Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

Book Review: The Ambassador

For all my love of time travel and exploration of whether or not we could or should alter the past, I’m surprised I don’t read more fiction in the category of alternative history. Perhaps I will now, after reading The Ambassador (The Toby Press), a novel by the late Ambassador Yehuda Avner and award-winning novelist Matt Rees.

Set mostly in the late 1930s with World War II as its backdrop, The Ambassador imagines the impacts on Europe’s Jews had Israel been established in 1937, as opposed to 1948, when the Peel Commission recommended to the British cabinet to establish a Jewish state. The novel’s main character is Dan Lavi, a young diplomat sent by Ben Gurion to Germany to serve as the fledgling nation’s first ambassador to Berlin. Dan’s there with his wife Anna (an American) and Shmulik, who masquerades as part of the diplomatic team, but is really in Berlin on behalf of the Mossad.

The characters, their dialogue, and even the actions they take that veer from historical events come off realistic and plausible. I was caught up in Dan’s conflict once in Berlin as he struggles between proper diplomacy and his clear distaste for Nazi politics.

“The words of the Old Man, Ben-Gurion’s nasal Polish accent echoed in Dan’s mind, the order delivered in between reports from Shmulik on the first maneuvers of the War of Independence.

You will sup with the Devil, Dan. You will do everything the Devil requires. Whatever it takes, you will maintain the transfer of Jews from Germany to Israel.'”

The transfer of Jews from Germany is, in fact, Dan’s primary goal in Berlin. He is there, as he argues repeatedly, to “secure as many Jewish lives as we can.” He does so by working with and catering to the ego of Sturmbannfuhrer Adolph Eichmann, who serves (in this alternative reality) as head of the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” offering Israeli visas to Europe’s Jews under the controversial “Transfer Agreement.” In this 1938 Berlin, Jews are permitted to leave the country, hundreds per day, for Israel. The Israeli Embassy’s main purpose is administrative, filling out and processing applications of families requesting exit. On the side, however, Shmulik and his Mossad team are investigating rumors of a “final solution” for the Jews, and recommending plans of action to Ben Gurion.

Most interesting to me — especially as a fan of time travel — was watching the story unfold and witnessing how some decisions in this alternative reality led the Jews to the exact same fate they met in our current reality, and how other actions managed to transform a people’s destiny. Less interesting to me were a few brief distracting side stories (based on some historical truth) of lost love and family secrets; though not distracting enough to take away from the main plot.

Any fiction pertaining to the Holocaust is potentially contentious. Still today, there are debates about who, if anyone, has the right to construct fictional tales set in or during the Holocaust. In the preface to The Ambassador, Avner writes “I fought in the war that established Israel. I worked decades in the highest circles of the Israeli government with every Prime Minister up to Rabin’s second term and as Ambassador to Britain and Australia.” One wonders if Avner is not attempting to stave off those critics of Holocaust fiction with this list of credentials. Whether or not he was, it certainly lends credibility to the story and his right to tell it.

“I sat among the crowd commemorating Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, as then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres addressed us. More precisely, he apologized to them. The ones taken by Hitler. ‘We were 10 years too late,’ he said.

And I thought, ‘What if we hadn’t been.'”

The Ambassador will be available in bookstores September 1, 2015.

==

This review was made possible by The Toby Press with an Advanced Reader’s Copy.

 

 

 

The Speed of Summer

This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.

It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.

Read more of this post at The Times of Israel.

Breaking a barrier

Taking off from an unknown departure port, darkened dusky skies outside, we begin to cruise at an altitude not quite optimal, and yet I am not afraid.

Before this, however, a man in a short-sleeve plaid button down shirt sits next to me just as the plane launches into its race towards the edge of the runway.  I am by the window and he in the aisle seat. I glance over at him and notice he is the type of man who has decided to shave his head rather than go bald — he reminds me of a young Ed Harris, but with bad intentions.

Cupping what I gather is peanuts in his palm, he looks over at me and attempts to buckle his seat belt with one hand. He pops the nuts in his mouth and says, “They’re not wasting any time, are they?” He means the men in the control tower. Or, perhaps the men in the cockpit.

I smile in response. I haven’t decided yet what I want to offer this stranger. He, however, offers me a stick of gum.

“What flavor is it?” I ask. He wrinkles his forehead, almost withdrawing the stick.

“Spearmint. Wrigley’s,” he says.

“Okay.” I pull it out from the pack and unwrap the silver. Pop it in my mouth.

It is indeed Wrigley’s Spearmint. This is a certainty, if a wearisome one.

*    *    *

Later, the skies are darker still and we seem to be skimming over land that is lush with plant life. I see tall buildings in the distance and understand we are far from the intended connecting city of Greenville, North Carolina. We are approaching L.A. instead and this is reassuring to me even though it’s unexpected. There is someone I love in L.A. Someone who loves me. If only I could remember her phone number.

*    *    *

Something else happens on this flight before it is over, but it is not yet explainable. It will be explainable only in the future when they invent the uninvented electronic device I am pretending to work on so I might have extra time to decide whether the man next to me is good or bad.

I untangle the snaky white headphone cord and place the buds in my ears, but cannot decide whether or not to plug in. The electrical connector for sound is not on my arm rest, but on a panel at the end of the row of seats and I will have to reach over the man sitting next to me in order to insert it. Furthermore, I have a hunch that introducing the jack to the hole will mean unprecedented access to my brain. I am not ready for this, even though it’s become acceptable practice. I am not ready for this, even though my acceptance is unavoidable.

*    *    *

Finally, the man pulls a navy blue coat from the overhead compartment. He stuffs the cushy light down jacket into his armpit and stands in preparation for deplaning even though we haven’t yet landed. I stay seated. I follow the rule I have always followed, which is to remain in my seat until an announcement indicating we may unbuckle and rise.

The man, however, has decided this is where he is getting off. I am both irritated and impressed, and conclude this man is neither good nor bad, simply average.

An average man.

“Hmm,” I think, but don’t say and turn to look out the window.

I see the storms now in the distance. Thunder has taken shape. It was a good idea to land in L.A. even though it means my journey will last that much longer.

I look back over towards the aisle. The man has gone. The lights are still dim in the cabin and I am still seated, still unafraid.

What of the mountains?

I don’t know if I said it because of the dream or if I dreamt it because I was bound to say it later, but I said it and only after did I realize that it didn’t matter if the dream preceded the belief or the belief the dream.

*  *  *

What matters more than the man in the dream — a composite of men I have loved — is the woman who jumped so high as to be seen from the carved out window of the plane I was flying in.

She is not me. She was too tall to be me. And yet her hair …

What am I supposed to glean from her loose and long dirty blond hair, from the bohemian dress that floated up above her knees like a parachute each time she leapt from the valley as if the earth below was her trampoline? And what about the mountains, which were not the mountains of Denver, Colorado or the Golan Heights, mountains I have seen directly, both from above and below, but were, I am certain, the mountains of a European country, Spain or Portugal, a country in which there are less Jews than in the countries I am familiar with, countries I might even dare to call my homes?

What matters more than the man in the dream — who brought me to near tears with his collection of short stories recognizable as anecdotes from his childhood — is the woman who was sitting in the row ahead of me on the plane. She, too, saw the leaper, but she was not fazed. “I’ve seen her before,” the woman ahead of me noted. “We’re friends.”

She is not me, either. She was not Jewish enough. And she was also tall, even when seated.

Perhaps, what matters more is the man in the dream — perhaps, he is me.

*  *  *

Perhaps, I believed it and dreamed it both. Neither one before the other. Neither one bound to be first.

Afternoon Moon

Do you remember the first time you saw the moon during the day? I don’t, but every time I notice it hovering half or full in a blue sky, I am startled in the same way I must have been then.

What are you doing there? I want to say to the afternoon moon. It’s not your time yet.

Look! I’ll shout instead if I am with my children, and point up and over to where a partial moon may have been mistaken for a cloud.

How? the youngest one will reply. How can that be?

I don’t know, I tell her. And this is enough.

I am surprised that it is enough.

You’re the star of the story!

Just before falling asleep last night I had an idea that I might write a choose your own adventure book, the center of which would be an adventure I already lived and thus already knew the ending. The ending would be now, here, this word.

I’d write the book on my typewriter and I would make piles for each story in order to keep them straight. I’d parse out the paths. I’d segment my life into piles of Semi-transparent, Embossed.

Each stack of papers would be evened out on each side to the best of my ability like two piles of a deck of cards before a game of gin. Chop chop. Rotate. Chop chop.

The choose your own adventure would start out in New York City in 1997, perhaps on a Greyhound Bus that just left Mt. Laurel, NJ at 9 pm on a Sunday night headed for Port Authority. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to ruin it for you the way someone once ruined Inside UFO 54-40, which is to say someone told me once that no matter what you choose you will never reach the page that tells you, “You did it! You discovered Utopia.”

* * *

A child is screaming outside my window right now. It is far away and yet near enough that I can tell the child is a boy between the ages of 8 and 12. His scream disturbs me and yet as he continues I understand — at least intellectually — that his is a scream of pleasure. Someone is chasing this boy and he likes it. He doesn’t want to get caught, but already he is caught up in the excitement of being in that space in which he doesn’t know for certain whether he will win or lose. There is still a chance for him to get away, and yet the end is there nipping at his heels.

* * *

My son is in the living room with two of his friends. Only my son is playing Tanki Online on his laptop computer, while his two friends sit beside him and watch. This is something I have never understood. To be clear, I mean all of it: the video games, the sitting by and watching, the immersing yourself in the experience of somebody else’s virtual life.

* * *

In the choose your own adventure of my life, there would be illustrations that would be drawn by someone else not me. I like the idea of doing over my life with me drawn in line art by somebody else who has seen me from all sides at once and can capture that version of me on a two dimensional page.

I especially like the idea of watching me become aware of the consequences of my actions. What does my face look like when I realize I shouldn’t have left my job at Scholastic? And on what page does that happen? I can’t remember anymore.

* * *

The boys in the living room are shouting, “Gold box! Gold box!” Two of them with accents on the Os in gold.
Long ohs.
Ohhhhh…

* * *

It’s quiet outside my window now. Somewhere close, but not so close, a boy has been caught or a boy has gotten away. Either way, he is no longer screaming, at least not out loud, for his future has finally arrived. At least this version. It’s time now to go home and eat lunch.

Tuna? His mother might ask. Or yellow cheese?

True Story

I asked you your name

Shahar

because I knew the only way to repay you
would be to write you a poem —

that there would be no handing over of cash,
no exchange of phone numbers for future use.
I knew I could never collapse in your arms there
and weep as I might have had we been alone
or had you been an inch taller or wider.

Could not even touch your shoulder tenderly
to let you know that I know
that you

Shahar

are the human in humanity.

Your black knitted cap, a tad too wide for your delicate skull
may be what stopped you from continuing along the dirt road
when you saw me waving my arms from the highway above.

Your black knitted cap was certainly what stopped me
from wrapping my arms around your 54 kilos when you finally
succeeded in screwing on the spare.

I asked you your name before we parted

Shahar

because I knew then what I know now
which is that all there was between us is all
there ever will be, that once you changed
my tire and afterwards I asked you your name.

Fantasy Seder

One day I will choose to remember the first Seder after my parents separated. My mother remembers it as the one in which Ben Saved Passover, but I don’t remember it all. Not the gefilte fish, nor the charoset which at the time surely contained chopped walnuts. Vaguely, I recall an empowered, hip hop rendition of Who Knows One, but I can’t picture the dining room without my father at the head of the table so I am not exactly sure this Seder ever really happened.

= = =

The Seder on Garwood Drive is a red blend. I admit this, which is more than I can say for you. My memory can’t be trusted to discern between a Rosh Hashana in 1986 during which Bubbi (my mother’s mother) and Big Daddy (my father’s father) got into a political debate about Gorbachev, and a Passover in 1985 during which my brother Jason was young enough still to be the dog under the table. The only family holiday dinner I know for certain was not Seder was the Thanksgiving in which Richard ate too much pumpkin pie and there was a mess in the downstairs bathroom afterwards. This has become legend and legends are what remains even after divorce divides.

= = =

In the haggadahs I asked my mother to bring from America to Israel for our Seder tomorrow night there is a note on the inside cover.

I love Marc.

ilovemarc

I almost wrote that I don’t remember loving Marc so much I needed to write his name in my Goldberg Passover Haggadah, but then I remembered I did love Marc so much in the obsessive way that compels us to doodle, I just don’t remember being so bold as to write his name out as opposed to his initials — ML — to make his name a mark on the Seder, on future Seders, to turn it into a memory that is retained because it appears year after year, there just before chanting “kadesh, urchatz…

Marc never did love me back, but “I love Marc” just goes to show that the stories we tell ourselves — whether they be universal or personal — transform from year to year: from bitter to poignant, from painful to pleasant.

The Seder, surely, is a reminder that time passes, but in reliably passing mends the frayed edges between years.

= = =

Shira and I were talking about joy and the Seder because someone asked her to write a blog post about it. I told her that a joyful Seder for me, if I were able to bottle it and spray it all over myself and my family, would be one in which I got to sing all the songs in the tunes I learned in Hebrew school, but I didn’t have to sing alone. It would be one in which my dad made both Bubbi and Big Daddy laugh at the same time with a pun he found inside a commentary from one of the Rabbis. And, you know, they’re both dead, my grandparents, so I don’t mean it literally. It would be a Seder before Nini got sick and before Big Daddy lost his ability to eat kugel without tremors, because those memories get in the way of joy a bit. I prefer the years before cancer and Parkinson’s (and sorry, before Evelyn, my grandfather’s second wife) when Big Daddy and I used to argue about which tune to use for Chad Gadya. These days, imagining my grandfather’s old school, spit-filled Ashkenazi pronunciations of what one little goat can do puts a gentle smile on my face.

A joyful Seder would certainly involve brisket, but more important it would be minus the food allergies, minus worry at all. It’s selfish, I know, to wish for a Seder in which I don’t have to worry — not about the food, nor the order, nor the harmony between my children. But if I am being honest, a joyful Seder would be one in which the only thing required of me is to look fancier than normal and to lead the family in song. If I could bottle it and spray it, this would be my joyful, midlife Seder. One so joyful, this time around, I promise to wash the dishes.

If you see me in the mirror, tell me I say Hi

In my house, the lighting is bad except for when it is good which is typically in the morning and I have drawn open the curtains which are in truth metal slats that rise up and down when I tug on a length of canvas. All the fixtures in this house, in the kitchen and bathrooms especially, must have been chosen in sorrow for the light they emit is the shade one wants to sit under when one is temporarily broken by life or haunted by regret.

When I found out this house was built by a couple in love, but finished only by one of them after they decided it wasn’t working out, I suddenly understood why I couldn’t see myself in the mirror no matter how sunny the day; why the tiles in the guest bathroom look filthy no matter how much time I spend on my knees with the Israeli brand of Brillo trying to scrub them clean. I understood why the side yard was decorated with pottery shards instead of ornamental pebbles and why the foundation of the second side porch was still exposed, its rusty innards testament to what might have been, but would never be …complete.

We rent this house, we rent this house, we rent this house, I chant, every time I pluck my eyebrows in front of a hand mirror next to the open window. I chant it when I wipe down fingerprints from the walls and when I jam my own finger in between the warped window screen and the pain. I mean pane.

As if being transitory is a salve, as if a makeshift home is not a real home and therefore, who I am in it, not a real me.

They said this outfit was 3D

I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”

The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.

She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.

The call for submissions to end all submission

I am a sucker for signs. I see evidence for action in unusual places: on the bumper sticker that says “I miss you!,” on the tractor trailer in front of me on the highway, or in that dream in which cats have snuck into my hotel room and eaten up all the free pastries left on a tray by the door, or when Nina Simone sings “For Myself” at the same time an article on the Self written by Maria Popova pops up in my feed.

This week, old houses keep popping up, too — mine and others’. In poems I haven’t written yet, but also in my waking life.

* * *

Clue #1: After my middle son finished Key to the Treasure the other day, I was certain he was going to choose Clues in the Woods because choosing Haunted House would be very unlike him — he, like I am, is scared to be scared, especially before bed.

But he chose Haunted House, and after checking in with him to make sure this was the one he wanted to read next, we began.

Clue #2: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Leonard had grown up in an Arts & Crafts house whose previous owner had been murdered in the front hall. The grisly history of 133 Linden Street had kept the house on the market for years.”

Clue #3: This article from December about memory and mentally mapping our homes — it showed up at the top of my Twitter feed today. More than the study results, I was struck by the dollhouse image used to illustrate the story.  Dollhouses have a way of being so inviting and so terrifying at the same time. Like old hotels. Like Stephen King. I felt this way before I read The Dollhouse Murders and long before I saw The Shining.

Clue #4 is a secret. I won’t tell it, but no matter.

* * *

I am going to enter the contest to win a bed and breakfast in Maine.

I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to Janice in 200 words why it feels as though I am already the winner.

This makes me sound like a narcissist and I want to sound like a dreamer. Or at least like someone who lives her life one foot atop one pole and one foot atop the other.

I want to explain to Janice that the word Maine is blue and that I love that northern state because I spent four summers at overnight camp there, three of which I spent in love and that this is a good thing, not a thing that makes me crazy, but makes me the type of person who other people — guests — will be happy to see in the morning. And anyway, my husband will be the one cooking breakfast and serving pancakes in the shapes of native birds. Once he served our dinner guests sweet potato pancakes with a dollop of wasabi sour cream that was as delicate as a meringue. I will be the one who organizes the books in the library each night. (There will be vintage National Geographic magazines and perhaps a set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, too.) I will be the one who changes the sheets. I will keep the ghosts appeased. I will invite them to have tea in the garden so they don’t frighten the guests.

* * *

I had a dollhouse once. It was this one. Not this exact one, but its doppelganger.

(photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/magnoliasra/kh/)

* * *

I still love miniatures.

I love it that my husband sneaks into the bathroom before bed to set up clever scenes with the Playmobil my daughter left behind after her bath, with the purpose of surprising me when I happen upon them before brushing my teeth.

I especially love the miniature toilet and the European style hand shower: Bathroom appliances were never furnished with the dollhouses I played with as a child.

Which brings me back to the dream of the cats eating pastries in my hotel room.

I had been in the bathroom when they snuck in. They took advantage of my uniquely human need to relieve myself in privacy.

I was angry at first, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, I had left the front door open.

A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.

That

or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better

Key to the Treasure

I keep dreaming of my childhood home. I won’t bore you with the details; with the recalling of the coat closet next to the front door; the fur that once lived there, but didn’t appear in my dream. In my dream, my mother pulled out a vintage polyester shirt draped over a wire hanger steam-pressed and plastic wrapped years ago, now eager to breathe. She handed it to me, “Do you want this?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer.

= =

My middle son is reading a musky-smelling original hardcover edition of Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. It’s not the edition I read when I was nine — mine was paperback. But mine was lost in the Flood.

= =

I know for certain someone somewhere is reading my copy of New York Then and Now on a toilet. It’s a book meant to be read on the toilet.

They call them coffee table books, but no one has time for coffee anymore. They ought to be called toilet books. This is where I go when I want to pore over pictures from then and now.

Why can’t I manage to hang on to my books? Especially the ones I sought out, hand-picked, then coveted?

I found some of my lost New York books at The Strand last December. I had an urge to buy them all in an effort to once again build a carefully curated collection. This would have been a redux since once before — on weekday afternoons at Bookman’s in Tucson — I spent my lunch hour scanning the children’s section for the titles lost in the Flood.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

==

Except this.

I accept the hardcover original edition of Key to the Treasure, but I do so with a gentle stab of reluctance. I understand it’s the story I was wild about when I was nine — Jed and Bill and Liza and the feathered bonnet and the sorrow of missed connections passed down through the generations — not the texture of the pages or the color illustration on the cover. And yet, I want back what was once mine.

After all, if I had wanted to part with it I would have. I would have piled my copy of the book on top of the others that were going to Good Will. But I didn’t. I kept it on my shelf and then placed it in a cardboard box which I labelled “Jen’s books” before my father carried it down to the basement.

Those books, I believed, were meant to be found again one day.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

= =

I can have almost anything I want: a Fisher Price Sesame Street set, a pair of gently-used docksiders, a Speak and Spell, an autographed pull-out poster of Mackenzie Astin. People are buying and selling my faded memories…and yours… all the time.

I can have almost anything I want.

==

And yet, there is something worthwhile in the losing. In the being lost.

These things

“Thoughts were things, to be collected, collated, analyzed, shelved, or resolved. Fragmentary ideas, apparently unrelated, were often found to be part of a special layer or stratum of thought and memory…”  –H.D., Writing on the Wall


I seal in plastic Ziploc bags photographs, letters, my child’s artwork. I pile up large Tupperware containers of high school journals, college scrapbooks, and sticker albums I’ve saved since 3rd grade.  There is even a small box inside a larger box in which I store cut-up cotton shirts; remnants of all the graphic tees I ever stuffed into the set of almond-colored formica drawers of my childhood bedroom. The idea was to make a quilt one day. But it’s been more than 20 years since I cut them and still they remain fragments of a former social life.

Sometimes, I let go. I purge, actually; for the movement is swift and forceful.

I gather up books and plastic toys from McDonald’s and washed out jelly jars I was saving for just-in-case. I rally the troops in their respective bedrooms and we dig out unaccounted for Lego, DVDs, and well-loved teddies they once birthed at Build-A-Bear.

It used to be that we would prepare a yard sale — display all our attachments large and small on the grass for others to descend upon and barter for. Now, I push it all down into a free tote bag I got once at the grocery store and drive to the recycling area.

My load becomes lighter then. I feel clean in the same way I do when I make the bed before sleeping in it.

It’s temporary, though, this weightlessness. I will feel dirty again. I will feel weighed down by the objects that make up my life.

* * *

Sometimes I want it all back.

Not all. But something specific.

Days or years pass, for instance, and suddenly I long for the floor-length sleeveless, blue and white flowered dress I traded in for credit at the secondhand shop on Broadway because I could never bend down when I wore it. When I realize it’s missing, I’m surprised. How could I have given up that dress? Didn’t I understand that one day it might fit me differently? There are photographs of me in that dress I can actually tolerate – black and white strip photos taken on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I was younger then. I wore contacts. But, I think it was the dress that made me pretty.

Sometimes, in a dream, I’ll be certain I still own a pair of shoes I have long since abandoned. Where are they, the black wedges I know will be perfect for the job interview I have tomorrow?  I frantically shuffle around my dusty, hardwood-lined closet floor, pushing to the side my brown suede clogs and my untied docksiders and my Naot sandals. My fingers will never find them because I listed them on a Freecycle board two years ago and subsequently dropped them off in front of a Tudor in South Orange, NJ.

One morning, I wake up and realize I’ve been dreaming about the brown leather backpack I carried with me through four years of college and some years after. I don’t even remember when I threw it away. This pains me. Documenting my losses is a coping mechanism.

Soft to the touch, but robust enough to manage three spiral-bound notebooks, a heavy “baby chem” textbook, and a glass bottle of Raspberry Snapple tucked away in a side unzippered pouch — that brown leather backpack was the security blanket of my young adulthood. Sometimes I tucked the yellow Sony Walkman into the other side pocket, a long track of rubber-lined wire snaking out and up into my ears as I hiked the city blocks between my apartment on F Street and the modern mirrored building on 22nd where I took beginner’s Hebrew on the 3rd floor and piano lessons in the basement.  There were crumbs of a chocolate chip cookie that smelled like nicotine once at the bottom of that brown leather backpack.

There was a flap, too, that closed off the main compartment, but also served as a wallet-like coin holder, with room enough for a wad of cash and easy access to my student ID. With one hand, I could click the flap shut into a magnetic metal clasp. Even though it appeared to be a complicated buckle, it wasn’t. It was very simple actually.

I must have gotten rid of the brown leather backpack in Tucson.

It must have been after my mother treated me to the high end, shiny Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag.  Like the brown leather backpack, it was a handy carryall with suitable compartments – an easy-access exterior pocket for diapers and wipes; one of the side pockets for bottles. It even came with an interior zippered pouch for personal items, a nursing pad, or eventually, a tampon.

When my son was two, we decided to leave Arizona to head back to where we came from in New Jersey.  That’s when we had our first yard sale. We sold the glass tables we registered for at Pottery Barn. We sold one of the lamps, too. We sold the swing set in the backyard.  I don’t remember what else.

It must have been then I parted with the brown leather backpack.

I guess.

* * *

Now, it’s a black canvas backpack I carry daily (a leftover promotional gift from a job I left 14 years ago). Inside are two pieces of uneaten fruit and half a cream cheese sandwich prepared on a gluten-free pita.  There is an unzippered side pocket from which a Laken thermo-insulated bottled filled with filtered water peeks out and another side pocket in which I carry plastic bags for “just in case.”  In two exterior zippered compartments, there is spare change for use in either Israel or in America, but not in both.  There are markers, pencils, pens, bubblegum already chewed.

It’s durable, my black canvas backpack.  And loved, too, in a colder more practical way. I carry it on two shoulders instead of one. I am often in awe of how long it’s lasted.

From time to time –in between classes at the university where I am studying for my Master’s degree or on a plane seated in the middle of two of my children — I consider how long and often I’ve weighed the black backpack down. How I’ve tested it. How it still serves me.

I wonder, too, how I will one day lose track of the black canvas backpack or if I will wear it until it breaks.