Let’s Paint A Memory

The street is cobblestone…pretty, yet inconvenient for weary little feet and stroller wheels.

It’s been a long morning.  Breakfast was nice, sitting at an outdoor cafe on the street overlooking mountains, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice and laughing just because…and then walking along the road with all the shops, pretending to be first time tourists visiting the holy city of Tzfat as we shared the beauty of our land with our children…and now the Artists’ Quarter…narrow cobblestone streets lined with display windows where you can find intricate pieces of art, magnificent paintings… sculptures… glass work…jewelry…hand-made wonders nestled high up in a little city of art surrounded by a little land of majestic proportions that takes my breath away.

We told her about this place weeks ago.  She’s been so looking forward.  On the train, as we passed neatly plowed fields…she asked about the artists again.  And then, when the sea came into view and she had to look away because the sun hitting the endless blue was blinding, she wondered about what kind of pictures they made up on the mountaintop, way too far for an impatient five-year-old who wanted to get off the train already.  On the last leg of our journey, the bus climbing up the mountain on twisting roads as the sun went down outside the window she was pressing her nose against, she leaned back, her head resting on my shoulder, and thought about what she was going to see as she sucked her thumb and twirled her hair around and around her little finger until her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

And now, here we are…and she’s tired…because she walked so much…and because she didn’t have her own bed to sleep in last night…and because she’s only five and we haven’t stopped at a playground even though we said we would…

Her little feet drag on cobblestone.  She shrugs her shoulders when we point out all the beauty surrounding us.

Then she sees him.

It’s a small shop.  His paintings are average for this little street.

He is sitting in front of a canvas.  He is creating a small souvenir someone will purchase as a memory of their visit here.  He barely looks up when she steps in and stands behind him.

She watches him, quietly, for a long time.

I am ready to move on.  I call for her.  She is transfixed and doesn’t hear me.  But he hears and he turns to me, and to her, and sees something in her eyes he must recognize.

He smiles at her.  He holds out his brush and asks her if she would like to paint.

My little girl very slowly nods and accepts his brush.  She holds her head still as she gently presses the brush to the canvas, bringing it down ever so carefully as he looks on.  She takes a step back, ready to hand the work back to him, but he shakes his head at her and tells her to continue.  And then, stroke by stroke, my little girl paints a memory.

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Her eyes are bright.  Her cheeks are flushed.  She steps back from her work with pride.  As she hands over the brush, he smiles at her again.

“You’re going to be a great artist,” he says.  And nodding knowingly at me, he adds, “I can tell…I can tell…”

Flames

The flames are dancing again.

They sway softly, reaching up just enough to reveal blues and greens before settling down into the rhythm of orange fused with a yellow-white, burning my eyes as I stare.

There is a sudden leap in my heart as one little flame tries to escape and jumps off its wick carelessly.  The air crackles as the tiny flame realizes, too late, that it cannot defeat the oil-filled glass pulling at it relentlessly.  It falls back into the oil, diminishing in size and, defeated, meekly resumes its dance.

My heart, aroused by the plight of the dancing ball of fire, falls to the ground and shatters into a million wrenching cries.

I am screaming silently as I smile at my children and spin the dreidel, round and round and round…

I am mutely deafening the heavens as I sing songs of latkes and maccabees and kiss the kids goodnight…

I am nearing a pitch that can pierce through my silence when I break.

I turn towards my husband.  In a whisper, I bare my soul.

“I miss him.”

And then the dam breaks and I am filled with all the sounds I never got to hear.

The thin wail at his birth…the howl at his bris…the hungry whimpering at night…the coos of content in the early mornings…the pouting whine at naptime…the robust cries of triumph as he climbs up a stair…the sweet sound of peaceful breathing…

NOOOO!!!!!!!

The screams emanating from my soul are not enough to drown out the memories of the beeps and whirs an incubator makes at it labors to keep its occupant alive.  And through the noise, I can hear what underdeveloped lungs sound like when they are working too hard…not hard enough.  And no matter where my mind takes me and what I use to try to change directions I can still hear…the silence…when there are no machines…no breath…no life.

The first year, I was pregnant again.

I watched the flames and thought of him and prayed it would be different.

The second year was harder.  I looked at my little girl and thought I saw him dancing around her.  When the flames died, he slipped away.

When the flames danced in our window again, I thought of him and slipped away to the bathroom, scissors in hand.  My hair fell into the sink but it didn’t stop my tears.

At the four-year mark, I wrote.

He would have been four years old…instead, he is buried on a mountain with other sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts; forever a tiny babe.

He is happy there and well taken care of.  He does not feel the pains of growing up.  He does not suffer from physical ailments.  He does not lack anything.  He is safe.

He needs only my love.

I love my little boy so much.  I know where he is.  I want to go there.  I need to be good enough to go there.  I will do everything in my power to see him again.

It was suddenly there again.  The lights.  I wrote again.

It’s this time of year again and I’m thinking of you…wondering…how you’ve been.

Wishing you could see me now…look at me with those big, big eyes…maybe even smile.

It’s late…you should have come home from school long ago…I ache to see you burst through the door.

The bag we would have picked…together…slung over your slight frame…weightless.

Your face would have lit up…as you held out…the special treat your Rebbe gave to you…for Chanukah.

Chattering about your day…as I prepare your supper…and tend to the others…you flit about my mind.

And I miss you.

Five is a big boy now…I remind you gently to let me go…big boys know better.

You fade away from me…but cling…your tiny hand grasping…my pinky…forever.

And then we lit the lights again.  And I waited.  For eight days.  I held out.  Until I saw the little tiny flame fighting to break free and I broke down and wrote again.

It’s been…six years…filled with love…joy…happiness…hardships…and longing…for you.

My happily-ever-after…standing before the lights…watching the flames dance…to the beat of the perfect little life inside me…dies with the last lick of fire…and left a hole…where you used to be.

The day you broke away approaches…

I am not ready…to face the dark memories…the images of you…slipping into another world.

The truth is…I am angry with you…for giving up…for giving in…and letting the pain…consume you.

You should have lived…should have struggled through the pain…like I do every day…and been there to be held by me…touched by me…loved by me.

My love…for you…sits inside me…killing me…forcing me to hold back…with everyone around me…chaining me to the place where you tore your body from mine.

Sometimes…secretly…shamefully…I wish…you would have waited just a few more moments…maybe hours…and then…you would have taken me with you…far from the intolerable feelings…and maybe I would have been…lying near you…in the cold ground…so I could keep you warm.

Every day that passes…I miss you more…there is no comfort…nothing can ease the sorrow…I can only wait…and long for the day…when you will come back to me…and tell me…why…you didn’t want…to stay.

Now, as the flames finish twisting and turning, I breathe deep and exhale my tortured thoughts.  Together, my husband and I sweep up the pieces of my heart off the floor and into our cherished box of shared pain.

As my head sinks into my drenched pillow, I hear another sound.  It is you.  The woman in the NICU…holding her lifeless little one…and you are screaming…and you want so badly for someone to say the right thing…but no one does…because no one can…and you want so badly for someone to write that to you…to share her thoughts with you…about how a child is never forgotten…always loved…always pulled back by the strong oil-filled glass with the upward-reaching wick, united with a flame…one, unique flame…that is forever jumping away…

And then I am sitting up in bed and my screams become a shout…and then form words…words I hear you saying…as you and I are joined by all our sisters as we storm the gates of Heaven with prayers begging…pleading…demanding that our Father bring back the ones He didn’t’ let us have…crying together as mothers of children who deserve to live in a glorious kingdom full of all the love and happiness they were denied.

Please…please, bring them back…please bring us home…together…all of us…whole.

The Other Side of the Story

To all those suffering: I mean you no harm.  I understand what it’s like to be hurt.  I understand what it’s like to be angry.  I understand what it’s like to be abused.

But, to all of those who have abused another, who will never find peace within themselves: it is for you that I present the following letter.  And for those who feel the way he feels, for those who have truly slain the beast within, I say, I forgive you.

What does it mean to suffer?

I have suffered many times in my life, from abuse, humiliation, and shame, although nothing compares to the pain and suffering I experience every day because of my actions.

I sexually abused another.

I can work on forgiving others for the things they did to me.  I can work on letting go.

What I have done is with me every moment of my life, tormenting me, twisting me into what I am today.

I was a child when I committed those shameful acts.  What grave injustice was it that turned a child into a beast? Can someone tell me?

It can drive a person mad when their entire life is spent trying to work that out, and constantly worrying if the beast can wake up again.

For how long does one have to suffer for the sins of the past?

I have apologized.

I have made amends.

I have cried enough tears to fill the Nile, but the pain still kills me and the nightmares don’t stop, because…what if….

What if the beast is just asleep?

Do I have the strength to fight it again?

And yet…I still must move forward and live my life, day by day.

I have to live with myself.

I have to be the man I know I am, and not the child I was.

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.