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Cricket and Ellie

Cricket and Ellie have been together for almost a year now, and I think it’s been a long year for Cricket. She wasn’t convinced that she needed a new sister, and she will never acknowledge that having Ellie with her has lowered her anxiety level a few decibels (but it has).

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“I don’t need no sister!”

It was luck that we got the call about Ellie on Cricket’s 11th birthday, last year, and were able to pick her up the following day. I’d like to believe that Ellie was, in a way, Cricket’s birthday present, but Cricket didn’t see it that way, especially because, in the turmoil, we forgot to have a celebration with Cricket’s favorite foods (peanut butter, red bell peppers, olives, and, of course, chicken). We tried to make up for it with a week full of chicken, for both of them, but Cricket remembered the slight.

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“I remember everything.”

I worry that if we celebrate Ellie’s Gotcha Day, right after Cricket’s 12th birthday, Cricket will feel neglected, or resentful. I mean, more than usual. But Ellie deserves to be celebrated too. She’s found her place in the world, through trial and error, and luck, and quite a lot of therapy, just like me.

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“What are you looking at?”

From the beginning, Ellie has come to therapy with me once a week. My therapist insisted that Ellie should come, not so much for my sake, or even for Ellie’s really, but because my therapist likes having dog patients. She misses her own dogs during the day, now that she works from an office building instead of from home. But it turns out that I like bringing Ellie with me, because it’s the one time of the week when she sits on my lap. At home she prefers to stretch out nearby, on the floor, on the couch, or on the bed, but in therapy she needs more contact. And if I have to talk about something particularly painful I can cuddle with her for comfort, or talk about her as a break from the tension, just for a little while. And therapy has been good for Ellie too. She’s been gradually learning self-calming techniques, and realizing that she has a safe base to return to (me), which allows her to spend more and more time exploring the office. Recently, she even built up the courage to go over to my therapist directly, which she never did early on (though my therapist clearly cheated by bringing in cheese). It’s Ellie’s one hour per week when she gets to go out alone with Mommy, while Cricket stays home with Grandma, and she seems to look forward to it, and know where we’re going, though, really, it could be all about the cheese.

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Ellie in therapy: thinking deeply.

I brought Cricket along with us to therapy one day, when my Mom had her quilting group in the city, and Cricket seemed forlorn at the thought of being left home alone. Cricket used to go to therapy with me herself, when she was a puppy, so she was thrilled to see her therapist again; so thrilled that she peed on the rug three times, and used the furniture, and my therapist, as a jungle gym, and then stole a chocolate-filled candy from the coffee table. All of this while Ellie sat calmly on my lap, bewildered.

Cricket does not believe that she is going to be twelve years old. Yes, she’s had occasional back trouble, and she takes CBD oil each morning to relieve general aches and pains, but she thinks she’s still a puppy, and the fact is, she is still as smart and stubborn as ever. I can see that she has slowed down over time, but that’s only because she used to be a raging speed demon and now she’s not dragging me down the street, as much. In her trip to therapy she forgot her age completely and went back to acting like the puppy she used to be: raging speed demon, excitement peeing, and all. I can’t afford to replace the office carpeting, though, so Cricket will be staying home from now on.

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“Harrumph.”

Cricket is still clearly the boss around here. If there’s a plate on the floor, Ellie will run for it, until she sees Cricket out of the corner of her eye, and then she backs off and waits for permission, from Cricket, to lick up the leftovers. Though, Ellie has occasionally ignored her sister’s rules and elbowed for space, when there were scratchies on offer, but not too often.

Ellie generally sleeps in my room, because Cricket won’t allow her up on Grandma’s bed, though Ellie has no problem sharing my bed with Cricket. They often take their afternoon naps with me, each staking out her own territory and stretching out. Ellie has tried to get Cricket to play with her, doing a play bow, or running circles around her out in the yard, but Cricket just gets confused. Cricket can play by herself, or with a human, but she doesn’t understand dog to dog play. It’s just too weird for her.

We will have to find a way to celebrate Cricket’s 12th birthday, and Ellie’s Gotcha day, and their sisterhood, all at once, in a way that Cricket will enjoy. Ideally, I would buy six or seven roasted chickens and hide them strategically around the backyard for the girls to find, but, there are other animals around here, and our yard isn’t fenced in, and, it’s possible that there is such a thing as too much chicken, even for my girls.

I’ll have to keep thinking about this. But in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the fact that Ellie has made her way into our hearts, and made our world a warmer, happier, funnier place. And if Cricket wants to pretend that she’d be better off as an only dog, panting and shaking with separation anxiety each time we leave the apartment, she can certainly hold on to her illusions. But I know the truth.

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“Shut up.”

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?

 

Musicals at Camp

 

My brother was recently in a community theater production of HMS Pinafore (by Gilbert and Sullivan), singing his heart out, playing for laughs, and even doing choreography! It was awesome! But watching him have so much fun on stage reminded me of how bad my stage fright turned out to be – worse and worse as I got older, instead of better and better.

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“Food always helps me when I’m anxious.”

At my Jewish sleepaway camp we did a musical every summer. My first year in camp we did Cats, in Hebrew (someone had the job of translating all of these musicals into Hebrew for us, which sounded like hard work at the time, but now sounds like a lot of fun). I think our bunk did a small dance number, in cat costumes. The next year we did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and I had a duet with a boy. I was Lucy, standing in my psychologist-is-in stand (foreshadowing my future), but my duet partner couldn’t remember his lyrics, so I did most of the duet myself, either whispering his lines to him, or singing them out loud myself when he whispered back, “huh?” I don’t remember being scared, even with the whole camp watching and listening to me in my blue booth. It was something of an out-of-body experience, though, because I don’t remember the rest of the show, or the rehearsals, just that moment in my booth, singing out to the crowd.

The next year we did The Sound of Music, but just as separate songs, not the whole show. I had solos in two songs that year. We learned our second song the morning of the show – So Long, Farewell – but from this one I only remember the rehearsals and nothing from the show itself.

I don’t think we had auditions for any of those early shows. Maybe my facility with Hebrew got me those roles, now that I think about it, though I’d like to believe it was because of my voice, or at least my memory for lyrics.

It was when I was twelve years old, my fourth summer at camp, that I balked. I went up onstage for the audition and I couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth. It was horrifying. I’d been taking voice lessons at home, and I’d been in an after school acting club, and those three musicals at camp already, but on that day I almost threw up on stage from nerves instead of singing, and then I ran out of the auditorium. They cast me in the chorus with a bunch of other kids who didn’t really want to be in the show, and we sang a couple of songs from the fifties, behind the soloists, as part of a musical revue.

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“Run!!!!!!”

I didn’t even bother to audition the following summer, when our age group did Grease, though I do remember being very jealous of the new girl who came in and snagged the lead role her first summer. She had a smoky alto, and a lot of confidence, and actually had chemistry with our male lead (who was the lead every year, if I’m remembering correctly, because he had a pure tenor and everyone liked him).

It was much more fun to go to the shows the other age groups put on, than to be in one myself, which should have been a clue that I didn’t really want to be an actress, but I didn’t take the hint. I even went to an Artsy day camp the next summer, dancing and singing and acting all day, every day, for two months. I kept expecting my fear to go away, but it refused to budge. And then I went to summer acting classes, when I was sixteen, and even signed up for The Actor’s Studio in the city, after dropping out of college that fall, but I had a severe panic attack on the first day and ended up in the bathroom, hyperventilating and crying, before the end of the first class. That was the final death knell for my career on stage.

It’s a big deal that I joined the choir at my synagogue this year, and have performed in public twice already. It’s a small step forward, but a good one. I don’t see myself doing community theatre any time soon, given the flashbacks of terror I felt while my brother was on stage, even though he himself was having a great time. But at least I’m not throwing up anymore. That’s progress.

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“I want to be on stage, Mommy! I’d be great!!!!”

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?

yeshiva girl with dogs

 

I Had a Cold

 

A couple of weeks ago, Mom came home from a day out in the city with a cold. It was brutal. The canine nurses and I worked around the clock to help her out of the sea of snot, and listened to an enormous amount of grumbling and whining (which is only fair, since Mom listens to a lot of grumbling from all of us on a daily basis). Of course, after Mom recovered, the cold passed on to me. I’d been dealing with allergies for weeks by then, so it took a while for me to recognize when it switched over, but when I found myself desperately searching for a new tissue box at four AM, I got the message.

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“Why are we awake?”

There’s something about a cold that, even as it wipes me out and makes me feel like I’m drowning and suffocating and clearly the most afflicted person on earth, I also feel like, but, it’s only a cold! I should still be getting stuff done!

This delusion could have something to do with years of hearing my brother say that it wasn’t fair that I got colds so often, and therefore got to stay home from school. One time he got Chicken Pox over winter break, and missed no school at all, and then, of course, little sister got sick the day we were supposed to go back to school. I heard a lot about how lazy I was, and how unfair it was that I got extra time with Mommy, and so many bowls of matzo ball soup.

So, deep into the cold, I started to obsess about what I should do if I finally get a job and then get a cold. Should I go to work anyway? At one of my internships we were told to never come in when we were sick; at the other internship, people came in to work with every imaginable germ and shared generously, on the assumption that it was more responsible to come in than to cancel appointments.

My brain went on and on, telling me how lazy I was for not running a marathon in the middle of the night, since I was up anyway, and created endless scenes of how one or another illness would get me fired from my imaginary job, and I would never be able to support myself, and I would suffer and struggle and fail for the rest of my days.

So, it was a few long, sleepless nights.

And then, as I started to recover from the cold, I found out that my friend’s son had pneumonia. It’s really hard to nurse a good case of self-pity for a cold when a little boy across the country has to deal with pneumonia. Though I still made the effort.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’ve been watching the dogs, in case either of them starts to have a drippy nose, or bad cough. I don’t even know if dogs can catch colds from humans. I’ve seen them eat tissues, but never sneeze into them.

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“What? It’s fiber.”

I’m not sure the dogs even noticed that I was sick, to be honest. It’s not like I’m a bundle of energy the rest of the time, and I still took them for walks (loading my pockets with tissues and sucking candies first, of course), and shared my food (I mean, it was chicken soup, how could I not share it?). They spent a lot of their time napping next to me and staring at me when I blew my nose (possibly because it woke them up). And they looked longingly at my Dayquil and Nyquil capsules, certain they were some new form of candy.

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“Candy?”

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“Chicken?”

I don’t know of any way to avoid getting colds if you spend time around other humans, so I’m going to have to accept that getting sick will be a regular obstacle in my working life, and I will have to come to grips with the fallout, whatever it may be. I think the deeper fear the cold set off is that I will spend the majority of my working life dealing with the same disabling health issues I’ve dealt with during school and all of my writing-at-home years. And it will suck.

My next priority will be to learn how to not catastrophize at the smallest bump in the road, but the dogs are no help. They believe that the world is ending each time their people leave the house for five minutes; just imagine the horror when they find out I plan to go to work? For hours at a time!!!!

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“What?!!!!!!”

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?

 

Going to sleepaway camp

 

Each summer, for five years in a row, starting when I was nine-years-old, I went away to a Jewish sleepaway camp for eight weeks. Me and Mom and my brother spent weeks ahead of time buying everything on the camp list: collapsible drinking cup, soap dish, seven pairs of shorts and shirts and underwear and so on, flashlight, bathing suits, flip flops, beach towel. And a trunk. We only had to buy those once, for the first summer, and then store them in the attic during the school year: a huge treasure chest-like box to fill with all of our stuff. Oh, and labels, everything we owned needed a name tag.

A few days after school ended for the year, in the last week of June, Mom drove me and my brother, and our trunks, to a nearby synagogue to catch the bus to camp. The bus ride itself was an orientation. First there was the sharp pain of watching Mommy stand in the parking lot, waving, as we drove further and further away. Then there were the bus songs – 99 bottles of beer on the wall, If I had a hammer, etc. We had counselors on our bus with us, to keep order and manage any traumas along the way, and I met my first new friend on the bus up to camp. She was blond and pretty and bossy, just like my best friend from home, and she started to talk to me right away and asked me to sit next to her on the bus. My brother proceeded to ignore me, almost entirely, as he would continue to do for the next eight weeks.

When we reached camp, we met up with our own counselors, and walked across campus to our bunks, while the maintenance men loaded our trunks and dropped them off on the porch of each bunk (after unloading each trunk we stowed them under the bunk for the summer). The counselors had to come out and meet each bus, and car, when their campers arrived, so back at the bunk we either had a junior counselor or our peers for company, which was not quite enough. I wasn’t really prepared to be away from my Mom, or to manage so many new relationships at once. The saving grace would be the daily schedule, there was almost always something we were supposed to be doing, just not on day one. We also had no TV and very few books, and this was long before smartphones, so socializing was our entertainment.

The blond girl from the bus turned out to be the most popular girl in our age group, and we were in the same bunk, so I was sort of initiated into the popular group right away. I had no idea what to make of that. They were sort of a girl posse, and one of the other new recruits was a nine-year-old outlaw, planning all kinds of trouble for the posse to get into. I was still me, though, and it became clear that I didn’t quite fit in with my new friends. I didn’t have the right clothes, or the attraction to danger, and I didn’t know how to flirt with boys. At first it was exhilarating to be with them, because finally I wasn’t the outcast, the way I was at school, and I wasn’t picked on (too badly). But then they started expecting me to be mean, to make fun of other girls and not just behind their backs, but to their faces.

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“Harrumph.”

I did it once, without realizing how awful it would feel until I was in it up to my knees. I was a good mimic (I still am, just ask Cricket), and they liked to have me play this and that character, like the male counselor with silly dance moves, or one of the boys who wiped his nose with the hem of his shirt, constantly. I loved the attention! I loved getting the laughs! And then they asked me to do an impression of one of the other girls who was sort of on the outs with the group at that moment. And I did it, because she had such obvious body language and her vocabulary was so specific and I could see the whole performance in my imagination without even trying. I felt like a super star, until I realized that she was suddenly there too, and instead of laughing with me, the other girls were sneering at her and using me as a weapon against her.

I stopped, but it was too late. I tried to apologize, but all that accomplished was getting me kicked out of the cool group; the other girl certainly didn’t forgive me.

I was alone for a few days, but then some new kids came for the second month (in the early years of camp we could choose to come for both months, first month, or second month), and I made some new friends. They were nicer and quieter and preferred playing jacks to getting into trouble. I got a few splinters because the floors of the bunks weren’t perfectly sanded, but there was something reassuring and satisfying about playing jacks. If you played fair and didn’t cheat and didn’t show off just because you were a better player, people stuck around.

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Friendship is a good thing.

I went to camp for four more years, but I was never put in the same bunk with the cool girls again, and they barely even looked at me, except for the blond girl from the bus. Every once in a while she’d look over at me with something like regret, but then she’d look back at her friends and shake it off and go back to her popular life.

And yet, I liked being at camp. I liked my less than popular friends. I liked always having something to do and someone to talk to. And if there was also loneliness and conflict and disappointment, well, I had that at home too, and at least at camp I felt normal. I had the same problems as everyone else: sunburn, sand in my shoes, friendship drama, cardboard pizza, too many chores, and homesickness. I think, if we could have had a bunk dog, and if my Mom could have visited every weekend, I’d have wanted to stay all year long.

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“I could be the camp dog!”

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?

 

 

The Onset of Air Conditioner Season

 

The onset of air conditioner season, and allergy season, seemed to merge this year, at least, here on Long Island. I’m used to sneezing, and having itchy eyes, despite daily allergy medication, and I knew the heat would be a problem for me, because it’s a problem every year, but this year it all added up to more than the sum of its parts, as a kind of conflagration under my skin. The allergies were worse. The heat, even the tiniest bit of it, made it hard for me to breathe. And then there was the pain, in too many places at once. Still in my neck and left shoulder, still in my lower back, right hip, knees and ankles, but also in my right shoulder, right forearm, and breast bone, making it hard to move around much, or breathe deeply, or rest comfortably.

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“Huh, we’re pretty comfortable.”

 

At first I thought it was all caused by depression, that I was having a somatic response to the stress of the job search. There’s always been a disturbing fluidity between my physical and psychological symptoms, making it hard to identify what’s going on, or what kind of treatment might help. But I noticed that I felt significantly better later in the day, as the air cooled and the inflammation receded, somewhat.

The flare, if that’s what it was, lasted about two weeks, and then I woke up one morning and I was able to breathe, and exercise, and even shave my legs! The dogs barely noticed the changes in the weather, or in me, and they seemed to enjoy chasing all of the allergens drifting in the air that were knocking me out like baseballs to the head.

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“Yummy, yummy allergens!”

In the end, I went back to my normal level of disability, and was even able to focus enough to send a long essay to a few literary magazines. In the process of choosing where to send that piece, I looked through my list of submissions over the past few years, including the queries I sent to 78 agents, over a two year period, for a single novel. I didn’t realize how persistent I’d been in trying to get that novel out into the world. I thought I’d given up too easily. I keep thinking I’m giving up too soon, being too meek, and lazy, but it turns out that I haven’t been giving myself enough credit. The novel that was rejected by 78 agents is still sitting in my computer, waiting for the next revision, for which I already have substantial notes. And Yeshiva Girl, which spent a year or two looking for an agent, and then six years looking for a publisher, still found her way out into the world, because I persisted.

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“What, this tasty paper thing?”

 

The pain, fatigue, and depression are bad, sometimes, but they pass, and I manage to push myself back on track, every time. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve never given up, and there’s no reason to start now, even if, for a little while, the best thing to do is just to rest next to my air conditioner, with some soft pillows, and feel whatever I feel.

The dogs don’t seem to mind the company.

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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?

The Paw Paw Flowers

 

About twelve years ago, I bought a box of paw paws. I had to order them from Ohio, during the fruit’s very short season in September, and commit to eating most of them myself, because they were a bit too funny looking and odd smelling to share (believe me, I tried).

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Paw paws (this is not my picture)

Someone had told me about paw paws, waxed rhapsodic about their sweetness, made endless metaphors out of their shape and elusiveness and the speed with which they turn black and rot. I wanted to like these damned things, but at the same time I was angry at them, for being so much more interesting, to him, than I would ever be.

Of course it’s all about heartbreak. Why else would a fruit that barely has a season capture my imagination so thoroughly that I had to order a whole damned box of them from Ohio?

They arrived, wrapped individually in newspaper, because they are so fragile and easily bruised. Like me? Like him? The metaphor never ends. They are filled with a row of almond shaped seeds that you have to dig out or suck on to get the flesh that clings stubbornly to them. And the fruit has to be eaten with a spoon. You can’t peel it like an orange, or slice it like an apple, or bite straight into it like a strawberry. It’s work. And it’s messy. And it is sweet and custardy and sort of tastes like peaches and bananas and mangoes and vanilla have been tossed together into a blender.

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(Also not my picture)

I saved the seeds in the freezer, like the instructions in the box told me to do (because paw paw growers are by their very nature proselytizers), and then, sometime in late winter, when it wasn’t really warming up yet, I planted the seeds in big pots in the kitchen, and set them by the window sill, and watched. The pots needed protection from the lingering cold, so I wrapped them in scarves. And then, like the Talmudic sages said the angels do for every seed, I stood over the pots and whispered, “Grow, grow.”

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My dancing paw paws!

The seedlings were tall and full of personality and five or six of them even survived long enough to be planted outdoors once the weather was warm enough. We kept them in their pots at first, though, so that they could come back inside if they needed to.

Three, maybe four, survived the first year and grew into little trees. Three trees came with us when we moved here five years later. One suffered a horrible gardening accident, but two lived, and settled into their new surroundings and continued to grow. They got taller and taller, their trunks started to thicken, their leaves extended out like shiny green fans and then paled to yellow in the fall, and disappeared for the winter, and reappeared in the spring. They kept getting taller, and healthier, but there was no fruit yet, not even a flower.

We got impatient and ordered two new baby trees, because a New York State expert in paw paws said we needed to have at least two trees in close proximity in order for fertilization to occur, and the two we had were too far apart.

But the baby trees we bought were crushed in the shipping process and never really recovered, though we watched over them hopefully for a season. And then last summer, after the baby trees had given up completely, my two stalwart twelve year old trees, that have been with me since they were just almond shaped seeds buried in the dirt, flowered.

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The flowers were small, and a deep burgundy brown color. And pretty quickly the flowers dried up and flew away, and the leaves turned yellow again and the trees went to sleep again for another winter.

And this year, the flowers are bigger and brighter, and there are more of them, and they are filled with enough powdery, sticky pollen that we were able to transfer it from the flowers of one tree to the flowers of the other, by Q-tip.

I don’t know what will happen next. The trees aren’t especially muscular, and even if the fruit appears, the branches may not be up to holding the weight of it yet. But maybe soon. Maybe there will be paw paws in my backyard someday soon.

 

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Paw paw standing tall

Twelve years seems too long to wait for a piece of fruit, I know. But maybe the wait is the point. The patience, the slow growth. I mean, the metaphor works. The comparison to me, and turtle-slow growth is obvious. Maybe me and my paw paw trees will find our strength and come to fruition at the same time.

You never know.

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The girls are waiting.

 

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?

 

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?