The wood cracks and hisses as my father approaches. Zack and I are sitting on the second to last step, huddled together, the wooden railing high and thick. From the corner of my eye I can see my parents’ bedroom door half open, my mother’s toes at the edge of the bed. We’re eight and nine years old and my father towers above us. He’s big and tall and he has a deep, resounding voice.
He says: “Go inside and give your mother a kiss.”
Zack gets up, and I inch closer to the wall.
I hesitate, then say: “I don’t want to.”
I saw the way she looks- a cast on her head, her long hair gone, the blankets up to her chin, her eyes closed. Is it true that this is my mother? Is she even alive?
He repeats: “Go and give her a kiss”. He watches me until I get up.
“Smile,” he adds, as I reach the door.
What kind of god took her away? Made her sick? Made me almost lose her?
I check under my bed, under the blankets; I wash my hands three times; pray in Hebrew, enunciating the same word again and again until I get it right; when I twist the doorknob I count: one, two, three, four.
How do I make sure it doesn’t happen again?
I go and give her a kiss, but a bubble comes down and settles itself around me and from that moment I’ll always feel alone.
At ten and twelve, and sixteen and seventeen and nineteen blow after blow will strike my family and the carefree little girl I was as a child will run so fast and so far, I’ll never get her back. I learn to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself and the bubble thickens and grows, isolating me.
Sometimes it feels so big and so visible that it’s painful for me to be with other people. How can I talk about other things, about the weather, about politics, when I’m in so much pain?
I hide huge swaths of myself. I sit with people and I listen and nod my head and smile, but inside I’m reeling. Even with the man who was my husband there were entire sides of myself I couldn’t show, that I kept under wraps. At night I lay awake, the night thick and quiet, his breathing audible.
She says: you know that’s why you don’t like being with people, right? Because you can’t be real, because you have to put on a mask, play a role.
Let me tell you: it’s exhausting.
I get texts and calls and each one feels like an assault, like everyone wants a piece of me. I lay down on the couch, stare into space. I carve out hours upon hours to be alone.
I knock at her door late at night, her house quiet with sleeping children. We sit on the couch, opposite each other. With her, I don’t attempt to hide it, no matter what color it is, no matter how big it is, no matter how painful or how ugly. I lay down all of my cards, spread them out. She reaches over and massages my toes: “Shhh,” she says. “It’s ok”.
Sometimes the bubble gets so dark that no light can penetrate, and it feels like the world is closing in on me. Everything seems so black and so bleak that I feel like I can’t take being alive for another second. It’s like the bubble pops but instead of pink rosy bubblegum, it’s this gooey black tar and everything seems so far away, so out of reach, and anyways my hands are sticky with tar, and I can’t touch anything. Time stretches out endlessly, excruciating, infuriating, like a big mocking monster.
When I need to go somewhere where there will be other people, and my hands are still dripping black, the effort of talking, of hiding the fact that my entire skin feels like it’s been ripped off, and that I’m standing there with my redness, my insides, my veins and bones and guts showing, the effort of pretending that I’m fine, or that I’m good, is just so exhausting. It feels like there’s a voice in my head that’s just screeching, and somehow I’m supposed to get words out above that noise, despite that noise. And even if I do manage a “how are you”, there’s still the option that they’ll counter with a “what about you”, and how can I tell them that it feels like there’s this rollercoaster going on inside my head at full speed and I’m on it, and we’re right before the main drop, and this is not really where I want to be when it happens and I lose it.
Everything is ok, they’ll say. Just smile, they’ll say. But it feels like something is very very wrong with me, and I don’t really know what or why, just that I need to hide it, and there’s this feeling of loneliness that keeps on hacking away at me with a sharp knife, until it feels like my insides are outside of me.
She says: it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When he enters my bubble at thirty, it feels so surreal, so euphoric that I grasp for him like someone falling off a cliff. Frantically, with hunger, my fingers digging into his skin. I would get down on my knees and crawl across the city to him, the gravel scratching the blood out of my knees. I don’t, but I do other things.
The Famous Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins
“Blueberry muffins! Blueberry muffins!” My mom would chant in her singsong voice, and we would rush downstairs in our pajamas and gather around the table, where the piping hot muffins would get sliced open and piled with whipped cream and fresh blueberries. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. This recipe is from a department store in Boston that apparently was famous for its blueberry muffins. Fresh blueberries are mashed and swirled into the batter. Muffins + shopping- the American dream :)
1/2 cup (8 tbsp) butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh preferred
1/4 cup sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Beat in the baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Add the flour alternately with the milk, beating gently just to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Add the mashed and whole berries to the batter, stirring just enough to combine and distribute evenly.
Scoop the batter by the heaping 1/4-cupful into the prepared muffin pan (an ice-cream scoop works well).
Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon granulated sugar atop each muffin, if desired.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until they’re light golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan and after about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack to cool.