Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. She died in my sister’s living room where a hospital bed had been set up. It was about five in the morning and the hospice worker told us the night before that this was it. She’d been in a coma for a few days and we knew it was coming but that moment when the breathing stops is still impossible to fathom until it happens. From what I’ve read and heard about other situations, my mother’s final moments were fairly peaceful. No death throes or gasping for air or contorted facial expressions. I remember putting my hand on her chest to see if I could feel any movement or breathing. I couldn’t, and she was already starting to feel a little cool to the touch. It was a little while until the funeral home people came to take the body. The worst part was watching them lift the sheet over her face and wheel the body out of the house—for good. And just as they were maneuvering the gurney out the door my then three-year-old nephew came bounding down the stairs and saw us all in the front hall. But enough of this death talk for now—I still have another week left of my official May numb-out!
Yesterday was also the five month anniversary of starting this blog. I look back and marvel at the fact that I rarely missed a single day in those early months. Not that any of my writing was profound, but I just don’t know how I did it. Where did I find the time? I can’t seem to write in here more than two or three times a week these days. I don’t know why that should make me feel bad, it’s already two or three times more often than I was writing before I started the damn blog! And I have to say in light of yesterday’s anniversary that nothing gives me greater pleasure than bringing my mother back to life in cyberspace. I love scrolling down to the pictures I’ve posted of her on this blog and I know that I will continue to archive my memories of her and other important people in my life.
I’ve been fascinated lately by the revealing lists that some of the bloggers I read regularly have been posting. Things people have never done and wished they had, things they have done and wish they hadn’t, 100 interesting facts about themselves, fictional characters they identify with. Some worry that posting such lists is the height of narcissism and to that I say, of course it is, but bring it on! I now revel in the unavoidable narcissism of writing in a blog and I’m over my phobia that because my blog is more “personal” I am somehow committing a greater sin in this area. AS IF many of the political blogs aren't just as self-obsessed! I love reading about the diverse folks out there and I always learn so much about myself in the process. I’m especially grateful when people write honestly about the painful or less pretty moments in their lives. I loved True Ancestor’s list of Ten Regrets last week and actually tried writing such a list but I just couldn’t. On the other hand, a quick scan of my blog postings reveals plenty of regrets such as my lack of engagement in college, my refusal to listen to my mother’s apologies about past transgressions, and my sadness at neglecting a promise to an old friend until it was too late. Maybe I’m just bad with lists.
Then I think of those two anniversaries yesterday and realize that each in its own way, my mother’s death and starting this blog, was a critical moment in my life that made me look at myself and my place in the world in a new way. I can think of other seminal moments that in some way or another changed my very cell structure, even if the moments seemed inconsequential on the surface. So here goes, my first—and probably last—list. One fear I have of making lists is the pressure I feel to make sure they are comprehensive and all-inclusive. This one sure isn’t—I’m just writing the first things that pop into my head.
Five Critical Moments
1. I was 12 years old and my parents had been divorced for about a year. In my mother’s absence my 14-year-old sister was inappropriately cast as “woman of the house” and took up many of my mother’s former responsibilities including cleaning up the kitchen. One night after dinner, my sister asked me to load the dishwasher. “No way,” I replied, outraged at the request. The more I tried to blow her off the more she insisted, sending me into a full blown tantrum, screaming at the top of my lungs that she wasn’t my mother and couldn’t order me around. Somewhere towards the end of this mouth-frothing, I had something that I’d almost describe as a religious intervention. I remember the exact moment this occurred, exactly where I was standing in the kitchen. In the middle of a self-righteous bellow, I suddenly felt a click in my brain, followed by the thought, “Why shouldn’t I clean up after myself? Why the hell should I expect my sister or anyone else to do it for me?” I don’t remember if I shared my shift in perception with my sister, but it felt like a life-changing moment. I finally had to realize that I was not the heavenly body around which all planets revolved. And I never argued with my sister again about loading the dishwasher.
2. I was sitting on the bimah at my Bar Mitzvah. Again, this was just after my parents’ divorce. Everything about this occasion was the opposite of how I had fantasized it would be. While my brother’s Bar Mitzvah was attended by several hundred family members and took place in the Catskill Mountains of New York, few relatives attended my event. They probably knew the dark place our family was in at the time and wanted to avoid it like the plague. Our regular synagogue was booked so we were at an unknown synagogue in Chicago with an unknown rabbi and the overriding emotion from everyone there seemed to be “let’s just get through this fucking day.” Somehow I had learned my haftorah but I was so disengaged that someone asked the unknown rabbi to write the speech that I would give at the end of the service. As I stood there reading the bland comments about how happy I was to begin my Jewish life, I could barely get the words out of my mouth. They didn’t sound like me at all, and I knew instantly that I had betrayed myself big time. I vowed that no matter what was going on in my life, I would never again allow anyone to speak for me. To this day I won’t even let Kendall sign my name on a joint thank you note, I have to write my own message. You could almost say that moment led to the creation of this blog. I’ll give you MY unique take on things, damn it, whether you like it or not!
3. I was in the Reseda public library in the summer of 1989 doing research for an educational video. As I stopped to glance at the New Releases on my way out a book literally fell off the top shelf and onto my head. I picked up it and thought it looked sort of interesting so I checked it out with the others. The book was “The Day I Became an Autodidact” by Kendall Hailey and I was immediately taken by the story of her self-education and the funny anecdotes about her crazy theatrical family. About a month later I was at a wedding at the Bel Air Hotel and saw Kendall in the crowd, recognizing her from the picture on the book’s dust jacket. “Are you Kendall Hailey?” I asked. I think it was the first time she was ever recognized (at the grand old age of 23) and she seemed quite surprised. The father of the bride, TV writer Sam Bobrick, was my father’s best friend from their childhood in Chicago and was also a good friend of Kendall’s playwright dad. I asked Sam for Kendall’s phone number and the next week called and asked her out (something I had NEVER done before in my passive mode of waiting to be sure that someone was interested me before I even looked in their direction). While our first attempt at a relationship lasted only a few on–and-off-again years that book falling on my head in Reseda was certainly the first step that led to our present-day marriage.
4. It was 1993. Kendall and I had broken up, and I had met a Frenchwoman who was in Los Angeles for a few months taking some classes. We started seeing each other and one day, early in our relationship, she asked me the shocking question, “Do you think we’ll have a child together?” Every fiber in my commitment-phobic body tensed up at the gall of this premature query and I started babbling an incoherent, defensive speech that it was way too soon to even have such a discussion and of course there was no way of knowing what the future will bring but I’m not in any way ready to entertain such an outlandish idea, nor am I ready to even consider becoming a parent at all, I have to get my life together first, and I don’t’ even know if I want to be in a relationship or ever have kids in this crazy, dangerous, overpopulated world, blah, blah, blah, blah. Sophie, unfazed, interrupted my rambling,with, “No, really, do you think we’ll have a child?” I was caught so off-guard by this that it was as if someone temporarily pressed the "mute" button on my neuroses. Coming from a completely different place in my brain, I immediately answered, “Yes, I do.” Leah was born the following year.
5. Last December, my daughter was in a musical revue put on during winter break by her theatre troupe. They only had two days to prepare a bunch of songs from several Broadway hits. I went to the show prepared for my usual kvelling over Leah’s performance combined with some internal wincing as I tried to freeze a supportive smile on my face while the few children who were completely tone-deaf warbled their tunes. Leah’s big solo was the song “Good Morning Baltimore” from the show “Hairspray” based on the John Waters’ movie. At the end of the song, the bewigged cast stepped aside and out came Leah, center stage, in full spotlight, staring out at the audience and singing with such abandon that my mouth dropped open. Her singing was superb and full out, but it was something about her presence that bowled me over. As a parent I fear that I occasionally had seen my child as an appendage of myself, a kind of mini-me whose actions, behaviors, and inner workings I could somehow anticipate. I was wrong, of course, and seeing her on stage at that moment felt like I was beginning the long, exciting, and terrifying process of letting go. Leah was her own person, that much was clear, and an amazing one at that.