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From the Earth to the Moon

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.

Dina

Dina, at the old house

 

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.

from the earth to the moon

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.

rachel and dina walk

Me and Dina walking by the water

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.

dina smiles

Dina, later in her life, and happier

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?

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

97 responses »

  1. the senior weaver

    Rachel, Thank you so much for always sharing from your heart! I’m still working through the damage done by past abuses. It’s a long road to healing.❤

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  2. You’ve come such a long way. You should be proud of how strong you are.

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  3. I look forward to your posts every week and hope you have a nice weekend!

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  4. A beautiful post, such an amazing dog. ❤

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  5. The moon will never leave you and the sun smiles on you every day. I think you are pretty darn remarkable, Rachel.

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  6. You’re brave to share so much with strangers. I’m relatively new to your blog, but it looks to me like you’re continuing to move forward. Good for you!

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  7. Beautiful photos of Dina and another great chapter in your powerful story.

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  8. Amazing how quickly people adopt a seemingly superior position with comments like ‘if only’. The reality is ‘if only’ they’d mind their own business. I’m glad your mother, Dina and Tom Hanks were there to help you find a way forward. Hope you give yourself credit for carrying on.

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  9. I am amazed at all the work (and that is what healing from trauma is) you have fine, and in such a way as to be clear about where you were and how you came through the muck. And what all you have sccomplished. I am so impressed. Some prefer the paralysis. You didn’t. Bravo.

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  10. Dina sounds like a huge part of your journey. It’s good to hear about her and your earlier struggles. Just look at you now!!

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  11. Dina – once again the story of a dog who can rescue us from ourselves while we bask in their love. Good for you for keeping up the fight and especially good for all our dog friends who only want what’s best for us.
    Bless your heart this night and every night.

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  12. Inspiring post. Stay strong! Sorry about your dog, she was beautiful!

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  13. You revealed a lot today. Rachel. Be very proud of how far you’ve come!

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  14. The love of a dog can help to ease so much in our lives.
    You are definitely progressing, Rachel, as your excellent novel proves.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  15. I am so humbled by your courage to be so vulnerable with your readers, and so honored to be one of those readers. Your strong desire to overcome speaks of your strength, no matter how small the steps or how long the journey. I pray that each new step forward continues to renew your strength and determination.

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  16. Brave to share so much, Rachel. I think you’re much stronger than you know.

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  17. Thank you for sharing.

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  18. An amazing journey. You have come so far. In know your dogs love and support you. Dogs are such a blessing in our lives. Keep on!

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  19. Thank you for sharing your story. I assume it is healing for you and it definitely will help others. I am so glad you had Dina to travel your hard path with, and your Mom. Keep up the great writing. You are not alone. – Lorian of DogDaz Zoo

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  20. What would we do without dogs?

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  21. It’s eeie how similar some of your health issues are to mine. I guess I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I haven’t had the courage to share in the way that you have. We have been lucky in that we have supportive mothers to help us.

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  22. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability, Rachel. Poetry can help me heal emotional wounds, and this post reminded me of Marge Piercy’s book, The Moon is Always Female. It also reminded me of the phrase, “reaching for the moon.” I think you are doing that through your writing. Thank you for fidelity to your writing.

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  23. you are amazing
    That is all I can say

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  24. Praying there’s lots of joy in the journey, too. The moon is a long ways away. 🙂

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  25. Dogs are wonderful therapy, for whatever ails us. Mine was stress, and stroking the dog, I could feel it drain away. It was a traumatic time for you Rachel, one many people didn’t understand, or even try to. I read your posts and find them amazing as you overcome yet another obstacle.

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    • Thank you! I get the feeling that there are a lot of good neurochemicals in dogs’ skin and hair, so when we pet them the neurochemicals get loose into our bodies and theirs at the same time. It’s a win win!

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      • It’s great, isn’t it. My neighbour gave me a sign that says ‘I don’t need therapy, I have a dog’ which is up in the kitchen alongside the one Mum gave me that says ‘I don’t skinny dip, I chunky dunk’. Maggie is zonked out beside me as Hubby has some rather nice instrumental music playing which lulls her to sleep. She seems to prefer this kind of stuff as we had such a CD that was always playing at night when she was a pup.

  26. I reached a similar stand still at 22. I have no idea how I ever managed to get out of that house and on my own. Total dissociation helped!(hope you get the gallows humor of that one.) Healing from years of abuse takes years. I am glad you continue to put one foot in front of the other regardless of what progress or lack thereof anyone things your are making.

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  27. Wow what an honest account of your mental health – you are very strong for sharing and glad you are/have definitely moving out of that period. Clearly your beautiful dog helped you – and you helped her.

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  28. A moving account, and beautiful dog.

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  29. I am in awe of all you have been able to do. I still count my accomplishments each day by things such as making the bed or washing the dishes. Many, many people look up to your strength.

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  30. Hi Rachel, I’ve been reading your blog for over 2 years and your writing is brave and unflinching. I love the way you weave the dog photos through your stories to uplift the subject matter.

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  31. Wonderful post…so happy you had Dina in your life at this difficult time!

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  32. Difficult story, beautifully told. We are all dealing with something painful. It is only a matter of degree.

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  33. Rachel, I know you don’t think of yourself as a warrior, but that’s the word I’d use. Kol hakavod for your quiet battle for wholeness. In your own way you are a bright light in the darkness.

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  34. It’s remarkable how a dog’s unfailing, no-strings-attached love can bring healing. So glad you had Dina (and your current pups). Sounds like you went through a lot of pain. Many people give up, but you didn’t. You have already won because of that, even if you’re still on the journey out of the pain. You didn’t quit. Like rabbiadar said, you are a warrior, a victor. Sure, you may have been wounded in the battle, but you didn’t give up and die. You are amazing!

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  35. Michelle Cole

    This post affected me deeply. Much of my young adulthood was a wasteland due to mental health issues, mostly major depression. I dropped out of college twice and did not get a degree. When my depression would clear temporarily, I’d make impulsive choices with a long-term impact on my future, such as up and moving 2,000 miles away and coming back with an infant daughter. The fog didn’t begin to clear until I was 35. I’ve found a way of thinking of that time that helps ease my regret (because there usually is regret over the loss of what-could-have-been). When I start to beat myself up over what I may have lost during those dark years when I was 19-35 years old, I think: What did I really miss out on? Buying a bunch of stuff that by now no one wants anymore. The secondhand stores and junk car lots are full of the things I couldn’t afford to buy when they were new. What is the time pressure our culture imposes on mental health recovery but an indictment of the patient’s economic productivity?

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    • Thank you so much for this! We are taught to keep silent and feel ashamed of things that are beyond our control and it causes endless damage to people who are already suffering too much.

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  36. Pingback: To the Moon – Intensity Without Mastery

  37. Years ago, I met a woman with severe depression. She said many of the same things. People would tell her she was young, healthy and to pull herself up by her bootstraps. She had the kindest eyes, rimmed with sadness. That, and one sentence, are all I remember of her.

    She said, “How can I pull myself up if I don’t have any bootstraps.”

    No one would tell a person with a broken leg that she could walk better if she only tried harder. There is so little understanding about the mind, and so little tolerance for what can’t be seen.

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  38. You are brave! I love you!

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  39. Thank you for sharing your story, Rachel. No doubt you bring comfort and assurance to more people than you know… Bravo!

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  40. Thanks for sharing your story and stopping by my blog Canopycapers.wordpress.com.

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  41. What an honest and poignant story you shared!I love that photo of Dina

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  42. I’ve heard it said and truly believe that the right dog comes to you at the right time in your life, sometimes we just need to figure out why. And people who love dogs are more than in my mind. Take care.

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  43. Rachel, I am so glad that you stopped by my blog to read my post so that I could get to read yours! This was an excellent look into what so many go through. You have come a long way and you are stronger than you think! Loved Dina’s pictures!
    My Jay is a Lab mix, they look similar except he’s got the bit of white.They,(dogs) are the best!

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  44. This was touching! So beautifully written!

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  45. I love your writing style. I tried to “like” this post but for some reason (probably my new laptop which isn’t my friend yet) it’s not letting me. It’s not you, its me! For example, I just tried to use the screen as a touch screen. But I believe I’ll make progress, one tiny step at a time! P.S. Dina is beautiful.

    Reply
  46. Brilliant and poignant memoir…

    Reply

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