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.

Doing Something

For 515 days, my sister and I shared my Facebook profile picture, smiling to the world from a little circle above my name. My cover photo was taken that time we went to Jerusalem and she posed with my children on Yoel Solomon Street.

515 days ago I sat down and looked through all my pictures to find one of her actively living after 22 months of watching her actively dying.

 

Now, I update the images.

Update.

My heart trembling, I write:

Changing my profile and cover picture feels like a betrayal. As if Hudis should be everywhere I am, leading me with every interaction I have online the way she walks ahead of me wherever I go. But it’s also relieving in a way like I’ve let her be my little sister again and no longer hold her above me. She’s plastered on my heart, etched on the inside of my skin…her image, a collage of the face I met when she was born, the face I kissed when she died, and every moment I saw her in between, is bright and beautiful and tucked away in the drawer of my soul where the most precious parts of me go.

My daughter is watching me closely, reading over my shoulder.

“Ima, your words…”

She kisses me gently and wipes the tear that formed when I saw that she gets me.

The night my sister died I couldn’t sleep. Words were marching across the inside of my brain, demanding I let them out. I sat up in bed and wrote my goodbye.

“I figured it out,” you said.

“I know what death is.”

It was last August, at the end of an epic summer, and you were saying goodbye.

It was in the living room – on the couches you hated and in typical fashion, you spoke bluntly and decisively about the topic most people avoided around you.

“It’s just my body.  That’s all it is.  And I am not just my body.  My body is sick…my body will die…but I am so much more than that.  I am everything else that I am, and that will never die.”

Oh, Hudis…

You are right.

You will never die.

Your body is here now – finally pain-free…finally unhooked and untethered from everything that you are…

And Hudis you are everything.

You are the strength of a thousand people…

You are the courage of one lone soldier against a mighty army.

You are the love that binds hearts together….

You are the innocence of a million children

You are the joy and laughter of uninhibited play…

You are the song that rises from the brokenhearted…

You are the notes teased from ivory keys, rising and falling with every breath you no longer need to take as you write the lyrics to the greatest song on earth…

Hudis – we will play that song…

We will add notes and harmonies and a baseline that keeps us moving forward.

We will write the stories of our heavy hearts and weave them through your lines.

We will create a bridge that connects it all and we will sing it…

And we will surely sing it too loud and too intrusively and off-key – the only way you can possibly sing a song that can never die.

Achrona, achrona chaviva Hudis.

Save the best for last.

You’ll always be the best.

It was read to her body before we took her to a hole in the ground and covered her with dirt.

We sat.

We sat in our puddles of grief and people came and tried to comfort us.

But I am not comforted by words spoken at me.

The words that comfort me fly from my fingertips, race across the screen and scream with intensity as my lips close and my heart slows and I can feel my lungs fill with life.

Still, I have to do something.

My father set up a table with a box.

Chai Lifeline.

People dropped their dollars in as they left the weeping house. Death makes you want to do something.

I sat at her computer and wrote again.

A lifeline is a rope…a chain…a ladder
thrown into the depths of hell
pulled back into a safety net
where there is air to breathe.
A lifeline is strong…sturdy…unbreakable.
A lifeline is a last hope…an only chance…a leap of faith.
A lifeline comes at a moment of despair
a moment of panic
a moment of confusion
and slows down time
so the path can be seen.
It is a painful path
a broken path
a path full of pitfalls and craters hidden under beds of green
but all along the way
the lifeline is there
ready to jump in
ready to provide a hand
ready to descend into the pit
and pull.
That is a lifeline.
Then there is Chai Lifeline.
And suddenly
there is a way to be more than
the only possible way.

I sent it to myself and printed it out.

Her name was on the top like she had written it.

from: Hudis Storch
to: Bracha Goldstein

We made copies and put it on the table with the box of money. When we got up and walked around the block we had done something.

We started living again.

But we still wanted to do something.

Hudis was determined to run the Miami Marathon for Chai Lifeline. The day she was supposed to fly out, she woke up with a fever. She took her suitcase with her to the hospital. She never made it to Miami. She made her own finish line in the pediatric oncology ward in Robert Wood Johnson and crossed it with a smile that tricked us all. She looked so alive. We couldn’t have known she only had four months left.

Two of my sisters decided to finish it for her. They started raising money before we even go up off those chairs and they ran and walked and pushed themselves harder than they ever thought they could.

I watched them and felt something stir.

I wanted to do something.

I crossed the ocean when it was a year and kissed the slab my sister lies beneath. I wrote again because I don’t know how to do anything else. This time I read it out loud and my voice shook.

I can’t fly to Miami and run. I can’t keep the picture of my baby sister in front of me always. I can’t get my revenge on cancer. I can’t dig up the dead and force the world to stop and remember my sister and all the people actively dying while we passively live on.

My older sister is running the marathon again.

I can do something.

I can write.

And I can tell you about this life and this world and the bits and pieces of who we are as we pass through. I can string words around so that you get how it feels to want to do something as you watch people who have more courage than you can imagine walk into hospital rooms, look cancer in the eye and ready their weapons to fight, no matter how many battles they may have lost.

Chai Lifeline does something.

You can too.

Support my oldest sister as she runs for my baby sister.

Please. 

Click here and donate.

“Ima, you’re writing again?”

I look up at her, knowing she will read my words one day.

“I’m doing something,” I say.

Source

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.

Goodbye, Cobblestone Road

This is a very painful post for me to write; one that crept up over the years on occasion but willingly returned to its suppression box when I pushed it in.

My husband and I have been married for over 13 years. Before our marriage, we spent intense, life-altering years with a revolving group of friends who experienced traumatic moments with us, sharing our blood, sweat, and tears profoundly. Our life is full now; family, friends and evenings spent unwinding with content happiness fill the nooks and crannies of our once broken hearts. We worked hard for it, and we are proud of it. But then a tug – always suddenly – makes us yearn to dig up a long-buried life.

The week of my husband’s 35th birthday the door swung open and blew his oldest friend in with fragments almost forgotten. The initial joy of reconnecting overshadowed the caution we knew we should be holding out in front of us like a shield. We let our guard down. It burned.

As his birthday drew to a close, we sat together, just the two of us, and sewed up the hole ripped through our carefully reconstructed souls, reaffirming our place in time and letting the past settle in the dust behind us.

Still, it is grief that follows us into the present.

This is a eulogy.

To all the friends we’ve loved and lost, we remember you fondly while we walk on without you.

* * * * * * * * * *

The past blew into town, whirling around in a drunken stupor and a cloud of cannabis.

Drawn from a place of need, we reached towards it desperately.

But the past is dead.

Still, we tried.

We thought it would feel comfortable, like slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes.

It was familiar.

The chaos and uncertainty shot through our veins and almost had us hooked.

Almost.

The noose hung slack against our necks, and we were transported to that moment when the floor fell out beneath our feet, and we plummeted to our living graves.

Breathlessly, desperately, we reached out for each other and unwound our throats from ropes as soft as cotton.

We had lost our footing for a moment. We had been deceived by the sounds and smells of what we thought was our worth. We had been drawn in the colors and spaces we no longer belonged.

We stepped away and held each other in arms more secure because they shook. We stepped away and breathed the air we chose to fill around us. We stepped away and came back to a place where we are always loved and sometimes lost and never tormented. We stepped away and left the past whirling around in chaotic memory where it belongs.

Burials are painful, but we cannot leave the rotting flesh exposed for all to see.

Somewhere behind us where we won’t look back, we buried familiar faces and loyal friends. We will always mourn them. We can never get them back.

Resume Me

I write the cover letter, attach the file and hit send.

For the hundredth time, I sigh.

My resume travels across the interwebs to be reviewed by someone who will not read between the lines. I will be drawn out and imagined as someone I will not recognize, and a door will be closed in my face because I don’t fit.

I will be classified and shaped and discarded.

I will be ignored.

The words I carefully constructed to define who I am will carry no weight on a screen.

I wonder how I define people.

Do I also see them as their experiences? Do I judge their lives by the stars that aligned the moment they were born?

Maybe I do.

Maybe my bias is just as devasting to others as the emptiness I feel when I wait for someone to open that file and draw the lines that I know do not define me based on the way my life, full of unexpected curveballs and experiences out of my control, is spelled out on one page.

I cry out, “Meet me first; hear how I view my shape before I list my virtues and wait for approval!”

I cry out to the ruffling pages of people who mean so much more than the words and the outside reflection of things they have done because that’s where they were or because that’s what they thought at that time. I await in the silence of one-page profiles of people filling the air around me, falling to the ground in a heap where they will be stepped on because their resume said that they were not worth a look in the eye.

I cry out to a world that will not hear because I speak in a tongue made for the street and trip over the one used by those sitting at a desk in an ivory tower.

I click send and I lose another line in my shape and I know that if I need to do this another minute more, I will have erased the best of me.

Intifada: Take Three

Today, I was on a bus.  And I had my headphones on because I like to listen to music on the bus.

But the driver…

He was in a bad mood…and I couldn’t tell why.

I didn’t know if it was because he had a fight with his wife…forgot his lunch at home…had to go through a checkpoint to get to work…was pissed off because I am a Jew…was frustrated that no matter what he does he is judged terribly…or because he is a radical Islamist who wants to kill Jews so he can be a martyr.

I couldn’t tell.

So I kept taking my headphones off and checking his face and his body language…and he was driving fast and I was waiting for him to crash into a bus or a truck or a tree and there were only old women and young girls on the bus and we didn’t have a gun and then I thought maybe I’d be the one to knock him out and grab the wheel but I wasn’t sure I could even turn the thing or reach the brake…and then Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came on so I put the headphones back on and cranked up the volume and thought it was a good song to die to.

On the way home the driver was a nice Ethiopian man and I smiled widely and thanked him profusely and wasn’t in the mood to listen to music anymore.

Because when there is an intifada…you do as you feel.  And you try to stay alive.

The Lonely Love of Faith

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.