Mom and I left my childhood home when I was twenty-three-years-old. She was in the process of divorcing my father, but he didn’t plan to leave the house. Mom’s lawyer wanted her to stay in the house until the divorce was final, to avoid any penalty for “abandonment,” but I was clearly struggling. I’d finished college, but I couldn’t figure out how to move forward in any direction. My therapist spoke to Mom’s lawyer and said something along the lines of, if she stays she will die, so we left.
We had to find a place to live that we could afford, and that would accept Dina, our then eight-year-old black Lab mix. Mom had to get a new job in the city to afford the move, and I had to be on disability, because I really couldn’t function, and money had to come from somewhere, and it was not going to come from my father.
Mom was scared, but I was paralyzed. I don’t think anyone other than Mom really understood that, at the time. Even my therapist thought I should be able to do more, or at least she told me I could, maybe to push me.
It was all humiliating and terrifying and confusing. I had lived in the same house for twenty-three years, seeing my father every day, and suddenly I was living somewhere new and never seeing my father at all. I thought he might try to call, or write, or even stalk me, but he didn’t. I could hear his voice calling up the stairs in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t real, just a hallucination.
We found a half a house to rent, where Mom could use the front yard to plant whatever she wanted. That was her way of healing. Mine was watching TV. I would break up my day with television shows, forcing myself to write until one show came on, and then exercise until the next one, and then walk Dina, and make dinner, all on my TV schedule.
I wasn’t in school, I didn’t have a job, but I went to therapy twice a week and spent hours every day writing through all of the pain – picking apart my dreams, going through my memories from each year of my life, trying to excavate each molecule of pain and confusion so that I could find a way forward. It was, in its way, a full time job.
My one blissful escape was a miniseries that started to air on HBO as soon as we moved into the apartment, on Sunday nights, called From the Earth to the Moon, starring and co-produced by Tom Hanks. It told the story of the Apollo program at NASA in the 1960’s and 70’s (I had remembered Steven Spielberg as being a part of it, but Wikipedia says I was wrong). I thought of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as my two ideal dads. I was always looking for good fathers, my whole life, and I needed them extra at that moment.
The analogy of striking out from the solid ground of earth out to the unknown of the moon resonated with my situation. I had to believe there was something out there, something worth finding. I was out in the middle of space, with so few landmarks to tell me where to go, and there was Tom Hanks, experiencing the same things. And succeeding.
I’d never been much of a space or science nerd, though Star Wars was an important touchstone for me, and I’d never thought much about the moon or astronauts or NASA. I didn’t want to be a daredevil pilot, or an engineer, or a scientist, and I wasn’t fascinated by space shuttles or computers. But I watched each episode and absorbed the sense of wonder that came through the TV screen. It was such a relief to spend time with people who believed in the future and the next small step forward. For a little while, each Sunday night, I felt like I was living on their life support machine, and it was enough to get me through. It was just enough.
As the weeks passed, I learned small things, like how to breathe in the smell of honey in the air when I walked Dina around our new neighborhood; how to smile at the librarian when she smiled at me as I checked out books at my new library. Every lesson was a small step, sometimes invisible even to me, but it was enough to keep me going, even when I didn’t think I could ever leave the apartment, or answer the phone, or talk to a stranger.
I knew that people would not understand what was wrong with me, because I kept hearing people say that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and that I could do more if I weren’t so selfish and lazy. If only my mom would expect more of me; if only I would pull myself up by my bootstraps, if only I would lower my expectations, I would be alright. But they were wrong. I was doing what I could do.
The shame I felt, being twenty three and non-functional, was overwhelming. I’d already felt awful for not graduating from college until I was twenty two, because I had dropped out of two or three schools before I was able to stick to one for four years. But shame was a lifelong thing for me, and it just shape-shifted to fit whatever I thought was wrong with me at the time.
Dina and I were a good pair, because she had all kinds of fears too. She had severe separation anxiety, and fear of small children and most moving objects. She’d had false pregnancies on a regular basis until we left my father’s house and finally had her spayed (my father wouldn’t allow it). The two of us took long, exhausting walks up and down the hills of our new neighborhood, and then huddled together indoors for mutual support. We even walked to therapy together, maybe three miles, so that we could each work through our own issues. She ended up living to sixteen years and two months old, incredible for a dog of her size, and with her long list of psychological disorders, and it gave me hope. The moon is still out there, waiting for me, and you never know, I might reach it one day.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?