Back in Los Angeles, Mom was starting to pull herself together—sort of? At least well enough to hold down a part-time job. She was also attending synagogue regularly, where she met her new boyfriend, Ezra.
I guess I should have been more surprised to hear that she’d been going to synagogue. We hadn’t gone since Great Grandma Rose died. Being in a synagogue brings back comforting memories of my Great Grandma Rose. Probably the only good memories I have from childhood, as she represented my safe place. A strong woman who loved me.
Grandma Rose and Grandpa Lloyd used to take care of me sometimes. They both died before I turned seven, so these are early recollections. Mom would dump me off with them, and they would babysit me over the weekends. They’d take me along to synagogue, and though most of the service was recited in Hebrew, all gobbledygook to me, the rabbi made jokes in English. I mostly remember the dancing and the food afterward. Grandpa Lloyd would lift me high over his head and put me on his shoulders. All the people in the temple made big circles and held hands. We’d dance to peculiar accordion music that I’d never heard on the radio. People I didn’t even know would pull me off the ground and swing me back and forth. “It’s so much fun to be Jewish!” I’d tell my Grandma. She’d laugh until her eyes turned into little upside-down crescent moons, and her crow’s feet deepened into the sides of her face. I always knew I was loved and enjoyed when I was with her. I never felt like a burden, like I did with my mom.
Mom’s boyfriend, Ezra, was an older man, but not just older, I’m talking ancient. Old, like, perhaps he was the original Ezra. He became my mom’s fast fling, fast. It felt creepy. I don’t know what she was thinking when she said I would like him. And now that she’d sent for me to come and live with them, I had to like him.
When I got my first look at him, I did an apple juice spit-take. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was tall like Lurch, lanky, and damn near bald with a super-long comb over. He looked older than any relative I’d ever had, even older than the ones in their graves. Why is Mom so into him? I kept asking myself. Why?
Because Ezra was rich.
Mom moved into his big mansion on Highland Avenue, just below Beverly. I got my own room, and he promised me furniture. No furniture ever came. I slept on a rollaway bed and lived out of my suitcase for the few months we were there. Mom enrolled me at Third Street Elementary, even though I begged her not to. Every new school was sheer torture. She understood how incredibly shy I was, and how much I hated meeting people, so I got her to postpone school for a few weeks. She did her best to pep-talk me before the inevitable first day.
The girl I sat next to in class tried to befriend me by telling me how pretty my eyes were, which only made me uncomfortable (though they are my biggest asset—green, like my mom’s, and the same shape). I hung out with the girl at recess, and even started to like her. Then all the boys started playing the “grabbing game,” and my new friend was totally down with it. I didn’t want any part of it, and I walked off toward the far end of the playground to be alone. When the bell rang, it occurred to me that I never wanted to go back to the classroom again and, when my mother dropped me off the next morning, I didn’t. I planted my ass on the curb outside of the entrance and waited. I waited there until she came back to pick me up at 2:00 p.m. She asked how school was and I said it was fine. I did the same thing the following day, and the day after that. I just sat there, thinking. Most days, I thought I about how much I missed my brother.
Mike, still in Pennsylvania with Dad, was no good at writing, so he made cassette tapes and sent them to me in the mail. The tapes were so funny, I never laughed harder in my life. Nobody could make me laugh like he could. He invented comedy skits and performed all the character’s voices himself. I loved it.
I played alone most of the time. I’d listen to Mike’s tapes on my Panasonic tape recorder in my empty room. I also found some mysterious tapes in a trunk in the closet. Most of them were klezmer music, but one was Donovan’s Catch a Fire, which only has four songs. I’d sit in that room for hours listening to it over and over, until I knew “Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do” like the back of my hand. I’d sing along and apply the words to my parents, and cry through a box of tissues. No one ever checked on me in that room to see how I was doing. No one ever checked on me in any of the rooms I lived in.