We were lying side by side on her bed, facing each other while we spoke. It was unusual. Her hazel eyes had a spark I hadn’t seen in a while. I was listening attentively, feeling the delicacy of this moment, almost holding my breath not to disrupt the flow of words streaming out from her mouth. Mami was sharing with me, her daughter, about her sexual relationship with my Papi.
For as long as I remember, Mami’s sexuality was kept hidden, undercover, as if it didn’t exist. I don’t recall hearing my parents engaging in sex behind their bedroom door. My father seemed to lack the energy required to engage in sexual relationships, suffering from bipolar disorder. After they divorced, Mami, my sister, and me, moved to Israel. I was 12 years old. I knew she had a couple of relationships after we moved, but never with details. She was modest and collected in her demeanor. Never revealing too much about her sexual life.
Now, at the end of her life, at the age of 76, she was opening up. “Papi was not a good lover,” she said. “I never reached an orgasm with him. The first time I did, was in my early 50s when I had a lover after we arrived in Israel. He was married and we had a secret love affair. He was Hungarian as well, and I loved him.”
I took in a breath. “How did it feel having an orgasm?” I asked. “I felt so alive. I didn’t know it was possible for me,” she answered.
I pause to reflect on how lucky I am that it’s me who is here right now, sharing this moment. Between my brother and me, we have been alternating flying here to be with her, two weeks at a time. I live in Los Angeles, my brother Dany in Argentina, and Mami in Israel. She had stage 4 breast cancer and when it was discovered it was already in her bones. According to her oncologist, there was nothing that could be done. Her cancer was too advanced. It was a matter of time. “Who could tell?” He said when asked about a prognosis, “One year from the time of diagnosis, maybe two?”
By this time, it had been almost a year and a half, and we felt lucky she was doing well until a few weeks ago when the cancer began creating Ascites, the buildup of fluid around the organs in the abdomen. The bloating was pressing on her diaphragm and organs making it difficult to breathe. This was extremely painful. For a few weeks in a row, we would go to have the fluid drained from her abdomen at the hospital. The consequences of the drainage were more fluid accumulation. As weeks went on, there was no more fluid to drain, and the cancer was everywhere in her abdomen.
By Emily Cooke
On February 14, 2021
Beautiful. The juxtaposition of the mother’s “coming alive” through her late-blooming sexuality with her slow dying, the physicality of the description, gives the read so much to think and feel.