Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lonely

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

Numb

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. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tattoo Tuesday: Am Yisrael Chai

Last January, my friend Galit Breen published an article on Jews and Tattoos. I was lucky enough to be a part of it. Today, I've added more ink to my body. Like everything I do, my ink has everything to do with my Jewishness...

I am a tattooed Jew. Most of my tattoos define my Judaism.  I reject the prohibition against tattoos. I am not committing idolatry nor am I debasing my body by making it more beautiful. I am a Reform Jew. I am the mother of two children whose father is not a Jew. I am a Queer Jew. I am a Jew who loves, honors, respects, intellectualizes and questions my people and my religion every second of every day. My Jewishness is at the core of my very being, and my tattoos reflect my identity.  The tattoo on my leg is Eve, naked in front of a tree, holding an apple with a Torah scroll wrapped around her body. The words- Etz Chaim- tree of life are above her head. Frankly, it’s a lot of information to unpack.  For me, Eve is the most important character in the entire Torah. She represents what it means to be human at our very core- and by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, she gave us our own humanity. While we’d love to see the world wrapped in goodness- it simply is not all good. The world is a complicated place. We are complicated creatures.  We were never meant to stay in that metaphorical garden of perfection.  The Torah scroll is wrapped around Eve’s body because it is a book filled with complicated creatures: imperfect heroes, confusing villains, authentic parents, arrogant children, selfless friends, loving leaders, lecherous lovers, upright kings, and wavering prophets.  We are all these things. God is all these things.  My tattoo reminds me of the beauty of this humanity every day. And when people see it, I get to talk about my Judaism.  I get to tell the world that I am a Jew, which leads to the tattoo on my right wrist- it is the Hebrew words: Hineni—here I am. 

Hineni is mentioned in the Torah many times- the first in the Akedah when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It’s another one of those complicated stories that speaks to the very core of our humanity. In it, God calls out to Abraham and Abraham answers, “Hineni!” Here I am. It is the start of a test, a downward spiral, the breaking up of a family, a lesson in morality, a lesson in parenting, a physical walk up a hill that leads to the most horrific moments in  Isaac’s life.  And yet, Isaac does not die—He lives. Here I am: three words that remind us that there is life underneath it all. That despite pain- we live.


Today, I found myself again, sitting in a chair with a needle coloring my arm. I sat in that chair from a place of great privilege: the privilege of being an American Jew in the comfort of my small East Coast city with a strong Jewish community and, frankly, rather apathetic citizens. I am safe. I am not questioned. I am not harassed. From a great distance, I watch from friends and family run to bomb shelters to protect themselves from Hamas' twisted revenge fantasy. I pour over articles explaining over and over that Israel has every right to defend itself. I am stunned by the acts of Antisemitism spreading like black plague through Europe. I am saddened by the far left's inability to see the truth.  But, most of all, I am helpless. 
When people ask where my name comes from, I don’t tell them it’s Hebrew or even Jewish, it’s Israeli. My name is a challenge. Inside of shying away, it announces who I am—even more, who my people are. But, I don’t walk around with a name tag. As Eitan Chitayat, so brilliantly wrote in his article in the Times of Israel “Down with the Yellow Star,” while we no longer walk around with Yellow Jewish Stars, there is something empowering about taking their power back:

“I want to wear a yellow star above my left breast where each and every Holocaust victim was forced to don one. I want to walk around with a yellow star on every solitary piece of clothing I own. On my American Apparel V-neck, my Nike sweatshirt, Ralph Lauren sweater, my Champion hoodie, my Diesel button-down, H&M jacket, Adidas jersey and Gap blazer. I’ll wear it at the beach on my bare chest if I have to. 
I want to walk down the streets of Paris and confront people like this. Outside the White house near these friendly haters confronting an ex-marine. In Brussels, the Netherlands, the mosques of Berlin, in streets of Canada – and England especially – to meet this idiot. I’d like to go to campuses in the States, like this one at the University of California, San Diego to talk to this girl here – I’ll be wearing my yellow star."


 My name is my yellow star. My tattoos are my yellow star. Before I even read the article, I too wanted something that anyone that saw my arm immediately knew- SHE IS A JEW.  I wanted a tattoo that forced strangers to ask- what does your tattoo say? So, I searched for an image that spoke to me. I searched for something that screamed out my Jewishness and my peoplehood and my love of a far away land  whose right to exist is questioned whether it’s sitting quietly or defending its citizens.  While looking for images, I came across graffiti in Israel: a large Jewish star with the words, Am Yisrael Chai underneath. The People of Israel Live. The star is blue. The words are blue and, because it is graffiti, the paint drips. It is the graffiti of a modern city. It is the graffiti of pride. It is graffiti of defiance.  And, now, it is graffiti down my arm that screams to the whole world: I am a Jew. I am alive. I am proud. 
So, today, I sat in that chair as blue ink sliced through my arm and from the pain and noise of the needle came a Star of David and the words, Am Yisrael Chai. I love my Judaism. I love our stories, our mythology, our truths, and our sense of justice.  I love our people. And my love is written all over my body for the whole world to see.