I haven’t disappeared yet! I can still draw and write, although my motivation and ability to share has been tempered by a tumultuous month. I’ve been full of worry and woe, and haven’t wanted to share my personal life. Walking is far more difficult now, and I rarely go out alone now. I can still walk about a mile and half, but my gait is unbalanced. I ask my husband to hold my arm during our daily walks.
I can still access my computer, although just an hour ago, I opened my laptop and the screen was black, although it had been charging and I thought it was going to be fully charged. I called in a panic to my husband who was sleeping upstairs, and the poor guy came downstairs to help me. He held down the start button, and lo and behold, got this old laptop to start again.
My last post was June 23rd, and it’s now August 5. A lot has happened. The babies are growing and developing at different speeds. I worry. I worry a lot, but what good is worrying. Life will unfold as it does.
My inspiration for writing this post is what happened yesterday. I was in bed, and my husband came into the bedroom and said I have a visitor. He said, “remember you told me about the baby your sister had and put up for adoption when she was a teenager?” WHAT???? “Well, she is downstairs, and wants to meet you”. WHAT?????!!!!!
Maybe this is why I am still alive. To meet this woman, who my own sister has never met. Life is beyond strange, isn’t it?
So here is the story.
My sister was 18 and I was 11 in 1965. We lived with my parents in the Bronx, on Morris Avenue in apartment 4E. I shared a bedroom with her. Suddenly there was a hushed discussion in the kitchen between my sister and my parents. I was not invited. I stood behind a wall near the doorway trying to hear what they were talking about. There was a big problem. I was discovered listening in, standing behind the wall, and my sister started to scream at me. What was going on? It turned out she was over three months pregnant, and beginning to show. The boyfriend, Bob Perlman was the father. The handsome young man who came to our apartment to pick her up, dressed in a military uniform, was the one who got her pregnant. In the subsequent weeks, my father took charge. There were meetings at our house between Bob’s parents, and my parents. They came from Peekskill. There was discussion of marriage. My father wanted Bob to marry my sister. In my family an illegitimate child, born out of wedlock was considered a “shanda” (Yiddish for a scandal, shame). No way was she going to have a baby if she wasn’t married. She was only 18, and the young man, a mere 21. She had a job working as a secretary, after recently graduating from high school. All I knew at the tender of age of 11, was that I liked this fellow who dated my sister. He would teach me jazz on the piano, and I liked to improvise these nuanced riffs instead of always, playing from the Fiddler on the Roof songbook that my mother preferred I practice from. Now there was a major upheaval in our home and lives, and my sister and this “problem” had to be solved. Everything had to be kept hush hush. I was forbidden to tell anyone. Despite my father’s insistence on marriage, the relationship broke up within months. Summer came and my parents rented a small apartment at a bungalow colony in the Catskills. I remember being left alone, for what felt like weeks, while my parents visited my sister in the city. I don’t remember knowing then that she had been placed at the Louise Wise Home for Unwed Mothers, and arrangements made for her to give up the baby for adoption immediately after it was born. I didn’t know about the details until my sister told me years later. At that time I just knew that my sister was living in somewhere else. My parents left me at the bungalow colony with a stack of quarters, and I would use them to play pinball on the machine downstairs. My reward.
My father had enrolled me at a day camp in the neighboring bungalow colony, where he insisted that because I had been cast as Peter Pan in my elementary school play, that I was a shoo in for the role at this camp. All the kids at this camp knew each other for years, and I was an outsider. My being cast as Peter Pan was not endearing to these kids, some of whom thought they had seniority, and wanted the role. Who the hell was this kid stealing their glory? So I didn’t make friends, and no one liked me. While my parents were in New York, visiting my sister, for what felt like weeks, I saw the “group” of kids from the camp, crossing behind my bungalow colony to visit some other kids in the bungalow colony on the other side of mine. I overheard them talking about me, and saying that by walking this way, they would avoid asking me to join them. So there I was with my quarters, friendless, playing pinball, my parents absent, no one in charge of me, no one to talk to, virtually alone. I didn’t have anyone to tell how heartbroken I was, how rejected I felt, how confused and lonely I was. My sister was the one who needed my parents. I was alone and as I didn’t have the social skills to make the best of this situation at 11. And I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone why my parents weren’t there.
Yesterday I met Caarin. She is 53 soon to be 54 years old, born on October 9, 1965. She looks quite a bit like my sister did at around her age. I studied her face, and saw that her lips are shaped like my sister’s, and her high forehead and hairline reminded me of my sister. The way she moved, her ankles, her legs, the way she placed her hands on her lap, the way she tilted her head. I am this woman’s biological aunt. How did she find me? She told me she had read my blog. Said a doctor had referred her to it. WHAT????!!!!!!
Why now? Was this the gift I was praying for? To be remembered? To meet someone from my biological family who would care about me – finally? At the end of my life? I’d been begging my sister to come and see me for three years. She knows my diagnosis and knows that the disease has progressed. And suddenly the baby she had given up for adoption, 53 years ago, appears wanting to meet me, asking questions about her birth mother, about my parents, about my grandparents, about me.
My sister told me years ago she had met this “girl” when she was a teenager. I found out from Caarin that this was a lie. My sister refused to meet her and it was Caarin who tried to meet her birth mother.
Years ago my sister told me the baby had been adopted by a well off Jewish family and that the parents were psychiatrists. I found out from Caarin that my sister had never met her. Instead Caarin showed me a letter my sister wrote to her in 1987, describing her life, her marriage, her family, my parents. She included a photograph of herself with her third child, her second son (the one who I think of as the demon child, which is a separate story unto itself). Caarin told me that my sister’s husband went to see Caarin’s parents when Caarin was away at college, and explained to them that my sister has panic attacks and was too vulnerable to meet Caarin.
I showed Caarin photographs of my parents, and told her everything I could about growing up in my family, told her about my mother, how my parents met, how my father treated my mother, how he was full of rage, and yet was somehow the better parent, who at least payed attention to me, who was charming and sociable, and spoke 5 languages, while my mother struggled with English. She took photographs of the photos I showed her of my grandparents, my paternal grandparents from Gombin, Dina and Shya, who were murdered in the Holocaust. Her paternal great grandparents. I told her about Chaim, my fathers brother, about Minna, my father’s sister who was murdered at Auschwitz, along with her baby daughter, Pesa. I showed her photos of my mother’s parents, her father Menachem Mendel Gershanovich, and her mother Leah. I told her there are living relatives in Israel, Mati and Sima and Yaffa, and cousins in England, Sandra, Ruth, Susan and Peter. I tried very hard to connect the dots for her and give her as much information as I could. Who died in the Holocaust, how my parents escaped, my sister’s birth in Germany and her first five years of life in a displaced persons camp at Bergen Belsen. Even in moderate Alzheimer’s I am the family historian. The conduit of history to a woman who is related to me through my sister, her biological mother who refuses to meet her. AND THAT IS BEYOND IRONY.
Sonia my late mother in her 20’s in Russia
My parents Michael and Sonia in 1975
My parents Michael and Sonia, my sister (the beauty) at 17 and me at age 10.
Apparently my sister had never told her own children about Caarin. I learned that a letter that Carin had written to her was discovered by the third son, and he was shocked. This is his half sister who he will never know.
My husband told Caarin she dodged a bullet by being given up for adoption.
My daughter arrived and met Caarin. They liked each other instantly. 25 years apart they are biological cousins. They shared their contact information and I have a sense that Caarin and her family will be a part of my daughter’s future.
Later Caarin’s husband and daughter Charlotte arrived. Lovely people. Caarin wants to see me again and arranged to come next week.
Tragedy strikes: My part time companion, Theresa was praying for me to have an easy passing, to be able to die in my sleep so that I would not have to progress further in this hideous disease. I want that. I want this to be over because I am a fast progresser and the symptoms of the disease are too much to bear. I have described how it is difficult to walk now, how sleep is fragmented, how weak I am becoming, how hard it is now to eat, to chew and swallow, how the previously simple act of taking a shower and washing my hair is a sequence of torturous steps. How getting dressed is a sequential nightmare. Each step, every physical action is getting harder to do, there is so much more forgetting. It is exhausting and I know that it only gets worse. Life hangs on but I believe in spirit. I believe my spirit is eternal and I am ready to be with G-d. I am ready but apparently G-d is not ready for me. On July 22, Theresa texted me that she would not be able to come that week. She wrote that her daughter, Michelle, who was 37 and would have been 38 on August 9, died in her sleep. Theresa had 4 daughters and 1 son. She now has 2 daughters and 1 son. There are details that came out about Michelle that lead me to believe, she too was an unwanted child. A woman who was self tortured and who hated her life. But for heavens sakes she was only 37 years old. She was the prettiest of her siblings, graceful and intelligent. A college graduate who could have had a future. Now she is gone and I am still here struggling. The autopsy is inconclusive. Theresa told me she was cremated and showed me a photo of the urn. Bizarre. Horrible. Sad. Tragic.
I think that G-d is confused.
Theresa came back last week and she continued to show me how to crochet a square.
On the third Friday of the month my husband takes me to The Rubin Museum’s Mindful Connections program for people who have dementia. Laura Sloan the director of the program, asked me to write an article for the museum’s Spiral magazine about Impermanence. I called it Letting Go versus Giving up.
I am letting go, but life is not letting me give up, yet. Apparently there is still more to be revealed. Am I being taught to not be afraid? This is a huge mask of Hatha Dya As Bhairava which represents a fierce form of the Hindu god, or the terrifying one. Am I being taught to not be afraid?
My soul is.
A Song of David.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul.
He guideth me in straight paths for my name’s sake.
Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.