There was a time – those first few years of my life that don’t leave an imprint on your memory – when mama and I were one. When I was still attached to her by so many invisible strings, when we shared one soul. When she woke up in the middle of the night to check if I was breathing in my crib, when I somehow knew that she was bending over me, smelling of sleep. We were one: she was in me and I was in her, and she knew what I wanted at any given moment, and I knew what she was ready to give: everything. I can glean this from old photographs, those snapshots taken home where I used to melt into her arms, burrowing into her chest, curling up in her lap, unrestricted by the boundaries between us.
Then we separated. We still lived together, having our usual evening tea with strawberry jam from the dacha, watching figure skating on television, but we had ceased being one. After walking together on the same path, we parted and went in different directions. Or was it I who turned away from her because I had found my own road?
When did this happen, this separation? Was it in first grade, when no one picked me up on the first day of school because of a miscommunication between mama and the teacher, when I walked home alone, surrounded by dangerous streetcars and speeding trucks, basking in my power to be able to cross streets by myself? Was it when the three of us stood in a phone booth, rain streaking down the glass, my wooden fingers dialing my father’s hospital number, the indifferent voice on the other end of the line saying that he had died?
Or maybe it happened earlier, when at five or six I would roll into mama’s bed because my feet were freezing cold. I would press into her with my entire body, squeezing my feet under her soft thighs, stealing her warmth. Was I already separate from her then, knowing that my feet were freezing and hers were not? “They’re cold like frogs, your little nozhki,” she used to murmur and smile, warming me with her embrace.
When did my daughter separate from me? I remember looking at her standing in our living room holding on to the side of the coffee table. She had just learned how to walk, making little steps, wobbly and tentative, yet resolute, because she ambled forward on her own, refusing help. She was determined to stand straight up and walk without falling, and I had an intense, almost physical sensation at that moment that our paths had begun to part. A visceral perception that we were estranged now, the umbilical cord severed, that she has started to walk away from me in those small, faltering steps.