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The Emptiness

            The more successful I become at Intuitive Eating, the more I have to face the sadness of not being able to use food to fill the emptiness. I don’t know why I describe it as emptiness when it seems so full of pain, but it’s so black in there, and it’s all so un-see-able and un-name-able that it appears empty to me. I think I became a writer in order to try to name the emptiness, but I’m still working at it.

“The word you’re looking for is ‘woof.'”

            Is it really sadness that I feel when I tell myself that it’s time to stop eating, or it is anger, or frustration, or disappointment? The first feeling that comes up is that it reminds me of being on the bumpy train with Mom from Paris to Versailles when I was sixteen years old, with no air-conditioning and a severe case of motion sickness. It feels physical, as if there are gears and strings in my belly and they are being pulled and pushed and making creaking noises, just because I won’t let myself eat another two hundred calories of whatever. And every time I try to define the feeling or suggest an activity to distract myself from it, this voice in my belly screams, NO!

“That’s my favorite word!”

            I keep picturing this space as an emptiness that needs to be filled, but the physical feeling is as if I swallowed a sharps container at the doctor’s office and all of these needles and blades are roiling around in my belly. I felt a lot of this as a teenager, but back then the sharps seemed to be in my veins, traveling through my arms and legs and into my skull, and I couldn’t name those emotions either, I just knew that they were unbearable.

            I know all of the things that I’m supposed to try to do in order to fill the void and soothe the pain, like meditation, or a bath, or exercise, or reading a book, etc. Reading and writing are, of course, my reliable old friends, but I’ve also tried different exercise programs and music and movies and craft projects over the years. Knitting used to help, and then coloring and puzzles. But sometimes the emptiness is so persistent and so prickly that nothing works. All I can feel is the sharp, bristling, feathery pangs of something as it scrapes across my insides and whispers hopelessness to me over and over again.

            In fact, a lot of the activities that are supposed to be soothing – like meditation or yoga or baths or massages – create more panic and agitation for me, and stir up the sharp things that live in the emptiness, instead of calming them down. It seems so unfair to have all of these weapons aimed at me from the inside.

            I think some of what’s in the emptiness is a need to fight or flee, even as my body freezes in place and waits for the danger to pass. It would be like catching a humming bird in a glass ball and feeling the endless beat of her wings while she can’t get out. The endless activity and rapid heartbeat and desperation for escape all lead to utter exhaustion, with no sign of an enemy anywhere nearby to explain the need to fly away.

            I keep hoping that if I can name the sharp things, and bring more light into the void, then I’ll be able to soothe the pain, but that hasn’t worked yet.

            Part of the problem is that the panic – that there will be no way to soothe the whatever-it-is that I can’t even name – is profound. And eating something often does stop the panic. The panic is then replaced with shame at overeating, and hopelessness that I will ever lose weight, but the chaos and the panic do subside with food, and in that moment, that’s the most important thing.

“Food is magical!”

            So here I am, feeling the sharp things in the emptiness, resenting them, and trying not to use food to solve the problem. Now what?

“Have you tried chicken?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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 Dishwasher Debacle

Out of nowhere, sometime in May, our dishwasher stopped washing the dishes. Mom called a repairman, and when he looked the machine over, he said that what we’d been told was a fairly new dishwasher (when we moved in two years ago), was actually on its last legs. But, he could replace a few bits and pieces and give us another year of use, if we wanted. Mom wasn’t sure what to do. Should we buy a whole new dishwasher, or squeeze out another year with this one? The decision was made when he told her that the fee for the diagnosis of the dishwasher would be put towards the cost of repair, if we did the repair. Otherwise we’d be out that money, plus all of the costs that would come with a new dishwasher.

What Mom didn’t tell me, because she didn’t know, was that it would end up taking three or four weeks before the new parts even arrived, and only then would we be able to make an appointment to have the repairman back to fix the dishwasher.

I’d forgotten all about drying racks, and how water pools on plates and bowls when they dry right side up on the counter. I’d forgotten how much I hate washing dishes, and how leaning over the sink makes my back feel like it’s being stabbed with cleavers. And I’d forgotten how much panic I can feel about a strange man coming into the apartment.

I don’t actually remember the repairman’s first visit. I don’t know if I slept through it, or if I was away from home when he came. I just know that I would have done anything to avoid it.

We finally heard back from the repair company that the missing parts had been located and the repairman would be coming to fix the dishwasher “sometime after one o’clock in the afternoon.” When we got the call that he would definitely be there by 2:30 PM, I thought that was pretty good, as these things go. But he didn’t arrive until 5:30 PM, and by then my anxiety had transformed into a strong belief that the world was ending, and I just had to sit there and wait for it to happen.

“Why do we have our leashes on indoors?”

There was drama about where he would park his van, and while Mom went out to move our car so that he could use our parking spot, I corralled the girls into my room and closed the door. And then the sky went dark and the rains came, and then the thunder. I wish I were being melodramatic here, but no. It felt like the apocalypse to me, and to the girls too, well, mostly Cricket. I couldn’t hear the dishwasher repair guy’s arrival over Cricket’s barking.

“Why are you letting the mailman IN THE HOUSE?!!!!!”

I picked the girls up one at a time and put them on my bed, hoping that would calm them down somewhat. And calm me too. But Cricket stood on my legs and then paced across the bed. Her eyes were shiny and she couldn’t breathe without rasping. When Butterfly ran down her doggy steps to guard the door of my room, Cricket jumped off the bed to follow her, and then they scratched at the door together, and restarted their barking duet.

They were NOT this calm.

They were NOT this calm.

I attempted to intervene five or six more times before I gave up on trying to calm them down. The fact is, I was in no real position to calm anyone. My brain felt like it was stuck in a Panini press; I was sick to my stomach, and dizzy and frightened; and I couldn’t talk myself out of my fear. All I could do was to make myself feel guilty for being such a baby and for leaving Mom to manage on her own. Guilt, I can do.

At some point, Mom slipped chicken treats under my door to quiet the girls down and, while Butterfly actually rested in front of the door for a few minutes to wait for more treats to appear, Cricket could not calm down.

Butterfly, on her way back to the door for treats.

Butterfly, looking for treats.

Then the power went out, not from the storm, but because the dishwasher guy was testing out the fuse box to see which fuses went with which appliances. Mom had tried to warn me, but couldn’t make herself heard over the barking, and couldn’t risk opening my door lest Cricket run out and chew on the repair man.

After the power came back on, there was a big crack of thunder, and a rush of rain outside the window, and Cricket stood on the rug next to my bed, stared into my eyes, and peed. This was not like her at all, at least the peeing part anyway.

When I peered out the window to check on the rain, I saw that the repair man was leaving the parking lot, and I gratefully let the girls out of my room. They checked the rest of the apartment for leftover signs of repair man and once they were satisfied that he was really gone, it was time for more treats, and pee removal spray for my rug, and a trip outside to walk, very quickly, in the rain.

“Where’d he go?”

We had survived. And the dishwasher worked again. And a crazed maniac had not killed my mother while I hid in my bedroom. But, I was still shaky, and so was Cricket. I didn’t feel relieved as much as exhausted by the whole ordeal. I worry that pretty soon something else is going to break and we’ll have to go through the whole drama again, and maybe Mom won’t be available to take care of it.

I don’t know what I’ll do in that case. Maybe Butterfly could talk to the repairman for me?

“I don’t think so, Mommy.”

Cricket in the City

Cricket in Central Park

 

 

I live on the North Shore of Long Island and I was lucky during Hurricane Sandy to only lose power. There was no flooding or fire or downed trees at my house, though I only had to walk a few blocks to see power lines draped across the roads and horizontal trees where fences used to be. I was doubly lucky then, when a cousin of my Mom’s offered us her apartment in the city until our power returned. We drove in on the Wednesday after the storm and started out before anyone realized it was gridlock day. We were in the car for six hours on a trip that would usually take less than an hour. Six hours with Cricket climbing behind my neck and barking at trucks and all of us really needing to pee.

When we arrived at the building and found a magical parking spot only two blocks away, my first priority was, of course, to pee. And then I had to find and turn on the TV. I am a TV addict. I may have to write a whole blog on that someday, but suffice it to say that going a full day without TV leaves me strung out, two days and I’m shaking.

But really, what the TV offered was a better idea of what Hurricane Sandy had done. Listening to the radio on and off didn’t make it clear, pictures did. It was the flooding that I couldn’t have imagined without the pictures. The houses snapped in half and pulled off their foundations. The only sign of the storm damage in the Upper West Side neighborhood I was temporarily living in was that Central Park was closed, so all of the runners and the dogs had to crowd onto the sidewalks.

Cricket is my anxiety dog, in that she shows the anxiety I feel. She shook and cried under my legs during the storm itself. And then in the aftermath, she was scared of the dark. We always leave the living room light on, or a light in the hallway, but without electricity, the only light came from candles and flashlights and those were only where the humans were. And she became even more of a Velcro dog than usual.

In the city, she was overwhelmed by all of the new people and smells and configurations. At first she wasn’t ready to poop or pee in a strange place, then, once she’d mastered that, she started to bark at everyone – in the elevator, in the lobby, on the sidewalk. She was clearly the country dog among city dogs. She weaved from side to side, sniffing every pee spot along the sidewalk, turning her head at every new dog, hiding behind my legs as every clique of marathoners ran by. The city dogs were polite, and somewhat jaded. They kept their eyes forward, did their business, and went on their way.

 

Cricket sniffing the city

We walked everywhere. They had a Fairway and a Trader Joe’s just like on Long Island, but more cramped and with escalators filled with people. I tend to panic in crowds, and that’s what happened when I tried to go into stores in the city. Everything was too close together and I couldn’t think, or breathe. But the crowds on the sidewalk were half dogs, so they didn’t scare me. It’s as if dogs mitigate the panic for me. If I could go to school, or work, or synagogue or the doctor with dogs, I’d have a much more active life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if dogs were allowed at the DMV?

I liked having doormen there at all hours. Taking Cricket out to pee at ten PM and being surrounded by light and people was very different from home, where it is dark and haunted by six o’clock this time of year, even with the power on. You only know other people are around because there are lights in the windows.

The power came back on in our neighborhood by Friday, so Saturday morning we were ready to go home. But first, Central Park was finally open and Cricket needed to walk. I’d seen so many dogs and runners on the grassless sidewalks that I’d assumed that was their natural habitat, but no, they belonged in Central Park, with the dogs finally free to run off leash and chase balls and grab sticks, and the runners on their own separate paths.

We met a woman and her dog who had been there from the first opening of the gates, when at least a hundred people and their dogs were waiting impatiently to get in. She said that once the gates were opened, the dogs ran like mad to get inside. After a week of being city dogs, they let loose and became dogs again.

 

Cricket taking center stage