Finding myself in the Middle East

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The rain fell in sheets out the window next to his bed.

"It's so..." my mother began, searching for the word "appropriate."

"Corny?" I supplied. "I know. I already told G-d."

We all laughed until tears came. It was so corny, the rain, on the day my father died.

My brother said viduy and my sister and I sang his favorite passuk--mitzvah gedolah l'hiot b'simcha--it's a big mitzvah to always be happy--as the line that was his heart went flat. His face did not change as he died. Nothing changed. It had just been his heart--as always--that had been keeping him alive.

And it is his heart that we will remember.

And the fact that cliche as it is, as he died, the angels cried.

Friday, September 23, 2011


We sing a lot to him. The nurses don't mind; not in this ward. We sing the old songs, the ones we grew up with. The ones we remember dancing to with him after Havdala every motzeh Shabbas. I say tehilim and daven slowly, carefully, because there is no rush. I have no where to go other than this room.

This time that I have with him is an unexpected treasure, one last gift from him. So I tell him everything. I tell him about my hopes for the future. I tell him about my plans for now. I tell him about my pitfalls,how my selfishness gets in the way of me being who I want to be and how I want to be more like him and my mother.

People come and go, speaking in hushed whispers. My family is loud and we laugh a lot. Some visitors do not know what to make of this, the laughing vigil, and honestly, I don't know what to make of it. It has been one of the strangest weeks of my life. His eyes look lifeless, but his soul is here, right? We are sad, but remember when...? ends in ringing laughter.

He is here. He is not here. I want him to live forever. I want him to go, it's just too much pain in a lifetime of pain. The vaccant eyes,so dry from being open for days at a time, the mouth a hole where his smile used to be, and the feeling that he hears every word I am saying...

I call my daughters, ask them about their day. They sound so mature on the phone. They ask for presents. I promise presents. I am 6,00 miles away from them promising gifts and love and then hanging up on my children while I am walking the streets of New York arm in arm with my sisters waiting for my father to die.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The day did not pass in a blur. It passed slowly, slowly, a microscosm of his illness of the past 24 years. I got the phone call, crumpled. But then the flight was not until one in the morning, and it was only three in the afternoon. I sat down, had a cup of water. It squirmed it my belly for a while. Then I packed, cleaned up from lunch, cleaned up from not lunch, did laundry, did more laundry, did more laundry than was neccessary, rearranged the toys, sponga-ed the apartment, sponga-ed the hallway outside the aprtment, sponga-ed the steps in the building, took out the garbage.

Time passed slowly, slowly, and I had tea and a few crackers. The baby squirmed and wiggled and cried the whole flight, and I had this wierd resentment of him, of Outdoorsman, of everyone on the flight who was not my mother. Which was everyone. We landed and we inched along in the painfully slow traffic.

My mother called.

"He's still here, D." she said.


"He's waiting for you."

But he was not waiting for me. Or at least, he was not only waiting for me. Because I hugged him and kissed him and cried and told him I was here and I love him. His mouth gaped, bloodied and sore. His eyes were opened, glazed and unseeing. Or maybe seeing everything.

But still, he waited. Still, he is waiting. For everyone to be there? For no one to be there?

He shouldn't be here, the doctor says. No one can live with failed kidneys and their lungs filling with blood. He is brain dead, he said. He had two cardiac arrests and is bleeding out from everywhere. He is not really breathing, the machine is.

Don't unplug him, came the startling answer from the rav. Do everything you can to keep him alive.

Is he alive? I know his neshama is here, hovering over his bed. Hovering over us all. I keep feeling like he is going to turn to me while I am whispering in his ear and say, boo!

But he won't. So we wait. And wait. While I write slow Frank O'Hara poetry in my head and keep taking showers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Things are Seldom what They Seem

I was sitting in the back corner of the room, attempting to decorate the little bag that was sitting in front of me for my daughter with puff paints that were either clogged or explosive, while at the same time trying to hear what the Morah was saying.

I failed at both tasks. The little bag looked like it had been done by paint balloon tossing chimpanzees, and I did not understand a word that the Morah was saying.

Well, a word. Or two. Just enough to frustrate the uncomfortable shaitel right off my head. Now I will talk about the schedule, she said, smiling. And then she switched towhat i can only assume was a kind of hebrew that is only spoken in mystical mountain-top caves. I divided my attention between her and the bag, willing myself to comprehend what she was saying. I could not make out a single word. Was my mind on screen saver? Did I have a little mini nervous breakdown and my word comprehension is now compromised forever? That would totally stink. I sunk into a depression and added a black flower on the bag. It is very important, she added twenty minutes later, and I jerked my head up from the ruins of the little bag, relieved that she had decided to switch back to conventional hebrew. It is very important to--Then she lapsed back into gibberish.

I sat there in my six year-old daughter's tiny little chair and listened to a woman speak in a completely foreign language. My hebrew is pretty stinky, but this was a nightmare. I had no idea if she said anything important. I have no idea if she sat there for three hours and made fun of all my blood relatives and called me fat and imcompetent.

This is ridiculous, I though furiously as I stabbed a puff paint in the general direction of the little bag. First grade is hard enough. How I am I going to do this? How can I have a daughter in a classroom and have no idea how to communicate with the teacher? For that matter, how can I do this is in this foreign country that thinks it's okay to put forty girls in one classroom and forces me to dress in a way that makes me feel like I'm choking?

I glared at all of the cute pictures decorating the walls and shot daggers of death at the paint slobbered bag on the desk. I couldn't do this. Why did I think that i could do this? I couldn't.

I would pack, I thought, and get tickets. We could live near my parents and I would finish school. My kids would speak English and I could communicate with their teachers. I wouldn't feel like a moron with my neighbors and I would be able to express myself if someone cut me in line instead of what i do here, namely, open my mouth and it keep it that way, like a dying fish.

I began to sweat, and I scratched angrily at my shaitel. I hate shaitels. There is no reason I should have to wear one.

When it was finally all over, I walked on shaky legs out the door, glad to put some distance between me and the work of art I left on the desk. An American Israeli friend of mine had a car, and offered me a ride. I accepted. She smiled at me. "Can you kind of summarize," I blurted to her on the way to her parking spot, "what the morah said? I didn't really--"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh gosh, the morah talks a mile a minute. I hope she slows down for the girls. I'm a fluent Hebrew speaker, and I didn't understand a word that she said."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


My life is as full as their tiny bedroom
But I only feel the pain of my toe hitting the crib (again)
I bite back a scream, and one sits up, blinking--
"Ima, I had a good dream," she says.

But I only feel the pain of my toe hitting the crib (again)
And bitterness seeps in like a draft
"Ima, I had a good dream," she says.
I am warm, warm enough now.

And bitterness seeps in like a draft
The window is old, but we bought curtains.
I am warm, warm enough now,
My fingers thawed, my heart tentative.

We are mirrors, I know.
I bite back a scream and one sits up, blinking--
And I catch my breath.
My life is as full as their tiny bedroom.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beautiful Angel

I am so sorry about all the sad posts. I was going to write a really cute one about all the things that Coco-pop has been coming up with lately, but then my father goes and almost dies, so that killed that mood.

He didn't have a pulse for a half hour, and after they got it back, my mother signed, for the first time, a DNR. Do not revive. So next time may be the last time.

Whenever I get down on life and people and the clay feet that my heroes inevitably have, I think about my mother and her great, all encompassing love for life. There are all these super corny songs and poems about love being the answer, love making the world go 'round, love being the only cure, and you know what? It's true. Love is the only thing that makes this world bearable. Love makes everything better. Life is for love. Love can keep people alive. My father is a case in point. (which, when you think about it, makes no sense. He is in a case. And we are pointing at him? I'm not sure exactly what that expression means.)

And sometimes love means saying, enough. Sometimes love means knowing when to let go.

I'm so glad and grateful for the chance to have seen him this summer, even though half the time he didn't know that I was there. He is not of this world, even though his love and my mother's love combined keeps him here. I don't know how much longer a physical world can hold within it a beautiful angel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Royal Blood

"You hate confrontation, right? You avoid it at all costs."

I do. I hate it. I avoid it at all costs. I nodded my head at the Rabbi. Yes, that's me.

"So you get frustrated when you butt heads with your daughter. You are too affected by it. You need to remain calm. You're the kind of person that is very affected by music," he said.

"Yeah, I guess--"

"So you should always have it playing in your house. It's calming for you and for her."

I nodded. Actually, Outdoorsman had said that we should always have classical music playing. It was a good idea. The Rabbi continued. "And sleep and eat properly. And make sure that you are completely calm when you pick her up from school. You have to always be in control, even though you want to give in to her to avoid confrontation."

I nodded. Beside me, Outdoorsman was silent. He hates this kind of hocus pocus thing. I could almost hear him thinking, "Rabbi, just give us advice on how to help Princess be happy. Leave out all the "you are the kind of person" nonsense. You don't know us. Just help our daughter."

I kept my eyes bright and animated, and nodded to the Rabbi again. "What exactly do I say in the moment when she is all out of control?"

He answered, and I nodded. Say more things, I was thinking. Say more things about me. Figure me out. Tell me the thing that will make me say, "OOOh. NOW I know what it is that I have to do to be the perfect wife and mother.

When I was little, I used to dream that I was a princess. Now, I know all little girls do, but maybe not for the same reason. I felt different from everyone, and I thought--maybe if I actually turn out to really be different--a princess!--it would explain everything. It would explain me.

I guess I still have a little bit of that waiting-for-the-princess-phone-call in me. I guess I spent my whole life waiting for the magic word--Open Sesame!--that would make it all come clear.

On the way home from the Rabbi's office,we laughed a little, because everything that the Rabbi had said--and it had all been good stuff, and we needed to know that we were doing everything we can for Princess--but everything was Love and Logic (which is a wonderful parenting model) and it was everything that I knew. Even the hocus-y pocus-y stuff. I know I don't like confrontation. I know my soul needs music. I know I need to eat well and sleep to function. He spoke magic words, and guess what? They were already in my vocabulary. I had already had that phone call.

I'm still waiting, and I guess I'll be waiting a long time, because there is no magic word. It's hard work. I have to stay calm and centered and be focused and on. I have to live in the here and now and continue the journey of loving where I am living. I have to eat well and sleep well, and turn on the music and dance with my daughter. And it's a dance that is two steps forward, one step back.

Hard work vs. ballgowns. Tough one.

I think I'd still rather be a princess, but maybe a close second is learning every day a little more how to mother a Princess.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If Not Now, Then Soon

Yesterday I shocked myself into silence. Yesterday I found myself so at odds with myself that I sent everyone to bed early just so I can sort it out. And then didn't and went on the internet and lulled myself into a space of unthinking calm.

Yesterday I was so angry and embarrassed at my own daughter that I shrieked at her like a crazy person and yanked her to her room by her wrist, holding on to her so tightly I left a red ring on her skin.

The night ended with Coco-pop in the hospital (she's fine now,but that's another post)so it kind of slid out of my mind, and more importantly, out of Princess' mind. But it happened, and I sat down afterwards at my computer desk, thinking, I am the worst mother ever. I never should have had children. While in her room, Princess howled, "It is NOT kidei to be your CHILD! You are a silly SILLY Ima!"

I felt silly. I also felt overwhelmed and speechless. And other big words conoting my general incompetence and lack of available word power. She had hit me repeatedly in the park, in front of everyone, because I said that we were not having yogurt for dinner; we were having chicken. Red-faced, I spoke to her calmly and told her we do not hit our Ima, but she was overtired and out of control. I marched her home, calm on the outside but my heart was beating so hard I felt the blood in my face. As soon as we got inside my building, I lost it.

I regained it as soon as I got inside my apartment and could put the four thousand pound baby and the packages down and drink a cup of vodka and orange juice water. It was a moment, the loss of control, the wishing she was not there and I was anywhere else, the world turning red,but it's happened before. Not for real, but in my head. We are going to the park, and they are pouring water on my newly washed floor. The baby poops through his clothes. The girls fight for a half hour before going to sleep.

And each time this relatively minor thing happens, (on a scale of one to ten, one being an ice-cream cone and ten being the holocaust, I never rank more than a two. I need a different scale.) I think, I got things I want--no need--to do. I gotta write/clean/cook/have a cup of coffee. I want--no, need--to have a little time to think, and little time to myself. And THEY are keeping me from that.

I bumped into a friend of mine today in front of the supermarket. She was putting packages into the bottom of her double stroller while her kids spilled yogurt on the top. I was going home, in the opposite direction

"Princess," I called. "Let's GO. We have to get going."

This friend of mine is a calm soul with a beautiful wonderful smile. She is always looking at her children with this dreamy kind of look. "I love you," she always says to them, wonder in her eyes at their existance. "I love you," she said to them now as the yogurt dribbled into the bottom of the stroller, making sticky little smears all over the eggs, milk and apples.

"Princess," I said again. I watched the yogurt pooling in the carriage basket. I would have yanked the kids, out, scrubbed the whole thing, sighed a martyr's sigh and put them back in, promising no yogurt for a week. In a calm voice, with my heart pounding, thinking, we have to GO.

This friend looked at me. "Where are you going?"

"Home," I said, frowning at Princess who was fiddling with her bike. "I want to put them in early, because school starts tomorrow."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea. But it's only five o'clock."

"I know, I just--you know, dinner, bath, clean-up--it takes time. So we gotta go. Princess!" She started walking towards me, and we sighed identical sighs.

"We should probably go, too," she said. She eyed her yogurt covered clan. She smiled; her eyes went dreamy. "You know what my mother says to me. She says,--pointing at her stroller full of sticky progeny-- this is your destination."

And it's corny but oh is she right. I'm anxious to get to the park, but why can't the fun time start now, on the way? I want them to sleep, but I don't even enjoy myself if I resort to lazer eyes to get them to behave. The dishes get done. So does the laundry. I even get my cup of amareto coffee.

She was so disrespectful, but instead of making me pause and think--what should I do, how do I respond to this in the here and now--it made me furious.

What is my rush? Why am I so upset? Why am I hurrying them up? Where am I going?

They are right here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...