Category Archives: Blog Fiction

Dane’s Room

Mother & Son A

Our old, in-desperate-need-of-a-facelift house is way too big for the two of us, but we simply don’t have the heart to sell it.

Back in the day, with five bedrooms and four bathrooms, it suited our family of six—three daughters, one son, and me and my husband, very well.

As one-by-one our four children moved out of the familial nest, we anointed each bedroom officially and forever theirs.

When we refer to a bedroom, it is always by their first names. “The lamp in Amy’s room is out.” “The fan in Amelia’s room isn’t working.” “We need a new mattress in Elsa’s room.”

But any mention of Dane’s room is always a painful reminder of the decision our son made to disown us.

There have been sightings of Dane by some of us, here, there and everywhere. A painful reminder that he is so close, yet so far. I once spotted him on a train, and it broke my heart to sink down low into my seat for fear he would reject me.

But he made a decision a long time ago to walk away. To try to explain how his decision affected our family would take several chapters in a clinical perspective. Our loving family unit of six was now painfully and heartbreakingly down to five. Besides me, the remaining four family members have their own personal and painful degrees of hurt. But I can unequivocally assure you that Dane’s decision to leave us in his past was the single most agonizing event of my life.

But I can only speak for myself. The rest of my family have their own tales to tell. Or not.

I realized that Dane was never coming back when he stopped sending me an obligatory text two times a year. To be clear, I waited months upon months for those two texts. Even though the slightly veiled brusqueness and unsigned texts of “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Mother’s Day,” showing up on another mother’s phone might send them into the depths of despair and depression. But they lifted me up. They made my whole birthday. They completed my Mother’s Day. I felt near to his heart for 2 out of 365 days.

Five words over twelve months painstakingly and slowly turned into 50 words over 120 months. Ten long, mournful years.

And then in the eleventh year, no birthday text. I was devastated but convinced myself Dane simply forgot it was my birthday.

On Mother’s Day, I checked my phone every few minutes, until late into the evening, when I finally gave up. And the reality of the horribly sad situation finally sunk in. It wasn’t possible that he had forgotten about Mother’s Day. Dane’s refusal to send me a Mother’s Day text could only mean one thing: I was no longer his mother in his eyes.

As I write this, the pain sweeps through my entire body, and I find breathing difficult. My beautiful and once loving son is gone from me.

Back to our old house.

We now have four beautiful grandchildren, the oldest is seven; the youngest is one. And several times a year Dane’s siblings and their ever growing families sleep over for a weekend of chaos, lovefesting, and bonding.

Each of the siblings bedrooms has a particular plus: Amy’s room has the crib, Amelia’s room houses all the games, Elsa’s room has a king size bed and a cotton-top mattress.

And Dane’s room has the most impressive collection of classic children’s movies you can imagine. At least a hundred of new and old, which has been the delight of all of the grandkids since they were born. Each one has their favorites; each one takes pure delight in the movies in Dane’s room.

For years now, every time the grandkids visit, they immediately invade Dane’s room to pick out movies and insisting no matter what time of day or night it is—that we watch together, and I make them popcorn.

On the family weekend sleepovers, the bedrooms are parsed out by their given names. Amy’s room goes to the daughter who needs the crib, and the two other girls fight over which will get the king size bed. The two youngest grandkids sleep with their parents.

The two older grandkids enjoy the privilege of staying in Dane’s room by themselves, which not only houses the revered collection of movies but also has an enormous pullout couch so that they can curl up, lay back and enjoy a show and some popcorn before going to bed.

And that is how Dane’s room came to be deemed the grandkids favorite.

Sometimes after the grandkids have gone to sleep, we all hang around, drink wine and reminisce. Once in a while one of the siblings will ask: “Why?” “What happened?” And when my tears start to flow they try to reassure me. They try to soften the blow. “He’ll be back.” “He knows we love him.”

On a recent visit, as my seven-year-old grandson helped me put sheets on the pullout couch, he couldn’t stop talking about Dane’s room. He chattered non-stop, revisiting and extolling its virtues.

“Dane’s room has the best movies ever.”

“Dane’s room has a secret door to the best bathroom.”

“Dane’s room has the best television.”

“Dane’s room has all the cool blankets.”

“Dane’s room has so many awesome trophies.”

Every sentence that my loving grandson threw out there was like a stab in my heart.

As my grandson stared at a photo of Dane as a young boy, he quietly asked, “Do you love Dane more than me? Is Dane your favorite?” The look on his innocent face just about broke me down. I tenderly explained that I could never pick a favorite. And that my whole family was my favorite.

I was weary. I’d had enough memories of Dane for one day.

“Come, we’re done here,” I murmured softly as I took his hand to leave Dane’s room.

“Can I ask you one more question?” my grandson queried, as I shut Dane’s door, hoping to also shut down my inner screaming.

“One more,” I answered him, the all too familiar pain sweeping through my body; my breathing quickening, praying that his question wouldn’t send me over the edge.

“Who’s Dane?”

 

My Chavah

Esther

Rummaging through some boxes buried in the corner of a closet yesterday, I found a dossier of my earlier writings. It was a treasure trove of poems, plays, and short stories I had long ago forgotten about. It seems that everywhere I organize these days, files and files of writings of yore keep popping up. I wrote the short story below back in 1996.

My Chavah’s favorite holiday was Purim and she was obsessed with Esther. As I helped to dress her for the Purim celebration, she excitedly told me the story of how Esther became Queen of Persia.

For several years, she had insisted on dressing up as Queen Esther. This year would be no different—except that we were celebrating Purim in Tel Aviv, where a grand celebration and best costume contest was being held. Chavah was determined to look her Esther best and win.

And she certainly looked beautiful that day. Dressed in royal blue satin, she looked every bit the Jewish heroine she portrayed. Her crown of gold glitter sat regally and securely on her long, cascading black hair, despite her vigorously waving the matching scepter in the surrounding air.

While I braided her thick, silky hair, Chavah chattered on in triumphant animation. “Twenty-five years ago in ancient Persia, the King was not happy with his disobedient wife Vashti, so he held a beauty pageant in search of his true love. Esther was chosen, became Queen and then saved all the Jews of Persia from death. And they called the festival to celebrate the courage of Esther and the safety of the Jewish people Purim!”

Her lovely face was full of excitement as we put the final touches on her hair and makeup. Gazing into her dark eyes, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of love and warmth.

“We’ll call her Chavah,” I told my husband Ari the day she was born. Meaning “breath of life,” Chavah was the wife of Adam—the first woman on earth. The mother of all living. And I suppose like any other new mother, I fervently prayed to God for a blessed life for my newborn child.

It was obvious from the beginning that Chavah was uniquely full of vitality and soul, an irrefutable gift from God. She was nurturing, kind, sensitive, motherly, otherworldly and wise beyond her years. And it wasn’t just my opinion. Our entire family reveled in the blessing that was Chavah.

As she twirled around in her full-skirted gown, my mind wandered to the day when Itzhak, our handyman, was working in our house, repairing a bookshelf. It toppled over and the shelf and books came crashing down on him. “Chavah came running into the room to help me up,” Itzhak reminisced. “That’s when she noticed my arm.”

Itzhak had spent many years in a Jewish ghetto and three years in a concentration camp as a young boy. His identifying numbers had been burned into his arm—a lifelong reminder that he was both a victim and a survivor, and that he was a Jew. “She touched my forearm with such tenderness, tracing the numbers with her little fingers. When I looked up at her, tears welled in her eyes as she softly said: “Blessed is the match.” “I looked at her shocked, for her words were the first few of a poem that I could never forget.”

Itzhak explained to me that the poem was written during the Nazi occupation of Europe by the Jewish freedom fighter Hanna Senesch. Hanna was a 23-year old woman, who was tortured then murdered by the Nazis for rescuing Hungarian Jews. According to Itzhak Hanna’s poetry was revered and loved throughout Israel, a reminder of the struggle to liberate the Jewish people and to build a Jewish state. I had no idea that Chavah knew of Hana Senesch let alone her poem.

“She recited it word for word,” Itzhak told me incredulously and repeated it to me as he had heard it from her.

Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.

Ari’s love for Israel and his desire to emigrate increased with Chavah’s birth. We spent every summer there, each trip richer in experience than the one before. A magnificent country of lush green, built on dunes of desert and sand. The dream of a homeland, concentrated in a space the size of New Jersey, its national anthem sadly titled “Hatikvah,” The Hope.

While I cherished our summers in Israel, I felt ambivalent about moving there. My friends and family were all in New York, and making new acquaintances was never my forte. I also worried about Chavah—and what would be best for her. In usual Chavah fashion, she wanted what I wanted, even though her choice would have been to move to Israel.

Israel was in her heart and in her blood. She appreciated everything about it. The stone mosaic promenade stretching along the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, the Judean Desert, and the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem were but a few of her revered places.

I will never forget the summer we climbed Masada, the mountaintop fortress made of desert rock more than 1,600 feet high where Jews became martyrs. The three of us climbed it with intense determination. I recalled thinking back then that, as a child of only nine years, Chavah had incredible endurance and stamina. In the brutal heat of August, we watched the sun seemingly rise directly out of the Dead Sea. The fiery orange ball lit the dark sky over an eerie sea of nothing. The Dead Sea was the brightest green I had ever seen—so majestically beautiful yet so devoid of life.

I found Chavah high among the clouds, in the ancient ruins of the Masada Temple, on her knees, eyes closed, her face tilted up toward the sun’s scorching rays. A hazy light enveloped her, creating an ethereal halo all around her. She prayed so diligently, so wholeheartedly. Never one for prayer, I knew at that moment that she was exceptional. The thought actually crossed my mind that Chavah and God had formed a remarkable bond between them that might possibly be stronger than any bond we as her family would ever have with her.

In the end, Ari’s desire to emigrate was stronger than my fear of leaving friends and family. So we left Flatbush for Israel, making a permanent home in Tel Aviv. Our apartment overlooked the Mediterranean Sea that my Chavah loved so dearly, and we quickly assimilated into life in the ancient and glorious land.

It was a perfect day for the Purim festival. The sun was shining brightly, the weather warm and pleasant. The square was brimming with young children dressed in brightly colored costumes. The crowd was singing and dancing in celebration of the festival. The stores were bustling with people, and the streets were filled with joy and laughter.

“Ima, Ima, look here,” Chavah gleefully shouted to me from across the square. I gazed at her lovingly and smiled as I waved, full of immense pride and pleasure.

And then my eyes moved a mere foot away from her to a young man in his early twenties. My eyes locked on his. In that split second, I knew why he was there. As if looking down at the scene from above, and in excruciatingly slow motion, I howled Chavah’s name. My voice sounded dull and guttural, like a phonograph record being played at the wrong speed.

As I began to sprint toward Chavah, he pressed something in his hand and I knew life would never be the same for us again. “NOOOOOO,” I roared helplessly, the same sluggish, growling tone spewing from my mouth.

Then he imploded, bits and pieces of flesh and metal hurtling everywhere. Something solid and sharp blew into my chest and blood spurted from me.  I felt nothing—until I saw my beloved Chavah, one leg missing, her crown and matching scepter next to where her head should have been. Ravaged by pain—piercing, excruciating, unbearable pain, I heard a woman screaming. The wailing was horrific, heartbreaking. In my disordered state, the thought kept crashing through my tortured mind that it was impossible someone could feel more pain than me.

It was then, as I cradled the shattered dismembered body of my beloved Chavah, that I realized the screaming was mine.

NOTE: The above short story written back in 1996 was prompted by an actual event. On March 4, 1996, on the eve of Purim, Hamas murdered 14 Israelis, children, and adults, and wounded 130 in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. In watching an interview with a mother who lost her young daughter, I was haunted by her words, her loss, and her unrecoverable heartbreak. The attack was the fourth suicide bombing in Israel in nine days, bringing the death toll during that span to over 60. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwkNTvxs9Lw

 

 

The Fishers Island Prophecy

Fishers Island Debacle

She started to have her doubts about whether or not he was “the one” several weeks before the wedding day. But the invitations had already gone out and the down payments for the reception, photographer, band and florist had long been paid.

She confided her trepidation to her best friend who said it was “normal to get cold feet.” She didn’t feel like this was normal at all. And her feet? They were colder than ice.

At her bridal shower, she feigned enthusiasm for among many things, the crock pot, copper cookware, Waterford crystal, and the state-of-the-art Cuisinart she received.

A few days later, she reviewed the photographs of her overly beamingly smiley self, head adorned with a fuchsia paper plate, overflowing with colorful ribbons and bows from the myriad wedding gifts. “I’m happy, right?” she kept asking herself as she analyzed each snapshot.

But as she stared into her lifeless eyes in photo after photo, the answer was painfully clear.  There was no happy to be found. And she was about to make a life-altering mistake.

She decided to sit her soon-to-be husband down for the “talk,” when he picked her up for dinner that night. But when he walked through her apartment door, he excitedly announced that he had a wedding gift for her.

When he put a blindfold over her eyes, she was ecstatic. She was driving around in a hunk of junk, so she was convinced his present was a new car. At that moment, she felt terribly guilt- ridden over the discordant noise she was hearing in her head and pushed it completely out of her mind. He loved her enough to buy her a car! How insensitive and overly neurotic she was being.

He took her outside and when he removed her blindfold, she was flabbergasted as she stared at him in wonderment.

He was euphoric and happily chirped, “She’s a 28 foot Columbia sailboat built in 1970! She’s a real beauty and a perfect weekend cruiser. And she’s built like a tank!”

She?

He gushed on, completely oblivious to her disappointment and dismay. “She’s not the fastest boat, but her weather-handling capabilities make up for her heavy build,” he droned on.

She stared incredulously at her soulmate. “He bought me a sailboat, because?” she asked herself as she tried to put all the pieces of the love puzzle together.

He mistook her wordlessness for something positive. “And the top-secret romantic getaway I planned for you is to sail Joanie in and around Long Island Sound!”

She mustered enough strength to ask, “Joanie?”

This was a double whammy. As a wedding gift, he had promised to “book” a mystery trip for her. Who knew he was going to buy himself a boat disguised as a honeymoon?

“Joanie is the name of the original owner’s wife. I didn’t have time to change it,” he responded, completely unaware of his selfish narcissism.

The next day she sat her mother down to give her the devastating news. She was calling off the wedding. “Absolutely not,” her mother replied definitively. “He adores you, his family adores you, and it’s simply too late.”

“He bought himself a boat instead of booking us a honeymoon,” she whined to her mother, who made some lame excuse for him, and refused to listen to another nonsensical word.

So they got married in a waterfront setting, under a tent, during a furious storm of lightning, thunder, pounding rain, and crazy wind. Everyone kept coming up to them and saying how lucky they were—that the rain was a sure sign of good luck on the day-of.

She was despondent and positive that the storm on her wedding day was a sure sign that her marriage was doomed. And anyway, who in their right mind would tell her that rain on her wedding day is a sign of bad luck as she stands ready to waltz down the aisle under an umbrella?

The wedding and the reception were an abysmal failure. The tent was swaying and leaking, her designer shoes and dress were a muddy mess, and they couldn’t go on their honeymoon because the boat was useless in a storm. So they lounged around in her apartment for two days, waiting for the bad weather to lift. She was depressed and beyond miserable. He was in complete denial.

As soon as the weather cooperated they set sail. His first surprise stop was Fishers Island where he booked one night at the Pequot Inn. He excitedly gave her the Island rundown: At nine miles long and one mile wide, it was an idyllic setting off the Connecticut coast. As he chattered non-stop about Fishers Island, and how she was going to fall in love with it, she was pipe dreaming of Hawaii or Barbados.

They arrived at the Island mid-afternoon. He dropped anchor, threw their collapsible bikes and an overnight bag into the motor dinghy that came with Joanie, and they boated to shore.

She was still furious about Joanie but admittedly loved everything about Fishers Island. Their bike ride to the Pequot Inn was magical. The smell of lilacs permeated the air, the creeping juniper blanketed the landscape, and the pristine deserted beaches adorned the ocean. The hotel was New-England-style quaint, and she actually started to relax and unwind a bit.

After they awkwardly watched a beautiful sunset together, she tried to drum up some romantic connection during dinner. But it was discomfiting and forced, and she found him to be self- absorbed and wondered what she had seen in him in the first place.

She had voiced her unhappiness about his extremely-expensive-and-unwanted-boat purchase during the stormy waiting period before the trip, so he knew that the silent treatment she was pouring on him stemmed from little Miss Joanie.

After dinner, he suggested they go for a walk. As they meandered quietly through the darkness, she thought she heard a mewling sound. She grabbed his arm and was apprehensive when she spotted something in the middle of the dark road.

As they approached the inanimate object, she turned her head away from the gruesomely flattened cat. But where was the crying coming from? They followed the whimpering, to the side of the road, where they discovered a tiny kitten, visibly suffering from malnutrition, and near dead.

Her motherly instinct kicked in, and she refused to leave the kitten there to die. She told him to run back to the Pequot Inn and bring back a box while she bent down and tried to comfort the scared and withering kitten. She noticed that one leg was bent out at a contorted angle.

When he came back with a shoe box and hand towel, she picked up the withering feline and wrapped it carefully in the box. She insisted on taking the kitten directly to the dinghy, and then onto Joanie, where she safely rested the box in a corner of the deck.

She went below, grabbed some milk and a teaspoon and was relieved as the kitten furiously lapped it up. She rationalized in her head that if the kitten was still alive when they came back to the boat to set sail the next morning, it was a marriage sign.

Whether the sign would mean her marriage was on or her marriage was off, she hadn’t quite figured out yet. But she was sure that it would all be clear to her in due time. She worried about that kitten all night, and any unhappy thoughts of her marriage and Joanie went out the window. She woke up as the sun was rising, and rode her bike to a deserted beach and fervently prayed that she would find the kitten alive and well.

When they boarded the boat, later that morning, it was a dreary, dismal day. The kitten was still alive, although weak and severely maimed. She went to the refrigerator, grabbed more milk, and gave the kitten some much-needed nourishment.

She securely covered the shoe box with a mesh shirt, and carefully placed it and the kitten in a bolted corner drawer in the galley below. She partially closed the drawer and tried to ignore the weak meowing coming from the box.

They pulled anchor and set sail.

An hour or so into the trip, a storm brewed. “Secure loose items and equipment on the deck and in the cabin,” he ordered her. “And make sure all the drawers and windows below are closed.” She fearfully scrutinized the turbulent surroundings and could see nothing of Fishers Island or any other land mass.

The wind was howling and the water was violently churning, tossing the boat around like a wine cork. The drumming rain and sea spray slapped against her face making it near impossible to see. She frantically suggested that they go back to Fishers Island, but he yelled to her that the best thing they could do was to go windward into the deepest water they could find.

She went below and secured and closed everything possible, and checked on the frail but watchful kitten. As she caressed its tiny head, it searched her eyes and purred weakly. She reluctantly left it in the drawer, and hastily climbed back up to the deck where they thrashed around while donning life jackets. Then they tethered themselves to a rail.

The seas were rough and the dark and menacing waves crashed onto the deck and into the cockpit, swirling around her ankles.  Joanie tilted at a 45-degree angle and the pitching caused her to vomit.

She silently begged God to protect her—and the kitten. She played over and over in her head all the things she would do with her life if she were saved.

They eventually weathered the storm, but it was a frightening, out-of-body experience. She wanted off the boat. She wanted off her life. She was so fed up with him—and his precious Joanie. When they finally docked in Old Lyme, Connecticut, her mind was a tangle of turmoil.

The first thing she did was to check on the kitten who was elated to see her, licking her finger with its tiny sandpapery tongue. It tried to sit up but was unable to move due to its injured leg. “We’re going to be okay,” she whispered softly to the kitten. She carefully took the box, the kitten, and her suitcase off the boat. She was overjoyed to feel land beneath her feet. When he asked her where she was going, she told him the truth. She had absolutely no idea.

He reminded her that they hadn’t even been married one week. He asked her if she was out of her mind. “No,” she quietly answered, “just out of love.”

Girl and her cat