Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rebbetzin S. (Yesh.)

I was visiting monsey. Yehuda S. had told me that his mother would love to see me. How do I say no, she's 90 years old. How do I say no, I knew her husband, the mashgiach so well. How do I say no. I love him so much and regretted so much not getting to no him more. In a way, she was the closest I could get to knowing him. Whatever reason, I went to see her. I probably wore a cap because a yarmulka would really be a lie. She is a very special woman and I was glad to see her. She told me that she davens for me. She told me that she wants me to go back to being a yeshiva bachur. How do I explain anything to her. No, I had attempted with some people but I had not intentions of trying to explain anything to her. I was way beyond that. I just realized that in her way of looking at things, her picture of me would not be complete until she saw me in a hat and jacket once again and I had not intentions of that happening. Also, even if I had wanted that, I was not even more repulsed by the superficiality of it. She didn't even think of ask about how I was feeling. Not that she didn't care, but she only saw the need to have her physical image of me fulfilled and complete. It almost seemed as if she had no conception that wearing a hat and jacket didn't mean anything about religious devotion let alone mental health and stability. None of those things were even worth bringing up. No explanation necessary, just a cordial goodbye and thank you. Nice to have that door close behind me. It was a little painful, but I Knew there was no other way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Avi's gone. (Wash)

The owners were trying to evict everyone. I didn't know what I would do. I was relying on Avi.
I wasn't used to finding my own place to stay. I didn't have a steady and significant income. I decided to do what I always did. I just didn't do anything. If I had to live in my car I was fine with that. For a while, I just lived in our old apartment as they began demolishing it. As I could tell, from the toilet, I wasn't the only one using our old apartment. The door was locked so I climbed in the window, when they took out the walls, I went upstairs. I was angry. Not doing anything to help myself was my form of rebellion. If you don't care for me, then I won't care for me until you feel bad that you didn't care. It went something like that. Either way, I didn't care enough to make things better. At the end Alan found out that I was living in my car and offered to help. By that time I had begun looking. I found out that Bill from the beach had spots in houses that he would rent out. He seemed nice and Alan would help me pay for it. I moved in. I was so happy. It was the first really nice shower I had had in a while. The bathroom, was clean and bright and the shower was warm and I just savored those moments of warmth and feeling like I had a home.

The people were nice and they were interesting. The experience felt a little more authentic because now I was getting to know the world. Until then, I had been in the Jewish community, now I was a man of the world. William was Chinese and then there was Pamela, who was Bill's girl friend who I later heard overdosed on drugs. Bian found himself in Jail somehow and Steve, an ex navy seal, scammed a group of people out of their savings and I was actually conned into driving them somewhere unknown. David, was also pretty interesting. His father was Jewish so we had something in common although he didn't have much of a connection with him. He was working two Jobs to pay for child support for his child who was up in Tahoe. Ishmael was an aspiring actor. He had talent, it actually seemed like he would make it. I don't know if he ever did. David was my closest friend. He was a musician and he helped me put out my first CD. I was lost, wandering and confused. I was trying to run as far as I could from anything Jewish. I was trying to fit in. I hoped that somehow, things would work out in a way where I would be able to drown out all the memories of my upbringing and my being a Jew. I hoped that somehow by associating with enough non Jews and different people of different cultures, I'd feel more comfortable, with myself amongst the people of the world.

Frank, officially slept in my room but he had built himself a fortress of sheets around his bed so he had privacy. He's just watch TV a lot of the day. He had a black Mercedes which he kept looking very nice. He was in AA, and we talked from time to time but nothing too friendly. I came home one day to find him drunk and ready to beat me up. He said, that he had heard me say that I thought that Jews were better than everyone else or something like that. I don't know what he meant but either way, it was a scary surprise and I just turned around and ran as fast as I could. Of course I didn't feel that great about myself for running but considering the amount of time he put into weight lifting, and considering how drunk he was, it was probably a good idea. I had to come back because I had no where to sleep. I crept toward the house slowly. I kept my eyes open. I don't know if anyone found out exactly what happened between us but when I walked in, David and two other people were trying to hold him back from beating me up. I can't say I felt very safe sleeping in the same room as him. I imagined him beating me up while I was sleeping. Shortly after that, I started thinking of moving back with the Jews. I needed a safe place to live. I can't say I felt great about it but I was ready.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

oops!! ( driving, while teaching)

It was friday afternoon, I had just finished a long week of teaching and faking and I was looking forward to a nice long weekend of vegging and just being. I'd always take off my suit right away, get into my pajamas, stack up a huge pile of books and get some good food, get into bed, and try to figure out what the hell was wrong with my life and how I might be able to make it better? My mind was spending time with my hopes, thoughts and worries and suddenly traffic came to a hault faster than I could respond. I tried to get into the right lane to avoid hitting the car in front of me. I saw a truck coming fast in that lane so I quickly went back into the first lane. I hit the car in front of me as the truck plowed straight into the side of my precious Toyota Tercel. It's quality steel just gave way to the force of the truck. Glass and grapejuice went flying over my head. I knew something had gone terribly wrong, but I got comfort from the fact that my mind was being called back into the present. I had to think. How do I clean up this mess? I jumped out of the car. I was shocked. I was fine. My body, was intact, it was absolutely fine. It was nice to know that. I just stood staring at my car, I couldn't believe what a mess, it was and how I could possibly be OK.

Food, my comfort and companion (shabbat)

For a long time now, food had been my best friend. It had comforted me when things had gone so wrong. I had a constant need for more food. Now, having a little money, I was able to have even more food. I discovered the fascinating world of sweet. These sweets were such beloved friends. I would just sit in the parking lot of the Super Market and eat until I couldn't move, then I"d go to sleep, for a little bit, I couldn't think, that was good. Then, when I had more energy, I'd get up and eat what I had left over.The food helped me not to think of the many questions that I had and decisions I had to make. I loved them so much. I hated me so much. I hated all the things I didn't know. I hated all the questions I was scared to ask. I hated my life. I hated what had happened. Most of all, I didn't want to truly look at all that had happened. Where did I go wrong? What can I make of this life? I have nowhere to go. I just knew that I couldn't have a career. I knew that I couldn't devote myself to something else. I knew that Torah was really the only way to go, although I began to doubt this just a bit, I could not let go of the image of the Rabbi and leader I had aspired to for so long. What should I do with that image, all that longing? Is it over? Is that really possible that it's over? I need an explanation. You just can't leave me stranded like this. Tell me what happened to me!! Why am I like this? Why can't I go back? What happened? Why should I invest my time in anything else? If I don't know why it happened, why should I think that it won't happen again? Ice cream was great. Cake and chocolate always had answers. No exceptions. When I ate, I didn't have to think. Of course I hated this process. I knew I was avoiding so much but I knew I had no choice. I just knew that there was no way to face these questions. Facing them was just out of the question. I was just angry and confused. I felt sure that I was wrong for doing what I was doing. I was definitely going to hell and all I did was try to not think about the hell that I was building for myself. What was there to think about? What was there to face? It was simple, I was going to hell. I was seriously screwed. I also knew that I just had to have sex. I knew that I had to not study torah. I knew that each day, I was moving farther and farther away from the living spring of God and his mitzvos. I also knew that there was no way in hell that I would do them or study any Torah. I had to conclude that things were just not going to be that good for me.

One Shabbat, I was fed up. My ritual life had stopped existing, it didn't mean anything anymore. Until then, I had kept shabbat, I didn't do anything. I didn't show my face in Shul but I didn't desecrate the Shabbat, I just stayed home and read. I had started to go to 12 step meetings for my eating and the Shabbat came when I didn't know why I was keeping it. I had to go to a meeting, why should I keep shabbat? The meetings were giving me hope that I'd have some of my peace of mind back, how could it be bad? The shabbat was dry and dead and the meetings promised the possibility of god, hope and life. What would I choose? It was a tough decision, I knew God would kill me, I would definitely get into an accident. I felt like I was making a decision. It was a bad decision but at least it was a decision. I got into my car. It felt strange. It was different. Of course I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this day would come. I felt good. It felt strange, different, but it felt more natural. I needed to be me and this was a good way to start.

awkward encounters. restaurant

As my luck would have it, I was working a few blocks from the school that I used to teach in. It was really strange. I had changed my life a bit and because it was a kosher restaurant, I would now need to face all those parents and Rabbi's that I spent so much time with last year. I was so scared. I was so embarrassed. I wondered what they thought. Some of them had respect for me. Now it was probably different. The comforting thing was that I felt so much better about myself. I felt like I was doing the right thing. I was no longer a hypocrite. I didn't have to worry about saying one thing to my students and not living it. Now, I was feeling more whole. My outside life reflected more of what I felt and believed on the inside. This was extraordinary. I had never felt this feeling before. This was the first time that I realized how good it could feel to do the right thing and that it can actually give me strength I didn't think I had. Until then I had thought that I just wouldn't have the strength to look at those same parents and teachers in front of whom, I used to dress so well and now I was cleaning up their leftovers at the restaurant. I had a really good feeling about being me. I Knew that I was doing the right thing and that is what made a difference.

downgrade? More authenticity?

The summer drew on and I started thinking of what I would do. I don't know how I had the courage but I walked into a kosher restaurant and asked if they needed anyone. "When do you want to start he asked?" "Tomorrow I said". I had been so bored, I needed something to do. I think I figured that getting a job was the next mature thing to do. It was quite awkward. I just find it hard to get keep my arms in order and get them to do what they needed to do. It was so hard to get comfortable with the Register. I had to write it out over and over again. I went home and tried to memorize where the different buttons were. I felt bad. For my coworkers who were 16 and 18 it was no problem, but I had to sweat it. What was wrong with me? Why does everything have to be so hard? In a way, I took pride in my struggle and rejoiced in my accomplishment. I taught myself to take pride that I was working and I kept at it. I must admit, I liked the physical labor much more, it gave my mind the time to think about all the things that it wondered and worried about. Yes, of course, in those first years of working at the restaurant I cursed my life. How could a talmid chacham end up picking up french fries off the floor. I knew that I was intelligent. I knew that I could use my brain for something. I had spend so many years using it. My mind was wanting to be used. I took so much pride in the mental and intellectual accomplishments that I experienced in yeshiva that my mind wanted to be stimulated. I felt like this kind of work was beneath my capability. I didn't understand why I was doing it. I didn't have the time to think. I couldn't afford to think. All I knew was that I needed to work and that staying busy was really good for me. It was just too hard to spend the time with myself. I knew that things had to change, I could feel the pain, I didn't know what was wrong and how to make it better, all I knew was that, I needed to push on and keep doing the next right thing and that somewhere down this road, things would have to get better. Truth is that I didn't want to think much about what exactly was wrong, I just hoped that if I did some good things, things would get better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Get a raise?

How awkward can life get. The school year was comming to an end. I must admit that I tried to do as little as possible. I tried to be there as little as possible although when I was working I gave it my all. At the end of the year, when the principal called me in to his office, I had been rehearsing to ask him for a 5,000 dollar raise. The truth is, that I had done some incredible work with those kids but perhaps I was over estimating the dollar value of what I put in. Either way, he told me that he didn't have a job for me the next year. I was shocked. I felt rejected. Why didn't he warn me. In retrospect I am so surprised at my own surprize. How could I possibly be disheartened by losing this kind of job, like losing a migrane. I don't even know how I could have considered the possibility of staying at a job that was so antithetical to where I had hoped to be going with my life. In retrospect, I feel like I must have been so distant from what I truly needed and wanted that so many of my choices were imbued with confusion and lack of self acknowledgment. When the principal told me the good news, he also added 'but we'd love to keep you on call to do some substituting when we need it'. I find it strange that when he said this all my true feelings and directions came to the surface. Now I was rejected, I was angry and I was free. I realized that I needed to cut my ties and associations with the school. I had to live me, now. I hinted to him, at that point, that I was starting to have my own personal doubts about orthodox Judaism and that I don't think I would be the right person to do substituting. Maybe that was too much information to give to a man who was once my employer, but we had had a good rapport and I felt like I needed to tell him what I was up to. I didn't want him to call me and I didn't want him to be surprised if he saw me without a yarmulka or in a place that he would not expect one of his Rabbeim (or anyone else he knew) to be at. I didn't need any more surprizes, and I was trying to live in a world where everyone knew what I was up to. He told me that he would be glad to talk to me on issues of Emunah if I wanted. I was glad he understood what I meant and with that we parted. I was free. I was so happy. I could now put this bad dream behind me. I felt a new era of sweetness, freedom and honesty about to arrive. Although I worried and didn't know quiet what would be, but I felt it had to be better than the lying life of the past year. I did feel like I was taking a step downward from a position of respect and prestige to a life of anonymity and humility, but that's what I wanted. I wanted to be a nobody. I wanted to be in the dark . I wanted to be just a normal person with no attention and no eyes looking at me. I wanted to be able to be a boy, to be a kid, to have fun, to party to have a girl friend. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be me. Is that possible? Where do I start? Who am I?