Salome Tsopurashvili, 32, Tbilisi

„My mother was the eldest child in the family. They told us myths about our grandparent’s love, yet, when grandma gave birth to a girl, grandfather did not talk to her for two days. Apparently, he, like every Georgian man, wanted a boy. Maybe this, or her life experience, was the reason to make mom say that she had been lucky: she had always wanted to have two girls and her dream came true. When I was born, it was the happiest day of her life because my sister and I would have each other to rely on.

Mom’s life did not go the way she had planned and it was largely determined by the fact that she was a woman. She hadn’t been close to her mother, so she tried to develop a strong bond with my sister and me and to always be there for us. She tried to understand and share our viewpoints: she read the books we read, watched the films we wanted to see. Almodovar’s “Bad Education” was newly released when my sister brought a disk home. We enthusiastically sat around to watch. Mom was curious and joined us too. When the film was over, Tata and I sat in awkward silence, which was broken by my mother. She said it was a good film. She did what my granny could never accomplish: she became the best friend of her daughters.

In my life, there have been situations when my mother understood me better than my friends. Still, she lamented and regretted not having done things the way she later thought was right. She used to say that she had made mistakes in raising us up, especially my sister who is older than me and she was born during a very stressful and difficult period in my mother’s life.

Mom was an engineer but in the beginning of the 90s, her work, like many others, was closed, and since then she was focused on our upbringing. She always told us we needed to study to become independent so that we had enough income to buy our own stuff and did not have to depend on our husbands. She did everything and she refused many things to herself so that she could help us chase our dreams. The dream my sister and I shared was to study abroad and live independently. In Tbilisi of the 90s, it seemed an impossible dream as our family was often short of food, and there were not so many exchange and scholarship programs around. I can say for sure that my dream was inspired by my sister. When I was little and mischievous I accidentally ruined many things, I wrote marks of excellence in her school journal (with the best intentions), or blabbered her and her friend’s secrets to my parents without even realizing it. To find something common with her, I rummaged in her books and read what she read, played the tapes she listened to, and then put everything back so that she could not notice. I tried to match my interests with hers.
When I was 11, my sister recommended Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and I immediately was obsessed with going away to college and living alone in the environment of new people and a new world.

This dream actually came true – I received scholarship for master’s degree program at the Department of Gender Studies of Central European University in Budapest. Tata was already pursuing PhD in Germany. I was worried to be leaving mom behind alone but she would always reply: “All I need to know is that you are doing well”. The year was very stressful. Even though I finally found myself in the environment I had always dreamed of, met many precious people and knew myself better, there were critical moments when I wanted to pack and go home but my mother urged me to stay. If not support and encouragement from my new friends there, I might have given up and left.

When I moved to Budapest, I had already been into photography for one year. While reading about women’s bodily experiences, I had a sudden inspiration to take a photo of a woman who had had a breast removed and I shared this idea with mom. When I returned home, my parents were in the airport to meet me. Mom’s hair seemed different and when I touched it, it felt unnaturally stiff. She saw my bewilderment and explained that her hair had started to fall out, so she had shaven it off and was wearing a wig. It seemed strange to me but I did not say anything. After a few days, when I had picked hints here and there, I demanded her to tell me what was going on. It turned out that during my absence she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent surgery and was under chemotherapy treatment. My sister and I had no idea, and every evening, when we called her we complained about a million trivial things while she was battling cancer. I was mortified that I had not been beside her when she needed me most. While her life was at stake, I was concerned about final essays and my master’s thesis. I thought it was wrong to keep me in the dark and not to give me a choice. However, I did appreciate the effort it must have taken her to not force my sister or me to make a choice and I realized that I would have done the same in her shoes. However, from a daughter’s perspective I could not forgive her decision.

This is when I decided that I would never try to go anywhere and always be by her side. Mom never let me know, not even for a second, just how much she was suffering from the post-surgery trauma, how difficult it was for her to accept her transformed body. She did say once that she had not even thought of refusing the surgery, as she knew she needed to be alive and healthy for her daughters. If she had given more thought to it, she might have not agreed to breast removal. She generally believed that she must keep her pain to herself to spare the people who cared about her – something both my sister and I share, while I am the whiniest of the three. Only once, when she was getting her last transfusion together with another woman, she admitted to her how difficult it was for her to see her body in the morning and evening. She said those women who had uterus removed were better off as they were not reminded on a daily basis that this body was not a body of a woman any more. I was out of the room but accidentally heard her say it from an open door. It was the only time I had heard her complain about it. If I had been in the room, she would not have said that. On another occasion, mom was watching a film whose main hero had breast cancer. I was in my room. When I went up to her, I saw her crying. I immediately rushed to the kitchen and started washing up, trying to swallow the lump in my throat and to give her some time to wipe away her tears before I sat beside her. In my family, women don’t like to be seen crying and when we see each other fighting away tears, we try to pretend not to notice it. Even when we see that we were noticed crying but they let us save face, we appreciate it and are grateful to one another.

In a year after her surgery, “Hot Chocolate” announced a photo competition “Mother”. I sent her photos there. For this competition, for the first time I dared ask her to pose for me naked. She promptly agreed. Her portrait won the third place, but not this one. Last year I took this photo to the exhibition “Kaleidoscope” which was organized together with my friends. I knew that she wouldn’t mind it.

I’ve always had a very strong bond with mom. One year spent away from her and the events that took place in the meantime drove me even closer to her. I tried to spend as much quality time with her as possible, however, it did not always work out and I am now disappointed and heartbroken over all the missed opportunities just as mom had regretted her parenting mistakes. Yet, she told me once that she thought herself an ideal companion for me. I was surprised and happy to hear it because this is exactly what I’d always tried to prove her – that she was the best mother. Sometimes she would tell me: “What will you do when I’m gone” and I would answer that she had no right to die and she had to live until I was around.

In the end, we got in a car crash together. I survived and mom was killed. The survival was extremely traumatic. I could not get rid of the feeling of shame for not dying with her. I was sorry to my sister and my father, if not my whim to go to the seaside, we would not have the car accident. Now they had lost mom because of me. I felt embarrassed and sorry to all of their and my friends, relatives, close and distant people who were worried and heartbroken by this tragedy. I was sorry that they did all in their power to save me and raise funds for my treatment. I was ashamed to be alive and thought that the worst thing apart from the accident was the fact that I survived. I was sorry for my friends, acquaintances and strangers who did not survive similar accidents or survived with fatal results, while I only had two scratches on my face.

I am alive thanks to the doctors in Kutaisi Hospital and surgeon Tariel Natsvaladze who performed surgery on my skull urgently and without hesitation without even asking for my name – when I was taken to hospital, I was unidentified. I know this sense of shame must seem incomprehensible to most people and, first and foremost, I am ashamed to say it to my family. I lived with the sense of shame for a few years and, to be honest, I freed myself from it just recently: it took a lot of self-destructive behavior and many unhappy experiences to overcome it.

It’s been seven years without my mother. It is hard to say when I miss her most – when I despair and need to hear her kind words or when I am happy and want to share it with her. I am very fortunate that mom was lucky to have to girls and I am not alone. Part of me died with mom, a large part of me and my sister. However, I know it may sound a bit dramatic, but part of mom continues to live inside us. As time passes, we become more like her, we even resemble her in our mimics and gestures and when I notice these little things in my sister, it seems that the three of us are still together.”