Oh The Places I’ve Come From

“Cleveland, Cleveland, convention in Cleveland….Convention ‘97 will last forever……”

Ringing in my ears as an unwanted memory, the BY Convention song my mother wrote fourteen years ago plays in my head like a broken record.  I guess she got it right – about it lasting forever and ever and ever…but how I wish it would shut up…

Convention ‘97 was pretty uneventful when I think about it from here, but a bit of a commotion of any kind in Cleveland…well, that’s something to write about.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio with real Brooklyn parents was a special sort of hell.  I needed to counteract the utter humiliation I experienced as an immigrant, so I worked hard on my accent and attitude.  By the time I hit third grade I could pass for a bona fide Clevelander.

When we would visit family on the other side of Pennsylvania my accent would thicken a bit, just to make sure I never forgot who I was.  It gave me great pride to be mocked by my New Yorker cousins as they chanted, “the baaaaaaaall in the haaaaaaaaaalllll hit the waaaaaallllll”.  White knee socks and sneakers with my denim skirt sealed the Out-Of-Town look.

I absolutely loved Cleveland.  I loved our house with the creaky stairs that had once been covered in bright red carpeting.  I loved the kitchen ceiling with the special opening that went up into the floor of the bathroom closet, making passing down medicine or bandaids so much easier – despite the constant drip when someone was in the shower.  I loved the laundry chute we would use as an intercom when we weren’t busy trying to unclog it.  I loved the attic with it’s sloping ceiling and the basement with it’s musty smell.  I loved our eccentric neighbors.  I loved the fact that I could get up three minutes before school started and still be on time.  I loved the Japanese crossing guard who, in retrospect, was probably a crackhead, and how she called me Broccoli and cackled.  I loved Kinneret Pizza and Gloria, the woman who used to tell on us when we tried to use the bill unauthorized.  I loved the hallways in Hebrew Academy and the auditorium with the awkward shaped chairs.  I loved my class.  I loved my friends.  I loved my life.

I thought I would never leave Cleveland.  I would have my year in Israel, where I would change slightly but bounce back after six months home, and then I would marry and settle down in good ol’ Cleveland.  My children would go to HAC and I would be the model Cleveland story.

The hitch was my parents.  In the back of my mind, I always knew Cleveland was a temporary idea for them.  It was as though they set out to break the bubble that surrounded C-Town.  They wanted to make changes.  Who would want to change Cleveland?  I mean, c’mon!

Well, the time came for the inevitable, and we moved.  I was fifteen.  I was really, really pissed.  I mean, like really, really, really, really pissed.

So away we went to the *gulp* Armpit of America and found a horrible shell of a house that was too new and too square.  And it didn’t help that it was in Lakewood…..NJ…..yeah, that’s right…

There I was, Miss Cleveland and proud of it, in a situation nothing in my life could have ever prepared me for.

It was the end of summer.  It was hot.  We were bored.  So we (me and all my siblings plus some cousins we now had to affiliate ourselves with because we were no longer OOT) took out all the riding gear we could find and biked to the main street in search of entertainment.  Not finding any, we stopped in at the local bagel store so get drinks before heading home.  Waiting on line was the principal of the school I was going to.  She inquired about me, my family and other humorless subjects and offered me a ride home.  I shrugged off her gesture and explained my bike and tag-along kids.  She raised her eyebrows.  Then she tilted her head and in a very patronizing voice proceeded to say that she is sure I didn’t know, and of course she’ll let it go this time, but it is really against the rules to…..ride a bike.

Obviously we had different ideas on life, and the school and I decided to end things early on.

By Channukah time I was back in Cleveland.

Only….it wasn’t really Cleveland.  It couldn’t be Cleveland.  Cleveland was good, and kind and wonderful.  What I experienced over the next year and a half was excruciating and shameful.  I was uncomfortable all the time.  I was misunderstood.  I had no one to talk to.  I was hurting so incredibly BADLY and NO ONE EVEN NOTICED!  Because, in Cleveland, the world is nice and rosy.  There are no bad people.  Everyone is trustworthy.  Everyone is one big family.  Everyone is safe.

I got out when I could.  I found someone, in faraway New York, who knew that people hurt other people.  He got the message across to those who needed to know, and my father came to pick me up.  I threw my things into garbage bags and ran for my life.

Years later I heard the rumors.   I joined Hells Angels.  I eloped.  I was pregnant.  I was crazy…

No one EVER called.  No one cared to find out where I disappeared to.

My utopia crashed around me viciously.  My hopes, dreams and aspirations ceased to exist and I found myself standing in Israel one day, with no place else to be, completely and utterly lost.

Now, after years of a search-and-rescue mission that has proved to be fairly successful, I sing the stupid Cleveland song and I wish it had never been.

Break The Chain

Newness smells like cheap plastic and styrofoam chips mixed with cardboard and a hint of pine. It fills my nostrils with each breath I take, embracing me with memories.

Moving again, and this time it WILL be better. I pack methodically and neatly to begin with, although I know I will start losing momentum and the boxes will tell on me. My meager possessions lessen as I throw out clothes I thought I would wear and cherished knick-knacks I no longer wish to remind me of their meanings. I make lists of what I don’t have and pretend to need, although I made do without them here. I am excited this time, as I always am and always soon forget. This is going to be it. I am going to plant my feet firmly on the ground I will shortly be on and no one will be able to uproot me. I will build my family there, make friends, be neighborly and never let anyone or anything send me packing. I smile as my last ten boxes get their ‘random’ label and bulky frame. All will be well.

And then…moving again, and this time it WILL be better.

I am shaken out of my waking dream by the whiff of dust and mold creeping out from under the covered counters. I look around my tiny abode, clean and ready, and find myself contemplating all my mistakes.

We never should have taken such a small place, maybe if we had more room we would have been happier here. We should have lived more central, or in the other part of town, where we would have more interaction with other people. And maybe we should have tried harder.

I sit down, overwhelmed by my wandering mind, and hold my heart gently and carefully. I will not let my thoughts bully me into hurting my fragile beating friend. My feelings soothed, I close my eyes and do the only thing I know I can do.

I change.

Moving again, and this time will be no different from the last. I will pack in my usual manner. I will be excited. I will look forward to the challenges to come. I will acknowledge my introversive nature and will not seek friends through the park, mall or supermarket. I will likely be happy at first, although I must have a strategy to combat my restlessness. I will make it work by not trying so hard to make it work.

My eyes open in curious wonder.  I feel something lift off my aching shoulders as my mind works its way around me. I place my heart back where it belongs and tell it my new train of thought. The answering steady beat means we have united to reach one entire understanding.

I am at ease.

I am free.