Time, Untethered

Her hand is in mine; clammy because it is hot on these streets that smell of burgers, oil, and urine. She tries to lace her fingers with mine. I pull away slightly, aware of the implications.

“My mother didn’t like holding my hand,” she tells the therapist casually. “Sweaty palms triggered her.” She is old enough to understand everything now. The therapist is helping her process the hugeness of it all.

We are on a family outing. She skips ahead with her brother as my husband wraps his arm around my waist. We look like an adorable family. I dress casually. My hair is cut short; shaved on one side. My husband’s Batman t-shirt attracts the attention of the crowds of teenagers gathering in the streets for a comic convention. My daughter dances when she walks. There is a constant beat in her head. My son follows her steps like a disciple. He worships her. Today she is 11. He is 8 and 16 hours. His devotion twists me up inside

and I am following him down the steep staircase because I would do anything for his attention. He is my god, and when he throws me aside, I am turned to dust. His love burns through me, shredding my sense of self and every future moment I feel a fragment of this moment poking into the bubble I will have to form around me so that I can breathe.

I love that they love each other. I love that we all love each other. I lean forward a bit so that I can have a lead on the time capsule that forever pursues me. I lean too far 

and I am holding my son in my arms and telling him he is big and strong and capable and it is ok for him to leave me. I am shattering my heart with a mighty hammer of lies. I am pretending I am able to let go. I have made a life of imaginary corridors I conquer with a presumed strength because I could not let the only grounding facts of my life weigh me down, drowning them with me. My home is emptying of the now and I am left without reasons to keep the monster at bay. My husband will feel the wrath of the past. He will welcome it and accept it as he has all the pieces of me throughout our love story.

I lower myself onto the grass, inhaling the end of summer. They are playing, the three parts of my present, while I 

run. He is chasing me with a hairbrush, screaming that I left it and he just wants to talk. I push past my friend and pull the door closed behind me. I bolt it and sink to the floor. I can still smell his desire. I am 15, and I am 8, and I don’t know where I am anymore as I

pull the blades of grass and run my fingers through the earth while my husband stretches out a stable hand to me 

and lifts me onto his lap and opens my mouth with his teeth and demands I learn to kiss because that’s what all brothers do

and I walk along in this postcard of a family full of joy 

and I don’t know how to be a grownup. My children resent me because they found out all the truths I still can’t say and ask me why I never told. My parched lips part

I scream in silence into time

and his tongue is in my mouth, and his hand is clammy, and I hate the body I am in and wander up into the lights where I hide the child I will never be

I am mother, wife, child, sister, friend, and I am worthy

and people are asking questions that confuse me so I stutter and they call me a liar 

and I take her hand in mine. It is clammy. I want to pull away.

My past, present, and future line up to challenge my memory bank. The transactions are mixed up. The numbers are wrong. I can’t find the point that is me on a timeline because once upon a time when time still ran its course, I followed the devil down to a place where time stands still and runs away, always and forevermore.

She is 11 and he is 8 and I am every moment I ever was and ever will be.

 

If a Mother Falls to Her Knees, Does She Even Make a Sound?

Some days, like today, I wish I could just step out of it all just for a moment, long enough to catch the breath I lost somewhere between becoming Woman and becoming Mother.

Some days, to be Mother is to press flat against the packed mud I left indented in my rock bottom.

Some days, to be Mother is to dig and dig beneath what is left of my forgotten corpse and reveal the remains of what I longed for, the bones of my selfishness, and the chains of my distended freedom.

Those days, when to be Mother means the opposite of Mother, my toe traces the line that keeps me from the edge, curling over sharp loathing holding me back.

Oh, I talk about it. I am honest and open and so fucking real.

I hide behind this realness. I confess it. I shout it so that it will not linger in darkness, shining light like a cloak, and I pretend I’ve exposed myself.

I even reach out to others with comfort and love and understanding… so much understanding.

Because I get it, I really do.

I know these days well.

I should know that on those days I am not looking for love and attention. I am looking for reprieve. And no one can give it to me.

If a Mother falls to her knees, does she even make a sound?

If a Mother breaks free, does she ever hit the ground?

If a Mother is not a Mother, what is she?

everything

to everyone

peck 

need

peck

desire

peck

comfort

peck

love

peck

faith

peck

trust

peck peck peck

Nothing left

for me.

 

Sun Year, Moon Year, and Me

The sun and moon fight above me.

One circles me while I circle the other.

And they disagree about time and space and light and make me wonder which of them is right.

I was born after the stars had come out and the fires burned. The moon, just beginning to cycle back down in size, claimed me on that day. The sun, having already done its job, nodded once and stamped me into the time it keeps.

And so I was born twice.

The moon years are special because they exist only for those who look towards the sky and bless the shimmering silver and mark their lives to the rise and fall of tides that flow over them with every persecution and triumph and history repeating itself while the rest of the world continues to focus on the blinding, waning beams of sunshine.

But the days of the sun make the world go round and round again.

I want the sun to mark me, burn me, make me feel like I am only one little dot across the horizon.

One little dot is not special or bound or lit up from behind. It does not place itself disproportionate to its size, does not pull at the waters and force my gaze.

But I was born under the moon and the fires burned for a man who brought light to a world that was already full of sun.

This day begins as the sun goes down and the moon appears where it has always been. Take away the light to see the beauty in the darkness… take away my life to find where I’ve been hiding… take away the night and let me have the morning…

To wake up and see… see what I have been missing while the moon circled above me and the sun moved on without me…

I was born, and so I became and the time that passed fell away and now the night will fall and make my moon year complete.

I will be older and never wiser and always wondering why the sun and the moon could not dance together, even for a day.

The Place Where I Belong

She calls me, breathless.

“It was amazing,” she panted. “I loved it. I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

Patched up by the threads trailing behind her gathering into a seam sewn with every fall and knotted with each triumphant rise, my lungs fill.

My hands slow their spasms. My head sweeps the day’s anxious pacing to the place in my brain that archives these moments in memory where they no longer hold me by the throat.

**********

I had been unsure for so long.

She was my rainbow baby.

When I grew her in my womb, I stopped the world to keep her safe. I could not trust my body, it had betrayed me before. I slowed time, went still, and waited. Month after month, I pushed down my swelling heart, locking it up so it could not get hurt. I would not dream, refused to take any steps further than the one right before me.

And then she burst into the world.

I had never seen the colors she threw at me, the way she blended the lines and filled the spaces with depth and layers. One on top of the other, her shades of joy spun me around and changed me.

But light does not color darkness. Beneath it all, the part of me written into her code lay dormant, waiting to pounce.

It found a moment of vulnerability and doubt and dug deep into her translucent skin.

Oh, how it hurt.

It strangled her with the rope I had never been able to shake off my neck. She couldn’t explain it to me, the only one who could really understand.

“I know,” I would say, imploring her to let me in.

“NO! No, you don’t.” Screaming with rage, she’d pull away. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be me.”

Punching my gut from my past stood 10-year-old me.

“I know,” I’d whisper to her through the years. “I know exactly how it feels to be you.”

So I tiptoed around a ride through hell and ecstasy, hoping she’d get what I never could find. Her voice rose and fell with each curve, gathering speed as it steadily spread the black between each vibrant color.

Flashes of pain seeped into her notes. It was haunting and beautiful and the scariest sound a mother can hear.

My prayers swept around her tormented thoughts, her twirling emotions, her bright overwhelming light, into the vastness of a universe I feared could not see her.

Just one little corner, one place to lay her head down… please let her feel like she belongs.

Her song grew strong, too strong. It began to surround her and swallow her with its need to be heard.

It could no longer be contained.

Softly, with the gentlest touch on her fragile little back, I steered her towards the spotlight.

And then she stepped onto the stage, a solid black ground raised for the world to see. Her eyes blinked, her heart stilled, and she poured out across the place she was meant to be.

Curled up at home where I could not rush to her side, I waited for my star to rise.

**********

“I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

“I know,” I say to her and to me and to all the times we didn’t believe it and all the times we won’t be comforted by it. “I understand.”

And I do.

They Cannot Gun Us All

They’ve come to kill us, these poisoned hearts.

They’ve come to take our innocent and young.

They’ve come to cut down our wise and wizened.

They’ve come to slash our soft and pure.

They seep into our waters

across oceans and fields of tranquility.

They march in step to a raging scream

a hatred pulsing through wretched limbs

flowing down ugly veins bulging out

from under little wrinkled souls.

They’ve come to murder us as we sleep

as we eat

as we pray

as we wait

as we live and breathe.

All they want

is to silence those they deem unfit

those who rise from the dead

over and over and over again

with open throats and bullet holes

resurrecting the voice

determined to sing

so loud

so strong

so overpowering

the demons slipping into skin

will melt from the heat.

Curtain Call

My thoughts

running through the maze

I hold inside my pounding skull

keep me company

reminding me

when my eyes search for love

for understanding

for hope

I am not alone.

 

I am tied to the whispers

the whipping post I toss over one shoulder

and the never-ending scorn scraping my open wounds.

 

These traveling thoughts

narrate a dialogue

a screaming silent war of words

I hold in an arena of unfulfilled dreams.

 

I am center stage

front row seat to a sold-out spectacle

spinning wildly in a cold sweat

dripping with resounding applause.

 

Take a bow

draw the curtain

the show has just begun.

The Dance

We dance

step by step, beat by beat

to the rhythm of broken dreams.

Linked

we twirl and bend and fall

tears streak down hollow cheeks.

Worn out soles

and ragged feet

buckle calves tightly wound.

Eyes glossed over

in painful pasts

spin sorrow refusing to drown.

At the end of this bright tunnel of love

darkness waits alone.

This song will end

the dance will fade

my heart will decompose.

The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

On Open Houses and Choice in a Foreign Tongue

It is early in the morning.

She rests her head against my shoulder, twisting her body around in an attempt to find a comfortable position. I sit as still as I can, knowing she will turn again and again until we finally get there. I’ve learned to be the rock she circles; forever keeping me at her center.

She lets out the air she’s been holding in all night and squeezes my hand.

“I’m nervous.”

I stroke her hair gently.

“Don’t worry sweetie. Today is just about the options. We don’t have to decide anything yet.”

She settles into another position against me and scrolls through my phone, willing the music she loves to soothe her churning stomach, and I am left alone with anxious thoughts thundering through my still body like a silent hurricane.

We are heading to an open house at a high school in Jerusalem. We are trying to find a place for her to learn and grow and be herself and be valued and shine and become. She is going to love this place, I know. She will see the art on the walls and a set stage. She will hear the music playing, and the dancers will be ready, and she will imagine herself right in the center of it all with a microphone and a million hopes and dreams.

I will listen to the principal speak about math and science and expectations. I will look around at the students and watch where their heads sit between their shoulders. I will find the stories hidden in the walls and the corners and the bathrooms of this place that wants to hold my child. I will not understand all the nuances said in a language I process through a tight layer of plastic wrap that suffocates the message and makes me choke on words. I will feel bewildered and lost and alone as I walk through an option that feels the same as every other one I’m given and points me in a direction I don’t recognize.

I wonder what other parents feel, as they stroll through their choices with an ease that comes from knowing what your options are. Do they lose sleep at night fighting demons the unknown conjures? Do they live with the regret that comes with retrospect only gained once experience shines a light on the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t come with the box?

She reaches out for me again, and I hold her close and kiss her cheek and wish away the fear.

I remember how it felt when I walked off the plane, down the stairs, and onto the ground that held my future. I remember the loneliness and the ache of rising panic as I realized I was in a land that was a birthright but not a birthplace. I remember the struggle of becoming caught between two worlds and the pressing weight of conflicting cultures that forced me on this ledge where I have been balancing as I built my home and found my footing.

I am tired of feeling incompetent. I am tired of not fitting in. I am tired of having to rely on advice from strangers every time I need to decide the future of my children. I am tired of never knowing the full picture. I am tired of these moments where I feel like I am crawling through a stampede, trampled under the assumption that my independence means I don’t need a herd.

It is paralyzing, change. It is a rising wave of feelings that require a mountain of sandbags to hold together strong.

I wrap my baby girl in my arms as she rides her wave heavily against me.

As we climb the mountain towards the center of a choice I made when I didn’t know what it means to choose for someone else, I wonder who will pack around me as wave after wave crashes into my ever changing life.

For now, I still the part of me that is brave and strong and circle it, knowing that somewhere in my mixed up mind is the girl who flew across the world all by herself, found a path full of heartache and joy, followed it to this moment where my beautiful growing-up girl is getting ready to fly.

I don’t know if I chose this land or if this land chose me.

All I know for sure is that the sky above me is the only one blue enough to be the backdrop against my daughter’s brilliant wings.

Mourning my Son with no Name

The flutters intensify every year as we light the last candle. Eight flames burning is the signal; the moment we start counting down the week until our baby’s birthday, three days before his death.

This year, my womb contracted wildly with the news of another boy torn from his mother too early… too violently.

I held my breath for as long as he was fighting.

I could see him in that same place, under the loving watch of angels of mercy who call themselves nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit of Shaarei Zedek.

And my soul ripped apart when I knew they had taken all the tubes and wires out, cleaned his translucent skin, and wrapped him in a blanket gently so that his parents could hold him and say goodbye.

The cries that came out of me that night 13 years ago echoed through time and shot me where the bullets made another 21-year-old a mother, a mourner, and a broken soul.

The entire country is mourning a life cut short, mourning for his family and for the children we continue to bury who are always too young. Their names are etched in stone, dotting this land with reminders of who they were and who they could have been.

My sorrow, deeply embedded in this tragedy, greased and separated slowly, as this feeling I could not escape bubbled to the surface, as the funeral procession choked through the night air and heaved.

When my firstborn died, there was no funeral. The Chevra Kadisha took his body, gave him a quiet brit and an obscure name of an angel that I won’t ever know, and waited for someone else to die so that they could walk along the procession and bury him in the mass grave set aside for fetuses adjacent to the cemetery on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives). There was no other option, halachically and legally.

They’ve changed the law since and given people a choice.

Our nation’s baby boy was buried, having spent the same amount of time in the same NICU as the son I wanted to name Betzalel because of his long fingers I knew belonged to an artist.

They named him Amiad Yisrael and eulogized him and cried for him and marked his little grave and left me feeling shattered and lost and ugly because, as much as I want to cry for them, I can’t help but cry for me as I wait for my son’s 13th birthday to come on Sunday so that I can count three days and the light a candle for the 13 years that never were.

And I think I am crazy, and I think I am jealous and resentful and incredibly selfish, but I am not sorry or embarrassed, because if you are nodding your head right now and crying with me, then these words needed to be said so that you know you are not alone.

Burial is a grounding act.

It allows pain to dig a hole and create a space to exist — a space that can be visited or left alone, a space that contains all the complexities of broken hearts and loss.

Without the act of burial, the pain, having nowhere else to go, becomes the air all around you. The only way to escape it is to stop breathing.

I am breathing the pain of my son with no grave and feeling the jagged shards of children wrapped discreetly and taken from empty wombs and incubators. I am with them on their last journey, alone, as they tag along with another death, and I am with them as they are placed in concrete tombs with other limbs they won’t call whole. I am unmarked and unmourned, and I am decomposing as though I have never been. I am the cold breeze and the heavy cloud and the sun that can never shine as bright. I am scraped from the inside and left to watch the funeral procession create a space to mourn that doesn’t belong to me.

I am angry and hurt and afraid to tell the world how it feels because I know you might squirm and hesitate and maybe even call me selfish when you are confronted by these thoughts I’m not supposed to say out loud.

I say them anyway because I know the only way to brush this away is to hold my breath until I die.

And I don’t want to die.

My son, Betzalel son of Bracha, son of Naftali, is somewhere on that mountain together with the sons and daughters who never got a name.

And maybe Amiad Yisrael’s tiny grave is big enough and deep enough to hold the lifelong loss of parents throughout this country and tether us to the ground.

Yehi Zichronam Livracha.

*Please read the updated law regarding burial after a loss of pregnancy to be sure no one ever has to feel like they have no choice.

Source: Times of Israel