by Kenneh Koroma
When I was in the third grade, I thought my mother immortal. I would hear about people dying and I would think to myself, “My mom will never die, she’s going to live forever.” In 2005, I realized that my mother was human, that she can get sick and die. The thought of losing the one person in this world who mattered to me the most left me broken. Every night, I would wake up and sneak into my mother’s room to check if she was breathing. Then I would just sit by her side and cry, wishing I was in the bed instead of her. I would get on my knees and pray to God to let her live. I went into my mother’s room almost every night for the rest of her life. I went in there so much that it became part of my daily routine; if I didn’t go in there, I couldn’t sleep for the night.
The last time I saw my mother, I knew the end was near for her. I held her hand as she was fighting to stay alive, fighting to stay with her family. I looked her in the eyes and told her the hardest words I have ever had to say. I told her to let go, that I was okay, we would be okay. I started gasping for breath, feeling as if someone had ripped out my heart and stomach. Yet, even with all the pain, I felt nothing.
That day my mother died came back when I saw Preston Gannaway’s photo “Remember Me.” When I first saw the photograph, all I wanted to do was look away, but I couldn’t. The photograph is from a series of photographs about a dying mother. Carolynne St. Pierre knew that she was going to die and knew that she wanted to die surrounded by her family. Carolynne also wanted to her children to remember her, especially her five year old son. The St. Pierre family hired Preston Gannaway to capture the last year of Carolynne’s life. This particular photograph is of Carolynne and her family on the day she died. Preston Gannaway captured two different worlds in a shot that includes a bedroom and a bathroom. In one world, a person lies there fighting to live while in the other, a teenager does her hair as if she is getting ready to go out.
In the bedroom, Carolynne is lying on the bed grasping for her last breath, surrounded by her loved ones in a room that is warm and comforting. The room is painted blue with a family portrait hanging on the wall right above Carolynne’s bed. Carolynne is lying in white sheets that bring to mind peace. The viewer sees the back of a man walking into the room as well as two women, probably family members, one sitting on Carolynne’s bed and another in a chair. The woman in the chair by Carolynne’s bedside looks like she is crying.
In contrast, the bathroom walls are an orange shade. The bathroom counter has a lot of items: toy walkie talkies, floss, a remote control toy, the family’s tooth brushes next to the sink, a basket containing different items, like a toy dinosaur. A teenage girl is in the bathroom looking in the mirror styling her hair. The teenage girl was my connection to the photo. The pain of knowing that the one person you love the most will be gone soon isn’t something a teenager can handle, no matter how strong he or she is.
You wake up in the morning feeling like you have not slept in days and at the same time like someone keeps punching you over and over in the stomach and heart. Yet, even though you are in a lot of pain, you still feel nothing; you feel numb all over. The only thing you want to do is go back to sleep or find a way to run away, find your comfort zone. My comfort zone was school. When my mother was sick, I still went to school, and I tried to live a normal life as much as possible. I would look forward to going to school everyday because I knew I could get away from my private life for a few hours. Being home was saddening for me, and it got harder and harder for me to stay at home as my mother grew sicker. I felt helpless and useless. I saw her vomiting everything she ate and still feeling she needed to vomit even though her stomach was empty. There was nothing I could do to help her, so I started running away from my life. Going out was like a breath of fresh air after being locked in a small room for hours. Being in school felt normal to me; it was something I could do without thinking. I could go from class to class without thinking because there was a bell to inform me that it was time for my next class. School was not only a place to learn, but it became an escape.
Looking at Preston Gannaway’s photo, “Remember Me,” some people may see the teenage girl as a heartless person who doesn’t care that her mom may die that very day. But those people have never been in her situation before. She may have thought that her mom may die that day, but a part of her didn’t want to believe it. Denial becomes part of your daily routine.
Gannaway, Preston. “Remember Me.” 2006-2007. Newseum, Washington DC.