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.

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

#metoo

Trauma follows me wherever I go.

It likes my attention…wants me to let myself get wrapped in it’s claws…consent to it’s talons tearing through my skin…participate in the letting of my soul’s blood.

Trauma and I are inseparable.

It likes to stand so close to me that it looks as though we share the same face…and I find it necessary to peer through Trauma’s eyes to see as I filter through Trauma’s noise to hear.

Trauma loves me violently and is quick to remind me of who I really am.

Trauma turns my back for me, just as I am about to let go.

Trauma weighs down my legs with each step.

Trauma seeps into my vocal chords and plays games with words I try to say.

Trauma takes an active role in my relationships.

Trauma guides me in how not to parent.

Trauma even likes to go shopping with me.

Trauma is my everything.

I don’t know how to feel…how to act…how to think…without Trauma’s constant active memory of a past that refuses to remain buried.

I always thought I could live with Trauma forever…accept Trauma as part of me…become stronger with Trauma as my second skin…

Maybe I will, in some ways…

But, today I find a moment where Trauma can be distracted by a feeling I thought I cared about.

I sit down and write

#metoo

Trauma takes a step back in shock…

For a moment…

I am visible.

 

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!!!

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.

The Meaning Of Mumcha

“There should be a movie about it.  With characters like Motti, Duvy…Shmully…not Chasidish, no Joels – just real Boro Park Yeshivish kids.”

I nod.  I’ver heard this before.

“We were punks.  I don’t get it.  What was wrong with us?”

“It wasn’t that bad.  There weren’t turf wars or crack houses.”

“Yeah – but we were lowlives.  I mean, 16 years old, sitting around doing nothing all day, and then going out and doing nothing all night…add the drugs and the drinking…it was a mess.”

He takes another wing.

“Why do you think we go so extreme?”

I think about it for a bit.  It’s a hard concept to sum up over dinner.

“Maybe because when you grow up with religion, you are naturally more extreme.  Not exactly extreme – I guess the word is thorough.  We keep Shabbos fully, Kosher is exacting, and we talk about everything in the context of religion.  So when you leave, you gotta leave it thoroughly.”

He smiles.

“Like how we become druggies who know and understand our drugs thoroughly?”

“Yeah – Gemarakups.”

“The best drugs, the best way to take them, the best guy to get them from…and the most we can get for our money…”

“There’s a different word for it.  You know…what’s that word?”

“Mumcha?”

“Yup – mumcha.  Gotta be a mumcha in the business.  Gotta do things right.”

“That’s pretty funny.  You should write about it.”