Meet Me Where You Left Me

Watching the news one night, my husband raised the feminist flag. Four women awkwardly crossed their bare legs on the couch. One man, his legs spread wide to accommodate his shrinking masculinity, sat in the center. On our side of the screen, my husband squirmed and called it out. And I rolled my eyes.

We talked about it. He blamed his background and thanked me for helping him see the reality but didn’t appreciate that I don’t allow him into the conversation. I said I spent too many lonely years screaming to now pat him on the back when he sees misogyny. I’d rather he fight where it makes a difference, calling men out when they say that stupid joke or comment or gesture from an upright position as it happens, not as casual commentary when we’re alone.

We didn’t do a good job validating each other and went to bed upset.

The painful conversation the next morning covered my loneliness and the fact that for years I was convinced I would lose him.

I knew he had to find his way on his own but I didn’t know if it would end up at my side. He explored every aspect of Judaism; the cracks and corners where the grey turns vibrant and the black and white pages of his youth. When the walls caved in and he saw his truth, I stood next to him while he found his footing. When he did, it was solid and purposeful. And he walked ahead, leaving me where I had been waiting, exploring a world of ideas that excited him and broadened his mind in a way that overwhelmed me.

I was still lonely.

We cried, and we talked, and we promised to find a blank page we could write in together.

Then, because he was searching for something to help understand me better, he found a path that led straight to my open wounds.

Our relationship is not strengthened by what we have been through together. Those experiences, the cycles of life and love, have shaped who we are as people. What draws the outline of who we are together are the things we overcame as we circled around each other desperately trying to wrap our arms tight around the individual experiences the other had without us, soothing the loneliness we carry in our hearts.

This is how the love of my life discovered the crater between us and, without bothering to build a bridge, leaped over to my side and made us more than we ever were.

* * *

The panel is comprised of Orthodox women actively fighting the status quo. They are strong and intelligent and hell-bent on being heard. They talk about women disappearing and how it is not their Torah. They speak of holiness and femininity and their right to learn and teach and participate in the halachic discussion.

Then they open the floor to questions.

“How do you explain the halacha that states when a man and woman are drowning, you must save the man first?”

There is a moment where I, sitting on the other end of the couch reading about the different ways humanity is working to abolish hatred from the world we share, raise my head in mild hope to hear what wisdom the women my husband is trying to learn from can possibly have that I have not heard before.

I’ve learned to lower my expectations so I’m not that disappointed when the answers fall where they have always gathered, exposed on the ground shamefully.

But his eyes are widening and he is turning to me in shock. He can’t believe the way they have walked around the question, claiming to have accepted the bad with the good because it was different then. He can’t believe they dismiss the inconsistencies and ignore the way their bad answers leave more questions in their wake. He is bothered by it, bothered by my eyes rolling up in response because these, and more sophisticated pacifistic answers I have spent my life combating, are just a drop in the vast bucket of inadequacies I have been made to feel as a woman made from the ribs of a man.

He is racing through it all now; hearing the ways I have been explained since I realized my vagina made me less than. He is learning the tones and nuances of words falling flat against an ever-expanding sense of worthlessness. He is walking in the imprints my shoes made as I wandered around and around in my loneliness and he is gutted by the pain I never could describe.

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I mean, you told me…but I didn’t really get it. I never heard these words said these ways…I never looked and looked and couldn’t find a way to make it feel right…I never walked a second in your path, and I didn’t know how lonely you were.”

I thank him. He is sorry it is so late.

But I am grateful because he gets it.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me that I am valued to you, not only as your friend and partner but as a woman who faced this alone my whole life.”

I pause as I think of the weight we carry when we walk along our destiny.

“To have you take my hand and stand with me makes it all feel a little lighter.”

I remember how years ago, I stood at a crossroad and watched him walk down a path that didn’t suit me. Watching him disappear, I wrote.

I walk the lonely road…

twisting…turning…forever changing…

and as I wander…

I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.

He walks…on a different road…

twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…

with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearning…a want…so different from mine.

Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.

He goes right…I go left…

our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…

as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.

We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.

And I smile because there is a place in my little corner of the universe where I have finally been given the strength to fly farther than that road ever could have taken me.

The Prison Cells We Hide In

I always struggled to maintain friendships with women. It was easier for me to hang out with men. I knew exactly how to talk to them, how to act around them and was confident in my direct approach.

Women scared me. We always seemed to be hurting each other. The idea of a united front, working to overcome inequality and patriarchy as a tsunami of feminine strength seemed implausible.

Over time, I learned how to approach female relationships. It requires a real effort for me to connect with other women, even though it sometimes seems futile. The few friends I did manage to make are extraordinarily patient with me. I know that I wrap myself in yellow tape and dare them to try.

And then #metoo and #timesup happened, and I saw women emerging from their own prison. I dipped a toe in at first, wanting to test the waters I couldn’t trust. But I fell in hard. I found myself swimming in a school, sometimes wildly as though being chased, but most times with direction and purpose. Every once in a while, coming up for air, I saw some of what I knew deep down was still there; we weren’t all prepared for this.

The other day a woman called out from her prison and she got swarmed. There was a pounding on her door, a demand for her to open up, and I saw that there are cracks that are widening.

We need each other. But we need to tunnel into each prison and sit a moment inside. We need to see her space, feel her boundaries, and hold her hand when she decides she wants it to be held. Then we can be the force that will break us free.

This is what my prison looked like. It’s empty most of the time now. If you ever see me inside, come in through the back door I hide behind my unsmiling eyes. I’ll be waiting for you.

* * * * *

I keep the women in my life at bay.

Held off by my rigid tone, they circle for a moment before wandering away.

I don’t blame them.

The door is bolted and covered in skulls.

I am not very inviting.

I throw a line, teasing it a bit before I reel it in.

My words fall from my tongue with force I don’t even try to control. I am unbridled, wild and free in this prison I have constructed from the rubble of my demolished childhood.

It is warm in here.

I touch the splintering walls, piercing my fingertips with rusting nails. Watching the blood flow, I patch the roof where sunlight dares to shine through.

It is stifling in here.

Betrayals decompose in heaps strewn about the floor. Expectation died here long ago. The stench of rotting dreams reminds me not to close my eyes.

It is burning in here.

The men who knock are well received. I learned to navigate their world the moment I heard one moan. They trip over the warning signs. They don’t understand the game I play. They take me as I am; as I project myself to be.

I host them in the darkness. There is nothing here for them to see.

Lingering outside for a moment, the women stare through the glass walls of my prison where I meet their gaze with my empty plea.

I Am Woman — Please Don’t Make Me Roar

I am woman; I am tired of roaring.

For as long as I can remember, my throat has burned from the constant constriction of my vocal chords fighting to be heard in a world where I was made second.

From his rib, you were formed, by his side you shall stay…

If it helps you accept it, you can think of it as opposite him…

He needs you to make a better him even though you don’t need him to do anything except plant his seed…

I knew the word he before she.

I saw his accomplishments as ultimate goals and was shown how to play a supporting role.

I was taught to speak softly, walk gently, keep my hips from lilting.

I was told to be still, stay low, be less woman, be more girl and not to share my song.

I was shown his desires and told to shut up, sit down and take it.

You are a woman…it is your place…

I fought it.

I fought it so hard it made me bleed all over the smooth foundation of everything I thought I should be building on.

I scratched my skin with knives to see if the blood matched his and when I saw it flow I knew he could never understand because life didn’t expect him to bleed.

I roared so damn loud, it tore my voice from me and almost made me mute.

I am woman.

I am tired of roaring.

So I teach my daughter that she is human first.

I teach her she can do anything she sets her mind to.

I teach her that her shape is not her definition.

I teach her to stand up and speak clearly and firmly.

I teach her how to listen.

I teach my son the exact same thing.

I am woman and I am so damn tired of roaring.

I am woman; hear me.

Source: I Am Woman — Please Don’t Make Me Roar

#metoo

Trauma follows me wherever I go.

It likes my attention…wants me to let myself get wrapped in its claws…consent to its 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.

 

On Equality in a Kindergarten

She wants to make the gan Reform,” she says to her assistant.

I feel my cheeks burn and I almost turn away.

But…I can’t leave my son this way…in a room where he is taught subtle discrimination and stereotypes.

So I speak up because this is where it starts…in this room with 3 and 4-year-olds running around an incompetent teacher who doesn’t understand me.

That was not my intention,” I say loud enough to assert myself and so that my son can hear.

I just don’t think the boys should always be the chazan [prayer leader].  There is nothing wrong with a chazanit.”

The assistant smiles.

You know my sister-in-law was a gannenet in a Reform gan.  I know what you’re talking about.”

I breathe deep and try to control the feelings rising up within me.

No.  You don’t understand.  My son told me that only boys can be the chazan.  And when I said a girl can be a chazanit, he laughed.  This is not about religion.  This is not even about prayer.  This is about my son believing that girls can’t be a chazanit.  This is about my son believing there are things girls cannot do just because they are girls.

Oh…I see.  You know you really are a unique mother that you think about this.

I almost lose it.

“I want you to know that if he were a girl…this conversation would have happened the first week of gan.  I want you to know that I am angry at myself it took so long for me to speak to you about this.  I want you to know that I believe in equality.  I want you to know that as much as I aim to empower my daughter, I aim to teach my son what it means to be equal in a world that sees him as something more because of his gender.  And it starts here.

She smiles.

“You know, I heard a segment on the radio about discrimination in the workplace.  They said that people are discriminated against all sorts of things.  The color of their skin…where they come from…their religion.  If I hadn’t heard that I wouldn’t understand you!

“Yes, but here is where you start!  Here is where you educate the children about equality!  In this room!”

She has this blank look on her face and I know that she thinks I’m some sort of crazy feminist burning bras and damning the man.

I look around the room.

The boys and girls are all mixed up together…and they come from different parts of the world…and in so many shades of skin-color…and they speak different languages at home…and they pray differently…and they love like equals…and they fight like equals…and they feel like equals.

I tell my son there will be a chazanit because everyone can lead a prayer to a God Who sees them as equal.  I say it loud enough to ensure that the gannenet and her assistant can hear me…and I walk out of the room, wondering who I was begging to be educated.

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep…That Is Not A Question

Shavuot.

That little holiday no one ever focuses on.  The one where we celebrate receiving the Torah.  The one where we eat cheesecake because someone thought it would be a nice cultural addition to a Jewish holiday.  The one where I’m supposed to keep the kids quiet all morning so my husband can sleep after an entire night learning.  The one I’m not supposed to resent because, as a woman, I should be happy accepting that I don’t NEED to learn or that I can get my portion of Torah through my husband’s learning or that I can learn plenty of things other than Gemorah…

Well, guess what?

Not working…non of that…

Want to know why?

Because my husband won’t be staying up all night.  Not this year.  Not after years and years of frustration and anger every Shavuot night.

Want to know why?

Because when he was a little boy and was supposed to be learning the Aleph-Bet in order to read all those big books he was eventually going to be learning all Shavuot night, he was getting hit.

That’s right.

Smacked around by the teacher because he got the word wrong…or got distracted…or made a joke…or because the teacher was mad at his wife or kids…

So now he can’t make much sense of the letters that were beaten into him and doesn’t want to stay up all night getting depressed.

And me?

I’m a woman…a second-class citizen according to the Torah and don’t you dare try to pacify me with your theories.  And yeah, when I was a kid my father was upset that his sons didn’t want to learn with him, even as I begged to be taught because learning with me was a favor to me while learning with the boys was a commandment.  It’s ok…I don’t want to learn now anyway…I just don’t want you to make me feel like I’m supposed to dance with joy that there’s a holiday to celebrate receiving something that sits on my shoulders like the yoke that it is…something that is not always wonderful and beautiful…something that sometimes makes me feel dirty…small…insignificant and sometimes very lonely.

I’m Jewish because I was born Jewish.

I’m religious because I can’t not be – and believe me, I tried…

I’ve been taught that when the Jews said “we will do, and we will hear” all our souls joined in, regardless of whether or not they were in bodily form.  Well, I’m not sure that’s true.  I don’t think I was there.  I don’t feel like I was there.  I’m pretty sure no one measured someone’s worth in pages then…or thought that it didn’t matter if you were a nice person or a total shmuck as long as you knew how to learn…or said that someone who learned a lot knew about science and math and philosophy…I’m pretty sure people just accepted something with a willingness to explore it and see how it would work for them.

So if I was there most of the people I hear talking were at a different event…not my Matan Torah…

I’m about to end my sarcastic, painful and resentful rant.

Just know this.

My husband is a good person, a learned person, a highly intelligent human being with a great grasp on reason.

I am his wife – his equal, his partner…

And we’re going to be sleeping this Shavuot night, probably full of cheesecake because a little culture doesn’t kill anyone, and we are not going to let all of this get us down.

So there!