This Temple Speaks for Me

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

Broken bodies stumble across the floor as sunlight beats against the windows, demanding the right to shine in this desecrated space.

Pages, soaked in the bloodred color that paints my history, rustle in the winds of hatred blowing through these trembling walls.

The temple heaves in uncontainable sorrow.

I cannot speak as the vigil gathers outside, swarming the streets with wretched grief.

Candles flicker in shaking hands. Eyes well with loss and disbelief. This is not where we were meant to gather together and remember.

I cannot speak as the graves are dug. The soil of a foreign land swallowing up vessels punctured by bullets that drained the lives held within.

I cannot speak as the world spins again and the sun knocks against my darkened heart.

I cannot speak because my tongue is bound by words too shallow to hold the depth of pain that rises from my roots and rips my carefully constructed identity down to the naked truth of who I am and who I will always be.

I cannot speak as a Jew, alone in this crowd of comforting rhetoric that leaves me feeling wrung out and dried.

I am persecuted and hated. I am thrown to the lions and left to die. I am misunderstood, mislabeled and misbelieved. I am held as a beacon and obfuscated in contempt. I am riddled with gunshots, stabbed with steel terror and run over with crushing rage.

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

This temple speaks for me.

 

 

The Prison Cells We Hide In

I always struggled to maintain friendships with women. It was easier for me to hang out with men. I knew exactly how to talk to them, how to act around them and was confident in my direct approach.

Women scared me. We always seemed to be hurting each other. The idea of a united front, working to overcome inequality and patriarchy as a tsunami of feminine strength seemed implausible.

Over time, I learned how to approach female relationships. It requires a real effort for me to connect with other women, even though it sometimes seems futile. The few friends I did manage to make are extraordinarily patient with me. I know that I wrap myself in yellow tape and dare them to try.

And then #metoo and #timesup happened, and I saw women emerging from their own prison. I dipped a toe in at first, wanting to test the waters I couldn’t trust. But I fell in hard. I found myself swimming in a school, sometimes wildly as though being chased, but most times with direction and purpose. Every once in a while, coming up for air, I saw some of what I knew deep down was still there; we weren’t all prepared for this.

The other day a woman called out from her prison and she got swarmed. There was a pounding on her door, a demand for her to open up, and I saw that there are cracks that are widening.

We need each other. But we need to tunnel into each prison and sit a moment inside. We need to see her space, feel her boundaries, and hold her hand when she decides she wants it to be held. Then we can be the force that will break us free.

This is what my prison looked like. It’s empty most of the time now. If you ever see me inside, come in through the back door I hide behind my unsmiling eyes. I’ll be waiting for you.

* * * * *

I keep the women in my life at bay.

Held off by my rigid tone, they circle for a moment before wandering away.

I don’t blame them.

The door is bolted and covered in skulls.

I am not very inviting.

I throw a line, teasing it a bit before I reel it in.

My words fall from my tongue with force I don’t even try to control. I am unbridled, wild and free in this prison I have constructed from the rubble of my demolished childhood.

It is warm in here.

I touch the splintering walls, piercing my fingertips with rusting nails. Watching the blood flow, I patch the roof where sunlight dares to shine through.

It is stifling in here.

Betrayals decompose in heaps strewn about the floor. Expectation died here long ago. The stench of rotting dreams reminds me not to close my eyes.

It is burning in here.

The men who knock are well received. I learned to navigate their world the moment I heard one moan. They trip over the warning signs. They don’t understand the game I play. They take me as I am; as I project myself to be.

I host them in the darkness. There is nothing here for them to see.

Lingering outside for a moment, the women stare through the glass walls of my prison where I meet their gaze with my empty plea.

Uncovered

Orthodox Judaism has a uniform. It varies according to sect and strictness of observance, but it’s always there, worn as an identity.

As a child, I wore long, mid-calf skirts, sleeves below my elbows and necklines that covered my collarbone. I was lucky I could wear kneesocks, I couldn’t stand the feeling of tights, and I had room for expression with my hair and earrings. I pushed the boundaries as far as I could which wasn’t very far but made me a rebel. I got long cowboy boot earrings and rolled my socks down to my ankles. I pulled my sleeves up and stretched out my collars.

When I was a teenager, I exchanged that uniform for the one that branded me as trouble. I wore provocative graphic t-shirts I had cut so they fell off one shoulder. I stole my boyfriend’s jeans and cargo pants and sported big black clunky boots. My hair hung around my face, stringy and unkempt. My hands, encased in homemade fingerless gloves, smelled like an ashtray and constantly twitched.

When I tried sobriety on, I bought wrap-around skirts that swept the ground and kept my t-shirts closer to my body.

And then, when the boy who wore flannel shirts on top of sweatshirts and baggy pants added tzitzit that flew behind him and a kippa that got lost in his wild hair, I thought about another uniform. He asked me to dinner one night. I got a haircut, put on my sister’s clothing, and said yes when he asked me to marry him sporting short hair and a clean collared shirt.

Very soon after, he walked down to meet me, a black hat I had never seen on his head, and the white fabric I uncomfortably wore constricted around me. The hat never reappeared, but a different kind took its place, and a beard grew with sidelocks, and black and white only on Shabbat, and I didn’t care because when you don’t believe in god, you don’t shake a marriage over a uniform. And anyway, my skirts and shirts were changing with every season, every pregnancy, and every time I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.

But my head stayed under wraps. Always, I kept my hair tucked beneath fabric I fought with each morning.

Until he started sharing his doubts with me.

We started to strip. Slowly, we took off the bits of cloth that weighed us down and told the world the lie we once believed. And then it was down to a little bandana wound around my brain. Every day I would look at it and cry.

I was tired of crying.

I walked out of the house without it late one Friday night when I knew no one else would be outside.

It took a while to feel comfortable without a uniform. I still feel naked at times. But that first time will stay with me always; an unveiling that is seared in my memory with a plaque reading: Here lies a woman of valor.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The air is cool and brisk. It has been a dry, moody winter and when the cold rain fell this morning a sigh of relief spread over me like a blanket. I am reminded that my sneakers don’t absorb water with a misstep into a pool of rainfall gathering in the groves of uneven pavement. It is dark and this section of sidewalk is poorly lit. My damp toes are worth the protection night has given me.

We are walking around the block. The kids are excited to be out in their pajamas. They chatter and skip, burying their noses in coats someone sent us from a place where winter means snow. Their cheeks are beginning to flush; I’m glad I left the windows open at home.

My husband walks beside me. His every stride is two of mine. No matter how hard we try; we are never fully in sync. He hums, occasionally adding a whistle, the way he does whenever he is lost in thought. I snake my hand into his pocket and find his welcoming fingers.

My heart is pounding.

My entire body is shaking.

I can feel every hair on my scalp.

I want to lower my head. I want to put my hood on. I want to run back home. I want to cry and laugh and cry.

A breeze blows towards me. I can feel the wind run through my exposed strands gently, almost lovingly. My eyes, stinging from the storm raging deep inside my tortured body, tear and swell, spilling sorrow down my cheeks where winter licks them softly dry.

We turn the last corner. We are alone on these cold, wet streets. We are performing a ritual we barely understand ourselves. They are accompanying me as I walk away from the crushing burden I know more intimately than the bare-head reflection I see in the mirrored lobby wall.

She smiles at me as I pass, her eyes are bright and bold and beautiful.

Misconception

Misconception hides around the corner from me as I navigate through alleys of my heart.

Usually, it leaps out just after I pass, falling flat on the broken pavement behind me while I focus on what lies ahead.

Sometimes I feel wind move behind me, rustling hairs I’ve shaved off the back of my neck.

I don’t turn around.

I don’t want to hear sympathetic murmurings of those who think they know me.

I don’t want to see the confused gaze averted when it locks on my stoicism.

I don’t want to taste the stinging heat of shame dripping from your tilted head as you pass judgment even as you claim to be trying to understand.

I can clear the air, I guess.

I can lift the veil and show you who I am today, right now with my heart so full and my soul settled in a rhythm I wrote all by myself.

I can let you in enough to stop the rationalizing group discussions and mental gymnastics your misconception uses as a dance floor.

I can take misconception on, my sword of words ready to duel; I know in the cage where we battle I win.

I can be explained.

But you like the way misconception feels.

You like the mystery and drama surrounding unanswered questions you don’t think to ask me.

You like the way it screams at you; tantalizing blows to your core.

You like the stories you tell, connecting you to me.

So you don your misconceived mask, crouching in the shadows until I pass, never knowing there are no corners here.

I see you, Misconception.

Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and me

I was too young then… too small and insignificant to understand what bravery looks like… to know the pain of disbelief…

I was too young to see her… too young to be moved to act on her behalf.

I was not young enough to escape her fate.

9,853 days should be long enough to figure this out.

9,853 days should be time enough to change.

And yet here I am… 9,853 days older and more broken than I ever knew I could be, watching history repeat itself while my heart pounds in fear and my voice falls back into my constricted throat.

I was too young to feel the waves. I was too young to see the rippling effect.

I was not young enough to tell the truth. I was not young enough to report, report, report!

I was too young to find the common thread that wove through our private places in secret spaces where demons like to graze.

9,853 days ago happened again today. Too young then… too scared now to let this moment pass.

I am brave enough to take a stand.

I am strong enough to carry this.

I am weary enough to scream for an end.

I am no longer letting warrior queens fight alone against a revolving world of lines so blurred they turn into laughing devil emojis flying out from the fingertips of some damn internet goblin who hides his masculinity beneath the desperate urges of his groin.

I say enough.

I say it louder and clearer and a hell of a lot meaner than I’ve ever said it before.

I say time’s up, and I mean today because the clock kept ticking for 9,853 days even though the brake was pulled by so many broken bodies and tortured souls.

I say we change our rhetoric and up our ante and refuse to remain the children we were when the alarm bells were ringing, and we went out to play because we were too young to have a say in what our future would bring.

Today I am old enough to know that my children are not too young to add their voices to the scream that will tear down the fabric wrapping the illusion of change these past 9,853 days tricked us into believing was real.

Join me. Stop the clock and reset time. Change the direction this crazy train is on. And let’s see what we can do when we stop holding our breath and rise out of these ashes.

I am Anita Hill.

I am Christine Blasey Ford.

And you will hear me roar.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Triggered

Triggered.

You laugh at the word and point out how overused it is these days.

You sit in your leather chairs, backs comfortably reclined as you swivel behind the glossy desk proclaiming your entitlement.

It is so easy for you to roll your eyes and then apologize for your reaction. Your genitalia allows you to retract at will. It hangs between your legs, launching you onto the high horse you barely even know you’re riding.

Yes, yes, she was compelling. Attractive too. Surprisingly believable.

You marvel at this circus and flare your nostrils at the injustice and casually wonder how all the other women are taking this.

You ask them politely, giving them the floor as though they suddenly matter and you are very cautious not to assume you understand, even as your head tilts gently to the side and nods in misplaced solidarity.

You don’t even know what we’re talking about.

Some of you try. There is sincerity in your attempt to open eyes conditioned to see only half the world. The best of you lower your voices and open your ears, acknowledging this moment as the start of change, even as you are reminded that it is deja vu all over again.

Over and over and over again.

Triggered.

One in 5 stare at their screens and watch their personal hell parade in front of their eyes in varying degrees of burning shame. Four in 5 have had their eyes peeled open since they were taught to beware, beware, the beast is always out to get you; your virtue protects you from becoming another statistic. One in 3 tasted it. Two in 3 witnessed it.

Triggered.

You sit with your knees spread, airing out the sword you hold above our heads while our thighs squeeze together and our bodies clench in collective resistance.

Triggered.

We hashtag our anger and air your dirty laundry because we are done.

Triggered.

We march and we stand tall and we proclaim our strength and you pretend to see us.

Triggered.

You laugh at the word and point out how overused it is these days.

Triggered.

Your laugh is uncomfortable because you see us rising up as a solid wall of broken women triggered by memories of generations of your betrayal. The trigger she pulled when she stood before the world and yanked the comfortable rug from under your feet, revealing mountains of naked truths hiding beneath it cleared your vision long enough for you to glimpse the ugliness of your desire.

And you are triggered.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Goodbye, Cobblestone Road

This is a very painful post for me to write; one that crept up over the years on occasion but willingly returned to its suppression box when I pushed it in.

My husband and I have been married for over 13 years. Before our marriage, we spent intense, life-altering years with a revolving group of friends who experienced traumatic moments with us, sharing our blood, sweat, and tears profoundly. Our life is full now; family, friends and evenings spent unwinding with content happiness fill the nooks and crannies of our once broken hearts. We worked hard for it, and we are proud of it. But then a tug – always suddenly – makes us yearn to dig up a long-buried life.

The week of my husband’s 35th birthday the door swung open and blew his oldest friend in with fragments almost forgotten. The initial joy of reconnecting overshadowed the caution we knew we should be holding out in front of us like a shield. We let our guard down. It burned.

As his birthday drew to a close, we sat together, just the two of us, and sewed up the hole ripped through our carefully reconstructed souls, reaffirming our place in time and letting the past settle in the dust behind us.

Still, it is grief that follows us into the present.

This is a eulogy.

To all the friends we’ve loved and lost, we remember you fondly while we walk on without you.

* * * * * * * * * *

The past blew into town, whirling around in a drunken stupor and a cloud of cannabis.

Drawn from a place of need, we reached towards it desperately.

But the past is dead.

Still, we tried.

We thought it would feel comfortable, like slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes.

It was familiar.

The chaos and uncertainty shot through our veins and almost had us hooked.

Almost.

The noose hung slack against our necks, and we were transported to that moment when the floor fell out beneath our feet, and we plummeted to our living graves.

Breathlessly, desperately, we reached out for each other and unwound our throats from ropes as soft as cotton.

We had lost our footing for a moment. We had been deceived by the sounds and smells of what we thought was our worth. We had been drawn in the colors and spaces we no longer belonged.

We stepped away and held each other in arms more secure because they shook. We stepped away and breathed the air we chose to fill around us. We stepped away and came back to a place where we are always loved and sometimes lost and never tormented. We stepped away and left the past whirling around in chaotic memory where it belongs.

Burials are painful, but we cannot leave the rotting flesh exposed for all to see.

Somewhere behind us where we won’t look back, we buried familiar faces and loyal friends. We will always mourn them. We can never get them back.