When it hurts to live: leaving Orthodoxy

When you leave Orthodoxy, you leave everything behind. If you are lucky, you can find a way to anchor yourself to love.  But mostly, you are tethered in place by the family that wants to accept you but believes that you cannot be accepted. I cannot imagine the anguish of a parent who can not separate from belief enough to love their child unconditionally. It is a brutal thing to be faced with. Still, when you abandon your child and refuse to see them fully, you are guilty of taking away the stability necessary to walk this earth.

**********

I do not want to write this.

I do not like to hurt people. I do not like that my words are sticks and stones that break people I love.

But I am bound by the dead, bound by the silenced, to give these words life.

I will never be able to take it back.

I owe that to the memories of those who drank their pain and swallowed comfort. I must write for those who wrapped their necks and flew off buildings and let their blood flow to release themselves from the devastating hurt of abandonment.

I owe them something that will live forever.

To those who raised children who are not the same as you to only be the same as you

To those who took part in shaping children who did not want to be shaped

To those who conditioned their love to meet their faith

To those who held belief above all

To those who will not listen

To those who will not accept

To those who will not ADJUST

To those who refuse to apologize

You are guilty.

You have brought your son to be sacrificed. You placed him on an altar, bound his hands and feet, and did not have the courtesy to slit his throat. You have let him lay exposed before your judgment, and you have rained disappointment down like a sea of arrows. You have scraped his skin, pierced his heart, and did not bury who you wanted him to be.

You are guilty.

You threw your daughter to be eaten by the wolves you fiercely protect. You let her cut her flesh and offer it to others again and again while you sat on anger and expectation and allowed the wolves to feed.  Her skin turned inside out, and you refused to see her. You left her with nothing to hold on to.

You are guilty.

You did not mean to do it.

And so we forgive you.

But we will not live another day this way.

So we will try to be free.

Some of us will learn how to be alone.

Some of us will find each other and live in perpetual grief.

Many of us will not have the strength.

As we fall, please know;

You are guilty

You are guilty

You are guilty.

Settled

Do you know where

You are?

Have you found the place

you fit?

Do you like it there, between the what and the who and the when?

Do you feel settled where you are?

Or are you like me

Floating through it all

knowing that the strings

that tie me in place

also weigh around my neck.

If my feet

stop twisting between beats

the noose will raise me up

and I will be found

but not free.

Time, Untethered

Her hand is in mine; clammy because it is hot on these streets that smell of burgers, oil, and urine. She tries to lace her fingers with mine. I pull away slightly, aware of the implications.

“My mother didn’t like holding my hand,” she tells the therapist casually. “Sweaty palms triggered her.” She is old enough to understand everything now. The therapist is helping her process the hugeness of it all.

We are on a family outing. She skips ahead with her brother as my husband wraps his arm around my waist. We look like an adorable family. I dress casually. My hair is cut short; shaved on one side. My husband’s Batman t-shirt attracts the attention of the crowds of teenagers gathering in the streets for a comic convention. My daughter dances when she walks. There is a constant beat in her head. My son follows her steps like a disciple. He worships her. Today she is 11. He is 8 and 16 hours. His devotion twists me up inside

and I am following him down the steep staircase because I would do anything for his attention. He is my god, and when he throws me aside, I am turned to dust. His love burns through me, shredding my sense of self and every future moment I feel a fragment of this moment poking into the bubble I will have to form around me so that I can breathe.

I love that they love each other. I love that we all love each other. I lean forward a bit so that I can have a lead on the time capsule that forever pursues me. I lean too far 

and I am holding my son in my arms and telling him he is big and strong and capable and it is ok for him to leave me. I am shattering my heart with a mighty hammer of lies. I am pretending I am able to let go. I have made a life of imaginary corridors I conquer with a presumed strength because I could not let the only grounding facts of my life weigh me down, drowning them with me. My home is emptying of the now and I am left without reasons to keep the monster at bay. My husband will feel the wrath of the past. He will welcome it and accept it as he has all the pieces of me throughout our love story.

I lower myself onto the grass, inhaling the end of summer. They are playing, the three parts of my present, while I 

run. He is chasing me with a hairbrush, screaming that I left it and he just wants to talk. I push past my friend and pull the door closed behind me. I bolt it and sink to the floor. I can still smell his desire. I am 15, and I am 8, and I don’t know where I am anymore as I

pull the blades of grass and run my fingers through the earth while my husband stretches out a stable hand to me 

and lifts me onto his lap and opens my mouth with his teeth and demands I learn to kiss because that’s what all brothers do

and I walk along in this postcard of a family full of joy 

and I don’t know how to be a grownup. My children resent me because they found out all the truths I still can’t say and ask me why I never told. My parched lips part

I scream in silence into time

and his tongue is in my mouth, and his hand is clammy, and I hate the body I am in and wander up into the lights where I hide the child I will never be

I am mother, wife, child, sister, friend, and I am worthy

and people are asking questions that confuse me so I stutter and they call me a liar 

and I take her hand in mine. It is clammy. I want to pull away.

My past, present, and future line up to challenge my memory bank. The transactions are mixed up. The numbers are wrong. I can’t find the point that is me on a timeline because once upon a time when time still ran its course, I followed the devil down to a place where time stands still and runs away, always and forevermore.

She is 11 and he is 8 and I am every moment I ever was and ever will be.

 

If a Mother Falls to Her Knees, Does She Even Make a Sound?

Some days, like today, I wish I could just step out of it all just for a moment, long enough to catch the breath I lost somewhere between becoming Woman and becoming Mother.

Some days, to be Mother is to press flat against the packed mud I left indented in my rock bottom.

Some days, to be Mother is to dig and dig beneath what is left of my forgotten corpse and reveal the remains of what I longed for, the bones of my selfishness, and the chains of my distended freedom.

Those days, when to be Mother means the opposite of Mother, my toe traces the line that keeps me from the edge, curling over sharp loathing holding me back.

Oh, I talk about it. I am honest and open and so fucking real.

I hide behind this realness. I confess it. I shout it so that it will not linger in darkness, shining light like a cloak, and I pretend I’ve exposed myself.

I even reach out to others with comfort and love and understanding… so much understanding.

Because I get it, I really do.

I know these days well.

I should know that on those days I am not looking for love and attention. I am looking for reprieve. And no one can give it to me.

If a Mother falls to her knees, does she even make a sound?

If a Mother breaks free, does she ever hit the ground?

If a Mother is not a Mother, what is she?

everything

to everyone

peck 

need

peck

desire

peck

comfort

peck

love

peck

faith

peck

trust

peck peck peck

Nothing left

for me.

 

Sun Year, Moon Year, and Me

The sun and moon fight above me.

One circles me while I circle the other.

And they disagree about time and space and light and make me wonder which of them is right.

I was born after the stars had come out and the fires burned. The moon, just beginning to cycle back down in size, claimed me on that day. The sun, having already done its job, nodded once and stamped me into the time it keeps.

And so I was born twice.

The moon years are special because they exist only for those who look towards the sky and bless the shimmering silver and mark their lives to the rise and fall of tides that flow over them with every persecution and triumph and history repeating itself while the rest of the world continues to focus on the blinding, waning beams of sunshine.

But the days of the sun make the world go round and round again.

I want the sun to mark me, burn me, make me feel like I am only one little dot across the horizon.

One little dot is not special or bound or lit up from behind. It does not place itself disproportionate to its size, does not pull at the waters and force my gaze.

But I was born under the moon and the fires burned for a man who brought light to a world that was already full of sun.

This day begins as the sun goes down and the moon appears where it has always been. Take away the light to see the beauty in the darkness… take away my life to find where I’ve been hiding… take away the night and let me have the morning…

To wake up and see… see what I have been missing while the moon circled above me and the sun moved on without me…

I was born, and so I became and the time that passed fell away and now the night will fall and make my moon year complete.

I will be older and never wiser and always wondering why the sun and the moon could not dance together, even for a day.

The Place Where I Belong

She calls me, breathless.

“It was amazing,” she panted. “I loved it. I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

Patched up by the threads trailing behind her gathering into a seam sewn with every fall and knotted with each triumphant rise, my lungs fill.

My hands slow their spasms. My head sweeps the day’s anxious pacing to the place in my brain that archives these moments in memory where they no longer hold me by the throat.

**********

I had been unsure for so long.

She was my rainbow baby.

When I grew her in my womb, I stopped the world to keep her safe. I could not trust my body, it had betrayed me before. I slowed time, went still, and waited. Month after month, I pushed down my swelling heart, locking it up so it could not get hurt. I would not dream, refused to take any steps further than the one right before me.

And then she burst into the world.

I had never seen the colors she threw at me, the way she blended the lines and filled the spaces with depth and layers. One on top of the other, her shades of joy spun me around and changed me.

But light does not color darkness. Beneath it all, the part of me written into her code lay dormant, waiting to pounce.

It found a moment of vulnerability and doubt and dug deep into her translucent skin.

Oh, how it hurt.

It strangled her with the rope I had never been able to shake off my neck. She couldn’t explain it to me, the only one who could really understand.

“I know,” I would say, imploring her to let me in.

“NO! No, you don’t.” Screaming with rage, she’d pull away. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be me.”

Punching my gut from my past stood 10-year-old me.

“I know,” I’d whisper to her through the years. “I know exactly how it feels to be you.”

So I tiptoed around a ride through hell and ecstasy, hoping she’d get what I never could find. Her voice rose and fell with each curve, gathering speed as it steadily spread the black between each vibrant color.

Flashes of pain seeped into her notes. It was haunting and beautiful and the scariest sound a mother can hear.

My prayers swept around her tormented thoughts, her twirling emotions, her bright overwhelming light, into the vastness of a universe I feared could not see her.

Just one little corner, one place to lay her head down… please let her feel like she belongs.

Her song grew strong, too strong. It began to surround her and swallow her with its need to be heard.

It could no longer be contained.

Softly, with the gentlest touch on her fragile little back, I steered her towards the spotlight.

And then she stepped onto the stage, a solid black ground raised for the world to see. Her eyes blinked, her heart stilled, and she poured out across the place she was meant to be.

Curled up at home where I could not rush to her side, I waited for my star to rise.

**********

“I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

“I know,” I say to her and to me and to all the times we didn’t believe it and all the times we won’t be comforted by it. “I understand.”

And I do.

They Cannot Gun Us All

They’ve come to kill us, these poisoned hearts.

They’ve come to take our innocent and young.

They’ve come to cut down our wise and wizened.

They’ve come to slash our soft and pure.

They seep into our waters

across oceans and fields of tranquility.

They march in step to a raging scream

a hatred pulsing through wretched limbs

flowing down ugly veins bulging out

from under little wrinkled souls.

They’ve come to murder us as we sleep

as we eat

as we pray

as we wait

as we live and breath.

All they want

is to silence those they deem unfit

those who rise from the dead

over and over and over again

with open throats and bullet holes

resurrecting the voice

determined to sing

so loud

so strong

so overpowering

the demons slipping into skin

will melt from the heat.

Curtain Call

My thoughts

running through the maze

I hold inside my pounding skull

keep me company

reminding me

when my eyes search for love

for understanding

for hope

I am not alone.

 

I am tied to the whispers

the whipping post I toss over one shoulder

and the never-ending scorn scraping my open wounds.

 

These traveling thoughts

narrate a dialogue

a screaming silent war of words

I hold in an arena of unfulfilled dreams.

 

I am center stage

front row seat to a sold-out spectacle

spinning wildly in a cold sweat

dripping with resounding applause.

 

Take a bow

draw the curtain

the show has just begun.

The Dance

We dance

step by step, beat by beat

to the rhythm of broken dreams.

Linked

we twirl and bend and fall

tears streak down hollow cheeks.

Worn out soles

and ragged feet

buckle calves tightly wound.

Eyes glossed over

in painful pasts

spin sorrow refusing to drown.

At the end of this bright tunnel of love

darkness waits alone.

This song will end

the dance will fade

my heart will decompose.

The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.