Crash.

Oh my darling.  My beautiful little girl…

I am watching you cry.  You sob as you twist and turn your little body on the kitchen floor.

I can’t, you say.  You said this medicine will help me…but it’s not changing my feelings!  I can’t anymore!

I slide down beside you, leaning against the refrigerator door as I watch you writhe.  It’s hard to watch you writhe.  It makes me want to reach deep down inside you and destroy whatever energy is coursing through your body in a way that makes you say, I don’t know what to do…I want to scream…I have to scream…I need to…I have to…AH…IMMA!

And then more tears spill out from your beautiful big eyes.  I pull you closer and wrap my arms around you.  You can’t find a comfortable place…but I don’t let go.  I rock…we rock together…back and forth…back and forth and still I say nothing.

Imma I’m trying so hard.  You lean against me as you begin to talk…using words that threaten to break the dam behind my eyes and let my feelings pour out to join your wet check against my wet arm as we rock back and forth on the kitchen floor.

I’m stressed.  I’m trying so hard.  I decided to work harder than I ever did when I started taking the medicine.  I thought if I tried super hard, the medicine would work better.  But Imma, I’m so stressed.  I’m not myself.  I don’t know who I am anymore.  I’m just a girl with ADHD who can’t do anything in school.  I wish I didn’t have this.  I wish I was a kid who could keep her cubby neat and write everything down like we’re supposed to and not have anything that makes my brain not work so great.  Imma, I’m so tired.  I want to be good…I want to be special…Imma I can’t!

My heart is breaking my darling.  Can you feel it?  You are pressed against my broken heart here on the kitchen floor while I absorb your pain.  I am pulling your energy into my soul…I am breaking down any tough fibers in my heart to make room for your pain…I am taking it from you and trying so hard to make it all go away.

You rest your head on my chest and sigh.

I lean over your shoulder.

I don’t always have an answer, I say.  But I will always listen to you.  Thank you for talking to me.  I love you.

You sniff and nod your head and I pull you in for a hug.

One day, you will read all the things I have written and will write about you.

One day you will know how I feel right now.

One day you will see yourself as unique and special and you will embrace it.

For now, it is my embrace you feel.

My arms are wrapped around you tight and I am never going to let go as we rock…back and forth…on the kitchen floor.

 

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.

 

 

When There Is Nothing Left To Say

There is so much I could say…so much to write about…

I could write about my sister…and her cancer…and what it feels like to be so far away…to be torn between my children and the baby I held in my arms at 14 years old…whispering my secrets to one of my only family members who couldn’t be angry at me…who I knew would never judge me.

I could write about my daughter…and how she has blossomed and regressed at the same time…how third grade is revealing what the course of her school life will look like…how she reminds me of me…at my most vulnerable age…and why that scares me.

I could write about my oldest brother and his grief…his mother-in-law and her table full of guests…how she battled another type of cancer…and lost.

I could write about my other sister…who is taking one day at a time…and trying her best…and how proud I am of her…and how much I wish I believed in prayer so I could get on my knees each day and pray to keep her going.

I could write about yet another sister…who is changing her life…is making emotional sacrifices she never thought she could make…so that she can become the big sister who swoops in and gets things done…perfectly each time…and how I wish I could speak to her every day.

I could write about my sister who is most like me…and so could never be written about…because it would not do justice to who she is…and I could never express how much I miss her anyway.

I could write about my parents…and how I almost lost them…and how I thought that whatever progress was made was never going to be actualized…until cancer came along and changed the direction of the path we had embarked on.

I could write about Israel…and the blood that is spilled…and the daily attacks.

I could write about Europe…and Paris…and Belgium and the United States and Obama and the outrages and the silences and the hypocrisies and double standards.

I could write about it all.

I should.

But I won’t.

Because tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Pain is flowing out of my eyes.

Sorrow is stopping my heart.

This broken world is spinning too fast.

And I can no longer feel enough to breathe.

All I can do is spill it out…through my fingers…onto the keys that form the letters to write…that I have nothing left to say.

The Only Squeeze Hug I Can Manage

Hey Sis…this one’s for you…

This one’s for the times we couldn’t stop laughing…

Inside out kisses and shoulder blades…

Djoghurt and Stonehenge…

And that toot guy.

This one’s for Friday nights…

People watching in the park…

And Super Hatzlacha.

This one’s for the times we forgot to say I love you…

And the times we knew we never could.

This one’s for the times we had when we were young…

And it was okay to hold hands…as I took you to school…

And hug tight those few times I came back.

This one’s for the current hugs…

The squeeze hugs…

The (uninvited) hair playing…

The constant (sometimes annoying) desire to be so close to you it literally hurts.

This one’s for music videos and mashups.

This one’s for birthday parades and hafganot…and that one levaya.

This one’s for capstones and deadlines.

This one’s for pushing things off and pulling all-nighters.

This one’s for your friends.  ‘Nuff said.

This one’s for philosophy and the matter of your existence.

This one’s in case you’re not really here.

This one’s for your production. 🙂

This one’s for all the things we thought we knew about each other…

And all the things we found out along the way.

This one’s for learning about sisterhood…

And how to form a bond amid a storm.

This one’s for all the things we can’t say out loud.

But probably should.

This one’s for Uptown Funk and Michael Jackson.

For playlists and music education.

For Sukkot and Channuka and Purim and Pesach and another Seder and Lag Ba’Omer.

This one’s for endless laundry and sleeping on the mirpeset because of…laundry.

This one’s for the space you’ll leave…physically and also…not.

This one’s for what we built…

Through good times…

And less good times…

Through courage…

And change.

This one’s for the kids.

This one’s for Naftali.

This one’s for me.

This one will always be…

For you.

Skin Deep

“Imma,” she says in her ‘I’m going to tell you something incredibly insightful now so you better stop what you’re doing and focus and make sure your phone is on hand to record this’ voice, so naturally, I turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, so I’m telling you now you have to trust me that it’s true.”

I nod and put the phone down.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those ‘let me tell you what happened on the way home from school’ stories, maybe a bit Mulberry Street-isque, but nothing I can’t breeze through on this typical, absolutely ordinary day.

“My friend told me white people are better than black people.”

Woah.

Stop.

I know she’s looking at me, expecting some sort of response…and I know she thinks this an important conversation based on how she prefaced it…but I am stuck with her words swarming through my mind because for some reason…I AM NOT PREPARED.

*

My first clear understanding of how white people who aren’t racist can sometimes get stuck staring down the barrel of racism came from an incident involving my little sister, my mother and the neighbor one lovely afternoon on our front stoop.

The neighborly conversation was interrupted by my sister’s investigative reporting on the color of skin.

“Mommy,” she said in all her innocent glory as she scrutinized the neighbor, “Why is her skin brown?”

My mother froze.

There was only a slight pause before the neighbor very gently squeezed my mother’s hand and took over.

She said something or other about the color of blood and how it’s all the same on the inside.

I don’t really remember that.

But I can still feel that pause.

And here I am in that same damn pause.

*

I must have gasped because she’s assuring me that she knows…but like, really knows, that this girl is wrong.

She knows that people are people and we are all part of the human race.

She knows that what makes you better are your actions and what makes you above are your reactions.

She was really asking me why people are racists…more importantly, why a fellow second grader who is her friend, is a racist, and I have so many answers and all of them are sort of my fault because I have not done enough to fight it.

I am not a racist, yet I hear racist conversation in the park and don’t respond loudly enough.

I am not a racist, yet I live in a community where the ethnic diversity is mind-boggling nonexistent.

I am not a racist, yet my city segregates residents and calls it ‘absorption’.

I am not a racist, yet I say nothing when my son’s ganennet mixes up the names of the children of Ethiopian descent and laughs it off because she “can’t tell them apart”.

Oh, I cringe.

I cringe when I hear complaints that “Ethiopians” are hanging out in the park and breaking ‘our’ public benches.

I cringe when my son asks if the street cleaner who greets us every morning lives where all the brown people live.

I cringe when my daughter and her friends refer to children born in Israeli hospitals to immigrant parents, (just as she was), as Ethiopians.

And I cringe when I find myself pausing that long, uncomfortable pause.

I don’t want to cringe.

I want to shout.

For some reason, I haven’t had the urgent need to shout because I somehow thought this was not my problem because I am not a racist.

I have the ‘right’ color skin so I never really felt racism.

I never had to fight for the right to be treated as just another human being.

I need to start fighting and it needs to start with that pause.

Because what I remember most about that day when my neighbor stood up for herself was that it felt like she was defending something.

The color of skin is not something we need to defend.

The answer to a little girl’s question should not have so much weighing on it.

And I will start right now.

For Baltimore.

For Tel-Aviv.

For the world we all share.

Grown-up

I guess I’m a grown-up now, I think, as I sit here translating her words in my head, then translating my words before I stumble them out of my mouth and into the air where they embarrass me by screaming out “FOREIGNER” in this big room that can’t possibly hold the emotions she so casually throws at me with each word I am poorly translating in my overwhelmed brain.

I guess I’m a grown-up now.

Grown-ups sit in chairs built for little girls and stare across a giant desk and listen politely as big things are said.

Grown-ups can handle acronyms with A’s and D’s and H’s Boggled together with the shake of a wrist.

Grown-ups don’t think anything is wrong or that it’s anyone’s fault.

Grown-ups can be parents first and people wracked by guilt second.

Grown-ups can accept.

Grown-ups can get up and walk home briskly, make pizza for their children, reach out to another grown-up for help, and use the entire World Wide Web to understand exactly what it all means.

So here I am.

A Grown-up.

A gut-wrenching, soul-ripping, broken-hearted Grown-up.

Here lies a Grown-up…curled up on the couch…surrounded by crumpled tissues and words like psycho-didactic and evaluation and letters like MOXO and ADHD…

Here lies a Grown-up…feeling defeated by a system…mocked by fate…winded by the constant curveballs she always seems to miss…

Here lies a Grown-up…wishing with all her might that her not-yet-grown little vulnerable girl…could have been handed the card that this grown-up never knew…the one that didn’t make things difficult…the one that paves the path with rainbows and unicorns and never gets so dark and so scary that she hesitates…

Here lies a Grown-up…trying to breathe…to get the air she needs…so that she can open the door with a smile…and greet her wonderful, beautiful baby girl…with all the grown-up things…that will turn her into…the best kind of grown-up…any grown-up can be.

A Poppy Seed Cookie

“Ok, ok,” she said in what I think might have been an annoyed kind of tone.

“I’ll show you how. Come downstairs later and you can watch me. But I don’t know amounts…just watch…just watch.”

Later, I watched.

Her tiny hands, even smaller because of the arthritis that kept her fingers curling in, worked at a steady pace.

I took out my notebook.

I watched.

3 eggs…1 (glass) cup oil…1 (glass) cup orange juice (plus a splash or two)…1 teaspoon (small pile in middle of palm) baking soda…no that’s 2 teaspoons…1 tablespoon (big pile in middle of palm) salt…poppy… don’t forget the 1/2 cup poppy…handful flour…no two…three…three handfuls…mix…more handfuls flour…mix again…another handful…flour until doughy. Drop spoonfuls…medium sized…then shape them into ovals…stick a fork in each one…you have to do this…it’s important…bake until you can see the tiniest bit of brown on the bottom – no more.

“See?”

She smiled and we brought some of them upstairs and put the rest in plastic bags in the freezer.

That first Rosh Hashana, I made a triple batch of them.

We ate some on the chag. I put some in plastic bags in my freezer. The rest, I brought to my brother.

“Taste it,” I insisted. “It’s just like Bubby’s. I watched her.”

He put them in plastic bags in his freezer.

And then years passed. A lot of years. Too many years.

And today I thought of them…fleetingly.

I almost missed it.

But then I added some things to the list.

Orange juice…poppy seeds.

I pulled out my notebook…I measured…I mixed…I added a bit more flour…mixed some more…and I made sure to poke them all with a fork…and I took them out as soon as I saw the slightest tinge of brown.

I bit into the first available one.

The memories flooded me…poured through me relentlessly…and now I sit, with poppy seeds stuck between my teeth…and my heart full of a past begging me to let live on these pages.

So I write…

…about a car full of kids, traveling for forever until the sounds and smells of New York waft through the windows and suddenly no one is cranky anymore and everyone seems to have too much energy for one seven-seater van stuffed with at least ten people.

We’re finally here, but we have to work out the parking first. The driveway is never empty – no matter what year it is, and no matter that we are expected. Someone runs upstairs to announce our arrival and plead for help with the tricky navigation.

After circling the block too many times, we’ve squeezed in and now have to figure out how to squeeze us and our luggage out.

It happens somehow, and we race up the front stoop and across the porch, through the doors that squeak, up the stairs that creak, careful to skip those three steps that are mere triangles attempting to stand in for a gradual turn as we stumble through both the door to the living room and the door to the kitchen and suddenly stop in our tracks because at the end of the day, this is foreign.

The language is foreign, the people are foreign, the neighborhood is foreign and we are looked at here and made to feel like we are foreign.

“Ma?”

She always calls out to her mother in question form…and follows it with words jumbled together that make no real sense but we know it means she’s saying hello.

It smells like fried onions – never garlic – mixed with industrial cleaning agents and a hint of pine from an aerosol can.

It sounds old…creaking and cranking and gravelly voices speaking in tongues…and it’s maroon and orange and brown…but there’s some green and blue and even pink if you take a step back and really look for her little artistic touches.

When all our senses readjust to accommodate all…all THIS…we focus on her.

She’s smiling…not too broadly, but enough to put us at ease. She half hugs us all because there’s something in her hands because she’s always doing things when we arrive.

It’s late and we really should go to sleep, but first, we need a little something to eat.

There’s marble cake in the pantry, and popcorn and chips…chocolate mints in the fridge…and yeast cake in the freezer…and always plastic bags of frozen poppy cookies…mahn kichelech…but we never say it like that because it doesn’t come out sounding right.

We drink weird soda…Half & Half or 50/50, depending on the era…and we split up for sleep.

There’s the orange room…the one my mother used to share with her grandmother…and it still smells like her, especially in the closet where a lone dress hangs.

The blue room is the boy’s room, even when the girls sleep there. The laundry line hangs out the window and when all the beds are pulled out, it’s like a giant trampoline.

The living room is sometimes the favorite…when you get the bottom of the pull-out couch…because then you’re sleeping under the table. The sheets are shiny brown and you know it’s going to be a slippery night.

Then there’s the little room.

It’s off the master bedroom and there’s no real door. The piano is stuffed into the corner and covered with bags of old clothing. The bed has a pile of linens and blankets on it that slowly goes down as everyone chooses a spot and settles in.

I stretch out on the bed, my legs raised slightly above my head, and I know that I will wake up in middle of the night feeling like I have been folded in half and have to rearrange my body on the lumpy bed quietly as my Zaidy snores and my Bubby’s breath whistles through the air.

We wake up early in the morning.  Zaidy is already sitting at the dining room table after eating toast and cottage cheese, or stale cake dipped in milk, and Bubby is bustling around the tiny kitchen because, of course, it’s Erev Pesach…or Erev Sukkos, depending on the year.

There’s only so much we can do to stay out of the way, but we manage to do it all each time.

The porch game is the best. We step out onto the old, crumbly porch that’s off the room that’s off the master bedroom, and we play something we don’t know is called chicken. We have to venture away from the wall and slowly walk across the porch. It takes a good five minutes to get to a spot deemed far enough by the others, and less than a second to be back against the wall on more stable ground. We know someone is going to fall straight through the floor and die on the porch below. If not this time, for sure next time.

One year we arrive to find a new, smaller porch attached to the house made of something safer like iron or something, so the game is over.

We explore the attic. It is so scary. Scarier than the porch. The stairs are wooden and you have to lean over the banister to pull the string to turn on the light. Sometimes that part is too scary so we go up in the dark.

The rooms are gigantic and there are treasures we’d love to play with if we didn’t keep hearing ghosts.

We have to come up here if the bathroom is occupied downstairs. We try our best to avoid it. Sitting on the toilet in the corner, behind lines of laundry, not sure if you had locked the door but unable to run across the massive room to check, you do your business quickly and only wash your hands for like a half a second.

The bathroom downstairs is normal in size, but the claws on the tub and the sloping floor that makes you feel like you might go flying head first off the throne and have to be rescued with your underwear around your ankles is almost as scary as hearing the drums in the attic while you’re trying to remember whether or not you locked that too-big bathroom door.

I live the days out with little care.

I don’t know that the cow’s tongue I see unrolled on the counter will affect my taste for certain delicacies for the rest of my life.

I don’t know that I will remember the washing machine in the kitchen, or the way twenty people will shift around so that the kitchen door will open so that another family of ten can wiggle in and go looking for treasures in the pantry and the freezer.

I don’t know that the sights and smells and sounds that I am experiencing are embedding themselves deep in my soul and creating memories strong enough to make me stop in my tracks and forget to breathe.

All I know is that I am at Bubby’s house, and I am starting to feel a little less foreign than I felt when it was dark outside and the day had been long and I didn’t really want to sleep in a human sandwich-making bed and think about falling off the house with the porch.

A little piece of poppy just won’t come out on its own as the memories wist away and I pick at my teeth thoughtfully.

I once called my grandmother, at the insistence of my mother-in-law who feels strongly about that sort of thing.

Hallo?

Hi Bubby, how are you?

Who is this?

It’s Bracha…you know, from Israel.

Ah! Bracha’le! How are you?

I’m good. How are you?

Oy, Bracha’le, you don’t have to call. Your mother tells me everything.

Ok, Bubby. Have a good Shabbos.

But now, as my house fills with the smell of something old and precious to me, I think that maybe I’d like to call again…before it’s too late.

This is not a eulogy…this is a memory…one that I’d like to share with my Bubby, who still has a freezer full of treats that have the power to melt me and turn me into the child I thought could never live again.