The Prison Cells We Hide In

I always struggled to maintain friendships with women. It was easier for me to hang out with men. I knew exactly how to talk to them, how to act around them and was confident in my direct approach.

Women scared me. We always seemed to be hurting each other. The idea of a united front, working to overcome inequality and patriarchy as a tsunami of feminine strength seemed implausible.

Over time, I learned how to approach female relationships. It requires a real effort for me to connect with other women, even though it sometimes seems futile. The few friends I did manage to make are extraordinarily patient with me. I know that I wrap myself in yellow tape and dare them to try.

And then #metoo and #timesup happened, and I saw women emerging from their own prison. I dipped a toe in at first, wanting to test the waters I couldn’t trust. But I fell in hard. I found myself swimming in a school, sometimes wildly as though being chased, but most times with direction and purpose. Every once in a while, coming up for air, I saw some of what I knew deep down was still there; we weren’t all prepared for this.

The other day a woman called out from her prison and she got swarmed. There was a pounding on her door, a demand for her to open up, and I saw that there are cracks that are widening.

We need each other. But we need to tunnel into each prison and sit a moment inside. We need to see her space, feel her boundaries, and hold her hand when she decides she wants it to be held. Then we can be the force that will break us free.

This is what my prison looked like. It’s empty most of the time now. If you ever see me inside, come in through the back door I hide behind my unsmiling eyes. I’ll be waiting for you.

* * * * *

I keep the women in my life at bay.

Held off by my rigid tone, they circle for a moment before wandering away.

I don’t blame them.

The door is bolted and covered in skulls.

I am not very inviting.

I throw a line, teasing it a bit before I reel it in.

My words fall from my tongue with force I don’t even try to control. I am unbridled, wild and free in this prison I have constructed from the rubble of my demolished childhood.

It is warm in here.

I touch the splintering walls, piercing my fingertips with rusting nails. Watching the blood flow, I patch the roof where sunlight dares to shine through.

It is stifling in here.

Betrayals decompose in heaps strewn about the floor. Expectation died here long ago. The stench of rotting dreams reminds me not to close my eyes.

It is burning in here.

The men who knock are well received. I learned to navigate their world the moment I heard one moan. They trip over the warning signs. They don’t understand the game I play. They take me as I am; as I project myself to be.

I host them in the darkness. There is nothing here for them to see.

Lingering outside for a moment, the women stare through the glass walls of my prison where I meet their gaze with my empty plea.

Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and me

I was too young then… too small and insignificant to understand what bravery looks like… to know the pain of disbelief…

I was too young to see her… too young to be moved to act on her behalf.

I was not young enough to escape her fate.

9,853 days should be long enough to figure this out.

9,853 days should be time enough to change.

And yet here I am… 9,853 days older and more broken than I ever knew I could be, watching history repeat itself while my heart pounds in fear and my voice falls back into my constricted throat.

I was too young to feel the waves. I was too young to see the rippling effect.

I was not young enough to tell the truth. I was not young enough to report, report, report!

I was too young to find the common thread that wove through our private places in secret spaces where demons like to graze.

9,853 days ago happened again today. Too young then… too scared now to let this moment pass.

I am brave enough to take a stand.

I am strong enough to carry this.

I am weary enough to scream for an end.

I am no longer letting warrior queens fight alone against a revolving world of lines so blurred they turn into laughing devil emojis flying out from the fingertips of some damn internet goblin who hides his masculinity beneath the desperate urges of his groin.

I say enough.

I say it louder and clearer and a hell of a lot meaner than I’ve ever said it before.

I say time’s up, and I mean today because the clock kept ticking for 9,853 days even though the brake was pulled by so many broken bodies and tortured souls.

I say we change our rhetoric and up our ante and refuse to remain the children we were when the alarm bells were ringing, and we went out to play because we were too young to have a say in what our future would bring.

Today I am old enough to know that my children are not too young to add their voices to the scream that will tear down the fabric wrapping the illusion of change these past 9,853 days tricked us into believing was real.

Join me. Stop the clock and reset time. Change the direction this crazy train is on. And let’s see what we can do when we stop holding our breath and rise out of these ashes.

I am Anita Hill.

I am Christine Blasey Ford.

And you will hear me roar.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep…That Is Not A Question

Shavuot.

That little holiday no one ever focuses on.  The one where we celebrate receiving the Torah.  The one where we eat cheesecake because someone thought it would be a nice cultural addition to a Jewish holiday.  The one where I’m supposed to keep the kids quiet all morning so my husband can sleep after an entire night learning.  The one I’m not supposed to resent because, as a woman, I should be happy accepting that I don’t NEED to learn or that I can get my portion of Torah through my husband’s learning or that I can learn plenty of things other than Gemorah…

Well, guess what?

Not working…non of that…

Want to know why?

Because my husband won’t be staying up all night.  Not this year.  Not after years and years of frustration and anger every Shavuot night.

Want to know why?

Because when he was a little boy and was supposed to be learning the Aleph-Bet in order to read all those big books he was eventually going to be learning all Shavuot night, he was getting hit.

That’s right.

Smacked around by the teacher because he got the word wrong…or got distracted…or made a joke…or because the teacher was mad at his wife or kids…

So now he can’t make much sense of the letters that were beaten into him and doesn’t want to stay up all night getting depressed.

And me?

I’m a woman…a second-class citizen according to the Torah and don’t you dare try to pacify me with your theories.  And yeah, when I was a kid my father was upset that his sons didn’t want to learn with him, even as I begged to be taught because learning with me was a favor to me while learning with the boys was a commandment.  It’s ok…I don’t want to learn now anyway…I just don’t want you to make me feel like I’m supposed to dance with joy that there’s a holiday to celebrate receiving something that sits on my shoulders like the yoke that it is…something that is not always wonderful and beautiful…something that sometimes makes me feel dirty…small…insignificant and sometimes very lonely.

I’m Jewish because I was born Jewish.

I’m religious because I can’t not be – and believe me, I tried…

I’ve been taught that when the Jews said “we will do, and we will hear” all our souls joined in, regardless of whether or not they were in bodily form.  Well, I’m not sure that’s true.  I don’t think I was there.  I don’t feel like I was there.  I’m pretty sure no one measured someone’s worth in pages then…or thought that it didn’t matter if you were a nice person or a total shmuck as long as you knew how to learn…or said that someone who learned a lot knew about science and math and philosophy…I’m pretty sure people just accepted something with a willingness to explore it and see how it would work for them.

So if I was there most of the people I hear talking were at a different event…not my Matan Torah…

I’m about to end my sarcastic, painful and resentful rant.

Just know this.

My husband is a good person, a learned person, a highly intelligent human being with a great grasp on reason.

I am his wife – his equal, his partner…

And we’re going to be sleeping this Shavuot night, probably full of cheesecake because a little culture doesn’t kill anyone, and we are not going to let all of this get us down.

So there!