and feet. He screamed insults against our children, me and the entire world who didn’t understand him.

Then, suddenly, he stopped, let go of me, and dashed out the door!

There was silence. He was gone! Did I dream? I looked around at the broken things, the holes in the wall in the shape of my body… no, it really happened…and now what?

“Eva, Natalie, where are you sweethearts? Don’t be scared. Daddy was just a little upset…”

From a closet, the girls, holding the dogs in their arms, stepped out cautiously:

“Is he gone?”

“Yes,” he left…

Tears were streaming from my children’s eyes:

“Where did he go, Mom, what if he never comes back??”

They were right, where did he go, disheveled, with no coat on, no glasses…bleeding… what if he killed himself, what if he went to a Pub and drank! A few years before, I banned alcohol from our home, given our families history of substance abuse… what if the substances were winning him over, destroying the safety of our home… or the illusion of it!

Almost 10:00 P.M. now, and he was still not home.

Whom should I call? We had no family, I had no family! No mother, sister, brother, not even an aunt or an uncle! But I did have friends and desperate and confused I called my friend and neighbor, Tara.

I always  subscribed to the saying “God gives you your relatives, but you chose your friends.”

I am a living example that I survived because of  the support my friends  offered unconditionally and  sadly, despite of relatives.

I told Tara what happened and at 10:00 P.M. without me suggesting she came over, she just said:

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

…and she did! That’s what real friends do, they don’t talk much, as words are cheap. Real friends just do!

We called the Police even if he didn’t disappear for more than 24 hours because I was concerned about his life. He behaved irrational.

The Policemen came quickly and he was empathetic, he wrote a report. He assured us they will be on the look out for someone of that description…even if 24 hours didn’t pass.

The Policeman left. Tara cleaned the pieces of  broken glass and made me tea. She explained something to my girls… I wouldn’t know what could she have possibly told them, but they stopped sobbing.

It was now almost mid-night. The girls fell asleep on the couch, watching television. Tara had to leave…

The dogs stopped shaking and I sipped the calming tea. I was alone again. I was afraid…

Oh, why did I make that  fuss over nothing! Afterall, what had happened  was not as bad as what I remembered from my childhood, when my mother emerged from fights with my father with black and blue eyes and broken bones. Oh no, it was even better than the times when in rages of jealousy, my first husband  in Romania  strangled me and punched me in my eye. Of course,  we washed our dirty clothes in the family, it was no one’s business! The following day, at college, I had to wear a turtle-neck and when people asked me what was wrong with my eye, I conveniently made-up a story about trying to grab a book from a high shelf and the book fell on my eye. Imagine that! Such bad luck, it could have blinded me! Lies, lies were part of the game, and I had experience playing this game of hidden fears, pain and deceipt. No, this time it wasn’t nearly as bad as what I was used to. After all, he didn’t slap or hit me! Only the walls around my body. Yes, I could see the shape of my body on the wall!

I called a hot-line for domestic violence and told my story. The woman listened and told me it was a matter of time before the walls or the chairs became us.

“He will hit you,” She assured me. It was a matter of time! I had to leave. To take my children and go to a relative… I had no relatives! To a shelter, anywhere, but where he was!

I hang up. What did she know? There were all exagerations, he would never touch us! …and where was I going to go with my two small children, our pets and not earning money and expecting a major surgery? I felt trapped and didn’t want, could not afford to see the truth! Regrets followed…

I was definitely foolish! Why did I even call  Tara and the Police. I had to wisen up and understand once and for all this was life and the old, Romanian saying about what makes a good husbands was true, based on the wisdom of centuries of our people: “A good husband doesn’t beat you, doesn’t drink excessively and doesn’t chase other women”…  at least you don’t know about it!

At about 4:00 A.M. Kevin came back home. I was waiting sitting on the couch in the living room.

He didn’t say a word and I didn’t either. He walked passed me in silence and went upstairs to our bedroom.

I heard noises… mild noises.  I assumed he undressed and slipped under the covers of our conjugal bed. Confusion… Was he expecting me to follow him, to silently kiss him,  as if nothing happened, perhaps make love… may be yes, may be no.

I wasn’t sure. What if when I kissed him I triggered anger?

I slept on the couch, cuddled with the dogs.

The following  morning, without a word, he showered, got dress and left for work. Silence became a way of life!

I never called his office again to ask where he was and the food which  was made with a piece of my soul  in it  started to be more and more overcooked. At times, burned, but he didn’t seem to care. He rarely ate at home any more!

The girls got used to tiptoe, afraid something they might do would suddenly trigger their daddy  to break everything and leave the house. They, like me, started to question what did we do wrong to trigger such violence in a good man, in their beloved daddy? We must have been really, really bad! Our solution was to become invisible and safe.

He never appologized and we never spoke about what happened that evening in 1990, but the weekend after he smashed everything in our living room, he spent hours fixing everything. That episode was the first in many to follow and our living room was destroyed and silently repaired for many times in the years to come. We got used to it, such was life!  I safely assumed all families had such secrets, but that’s why they were called secrets. No one was supposed to know!

The walls were patched and painted. The glass was replaced, the chair glued…

our hearts, our children’s and mine were in shambles!

What would it take to glue our heart back together, to make them whole again, to make us trust again? Much later in life, I learned that it was possible to “break the cycle of violence,” and awareness was a first step. Courage was the next!

Holland and the Potty Training Seat

As I was struggling with various ways to bring money into our household, one happy evening, Kevin came home from work smiling. He was talkative, loving, alive.

I was right, I immediately concluded, as I was placing the hot cassarole on the kitchen table. It was a stage! The man I first met and loved was back.

Over dinner, we spoke to one another and the girls didn’t get on his nerves. He even admitted they were cute and lovable. I was in Heaven, no question, a miracle was happening under my very eyes, he was back!

“I am going to Holland, on a business trip!” Kevin announced in between taking bites of the cassarolle.

“Excuse me, you… are going to Holland, as in Holland, Europe?”

“Yes, Neal has a huge deal and I am the one who has worked on it and he said I’ll go!”

“Congratulations… that is wonderful,” I managed to mumble, but I felt waves of anger raising to me head. So… it’s just the people who worked on the deal going? No families?”

“Oh, no, families are invited too, but I said you wouldn’t!”

“I wouldn’t why?”

He stopped eating and looked at me,

“What do you mean why? You have two small children, one nursing and the other potty-training! You can’t go to Europe!”

Oh now I was really, really angry. I couldn’t go? I had the children, I had to stay home, nurse and change diapers while he visited Holland! Oh no, this was NOT going to happen!

“Well, please tell Neal we are going, that means you, me and our kids, yes, our kids because we made them together!”

He stood up and left the room and we didn’t speak for the rest of the night.

The following evening he announced he told Neal, his boss, and they all thought it was a very bad idea but if I insisted… so be it, I was responsible for the girls, he had to work non stop while in Holland.

We packed light, but some items were essential: Natalie’s diapers and Eva’s training toilet seat, a smaller seat which went on top of a regular toilet so the toddler didn’t fall inside. The seat wouldn’t fit in the regular luggage, so I ended up carrying it secured on top of a back pack I carried all throughout the trip.

The flight from Philadelphia to New York was in a small, chartered plane, rented by Neal, who was a real-estate investor and multi millionaire for whom Kevin had worked on and off for years. Some years Neal loved and rewarded him, but others he hated and humiliated him. The time of the trip to Holland was one of the good times!  We embarked on the small plane as a severe storm was being announced, but we couldn’t wait and miss our connection to the overseas plane from New York. We were going to fly at our own risk and as the lightening was targeting our plane and the thounder made my kids scream, I thought only a higher power could help us, and I should have probably stayed home and keep us alive! It was too late!

Soaked and scared  we made it to JFK airport and miraculously  to the overseas plane and surprise, our two small children were fine all through the almost seven-hour flight to Europe.

We landed in Amsterdam, the capital of Holland, and a limo, Neal, of course, ordered, took us to Hotel Europe in the heart of the city.

I stepped out of the limo, me, my kids, Natalie in a kangaroo sling on my chest, Eva on my back in a back pack, together with her potty-training seat, and of course, Kevin.

The potty training seat was going with us everywhere. I didn’t want to loose the momentum and the second Eva said “Pipi,”  with the speed of lightening, I untied the seat, found a regular toilet and placed her on the seat! Yes, this was a minor invonvenience, but I wasn’t going to dwell on it, given all the perks of the trip!

Neal knew the consierge. Neal seemed to know everyone and heads were bending and teeth were showing in wide welcoming smiles as we were lead to the elevator and to our rooms. We were with Neal and the clout of importance extended to us.

Our luggage was brought upstairs and the door to our room was unlocked by a man in a sparkly uniform…

“Wow,” I exclaimed in my mind, but not aloud because I wanted to look cool, as if I was used to luxury!

The room was enormous, and the king-size bed was covered by a beautiful golden and red spread and wait… then we were shown the bathroom which had golden focets.

Golden focets! I had to take pictures of this place. Like a typical tourist,  which I so despised in principle, I quickly produced my camera from under the toilet seat and before our children messed up the impecable room. I took pictures of everything, including the hotel toilet which  had a golden handle to flash! I felt superficial but not superficial enough to stop taking the pictures, so that I’d have memories of this place, as I felt it was an accident that I, an immigrant had the chance to experience such beauty!

There was a crib in an alcove in the large doors leading to a balcony with a view in the square!

Everything was so beautiful, so impecable, I was afraid to sit down, but well, I wished I had such problems more often, to adjust to luxury!

The evening was approaching and Kevin told me, sorry, but when I decided to come along dragging the two kids on airplanes, I knew he would have to work! So, he showered, got dressed and left for a “business dinner.” It was only fair. Indeed I knew the rules. I went on the balcony to watch the people in the square, I went to the bathroom several times just because it was fun to flash using the golden handle and rushed Eva and her seat to the same golden bathroom before she articulated the word “pee!”

As I was having fun with these activities, there was a knock in the door…

and as I was still debating whether I should open, a small pleasant woman stepped in…

“Who are you? …and how come you have a key to our room?” I asked her, but I wasn’t afraid. She was much to frail and small to be afraid of her.If she attacked, I could have taken her any time! I felt confident.

“I am sorry, you didn’t put the “Do not disturb” sign on the door and I thought I could come in and turn the beds…I could come later…”

She was going to “turn the beds…”  why would anyone want to turn the beds, the beds were just fine! I thought. Perhaps some strange Dutch custom… to turn beds.

“Oh, no, please come in,” I said aloud, and decided since I really didn’t understand how was such a frail woman going to turn the king size bed, I was just going to watch  how was she going to do it!

She came in and fluffed the pillows, took off the fancy spread and revealed the  impecable white sheets underneath. She even lifted a corner of the sheets, so that we could jump in bed without having to make the effort of lifting the corner of the blanket to slip under the covers. At the very end of this amazing process, she placed a few chocolates on both sides of the bed, on the bed-side tables…

“I’ll give you a few more for the girls,” she said.

She told me she was from another country and very grateful to have this job in one of the best hotels in Europe.

She was so nice, so delicate and more importantly, she was now holding Natalie who was crying but stopped when she kissed her forehead…

As we spent time together, a thought was starting to be birthed in my mind… she was working for the hotel, which surely meant she went through security checks to get such a job, and she loved my girls, and they liked her…

” So… after you are done your regular work, would you be allowed to say, baby-sit my kids for a few hours a couple of times this week?”

Of course she could, she would be more than happy to do it, as she loved children and mine were the best. She had never seen such angels! I was thrilled, she was confirming what a good job I did raising my kids, just what I needed to hear.

It was a done deal, she was going to come over the following night and Kevin and I were going to go out for an hour or so, to first test if she was okay with our angels.

The first night of the trial went well. We went to a near-by coffee-shop and to watch the boats on the water, to experience a glimpse of night-life in Amsterdam.

At home, at the hotel, all was well when we returned. The girls were already asleep and our baby-sitter, calm and smiling greeted us at the door.

There was a God after all, to send me this wonderful woman. I was grateful, more than grateful, I felt undeserving of such luck!

“Tomorrow night,” Kevin said,” There is a very important business dinner and spouses are invited too. We were told it would be desirable to come with our spouses … so do you think we could ask her to babysit again? It would be longer, the restaurant is in a suburb of Amsterdam.”

I was right to come along! I thought. Of course, spouses were invited, yeah… it was desirable to be with your spouse, and thankfully I was with him, to support his business! My instincts never failed.

” Do you think you’d be able to baby-sit them tomorrow night again? My husband and I have a business dinner?”

Of course she could, she was thrilled, it was the dream of her life to be with my well-behaved, nearly perfect daughters!

We convened she was going to come to our room at 5:00 PM.

Kevin was supposed to come back at the hotel from the day meetings around 4:0 P.M. Shower, change, and at 6:30 PM we were to meet the other members of the delegation in the lobby and go to dinner.

During the day I loaded my kids, Natalie in the kangaroo sling, Eva on my back, and walked with them everywhere, taking in the beauty of the tulips in flower in the month of May,  the chic shops everywhere and  even dared visit a museum and thank God Eva said “pee” while we were inside the Museum, so we had a chance to use the training seat in such a cultural place.  On the other hand, as I stared at the famous paintings, I secretly wondered if during our stay in Amsterdam I’d have a chance to see the famous Red Light District, where I had heard “ladies of the night” stood in windows and sold sexual favors, a business illegal in most parts of the world. I had mixed feelings about wanting to see degradation of womanhood, yet, in a strange way, I wanted to see it. Of course not when I was without my children, if such a time ever came…

At 2:30 PM, exhausted by sightseeing, I went back in the boosom of luxury, I went back to Hotel Europe and turned on the golden focets and took a shower and got dressed and put on make up and waited. And waited…

4:00 P.M. Kevin was late! 4:30 PM He was nowhere to be seen and no phone calls…

My make up was running on my cheeks. I was sweating. I turned on the air conditioning. Eva whimpered. She was cold! I turned it off!

5:00 P.M. No trace of Kevin, but the baby-sitter wasn’t showing either!

The girls were screaming. I took off my fancy dress and nursed Natalie who calmed down at last. Eva was not happy with the pea soup, so I had to order French fries from room-service. I wondered if Neal was going to pay for it! I wondered if there was a McDonald’s in Amsterdam, but if there was one… didn’t do us much good. Both girls seemed happy and by 5:45 P.M. the baby-sitter showed up.

She looked nervous and told me she was upset because they made her work after 5:00 P.M and she was sorry she was late, but she had a present for Eva.
From her large purse, she took out a package wrapped in red tissue.

She called Eva closer and asked her to unwrap:

“Christmas! Christmas!” Eva concluded and slowly, taking her time, teared the red tissue to reveal a stunning dress!

“Try it on, try it on!” The baby-sitter encouraged her. “I hope is the right size… I am giving it to you, sweetie, it’s a present, to remember me.”

Quickly, I estimated the dress must have been at least five times more expensive than the baby-sitting money I was paying her. Oh, something was drastically wrong!

“Did you buy this dress for my daughter? Really, it’s too much, much too much, we cannot accept…”

“Christmas, Christmas!” Eva kept dancing, holding the dress in her little hands.

“I didn’t buy it, it’s an expensive dress!”


“I used to have a shop. I was selling kids’ stuff: Toys, dresses, equipment…everything for kids. It didn’t do well and I had to close it. This dress is a left-over from my business, so please let her have it, it would mean so much to me!”

She cried. I was teary.

The poor woman, lost her business, she loves Eva…

” I am so sorry. And you have no children of your own?”

“I do! I have a daughter, Eva’s age, but… something happened…”

Now she was sobbing. I was frozen.

“And, and… what happened?” I encouraged her to continue and held her hands.

“They took her away from me! All I remember is I bathed her and I was putting her in her crib to sleep, and kissing her good-night… and next thing I remember, I was in a hospital!”

“A hospital? What kind of a hospital?” I dared ask.

She looked at me surprised:

“What do you mean, what kind of a hospital? A mental health hospital! I had a black out! I couldn’t remember what happened!  So… they took her away from me, they said I was endangering my daughter, but I didn’t! I love her!”

She continued to cry. Eva danced. Natalie wanted to nurse again. My head was spinning!

Kevin showed up in the door:

“I am late! We need to be downstairs in 20 minutes! Hurry up!”

The baby-sitter wiped off her tears. She looked calm and normal but I didn’t feel either calm or normal.

I was about to leave my treasures, the very reason of my existence, my children, with a woman who had black-outs and who was just out of a mental health hospital!

I felt sorry for her, but even more so for my children. Knowing what I knew I couldn’t leave them in Hotel Europe with a mental patient, no matter how much I liked her. I trusted her no longer.

Oh, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, yet I didn’t, couldn’t risk the welfare of our daughters!

Kevin went to take a shower and I sneaked in  the bathroom and whispered the story…

“What do you want me to do?” he said.

“Tell her we don’t need her and stay home with the kids, but you will have to explain to Neal because wives are expected!”

He was upset and wanted to have no part of solving the problem. It wasn’t his problem, I wanted to come on the trip… He was right.

In a corner of the enormous room, the baby-sitter was playing with Eva while lovingly holding Natalie in her arms. I  opened the door to our room quietly and  went to the reception desk. I called Neal from a house phone and explained.

I don’t think he fully understood my agony, the questionings going through my mind, but he said:

“You are coming to the dinner and I will have the consiarge go to your room and check on your kids and the baby-sitter every half-hour!”

The boss had spoken! I had no choice, I couldn’t japordize my husband’s future, the future of this very important “deal.”

We left for the business dinner and as aperitives were served I made a first call to the hotel. The baby-sitter answered and she seemed calm.

“We are fine,” She said, but I don’t know why the consierge came over to say hi…”

Drinks were being served, people were louder and louder. The second course was fish. The fish was presented whole and I remember the glassy eye of the dead fish staring at me: “You are a bad mother!” the eyes seemed to say.

I called the hotel again:

The baby-sitter sounded annoyed:

“I don’t know what’s going on but the consierge keeps coming in every half-hour and the kids are asleep but I can’t take the pressure of someone just showing up every half-hour! I don’t know what’s wrong with him, or why he is coming in but you better come back immediately. I am getting upset and… I know the signs, when I feel threatened it’s not good!

Not good! My God she was going to harm my children and black out! No, worse, she was going to kidnap them and we were never to see them again. Oh, we were going to lose our children in Amsterdam, we will have to hire private detectives who probably didn’t speak English. I should have stayed home…

We left the business partners and the fish who continued to stare at me til the very end and fetched a taxi back to Hotel Europe.

When we got there, the consierge was just at the door of our room, ready to check on our kids again.

We tipped him:

“Thank you, this was very helpful, but we are back, so, we’ll just go in…”

I unlocked the door. The babysitter was standing by the door, tense. When she saw me, she sighted and smiled:

“Oh, thank God it’s you, if it were that damn consierge again, I’d have poked him in the head! I don’t know what was wrong with him… I think he wanted to kidnap your daughters!”

An Entepreneurial Mind

As any responsible mother, with my heart-broken and doubting the fairness of placing my daughters in day-care, I began the never-ending process of finding the right place. I needed a day-care part-time, a nurturing place, safe, clean and welcoming where my daughters, raised in the nest of their own environment would feel at home while I went to work. After thorough probings the ideal place seem to be the Day-care and later Nursery housed and run by a United Church of Christ local church.  The women who worked there were not working for a lot of money, but they were giving to the little ones in their care love and dedication. One could feel the honesty and genuine concern these wonderful women, mothers and grand-mothers themselves, bestowed upon the children. I felt my children were more than safe there. I felt it was good for them to socialize, to play with other kids their age, to be exposed to the real world. They were only going to day-care from 9:00 Am to 3:00 PM when I worked. I was letting go of them slowly… I opted to join a local Financial Planning company which focused on pension plans  for the teachers in schools. I thought my children’s schedule fit that of teachers and it would be easy to visit schools, talk to teachers about supplemental retirement plans and at three o’clock rush back to the loves of my life, my daughters! It turned out to be a big order, juggling work and motherhood… I was primarily assigned schools in the North East Philadelphia. Contrary to what I was told, generally, the teachers were not willing to speak with me. It turned out the market fighting for teachers’ supplemental retirement investments was ferocious, and while the company I worked for was reputable and well-known in most schools, so were many other “vendors”. Yes, this was the name the schools used for us. Not investment or retirement planners, but vendors, implying the reality that we were the sales people and they, the teachers, were the buyers of the financial products we offered. There was nothing shameful in what I was doing, yet, I felt uncomfortable. I was assigned a sponsor, a well-versed financial planner, Ted, who over the years, beyond our work relationship, was to become a faithful friend. He and I would make calls, got permission to come into the schools and “set our prospectuses” and promotional materials  on tables, in the teachers’ lunch rooms.  During breaks, the teachers came and most times they would just look in our direction and walked away. The look on their face read to me: ” Oh, not again, these people pushing us to invest our money!” Those moments, standing behind the table filled with information on various investments, smiling when I felt like crying, introducing myself to occasional  clients when I felt like running, were some of the most humiliating moments of my life, but no humiliation could stop me from earning money to support my family! Then, after almost two years, I was told I needed to work more hours. To be successful in this competitive business I needed to make house-calls at night. I could not just rush out the door at 2:30 PM so that I may pick up my kids at 3:00 PM. I left the Financial Planning firm with a bitter taste, carrying forever in my being the humiliations of rejections and hurtful remarks:  “oh, not again, you people  are always in our lunch rooms! We can’t even eat in peace, you never stop pushing your stuff…” Perhaps, I was too sensitive, and as many times as I was told rejection was not personal, I did take it personally, and it hurt! I decided in my heart to never sell investments again, although in all fairness, these investments were after tax dollars and extremely beneficial to the recipients.  I just wasn’t fit to be a sales person. I failed! I failed but I didn’t give up! This was a theme in my life, going back to when I was in my early twenties, back in Romania, trying to learn how to sky in one of the famous sky resorts in the Carpathian mountains, Brasov. I had the right equipment and rented the right size skies and while Cristian skilfully seemed to get the hang of it, as did all our friends, I kept going down the slope, and in the same exact place Ifell down, got up and in a Sissyphic effort I’d repeat the effort over and over again, only, unlike Sisyphus, I was falling going down the mountain, not up. My behind was hurting and so was my whole body, and as the Sun was setting and I was again down in the cold snow, trying to get up again,  when a stranger approached me: “Lady,” he said, “I’ve watched you all day and I must say, I never saw someone fall so many times and not give up!” He left and I got up, went to the cabin and while sipping hot chocolate, I wondered: “What did he mean? Was what he said an insult or a compliment, praising my perseverance?” Then, my ego decided it was a compliment. For years I used the example to illustrate how perseverent I was, until one day, driving with no purpose in suburban Philadelphia, out of the blue, in a state of self-hypnosis, I had a revelation: It was not a compliment, I was falling in the same spot, making the wrong move, over and over again! Had someone taught me to twist in the right direction, or if I would have realized that similar moves brought same results, I could have learned to sky. I suddenly, years later, understood I was stupidly stubborn and expected different results when I was making the same mistake over and over again. I was so vain, I thought I could defy a law of physics! Truth be told, I wasn’t vain, I was just ignorant  and very stubborn and paid for it. At a smaller scale, by never learning to sky, at a larger scale, failing many times in my life… as I was repeating same mistakes again and again, and not realizing I was setting myself up for perpetual failure! Perhaps I was, but back then I didn’t know it and I kept on fighting to earn money while being a mother and wife. After I quit the financial planning world, my vivid imagination came up with the idea that there was not enough romance in our busy, business oriented world and I started a love letter service, entitled: “Affairs of the Heart.” My idea was that people were too busy to follow-up on their romantic encounters, and I was going to write their letters for them. I started to promote my budding business and one of the ways was to hold workshops at professional dances organized by  local singles companies. That evening, I got dressed up, make up and all, and drove to a nearby hotel in the lobby of which a “professional singles” company organized the dance. My free workshop had about six participants. Two men and four women.  Women were always more receptive, I thought. I presented my services and gave examples of how, for instance, a busy businessmen met a lovely woman and they had a wonderful time, but the man was forced to leave town the very next day after the romance had started. In fact, he was in such a rush to catch a plane, all he could do was scribble on a napkin to the woman who could have been the love of his life:”Got to go! had wonderful time, will be in touch!” Well, I argued,  “wasn’t the note impersonal?”  Which would be better, a rushed, impersonal  note like that, or calling me and asking that I mail red roses with a note saying to this woman saying,  “You had given me in a short time hope that you and I have a future together. These few wonderful moments are the beginning of many more to come and although I was forced to leave, I will contact you soon. Meanwhile, please know I am thinking of you and look forward to being again together soon.” Which “note” would be better, I asked my six- people audience, knowing without a shadow of a doubt they would all, in unison confirm the note I wrote was far superior, my service was needed in the rushed world we lived in… I was convinced they would all sign up for my service! Instead, my rhetorical question was faced with silence. Finally, after many encouragements, Meg, a sweet, unassuming nurse, dared voice her opinion: “Well, to be honest,  I liked the first note better…” I was appalled. “What? You mean, you’d rather have that note  on a napkin instead of red roses and a love letter?” “Yes, I would,” she confessed, “because the first one is real… at least he took the time to write something on a napkin… in real life men don’t!” Oh well, if this was the attitude and expectation of our singles crowd, so be it! I had to give up “Affairs of the Heart,” since, it seemed our singles got used to functioning without a heart, and expecting so little… However, I was not giving up, and my mind plotted a way to be home and yet earn the so much-needed money. I was a good cook and I loved having guests. Didn’t “experts” say to do what you liked and the money would follow? Yes, I was going to open a Bed and Breakfast in our large home. Our third floor was unused. Perfect for a bed-and-breakfast. I applied for a business license from the township and after being awarded one, a few months later, the township came back on their decision. Our home was not zoned commercial. However, for a few months I didn’t know we weren’t zoned commercial, and through a referral agency I had a few guests. I was making fresh breakfast for them, muffins, eggs and bacon, tea and coffee. My first customer was a young man who studied at a local rabbinical college. Things went well. He was happy. I was hopeful. Then his training ended and the referral agency sent me a family with three small children… this didn’t go as well, but we managed, and they left and promised to come back whenever they were going to be in the area to visit with relatives. Then, a young, handsome man come to check us out. The room wasn’t going to be for him, but for his elderly parents. He climbed the steps to our third floor two steps at a time. He was in good shape. He checked the large room, the clean bathroom, the study room, and concluded it was ideal for his parents. Because I wasn’t going to be home when his parents were supposed to arrive, I gave him a key to the house for his parents. When I came home from picking up our kids from the nursery school, in our living room, on the couch, sat two older, very pale people. The man was silent and his eyes looked horrified. He was breathing heavily. His wife, stood up the minute we entered and started to scream at me: “You, you! Did you want to kill my husband! He suffers from asthma and he had a heart attack! This room is on the third floor! He almost died climbing your stairs! I will sue you if he dies!” The children started to whimper, the dogs, locked in the basement, barked nonstop… she kept screaming. I looked at the old man in horror.  Indeed he was pale, he was barely breathing … Oh my God, I thought, we were going to lose our home! I blurted out her son had chosen the room. I had no idea the husband had heart problems and I surely didn’t want him to die! I offered them muffins. She refused. He couldn’t, as his breathing was getting heavier and heavier. I proposed we called an ambulance, but she called her son who showed up promptly. I helped him take their luggage to his car and handed back the $50.00 deposit. By the time they left the man was breathing normally and his color was back. He mumbled something, which I thought was “thank you,” but from her son’s car, the wife kept threatening to sue me if her husband died… He probably didn’t, because I never heard from them again, but the memory of the half-passed man sitting in our living-room and the wife’s threats determined me “Home Away from Home” was not the answer to our monetary problems… But, but, I didn’t give up! This was why I chose to live in a free country, after all, a country in which the sky was the limit, and my own imagination! As a responsible parent, as Eva and Natalie grew up, especially in their first years of life, I took so many videos and pictures, I believed I could become a professional videographer. More so, I managed to convince others of my artistic talents and started to get jobs video-taping  jobs of parties, weddings and various events. After a few months of success, I ventured to name my new business, “Unforgettable Moments”.  I had a flair for good business names, that was for sure! The girls were taking ballet lessons with a large studio near by.  Once a year, the owner of the studio rented a large theater and the studio had two endless recitals, in which one had to be either a parent, grandparent or extremely good friend to have the patience to stand through hours of mediocre dancing.  I was one of these people! I guess, somehow I did have some sales skills, because I convinced the owner to give me the job of taping the recital. It was a huge job! My first big one, and I was confident, if all went well, many jobs were to follow. Because the recital was a few hours long, I asked Kevin to help me. We were to use two video cameras. I was going to tape running around the theater hall filming, while Kevin was to use a fix video camera. We worked hard, the two of us, and when we got home we eagerly watched the results of our efforts. It started well, but soon, in the middle of the dances, at intervals of a few minutes, the images blurred and shook, and one could barely see the dancers!  The problem, it seemed, was the camera used by Kevin. It took us a while to understand that he plugged the camera in the general theater outlet. Every time the lighting on the stages was changed,  the voltage changed, resulting in the blur that  ruined our tape! What to do? What to do? The tapes were pre-sold… the owner, who herself danced a couple of solos was calling frantically: “Are you done editing the tape? How do I look? Do I look professional? I hope it looks good..” After a few calls, I almost screamed: “You look blurred! No, you don’t look good at all because we screwed up!” But I didn’t have the guts to tell her the truth, I reassured her she looked great, and so did her students. We ended up buying an expensive piece of equipment which allowed us “special effects.” Now we had the ability to change colors, shade the blurs and focus in and out the dancers to mask the disaster… We spent ten times the money we made on the “unforgettable moments,” and this marked the end of my entrepreneurial ventures, but not the end of my desire to do meaningful work… and  when I thought it was all over and I was never going to be able to  find meaningful work,  or  any work for that matter, a hobby turned into what was to be the most meaningful work of my life!

Motherhood Ain’t Glamorous…

My head was spinning. Between watching the unbelievable fall of Communism in Europe and most importantly in my native Romania, and at the same time running a household and dedicating time to my two babies, yes, my head was spinning!

There was no doubt about it. I was confused, scarred, tired. I felt a constant out-of-body experience, as if in a dream. It was like the old me was somewhere else and a robot, a replica of who I once were, was performing all the routine tasks of survival in my new role as a mother of two and wife in suburban Philadelphia. To this basic role, I added several volunteer activities, primarily with our Presbyterian Church. As a good suburban wife and mother, I had to fit the mold of volunteering. I became a Sunday school teacher and later, an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. All unpaid work, giving back to the community. I was eager to give back, yet, the secret was, we didn’t have enough… I was giving a part of my very soul, not surplus of material goods or extra time.  Now, I had a status to protect, and damn if I was going to give up that which I worked so hard to earn!

That which I desired with all my heart had become my reality, and yet it felt surreal.  It felt as if I had stolen a slice of happiness and at any time some disaster was going to happen to wake me up, to throw me into the reality of my own foolishness: How dared I, a first generation immigrant, to even think I’d be good enough to buy a year or two of not working full-time and dedicate a majority of my life to our babies and volunteer work? Did I even have the right to be a full-time mom?

Of course not! The reality of Kevin becoming more and more distant, as the savings I brought into the marriage were diminishing, was a clear sign: I had to go back to working outside the home while continuing to be a dedicating mother and wife. Of course, if I did, the father of my children wasn’t going to wake up in the middle of the night, change diapers or clean the house. After all, he was a man, a man wouldn’t humiliate himself by doing all these wifely duties, just as he refused to eat food brought from home. A real man was supposed to come home, eat the meal which was already on the table, get up silently and watch television until the time to go to sleep arrived…

May be, if the girls were good enough, smiling, not crying, cuddly, as daughters should be, he would allow them on the couch, next to him to watch his favorite football team. Our household was in a frenzy when the team won, and in deep upset if they didn’t. We all prayed they did, so Dad would be nice and happy and his mood would then reflect on the entire household. Then he would speak to the girls, but never play with them. That wouldn’t have been manly… play was a woman’s job, mine!

His  changing moods, coupled with the unpredictability of his work patterns paralyzed my thinking at first, but my survivor mode kicked in fast… I needed to protect my nest! When a co-worker of Kevin’s told me people were playing practical jokes on him, I panicked.  Why would people do such mean things to my husband?  A woman in his office, secretly told me the other colleagues glued onto his desk everything on the desk, and he got very angry and almost broke the office copier.  He never told me what happened, and I was sworn to secrecy by my friend, his co-worker.  I was confused … why would people be so mean to him? Was he doing things to them to deserve such retaliation? How much I didn’t know about my husband? At home he was silent, reserved. He wasn’t the man I married any more, but I was determined to pretend I didn’t see, and if I pretended and ignored long enough, I was convinced it would go away… It was a phase. Yes, even the experts said when the children were little it was hard for the couples. It surely was a stage I had to ignore for the sake of our family. Regardless of what was happening in my husband’s life outside the home, my duty was to protect our home Paradise. I had to somehow be the mother I never had and also the perfect wife  my husband needed. I had to start producing enough money to keep my children safe and our home happy. I wanted back the man I married and was convinced if I started making money again, that man would come back to love us more than ever!

The time was right to go back to work, it sure was… Natalie was now almost a year and a half. She was born with a clogged tear-duct and two surgeries had to be done on her right eye in her first year of life. Eva was very empathetic to her sister’s suffering and all her dolls had a problem in their right eye. They were all hurting. Later, Eva understood it was even more efficient if she claimed to be hurting “all over” herself. That definitely brought my attention to her suffering, especially when indeed it turned out she needed ear-tubes and had surgery at Children’s Hospital, just like her sister.  Both my girls had to have minor surgeries in those first years of their lives.  These might have been minor if they happened to someone else’s, but when my children were involved, suddenly it was major. I feared the anesthesiology more than the actual surgeries. Before each surgery I spent sleepless nights praying to a vague God, I wished to believe in… I asked to please, please, make my kids healthy and everything okay. I was thankful to the doctors and my vague God, as my children recovered. They didn’t fail us, that was God and the doctors.

As I looked back, the first few years of my motherhood, life was strangely hectic but routine. One of those many lives in which if someone asked: “How have you been? What is happening?” I’d say “Not much” Yet, a lot was happening, but so routine, I didn’t want to bore anyone with stories of being up all night, nursing my children, cleaning, shopping, caring for our many pets. This was my life, a life I chose and which every day, I realized was a luxury I wasn’t going to be able to keep for long. It was hard, yet it was too good for me. For me it was too easy. I was expected to do more.

When Eva was now 3 1/2 years-old she was in a state of rebellion against me. She probed everything during day-time. However, the new stage faded at night, when she waked up  to me at 4:00  A.M. to take her potty and then cuddled with me in bed. It felt good to have my daughter back, even half asleep. Then, when the morning came, the rebellion was back.

Meanwhile, Natalie mastered two words essential for her survival: “No” and “More”.  She, unlike Eva, never crawled. Never went through what the experts consider an essential stage in a child’s developement, probably because it was important to feel little, to look up at the world, rather than on an equal level. But this never happened with Natalie, she stood up in her crib at six month, managed to jump out at seven, and by ten-months she was running, not walking. At fourteen month she pointed to the toilet which was now routinely used by her sister and said: “Potty” and jokingly I sat her on it. This was how she self-potty-trained at fourteen-months, and experts assured me this was not “normal”either, but I wasn’t going to pull her off the toilet just because it was too soon. I donated the rest of the diapers. My girls were now potty-trained, a mile-stone which for the outside world is an insignificant, normal event, but which, any mother could tell you, is a mile-stone.

Yes, my girls were growing up and already having a mind of their own, which I, as a mother who read the books on parenting, was encouraging. Most times they were best of friends, but sometimes they needed to be separated. Even in those moments, they refused to eat without each other and their temporary disagreements over Sesame Street toys always lost  in favor of their need to be together and their love for each other.

Motherhood wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding and those times when I experienced the simple but complex pleasures of watching my daughters play together, were the most rewarding of my life. Their closeness was a sign they would grow up to be friends, to be of support to each other years from then, when they would be adults, and I would be unable to continue to protect them with my endless motherly love.

As I watched their innocent play I knew it was time for me to go back to work outside my delusional, borrowed Paradise. I knew I needed to find a way to continue to be the mother I never had and also bring money into our household so that the illusion of perfection could continue to live, so that my children could have what I dreamed and never had…

I was determined to be everything and more, because my love for them knew no boundaries!

The Revolution on CNN!

I was very sick that time before Christmas of 1989.

I had  a high fever and a runny nose and two small children to tend to and several dogs and cats and… I had to cook, clean, shop…

I had no right to complain, it was all of my own doing, except for the cold.  The cold, I wasn’t responsible for, it just came out of the blue, perhaps caused by a weakened immune system, by the many nights of getting up to nurse and change diapers. No matter what, I was grateful for my self-contained Paradise of  my babies playing and my babies screaming and  my babies asleep.  I was grateful for having the luxury of changing my own children’s diapers and nursing instead of leaving them in a day-care center at the hands of strangers. I was grateful for being allowed to have the pets I never had as a child and I was grateful for cable television which allowed me to sit in bed and watch what was happening in Romania!

My nose was running, I had a fever.  I was sitting in bed nursing Natalie and watching CNN while Eva was playing with the dogs. A rather calm picture, except for what was happening in Romania!

I saw Ceausescu  on international television speaking in front of the Romanian Executive Council House, just a block from where I grew up… the same building I walked by for years, my entire childhood, on my way to school, but never could cross the street on the side of the building for security reasons. I was only allowed to look from afar!

And then, in 1989,  on television, the cameras captured him, President Ceausescu, fear in his eyes, forced to stop his  senseless speech. He turned around and run  inside the building, as a noise, like a tsunami,  was raising from the crowds!  There were thousands of people in the square and more were joining.  There was total panic, people were chanting anti Ceausescu slogans.  After years of being forced to chant: “Ceausescu and the People, Ceausescu the most beloved son and Elena, his wife, the Mother of Romania,” the people were chanting their feelings at last!

Of course he wasn’t the son of Romania, of course he wasn’t loved. He was feared, he was shrewd, he, an uneducated shoe-maker apprentice, had the street-smarts to cow a people of over twenty million since 1960’s when I was a teenager. A life-time of lies and pretence.  His wife, Elena, a pseudo-scientist, who barely knew to read and write, bought the title of PhD and many other titles, but under my very own eyes, on CNN  “The beloved son of Romania and the Mother of the country” were fleeing in a helicopter that the CNN cameras captured leaving the roof of the building!

I wiped off my nose and quickly rushed downstairs to fetch a snack during a commercial, then came back to continue watching the Revolution on CNN!

That year, the German Wall was demolished at last, the Soviet Union fell apart, and now Romania!  Was this a dream? Were they making it up? Was it a movie? Did I have a fever?

I spoke with several people and was assured it was “for real,” indeed, Ceausescu and his wife were on the run.

CNN broadcasted scenes from the Ceausescu’s hidden treasures, their many palaces, the solid golden utensils they used, the thousands of suites Ceausescu only warn once. He, a germophobic, only warn a suite once, and traveled with his own cook and entourage everywhere, inside the country and abroad, checking the food and the rooms to make sure no one was plotting to poison or somehow kill him. Meanwhile, food in Romania was rationalised, and people stood in long lines to buy milk, bread and eggs.

He was reduced to an ordinary fugitive, at last. No servants, no shields against germs or the people whose torrent of hate was going to kill them both.

Day and night I watched the Revolution on CNN. I watched without believing. I watched and pinched myself when before Christmas, the two fugitives were captured.  I saw them bending, I saw the fear and disbelieve in their eyes. I saw human feelings expressed by the two monsters who lead Romania into poverty and its culture into demise. I saw fear in the eyes of those who ignored HIV and declared it an invention of capitalism. I saw fear of their own death in the eyes of those who forced thousands of women to birth children they couldn’t care for, children who were then placed in orphanages with the goal of ultimately making an army of youth  blindly dedicated  and serving Ceausescu.  A dream which fortunately never came true!

Now they were the captive, they were experiencing some of the feelings they elicited in millions: fear, hopelessness… not shame. Even in those last moments, Ceausescu screamed: “I am the President of the Socialist Republic of Romania!”

But his cries were useless, the military panel convicted them to death by shooting…

They were executed on Christmas Day, 1989. On CNN, I saw their bodies in the dust. Their bodies were dead, but  was their spirit of Evil, which destroyed Romania, its people and culture for so many years? Was their spirit which chased me and millions out of  Romania, dead to?

Time was going to tell… was Romania a free country? Did the unforeseeable happened?

I taped the Ceausescu’ s execution and watched it over and over again, as I was holding my children tight, safe, in a country which I knew for sure was free, far away from  Ceausescus and the Revolution on CNN.

Was it real?


Friendships, Susan and Assimilation!

As I was adjusting to my new status as mother of two daughters in suburban Philadelphia, far away, in the country of my birth, Romania and all over Europe, the impossible was happening!

The events of 1989  and the fall of Communism, taught me to never say never. Who would have thought just a few months before, that the rock which seem to be Communism will tumble and disintegrate in just a few short months? Who would have thought that feared regimes will disappear after tens of years of ruling  and those ruled will questioned at last and fight back?  Who would have thought back in 1981 when I made the decision to defect from Romania, that President Ceausescu, his wife and their feared entourage  were to collapse, just like a game of dominoes!

But I was watching all these historic events from afar… on television, on CNN!

1989, was in my personal life, a year of great changes in completely different ways. They were changes experienced by an Eastern European mother trying hard to fit in, to assimilate into my new, suburban American stay-at-home moms life. The time when my accent was an asset because it made interesting conversation at parties on the Main Line, or because investment brokers found it charming and an incentive to sell more, was gone!

This time, I really, really, wanted to belong. I wanted my children to be a hundred percent part of their new, American culture. I was trying so hard to fit in, harder than I ever tried anything before, because this time it wasn’t about me, it was about my children being accepted and fitting in. Our pediatrician suggested I do not speak Romanian with my girls, since the father was American and he didn’t speak my language.

“It might be confusing for the children” the pediatrician said, and I readily accepted the idea that later, proved to be wrong.  One of the many mistakes I made, was to not teach my children Romanian when they were little. However, I made up for that mistake by posting a Baby-sitting Co-op advertisement at the local Library, and taking them to the Library reading hour every Wednesday, and to ballet lessons and gymnastics… there was never enough for my daughters. We had the most pets, all the pets I was not allowed to have as a child. They had more toys than a toy-store, all the dolls I never had, I was organizing the largest parties in the neighborhood, all the parties my mother didn’t allow me to have! Yes,  in those days, I really, really wanted to be assimilated by my new culture, not just acculturated, not having the two cultures live in parallel. Many times, my efforts were undermined by malicious questions: “So… where are you from?”

At first, I’d give long explanations about how I defected from Romania as o political refugee and…

But little by little, especially when the first question was followed by, “and is your husband Romanian too? or so… when did you meet your American husband,” implying that I might have married with the purpose of becoming an American citizen, which couldn’t have been further from the truth..

At first, all these malicious questions hurt me deeply, but one day I determined to rebelled. I stood up for myself and in my mind, I fought for my kids’ rights and place in our new world.  No one had the right to take away from me my rights, those of an American citizen who earned her right to be where I was through  work, determination, endless sacrifices and love for my new country.

I started to fight back in a sudden way, so every time someone asked “Where are you from?” I’d pretend I didn’t understand, and smiled: “We are from Elkins Park, PA, how about you?” And if the person  foolishly insisted, “No, I mean where were you born originally,” I would just respond:”America is known as a melting pot, we all came from somewhere, one time or another, how about your ancestors?!”

Yes, I was, in my way fighting back against what I considered bigots, people who wanted to put me down just because I came from somewhere else more recently than their own ancestors. More importantly, now, I felt like the mother-lioness, I was standing up not for myself, but for my daughters to be accepted in our new world…

Thankfully, Elkins Park, PA was one of the most multi-cultural, accepting and loving communities I could have wished for.  Soon, the baby-sitting co-op changed into play groups in which we, the mothers, enjoyed one another’s company as much as our children. Most of the women who responded to my Library ad where like me, in their mid to late thirties, professional women, who were taking a break from corporate America to offer their babies the best start in life.  Tara, Susan, Maureen, Linda, Karen, Sandy. We formed a core of neighborly and motherly commitment not only to our children but to one another. The bond was to last beyond the play-group, our children’s childhood and teen years, our friendship was to last a life-time!

Only Susan, the gifted, free-spirited artist was to leave us…

Susan and I had a very strong bond which went beyond the love for our children and the baby-coop.

Truth be told, our parenting was not compatible at all: She was the embodiment of free-spirit, I, of the rigidity of my own Eastern European culture where everything needed to be just perfect, in which, at the time, there was little place for “let it be” and flexibility.

For instance, one afternoon, Susan and I had tea at her house, while Eva and Susan’s older son, were playing in the living-room.   There was silence, too much silence in the other room, and we went to check what was going on:

Susan’s living-room walls were “decorated” in all colors and our two emerging artists smiled innocent smiles! I started to scream, Susan smiled: “Oh, honey, she said, ” this is beautiful, did you two draw all these? You are artists!”

I was stunned. To me, this was the beginning of graffiti, I did not want my Eva to draw on people’s walls, but Susan viewed this as a sign of creativity. I learned to be flexible, I learned that not everyone had the same values as I did. After that “revelation of creativity”, we tactfully decided to continue to see each other without our children.  Susan’s friendship, her free-spirit and creativity I loved and wanted to cherish. However, I had to admit our  parenting styles were not compatible, so we started to spent time walking around the tracks at Ogonz Park, Elkins Park. It was our time together, and we cherished every second of it. It was at this time, when in my eagerness to have a flexible schedule for my daughters, I went back to train as a massage therapist, reflexologist and energy practitioner.  At first, people didn’t give me much credit, but Susan was among the few who believed in  me from the beginning and among the first of  thousands  of people, who, along the years became my clients.

I was giving Susan  regular treatments, and this was our time away from the hectic world we both lived  in. Then, one day, Susan who was going to regular breast-checks, because her mother was a survivor of breast-cancer, told me she had a breast-infection. I looked at her scortched breast, and I didn’t need to be a doctor to know  that what she had was more than an infection. However, what my common sense told me, experts told her there was no reason to panic…I told her until a certain diagnosis was made, we could not continue her treatments, but we continued our walks at Ogonz, which in a way were as healing for both our spirits. Soothing in the mist of madness!

“The infection” got worse… Finally, after a few months of unsuccessful treatment with antibiotics, Susan was told it was in fact an aggressive form of breast-cancer, “inflammatory breast cancer!”

Susan was soon hospitalized at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

Sitting on the edge of her hospital bed I touched her swollen hand, her forehead… She smiled and I forced myself to smile back…

“I will be just fine… it must have a meaning, I just know it’s a trial, after all, I have two young boys, I have to be alright! There is a God, right?”

What was I supposed to say… all I could remember at the time were my mother’s eyes and her scream on her death-bed, “There is no God…” But perhaps, for Susan there was a God, for her sons’ sake!

Susan survived the many surgeries and came back home. I visited her every other day, until her husband told me she no longer accepted visitors. I continued to call and one day, her husband said:

“If you really want to see her… but I must warn you, it’s not a pretty site…”

I went up the winding staircase to her bedroom. It was semi-darkness and in a large bed I saw a swollen body… I guessed it was my friend, Susan. Her skin was so tight, I was afraid to touch her, yet, I wanted to somehow transfer to her some of my healing energy she so much believed in, but which I doubted!

She smiled, as I touched her foot lightly:

“Do you think I will make it?”

I felt the heat on her foot, the roughness of her skin:

“Of course, Susan, you will make it, just be patient, you are loved, I love you and so does your family and friends…”

She seemed satisfied and peaceful with my lie. She smiled, reached for my hand and said:

“Yes, I know I will… I just needed you to reassure me…”

Susan closed her eyes. She looked peaceful.

I carefully withdrew my hand, kissed her closed eyes and left. From the door, I looked at her one more time. Yes, she was peaceful, she was smiling, she was happy.

I left.

The following day Susan’s husband called:

“Susan passed last night…”

She had a well attended Shiva and a very simple, austere burial.

It didn’t matter, because I knew for a fact, her soul wasn’t in that casket.

Every time I walked or drove by Ogonz, I felt her spirit there, in the Ogonz Park, where we spent many hours talking and bonding beyond what we called  life. I mean, the life we see and comprehend with our limited senses.

Yes, Susan’s body was gone, but not her spirit. Her spirit still lived in her works of art, her children and sometimes walked in Ogonz Park, as our lives continued on this plane, that we all called “life.”