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.

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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.

Misconception

Misconception hides around the corner from me as I navigate through alleys of my heart.

Usually, it leaps out just after I pass, falling flat on the broken pavement behind me while I focus on what lies ahead.

Sometimes I feel wind move behind me, rustling hairs I’ve shaved off the back of my neck.

I don’t turn around.

I don’t want to hear sympathetic murmurings of those who think they know me.

I don’t want to see the confused gaze averted when it locks on my stoicism.

I don’t want to taste the stinging heat of shame dripping from your tilted head as you pass judgment even as you claim to be trying to understand.

I can clear the air, I guess.

I can lift the veil and show you who I am today, right now with my heart so full and my soul settled in a rhythm I wrote all by myself.

I can let you in enough to stop the rationalizing group discussions and mental gymnastics your misconception uses as a dance floor.

I can take misconception on, my sword of words ready to duel; I know in the cage where we battle I win.

I can be explained.

But you like the way misconception feels.

You like the mystery and drama surrounding unanswered questions you don’t think to ask me.

You like the way it screams at you; tantalizing blows to your core.

You like the stories you tell, connecting you to me.

So you don your misconceived mask, crouching in the shadows until I pass, never knowing there are no corners here.

I see you, Misconception.

Paused.

It is ugly, this beauty.

It aches in a way that tastes of bile.

The light reflecting off the wall shines a spotlight on the pain…the empty feeling where feeling should be…her presence missing from the picture.

Dusk.

The in-between.

Where the day is and isn’t.

Starting and beginning…the pause between the two.

I am paused.

She was just here…with me.. this exact spot only yesterday three years ago.

Paused.

She paused.

And all I want is to be able to stop time from taking me away from that moment.

Disappear into the stillness

Find her holding her breath waiting for me to start the clock again.

She is missing in the space between time…missing me…the way I miss her.

Time is ruthless.

Night is falling.

It will not let me wait for her.

13 Years

We stand under the canopy separated by the discomfort we feel at the display.

You are wearing the uniform of a team you don’t really play for. Your hair is cut according to someone else’s taste. Even your shoes are a stranger’s style.

I am in white for the first time in my life. My face is covered by a thick veil that holds significance to other people. I hate that I cannot see you.

We stand in the stifling heat and we listen to people bless and pray us into our future.

You break a glass; we sip the wine.

You grab my hand and we run towards a few moments of privacy.

I am in your arms and we are happy because we are alone and also happy that we are certified now and they approve and also dreading the rituals and the obligations we are about to face.

But we are together so we can draw strength from the power we found when we became us.

We are so young. We are so desperate for acceptance. We will do anything to prove our love is the right kind of love…the kind that we were raised to believe in…the kind that builds the acceptable kind of family…the continuation of the Jewish bloodline…the kind of future our ancestors would be proud of.

So we face the hundreds of people who have come to witness this return to the fold. We dance on opposite sides of a curtain. We wash our hands for bread and we make the blessings with all the truth we can muster because we are determined to begin our future the way we have been brought up to believe is the only way.

We are happy.

We are together so we are happy.

We make meals and we invite friends and we beam and we pray and we hope and we continue to love as we become the adults our parents prayed we would be.

We lose a child and we thank God.

We are happy because we are together.

I immerse every month and I pray and you slip away as you doubt and then I slip away as I doubt and then we are staring at a little girl and we are so in love and so happy and so together.

Our love looks different from what we saw love to be so we think maybe it’s not the right kind of love but she loves our love so it has to be right. She laughs and sings as we hold her between us and dance to songs we were kept sheltered from when we were babies. She knows Led Zeppelin and Santana and grows to idolize Queen even as I adjust my head covering and you grow your beard long and your side-locks even longer.

We are unconventional and learning to be fine with that.

We move closer to our family and we think our little life is so normal and then we see that our way doesn’t match their way and we feel isolated and unsure.

We are so in love that I hurt when you hurt and you choose me when I hurt and so you lose people.

We are happy because we are together.

We are back in our homeland because we have found out that family cannot replace the soil where our roots grow deep.

I am flat in bed while you work all day and we are poor and we are getting angry and we are stuck because we are so in love that when we aren’t together we are scraping at our skin and bleeding ourselves to death but our love is standing against the fears of our youth that are shaking our foundation.

Now we are five minus one and we are broken and complete and we are ready to face things because we know it is time for our love to expand into our days so that we can build on us and not them.

I shave my head because the noose is tightening and you stroke my cheek and untie the cloth that proclaims my allegiance.

You torment your soul and bare it before me and I squeeze your hand and promise you forever.

We are slowly moving away from everyone else and closer to each other and even though we are scared we know we can’t lose.

We are happy because we are together even when we are alone.

The air is heating up around us and is getting heavier so we shake off the chains that bound us and we face the mirror side by side. We know we will become an island if we peel it all off but if we don’t we will become strangers.

We have to be together because we have to be in love.

Our love is stronger than the faith we lost. Our love is accepting and forgiving and we don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.

But I am falling and gasping for air and you aren’t falling with me because you need to be the one to catch me and your arms reach out the length of two years while I tumble and turn down a rabbit hole I didn’t see coming.

I slam into you and think I broke you because it is taking you so long to stand back up until I realize that my arms are still around your neck. I peel myself from you and you stand me at your side and you slowly lift my shoulders until I can meet your eyes.

We are together and we are crying and we are still happy because we are crying together.

We laugh and dance and sing and cry and rage and lose and grieve and search and change and live together.

We are in love and we are so lucky because we are in love together.

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It is 13 years since we stood beneath a canopy and couldn’t see the future.

Happy Anniversary.

Quiet.

I am sitting on a flimsy plastic chair and I don’t think it can possibly hold my shaking body a second longer. My palms are sweaty. My heart is beating faster than my chest can contain it and I know I will burst.

And then there she is.

She stands on the stage. She comes up to the shoulders of her co-stars. Her eyes are huge and I can see the slightest flutter in her fingers.

I know how her tiny belly felt all day. The knots twisting inside my gut are shortening my breath and plummeting towards my toes.

I take in as much air as my lungs allow as she opens her mouth.

I am with her on that stage and I am here on my knees in the audience and I am so scared and so proud and so ready for her to blow the roof of this crowded community center auditorium away.

‘Quiet…’

And the audience is…

…because she is singing and she is looking out at them and her eyes are huge and her voice is bigger and she is Matilda and she is on Broadway and her voice is echoing through my soul and I can fly, even as my body grows numb as she pulls me closer to her and rips away from my womb with the power of a flock of birds, one million strong.

‘And though the people around me…their mouths are still moving…the words they are forming…cannot reach me anymore!’

She was in first grade and my heart was perfectly still when she stood in front of the school with a microphone in her hand and sang her little heart out. I smiled and she smiled and all the other parents smiled and she ran over to me and asked, “Did you see me? Did you hear me? Did you? Did you?”

I spun her around and told her she was a star.

She was in second grade when she skipped onto the stage and she was full of confidence and nothing could bring her down. She stopped for a moment, looked out into the crowd and said, “ooof! Shachachti!” and the whole school laughed and then they clapped and encouraged her and she looked into the wings and no one prompted her and she looked into the audience and everyone was smiling and her eyes welled up and she ran from the stage and I ran to her and nothing I could do or say could shake that feeling of shame from her shrinking little body as she swore she would never do this again.

In third grade she wouldn’t sing.

In fourth grade, she went to drama. Once a week, she trudged down the block with her head down and her shoulders slumped and came back with a straighter spine and a firmer chin. I held my breath all year and waited for her to get back up and prove to herself that she is a star.

I held my breath and prayed for her aunt to live another week so she could hear her sing.

On June 6, 2017, my beautiful baby girl got up on stage with her wobbly knees and her trembling hands and her face painted green and her mother melting a little in the audience. She channeled all her fear, planted her feet firmly on the ground so that they looked welded to the stage and opened her mouth and sang…

‘It well may be…that we will never meet again…in this lifetime…so let me say before we part…so much of me…is made of what I learned from you…you’ll be with me…like a hand print on my heart…’

My heart stopped. My eyes filled with tears and I saw my legs shaking, although I could no longer feel them.

Her voice got stronger and louder and her confidence grew and I could feel the crowd moving in towards her as she thundered up there on that stage as her star grew bright.

‘And just to clear the air…I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done, you blame me for…and none of it seems to matter anymore…’

My soul traveled across an ocean to be at my sister’s bedside.

Hold on…wait for me…

I could feel her with me and I knew she wouldn’t go until the song had been sung and she had heard it.

‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better…because I knew you…because I knew you…I have been changed for good…’

The audience applauded and my heart settled back into place but my soul tore a little inside.

She jumped into my arms and she caught her breath. She looked relieved and grateful and a little more like her younger self.

I sent the video and they played it for my sister and they said she heard…but I could read between the lines.

She went to bed and then to school and she was confident and sure…and then my mother called.

I hugged her tight before I left and I promised to play the loving goodbye messages she recorded on my phone, but just in case, I sent them ahead and made sure they were played into my sister’s ear.

‘I love you so much. I’m going to miss you.’

I arrived on June 8, 2017. My phone rang and they put me on video and I told her I’d be there soon and please don’t go and she didn’t.

At 7:00pm we pulled up to the house and I leapt from the car and I ran up the stairs and I stormed into the room and I wrapped my arms around her and I told her how much I loved her and that my children loved her and we were going to miss her.

And then my sister took her last breath and died.

Later, I played the song my daughter had sung two nights before across an ocean and I wept.

My star is asleep with a smile on her face. My body has returned to me and I am sitting in the silence and her voice is reverberating through me on what should have been my sister’s 19th birthday.

‘And it is quiet…and I am warm…like I’ve sailed…into the eye of the storm.’

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One Year

It has been one year…one entire year…

It has been one year since I gave up trying to sleep and sat up in bed at 5:00 in the morning with words writing themselves out in my head as I formed the pain we were all feeling into letters…words…sentences that maybe, somehow might express the choking loss grabbing at my throat…refusing to let me breath.

I wrote as the sun lit up a world without Hudis…I wrote as birds chirped and the world spun and people made coffee and got into their cars and went to work as if the world could continue to spin without Hudis…

I wrote a goodbye letter and a love note…I wrote words that were read to a body laying before us…a body that couldn’t possibly be…Hudis…

I wrote because that’s what I do when my heart beats too fast…too slow…sometimes not at all.

I write words that you hear as ideas yet I feel pouring out of my eyes…the pattern of my tears take shape and here we are…standing here an entire year after I wrote goodbye to my baby sister and buried her in the ground.

I am standing here now and I know I should be telling you about Hudis…about how I was a confused, angry teenager when she was born and how I discovered the sweet smell of a baby’s hair and would find comfort in her little fingers wrapped in mine…I should be telling you how precocious she was…how she watched everyone and everything and could read between every line…I should be telling you how she loved me even when she wasn’t sure how we were related or how she managed to insert herself into every picture at every wedding…I should be telling you how much fun we had together and how loudly she could sing karaoke…I should be telling you about her fights with my daughter and her blunt criticism of my art…I should be telling you about her bravery and her honesty and her thoughtfulness…I should be telling you about Hudis…

But you know all that…you knew her…or you knew of her…or you knew someone who knew someone who knew her…so you knew Hudis.

I don’t write about Hudis…Hudis wrote about herself with every breath she ever took…with every step she made in her short life…Hudis wrote an entire book that I can just read over and over again and hope to learn how to live a life like Hudis.

I write about life without Hudis…

The words that pour out of me scream pain and anger and hurt and love and life and joy and sorrow and grief and loneliness and emptiness and fulfillment and strength and courage and privilege…

Privilege…that I am here…that my heart hurts…and also loves…that my body works…that my pain passes…that I can share my life…with all the darkness and all the light…with people I love…and who love me…and I can live my life…a privilege…

I stand here today with the words that I write to try to express how it feels to live with loss..how it feels to love with loss…how it feels to move forward after loss…

And I can’t find the words…

But I can feel them streaming down my face and I know that you understand.

Hudis isn’t here tonight.

We are doing this instead.

A Moment in Time

I am sitting in the room that has become your shrine.

Your picture is everywhere I look. Your art hugs the walls. Your space is tangibly empty.

This room holds a lifetime…it beats for an eternal second…it loses its breath and dies every day you are not in it…

I am sitting here and I am wasting away without you. I am losing something that I didn’t know I had until you left me.

This room holds the memories of you…this room holds the timelessness you have become…this room is choking me as I sit here and ache for you.

I want to scream and shout and cry and slam my fist against this room’s towering walls over and over and over again until my knuckles rip open and my blood paints the images of you parading inside my head.

I sit in this room and I am silent as I remember how much I do not remember.

Once you looked at me with a smile that made me smile and we shared a moment that was captured forever. I did not know that you would take your last breath twelve years later on that day. I did not know that you would not get to have the things I get to have. I did not know that you were not forever.

Had I known I would have held you in my arms and hugged you tight. I would have whispered my love for you. I would have let you feel my heart beat. I would have lifted you up and raised you high above my head and I would have made the world see you and cherish you.

Thirteen years ago I patted your head and laughed as you danced and walked into my own life without glancing back at you. Thirteen years ago I stepped away from you and let you find me without the urgency I would have had if I had known that thirteen years later I would be sitting in this room and wondering how a year could have passed since you walked away from me without looking back.

I am sitting in this room and I am aware of the lack of you. My heart is racing and my head is spinning and I am falling apart at the seams where I have been sewn back up too many times.

You aren’t in this room with me and you are in this room with me and you are playing with my head and you are looking up to me with your eyes wide open and you are never coming back and I am not sure if I can live another year without you.

Thirteen years ago I looked into your eyes and I smiled and you smiled and your timeline stopped and mine didn’t so now I sit in this room where you aren’t and you are and I am as still as a moment in time and I whisper your name and I hold your hand and we smile.

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