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.

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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.

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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.

Dreams, even those about monkey gods, are normal

1. Last night, I asked Avi if it was strange that I could not recall one exam I took in college from 1992 to 1996. I remember so much from my past, I said, but not one college exam?

He said, “Well, that was a long time ago.”

“True,” I replied, nodding my head even though I thought his response was uninspired. “But what I’ve learned about memory is that how long ago is not most important to our recall. What’s most important is how often we remember the memory. Our memories, it turns out, are mostly memories of memories. They are the stories we keep telling ourselves of our memories.”

My husband looked up at me. “That makes sense.”

2. It is February 1, 2015, two days before the final exam in Aggada and I have a dream that I am late. I look at my watch in the dream and the numbers displayed read 12:03, three minutes after I was meant to be sitting in the exam room, but instead I am drinking coffee on campus with a friend. I panic and gather my things. After a series of dream type mishaps – including not being able to find my keys or my car – I end up locating my car in a far off parking lot thanks to the assistance of a young attendant, but I wake up from the dream before I take the exam.

Nevertheless, the dream feels resolved, closed. I wake up relieved. Before I wake up, however, I hook up with the young parking attendant who helped me find my car.

3. It is February 3, 2015 the day of my Aggada exam. I arrive on campus two hours early and sit in the garden outside the assigned building until 15 minutes before the exam. I am determined not to be late. 15 minutes before the exam, I enter the building, walk down to the basement to the exam room, and attempt to check in.

I hand the middle aged female monitor my ID card. She reviews it and looks up to face me. She asks me in Hebrew, “Did you change your name?”

“No,” I respond slowly, still trying to translate in my head this phrase I wasn’t expecting.

“Your name is not on the list,” she tells me. “You must go to the Administration Building and get special permission to take the test.”

I panic, but only slightly. “Where is the Administration Building?”

“Oh, it’s over there.” She points behind her in a direction I imagine is very clear and precise in her mind, but in mine is not, since my mind is filled with parables from long ago about reincarnated rabbis, ancient wisdom, and miracles from Heaven.

Later, but not much, I will see that this moment itself is a reincarnation of an ancient wisdom. Later, but not much, I will understand again that no matter how hard I try to change the future, I can’t.

In the end, I am late for the exam.

I wander down and around winding paths, follow faded signs in Hebrew and eventually come upon the Administration Building, which is tucked away behind some bushes peppered with daylilies. Inside, I ask for Asher as I had been instructed.

Do you know what time Asher resolves the matter and sends me back to the classroom to take the exam?

12:03

I knew it would be 12:03 even though Asher had said with his thumb and pointer finger, “Dakah,” which means “just a minute.” It was 11:58 then, and I knew he’d be back in 4 minutes, not one. I knew because my dream had told me.

When he returns at 12:03, I thank Asher in Hebrew, but I do not hook up with him.

I only smile. After all, his name, in Hebrew, means “happy.”

4. “Pray for the future, hope for the best
One never knows, does one?” —
Charles Brown, One Never Knows (mixed tape, 1997)

5. I had a dream last night I had a lover. He was married. He was someone who lives here on the kibbutz. In real life, he is attractive, but I am not attracted to him. This is another kind of love. The kind where you acknowledge the beauty of thing, but don’t necessarily feel the desire to partake of it.

6. “There are such things as ghosts. People everywhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did. Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious….”

— Donna Tartt, The Secret History

7. Yesterday, in my writing workshop, Suzanne asked me, “Are you trying to prove the unprovable?”

“Because, you know,” she said. “This magic you notice might truly exist, but it may never be provable.”

8. When I read CG Jung’s autobiography Dreams, Memories and Reflections, I cried a lot. I cried from that place we cry when we realize we are not the first to experience the profoundly unexplainable. That we are not, in fact, weird. Or that weird is, in fact, normal. At least, a little bit normal.

9. Last night I had a dream I was in my childhood home. It looked the way it looked then, not the way it looked 6 months ago when I parked my car in front of the driveway with two of my children in the backseat and asked the owner if I could enter. The kitchen was not gutted in my dream. The living room was not refashioned into some joke in my dream. In my dream, the kitchen was lined with the wallpaper of my youth and the sun shined in through the door to the deck at an angle I was familiar with.

In the dream, our cats are inside the house instead of out, and I ask my husband, “Don’t you think we should get them shots if we are going to let them inside?

He doesn’t answer.

At that moment, I notice a baboon outside in the back yard and get excited. I call for my brother or for my son  — some boy who is younger than I am and that I am meant to love — to come look. After all, it’s not often we have a baboon in our backyard. I call for my father, too, or for my husband — some man who I am meant to admire and respect in a way — to bring the smart phone so we can take a picture of it. But he doesn’t respond quickly enough. So I grab my phone and run around to the front of the house where the baboon has run off to.

I manage to capture a shot of the baboon, which I see now has the face of a man, but the body of a monkey and I realize he is neither human, nor animal, but perhaps an angry demi-god. For certain, he is angry, but I am not afraid. He is outside, after all, and I am in.

He is jumping high above the trees and coming back down to Earth again. Nevertheless, I capture a closeup of his face as he stares out but not at me and there behind him is a tree whose leaves have already changed to a deep red and complement the red shades of his angry face.

I get the picture. And I am relieved.

Nobody Understands Me

My daughter, 6, learned language in Israel.

Before we moved here four years ago, she was already speaking in 2-3 word sentences in English, but as soon as we landed we plopped her tushy down on a dirty linoleum floor in the kibbutz preschool in which other little girls, nostrils inflating green mucus bubbles, would lovingly shove their pacifiers into her mouth as a gesture of friendship, ask her questions in a Hebrew she did not yet understand, and eventually instruct her on how exactly to lift up her right shoulder towards the underside of her jaw in a way that meant, “I don’t want to. You can’t make me.”

My daughter learned Hebrew quickly and dropped the right shoulder as her vocabulary grew more robust and her voice more confident. She’s more demanding now, as well, in both English and in Hebrew. But still she often can’t find the word she wants in English when she talks to me.  Frustrated, she’ll say “Never mind” or if she’s already in a bad mood, “You just don’t understand!”

She’s 6, and she’s already telling her mother, “You just don’t understand.”

It’s not uncommon for her to say this to other adults or to her brothers. Her grandfather, just yesterday, laughed while reminiscing an incident from last week when she said outright in Hebrew, “Af echad  lo meyveen oti!” Nobody understands me!

I wonder about this. Is her frustration really a result of language? Is that the only reason my daughter often feels mis- or outright not understood? Or is it bigger than that? Something genetic my husband and I — both artists by nature, if not always by practice — passed down to her?

I stumble on what exactly, if anything, to do. If it’s purely about language, I could find a tutor for her or perhaps have her evaluated to make sure her comprehension and expression are developmentally appropriate. But what if it’s more about how she sees herself in the world. What, then, is there to do? And is it better to try to fix it? Or to leave it alone?

If someone could have fixed my “otherness” would I have wanted them to?(I think my mother might have tried from time to time.)

It is, I think, our otherness that propels us to create, to see beauty where others don’t, to express it in unique ways. I am confident that without my existential angst, without the sense sometimes that I am alone, without the urge to make myself known and heard and “gotten”, I would not be a writer.

So, maybe my daughter feels misunderstood. Maybe letting her figure that one out on her own wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

If it ends up being so, more fodder for her own memoir.