Jake, my firstborn, got married Sunday afternoon, June 2, to Brianne Sherwood. Yep. It’s done. It was an outdoor wedding on the first decent weather day in over a week. It was officiated by a rabbi and Roman Catholic monsignor. Ol’ Dad (me) signed a document from the Diocese of Paterson that my son was who he said he is, that he’d not been married before, that there were no impediments. They signed the Aramaic ketubah, the marriage contract, and they publicly exchanged vows and rings. Then we had this really great party.
That’s what weddings are for, I guess. No arguing, no bickering, no rehashing of past harms: just celebration. It was so wonderful to be there. God bless them both.
All my pictures are somewhere on this computer if I can figure out how to offload them. I used to be good at that. But the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the less I know what I’m doing.
God bless you both, Jake and Brianne. Many years together, children if they come, and life together to a contented old age!
So what happens the morning after I decide not to go to Portlandia?
I’m sitting in my car in the Paterson Public Library parking lot, using this MacBook, waiting for the 9 AM opening. A woman of indeterminate age with dirty blond hair (she told me she was in her late ’40s) comes over and asks for money. I said I don’t have any (a lie). She offers to perform fellatio on me. I refuse. She had once been pretty but now looked gross: but that wasn’t the point. We ended up talking for about 20 minutes. I let her sit in the shade of my car door. I gave her a couple of cigarettes. She’d been married, had two stepchildren, actually had a place to live, but sold herself for crack and alcohol. She didn’t want money, she said, just human comfort. When she left she said I had beautiful eyes (I’ve heard that before), the key she said to a good soul–and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.
Why does God want me here?
I reread this entry and it makes me want to weep. There is so damned much human flotsam in this horrendous city, such a waste of beauty and human dignity. It probably has been the same since the days of Rahab in Jericho. And why? That poor woman in the parking lot was reaching out not for money, not for physical evidence that someone gave a shit about her beyond some nameless guy spurting in her mouth, but for the simple comfort of feeling a hand in her hair or on the back of her neck. So then she can feel degraded again in exchange for some cigarettes or a Big Mac. Okay, most of us (me included) made some terrible choices with no one to arrest our motion, forward or backward. Combined that with plain bad luck, and we wound up where we wound up. Like Charles Foster Kane, some of us needed more than one lesson, and some of us got more than one lesson. I think she was surprised I didn’t ask anything of her. Yes, really surprised. “Cool, honey, I’ll just slide over here and you can fit your head in….” That’s when she kissed me…because I didn’t want anything from her.
I lost my home almost three weeks ago. We won’t call it an “eviction,” exactly, but that’s what it amounts to. My apartment was bedbug-ridden and the management decided I had to go even though the monsters predated my tenancy. So I went.
I am living in a hotel room. I have no adequate winter clothing. While I have been assured that the Long Branch Housing Authority will clean the clothes I had to leave behind because of the bedbugs that infested my apartment, I know damn well I won’t see them again. Tomorrow I’ll probably have to go to a County shelter. I’m just about out of money.
I had to leave behind my TV. Yes, it rots brain cells, but it’s also a comfort and source of amusement. I can’t carry it around and I can’t store it. Where would I store it?
We often take “home” for granted. Don’t do that. Don‘t ever take anything for granted.
I have lost my cat. I’ve been Tolstoy’s guardian for over 10 years. I love him and I think it’s reciprocated. But when I was in the hospital the Animal Control officers took him to the shelter from which I got him in July 2002. He’s had bedbugs too. I can get him back if I have a place for him. I don’t. He’s better off with a new family if someone wants an older kitty.
Even though I am supposed to know better, there are moments–days–when I feel as though God has forgotten about me. No punishment, no elevation. Nothing. Sometimes I believe negative attention would be better than the crash of silence. The heavens are just black and empty.
I grew up with Fear as my God, found the Judaism of my birth in the late 1970s, and lost it again in the 1990s. For years I tried to practice my birth faith. Then, in 1997, it rejected me. I separated from my wife the weekend before Pesach and was living alone in an apartment in northern New Jersey. After years of willful exile, I needed to reconnect. I put out a desperate cry for help via email, the phone, and a mailing list because I needed to reunite with my spiritual center: or so I thought.
“Establishment” Judaism had no place for me at any table in New York or New Jersey. “Do not turn your back on the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” How easily we forget!
I got one reply, from a rabbi (now deceased) in Pikesville, MD, who left a prepaid Metroliner ticket for me at Penn Station, along with an invitation to his home for the first Seder. “No Jew,” said Rabbi Mark Loeb to me, “should be alone on the first night of Pesach.” I went to what amounted to a glorious mustering-out party. When I returned to Jersey, “The long loneliness” described by the Servant of God Dorothy Day engulfed me again, worse than before. I began to get a sense that I was being drawn back to the attraction of The Cross, the same way it drew me in the 1970s. I did not want it. Separated or not, I had two children I had tried to raise as Jews. How could I do this? Better, how could I NOT? I could stay and shut up, become the same misery-ridden Jew as I was miserable husband. But that would not work either.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, June 15, 1997, I found myself praying aloud to Jesus with the promptings of a website called “Leaflets of Faith” (http://www.catholicmissionleaflets.org/). I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time. I began attending daily Masses in Manhattan, refusing to approach the railing for Communion even though nobody would know: God would and I would. I entered the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) program at a local parish near my house.
People tried to talk me out of it. Someone I loved. Even a Franciscan priest who said the best man he ever met was his lapsed-Baptist father (yet he was now the Guardian of a vitally important Catholic parish in midtown Manhattan!). I persevered and was received into the Roman Catholic Church on April 11, 1998, at the Easter Vigil.
And I promptly ran into myself, a collection of disconnected synapses, neuroses, bipolar symptoms, and alcoholic behaviors. I was being torn apart by the same guilt that had driven me out of Judaism. Disloyal husband, indifferent father, out of control. Womanizer in the making and on the make. Short-cutting employee with a volatile temper. I made myself spiritually if not physically sick. I had a confessor who insisted I was violating God’s plan for me. But how could I know that? How could HE know that? A Jesuit I knew as a spiritual director tried to talk me off the ledge but he could not. I was bound on self-destruction with my soul if not via a weapon.
When I began to heal my alcoholism and manic-depression in late 1999 and early 2000, the guilt began to fade. So I changed denominations. Makes sense, right? You’re getting better so you allow yourself to relapse. Makes perfect sense. Yet…I was warmly received and warmly loved. I did not have to fight anymore.
And yet this was not about ME. Maybe there really was a plan and I was playing games around is margins by ignoring God’s requirements for me. Poverty (involuntary), chastity (not by choice, either), obedience–but to whom? Another Jesuit I met with several times suggested I was not supposed to get an easy ride into and through Faith, that it was supposed to be difficult. Well, it has been.
Every day since 1998 has been relentless pain. Oh, not because I abandoned Judaism–when I tried to go back in 2004 via the repentance of the mikveh, it did not take and I felt even worse than before. I have lived in lonely communion ever since. I fear I have sawed off the limb behind me and only now realize I have hit the ground head-first.
I present no definitive solutions for me or for anyone else. I know only that my defections and “flip-flops” made me more miserable than I ever imagined. My only hope is that there IS some hope.
I date my true fall into fear, into adherence to the Gospel of Wealth, and my subsequent fall into abject poverty, from that moment. Defiance? Recompense? Payback, I’ve heard, is Hell; and I’ve been in it now for years. I wonder daily why God has preserved my life, why he has allowed me sobriety regardless of this almost daily temptation to drink, why one day I am almost certain to relapse into the death of the spirit that I fear as much as I crave it as the end to this misery. The end to the fear of fear. The end of psychiatric hospitalization. The end of old age. The end of imprisonment.
I lost home, found home, abandoned home. Where am I now?
I’m 68 years old and I’ve lived in some places that would curl a bald man’s hair. I’ve lived with and through cockroaches, ants, waterbugs, and everything but bedbugs.
And now I have bedbugs. At long last. It was so not worth waiting for.
My skin looks and feels like elephant hide. My feet have swollen a full shoe size. I have welts all over me. The welts burn, itch, and create scabs. They bleed. Except for about an hour after a shower, I feel filthy.
I’ve had the exterminators in three times, including yesterday. Every trip is the same. The guy shows up with his tank of chemicals. He pumps the poison into the mattress and box spring. And I keep on doing laundry, over and over again. Now that my bank account is totally overdrawn, I don’t even have the change to feed the washing machines.
Nothing helps. I expect to get into bed with more bedbugs tonight. My flesh is crawling. And I’ll wind up sleeping in a chair again tonight as I have for over two weeks. I’ll try to read and wind up watching old movies until I doze off.
(Addendum: I went to bed, slept until 1:15 AM, sat up for a few hours, went back to bed, and slept until almost 9 AM)
And then there’s the grand finale: first, being fired by my doctor, and later being asked to leave an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I’m contagious. The doctor can’t treat me if there’s a danger that the insects will propagate in her office. I can understand and even forgive that. And being ejected from an AA meeting?–even worse. At a time when I really need the meetings I’m told I’m too contagious to be accepted. There’s too much risk for others to assume. One guy came in, saw me, and left.
So then I left. I never bothered to sit down.
People are worried. So am I. I just ordered an air mattress from Bed, Bath, and Beyond because I can’t sleep in my own bed and an air mattress might help. Starting with a clean slate, etc., etc.
When I went to the Emergency Room last Saturday, it was because I have a kidney stone. But the nursing staff would not touch me without sterile full-body protective clothing. I will have to go back there tomorrow to see what if anything I can do to speed up the healing process and prevent this monstrosity from coming back. I will need to ask about available social services.
I feel like I’ve been sent into exile, dragged away from everything I care about. I’m lonely and afraid. I can’t afford to get a “new” bed so I’ve applied for Medicaid to get furniture assistance, above and beyond the temporary fix of an air mattress.
When they don’t want you at an AA meeting, you’ve achieved the status of a social and medical pariah. It doesn’t feel good at all.
This is not apropos of nothing, and I hope its relevance will become clear.
I recall that several years ago I read an interpretation of Gounod’s Faust that had to do with the gradual stripping-away of Marguerite, the heroine who is seduced and abandoned by Faust, her lover. She becomes pregnant, gives birth, is cursed by her dying brother, goes mad, and kills the child. Yet instead of being hanged, burned, or beheaded, she is physically assumed into Heaven. She has been abandoned by her lover, by the Church, by her own brother who curses her, by everyone. Yet she believes that there is a God out there, and world of angels who can hear prayer and save her soul.
So today I’m thinking of Marguerite. I haven’t killed a child, God knows, but the sense of abandonment lives deep inside me. It always has, I suppose: that when Hell explodes into my life, as night follows day, I will be abandoned. Nevertheless, there are angels out there, divine and human, who can intervene. More often than not they intervene in our affairs–my affairs–in human form, and often come to my aid (our aid) without expectation of reward.
Last night I tried to borrow money from some people in AA, some of whom I’ve known for years. Someone said he had to draw the line. Draw it he did. Yet today he delivered food to me via Meals on Wheels, anonymously although I know he’s a volunteer driver for the organization. Was it great food? No. Was it a gesture of good will? Absolutely. It was a form of amend for having to refuse me. He was looking out for me too. He as well as the person who volunteered earlier yesterday, and without a request from me to send out a check today. With any good luck, it will come tomorrow. I can deposit it and draw against it for food, cigarettes (yes, yet), for gas.
I don’t trust happiness. I’m not by nature a happy person. I’m bug-infested, wearing a blood-spotted undershirt, and I don’t know how this will play out, or for how long. Right now I’m content to look at a hot shower and a trip to the food bank so I can eat tonight. ‘Tis enough, ’twill serve.