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.

Geoffrey with a G

We are sitting together on the couch and we are not paying attention to one another. We are both tired and need some time to unwind and let the stress of the day dissipate. I am reading a fluff piece and you are scrolling down our feed as we actively turn our brains off.

You suddenly gasp and I feel your body tense up as you raise your head and turn to face me. I feel a constriction in my throat because I know you are about tell me something horrible.

He’s dead, you say. Geoff is dead.

I turn to you and my eyes well up and I shake my head because I don’t think it can be true. Your eyes have filled with a pain too big to handle. My hand trembles as I reach for yours and we hold each other at a distance.

Our pain is too hard to face. We turn back into ourselves and we try to live another day.

It takes us until morning to hurtle back into each other’s arms. We interlock our fingers and we gaze at each other’s pain.

You speak first.

He took the Brooklyn out of me, you say, as the tears break through and pour down your face. He let me be me.

I squeeze your hand and I am transported back in time and I remember the boy from Brooklyn I met on the streets of Jerusalem. I remember how you walked inside your cage and surrounded yourself with the kinds of people who helped you blend in.

And then you met Geoff. Geoffrey with a G.

Geoff was a rock n’ rolling artist who didn’t care what the world thought of him. Geoff wore little ties and suspenders and had swagger long before people thought that was cool. Geoff sat for hours in his room with that boy from Brooklyn and talked about Star Wars and superheroes and punk rock. Geoff painted and the music blared and the layers of New York street slowly shed as the boy who loved music and thought deeply about the world with a sensitive, kind view was revealed.

I saw how you changed and I fell in love with the person you had been hiding away. Without understanding what he had done, Geoff became our stabilizing third wheel. He sat with us in our corner and called it an office. He laughed and he danced the rock n’ roll dance and we followed his example and let the weight of our past go.

We fought for him when others wanted to give up. We wanted him to be in our lives forever. We wanted his joy and light and art and music to be part of the foundation we were building.

We still loved him when we said goodbye. We still wanted him to show up one day, in his little tie, his hair slicked to the side and a goofy smile on his face.

We watched from far away, too far away, as Geoffrey with a G wandered around looking for something he so easily brought out in others. But Geoffrey with a G didn’t have a Geoff to lean on and he got lost.

Our kids do his rock n’ roll dance and don’t know where it came from.

You and I sit here now, in grief and regret, and wonder if Geoffrey with a G can see us rocking and if he is happy as he paints, dot by dot, line by line.

You look at me and your face is red and your eyes are swollen and you swallow hard as we hold each other and remember the broken boy who fixed another broken boy but could not fix himself.

Geoffrey, you will never know how much we loved you. You will never know how much you will be missed.

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My Jerusalem

Your Jerusalem is so similar to my Jerusalem. Your Jerusalem glows. Your Jerusalem torments and teases. Your Jerusalem sings. Your Jerusalem loves and hates and lives in a constant state of disorder and indecision.

You write about your Jerusalem and I feel connected to your experiences. I see how you touch her stones. I understand how she breaks your heart. I nod my head as you describe her beauty and profess your love to her.

Your Jerusalem is so similar to my Jerusalem.

Is my Jerusalem similar to yours?

I met my Jerusalem when I was 17 years old. I was bitter. I was angry. I was bleeding out of all my invisible wounds. I was desperate to find safety. I was desperate to find a home.

Jerusalem was foreign at first. She looked white and angelic. She was covered in stone that absorbed the light and reflected a brilliant yellow onto the cobblestone streets. She twisted and turned through hills and valleys. Her sky was everything the word blue evokes, and more. Her air was warm and her wind was cool. She was magnificent and towered over me and I wanted to run as far away as possible.

Then the sun went down.

The darkness brought the walking dead, creeping out from behind still-warm walls. They filled the streets and paraded down to Jerusalem’s wretched core. Their eyes were blank. Their bodies were shriveled and their throats were parched. I looked at them and saw myself and yearned for their freedom. They were already dead. I was still dying. I jumped into the crowd. I was swept out into the swarm. My pounding heart began to still.

And I met my Jerusalem.

My Jerusalem burns as it pours down my throat. My Jerusalem inhales deeply as a wisp of smoke escapes. My Jerusalem wanders through alleys, down boulevards, and into crowded squares. My Jerusalem leans against walls, crouches on stoops and passes out on benches. My Jerusalem screams out into the night and hears the echo returning back with barely enough time to register as it slams me against the wall and stares me in the eyes.

My Jerusalem exposes me. She rips my veins out from beneath my skin and spills my black, blinding rage over her chipped and battered floor. My Jerusalem wraps me tight and won’t let go, even as I struggle against her grip.

My Jerusalem is ravaged by explosive hatred. My Jerusalem washes up the blood-soaked streets and waits for the sun to go down. My Jerusalem punishes fear and rips the world apart as she holds her ground.

My Jerusalem brought me back to life and then stabbed me in the heart and watched me fade away.

I left my Jerusalem, kicking and screaming, as my nails scraped against her womb. I left my Jerusalem and watched her embrace the next set of broken people. I left my Jerusalem and I wandered out into the world. I learned to love. I learned to live. I found myself hidden deep inside my broken shell. I left my Jerusalem, but I never forgot her.

I visit her again. I have changed. I am older and less hurt and also, more hurt.

I turn her corners, gagging as I pass her urine-soaked alleys turned into luxury hotels. The wind fights my exposed face, slapping my cheeks and whipping my hair; punishing me for daring to come back here. I inhale deeply, filling my nostrils with a minty cloud, and exhale my anxiety in one long stream of fire.

When I get to the end of the damp street, I stop and wait.

The noise is deafening. I cannot differentiate between cries of joy and cries of pain. It doesn’t matter. It is all the same to me.

The air is thick and suffocating. It smells like alcohol mixed with sickeningly sweet roses brewed in a broth of coffee and manure.

The sky is blue and the walls are white and I can see how much she has changed.

I close my eyes and breathe deep as a calm washes over my tortured soul.

My Jerusalem reaches out and strokes my cheek.

I am home.

Your Jerusalem sings and dances and plays, yet she torments you and strings you along.

My Jerusalem kicks me out and pulls me back and twists me up inside.

Your Jerusalem is so similar to my Jerusalem.

Is my Jerusalem similar to yours?

Source: My Jerusalem

Emergence

“So”, he says, leaning back into his chair. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

I inhale and slowly drift up to the ceiling.

I see my body sitting across from him. My fingers play with the magnetic toys he keeps on his desk.

My lips part and a story spews from them.

A story about a man…a stranger…and a gun…and a rape…and how the hero came…how the hero stood up for me…fought for me…made me believe in myself again…because I do now…and I am definitely not a victim…but I’m not sure what I’m feeling…so maybe it’s time to start talking…to start telling stories…to figure me out.

He frowns and I can see, from up here, that he knows that I’m lying.

I try to float down against myself and connect with my body before it betrays me again…but I don’t understand gravity anymore than I can understand how I am hovering on the ceiling, watching myself perform.

He says something I don’t really hear…because my ears are directly connected to my heart…and had he said any of the words my heart longed for, I know I’d come crashing down and smash my broken body into a million pieces more.

But I’m still up here…and I remain here as I trudge out of his office and through a few more days of foggy consciousness, until I remember that I told him about the monster.

Only…I called him a hero and I made him into a small detail of an elaborate tale I knew shouldn’t have been taken at face value.

So now I’m falling…down through my body and even further into a pit of slime and mold and I lose myself somewhere in the filth, until I see something I recognize and resurface, gasping as the burn pours down my throat and the bottle empties into my lungs where I am finally able to exhale.

There is nowhere left to fall.

I sit again.

I don’t think there is a point.

If I can’t tell my story I will die.

But I can’t tell the story because I’m on the ceiling again and this time it feels like my body is pinned to the fluorescent bulbs and the light is pouring through me as I slowly turn invisible.

But my heart can still hear.

My heart hears the tale spun again…the lies and deceptions…the words that mean nothing and everything…and I am disappointed in the girl sitting with those nice people and wonder if she knows that we will die very soon…that she will have to find a way to bury me.

But then my heart skips a beat because the story is over and there is no sound.

I need to know what is happening.

I need to rip myself from the cold concrete so I push and I push and I push until I am falling again, but this time, I am caught by the feeling of a hand…gently squeezing another hand that should be mine but has not yet connected with my displaced heart and soul…and my heart skips another beat and lands at the feet of a woman who knew not to hear the words my mouth was forming and instead…somehow saw me floating in the air and made me visible.

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Photo by Naftali Goldstein, March 2016

Daniel my Brother

His name jumps out of the screen at me the moment my husband walks into the room.

He sees what I see…

“I know,” he says.  “I was just coming to tell you.”

My head falls into my hand for a moment as the familiar pain of loss washes over me.

Another one bites the dust, I think, as the names of all the others parade through my head to the beat.

I read the comments…the shock and the sincerely felt words tossed at a screen that condenses those feelings into meaningless letters spelling RIP and MISS YOU and BROTHER even though most of the people writing it feel as I do…

almost guilty for being alive…

almost sorry to have made it through hell…

almost regretting that my life choices made it impossible for me to be there for the ones I left behind even as my heart wished it could have convinced each and every one of the people I met on my journey through torment that it would get better, knowing full well that my brain disagreed.

He wasn’t my brother…not since I left the streets we roamed together…

But when I see his name…I feel a shooting pain…

And another door I’ve been holding hope for…

is lowered to the ground.

Resentment Is

a thread

weaving in and out of lives

pulling back

into childhood

where it waits

to be addressed.

You run forward

as fast as you can

trying desperately

to rip away

from that poor

pathetic

child

who only wanted

what he deserved.

So now you sit

in resentment

and resist

the urge to cry

as that poor

pathetic

child

once again

is ignored.

Cry darling

cry

because I am here

and I am listening

to everything

you cannot say.

Dying To Forget

Sometimes, late at night when I should be asleep, I remember.

I remember how I used to be…when things were bad…when I was a bad little girl…

And I wonder…if I could talk to her…what would I say?

I should say…the things I was taught to say to her…

I’m so sorry you’re hurting.

It’s not your fault.

You are not bad.

This is going to be over soon.

You will get better.

It will get better…

But I feel…like saying…

Kill yourself…now.

Because it won’t get better.

Because in twenty years from now you will sit with this memory, because everything in your life reminds you about some part of it, and you will think about how it can never go away and you will want to die.

So die now.

Avoid one thousand future deaths…

One thousand future hurts…

One thousand future lies…

And never remember this.

A Tribute

She turned around at the door.  “Hey – did you know R?”

I shook my head, but then again, I barely remember anyone from back then.

My husband dug into his vast memory of names and faces and found her there, somewhere between rehab and that long year of sobriety.

“Of course I remember her.  She…didn’t look like she was doing well the last time I saw her.”

Our newly found old friend eagerly asked “Is she alive?  Do you know?  Have you heard anything?”

My husband shook his head sadly and we all stood in brooding silence.

She sighed and gathering up her children she said her goodbyes.

Earlier that afternoon, as we were walking home, our four-year old casually walked past a little boy and his mother.  Turning the corner, she cheerfully informed us that the little boy was her friend, the new kid in her kindergarten.  We immediately went back and I introduced myself to the mother.  After she told us her husband was in the States for a few days, we invited them to spend the rest of the afternoon with us.  She accepted our offer and we soon found ourselves in comfortable conversation sitting in our living room with her two children and our two children getting along beautifully.

And then, somehow, we got to talking about the past.  And somehow, we realized that we knew the same people.  And somehow we figured out that we sort of knew each other.  And then we finally understood that she was Harry’s sister and that our daughter’s new friend was named for our dear, dear friend who succumbed to the trials and tribulations of living the sort of life we lived.

Here we were, living our wonderful, happy lives…children running around us…talking with another survivor of a hell only those who have been through can understand.  We talked about them all…the dead…the missing…the lost…

That night, as I lay awake thinking…remembering…I saw words float across my brain.

…tribute…this is a tribute…a resounding proclamation…a shout of triumph!  A scream…a cheer…a tribute!  Not to those we laid to rest…not to those who we lost…but to those…who made it!  A tribute to the boys and girls who stood up and made a change!  Those who released the bonds of drugs, alcohol, fear, depression…and created hope!  Those who made a future out of the deepest, darkest caves and lit their hearts with extinguished flames and shattered dreams.  A Tribute!!!

I fell asleep to the beat of the marching letters, smiling as the names and faces of people who are alive and well joined the parade of success.

A Tribute!!!

Well, It’s About Time I Got Around To This…

We talked about that one place in my heart that I can’t get over.  It comes up occasionally.  We talk it over a bit.  He wants me to try to find a solution.  I usually nod my head and try to forget again.

This time it’s sticking to the walls of my brain, begging me to at least give it some words strung together as a validation for the anxiety it manages to produce.

Life is all about work.  My experiences in the past have taught me enough to get by.  When there’s a hitch, I’ve got some great tools lined up in my handy toolbox for all types of troubles.  Sometimes things need the ax, and that’s when I cut toxic people or things out of my life, and sometimes a screwdriver can tighten up loose ends.  Construction is full of demolitions, repairs, and creation.  (Forgive the coarse analogy.  When you live with a carpenter you’ll understand…)

But I don’t have to tools to deal with this one…

It came back to me when I saw a picture on Facebook, that wonderful site that has horrifying memories lined up, waiting to hit you with a friend request, a friend suggestion or a notification that you’ve been tagged.

We were standing on the stairs of our school in our uniforms.  Arms were thrown over shoulders and faces were arranged in more flattering angles as the group posed for someone.  Click.  And there I stand, right in the middle, with strangers all around.

Everyone was tagged and the comments were the usual banter of teenage nightmares.  Someone else, a friend of someone who knew someone, piped up about the only one not tagged and provided them with my married name.  And I was promptly tagged.

I don’t know how we became that group.  My family background, religious affiliations, and basic thought processes make the friendships seem off and misplaced from where I stand today, but back then I was confident and comfortable with it.  Maybe that was my mistake.  Maybe I should have known that they could never really be my friends…

It’s not a long story, it may not be a story at all, but the memory is of me, trusting in the friendships a teenage girl cultivates for what seems to be centuries, confiding in my close-knit circle, reaching out with pain and an honest desire for help, and watching the arms recede from my shoulders, the faces turning away, as I was left standing on the stairs, alone.

At sixteen, the only safety a girl knows is the circle of friends that she devoted her entire life to.  At sixteen, a girl needs to know that she has someone to lean on.  At sixteen, a girl can feel like dying when she realizes that, at sixteen, her world turned on her, spit her out, and never thought about her again.

So, don’t be my Facebook friend because you were curious to see whatever happened to me.  Don’t pretend I didn’t exist as you blithely tag yourselves around me.  And please, please hear me when I tell you that the way you treated me when we were sixteen has etched its way into my heart and is now clawing on the sides of my brain demanding to be revealed.

You abandoned me.

At sixteen.

And it still hurts.

There.

You can get the ax now.

Oh The Places I’ve Come From

“Cleveland, Cleveland, convention in Cleveland….Convention ‘97 will last forever……”

Ringing in my ears as an unwanted memory, the BY Convention song my mother wrote fourteen years ago plays in my head like a broken record.  I guess she got it right – about it lasting forever and ever and ever…but how I wish it would shut up…

Convention ‘97 was pretty uneventful when I think about it from here, but a bit of a commotion of any kind in Cleveland…well, that’s something to write about.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio with real Brooklyn parents was a special sort of hell.  I needed to counteract the utter humiliation I experienced as an immigrant, so I worked hard on my accent and attitude.  By the time I hit third grade I could pass for a bona fide Clevelander.

When we would visit family on the other side of Pennsylvania my accent would thicken a bit, just to make sure I never forgot who I was.  It gave me great pride to be mocked by my New Yorker cousins as they chanted, “the baaaaaaaall in the haaaaaaaaaalllll hit the waaaaaallllll”.  White knee socks and sneakers with my denim skirt sealed the Out-Of-Town look.

I absolutely loved Cleveland.  I loved our house with the creaky stairs that had once been covered in bright red carpeting.  I loved the kitchen ceiling with the special opening that went up into the floor of the bathroom closet, making passing down medicine or bandaids so much easier – despite the constant drip when someone was in the shower.  I loved the laundry chute we would use as an intercom when we weren’t busy trying to unclog it.  I loved the attic with it’s sloping ceiling and the basement with it’s musty smell.  I loved our eccentric neighbors.  I loved the fact that I could get up three minutes before school started and still be on time.  I loved the Japanese crossing guard who, in retrospect, was probably a crackhead, and how she called me Broccoli and cackled.  I loved Kinneret Pizza and Gloria, the woman who used to tell on us when we tried to use the bill unauthorized.  I loved the hallways in Hebrew Academy and the auditorium with the awkward shaped chairs.  I loved my class.  I loved my friends.  I loved my life.

I thought I would never leave Cleveland.  I would have my year in Israel, where I would change slightly but bounce back after six months home, and then I would marry and settle down in good ol’ Cleveland.  My children would go to HAC and I would be the model Cleveland story.

The hitch was my parents.  In the back of my mind, I always knew Cleveland was a temporary idea for them.  It was as though they set out to break the bubble that surrounded C-Town.  They wanted to make changes.  Who would want to change Cleveland?  I mean, c’mon!

Well, the time came for the inevitable, and we moved.  I was fifteen.  I was really, really pissed.  I mean, like really, really, really, really pissed.

So away we went to the *gulp* Armpit of America and found a horrible shell of a house that was too new and too square.  And it didn’t help that it was in Lakewood…..NJ…..yeah, that’s right…

There I was, Miss Cleveland and proud of it, in a situation nothing in my life could have ever prepared me for.

It was the end of summer.  It was hot.  We were bored.  So we (me and all my siblings plus some cousins we now had to affiliate ourselves with because we were no longer OOT) took out all the riding gear we could find and biked to the main street in search of entertainment.  Not finding any, we stopped in at the local bagel store so get drinks before heading home.  Waiting on line was the principal of the school I was going to.  She inquired about me, my family and other humorless subjects and offered me a ride home.  I shrugged off her gesture and explained my bike and tag-along kids.  She raised her eyebrows.  Then she tilted her head and in a very patronizing voice proceeded to say that she is sure I didn’t know, and of course she’ll let it go this time, but it is really against the rules to…..ride a bike.

Obviously we had different ideas on life, and the school and I decided to end things early on.

By Channukah time I was back in Cleveland.

Only….it wasn’t really Cleveland.  It couldn’t be Cleveland.  Cleveland was good, and kind and wonderful.  What I experienced over the next year and a half was excruciating and shameful.  I was uncomfortable all the time.  I was misunderstood.  I had no one to talk to.  I was hurting so incredibly BADLY and NO ONE EVEN NOTICED!  Because, in Cleveland, the world is nice and rosy.  There are no bad people.  Everyone is trustworthy.  Everyone is one big family.  Everyone is safe.

I got out when I could.  I found someone, in faraway New York, who knew that people hurt other people.  He got the message across to those who needed to know, and my father came to pick me up.  I threw my things into garbage bags and ran for my life.

Years later I heard the rumors.   I joined Hells Angels.  I eloped.  I was pregnant.  I was crazy…

No one EVER called.  No one cared to find out where I disappeared to.

My utopia crashed around me viciously.  My hopes, dreams and aspirations ceased to exist and I found myself standing in Israel one day, with no place else to be, completely and utterly lost.

Now, after years of a search-and-rescue mission that has proved to be fairly successful, I sing the stupid Cleveland song and I wish it had never been.