When it hurts to live: leaving Orthodoxy

When you leave Orthodoxy, you leave everything behind. If you are lucky, you can find a way to anchor yourself to love.  But mostly, you are tethered in place by the family that wants to accept you but believes that you cannot be accepted. I cannot imagine the anguish of a parent who can not separate from belief enough to love their child unconditionally. It is a brutal thing to be faced with. Still, when you abandon your child and refuse to see them fully, you are guilty of taking away the stability necessary to walk this earth.

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I do not want to write this.

I do not like to hurt people. I do not like that my words are sticks and stones that break people I love.

But I am bound by the dead, bound by the silenced, to give these words life.

I will never be able to take it back.

I owe that to the memories of those who drank their pain and swallowed comfort. I must write for those who wrapped their necks and flew off buildings and let their blood flow to release themselves from the devastating hurt of abandonment.

I owe them something that will live forever.

To those who raised children who are not the same as you to only be the same as you

To those who took part in shaping children who did not want to be shaped

To those who conditioned their love to meet their faith

To those who held belief above all

To those who will not listen

To those who will not accept

To those who will not ADJUST

To those who refuse to apologize

You are guilty.

You have brought your son to be sacrificed. You placed him on an altar, bound his hands and feet, and did not have the courtesy to slit his throat. You have let him lay exposed before your judgment, and you have rained disappointment down like a sea of arrows. You have scraped his skin, pierced his heart, and did not bury who you wanted him to be.

You are guilty.

You threw your daughter to be eaten by the wolves you fiercely protect. You let her cut her flesh and offer it to others again and again while you sat on anger and expectation and allowed the wolves to feed.  Her skin turned inside out, and you refused to see her. You left her with nothing to hold on to.

You are guilty.

You did not mean to do it.

And so we forgive you.

But we will not live another day this way.

So we will try to be free.

Some of us will learn how to be alone.

Some of us will find each other and live in perpetual grief.

Many of us will not have the strength.

As we fall, please know;

You are guilty

You are guilty

You are guilty.

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.

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.

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.

Sometimes, I Cry Alone in the Night

My previous post touched on the journey my family has been on together. Although we are currently on the same page, my husband and I took different paths and followed forks in the road that sometimes seemed like they would never meet. After the birth of our son, I felt so disconnected from Judaism and lost in my marriage. I felt like I was constantly putting on a show and I was so tired. In the end, it turned out that I had mono. We chalked it up to that and continued on our separate paths until years later when we suddenly bumped into each other again. At the time, I wrote a more cryptic blog post. Looking back, I can still feel that loneliness. I want to share my experience for anyone who is standing opposite someone they love and trying not to break them with their need to be honest. You may feel alone right now, and you may be alone, but there are so many of us alone in the night. When we cry, we cry together.

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I am trying not to hurt him.

It is hard to focus on the content of the words I am forming when he is looking into my eyes with an intensity I have not seen since my eyes met his over the lifeless bundle of cloth that held our firstborn.

It is sorrow.

He is looking at me in sorrow.

I swallow and lower my gaze.

“I’m not sure I believe,” I mumble.

He doesn’t ask me to repeat it. He’s known this for some time now, he just thought it was something I could live with.

I did live with it for a long time. I theorized that if it was all true, I did a great job and if it wasn’t I didn’t hurt anyone. I was fine with the path he wanted. I was fine with the direction that meant I could have family and friends and feel part of the familiar. I was fine with it until I started hurting and then I wasn’t fine with it.

So I tell him.

We are fighting about it now. We are at each other’s core and we are clashing so hard. I am banging on his soul and he is looking away, refusing to see himself reflected in my pain.

I turn inwards. I write because I cannot speak.

Love is not a game for losers…losers make hearts bleed and blister…losers never get it right…

Hearts can get broken… they can shatter… wilt…they can cease to beat…

Dying cries of murdered love…whispered accusations…wordless shame…

Nothing can bring back the sparks that set the fire ablaze…nothing can extinguish the rage…nothing can make this cold fire warm again…

Red-eyed woman…curled on the floor…her heart ripped open…leaking hopes and dreams…soaking her…draining her…sucking the life out of her…

Devil’s laughter rings loud and strong…mocking…mimicking her acts of love…knowing her to be nothing more than an actor giving up on the lead role…an understudy…

She can’t go on…she can’t move…she must give in…to the overwhelming sadness…of the realization that she does not know who this woman is…or what she wants…

He cannot be the man of her dreams…never sweep her off her feet…he will never hear her heart beat full…of love…of life…

His mind stumbles over what is true…and what is perceived…by her…by him…by others…

He wants to understand…he cannot…he will not…

Love is not a game for losers…losers make hearts bleed and blister…losers never get it right…

I am also postpartum and sick so we aren’t going to take me seriously until one day, he tells me he isn’t sure he believes.

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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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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When There Is Nothing Left To Say

There is so much I could say…so much to write about…

I could write about my sister…and her cancer…and what it feels like to be so far away…to be torn between my children and the baby I held in my arms at 14 years old…whispering my secrets to one of my only family members who couldn’t be angry at me…who I knew would never judge me.

I could write about my daughter…and how she has blossomed and regressed at the same time…how third grade is revealing what the course of her school life will look like…how she reminds me of me…at my most vulnerable age…and why that scares me.

I could write about my oldest brother and his grief…his mother-in-law and her table full of guests…how she battled another type of cancer…and lost.

I could write about my other sister…who is taking one day at a time…and trying her best…and how proud I am of her…and how much I wish I believed in prayer so I could get on my knees each day and pray to keep her going.

I could write about yet another sister…who is changing her life…is making emotional sacrifices she never thought she could make…so that she can become the big sister who swoops in and gets things done…perfectly each time…and how I wish I could speak to her every day.

I could write about my sister who is most like me…and so could never be written about…because it would not do justice to who she is…and I could never express how much I miss her anyway.

I could write about my parents…and how I almost lost them…and how I thought that whatever progress was made was never going to be actualized…until cancer came along and changed the direction of the path we had embarked on.

I could write about Israel…and the blood that is spilled…and the daily attacks.

I could write about Europe…and Paris…and Belgium and the United States and Obama and the outrages and the silences and the hypocrisies and double standards.

I could write about it all.

I should.

But I won’t.

Because tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Pain is flowing out of my eyes.

Sorrow is stopping my heart.

This broken world is spinning too fast.

And I can no longer feel enough to breathe.

All I can do is spill it out…through my fingers…onto the keys that form the letters to write…that I have nothing left to say.

Dear Spouses,

Dear, dear spouses

of victims

of survivors

of the broken people…

Thank you.

Thank you for not letting us push you away.

Thank you for seeing past the desperate facade we thought was infallible.

Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to be touched…or can be touched…and adjusting your needs accordingly.

Thank you for remembering not to ask about it.

Thank you for listening to all of it and accepting it

even though you want to kill someone

even though you want to let anger take over and justice prevail.

Thank you for knowing that you just have to embrace it.

Thank you for sleeping on the floor when the bed becomes a trap.

Thank you for letting irrational behaviors slide…

because they make sense…because you get it.

Thank you for never attempting to relate to it.

Thank you for teaching us that we can be loved despite…

in spite…

because.

Thank you for always, always standing by…

through panic…

anxiety…

fear…

shame…

confusion…

delusion…

and hope.

Thank you for waiting for us to come to you.

Thank you for knowing when we are ready.

Thank you for knowing when we aren’t.

Thank you for agreeing to take part in a union we believed we could never deserve.

Thank you so very much…dear, dear spouses…

for loving people…who sometimes doubt the love they are in.

We are grateful for your patience.

We are overwhelmed by your strength.

And we believe in the salvation you offer when you look into our eyes

and show us who we are.