I don’t remember agreeing to it, but that mattered not. It was off to Crestbrook Bible Camp in the Pocono Mountains with the church and the rest of my dad’s family. It was a great big retreat by a lake with cabins, church services, arts and crafts, and no way out. I remember making a cross out of match sticks and my first Artist’s book called “The Book of the Lamb.” My aunt Dolly gave me such praise for that thing, like I had finally understood everything about Jesus, Heaven and the Rapture now that my mom was out of the picture. All I knew was that I missed my mother so much, there was pain in my chest, but I still wanted to please the adults around me. I thought maybe I would be able to get access to her then.
Just as confusing was when I started crushing on a boy I saw in a little row boat on the lake. He was about my brother’s age, maybe 10, with curly blond locks to his shoulders. I’d follow him around camp when I had nothing better to do. But one day I saw him in a dress and realized he was a girl. Funny thing was, I didn’t care. I still liked her and followed her around just the same. I was too shy to spark a conversation. I think I tried once, but I felt like there was something very wrong with me, so I kept away.
When we got back to Allentown, Dad talked to Mike and I about getting baptized, and whether or not we’d accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. At the time, I suppose I did. I never heard of Jesus Christ being anything other than the Lord and Savior, so why not? Plus I knew that’s what my dad wanted me to do. That was what Uncle Kermit and Aunt Dolly wanted me to do. But I couldn’t tell you if that was what I wanted.
As it turned out, these two Jewish kids from Los Angeles getting baptized was a big fucking deal. It was even in the town newspaper. Later I found out that my mother said to my father,
“You can dunk them in all the holy water you want – they’re still Jewish!”
Since my mom was gone, all I heard from my dad and his family was what a terrible human being she was and how mentally ill she was. That it was “good” she was gone because she was an unfit mother. We were better off without her because she was incapable of taking care of us, or, giving us a Godly life. They made her out to be satanic because she was not religious, and, because she was a Jew.
But my mom did so believe in God. She told me she did back when our Grandma Rose died, and many times after. I sometimes wondered if my parents even talked to each other about such things.
However, I was beginning to think there was a part of me – half – that was unworthy because I was Jewish. So it was extra important for me to get baptized and cleanse the Jew out of me. Otherwise, I didn’t belong in my own family. Not so long as my parents were separated and 3,000 miles from one another.
Living with Kermit and Dolly did have its perks, though. The rolling hills of Lehigh Valley loop-de-looped around us like emerald encrusted sound waves. And winding roads lead back and forth between sunlit pastures, under covered bridges near bevies of woods. Sometimes the trees were so dense they’d take the sky away, and my mind right along with it. I didn’t know then what being disassociative meant.
We even had a vegetable farm. I was in charge of gathering the green beans and snapping off the edges, placing them into a basket and cleaning them in the outdoor sink near Buck, Kermit’s old Bassett Hound. I also picked blueberries with Dolly and my cousin Sheila to make homemade ice cream. If you think that’s crazy, I’d also run for what seemed like miles in the back yard along a hedge of wild sunflowers that bordered the back of the property. The land went on and on – something that’s nonexistent in Los Angeles. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced and more like something out of a cartoon.
I did pray a lot, but I prayed directly to God. For me, there was no middleman. I prayed and wished my mom would come and take me away, no matter how spectacular the nature was growing dear to my heart. It was all so sad without my mom. I started to imagine her outside of my school in a magical taxicab, waiting for me. She looked like a princess and she’d scoop me up while glitter fell all around us. Together we would go back to LA and live happily ever after. I’d daydream about this constantly. But every day was the same. At the end of the school day, the loud speaker in the classroom would dismiss each group of students, one at a time.
“Bus 15, Bus 24, Bus 33,” and so on. After all the damn bus kids got dismissed, the walkers were finally let go. “Walkers are dismissed…Walkers are dismissed.” They said it twice. I waited for that female voice to say those eventual words while the minutes passed – well after three o’clock. Our house was so close, I could taste it.
Then, one day in the fall, when walkers were finally dismissed, I started out of Salisbury Elementary and began walking up the street towards home, and lo and behold, there was my mother in a taxicab with the door open waiting for me. I thought it was a hallucination, but I was eight. I hadn’t tried any hallucinogenics yet.
I could hardly believe what I was seeing. She was waiving me towards her to come quickly. I didn’t even have time to pinch myself. I wasn’t sure if it was real, but it was. It was real.
I got into the cab with her. She was crying and hugging me, kissing me all over my face. We went straight to the Philadelphia airport. I was so excited, but I was scared. I knew I had just been kidnapped. I knew my father was going to be worried. I didn’t have any clothes besides the ones I was wearing. This fantasy come true was becoming very strange. I wasn’t paying much attention to her state of mind either, and forgot all about her manic depression.
Mom was staying in a sleazy motel in the south end of Korea Town. It’s not the greatest area of LA. I remember all the orange water coming out of the faucets because the pipes were so fucked up, and the whole building smelled like mold. And I could swear I heard live chickens in the room next to us.
My mom was fucked up too. Her hair was wild and undone. It was the first time I saw her roots and they were almost all gray.
She was depressed and crying a lot. The whole time I was there, she was either on the phone with her mother or fighting with my father about how she wanted to take care of me, but both of them were telling her to put me back on a plane to Pennsylvania. I could hear my father through the receiver screaming at her and giving her additional anxiety.
When she wasn’t on the floor on the phone, she was crying and hitting herself on the faded blue stinky couch. I would try to stop her, but she kept trying to harm herself in one way or another, scratching herself with a tweezers on her arm, or punching herself in the head, saying she was a loser. She was really a mess, and I swung between crying for her or ignoring her, relieved when she slept from popping too many pills. I guess I forgot how bad it could be. And now, no one was around to take care of her. Only me.
When she slept, I worked on my homework that I brought with me from school, even though I didn’t know if I was staying or going. But within a day, she became a bit more less depressed and perhaps more catatonic. Robotically functional. She put me back on a plane with a TWA chaperon by my side.
Up in the air, I waited five hours while the same ten songs played over and over inside my headphones. They were the very same songs that played when I was flying with my mom to LA. I would fly TWA on that same route, back and forth, even more times during that same year, listening to those exact same songs. They became the soundtrack of my life. One song in particular – Dreams by Fleetwood Mac – was the most fitting. Those lyrics reeled in my head as if the song was written specifically for my family. “What you had, and what you loved.” That was true no matter which direction I was flying.
When I got back to Allentown, my father moved himself and my brother into a three bedroom apartment about three blocks away from Kermit and Dolly. All our furniture was there, as if I’d been gone for weeks. My bedroom was all set up. But it all seemed so temporary.
I did not like the apartment. It was a far cry from all the houses we were used to. It looked like the projects. It was all brick. Dull. Flat brown carpet and no curtains. It felt like an army barracks. And the landlords did not like us – called us the “Jew kids.” They were a husband and wife in their late 50s, and the wife smoked cigars. They were miserable people in general. And they seemed to doubt my father for the rent. He was still looking for work, but he had some money in savings.
Then, something amazing happened on Thanksgiving day. Something so marvelous, I didn’t think about anything sad, or about missing my mom, those stupid landlords, my loneliness, or anything. Because it began to snow.
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and My dad told us to come to the living room window, and there it was – snow falling from the sky and onto the grass. It was the most magical moment! We’d never seen such a thing before. We hurried to go out there and skidded around on the grass, ate the snowflakes, and gathered up enough snow to throw at each other. The last thing we wanted to do was eat Thanksgiving dinner. But the turkey made us tired and I remember going to bed early thinking about those magic snowflakes and my parents’ unhappiness. I wondered if maybe there was hope for our family.
When I woke up the next morning, everything was covered thick and white. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. All the rooftops and trees, the ground, and everyone’s cars – coated in fluffy clouds. Icicles hung from below windows. They looked like melting diamonds stuck in time. I couldn’t wait to see them up close. And although it wasn’t very cold outside, I still wore the mittens that my Aunt Dolly knitted for me.
When I reached the courtyard, I visited those windowsills to get a better look. Then, with my mitten fingers, I quickly plucked on all the icicles, snapping them off in one sweeping motion. They made a kind of xylophone noise as they broke off at differing lengths. The sound made me laugh. It reminded me of cartoons playing marimbas made out of skeleton bones. So I went from window to window in the courtyard breaking as many icicles as I could.