The other side of fear

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When I left the little house on the tree-lined street, I didn’t say goodbye. I had room left in my suitcases; I didn’t take all of my things. Although a part of me knew that it might be goodbye, I couldn’t face it until I found myself in the embrace of my family and friends. I could barely envision a month without him, let alone a lifetime.

I had struggled with depression since the onset of my teenage years, a black cloud coming out of nowhere, knocking me to my knees. The blackness enshrouded everything, I couldn’t see beyond it, it bore down on me like a ton of bricks, making every movement difficult. He would lift me out of bed, hold my hand, lead me to the shower, turn the water on, wait for it to be just right. When he would close the door, I would fall to the floor, my head between my knees, the running water pounding down into me, masking my sobs.

It wasn’t all the time, yes? It happened once, maybe twice, a year. Like someone pushed me brusquely over the edge, and there I was tumbling down into this black abyss, falling, falling, falling, with nothing to hold on to. Read more…

Like a thousand knives

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Eight years into our relationship, I met him at the door with the same yearning to dig my fingers deep into his flesh, to get beneath his skin, that overtook me when I first set eyes on him. We had New York at our feet, big and glamorous and dirty and sophisticated and raw. Its buildings towering, crowds pulsing through its streets pumped with adrenaline. West and across the George Washington bridge and we were in a land of mountains and lakes and incredible panoramic views of the city; east and we found ourselves on the edge of the Atlantic, the sand bluffs soft and tinged with patches of wild grasses, the ocean stretching out limitlessly into the horizon. Read more…

All twisted into each other

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A year ago today he drove me to the airport. He got out of the car, opened the trunk, leaned in, pulled out a large red suitcase and then another, placing them on one of those airport trolleys, the suitcases weightless in his arms. I leaned against the trolley, watching him, and he stepped towards me, pulling me in by the waist, enveloping me in his arms. And I was engulfed in his scent, and the faint stubble on his cheeks, and those thick, muscular arms of his that made me weak in the knees. And as I lost myself in his kiss, I grasped for him, for his love, for him to fight for me, to fight for us.

And as I walked away, steadying myself against the trolley handles, I was terrified and lost and undecided and so lonely and so deeply sad, and I missed him so much already, and it felt like someone had plunged their hands deep into my chest and tore out my heart.

And it all twisted into each other: my excitement to see my family and friends, and the birth of my newest nephew, and my paralyzing fear of flying that had me postponing my flight until I could do so no longer, and this kiss from this man, my husband, whom I loved, and whom I had loved with all of my heart, with all of my being, for the past eight years; and the fact that I partly knew, but could not yet fully acknowledge, that I was not going back. Read more…

The reality of it

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My grandmother now lives in a geriatric facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s. When I visit her, she’s parked in a sea of wheelchairs in a large common dining hall, with low ceilings and a large, cloudy fish-tank, and it reminds me of when I used to visit old age homes with my elementary school and sing to them from that odd, classic repertoire that appeals to both the very young and the very old. I pause as I enter, wondering if she’ll still recognize me. So far, she does. She wears a belt tying her to her wheelchair, because otherwise she’ll get up– and fall. The other day, she ripped up her belt, and when my mother arrived a few hours later, she told her frantically that it wasn’t her, but the rabbi in the long white coat. I arrive that evening, and I ask her how her day was, and she tells me they accused her of tearing up her belt, but no, it wasn’t her, not at all.

I sit beside her as she eats her dinner, and I fight back my anger at how she treats my mother; at how she treated her since she was a little girl; at how she’s treating her now, when all her defenses are down, and the speech flows uncensored. I watch her, struggling with her knife and fork, and I soften myself, speak to her gently, hold her hand. I see her, defenseless, in a country where she doesn’t speak the language, in a foreign environment; in this total loss of control; in this complete, absolute dependence. And I grasp for a love that’s big and generous and greater than me- greater than a tallying of accounts, that can contain my anger and resentment and the deep, century-old betrayal that quivers and quakes beneath my lineage. Read more…

A dramatic unraveling

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The earth blows out a large exhale of breath, lifting up sand in a big swoosh across the level plain right through our group, causing us to turn one by one, bringing our hands up to shield our eyes, like a giant corkscrew. A soft-spoken 18-year-old unfolds a laminated map, holds it up, guides us to the right. I look at him in wonder bordering on disbelief, there isn’t so much as a mountain or a tree in sight, what kind of marker does he have for this collective turn? Soon, large, windswept expanses give way to mountains emerging on all sides, majestic, statuesque, imposing; and I forget the bag weighing heavily on my shoulders, the sun beating down on my arms, on the tips of my cheeks.

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I walk and my mind empties itself. Of the to-do lists, the endless tasks, the chatter, the routine scheduling of time: clean the house, do laundry, finish, finish, finish, meet for coffee, do dishes, return calls, answer emails. The desert rolls out endlessly, with its sparse palette of beiges and browns, and my mind shifts gears, slowing into park. Read more…

On days like these

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1. I’m at a dinner party and there are a bunch of new faces. The conversation floats around from politics to economics to dating. I’m quiet. Every now and then I say something to one of the guests whose views on all three make me recoil. We move to the living room, where we eat molten chocolate cakes with scoops of vanilla ice cream, the insides of the cakes warm and gooey, the ice cream soft, cold, melting. More people have joined us and a few conversations are going on simultaneously. Did he really just say that all women harbor secret fantasies of being raped? What the hell is wrong with him? One of the guests asks if I’m quiet because I’ve had too much to drink or because I have nothing to say.

2. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking,” he says, looking at me like I’m a riddle he can’t solve. “Say something,” he says. “I’m listening to you,” I say, leaning forward. There’s a lull in our conversation and I look at him, reflecting. He rushes to fill it in. “It’s ok to just be quiet,” I say. “Try it.” It happens again shortly after, and you can tell he’s making an effort to settle into it, but he’s uncomfortable, and he starts laughing nervously. After that, I become self-conscious when it gets quiet- I’m aware of his discomfort and it makes me uneasy.

3. I’m at a restaurant with friends; the décor is clichéd Greek: pots hang from the ceiling, straw garlands with fake garlic adorn the bar. The ocean glimmers darkly beyond the glass enclosure; clusters of people talk loudly around us. I’ve just come back from visiting my grandmother, and I’m still processing the visit. I probably should have canceled. But I stopped at home; changed; went out anyways. We’re sitting on backless stools, drinking wine and eating artichoke hearts paired with hard, salty cheeses, citrusy ceviche, warm focaccia topped with grilled vegetables. There’s the clatter of forks and knives against plates, the hum of conversation, laughter from a nearby table, and I try to snap my mind into the present, but it’s still sitting with my grandmother. I didn’t ask enough questions. They left me here to rot. I’m so lonely. Please, please don’t go. Read more…

Let it simmer

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At night, the city turns into a food desert. You know you shouldn’t use that word lightly, but it’s what comes to mind as you hit up one grocery store after the other, and find that number one is missing artichoke hearts and polenta; number two has polenta, but still no artichokes, and then finally, third time’s a charm, and score! you have your artichoke hearts.

Last night I dreamt of a beautiful man. He was tall and hunched over, and he was holding a book beneath his arm. He was big and strong and beautiful. Who is he?  He is carved out of stone. Please don’t sell him. He is very precious, you must keep him. Yes, he is made of stone, but to me he is a real person. He is big and beautiful. When you leave here, go see him. I think he is… hiding… downstairs. If you go straight, there’s a chapel or something; a chapel, I think. He’s hiding there. Go see him. I saw him in my dreams. No, he doesn’t talk, he is made of stone, but he’s real. He is very beautiful. Maybe he is that man who was your husband? No? Why not? You must go see him.

In the morning, climb out of bed, and begin by making the polenta crust. Bring the broth and water to a boil, and then whisk, whisk, whisk in the polenta. It bubbles and thickens, and amuses you. Put a lid on it, let it simmer, make coffee. Take it out to the balcony. This view, it never ceases to take your breath away.

Your mother is… The daughter of your grandmother who lived for a short time at your mother’s house. An older lady who lived for a short time at your mother’s. Your grandmother. She’s the mother of your father. You want me to tell you who she is? You want me to tell you her name? When she was a young girl? Or now? When she was little she liked things that were old. She was an old type of girl. What’s her name? I don’t know. She liked…. She liked… your father, but he didn’t have a beard then. Why does he have a beard? In fact, it doesn’t suit him. Yes, I’d like to taste your quiche. Do you think Margie will think to bring us plates? You’re right, this isn’t Margie, but she also answers when I call her Margie. Thank you, cherie. You took only a little bit. It’s a quiche. Where is she?  Read more…

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