Crazy Fingers

Do you think it’s possible to pinpoint the exact moment in time when you turn crazy?  Is it an immediate change?  Does it happen on the turn of a dime?  Or does crazy ease in gradually, laying low and plotting, creeping in ever so slowly like a thief to steal your sanity from the pockets of your mind while your back is turned?  Or is it like lightening?  One moment it’s there lighting up the sky like so many flashing cameras, catching you unawares, blinding you, and then it’s gone.  The sky appears unchanged, but somewhere in the landscape of your psyche you’ve been hit.  The lightening is gone, but the ground still sizzles and burns in its aftermath….

I was floating in a lazy haze of rain falling like crazy fingers when an insistent knocking on my door startled me out of my musical reverie.  Seriously?  The numbers on the clock glowed in the darkness of a morning so early it could still be called night.   2:32.

“Fuck,” I sighed uncurling my contentedly heavy body from the cradle of my papasan chair. Knocks on doors at 2:32 in the morning were rarely a good thing and I was in no shape to do battle with a neighbor, especially not one that could possibly be disgruntled by sounds of The Dead trickling through the summer night air.   But I wasn’t even half way down the hall when I heard a familiar voice call out to me, “Girl, hurry up and open this door.  I can hear those tunes downstairs and I want in!”

“Nice!” I smiled opening the door.  This was so much better than a Dead hating, disgruntled neighbor.  This was, in fact, the exact opposite of that.  When a rapping on your door calls out to you in the middle of a morning so early it’s still practically night, this was exactly who you wanted to find waiting for you on the other side.  My downstairs neighbor; the once mere friendly smile in the hallway who had long ago morphed into my friend; the summa cum laude double major inspiration with a penchant for nag champa, cocktails in the afternoon and music before studying, in the middle of studying and after; the genius who oozed adventure and wiped her ass with job offers she had so many to spare.  There she stood, two weeks before her graduation, packed bowl in one hand, lighter in the other, leaning on the doorframe like she’d been waiting for days.  “Hey girl,” she smiled walking past me into the living room. “I brought you some green magic in exchange for the tunes and the pleasure of your company but I can smell you’re not in need.  Typical.”    She laughed quietly to herself setting her apparatus down on the coffee table.  “Here, keep it for the next time you do the weed crawl and you come up empty handed.”  Then, settling into her usual corner of the sofa she looked at me and in an uncharacteristically serious moment she sighed, “Damn.  I hate that you get to stay and I have to go.  Can’t I just stay one more year?  Ah fuck, I’m gonna miss this shit.”  And that was it.  Our night continued on as they always did with music, conversation and laughter until the sky hinted at signs of the morning light.  Then she let herself out and I passed out in my chair, too lazy and high on the awesome of it all to make my way to my bed.

It couldn’t have been more than a few hours later when I was startled into consciousness again, this time by my roommate, Gina, frantically shaking me, “Jess.  Wake up.  Wake up!”

“God, stop touching me.  What are you doing?  What time is it?”  I grumbled questions at her resisting the urge to push her over and go back to sleep.

“It’s 9 o’clock.  Wake up!!  Listen.  Do you hear that?”  Her eyes, wide and uneasy, searched mine for acknowledgement as she waited for me to hear it too.

“Yes.  What is that?”  Fully awake now, I sat up a little straighter as my arms erupted in skin chilling bumps, “God, that’s awful.  What is that?”

As she stuttered for an answer, the look in her eyes shifted from uneasy to terrified, “I think it’s screaming.  I think it’s coming from downstairs.”

And in an instant we were out the door, down the stairs in and the hallway below only to find our path blocked by enormous firemen and EMTs refusing to let us pass.  “What the hell!  What is going on?” Gina demanded as we attempted to struggle through the wall of uniforms standing in our way.

“I’m sorry ladies,” a kind eyed EMT took control of the situation, “but you can’t go in there.”

“That’s our friend’s apartment,” I pleaded, “Please, what’s happening?”

And then, through the confusion we heard her calling out to us, “Jess?  Gina?  Is that you?  Please help me!!”   Before we could answer the screaming started again, “Jess!  Gina!!! Please help me!!  Please!!  Let them in.  Why won’t you let them in?!?!?!?  LET THEM IN!!!!”   The shrieking clawed so viciously at my ears that I was sure they must be bleeding, but it worked.  Their resolve crumbling, the firemen began to back away creating a path for us and we raced toward our friend.   But when I reached the front door I froze; unable to move, an image of what lay before me began to sear itself forever into my brain….

It was as if I had stepped into a movie I desperately wanted to un-see but couldn’t escape.   My legs grew heavy and my feet refused to leave the floor as my eyes slowly panned the scene in front of me.   Water.  There was water everywhere;  dripping down the walls,  curling in inexplicable patterns around invisible roadblocks until it reached the floor and began stretching out in all directions, searching for a place to hide;  rising up out of the carpet where my feet had intruded upon its resting place;  pouring over wooden kitchen cabinets  whose doors hung  ajar like mouths crying out for the safe return of their lost inhabitants; inhabitants that would never find their way home because  they lay shattered in a million pieces all across the kitchen floor and spilling into the living room where picture frames and prized possession had been torn from their once carefully selected places of display and tossed into the destruction.   Her books, all of them, had been wrestled from their shelves and precious pages torn from bindings created a trail that pulled my gaze in further toward the bathroom where volume after volume of priceless words lay drowning in a bathtub filled to the top and spilling over onto the tile floor.  And there she was in the middle of it all, soaking wet from head to toe; screaming and writhing so hard that it took 3 men to hold her leaf like body still.

We moved toward her and when she saw us the screaming stopped.  A blanket of silence fell over the room; not even an exhale rippled the air as we all watched her, waiting to see what would happen next.  But she was finished.   As she dropped to her knees, she looked up at me with the eyes of a scared child and quietly whispered my name, “Jess?”  She reached out to touch my cheek and as I wrapped her hand in mine she asked, “What happened?  I don’t know what happened.  I just wanted to stay a little longer.”  She searched my face for an answer that I didn’t have as they picked her up to carry her to the ambulance.  And as her fingers trailed out of my hands her eyes,  full of tears finally spilling over to join the sea of water that had washed across the floor, stayed glued to mine, “I just wanted to stay a little longer, you know?”   And then she was gone.

I hadn’t noticed anything different.  The night before, I hadn’t noticed anything different.  Should I have been looking for it?  The crazy?  Was it even there yet?  Had there been storm clouds rolling in?  I didn’t notice anything different.  The air wasn’t heavy, I swear.  There was no lightening.  It didn’t feel like rain.  But maybe it had been there all along, falling like crazy fingers, just like they said it would.

Published in: on June 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  

Love brings the Rainbow

Unrequited love.   It feeds you and drains you all at once.  It hijacks your every moment and seeps into the spaces between your thoughts; spaces you never knew existed until they were no longer empty.  Night after night it dangles sleep just out of your reach, driving you to the brink of insanity until it finally gives in only to haunt your dreams with the kind of longing to which words can never give voice.  Each inhale becomes a wish, each exhale a reluctant admission of what you’ve come to understand will never be.  And so you begin to hold your breath, hold onto your wish, forever waiting at the top of an inhale.  And as the flow of oxygen slows, somehow the pain lessens, but the colors, the colors become so achingly bright that you can see the rainbow.  The rainbow…. perhaps, that should have been my first clue…..

It was the kind of heat that you could see.  It rippled the air, making waves where there was no ocean, blurring the edges of life. Ceiling fans spun in lazy circles pushing steam around the summer sauna we called a rehearsal studio.  Scripts slipped from sweaty hands as bodies gave into the oppression.  Unable to fight it, there was nothing left to do but lie on the floor, heavy eyelids drooping shut, and breathe while listening to the scene unfold.   But not me.   Sweat dripped down my back and my body cried out for water and rest, but I couldn’t, wouldn’t, avert my eyes.  I would have rather burned in the flame of his beauty than miss a moment of his light.  As the rest of us poured sweat, he merely glistened, moisture dancing like diamonds on the surface of his skin.  He was perfect.   And I loved him.  I loved the way he moved, so graceful that he seemed to glide.  I loved the sound of his voice, musical even in the absence of song.   He always had the perfect outfit, and somehow, he seemed to be able to dress me better than I could dress myself.  When we talked, he would giggle with me, truly giggle, so that I didn’t have to feel foolish giggling alone.  And when the other girls would sigh as they watched the boys walk by, he would sigh with them to show his support.  He was just thoughtful like that.  He was the most magical, wonderful boy I’d ever known.  Every time I caught a glimpse of him my breath would catch in my chest and I would see rainbows.   He was surrounded by rainbows.

I really couldn’t blame him for not seeing how incredible our love might be.  After all, I’d spent the last 4 weeks playing a boy in our summer production of Our Town.  That’s what happens when you’re at a theater camp with a shortage of males and you’re a 15 year old girl with no tits and no hips who happens to be the size of an overgrown midget; you get cast as the little brother.  But, oddly, he didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, during rehearsals I could have sworn that he was flirting with me, paying extra attention to me, always wanting to be near me which was odd because at rehearsals I was all boyed up and dripping in my feeble attempt at masculinity.  And yet, as soon as I slipped on a sundress and a Lipsmackers covered smile, it was as if everything shifted and suddenly I was just one of the guys.  I didn’t understand how his attention could ebb and flow like that when all I could do was think about him.  I didn’t understand how he could laugh and eat and sing while I was stuck holding my breath at the top of an inhale and seeing rainbows.  I didn’t understand that as far as our great love story was concerned, the best thing I had going for were my daily male makeovers and that his beautiful rainbow aura was a sign from the universe screaming at me to wake up and smell the gay.   All I understood was that I was in love and I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to let him know.

It’s possible that 5 minutes before the curtain went up on opening night might not have been the most opportune time drop my bomb on him, but then again, there’s never really a good time for a young doe eyed girl of 15 to profess her undying love to a boy who can never love her back.  As he stood there, stuttering and stammering, desperately searching for anywhere to go that was away from me, his normally rosy cheeks faded to a white so pale they could only be called transparent.  He refused look at me.  He just backed away, continuing to stutter and stammer but not saying anything at all.   And as I watched him flee, tears poured down my checks finally offering some cool relief from the agonizing summer heat, but I didn’t notice.

15 years later my rainbow love and I, still friends, found ourselves sitting across a table from each other in the big bad city, sipping on margaritas and reminiscing about times long gone.  “Man,” he sighed, “those summers were pure magic.  We were all just so completely in love with each other back then, you know what I mean?…..What?  Why are you smiling like that?”

“Well, as I recall my friend, I was pretty much just completely in love with you,” I teased.

“Ahhh yes,” he laughed, “Sorry kid, you had the wrong parts.  Still do.”

“Forever my burden to bear I suppose,” I returned his laugh as I reached across the table to squeeze his hand.  And as we sat there, they gay and the straight, holding hands and loving each other desperately, I found that I could finally exhale.  Love might not come exactly the way you wish for it, but it always comes.  And when it does, sometimes it brings the rainbow.


Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

For Freedom and Wicket!

I needed to do this.  It was time.  Time for me to stand on my own two feet.  Time for me to be independent.  Time for me to start calling the shots.  I say who; I say when; I say what.  And what was the new Ewok stuffed animal, Wicket, from the forest moon Endor in a Galaxy far, far away…..or possibly a Transformer.  It was a nearly impossible decision and any attempt at making one inevitably brought on a migraine.  But Wicket would obviously give me more street cred, and every time I mentioned the Transformer my mom got all shifty and tried to distract me with talk of Barbies and My Little Pony.   It was weird.  It was also just irritating enough to make me settle on Wicket.  But finally having made my agonizing decision meant nothing due to the enormous wall of parental NO that I kept smacking my head against.  I was too old to throw a temper tantrum in the aisle of the toy store and too young to legally divorce my parents.   Besides, I was relatively certain that denying one’s right to a snuggly stuffed ball of awesomeness would not actually hold up in court as child abuse.  I know, I know – without legal council I couldn’t be sure, but I was really smart for an almost 12 year old and I just had a gut feeling.  Without the law on my side, there was only one thing left to do.  If my parents weren’t going to give me the money, then I would just have to make it myself.

Babysitting.  I’d been avoiding it like a white kid from the suburbs avoids the projects.  I mean I genuinely believed that babysitting was a respectable career choice for enslaved minors such as myself, but every time I’d been presented with an opportunity to break into the field, something deep inside me resisted.  “This is not you,” it would argue.  “Sure, the money will make you happy in the beginning, but when the glow of your riches begins to fade, all you’ll be left with is a toy chest full of yesterday’s news and the knowledge that you gave up on you.”   But this time things were different.  This time I had a more noble purpose.  This time I was fighting for freedom.  Freedom and an Ewok named Wicket.

I stood there with my feet frozen to the sidewalk, staring up at the big yellow house.  It was the kind of house that was trying way too hard to be inviting.  The kind of house that lures you in with a smile then smacks you over the head with a frying pan, brain washes you, dyes your hair blonde and starts introducing you to the neighbors as it’s daughter, Nancy, who’d just come home from boarding school.  I was beginning to think that the white kids from the suburbs might have had the right idea when I caught a glimpse of a miniature, cherub like face peering out at me ever so shyly from behind a curtain.

“Oh, how bad could it really be?” I reasoned.  “Look at it, it’s just a kid.  An adorable, tiny, little human.” I reminded myself that I was practically a full-fledged pre-teen yet puppies still cowered in the face of my cuteness.  And this midget was at least 7 years my junior, he was probably oozing cute. Everything was going to be fine.  I could do this.   I could do this for freedom.  I could do this for Wicket.  “For Freedom and Wicket!”  I cried, and thrusting my arm victoriously into the air I charged toward the door.

In retrospect, I could probably have made a less awkward first impression.  But after the initial shock of my entrance wore off, the parents graciously introduced themselves amidst a whirlwind of emergency numbers, snack instructions and nap times.  And then they were gone, obviously fleeing before I had a chance to change my mind.  They hadn’t even bothered to introduce me to their son who was now staring up at me with a precious little angelic face full of questions.  I knelt down so that we were eye level and introduced myself, “Hi Nathan, I’m Jess.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Eat shit,” Nathan responded returning my smile.

“Um, pardon?” Clearly I’d heard him wrong.

“Eat shit and die,” he repeated, visibly proud of his added embellishment.

I had to assume that in this particular situation, “You first,” was not an appropriate response.  So instead, digging deep into my arsenal of witty retorts, I responded as only an exceptionally intelligent, almost 12 year old, first time babysitter would; with a horrified stare and utter speechlessness.  Nathan smelled my loss for words like a dog smells fear.  With a devilish twinkle growing in his eyes he leaned forward until his face was just inches from mine and, in a battle cry that rivaled my own, screamed, “I said, eat shit and die, SCUUUUUMMMMM!!!” Then he punctuated it with a violent flick to my forehead and he was off and running…..

Having had no prior experience to compare this to, it was tough to know for sure, but I strongly suspected that things weren’t going well.  It was clear that I had to get this situation under control; I had to subdue the beast.  Following it’s trail of terror; sofa cushions torn and tossed to the floor, G.I. Joe’s with missing limbs strewn about and helplessly waiting for rescue that would never come, and a half eaten hot dog dripping with a substance that I couldn’t rule out as blood; I found my way to the back door and cautiously stepped outside. The yard was empty.

“Nathan?” I called out its name halfway hoping it had found its way to the street to play in traffic.  “Nathan, I think we got off on the wrong foot.  I’m sorry.  Come on out, ok?”  By the time I detected the rustling in the bushes it was too late, the Nerf bat was already flying toward my gut.  The beast had weapons.

As I doubled over more out of shock than pain, the tiny monster hit me while I was down with a karate chop to the head then it took off running again.   Thankfully, due to it’s miniature stature, only my pride was wounded making pursuit relatively easy.

Nathan, stop!!!” I yelled.  And it did.  It stopped for just long enough to turn around and spit directly into my mouth, which I had stupidly left hanging wide open in mid reprimand.  It had to have been a fluke.  No 5 year old had loogie hocking skills that accurate.  Then again, I couldn’t be entirely sure the tiny terrorist was even of this world, so perhaps this was no accident.  But fluke or no fluke, it required all the strength I had left to suppress my gagging for just long enough to utter the phrase that would be my undoing.

“You nasty little fuck.” It fell out of my mouth before I realized what was happening and the shock of it froze me where I stood.  I’d never said that word out loud before.  I was amazed at how good it felt coming out of my mouth, explosive in all the right places.  It tasted like victory.  Reveling, as I was, in this new found glory, I only noticed the fist sized plastic tyrannosaurus rex flying through the air when it was mere centimeters from my head…

I’m not sure how long I was out before a shot of ice cold liquid to the face brought me back to my own personal hell.  I noticed that my head was throbbing, not surprising considering I’d survived a dinosaur attack.  Taking stock of my situation, I also noticed that I was on the ground, on my back and that liquid from my hair was dripping into my eyes and mouth.  Milk.  The beast child had revived me with milk.   The tiny bastard could at least have soaked me with Vodka then pegged me in the mouth with an olive.  But he clearly wasn’t concerned with my needs.  I lay there pondering the combination of Vodka and olives and questioning how the thought of something I’d never tasted before could actually make me salivate, when a shadow fell over me, blocking out the sun.  It had returned.  Blinking the milk out of my eyes, I looked up into the face of the beast and it was smiling.  “Stay,” it commanded.  And, soaking in a pool of milk and tears, stay I did.

After the bruises healed and the nightmares subsided, I finally got my Ewok, hugged him once and put him on a shelf in my closet.  He’s still in there, tucked between my unworn suit and an unused briefcase.  From time to time, when I fling the closet doors wide open on the hunt for some misplaced stage makeup or a book of sheet music, I’ll catch a glimpse of them sitting up there on their shelf, smile and whisper, “stay,” as I shut the door.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm  Comments (2)  

The Honk Clicker

There was a time when I didn’t know better.  There was a time when I proudly wore my heart on the outside, dangling around my neck like a medal of honor for the world to see.  It was my script when I stepped on stage; my melody when I sang a song; my first impression offered to a potential new friend.  There was a time when I wore my insides on the outside because I was sure they were the best part of me.  They were honest and pure.  There was no right or wrong where insides were concerned, there was only truth.  And how could truth ever be wrong? There was a time when I didn’t know better.  But I learned.

It was a slow process, the learning to know better.  It crept into the corners of my confidence bearing promises of music and art.  It lavished me with bouquets of knowledge.  The learning smiled at me with kind eyes and stroked my cheek, seducing me with a world of experience that would be mine one day if I just let it in.  And so I did.  I didn’t realize that my insides needed protecting.  It never occurred to me to stand guard.   I didn’t know that it was even possible to lose heart and so when the learning knocked I let in, willingly.  I let it in.   I let it tickle my fear like the moment before my first kiss tickled my pulse, and it left me wanting more.  The brush of its lips brought butterflies furiously fluttering, pumping longing through my veins.  It made me shake and shiver and then I blinked and it was gone.  I was left alone, breathless and wanting more.   I didn’t know better.  I didn’t know and so I went in search of it.  And I found it.

It came wrapped up in one of the thick envelopes.  You know, the really big ones that scream of your success, announcing your achievement to the world without you ever having to open it.  “You’re in!!!” it cheered.  “You’re one of us!  We’re going to change your life!”  And they did.

For four years I let them change my life.   I let them serve up critique with a dash of praise.  I let them tear me down then build me up so that they could tear me down again.  And each time I crumbled I told myself, “I am so lucky to be here.  It hurts now, but it will help later.”  I closed my eyes and waited for the echo of harsh words to fade, and when they had, I would take a deep breath, willing my insides to the outside despite their newfound reluctance, and I would try again.  I learned that judgment with a fresh coat of education can be passed off as artistic critique.  I chased after the punishment like a junkie chases after their next fix.  And with each new nugget of information I stood a little taller, secure with the knowledge that I would come out of this the best of the best.  I rode my high horse all the way to graduation and smiled because I’d made it there with my heart still intact.  Even then, I didn’t know….

As we settled into our seats I looked up at the faces of my professors on stage and it was all I could do stop myself from barreling toward them screaming, “THANK YOU!” at the top of my lungs.  Still, somehow, I didn’t know.  I listened intently as the dean stepped to the podium, not wanting to miss a drop of his precious last words of wisdom.  I listened as he congratulated us on making it through one of the most competitive and highly regarded performing arts programs in the country, and I smiled.  I listened as he spoke of all the great success that was waiting for us, and I smiled.  I listened as he introduced our speaker, a woman who had changed the face of music, who had been courageous and innovative and broken barriers we didn’t even know existed.  I listened as he told us how lucky we were to have this woman in our humble presence and I smiled, holding my breath with excited anticipation.

The room buzzed with energy as she took her place behind the microphone.  She did not speak.  She simply closed her eyes and reaching deep inside herself, she coaxed her heart to the outside so she could share it with us, and then she opened her mouth and…..


Wait…what?  She….wait……I’m sorry, but was she honking?!?!  She was.   She was honking….and clicking.  This glorious musician, this goddess among women, this greatest of gifts to the world of performance was standing before us and like a mechanical goose with an unfortunate tick, she was honking and clicking.   And suddenly, I was laughing.  I couldn’t stop.  I had to bow my head to hide my immaturity from the gaze of my sophisticated classmates and my suppression of sound forced the laughter out of my eyes until tears began to stream down my cheeks.  And still, she honked.

Quit it!!” I silently hissed at myself.  “What is wrong with you?!?!  You are an artist. Pull it together and respect this woman’s fucking art, dammit!”

But another voice, a louder voice, chimed in incredulous, “Are you kidding me?” it scoffed.  “Is this really happening?  My sister got Billy Cosby and I got the fucking Honk Clicker?!?!? Are you kidding me?!?!”  And in the next beat, “Oh god.  My parents.  My parents just shelled out obscene amounts of money for my education and they’re going to think I’m graduating suma cum laude with a degree in honk-clicking.  I get ONE fucking graduation and THIS is it?” My righteous indignation hit me like a cup of coffee hits a drunk and my laughter subsided.  Finally, with my emotions under control, disgruntled though I might have been, I was able to lift my head.  And when I did what I saw was almost enough to put me right back over the edge.  Almost.

It was a sea of silent laughter as far as the eye could see.  Row upon row of bowed heads and shaking shoulders.  Guts aching with amusement were being cradled.  Mouths hanging wide open were being covered to prevent the disdain from flying out.  Eyes were frozen wide with ridicule. Looking at the faces of those closest to me revealed tears swimming in streams of delighted hilarity, much like mine had.  Oh yeah, we were artistically critiquing the crap out of this woman.  Hell, it was our graduation day and we were professionals now, we had earned it.  And as my own suppressed laughter bubbled in my throat and welled up behind my eyes, begging for freedom, my gaze traveled back to the source of our entertainment.

There she was; The Honk Clicker.  Standing before us with her eyes wide open.  Watching us.  She was standing there so innocently with her insides on the outside, honking and clicking and watching us laugh.  At her.  And in that moment my lesson, years and years in the making, was finally complete.  In that single moment, I finally and forever learned to know better.  In that moment I learned that insides are never really safe on the outside. I learned that people will judge your truth just because they can.  I learned that educated children masquerading as artistic adults will thoughtlessly steal your heart and never look back.  In that moment I learned that I desperately wanted to unlearn my lesson because all it left me with was fear.  The Honk Clicker stood before us gifting us with her truth and we decided that it wasn’t good enough.  She shared her heart and we labeled it absurd.  Our cruelty grabbed a hold of me, latching onto my gut and laughing.  “Foolish girl,” it cooed.  “Your insides were never safe. You just didn’t know better.  But now you do.  Care to sing us a song?”  No.  No, I don’t.  Not ever.

In the days of not knowing better, sharing my heart was easy, my naivety was my shield.  Now, ten years later, I’m still haunted by what I’ve learned. But inside my fear I found a new lesson, a better lesson; despite the knowledge that if I share my truth with you, you might spit it back at me tattered by judgment and dripping with mockery, I am compelled to do it anyway and that requires a gift far greater than naivety.  That requires courage.  And I have it.   So on the rare occasions when I choose to wear my insides on the outside, I send a little wish up to The Honk Clicker, “Thank you for the courage,” I breathe.  “And I’m sorry.”

Published in: on March 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm  Comments (6)  

The Whispered Word

My people have a tendency to whisper the “bad” words.  Have you noticed?  We whisper when forced to discuss any situation that might be deemed, in some way, a hard-ship:  illness, divorce, job-loss, Mrs. Rosenbergensteinowitzenbaum’s fashion faux pas at Shabbat services last Friday night; we whisper the undesirable.  You see, we’re allowed to make the distinction between what is desirable and what is not because we are The Chosen People.  Exactly what we’ve been chosen for remains unclear.  But we have been chosen; we know this much to be true.  Yet, with great power comes great responsibility.  We must forever be vigilant.  We must do everything possible to ensure that we remain deserving of our Chosen status, so we whisper the “bad” words to prevent tales of our imperfection, or even our association with imperfection, from reaching the ears of the Choosers.  It’s complicated and our lives are hard.  But we remain Chosen and for this we are grateful.  Shalom.  L’chaim.  Gefilte fish.  Amen.

You’ve probably assumed that for all these years we were just being jewdgemental .  Not so.  The whispered word is not about jewdgement, it is about survival.  It knows no bounds.  The whispered word is blind to color, to creed, to character; it sees only shades of safety or the lack thereof.  The whispered word makes no exceptions.  Not even for one of its’ own.  Not even for me.  

Amongst my people, my name has become a whispered word.  Jess.  I don’t take it personally because I understand the great responsibility that we, The Chosen People, have been burdened with.  And I don’t spend my days, like the so many others whose names have also become a whispered word, wondering how it was that I got here.  No, for me the turning point; the first moment I had to strain to hear my name spoken; is quite clear.

The clock read 3:32am.  I had gone to bed not two hours earlier grateful for sleep after a taxing day of packing and goodbyes.   But at 3:32am the hammering of my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest forced me awake.  My pulse raced as the blood whipped through my veins screaming , “Listen!  Listen!”  The room was hot but I couldn’t stop shaking.  There was no part of my body untouched by sudden, violent, involuntary, organ quivering movement.  I couldn’t breathe.  Seconds early I’d been dreaming peacefully and now I was wide awake and gasping for air.  “Breathe!” I willed the silent command at my lungs.  “Breathe!  Please breathe,” I pleaded.  But they refused to listen.  They would not be controlled.

I knew what was happening.  I knew it even though it had never happened to me before.  I knew it because my body was forcing me to recognize what I had pushed to the deepest, dustiest pockets of my mind.  I knew it because when your gut speaks to you, you can ignore it; but when it screams at you, there is no way not to hear.  It was panic like I had never known before; pure heart wrenching, room spinning panic.  And suddenly, there inside the pounding of my heart, I could hear it; a rhythmic, racing plea from my heart to my head, “Don’t go. Don’t go.  Don’t go.  Don’t go.”  The moment I heard it I could breathe again.  I could breathe and I could cry and I continued to do so well into the morning.

The next morning, I dragged my haggard body out of bed and made my way downstairs to my farewell breakfast.  I prayed that I would be able to pass off the exhaustion of crying all night as the grogginess of those first waking moments after a night of deep sleep.  But I hadn’t gotten so far as the bottom stair before my mother caught a glimpse of me, and immediately, she knew.  She smiled stretching her hand out to me, “Come sit with me, honey.”  I was reluctant, but she persisted.  “Come on, come sit with me.”  I took her hand and followed her to the loveseat in the family room and there we sat, with me nestled in the crook of her arm.  It was the exact spot I had spent the last 4 years trying to escape, but in that moment it was warm and safe and exactly where I wanted to be.  She was silent for a moment and then kissing the top of my head she said very simply, “You don’t have to go back if you don’t want to.”

“Yes I do,” I choked through defeated tears.

“Why?” she stroked my hair, “Who are you trying to please?”

“I can’t not go back to school,” I said not really answering her question.  “I graduated from high school 4th in my class, mom.  I made the honor roll my first year at college.  I have a scholarship and roommates that are expecting me.  I’m supposed to be there tomorrow.  I can’t not go back.”

“Yes you can.  If you tell me right now that you don’t want to go back to school, then you don’t have to go back.”  Her words were honest, without the slightest trace of anger or disappointment.  There was only love. 

I couldn’t look at her when I answered, I didn’t want her to see the failure that had flooded my eyes.  “I don’t want to go back.”  And I was crying again.  They were tears of relief mingled with shame.

“Ok, Jess” she soothed.  And in the bright light of a new morning, Mrs. Rosenbergensteinowitzenbaum suddenly found herself standing just a little taller with the knowledge that her fashion faux pas had been upgraded to a murmur.  There was a new whisper in town.

Published in: on March 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm  Comments (5)  

Milton Bradley Saves the Day

I had my first nervous breakdown on a school bus on my way home from kindergarten.  Incidentally, it was also around that time that I saw my first therapist.  We played Chutes & Ladders and Candyland because apparently Milton Bradley had all the answers.   And as we played we discovered that at the age of 5, precious though I may have been, I seemed to be lacking a bit in the stability department.  My slightly wobbly mental footing may, in fact, have been teetering on the edge unnoticed for quite some time.  People tend to be blinded by the petite; they just can’t seem to see past the cuteness of it all.  Baby chicken, baby corn, baby carrot, baby crazy; it’s all the same.  Upon a first sighting of the oh so precious “petite”, the world tends to sigh a collective “awww!”  Followed by a “Looook!! Look at the tiny little nut job.  Look how cute she is when she screams and cries and flails about.”    It’s easy to understand, being blinded as they were by my exceptionally high precious content, how they failed to take notice of my oncoming mental break.   But on that Tuesday afternoon, circa 12pm, on a bus on my way home from kindergarten, Precious Petite Baby Pollack cracked so deep that the cute fell right on into the crevice and all that was left behind was a crazy so big it was impossible not to see.

I was gazing contentedly out the bus window, reflecting on the day just like every normal 5 year old tends to do after a long, arduous morning of coloring inside the lines and playing well with others.  Today had been a good day.  I had not cried once.  Not one single time.  Hence, I had been rewarded with a perfect little sticker  – a picture of a perfect little duckling splashing around in a perfect little puddle for perfect little me.  Perfect!

The signs are there.  Can you see them?  Daily bouts of crying.  Fixation on perfection at the age of 5.  The phenomenon of a rare good day glistening like gold in the dark arid landscape of terrible ones.  There would be no settling for runner up in the Baby Crazy Pageant for me.  Hell no.  I wanted the crown.

As the bus turned the corner onto my street I tossed my precious, petite backpack over my shoulder, and practically shaking with the anticipation of telling my mom how perfect I’d been that day, I inched my way to the edge of my seat.  “Jessie!” the bus driver called out my name to prepare me for my stop as usual.

“Yessie!”  I called back to let her know I was ready.  See what I did there, with the rhyming?  Even at the age of 5 my cleverness was a thing of beauty.  I smiled to myself eager to soak up the praise my bus driver was surely about to dole out in regards to my cunning wit, when suddenly, all hell broke loose. “Hmmmm,” she mused, “I guess we have no Jess today.”

Um, pardon?  “No.  No, I’m here!” I called from my seat just a few rows behind her.

“That’s ok,” the bus driver continued her extremely un-amusing, bordering on abusive charade, “just one less stop to make today.”

With mounting panic I called out to her again, “No!  I’m here!  I’m HERE!”  But she didn’t acknowledge me.  No smile; no little laugh to let me in on her vicious joke.  And suddenly it was no longer panic that I was feeling it was full-fledged terror.  “STOP!!!” I screamed.  “Please!  Please STOP!  I’m HERE.  I’M HEEEEERE!”   And in that moment my petite little pillars of sanity, already swaying and splintering under the weight of my 5 year old neurosis, finally buckled and broke.  And I was lost in a tiny sea of terror. “Oh god!” I panted unable to control my baby breath, “She can’t see me.  Why can’t she see me?!?! I can see me. Why can’t she see me?  I’m here.  Aren’t I?  Aren’t I here?  Oh GOD!  I’m going to have to live here.  I’m going to have to live ON the bus! “   I was sobbing.  I was never going to see my mom and dad again! I was never going to see my sister again!  I was going to have to live on this old, dirty bus and not even the witch of a bus driver would come visit me.  And who could blame her? She’d have no idea I was even there because I was invisible.  “Oh god!” I wailed in terror at my latest horrible discovery.  “Oh God!  I’m invisible!! “ My hysteria mounted to feverish heights as I began to scream through snot and tears, “I’m here!  I’M HERE.  I know you can’t see me, but I’m here! I’ve turned invisible, but I’m here!  I’M HERE! I’M HERE! I’M HERE!!!!

I’m not sure for how long I screamed; seconds felt like hours when suddenly the bus screeched to a halt in front of my house.  Determined not to miss what was obviously my only chance at escape, I flew down the aisle like a tiny little bat out of hell and flung myself into my mother’s arms.  Safe.  Seen.  Safe and seen.  And that was the end of it.  But it didn’t matter how many times my mother explained that the bus driver was just playing a joke on me, I didn’t care.  It was over.  I was never getting on that bus again.  I was never going back to kindergarten….perfect little ducky stickers be damned!  That’s when Milton Bradley and I got to know each other a little better.

It’s alright to laugh.  I’m not without a sense of humor.  I can recognize the comedy in the situation:  5 year old girl sent to loony bin by bus driver lacking comedic judgment; science reveals the new cure-all for mental  health and it could be as easy as opening your child’s game closet.  Go ahead, laugh.  It’s funny.  Not all stories regarding crazy need to be discussed in hushed tones behind closed doors.  Some are just fodder for entertainment.  And yet sometimes as I ride the subway, gazing out into a packed car full of dead eyes that prefer to look right through me, eyes inside faces trying their hardest not to see one another, faces atop bodies full of stories we don’t care to hear, I can feel her; Precious Petite Baby Pollack.  I can hear her and she’s screaming, “I’m Here!”  And sometimes in the silence, more often than you’d think, I hear the plea of a stranger screaming along with me, “I’m Here!”  Our unvoiced cries meet in the air above us, intertwining like fingers, drawing our faces toward one another and when our eyes finally find each other, I smile, “Yes, you’re here.  I see you.  I see you.”


Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 11:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Usually They Blame the Mother

A dear “friend” sent me this picture with a single explanatory line, “This bird looks like you.”
I laughed. I cried. I called my therapist.

Published in: on February 24, 2011 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Taking the Bull By the Horns

I just rode a mechanical bull so that the man I want to be with could go home with another woman.

Is the utter horror of that statement not stabbing you in the gut just yet? Not surprising. It was a slow, sickening realization for me too. So let me repeat: I just RODE a MECHANICAL BULL so that the man I want to be with could go home with ANOTHER woman.

The truth of those words unleashed a physical response in me like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. My entire skeleton began to vibrate as if it were an enormous funny bone that had just been smacked hard and repeatedly while simultaneously, a stream of acid hot bile crept up the back of my throat threatening to call upon its bigger, meaner friend, my partially digested dinner, for reinforcement. I became dizzy from a mixture of self-loathing and cheap beer and the room around me grew fuzzy but my epiphany was crystal clear. Something needed to change. I needed to change.

It’s harder than it looks. Not that I’d anticipated it being easy. Not at all. I’d been watching large, muscle bound men being tossed like rag dolls all evening. So I certainly wasn’t laboring under any false pretenses. No delusions of grandeur lurking here. But in the back of my mind, my slightly alcohol corrupted, obviously defective mind, I thought perhaps I could beat it. I’m small and strong and I thought that maybe, just maybe, that would work in my favor. Combine that scrappiness with my sheer hatred of failure, and how could I lose? I was determined. I would own that bull.

When it was my turn, I kicked off my flops, overwhelmingly aware that my heart had begun beating, more accurately pounding, in my chest. And in that moment I knew that it wasn’t because I was afraid I’d be thrown. So what? The ground was covered in padding much like the walls of the room I’m sure they have waiting for me back at the “home.” No, my heart was pounding, more accurately hammering in my chest because HE was watching. He and the dirty harlot he wanted to go home with; the reason I was about to mount a large, spotted carpet draped, hunk of bucking metal; the two of them together were watching. The other hundred drunken, cheering spectators were insignificant. I’d have forgotten they were there entirely if they hadn’t been there all night; living, breathing witnesses of the moment I lost my mind and my last tarnished nugget of self-respect….

“I’m gonna leave if you don’t ride the bull,” she threatened through laughter and sidelong flirtatious glances at my man.
Is it possible to think that someone you’ve just met is stimulating, witty and quite possibly someone you’d enjoy being friends with while simultaneously wanting to backhand them as they are surely the devil spawn of Satan and the Mother of all Evil? No, you say? I beg to differ.

“Jess,” he jokingly pleaded returning her sidelong, flirtatious glances, “she’s going to leave if you don’t ride the bull.” And then, in the moment that will go down in history as the day women all around the world inexplicably fell to their knees and began to weep, he turned those beautiful baby blues on me and uttered the one word that became my undoing, “Please?”

I smiled obligingly at the two of them as my heart sank into the pit of my stomach with the realization that I had just become the one thing no woman ever wants to be to the man she has feelings for; this had gone beyond friendship, beyond best buddies; in this single moment I had moved into the deep, dark abyss that no woman should ever know. I had become the wingman.

He’d made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested, not in that way. But he enjoyed my company, he appreciated my friendship, and so for months I’d been painstakingly breaking in my “buddy” hat, convincing myself that it was better to be friends with this fantastic human than nothing at all. But THIS I was not prepared for. THIS I had never anticipated. I was caught off guard. So, without a game plan, I did what any loyal “friend” would do; I kicked off my shoes, tied on my wingman cape and mounted that fucking bull.

I was entirely unprepared for how painful the riding of the bull would be, not just for my ego; but quite literally full of pain for my entire physical person. With each buck and spin of the beast, its metal sides slammed against my thighs. Hard. My whole body whipped back and forth pulling muscles I was quite sure would never be right again. But after the initial shock, I began to welcome the pain; yearn for it; hoping that the bull beating would somehow beat the stupid right out of me. I began to reason, the bigger the unavoidable inner thigh bruises – the greater the amount of pitiful that would be smacked out of me. So I rode. And when the bull threw me, I got back up and I rode again. And somewhere just after whiplash but a few neck cracks shy of paralysis, my wingman cape flew off and I lost my affinity for beautiful baby blues that say “please.” And when that bull threw me the second time, I landed on my feet.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Comments (3)  

The Family That Flies Together

I’ve never been a good flyer.  It’s my one flaw.  In those wretched moments of turbulence when the plane starts to bob up and down like a yo-yo at the end of a devil child’s string, I’ve actually been known to grab the arm of the poor passenger sitting next to me and refuse to let go until the death drop is over.  Afterwards, I’ll act like I never knew you.  It’s less awkward for both of us that way.   It’s not the actual flying part that I’m opposed to, I’ll admit that’s pretty incredible.  Two thumbs up Wright brothers.  It’s the “crashing” part that I have a severe aversion to.  And can you blame me?  I find nothing romantic about the notion of plummeting to my death inside an oversized speeding bullet surrounded by hundreds of my closest non-friends all of whom are being tossed about the cabin like ragdolls in a wind tunnel whilst screaming for someone to save them.  Here’s a tip guys:  no one is coming.  No one is coming because we are in the middle of the sky in a glorified tin can with wings on a journey to the end of our lives that the rest of the world was far too intelligent to embark upon.  So if you could go ahead and use your inside voices, I’d really appreciate it, ‘cause my head is pounding after getting smacked in the face with that fat guy from Row 32.

I’ve always been like this.  I don’t know why.  But when I was 5, it was not the promise of Epcot and It’s a Small World After All that finally got me on a plane to Disneyland.  Honestly, it IS a small world, and I had no intention of making it smaller by willingly mounting the flying death machine.  No, in the end, what finally got me on the plane was the realization that if I stayed behind while the rest of my family boarded the beast and then it took a nose dive out of the sky, I would be the only one left.  I would be all a lone.   I was not about to let that happen.  “The family that flies together dies together.”  At the age of 5, that became my motto.

These days my air travel tends to be a more solo oriented endeavor and I’d be lying if I told you that my morbidly over active imagination had stopped conjuring up images of death by air monster.  But without the company of my family, I can no longer turn to my motto for comfort, so I’ve had to come up with some new tricks.  My first impulse was to scour every flight for MacGyver.  As long as there was a safety pin, a piece of string and some duct tape, he’d know what to do.  But as luck would have it, MacGyver isn’t on tonight’s flight.  So tonight I’m forced to consider my life.  I’m forced to consider my life, my mortality and the fact that I haven’t done anything yet.   But I’m sure I’m on the brink of something.  I don’t know what, but something.  Something.  And people don’t get tossed out of the sky when they’re on the brink of something….  The hopefulness tastes like lying and I have to cover my ears to drown out the laughter of all the almost someones on the brink of something who were spit from the sky before the world knew their names.  Sigh.  The MacGyver plan would have been so much easier but it seems he’s never actually around when you need him.    So in his absence I scrounge up a piece of courage, a spool of daydreams and a small length of naivety, and I fashion myself a bit of Hope.

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm  Comments (2)  

If I Were a Blog

I’ve been putting it off.  Avoiding it.   Despite the encouragement of my tens of fans, I’ve been stalling.  I’ve been procrastinating because when all else fails, at least I know this much to be true:  at procrastination, I am Queen.  I can sit around stewing in a pot of good intentions without even a pinch of follow through better than any other person on this whole damn planet.  And no one can take that away from me.   Oh come on, don’t be jealous.  We all have that one thing we’re really, really, exceptionally good at.  You’ll find yours.  Promise.

And then, of course, there’s the whole “what” of it all.  If I were a blog, what kind of blog would I be? And as I pluck this question off the page, rolling it around through my fingers like a blind kid discovering shit; touching it to my face as though the sharp tips of the “w” poking against my cheek will somehow reveal all the answers; holding it before my eyes and examining it from every angle possible as only the Queen of Procrastination can; it occurs to me that the “what” of it all IS the thing.

Hidden not so deep inside the question of “if I were a blog”; lurking just below the surface of a writer’s indecision; is the mirror I’m so loathe to peer into.  How can I begin to pinpoint the “what” of a blog, when I can’t begin to pinpoint the “what” of me?….. Woah.  Deep.  Careful, don’t slip in my dripping sarcasm.

And so it begins.  The rush of tears, fears and indecision about the “what” of me bursts forth with the ferociousness of a river finally freed from the prison of its dam.   And my procrastination, the last vestige of my armor, crumbles already drowning and rusting in its wake.

And yet, just on the other side of tears, fears and indecision there is ridiculous laughter.  I know it.  I KNOW it.  I know it so hard that I’m positive one day, possibly tomorrow, I’ll look back on right now and fall to the ground in a fit of hysterics.  See?  I’m already half way there!  Glass half full….and half empty…..and half FULL.  Of vodka.  And in the meantime, I’ll blog.  I will lay my weary head on the cool metaphorical edge of the porcelain bus that is the internet, and I will blog.  I will blog and I will blog and I will blog.  I will blog until I’m empty.  And I won’t even make you hold my hair.  But if you want to, that’s ok too.


Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 3:42 am  Comments (6)  

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