And Then There Were Two

He sits with the demons in his head, watching the world go by as he waits for salvation. The metal pumping through his ears reminds his heart to beat. Sweet nectar of oblivion passes his lips greedily and soothes his insatiable thirst for love. He is fiercely loyal to these streets he sits on. He will protect his turf with all his might. He will not let the safety of their corners be compromised.

She doesn’t really want to be here. The noise is deafening and, without a drink, everything seems surreal. She fights her way through the crowd as she escapes in circles. The endless walks around the corner, always running away, become her ritual, night after night after night. Daylight brings a respite from all her fears. No longer as vigilant, she can sleep a bit to strengthen herself for the long night ahead.

The days are shorter now. The winds blow stinging rain in all directions. They are all here, the walking dead, daring the world to make them feel. As the nights pass and winter tosses them about, their numbers slowly diminish. One by one they find the warmth they crave. One by one they leave their peers behind as their heads clear. Still they remain, the children who cannot move forward, the ones who have holes too big to mend sucking the life out of their broken hearts. They band together, this motley crew, and cling to whatever hopes they still dare to dream.

Spring washes over the world, engulfing all but this place with colors of life. The ones who left trickle back, one by one again, to see what it is they abandoned. The bitter winds of winter have not been kind to the twists and turns of alleys no longer familiar to hearts that have learned to be still. The weathered faces of the ones left behind are cold and unforgiving. There is nothing here but memories best forgotten.

It is summer and the air is thick with panicked breaths. There is not much time for the few remaining souls. They are a pyre waiting for a spark every night.

He is still there, with his bottle, waiting for the fire. He will embrace it when it comes. It is what he deserves.

She is wandering around in circles, running away from fear, as she watches the fires roar through their special spot in hell and consume the world they built.

When the glowing embers brighten up the night one last time, they turn to each other in confusion and say hello for the very first time as they carry their wounded hearts to the safety of an autumn breeze.

Father, I Dare For Fear

I am sitting in the white van with the red stripe.  I am apprehensive and a little confused.  I do not know what is going on, only that for weeks there has been a nervousness to my father that came with anxious phone calls and whispered unknowns.

The twenty-minute drive in the gloomy Ohio spring stretches over time and space itself.

Usually, I am secretly excited to see airplanes take off and land.  It means there is to be a goodbye or a hello, but this time I sense that something is not right.

Wheelchairs do not come through the gate until after the other passengers have disembarked.  She always uses that service, I used to think for the fun of it, and I spot her white bob rolling our way soon enough.

We lean in for hugs, trying to avoid the smell of mucus oozing out of her trek.  The little ones are afraid.  We overcompensate for their hesitance and I know that she notices.  My father takes the handles of her chair, gripping the rubber tight, and I am overcome with the thought of her life in his hand.

We wait outside for the van, my fingers enclosed in hers.  I am wondering at the strength in her hands when my father pulls up.  He comes to her, smiling, and offers her his arm.  She rises slowly and the blood drains from my father’s face.

I look at her bloated stomach and I know, something is not right.

At home, we show her to her room.  We have changed things around so that she can sleep downstairs.  This year, my mother has also switched the living room and dining room so that the seder will be held in the front room.  There seems to be so much space now.

It is almost Shabbos.  We need to teach the three-year-old how to turn on the machine to clean the trek.  She is not afraid.  She never knew her any other way.

* * *

We sit over the plastic tablecloth, eating our last bits of bread carefully.  The three-year-old breathlessly arrives at my father’s side to inform him that she’s taking his medicine.  We laugh at how adorable it is.  Medicine is medicine to a three-year-old.  I don’t think it’s so funny.  I don’t think anything is that funny these days, but this strikes me as horribly morbid.  My father wants to ease the child’s anxiety.  He goes into the kitchen to show how there are two people in the house taking a lot of medicine.

I hear his voice change and the panic set in.

She is taking his medicine.  He corrects her.  She apologizes.  She said she got mixed up and laughs.  There is fear in that laugh.

* * *

It is Seder night.  We all know what to expect.  It is the same thing every year.  My father tries to lead and she steals the show.

We get to the part where we must be silent.  My father explains everything that will happen.  We begin going at the Matzah, smiling with every crunch.  On to Marror where silent protests over too much horseradish and not enough lettuce passes the time.  It’s Hillelwich time, and we turn to her in anticipation.  She will open her mouth and speak, as she does every year, to tell the joke about the sandwich.

She does open her mouth, but it is to spill blood over her lips and onto the white, white tablecloth.

My father flies back with her after Pesach.  He has had enough of her denying anything is wrong.  We spend the week waiting.

* * *

I am fourteen and very angry.  I pretend to care about nothing, although I sob into my pillow every night over the injustices of the world.  I am a tortured soul, stuck in the confines of teenage misery.

There is a sleepover party planned.  I want to go.  I demand to go.  I scream to go.  I am not allowed to go.  I reach into the ugliest place I find within me and let loose an anger so vast, deep and frightening.  My father returns home just as I have gone beyond my senses.

He looks at me with disgust, and I can feel his disappointment from across the room.

“YOU are going crazy over a SLEEPOVER while my MOTHER has unstoppable CANCER running through her body?  How DARE you!”

I run upstairs and cry and cry and cry.  I am crying over the sleepover.  I will always cry over the sleepover.  It is easier to cry for something I want than for something I don’t.

But…how dare I…how dare I.

Hurt

Eyes…fearful eyes…peer over the trench…

…pale neck stretching to greet the blade…

…back arched in eager anticipation…

…knees bent to absorb the shock…

…hands raised in wordless prayer…

…please…please…please…

…silence…

The blade falls…the world is still…

…for a moment…

Rushing forward…screaming…cursing…throat dripping shrieks of anger…hatred…pain…hurt…

…so…much…hurt…

 

Child of Mine

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she comes to me.

Curling up inside my heart, she begs me to remember her.

She wants me to smile as I watch her play.  She wants me to giggle bashfully.

She wants me to be a child again.

She is a very persuasive bedmate, and I follow her in my dreams.

We cross streams, skipping over slippery rocks fearlessly, until she laughingly reminds me not to look down.   I do, and the depths of the raging river greet my falling body with a roar.

We skip through meadows, lush and green.  She leads me over a hill, and into thin air.

She takes my hand, soft and sure.  She squeezes it tight, and I watch my purple fingers fade away.

Her arms spread out; she spins around, faster and faster, until she is but a dizzying blur and a taste of bile in the back of my throat.

Her laughter, loud, boisterous, laughter, is ringing in my ears.  It echoes in my mind, daring me to listen to her silenced voice.

I cannot breathe, for she has stolen my air.

I cannot change, for she has stolen my courage.

I cannot believe, for she has stolen my faith.

She is everything I am not, and everything I could have been.

If only she would stop coming to me.

She turns, with a smile, and waves goodbye.

And I, I with my tortured dreams, grab her wavering shadow and pull her close.

I hold her, with shaking arms, and will not let her go.

She wants me to comfort her, to stroke her hair and ease away the pain.

And this child of mine, this child of mine, I will not let her go.

Memories of a Disenchanted Past – 8

She was a good student, when she wanted to be.

Mostly, she was impatient and bored.  She didn’t understand why it had to take so long to cover a simple, basic topic.  She rolled her eyes in frustration, although it was taken to be brazen.

When she learned something she had never known before, she came alive.

Her eyes flashed as her whole being propelled itself forward, yearning to soak up the new information.  The passion that emanated from her took people by surprise.  Her teachers squirmed in discomfort, not knowing why she held so much power over them.

They tried to rein her in, but she was too good a player.

Eventually, they succumbed to her and she would be the focus.

Her friends didn’t mind, they were taken in, too.

They all loved her.  The grownups thought her precocious.  Her peers idolized her success.

She didn’t care.

She tried to be a good girl, for him, but it was never enough.

He still didn’t like her.

His games were the only times he showed an interest.

They made her so weak.

She abhorred weakness, and kept trying to rise above.

She said no one day, in a moment of triumph, and he just shrugged and walked away.

Her heart screamed in protest as she ran after him, begging him to forgive her, begging him to take her back.  He pushed her, hard, and she fell under the weight of her love, her life, her passion, flogging her with lashes that ripped her heart to shreds.

She kept trying.

She began to feel the hatred he had for her seep into her bones.

On the day she became a woman, she stopped trying.

He no longer came to her, although his hatred grew.

It consumed her and became the voice in her head that dictated the rest of her life.

It distracted her in school one day, and she slipped.

They found out her secret, the one she had hidden, the one that caused her more shame than anything he had ever done to her.

They found out that she couldn’t read.

They found out that she was stupid.

The fall from grace hit her, wrung her tight and dropped her in a pile of lies and deceit she had created.

It left her crawling in the mud, desperately grasping at anything that promised salvation.

She found it in the things he had taught her.

He had given her tools to sooth her soul.

She was grateful to him.

He had saved her.

 

Memories of a Disenchanted Past – 7

Their eyes have all fused together, frozen in time.  Their mouths, linked by a chain of taunting words, have become one twisted smile, whispering, over and over, “Bad boy, bad, bad boy.”

He inhales deeply, and watches the cloud of smoke escape his lungs, washing away the face of the ghost who haunts him.  He knows it is only a matter of time before It takes another form, so he reaches for the bottle and waits.

There It is again.

This time, It pretends to be Rejection.

He knows better.  He would recognize It anywhere.

He laughs as he downs another shot.  His head spins, making It flail around like a fool drowning in a puddle of rainwater.

It comes back as Depression.

He crushes up a pill and sweeps sweet relief up his nose, into his brain, where It is hiding behind a memory.

It comes back as a Scornful Look from a passerby.

He throws his fist out, beating It off the face of the poor boy It has momentarily inhabited.

The adrenaline flows through his veins, hydrating his thirsty heart, feeding the monster It created with an anger so vast, so deep, so freeing.

 

Memories of a Disenchanted Past – Part 6

The reel rolls on.

The eraser is thrown at him, again, and he coughs in the cloud of chalk.

His ear is pulled, his face is smacked and he is dragged into the hall by a red-faced tyrant.

He is sent to the principal to receive more humiliation.  The principal drags him from room to room by his leg, shaming him in front of every single kid in the school.

He shrugs it off.  He laughs a lot.  He acts silly.

They hit him again and again and again.

He is louder, tougher and stronger than them.

They put him down.

He jumps up to regain his pride.

They scorn him.

He leaves with his heart in his hands, fragile, cracked and almost broken.

The summer is a time to blossom, to fly free.  He explores the world, thirstily drinking up knowledge from every corner of his domain.  His mind is a sponge soaking up sweet, beautiful thoughts, storing them for later.  He runs through the woods, collecting samples, and he is a geologist.  He mixes blue and red chemicals, and, lost in the cloud of smoke, he is a brilliant scientist.  He mends the wing of a broken bird, setting her free, and he is a veterinarian.  He is the world.

He starts the year in the new school with the faintest glimmer of hope.

The man at the front of the room is given a chance as he raises his heart to him in a pathetic offering of trust.

His eyes are open wide in anticipation.  He wants to learn.  He wants to understand.

The man opens his mouth and speaks.  He doesn’t understand the words.  The letters swarm before his eyes and he looks up in confusion.

There he stands, the man who is to save him, looking down at him with a scornful expression as he shames him and rips his heart in two.

The flashback hits him harder than he had expected.  He is flown through time and space, reliving each and every experience.

He sifts through the past and stores each memory in compartments, some with keys to open later, some slated for destruction and some to feed the hate inside him.

His eyes are closed.  His face is drawn.

Once again, his name is called.

The eyes that are raised to meet his future are not the same as the eyes of his past.

Those eyes will never see, nor be seen, again.

Memories of a Disenchanted Past – Part 5

He is outside in the crisp, cool air, running free.  He has nowhere to be and no one to answer to.

Someone is calling his name.

He is jerked back inside by the grating voice and the persistent question he has grown to hate.

“What’s the next word?”

He doesn’t even bother trying to guess.

He lowers his head as he rises to do the man’s bidding.

Trudging to the front of the room, he sees the marks his scruffy sneakers made the countless times before.

He is resigned to his fate.

As he places his hands on the desk, he notices a ruler.  With a burst of bravery, his hand shoots out to grab it.

His is a small stick, thin and short, like him.

The other’s is a thick leg of a wooden child’s chair, cruelly converted into a means of teaching children how to grow up quickly.  The man calls it the reminder stick.

He hits the offending piece of wood, and they begin their duel.

The other boys titter nervously as they watch the drama unfold.

His valiant efforts to prove himself stronger and better are futile, but it is comforting.

Back and forth, the sticks clashing over the desk with a pathetic sound, the fight goes on.

He is empowered.  His shoulders straighten and his head is raised to meet his opponent’s eyes.

He is bewildered by what he sees in them.

The man’s eyes are empty and vast.  The passive look in them makes him crumble.

The fight goes out of him, just as the man opens his mouth to speak.

“We have all day,” he says, and he knows that he is right.

He lowers his stick along with his stance, and places his hands on the desk.

The sting on his knuckles remains with him until the end of the day.

Those empty eyes haunt him for the rest of his life.

Memories of a Disenchanted Past – Part 4

There’s a table at the front of the room.  It is set up as a stage and the Rebbe is demonstrating how to take three steps back for Shemone Esrei.

It is very confusing for him.  He doesn’t really understand what’s going on.

He grows bored with the lesson and soon begins to fidget.  His foot shakes and his head turns from side to side.  His eyes are drawn to the man on the table.  He watches the legs intently and begins to wonder at their length.  He had never noticed them before.

Now, there is something else happening.  He is not following.  He wants to get up and move around.  Before he knows it, he’s out of his seat, heading for the books in the back of the room.  He suddenly realizes where he is, but it is too late.  He sits back down and closes his eyes in anticipation.

The blow comes harder than he had expected.

Tears escape his clenched lids.  He looks up at the towering figure.

“Those crocodile tears will get you nowhere,” it growls.

The shame washes over him.  He sits in his chair, alone and afraid, avoiding the eyes of the others.

He turns inward and imprints the image of those long legs on the wall that surrounds his heart.

It will stay there, guarding the memories that are too painful to bear, forevermore.

Shall I Go On?

So you have all been given glimpses into my sordid past.

Here’s why.

Whenever I read about “Kids At Risk” or “Off The Derech”, I get irritated.

Granted, there are many people who are professionally trained to deal with teenagers and many who truly understand the situation.  However, there are a lot more people who seem to be pulling theories out of their behinds and coming to ridiculous conclusions about this “plight”.

For some reason, no one has really delved into the life of a “Hole in The Heart Kid” from the beginning.  I want to document my life so that people can have a better understanding of some major issues within the Jewish community.  I know that I am not a good enough representation of everyone suffering, so I will also be writing my husband’s story, as well as some younger kids I know.  This way, I can give a well-rounded portrayal of what really goes on.

Obviously, I can’t get too detailed.  My question is, are you getting the picture?

If yes, shall I go on?