Remembering my mother

It was 10 June 1992, 4 PM, and I was waiting by the window for my mom to get back from work. I was 10. The wait dragged on, so I turned on the TV. There was some show about a boy who was training karate under an old master. My father came back. Mom still hasn’t. And then the phone rang.

Father was visibly upset. An accident, car, hospital. He left the house. And I stayed. My brother came back from school. He asked where everyone was and what happened. I looked at him like he was from another planet. I couldn’t tell him. I was afraid that if I told him, it would become reality. That it would prove to be true. And I really didn’t want that.

I don’t know how long it lasted. When father returned, he called one of the teachers. “Children won’t come to school tomorrow because Zuzia is dead.” I hadn’t learned to swear yet then but if I knew how I would have said something like – “What the f..k are you talking about? What do you mean ‘dead’? She can’t be dead.” I decided that it hadn’t happened. I went into the kitchen and made myself something to eat. My aunts came. “Auntie, you want something to eat? See, how nice it looks?” She didn’t want anything. So I went back to stand by the window.

The next morning I woke up and realized that yesterday had really happened. She wouldn’t be there anymore, she would not come back. I was alone.

When I worked for the local newspaper, I used to attend events where I often met people who knew my mother. I look like her so they would come up to me and ask, “Are you Zuzia’s daughter by any chance?” “Yes, I am.” And that was usually it. But one day it was different. At the meeting of a retirees’ association, a lady came up to me. “I remember that day,” she started [‘oh shit,’ I thought]. “I worked for the police then. I was a cleaner there. I was there when they brought them. Those two that killed Zuzia. [‘Don’t tell me this, please!’] I wanted to go to them, but they wouldn’t let me. I would have…! But I know how it was. [‘I don’t want to!’] She was walking down the roadside, as she should. They were driving a car. They were already drunk. [‘I already know that’] And they turned and ran her over. [‘Oh, f..k’] They got out of the car, checked her purse, took money from the wallet. They didn’t call an ambulance, but went to buy vodka. They came back to the spot and started drinking. [‘F..k, why the f..k are you telling me this? I didn’t want to know’] She was still alive. [‘F..k off! Get out!’] Only later someone else was going that way, a bus driver with a friend. And that someone called an ambulance.”

I don’t know what she said next and she doesn’t know that I was falling apart into small pieces on the inside. I was an adult, with two children, and a great emptiness inside of me, which suddenly sprang to the surface. I wanted to run away and know nothing, and yet I could not move. In the end, she got up and went to sit somewhere else, and then I ran. I was going home crying. I wanted to not know that, not to feel. I wanted for that not to be mine. I wanted to be someone else.

I have been standing by that window for 25 years.

About the Author
Katarzyna Markusz is a journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Jewish.pl and a correspondent of JTA. She is doing research about Jewish life in Sokolow-Podlaski, Poland before and during the WWII.
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