I saw Herman Rosen looking stunned, shattered standing frozen in a corner of his father’s living room. His marriage was over. The emotion was so raw that its intensity was almost comical. He never recovered. I met his brother Harry at my brother’s wedding in 1992. He said Herman lived for 30 years as a hermit in Florida before he died. Their father was a total jerk. Telling my mother after she went back to college what a hippie waste of a human being I was. Blamed her going back to college as the source of my turning out to be such a failure. This I didn’t know until recently.
Found band aid inside Mrs. Jacobson’s hallah baked for my mother as a Sabbath gift. Her husband Ben Jacobson was a sanctimonious DA in Queens, a fanatic death penalty advocate, nasty and mean. Another of my father’s friends in the synagogue. On the High Holy Days there is a prayer where congregants beat their chest to purge the sins committed during the year. Ben Jacobson pounded his chest with a fervor unmatched by anyone. When I was accepted into the army I was in a state of shock, falling rolling thrashing on the living room floor of my parents’ apartment, shrieking
uncontrollably. Smashing down a lamp shattering the glass shade. The only thing my mind could grab onto was the image of women in shock running from burning buildings, knowing they had recovered. At some point my mother sent me over to Mr. Jacobson’s apartment, very naively thinking he would be of help. He had total contempt for me. For my fear, for my weakness, for my lack of patriotism. Later he told my mother I was a cancer on society. I never should have gone over there in the state I was in.
My mother’s judgment in that instance was terrible. My father was in Japan. I remember him coming home almost immediately. Greeting him at the airport, he waved with an air of someone who would take care of everything as he descended the steps from the plane. And so he did. And so did I. And so we did. And later after some real effort I was finally rejected by the army. So many of my father’s friends from the synagogue were incredibly messed up. Not everyone to be sure. What was happening there? My father wasn’t that way. He was expansive, humorous, friendly. He paid attention to people. He paid attention to people other people didn’t even know were there. He was a little disassociated. Very high strung. Nervous. In some important ways confused. But extremely funny, generous and loving. And at times pointed. Once in the car while he was driving I was going on and on about the army. My fear of dying, of being hurt. Until my father turned to me and
said, “Old age is like the army.” He brought me up short. And I shut up.
My mother, at that time was more private, more internal. More overtly depressed. Not being a “phony” she succeeded in simply being unfriendly. Much more uptight, puritanical than rest of the family. I picked up my father’s friendliness and my mother’s brooding. Both my parents’ fear and anxiety. My father’s playfulness and humor. My father’s interest in politics. My mother’s radical rage. My father’s absorption in the news. And my mother’s anger about my father listening to the news on the radio during meals. The oppression of the dinner table was suffocating. I would leave the table as soon as I finished eating. My father at times had severe outbreaks of hives. And like with everything else involving either of my parents, only the remotest corner of my brain would register it. I think the need of some parents to protect children from bad news can leave foggy vaguely unsettling gaps in understanding. Similar and different from the amnesia drug they put in the
anesthesia where terror trauma is wiped from memory, while the impact on the psyche might not be.
My Mother’s Death: Three Months Later
In the cafe I look in the mirror. A gray fading face, its contours unchanged. On the cusp of looking old even to myself. As I walk down Bleecker St. a huge sadness comes over me. I remember walking down 8th St. three decades ago. The street almost deserted, except for a young teenage girl across the way. The light from the street lamp cast a soft glow over her. She had iron hooks for hands and she was just standing there crying, wiping her eyes with her arm. She looked so forlorn. I am so forlorn. The pain is overwhelming.