Freedom: A Love Story
“If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?”
The day before Passover, driving down Sunset Boulevard, that song came on the radio — “Kryptonite,” by the band 3 Doors Down. They had their share of fame in the early 2000s before falling into relative obscurity, but I was still able to recite every word from some inner recess of my brain, which holds sundry facts and figures alongside random song lyrics.
As I sang the chorus and called out Superman, another image flashed into my mind: A red envelope with a birthday card that I gave one chilly April night, right after that Passover had ended three years before. I didn’t write his name on the outside; instead, it simply said “Superman,” an inside joke between us. As we started at photographs and reminisced about Ohio nights, he placed the envelope right in the middle of the table as if it were a breathtaking centerpiece, when in my mind I typically rank birthday cards as trivial at best. I wouldn’t have even bought the card had it not been for him.
The rest of that night was a disaster, so naturally every detail is etched into my brain, right down to me being balled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and sobbing in my pretty floral dress. I let out one shrill sob by accident, and ten seconds later he was pounding on the door. He had never seen me cry, let alone heard all the horrible things spewing out of my mouth that probably hurt him as much as they hurt me. All the while I was trying to hide from him my darkest secret: That I wasn’t sure whether or not I was falling for him, and I was scared to death.
He held me gently and ran his fingers through my hair. He promised me that night he was coming back in a month and, when he did, he would take care of me from now on. It’s amazing how time can make sweet promises into sad lies.
In July, after months of fighting, I made a decision that changed us. My life had become very difficult after all I had been through, my emotions were volatile and he wasn’t making things easier, becoming angrier and angrier with me and trying to pick a fight. I said to myself, “It’s either him or me, and I’ve got to live with me.” So I cut him out of my life. As I tried to make up with him a month afterwards to repair the friendship in hopes one day we could be together, he would call me names and attack me so bad that after he dismissed me telling him that I loved him, I decided to not talk to him again. It would be too painful, and I had seen enough pain.
Do I regret it? Not really. It was absolutely the right decision at the time, and if you put in front of me the exact same circumstances today, I would make the same choice. But the right decisions aren’t always the easy ones to make, and that decision has held me back.
It used to be that I couldn’t understand people who would say, “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of him/her” until I got my own version of the story. For almost three years, the very existence of him tortured me on a daily basis, a demon that couldn’t be exorcised. I tried every method in my arsenal to deal with the pain: sex, alcohol, therapy, writing it out, talking it out with friends who knew him and with those who didn’t, refusing to say his name, deleting things on my computer that would remind me of him or burying them so far into my hard drive that they had no hopes of ever being recovered. But nothing worked, and I felt over and over again like I was going crazy. Dating became harder, as there was no trust left in me, and I struggled letting people close. The only medicine was time, and time sadly wasn’t fast enough for me.
As the years passed, life-changing events shaped the very core of my existence. In Los Angeles, I created a new life and made plenty of new friends. My financial survival and mother’s illness became my main sticking points, and dating took a backseat. I travelled by myself, eventually leading me back to Israel. As I stood over Jerusalem and felt the wind whip around me, I made peace with years of anger and began treating myself well, which showed on the outside and the inside. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was mine, and I took full ownership of it. Although he never escaped from my mind, I became much, much more than my mind could possibly imagine. There were parts of me that were certainly similar, but as an overall person, I had definitely changed.
I’d run into him from time to time, playing it ice cool as my stomach would drop at the sight of him. If things got really bad for me emotionally as he would play me trying to get me to talk to him, I would become agitated and aggravated for about a week while trying to shake off the shock to my system. Yet deep down, although he used to know me better than anyone, I wondered if we had a conversation whether we could talk to one another anymore. He was different, and I was no longer the girl he knew; I was more confident, sassier, smarter and courageous. The space he once occupied as my Superman was the one I took up as my own savior in times of trouble.
Suddenly, as if it had taken forever and at the same time happened overnight, I began talking to a new boy. Although we had known each other for a while, we started spending time together just the two of us. We went into music shops and sang songs. He played piano and guitar for me and laughed at all my jokes. We would talk for hours and I could feel myself opening up to him like a flower. Something was telling me inside to let the walls come down, to let him closer to me in whatever form it took.
But as we walked down Ventura Boulevard with linked arms and I brought up that other boy who once had my heart and how he broke me, I felt the mood shift between us. Looking into the new boy’s eyes, I realized that if he was falling for me like I thought he was, he was smitten with a shackled woman, chained helplessly to her past and to the ghost of a man who no longer existed her world. It wasn’t fair to him, but above all, it wasn’t fair to me. I deserved to be happy with someone who made me feel safe and cared for, who let me be who I am and loved me for it. Was it this new guy? Although I hoped it was, I didn’t know and still don’t. But I would never know until I let go of the ghost.
As “Kryptonite” played on the radio, I headed up the hillside to Griffith Observatory, my favorite place in Los Angeles. I hadn’t been up there in years, and the last time I probably wasn’t single, but my heart leapt in the sight of its white walls and dark domes. As I climbed to the rooftop and the wind whipped around me, I looked out on downtown and was reminded of Jerusalem, of sending off my anger into the wind in hopes for future happiness. And I stood on the rooftop as my hair crashed around my face, I did it once more, and let the Superman fly over the skyline.
The chains were released, and I felt free. With music playing in my ears, my smile was deep as I wandered through the grounds, looking out on the city where I chose three years ago to make my new home. On the way down the hillside, instead of thinking of my past, I thought of a dream apartment in Los Feliz, a new car, a job that would thrill me. The new boy flitted in and out of my mind’s eye, but I would see him soon enough and whatever would come of it would come.
But there were bigger issues at hand under that bright blue sky: After all, the next day would be Passover, and with my family and friends by my side, I would be able to sit at the Seder and celebrate my freedom, in all of its forms.