Finding myself in the Middle East

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Past Tense

Want to know the worst thing about him being gone?

Okay, it's not the worst thing about him being gone.

I mean, the worst thing about him being gone is Him, Being, Gone.

But one of the worst things?

That every memory, funny or sweet or otherwise, is laced with him being gone. Even things that were funny are now wouldn't that have been so funny if he wasn't gone...

Every anecdote is coated in a layer of death. You don't get laughter when you tell over the funny story of how one time my father was... You get sad smiles and eyes filled with cloying understanding sweetness of oh, how you must miss him so. And the uncomfortable body language. Shift, shift. As if hiding your living father behind your body. I don't want your living father! Keep him! I just wanted to tell you a funny story!

But when the subject of your story is dead, nothing is just funny.It has gone beyond that earthly emotion. It is now all in the realm of nostalgia.

"My father said that joke all the time! That's so funny that it's also your family joke! We would throw tissues at him! Soooo corny!"


"My parents were also a foot apart in height.My mother had to run to keep up with him when he was strolling."

Tsk, tsk,.

"One time my father picked me up from school and there was that poem on the wall, 'A Smile Costs Nothing,' and he thought it was so amazing that he read the whole thing out loud--really loud--to me as all of my friends were walking out of class. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to sink into the floor."

Ah, yes. A sad dead story about her sad dead father.

No! No! It was funny! And you were just talking about your father embarrassing you, and I said a story about my father embarrassing me, and...and...yeah, okay, let's all shift uncomfortably and talk about recipes.

Also? So many italics in one short post! You know what? It reminds me of that time that my father...

Oh, forget it.

Edited to Add: But for real? Methinks I protest too much.

Because maybe--just maybe--they are picking up on the lurch in my heart that I get whenever I say the name "Abba."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Echo, Echo

Hi, ya'll!

Yeah. So lots happened, but mostly just busy and then my father's deathiversary and then emotional and speechless and then listening to lots of music with tears streaming down my face and new clothing feels SO GOOD! and more busy and then lots of cooking and a little more busy and the kids home and the keys still not being in our hands for the new apartment and then--

here I am!

so thanks for waiting for me!

both of you!

The yartzeit was...well, can I say wonderful? Because I want to say wonderful. I flew in by myself which is the best thing everevereverever--I loaded up my kindle and reeeeeead, I watched Brave (and annoyingly the princess looked like Coco-pop and had an attitude like Princess just when they were totally not leaning on various parts of my body) and The Avengers and I loved it because I am a nerd and that is okay.

I had a stopover in London and there was a Starbucks and I thought, yay! And stood on line for a Soy Chai. But then I wondered off the line and was sad because you travel to a different country. So shouldn't things be, well, different in that different country? Starbucks in England? Seriously? There should be like a Tea and Scones store. Sadness.

And then I went back on the plane and I read some more. Nothing awesome, but it was awesome. Because I was  reading, and no one was saying, "IIIIIIIIIIma!" Just a woman in a uniform and jaunty scarf who said, "Excuse me ma'am, tea or coffee?"

Yes. BOTH.

And then my sister picked me up from the airport and then it hit me! I was going to spend three days with my siblings! It was so wonderful.

So something my father would do for me.

The unveiling left me a little hollow. I flinched when I heard the echoes of my own wails from a year ago, from when they were lowering him into the grave; but the day now was so beautiful and the kids were playing with the rocks in the green grass in the bright sunshine and all I could do was murmur;  "Abba, I miss you. I love you. Your stone is beautiful." My brother spoke and I thought, he speaks like I write. 

The meal was nice; it was only family, as we wanted it, but there's a lot of us, and my other brother spoke and then I handed everyone a book, the book of their memories of our Abba, and I gave my mother the painting that I had had made of my father and all of his words of gratitude painted around him, and then we showed her the slideshow we made of my father and the song about him and I had my arm around her the whole time. We watched it three times.

After things and aunts and uncles petered out, after it was dark outside and the day was over, my brother came downstairs holding a guitar. He strummed and winced. "Needs tuning," he said.

But then we kicked out the brothers-in-law and sat around the living room on chairs and couch and floor and as my brother played guitar with fingers that had lost their calluses over the long year of no music, we sang songs, some new, some old, and then we thought, music! And we turned on some music, and it was good because my father loved music. He used to buy every single Jewish record/tape/CD that came out. And I mean every single one. And he would turn them up loud--so loud!--until the walls shook and we all had no choice but to dance.

It was a short time and a long time all rolled up in one, and when I came back home to my little family, I wasn't sure if I had just seen them a minute ago or lifetimes ago.

So--lots more to say about lots more stuff, but I'll leave you with what I wrote in my chapter of the book that we put together about my father.


For the brave souls who stuck around!

Both of you!


It’s been, always, until it stopped. It’s like when someone turns off the music and only then do you realize that it had been playing the entire time. And in the sudden absence of sound you startle and say, what’s that?
What’s that?
It’s your heart, Abba. It’s the beating of your heart.  
  Your heart is, of course, legendary.  It’s the first thing referred to when someone tries to explain what kind of person you were. My gentle, giving Abba, bringing home strangers in the middle of the night because they had no place to go is just one example of how you viewed  our home and all material things; in terms of how they can be shared. Everyone can recite the rest. You read stories and we would wait for the moment when your voice would crack, stop; and then one of us would run to get you the tissues. The tzeduka you gave to strangers. The love that you had for your family and the loose definition you had for family. All that you did came from your heart.
But I’m also talking about your heart. Your actual, beating heart.
It was because of a song, an Uncle Moishy song, a song that frightened me. It was a scary song. (It was!) A boy had a messy room, and he would not clean it up. Because of the mess he lost his bed, and his head, and other things that rhymed with “ed,” (bread?) and I am sure the moral was simply; clean your room, boys and girls! But I didn't hear the lesson; instead, I saw the boy in my mind, as lost and as scared as I was then, a little girl for whom people and events moved too fast, a little girl who wondered, bewildered, how everyone else seemed to know the secret language of making friends while she was left to doodle, read, and dream.
The other day, as my kids colored with their new markers, we had an Uncle Moishy marathon playing in the background. When The Song went on, I cast a sideways glance at my daughters, and saw that they were laughing.
“Ima, it’s so silly! He lost his head!” Princess said.
 “He lost his head! So silly!” Coco-pop echoed.
So silly! I agreed, and laughed with them. And I didn't tell them that when I was little that idea scared me so much, I would make sure never to be in the room when the first song of the tape (record?) began to play.
Except that one time.
I’m not sure why I stayed. I think because it was cozy. Ima was there, and Abba was sitting on the brown chair in the middle of the room. Everyone else was perched on chairs, couch, carpet; teasing, laughing, singing. It was something to be a part of, I guess, something I wanted to be a part of.
When the song came on, I panicked. “Turn it off,” I said softly, then louder. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” but no one listened. No one heard me. I felt the smallness of myself, of my voice, and I knew that they would never hear me, least of all if I screamed.  So I tried to run. I heard their laughter, because honestly, how silly! And halfway down the hall I felt my legs turn to jelly, and I fell.
But this is a story about your heart Abba, not about the fears of a small girl who has long ago outgrown them, so it’s really about what happened next.
You picked me up and carried me to the brown chair in the middle of the room and you let me cry against your chest and I did cry; I sobbed, unable to catch my breath, my heart beating wildly, until I heard it. The slow, steady beating of your heart. It was like a port in the storm. It was the most comforting sound in my world, and I leaned into your chest and let my heart listen to your heart until they matched in tempo.
And I was little, but I thought, that’s why I stayed here today.
I knew that everything happens for a reason. And that everything was going to be all right.
I listened to your heart again, when I was older and I could not accept how sick you were getting. It hurt me, what was happening to my strong and handsome Abba, and you saw how deeply it hurt me. And so you apologized. You pulled your wheelchair alongside me. “I’m sorry,” you said, and I opened my mouth to say sorry? Why are you sorry? I’m sorry! But instead of words, out came a flood of tears. I covered my mouth with my hand but they wouldn’t stop. I leaned into you, and heard it; your steady, patient heartbeat. I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, and gradually my heartbeat slowed down to match yours.
Everything happens for a reason. Everything is going to be alright.
And it’s been, always, in your voice, and then when you had no voice, in your eyes. Even when I was 6,000 miles away, and I wrote letters to you, and Ima would call me and say, “I read it to him, and he’s smiling.” And I would hear it through the phone lines; your heart, Abba; the beating of your heart.
When it slowed and stopped, it happened so suddenly. It was me, Y and M around the hospital bed, and we knew that viddui was to be said when it was almost over, and then suddenly Y asked, “Now? Should I say vidui now?”
And I got angry. He’s not gone yet!  “Not yet! Y! Wait until he is almost—!”
“D,” Y said, “Look at the monitor.”
And Y said viddui as your heart slowed, stopped. And we sang “mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha” as your heart slowed, stopped. And something in me slowed, stopped as your heart slowed...and stopped.

I guess I just couldn't believe it. I guess I could not believe that it was possible for that heartbeat to ever, ever stop.
I grieved its loss—your loss—all year. But you left your heart here, down here, with us, didn't you? As more people tell their stories of you and as I remember my own, I can almost hear it; its slow and steady beat, telling me that everything happens for a reason. And that everything is—and is going to be—alright.


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