Inhale…hold…2…3…

There is bubbling inside me

rising panic

calm pushing down

rising fear

serenity pushing down

and I am reminded of the breaths I forgot to take

as I rode the waves of birth

pushing

holding

pressing

rolling

squeezing

ripping

no air

no space

no end

until there was a scream.

But the first time

there was no scream

and I saved my breath

for round two

and only let it go

when I heard the second cry

the third time around.

How Are You?

How is she? 

They ask, everywhere I go.

Sometimes I answer.

It’s hard.  They’re trying something new.  We still don’t know.

And sometimes I don’t.

Fine, thank god.

They want to know news, they want to know progress…they want to know black and white.

I confide in some.

I deflect others.

Mostly, I seethe.

I know everyone means well.

I mean well sometimes too.

How is she?

But do you really want to know?

How is she?

I don’t know.

So tell me dear, dear sister.

How are you?

I bet it hurts.

I bet it’s really bad.

I bet you don’t even know how to explain it to me.

I bet you don’t even want to try.

I bet you want to close your eyes and wake up when it’s over.

I bet you want to travel back in time.

I bet you want me to stop asking you how the hell you are.

I’m fine.

You say it always.

And I wish I could answer you honestly.

You don’t have to be.

 

 

Tears

 

The words are piling up behind my eyes…

pushing past resistant eyelids…

spilling…

letter by letter…

down my cheeks…

where I angrily brush them aside.

I don’t want to write…

I don’t want to feel in text…

I don’t want to say the things my heart is dictating.

So I rub…

I destroy the words that must never be spoken…

the dreams…

the hopes…

the why….

the how…

the deafening shriek filling my mind…

the absolutely gut-wrenching pain I have no right to believe is mine.

I want to say…

that I cannot say…

anything at all.

 

Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?

It’s been over a month since I last wrote.  There was a post writing itself out in my head…but I didn’t have the heart to let it out.

I don’t know who reads this blog.  I don’t know who really cares what I write or how I write it…but sometimes I get the feeling that no matter how I say it, I am misunderstood by the one or two people in my life whose opinion of me actually matters.

So I haven’t written about this thing.

But I’ve been thinking it.

And now I have to veil it a little.

And hope you can take it for what it is and not write it off as my over-the-top emotional personality you think I have.

I’ve wondered….if I ever cross your mind…just because…and when I do…is it because you miss me…or love me…or think I matter.

And I wonder…why you can’t talk to me.

Why I make you feel so uncomfortable.

Why I have to even wonder about this at all.

I know I was stupid…and immature…and gave you hell…but I never hurt you the way you constantly hurt me…

I never stopped loving you.

I never stopped thinking of you.

And I would never dismiss you the way you dismiss me…the way you dismiss anything that touches a place in your heart that might actually make you vulnerable.

But guess what?

I can’t go anywhere.

So you’re going to have to learn…who I am…what I am…why I am…

And understand…that most of it…is because of you.

Those Three Words

Those three words
shooting off the screen
blazing a trail to my heart
to my guilt
to my torment.

Those three words
lifting me from my burden
sending my soul soaring
flying high
flying free.

Those three words
written to me
to my past
to my inner child
to my hidden self

Those three words
take me to a place
of gratitude
of contentment
of peace.

I forgive you
you wrote
and I can only reply
Thank you
because I know
you know
the thing about
those three words.

The Sadness Effect

“If I ever become a real artist I’ll make a series of sketches called Sad People.  All kinds of people – age, race, culture – will be represented with the common denominator being a sadness that jumps out at you.  Then I’ll have a gallery and people will come…it’ll be like a sad room…a place for people to feel their sadness.”

“Hmm…the sad room…so do you think there are more sad people than happy people?”

“For sure!  I mean, hopefully, everyone has felt happy and sad at some point in their lives…but sadness seems to me to be harder to express.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, let’s see…it seems like everything to do is for happy people.  Happy people go out, party, see a movie, go to a park…all things fun need to have happy people to use them.  A sad person isn’t going to have so much fun at a party unless they’re drunk, and then it’s not really so fun, and a movie to a sad person is just an escape…a restaurant means tasteless food or trying to fill a hole with food…and who wants to sit in the park with sadness?  So what I’m saying is that happiness is automatically validated by societal norms.  Happy people are productive people who know how to utilize their time in this world for work and play.”

“Ok, sounds interesting.  Now, what about the sad people?”

“I think – and this is totally me and my theories – I think that sad people never get their sadness validated and so it just sits inside and spirals…adding to more sad feelings and more spiraling…let’s call it the Sadness Effect.”

“Huh.  So being sad isn’t accepted.”

“I don’t think it’s not accepted – I mean everyone gets sad…it’s just that it’s not validated.  How many people can actually validate sadness for someone?  How do you do it?  From what I’ve seen and experienced with my own sadness, when I tell someone about it they either becomes sad with me or take a step back and leave me with a feeling that has nowhere to go but back inside to fester.”

“I see.  So how do you validate sadness?”

“I think you have to really listen.  Like, when someone says they’re sad, you have to let them know that you understand that they are sad.  You can’t try to make them happy or explain why it’s not worth being sad because then you are essentially telling them that the sad feeling has no right to be – totally invalidating the feeling, leading to another kind of sadness and loneliness as the person who is seeking validation realizes how totally misunderstood they are…it’s a terrible cycle.  And then, after too many times of getting their sadness thrown to the side, they don’t want to talk about it and try to pretend to be happy – however that may be – and then we get this whole ‘running after happiness’ trend that all started because no one ever said – ‘hey, you’re sad.  I get that.  Let’s sit with the sadness for a bit and try to understand it.’  Validating a feeling means giving it a right to exist on its own.  You can’t say ‘everyone feels sad’ or ‘it’ll pass’ cause that makes the feeling less unique.  You gotta say something along the lines of ‘I see that you’re sad.  I’m sorry you’re sad.  Let me know if or when you want to talk about it and I can do my best to be there for you.’  You know, like a kid wants validation for his sadness, he just comes for a hug.  You got to give verbal hugs out when you’re confronted by sadness.”

“So what about those people who get sad with you when you’re sad?”

“That’s the other kind of bad sadness conduct.  People can’t handle another person’s sadness as a separate person, so they use it to try to validate their own sadness, negating the original sadness and creating a neat little ‘let’s be sad together and feed each other sad pills’ scenario.”

“Isn’t that co-dependency?”

“For sure.  That’s why all these co-dependent relationships are all the rage.  You get to be sad together – gee, how fun.”

“This is all intriguing – go on.”

“Ok – so the answer to all the sad people is to teach everyone how to validate.  Then, you feel sad, you express, it’s validated, you move on and don’t sit in it forever and ever.  If everyone learned how to look past themselves and just allow other people to feel things and not take it on or step away, then the answer is solved.”

“How would you teach people to do that though?”

“Simple – if you’re the type of person who steps back, so push your instinct aside for a second and step forward.  If you’re the type of person who gets too involved, take a step back.  It’s just a small step, but it changes everything.”

“I like this.  I think you really got something here.”

“Well, anyway – back to my sad room.  I’m going to make sadness an outing.  All these happy people get to have fun…sad people are welcome to come to my gallery and cry.  It’ll be a sad party.  It’ll be fun.”

Instead

I don’t know what is churning, twisting and pulling inside me.

I don’t know why I feel a NEED.

I don’t know how to name it, claim it…own it.

I don’t know where to turn to release it.

But

I know that I don’t want whatever it is.

Because it makes me feel

not good enough

capable enough

motivated enough

to be

A Wife

A Mother

A Child of God

Who should be able

To just Be.

And so

I sit

with the churning

and try

to change it

to yearning

for something MORE

as opposed

to something

INSTEAD.

Heartbreaker

“IMMA!!! My lev (heart) is hurting!  Imma’le!  My feelings!”

She runs up the stairs, away from her best friend who had just ripped her heart apart.  I race up after her.  She is curled outside our door, tears streaming down her face from her swollen eyes.

My brave little girl looks up at me.  Her jaw sets a bit as she angrily swipes at her eyes.

“I”m not crying about that.  It’s just…I got…a boo boo.  When I came up the stairs.  That’s why I’m crying.  It’s not about that.”

And she grips my hand as we walk back down and out, past her ‘favorite friend in the whole wide world,’ the boy who doesn’t want to come to her birthday party because his friends make fun of him because he plays with a girl.

I comfort.

I console.

I sit quietly as she tell me how very much it hurts.

She wraps her fingers tightly around mine as she gives a little sob.  Her face clears and she looks at me calmly.

“Thank you Imma.  Thank you for making my heart feel better.”

And now I am sobbing…and my heart breaks…knowing….that one day…I will not be enough…to mend her broken heart…kiss away her pain…shield her from evil…give her safety and security…because…one day…my love…will not be…enough.

I wipe my tears and shake that last sob out as the strongest girls in the world snuggles up to me and says, “Imma, ze lo norah (it’s not so bad), if he wants to come, so he will.  If not, we can find another boy to invite.”

Image

That’s Me In The Corner

I clutch the bar of the stroller and rock it back and forth, even though the baby is scampering about the room.  The movement keeps my shaking hands hidden from view.  I feel the tension in my shoulders and neck.  The room begins to go out of focus.  There is a roar in my ear.  My heartbeat is picking up.  My pores open in a flood of sweat.  I need to get out of here. NOW.

One look across the room and my husband is at my side, herding me and the kids out the door into the sunlight.  I take deep breaths of the fresh air and wipe the tears off my eyes.  Slowly, steadily, we walk up the street and as we round the corner towards our house I feel my heart return to me.  I walk into my living room, flooded with natural lighting and listen to the hum of the refrigerator and relax.  Here, I am safe.

*

Most of the time I say I’m not so social.  It’s hard to explain how the sound of three or more voices competing to be heard turns into hi-dub chatters in my ear.  It’s hard to explain how different scents of perfume, food, and drink mix in my nostrils to create a sickening sensation in my stomach.  It’s hard to explain the assault my eyes experience when fluorescent lighting meets marble floors and columns.  And it’s impossible to explain how my heart drops when those sensations cause me to cower in the corner as you walk by and either pretend I’m not there, glance at me with discomfort, or worse, disdain.

My coping mechanism for the anxiety that is usually triggered by an overload on my senses is not to put myself in a position of unnecessary vulnerability.  It works for me.  I am happier staying at home, going to a less crowded park, only hosting small families and knowing when to say no.  I live within my boundaries not because I’m afraid but because there are some challenges in life that are not meant to be overcome.  Anxiety is a challenge that I work with and around.  It’s hard for me to go to parties.  I don’t go often.  If I have to attend a function, I take along my knowledge of who I am, my ability to know when I’ve reached my limit and the security I feel from those who care to understand me.

So the next time you see me in the corner, sweat glistening off my forehead, panic in my eyes, try a little tenderness or a small smile as you walk on by.

But don’t you dare judge me.

Losing Words

I reach over to feel the cup.  The coffee has cooled down enough for Tzila to drink.

“Would you like your coffee now?”

She nods and opens her mouth slightly.  I lift the cup to her lips carefully.  A bit spills over her mouth and onto her apron.  I give her a napkin.  Her hands shake as she dabs the corners of her lips.

We sit quietly for a few moments.

Suddenly she turns to me.

Her eyes meet mine.

Her mouth opens to speak and I lean in to hear.

“Help me!”

I jump back in confusion.  I don’t know what she needs.  I try to give her more coffee, I offer her  some of her sandwich, but her hands are shaking even more now.

“Help me!” she cries again, her wobbly voice pushing the words past her thin lips.

I take her hand.  It is so cold.  I gently press her fingers and rub her wrinkled palm.  Within a few moments the shaking subsides and she takes another sip of coffee.

I wave another volunteer over.

“Tzila is asking for help.  She keeps crying ‘help me.’  What should I do?”

The woman, a retiree who spends her mornings here, looks at me with sad eyes.

“That’s what Alzheimer patients do.  It’s normal.”

She leans over the wheelchair.  “It’s ok Mrs. M., we’re all here to help you.  Don’t you worry about a thing.”

The woman turns back to me with a wistful expression.

“I knew her when I was a teenager.  That’s why I can’t say her first name.  It just doesn’t feel right.  She’ll always be Mrs. M. to me.”

I have gone numb inside.  I look over at my husband, trying to find some reassurance.  He is sitting with the baby on his lap, talking with the men.  They are laughing.  One man pushes away his plate of salad and loudly proclaims his desire for bagels and lox.  Everyone smiles.  He still has some life left in him.

I turn back to my table and give Tzila another sip of coffee.

*

I am quiet on the way home.  I am thinking of Aunt Susie.

*

My grandmother, the youngest of ten children, grew up on the Lower East Side with life, laughter and love.  The siblings, although very different, had a deep connection with each other.  They communicated mostly through letters, and usually sent a copy to everyone.  When World War Two broke out, the boys enlisted in the army and the letters that were sent back and forth have been kept in the family as a testament to the deep love and devotion that flowed between them all.

I used to sit for hours going through letter after letter.  It was my family history coming alive.  I got to really understand who they were through their hopes, dreams and aspirations from when they were young.  The one letter writer I loved the most was my great aunt, Susie.  She wrote extremely matter-of-factly. with sprinklings of humor and depth.  I related to her style and her personality.  I also had a great relationship with her and loved visiting her.

When my grandmother was in a coma, Susie spent almost all her time in the hospital at her bedside.  She meticulously wrote of her progress and, despite the desperate situation, firmly believed my grandmother would wake up.

After sixteen long weeks, my grandmother opened her eyes.  The doctors called it a miracle.  Susie was not surprised.

Throughout my grandmother’s rehabilitation, Susie kept track of every triumph.  By the time my Grandmother had sufficient strength to be on her own, Susie had compiled a thick packet of papers that she bound together and distributed to the rest of the family.  She called it Rip Van Ruthie.

My grandmother passed away nine years later.  At her funeral, Susie became hysterical when someone offered her a shovel of dirt to put in the grave.  She said she would never, EVER, throw dirt at her sister.  I watched her fall apart.  It was the first time I thought of her as old.

When my sister got married, I saw Susie again.  She walked in the doors, supported by two of her sisters.  I ran over to give her a kiss.  She looked at me, the same smiling face I had always known, and exclaimed, “And here’s the lovely Kallah!”

I was taken aback.  I didn’t know her to be this sort of humorous, but I smiled softly and turned towards the others.

The expression on their faces told me what I hadn’t understood.

“Susie, honey.  This is Bracha.  You know her.  The kallah is Yocheved.  Besides, which kallah wears all black?  Kallahs wear white, remember?”

Susie’s eyes went far away for a moment.  Then she looked at me again.

“Of course I know that.  Hiya Bracha.  I know who you are.”

She laughed a nervous laugh.

Later, as I accompanied her to her table, she told me about her week.  As she finished a story about her trying to get into her apartment, she stopped.  Her hands made the motion of a key going into a lock.  Her eyes teared up a bit.  She looked at me fearfully.  She started muttering.  I listened closely.  “You know, that thing, the thing, the thing for doors…to use to open doors…you put it in and turn it…what is that thing?”

My heart shattered.  I took her hands.  I couldn’t speak.  My mind was too full of understanding.  My chest was tight with sobs that I would not allow to escape.

“A key, Susie.  It’s a key.”

That was the last time I saw Susie.  I couldn’t stand to see someone, so full of words, forget what makes her who she is.

*

“She kept asking me for help,” I say softly.

“Who?” my husband asks.

“Tzila, the woman I was sitting with.  She kept looking at me and asking for help.  Like she was trapped.  In her head…trapped in her head with no way out…”

My husband is silent for a moment.

“How frightening.” he says.  “How incredibly frightening.”

And I think of Susie, and the words locked away forever, and I shiver.

Originally published in Ami magazine.