Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Receiver of the Slain

She stares up the stairs. He looks down at her with his cold blue eyes, well, at least they feel cold to her. She wouldn’t even know if his body felt warm. Standing on the landing, he stops, covers his mouth and coughs. His eyes widen, his hand full of blood. It drips from his mouth, slides down his chin and onto his stiff white collar shirt. Isabel stands frozen at the bottom of the stairs.

“Thor,” she manages to whisper.

And then he tumbles down the steep steps his large athletic body limp, blood trailing. Life suddenly moves in slow motion. Somehow she dials 911. Somehow she kneels down over his body. What do you do when someone you hate is lying on the floor bleeding? Isabel wants a flicker of love and hope to course through her veins, but she is numb. She isn’t a monster. She helps. She opens the door for the EMTs. She watches as they wipe away the blood to administer CPR. She is in the ambulance. At the hospital.

She is listening to a doctor. She wonders if she should fall to her knees. She has blood on her hands. She feels like Lady MacBeth. Except Lady Macbeth felt guilt. A blood clot, they tell her, filled his lungs.

"He must have had symptoms, Mrs. Erickson."

"Dr. Erickson-Fink," she wants to correct him with his white coat and sympathetic face.

“I’m sorry. There was nothing we could do.”

Thor and his light eyes and blond hair and broad shoulders is dead. His anger is dead. His silence is dead. His cold unforgiving stares- dead. His late night texting with god knows who- dead. And relief washes over her-- blood still covering her hands and her clothes. Tears flow down her face as she sinks to the ground. A nurse reaches out to comfort her. Isabel cringes. Isabel feels like sin. Isabel feels lightened and guilty. Someone takes her arm, lifts her up.

“Do you want to see him?”

Does she want to see him? She closes her eyes and tries to remember what it was like to love him. She tries to remember when his breath on her neck felt like heaven. Instead her brain shifts to the phrase she’s uttered over and over again in her head all these years, “I wish he would just hit me, and then maybe he’d feel bad.” And now he’s dead and they expect her to view his lifeless body. Hasn’t his body always been lifeless? Or maybe just loveless. She wants to scream and run and tell someone the confused tangled thoughts invading her mind. She puts her hand over her eyes. She knows she looks like grief.

“Do you want to call someone. His parents, perhaps?”

Isabel looks up, wanting to laugh. Thor was alone in America. She used to believe he was alone because his family was heartless. Now she knew that he was heartless. "Was that too dramatic," Isabel wonders. "Does shock bring drama?"

Soon, she is whisked into his hospital room. The room is cold and white. He is cold and white. She sucks in her breath. For a moment Isabel wants to touch him to take her husband in her arms and breath life back into him. He was already almost not her husband anymore. And now, she is a widow.

A nurse interrupts her thoughts. "Mrs. Erickson?"

“Isabel, you can spend as much time as you need dear."

And then what?” This isn’t a movie where people know what to do. Where people have plans. She is unprepared. His body still lies there. “Cover him up!” she wants to scream. “Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone!" Thor. I worked so hard to be brave enough to leave you. I almost worked up the courage. Thor, I can’t remember loving you. I want to feel love right now. I want to feel horror that another human being has dropped dead in front of me.

She slumps to the floor again. Isabel doesn’t want to see him again. She wants him to be taken away.

She wants to be alone.

She is totally alone.

She is free.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Body Cleanse

Last month, a friend, whose book I am editing, shared with me a new cleanse system she is following: a regimen of two shakes a day and one healthy meal, a host of extra vitamins and two cleanse days per week for the first two weeks. Something about her enthusiasm struck me. And for some reason, I wanted to jump on board. She was happy to guide me. There was something inside me that screamed- I can do this! The question, of course, is why. Why do I want to jump on board. Is it about health? Is it about weight? Is it about body image? Am I giving in? Am I selling out? Am I? Am I? Why Why why?

I struggle with this issue on many levels. My most public fight is the body-positive feminist in me who dreams of opening a plus-size boutique and fights for women like me to know they are beautiful despite what society might say otherwise. But my private fight is with my history, the long line of disordered eaters in my lineage, my own defiant eating, my holding onto the weight of rebellion, of grief, and of the struggle to feel normal. I walk around with the feeling that I am beautiful in spite of not because of my body. I walk around with confidence and horror; pride and shame.

The most private answer to why is that I want another baby. 

Bam, I said it. Now, it’s out there in the universe. Besides being single (which isn’t a factor that would necessarily stop me from getting pregnant), I don’t feel that my body is in a place to get and be pregnant. I’m not asking for much from my body. I’m not asking to be skinny or even non-plus-size. Just….different.

Another piece of the conversation is my heart. People jump to what they think is the obvious reason: my heart. Yes, I just had open heart surgery. Yes, there are people who are overweight that need open heart surgery. My surgery, however, was about structural deformities that I was born with. There is no plaque filling my arteries, my blood pressure is not high, and I don’t even high cholesterol. Why am I even telling you this? Because I am sick of justifying my weighted existence. I am sick of people who think they have the answers to my questions.

I have mixed feelings about my body image. On one hand, I am beautiful, I have great style, and as everyone knows, I am never lacking in the dating arena. But then it happened...that moment every fat girl dreads-- being called out by a stranger. Not a total stranger. My best friend’s new boyfriend.  I met him for the first time on New Year’s Eve. It was a great night. Or, so I thought. He had one huge problem with the whole night: me.  Everything about me irked him: from my cleavage to my clothes to my open conversation. But what irked him the most was my fat. I can’t recall everything my best friend relayed to me, but the gist of it was that he couldn’t understand why I was fat. Why was I occupying so much space? (Frankly, I think every way I occupied space bothered him and not just my weight). 

She quickly dumped him, but his words stuck with me. They occupied  the deepest weakest part of my being. Some dumb, immature, grown up man who cared for no apparent reason (if we had been on a date and he wasn’t attracted to me, that is a completely different story. That I can understand and that doesn’t hurt me) had pointed out my biggest fear--- like he’d unraveled some deep dark secret. I suddenly felt the space I was occupying. My normal confident shell cracked ever so slightly. (okay, maybe more than slightly).

So, then my friend comes along with this shake program and suddenly, I’m like, fuck it. Why not?

Except after a pretty successful two weeks the culture of the program gets under my skin. I am in awe of the results pictures in our support group, and there are things I really enjoy reading and sharing, but it really isn’t a support group. It’s a virtual pep rally, and I’ve never really been one for pep rallies. I’ve come across real issues. The cleanse drink for the two consecutive cleanse days makes me violently ill. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t even think about it without getting nauseous. 

While my friend has been amazing about it, the group as a whole just seems to think I should work harder at it. Suck it up. Drink it anyway. My body thinks it poison and I should drink it so that I’ll get skinnier faster? Is that healthy? Then there is the fact that you aren’t supposed to eat for two days. Just drink the drink. Last night, I couldn’t do it, so I ate some veggies, and guess what? I felt like I’d failed. Eating veggies made me feel like a failure. 

Am I setting myself up for disordered eating? What kind of example am I setting for my kids?

That’s the one I struggle with the most. I didn’t have someone to teach me healthy eating. I was taught to fear food. And to not eat in front of my children seems like a terrible idea. If I should change anything, it should be modeling a positive, healthy, and smart connection to food.

I have no really answers right now, just a million questions I’m throwing out into the universe. I have no intention of giving up the program. For the most part, I really enjoy it, but I need a little more reality with my cleanse. I need someone else to say- this sucks! I’m miserable. I’m confused. I’m struggling. and I want the answer to be...me too. me too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

38 weeks

I want to write her name in the sky.
And watch it blow away in the wind.
I want to scream her name with joy
Pronouncing every syllable
Savoring each sound like fine wine
Or rich chocolate cake.

I want to fold perfect paper airplanes filled with each letter
And fly them into space.
I want her name in a bottle
Across the sea.

I want her name to mean something in this world.
I want to know it is more than a whisper from my mouth
Or a dream inside my head.

I want the idea of her to be
Honored and exalted.
              She is holy and her name is holy
Her name is my love
Her name is forgiveness
And light
Her name is my devotion
my loss
my grief
my pain
my wonder

Her name is my secret

My heart is broken but when they cut it open, no matter how they poke and prod,
her name will remain in my swishing heartbeat
in the oxygen that fills my body
Lifting my exhaustion.

It is her name that pulls at my heart
Making it beat faster

She's the angel that pushed me down to earth with my broken heart
The only sign of her remaining in the indentation
of her fingertip above my lips.
Her fingertip that erased my memory
leaving me with a lifetime of searching for the answer
to some foggy thought I can't quite catch

She's the piece that will mend my broken heart
not enough for perfection, but enough for life
So, she doesn't have to save me again

Her name is a blessing
She is my blessing
May her memory be a blessing

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Liberation Theology

When I was editor of the Jewish VOICE, I wrote a reflections article on my problems with Passover. As Passover approaches, I thought it would be good to share.

Liberation Theology
By Shoshana Kohn, Editor

I spent a long time staring at a blank page.  Why? Because as a part of a greater Jewish community, I realize that we are hold our own beliefs and these beliefs mean everything to us.  However, I think most of us struggle with something in Judaism, and if we don’t talk about it, and share it, we may never get over that struggle.  So, let me start by saying, while you, dear reader, may not agree, I, Shoshana Kohn, am a Biblical skeptic.  Therefore, as I grow older, I find myself more and more troubled with Passover. 
When it comes to historical fact and the bible, the academic world is very complicated. We know King Solomon was real. We know there was a Kingdom of Israel and a Kingdom of Judah.  Clearly, we know there was a Babylonian exile. However, other stories are historically murky.  The Exodus is one of the best examples of historical murkiness.  According to Prof. Israel Finkelstein in his book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts:
There is no evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt, not the slightest, not the least bit of evidence. There are no clues, either archaeological or historical; to prove that the Israelites built monuments in Egypt, even though the biblical description of the famine in the Land of Israel may be accurate. We know from archaeology that there was a migration of Canaanites to Egypt in the first half of the second millennium BCE, that these migrants built communities in the area of the Nile Delta, and that the Egyptians afterward expelled them from there. Perhaps that is the ancient memory, I don't know.
Many other archaeologists would agree that there is no physical evidence in the Sinai: no bones, no food refuge, no trash, and no tools— nothing that proves a people wandered through the desert.  More so, the Egyptians didn’t speak of us in their stories. So, archeologically speaking, it didn’t happen.
Of course, this begs the question: just because we aren’t aware of the evidence, does it mean that it doesn’t exist?  I would argue that the scope and breath of the investigation is so great that the archeologists are pretty spot on. Think of slaves in America: the books, the sales receipts, the physical remnants of slave labor throughout the south; the evidence goes on and on.  While yes, the story of the Hebrew slaves happened thousands of years ago, however, we know the kinds of records the Egyptians kept: the elaborate burials, the pyramids, and yet, the Israelites aren’t part of their narrative. Someone might argue that they wanted erase the narrative, but we possess too much information about the history of Egypt to assume something has gone missing.
Frankly, to me the greatest wonder of the Torah is that an intricate, complicated piece of literature has sustained itself all these years. Its power is in its stories. Its humanity, its characters, its life lessons. It is not simply a roadmap to how to live our lives, but a mythology that speaks to the very essence of what it means to be human. We grapple with those tales together. We analyze these characters we argue their words, their actions, their motivations. It is a millennial long conversation that keeps going.

And yet, at Passover, I take pause because through the recitation of the liberation from slavery, these stories morph from myth into historical fact. We recite so that we never forget what it meant to be slaves. However, in my mind,  I fear we have created a liberation theology without liberation.
This stops me dead in my tracks. How dare we call ourselves slaves when we live among the grandchildren of slaves? How dare we call ourselves slaves when women and children are sold into modern slavery?

But then- where did many slaves gain courage liberate themselves? The Exodus from Egypt. It is our story that we cultivated over time, our stories that we told and retold over thousands of years, that we, the People of the Book, upheld, carried, passed down over generation after generation. It is our stories that even with the creation of a new religion among other nations, was kept alive.
Why? Because it struck them just as it struck us: as worthy, as life giving, as strength.
No, we weren't slaves in Egypt, but we've been captives and wanderers, we've been tortured and broken- only to rise up again and again. We use our book to build community. We use our book to build a great democratic nation-whose own strengths and weaknesses are a reflection of the stories that have come before.
When Harriett Tubman led slaves through the Underground Railroad, they called her Moses. When slaves secretly learned how to read, they read the Bible, and in it they saw a people, not only yearning to be free, but a people who found their way to liberation.
Our stories are a light to the nations not because they are fact, but because it doesn't matter if they are fact. They are power.
As we sit down at the Passover table, we are giving our children the power of these stories. And maybe, just maybe, we can keep using our stories to bring about liberation until no one else needs to be freed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

This Is 35

This morning I read an article on Huffington Post, This is 38. It didn't sit right with me. Not because her reality wasn't truthful, but it was so different than my own reality. So, on the edge of my 35th birthday, I thought I'd write my own version. (And, a note to the grammar police, I decided to write 35 instead of thirty-five.)

This is 35

35 is rejections you thought would be over by now keep coming. It is losing the job that looked so impressive on paper. It is realizing that you hated your boss anyway. It is wondering where that perfect job you worked so hard to have will jump in your lap. At 35, looking towards 40 is much more appealing than looking backwards at 30. Being 25 sounds awful. Getting carded is no longer fun; it’s just confusing. 

Being 35 means leaving your old life and starting another. It means ex-husbands and anger. Missing children and sadness. It means that being the First Wife is a much happier life than being the Forever Wife. 35 means finding the friends you only dreamed about, feeling comfortable in your own skin, and learning you don’t have to talk to everyone- especially the ones you dislike. 35 is the great art of saying no.

Happiness is nothing like you imagined it. Sorrow is more likely to come from the days and days without your children than being stood up for a date. It also means that you still stay out late with your friends, drink too much sometimes, but feel much worse with a hangover.

35 is learning the curves of someone else’s body. It is the kind of confusion you missed in your twenties because you were already married. It is wondering if you’ll ever have another baby because time is ticking away and you can’t wrap your head around someone new and baby-worthy. It is waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is cowering and crying and praying that next fight won’t come with silence, punishment or cruelty. 35 is not knowing what better looks like.

It is nights on the couch drinking wine with your best friends. It is brunch and bookstores. It is wondering why your new girlfriend doesn’t realize turning the heat up to 75 costs a crazy amount of money. It is breathing deeply, so you don’t get mad.

35 is letting your daughter sleep in your bed and overindulging your son with inappropriate video games. It is staring at wife number two unable to see why she is appealing. It is the realization that you wasted too much time worrying about the pretty girls. It is knowing she is nothing like you. It is wondering if he secretly hurts her too. It is hearing your three-year-old call some other woman mommy because she’s too young to remember life without her. 

It is wondering what you ever saw in him. It is a door slammed in your face. A fight on the lawn. It is a judge. It is battles. It is freedom even when the freedom feels hard and scary.

It is seeing your parents in a whole new light. It is losing your last grandparent. It is arguing with your sister about your childhood and laughing at your ridiculousness. It is a large empty house that echoes when you walk. It is paying teenagers to shovel your sidewalks and jumping your car with your own cables.

It is wishing you hadn’t waited so long. It is bringing women together. It is knowing you aren’t alone. It is staring death in the face and living life anyway. It is numbness and madness. Desperation and exaltation. It is wonder and relief. Pain and chaos. It is shame and the need for forgiveness but not knowing where to start. It is desire and redemption. 

35 is trying to figure out who the fuck you are and striving to find who you want to become. Because becoming isn’t over. Becoming is just beginning. 35 isn’t old. It isn’t an ending. It is just the beginning of joy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


He is tall and slender with a crooked nose, big eyes, full lips, a steady professional job, and a neatly button-down shirt. His ordinariness is so extradinary it makes my heart ache. He belly laughs at my goofy, well-timed joke. His wedding ring laughs at me when it bumps against the table.

I am unsure what hurts more: the baby at the next table or him.

Both of them hold someone else's joy and on another day, in another week, in another year, neither would grab my attention with such strangling unyielding force.

And oddly, it's his force that pulls me more than the baby. Because, well, through all of this, my lack of a partner has left me emptier than I've ever known I could be. Even while pregnant, the loneliness grabbed me and pulled me down forcing the howl out of my throat.
And don't tell me about the kind of loneliness you feel when your partner isn't really your partner. I know every nook and cranny. I know every sharp edge.

But I can gather as many family and friends around me as I want. And they can give me strength, but this loss is mine and mine alone. There is no other hand to hold, no other heart that's broken, no one to even feel annoyed at because they aren't grieving the way in want them to grieve.

I don't even know how to grieve.

But I know how to want and wish. And that ordinary looks so good. It looks safe.

And I am no longer numb.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


A few months ago, my friend Jasmine posed on a question on her Facebook wall:  What makes you Howl?  Right now, the last thing I want to do is howl. Right now, all I want to numbness. Numbness and an empty head.  This, of course, is asking a lot from me...

At the end of a long summer of unemployment and dating, I found myself still single, still unemployed, and newly pregnant.  After a moment of hesitation, a scan on one internet site on the abortion pill that after ten seconds left me in tears, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was having baby number three.  Unlike my other two children, this child would be mine and mine alone.  While the complications of my current life would make this a challenge, my parents, sister, and close group of supportive female friends allowed me to see that this task would not be impossible.  Secretly,I was delighted.
 Secretly, because for the first time in my life, I was completely taken over by an unfamiliar emotion: fear of what other people would think.  More specifically, fear of how my tight knit Jewish community would react. While many find me quirky and endlessly entertaining, my lack of social currency and refusal to fit in can be a hard pill to swallow. I've mostly accepted this reality. 

As the weeks went on, the nausea enveloped me and the muscle memories of my other pregnancies made it hard to hide my newly pregnant belly. However, every ounce of me felt the need to hide. I stopped going to my coffee shop filled with Jews, avoided my married friend’s morning walk around the new walking loop at the JCC, and stayed away from any place I might run into people from my community. My secret happiness was overshadowed by this constant worry of their judgment. When Rosh Hashanah rolled around,  I stood over the Torah to chant. All I could think, “They know I’m pregnant. They can see my belly.” So, of course, I lost my place.  After attending a Jewish funeral filled with much of the community and Yom Kippur,  I was convinced it must be obvious.  Scenarios of shame ran through my head. Gossip. Quiet whispers. Disapproval. All things I've never cared about before filled my head and overtook my joy. 
And yet, in reality, no one I actually told ever tried to take my joy. My friends and family were completely supportive and kind. They allowed me to feel happy. But the shame filled me. 

Then on Monday morning, after noticing light spotting, I called the doctor. They sent me in for an ultrasound.  I was sure that it was nothing. It felt like nothing. I still looked pregnant. I still wanted to throw up. I was just being overly cautious.

When the nurse rolled over my belly, she said she was having a hard time getting a good picture.  She changed to a transvaginal ultrasound, kept looking, and then said, “There’s no sign of movement. No heartbeat.”  

I tried to get her to try again. I asked her to get someone else to look. She measured the baby and said it must have stopped growing at 8 weeks  5 days.  It had been a while. 

A physician’s assistant came in and gave me the sad speech. The one that makes you want to punch people in the face. The speech that tells you that it’s not your fault and that it happens all the time. And I can try again very soon.

Try again very soon. That’s the big fat cosmic joke of it all. I’m an unemployed single mother. I have no partner or independent wealth. This was a happy accident. But, trying again soon is  an impossibility. My third child will have to wait until undetermined time in the future that I cannot even fathom: a time where I either have a partner or am in a position to realistically and smartly do this alone.
And I wasted all that happiness on shame.

On Tuesday, my best friend drove me to the surgery center where I had a D and E to remove the fetus. She drove me home. Then brought me dinner. Two other friends stopped over that night to bring me movies and pumpkin pie. Then three more friends visited me the next day while I had to stay home resting.  All anyone brought me was love and kindness and good words, and sympathy. No one made me feel that this wasn't a loss or it’s better this way because of the complications of my life.

And I realize now that my shame was misplaced. My fear unnecessary. I hid for nothing.

Because miscarriage is so common, we are all told to keep this secret until everything is safe. But the thing is, nothing is actually ever really safe,  When you are walking through life without a partner, doing something that usually requires a partner, it’s very lonely.

So now, for the moment, while I understand that my usual self would howl and scream and cry uncontrollably, I sit on a plane on the way home to the safely of my parents and my childhood friends. I
cannot howl. I am numb and I pray that I can sit inside this numbness until I am ready.