Category Archives: The past

The Night I Called the Suicide Hotline

prevention hotlineAnyone who meets me would tell you that I’m one of the happiest people they know. It’s an overwhelming experience to see a 5’11 hurricane of joy coming at you, but my chipper attitude is a trademark (it’s also a turnoff for people when they first meet me, but when they get to know me, they know it’s genuine).

My mentality has been that after almost dying at 21, every extra day is a blessing. I love cracking jokes and having fun. Generally, I’m in love with life.

Except the days that I’m not.

Even those of us with clown faces struggle, even the happiest of people have a fight they’re trying to win. We see our visions of perfection and playfulness, like Kate Spade or even Robin Williams, and see them crumble. And although I love being warm, friendly and giving, the universe doesn’t always return those things. All of us seek to love and be loved; and when we don’t feel accepted, the burden of it can sometimes be dangerous. This is where the thoughts of suicide can come into play.

January was a low point, although it should have been the happiest of times. I finally had a full-time job after years of back-to-back contract work and uncertain bank statements. I was halfway through my business and management in entertainment certification at UCLA and acing every course. I had just moved into a dream apartment. My father was on the road to recovery after a fall; the doctors told me if I wasn’t there he probably would have died. And although my mother was gone, my life had seemed to come to a place where it was normal again.

Yet I was struggling at work with my ADHD and barely understanding my finance class. There was my post-breakup weight gain that I was trying to lose and my inability to get over my anxieties to go out and date. When it came to my writing, I was finding difficulties with my voice now that I wasn’t fighting for my daily survival. I missed my friends, who I hadn’t talked to in a while and weren’t reaching out. There was an overwhelming sense of emptiness creeping inside me. It felt like the rest of my life was going to be spent alone, and my heart was breaking.

Driving up Sunset Plaza Drive on the way to my dad’s place in North Hollywood, my eyes darted to a cliff near one of the giant Hollywood Hills mansions. And somewhere in my mind bubbled the idea: I should pitch myself off that cliff.

It shouldn’t come from me. I had lost people to suicide, took part in the heartbreak that comes with death, particularly death at a young age. The thought of doing that to anyone I loved was awful to me. Forcing my father to grieve for both me and my mother was inexcusable; I love him too much to cause him any extra pain. And there was the fear of a helpless 72-hour hold in a hospital, and a background that had the numbers 5150.

Yet I wanted to. I really wanted to.

I made it to my father’s place, spending the whole time crying on the trundle bed in his office. My life felt like it existed on the edge of a knife, and I was dreading returning to a world of food stamps and hopelessness. What would happen if I lost my job? How would my rent be paid, how would life go on? What would happen when my father died and I was left alone in the world? Would anyone really miss me if I pitched myself off of that cliff on Sunset Plaza Drive?

My father didn’t know what to do, so he ordered takeout and put on a movie. It comforted me for a split second, but the thought was still brewing in my head. Would anyone miss me?

He asked me about my therapist; I would see her in a few days. He asked me if he could help in any way, and deep down I knew no matter how much he loved me, he couldn’t defeat those thoughts in my head. I decided to go home, even though my dad was uncertain of letting me out of the house. He wanted to drive me to make sure I was safe, but there was work the next morning and I couldn’t leave my car in North Hollywood.

Heading down the 101, I couldn’t even see the downtown Los Angeles skyline, my favorite sight in all the world. Those spires of light climbing to the sky always let me know I was home, that I was safe. But in my eyes there was only my darkness.

I couldn’t hold on any longer; I needed a voice to talk me through this, but didn’t know who to call. In my pain, all I could think of was how friends in the past had left me for less than my depression. My agony felt like a burden, and it wasn’t one that my mouth was eager to share with people I cared about.

But I had to live. This was the only thing that was certain. So I begged Siri for the number for the National Suicide Hotline.

The woman on the line instructed me to pull over; it was too dangerous for me to drive while I was feeling this way. I pulled in front of an elementary school off of Vine Street south of Sunset, as wind rustled through the nearby trees.

We talked for 20 minutes, and I explained to her everything that was happening to me in that moment. It also meant going back yet again and unpacking over six years of agony. It was a journey that started with his threat: “If you leave me, I will kill myself,” followed by, “I don’t care if you love me or not, I’m never letting you go.”

In the years since I would face no end of struggles. Yet despite my difficulties there was perseverance inside to survive, to prove something to the world, to my past that said, “You could never live without me.” There was success, but something inside kept gnawing at my soul. Was this it?

“Do you have a therapist?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you taking medication for ADHD or depression?”

“No… but I had no health insurance per say, and no money to get it.”

“You have insurance now, what’s stopping you?”

The truth was I didn’t know. Helpless consumed me, left me praying, wishing someone would come find me. But on my phone, in the middle of Vine Street, there was a dim light to guide the way. And like so many times before, I was the captain of this journey, the one who was going to have to come to get me.

I ended the call, started the car and drove home. In the grace period between awake and sleep, it was like a flashback tape with the keyword “suicide.” I laughed with Alvin on black couches, then sat at his memorial. I laid next to Mark in bed again from back when we dated, fast-forwarding to staring at his green hat during mourning. I stood six years ago in a white-walled hospital, the words 5150 echoing my ears, feeling the anger pulse through me as I realized he used suicide as a way to manipulate me into staying in toxicity. Then I looked into myself… and wondered if I was better than any of them.

The next morning came and I took the baby steps back. I buckled down in work, school and therapy. I started looking for a psychiatrist, which as anyone knows is difficult in and of itself. It took time, but my circumstances got better. And I still retain that bubbliness and chipper, can-do attitude.

However, if you ask me if I’m okay now… well, the answer isn’t clear cut.

I have good days and bad days. I have days where life couldn’t get any better and days where I don’t want to move from my bed. Days where I have drive and determination and days where it seems like something isn’t right. Perhaps it’s the up and down of life, a roller coaster that sometimes is hard to ride. And sometimes we think we’re alone on it, when it truth it’s that we can’t always see our fellow riders when our peripheral vision is skewed.

But no matter what, even in the darkness, it’s nice to know that there is a light to lead us back. And it’s just a phone call away.

 

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at (866) 273-TALK.

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One Night in Orange County

The rain was coming down in Costa Mesa as I ran through the drops, my emerald green dress bright among the gray. I’m sheltering my makeup with my mother’s purple shawl. I didn’t remember if I locked my car, heading back to make sure to lock my blue Honda, listening for that reassuring beep.

I look at the shape of it, standing next to the Paul Mitchell School. And I look at it and can’t help to say to myself, I used to get my hair cut here.

It was a time where that was my luxury; ten dollar haircuts and getting my eyebrows waxed. I was too busy walking on eggshells to enjoy the world. Too scared, too contained, too realistic.

My d’orsay shoes clicked against the wet pavement, staring at the school for just a moment. If myself from seven years ago were standing here now, she wouldn’t recognize me.

It took me a while to collect my bearings to remember the cross streets of my old apartment: Bristol and Sunflower, a giant complex with sprawling green grass fields and fake creeks, where if you looked up you could see the sleek high rises light up at night. I had picked out the apartment personally, much to the anger of my ex-husband. Yet he kept it during out divorce.

My compartmentalized brain that just got off of work three hours before had blacked out that corner. Like how I blacked out that when I lived down in Orange County that I was, in fact, born in Los Angeles. Where I made my home now.

I lived on the edge of South Coast Plaza, where the carousel horses at the entrances would greet capitalist consumerism. The fancy mainstream brands would light up the Orange County streets that were too fancy for sidewalks. There was the flirtation of counter-culture not too far away; the Japanese market; the artsy anti-malls with bohemian coffee shops and hipster restaurants; the organic grocer filled with various green drinks and health items.

I wanted to experience it all during those years ago. But my ex told me not to dream.

On a different Friday night, I left this place with a red duffel bag and whatever else I could carry away in a rickety silver Saturn. This was a girl with nothing but a dream, a prayer for a future — a safe future. But this Friday night, even my d’orsay shoes shone in a way that I never did here.

I walked into the Center, surrounded by artwork and warm light. My friends started arriving. I clutched onto my white handbag as my pearl and gold earrings swung from side to side. Glancing outside at the twinkle lights, I remembered this place. It didn’t look like this. I didn’t look like this.

Yet it didn’t bother me as we looked at the artwork. There was a photograph of an old phone that I couldn’t help but to bid on, called “Art Deco;” it would go perfectly in my hip Los Angeles apartment.

I laughed with my friends as we ate and talked about our lives. Sat together and rested our heads on each other’s shoulders. Drank wine and laughed. I talked expressively with my hands, no rings on my fingers.

My dress twirled as my body swished across the room with a strangely confident swagger. Yet as I met more and more people who lived in Orange County, there was something whispering at me: You don’t live here anymore.

I walked around the gallery with my friend Jen, studying all the different works of art. When I left Orange County she was one of my first friends when I moved away, meeting me right in the heart of my post-divorce wild child phase. She became the first family member in my new Los Angeles home.

I had mentioned to her during our walk around the gallery that I used to come here all the time. The tone of the statement was flippant, but I was hinting at something underneath the surface. It was a way of trying to show that there was another person looking out from inside of me.

She was a scared wife, unsure of a life without her husband because he always told her she could never live without him, who couldn’t even imagine the person she was at this moment. It was a person who had made it, despite the odds against her. I was the person who she always wanted to become.

I go to the bar to ask for water for my friend Tiffany and me. A young guy with a blonde pompadour approaches me.

“You enjoying the auction?” he asks.

“Sure, just grabbing some water for my friend,” I reply.

“I have the best water.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, this water was drunk by Chuck Jones.”

“Sure.”

“It’s going up for auction!”

“Uh-huh.”

“I have the DNA of Chuck Jones!”

“That’s impressive, considering the fact he’s been dead for a while.”

As the rambling continued, I recognized that this was a guy trying to flirt and failing miserably. I eventually walked away; it felt good to be approached, but at the same time, I was tired.

I excused myself to go back to Los Angeles after that. I told Jen I was picking up a Coca-Cola and some cash for the Renaissance Faire tomorrow, and I would see her in the morning. I picked up my purchase from the silent auction and headed to my car. The ground was shining from the rain; walking away as my shoes clicked against it, I felt like I was living in a fantasy.

Yet looking at the Paul Mitchell School, the place where I once used to live, I knew what I had to do. I had known it all along: It was time to see my old home again. No matter how many times I had come back to Orange County over the years to visit my friends, I tried to avoid the corner of Bristol and Sunflower. It was time to face it.

I turned up the street, past South Coast Plaza and its quiet carousel horses. Drove down Sunflower past the art theater and the Vitamin Shoppe. And there it was, my old apartment building.

I looked over, and in my mind’s eye, there she was: The defeated suburban wife with the red duffel bag and a prayer. She was looking into a mirror and seeing the current version of herself, with bright ambitious eyes, a fancy green dress and d’Orsay shoes.

She was a ghost now. Gone, but never forgotten.

I turned onto the freeway, the rain making my car sparkle, “The Edge of Glory” causing the speakers to rumble along the 405. And I drove away, victory clasped in my hand, I sang and danced with the ghost of myself one last time before crossing the Los Angeles border to head home.

Remembering the Holocaust; or The Man Who Roared

Auschwitz_outerwear_distinguish_yellow_Star_of_DavidWe speak the words: Shoah, Holocaust, the unforgettable fire that consumed six million Jews and five million others in unspeakable hatred. We look at ourselves in the waters of time, see those who came before us and watch the ripples that echo even 70 years after the fact, knowing there is no way to truly heal from the horror.

We just sit and talk; talk as if we can’t fully process that it actually happened. We talk about the relatives we lost and the older generations still living with numbers still on their arms. We say “Never Again,” although sometimes just as a catchphrase without questioning what it actually means. But there is a lot to say about the Holocaust that can’t be summed up in those two words. And we’re still trying.

I have felt the ripples of the Shoah my whole life. My mother catalogued testimonies at Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation for almost seven years and suffered the trauma of hearing the terrible stories day after day, which she would share with us every day after she got home from work; some still haunt me.

As I got older the Holocaust was taught in a way that it was supposed to motivate my Judaism; again and again I was told I was a foil against Hitler’s plan of exterminating Jews, and therefore should conduct myself in that way. After so many years of having the tragedy of my people thrust upon me, I became numb to it.

I have many words about the Holocaust. But the one thing I can never leave out of my discussion is the night I heard a man roar.

It was July of 2005, and I was sitting in a classroom at Georgetown University. And there he was, my economics professor standing in front. He was a giant, even for me, and I stand at almost six feet; a portly Sicilian man who somehow had a thick Virginia accent and whose personality dominated any room. He was highly libertarian, distrustful of government and free market to an absurd degree. I loved to impersonate his classroom pacing in the courtyard of our apartment building, and how he ended almost all his arguments with, “And then you die. And… THAT… would be a tragedy.”

He was Catholic and talked about how much he loved his wife and kids. He graded on curves when he knew the material was difficult (then watched us all get mad at the guy who scored 100 percent, as he was an avowed communist and didn’t believe in the free market). When it came time for the final, he allowed us to explore unusual topics — mine was the Adam Smith water-to-diamonds paradox compared to wands and broomsticks in the Harry Potter universe.

But that night in July, he roared.

We were taking notes, scribbling as he talked, watching him pacing back and forth across the length of the room. He was going over how 170 million people had died at the hands of their own governments in the 20th century, 50 million of those from war.

He asked: If only 50 million of those were from war, where did the rest of those people come from? From governments who decimated their own for their own agendas, no matter how terrible they were.

“If you want proof, go to the Holocaust museum,” he said. “Walk through the room with the shoes. Smell the shoes, and remember that there were once people in them.”

Suddenly, there were girlish giggles from the corner; two students were whispering to one another. Whether it was related to his seriousness or some other topic, I will never be sure. But I remember the fury.

It was an explosion, a bomb of anger that they weren’t understanding the depths of what he was talking about. His personality that was so passionate about what he was teaching became a fire that would destroy anything in its path.

He began yelling about they couldn’t understand the horrors of people being slaughtered because they were comfortable sitting in a classroom. Millions of people died simply for being who they were; nothing more, nothing less. Each pair of shoes was a person who was snuffed out because of hatred. They couldn’t understand hate that way because they had never seen it, and by turning a blind eye to it makes it almost a guarantee that they’ll see it again.

The room was stunned into silence. He tried to continue on, but it had grown late. And as the class ended, this giant of a man dissolved into tears.

When a lot of the class left, I went to him. My presence was followed by several of my friends; they were all black. I sat with my professor, comforting him, listening to him as he was distressed at the ignorance of our fellow students. He looked up at me, his eyes pleading for forgiveness.

“I’m not Jewish,” he said to me. “I can’t imagine what it was like for you.”

“People make Holocaust jokes all the time,” I replied. “I have to tune it out in order to survive.”

“We know,” one of my friends said. “We do it all the time with jokes about slavery.”

We all continued to talk together, and spent plenty of hours afterwards discussing. Our conversation awoke something inside of me. It was like we found a rotted tree and dug up its roots. In the tangled wood was all the hatred of the world, and it reached up to the sky with different branches – homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism. They are all different, but the common ground is that hate can destroy everything around it, like a weed. But only if we let it.

So many years have passed since that night in July. We have all since left Georgetown and my classmates, professor and I have gone to our own corners of the world. But no matter where I go, I will never forget that night.

I have packed it and unpacked it millions of times. I have written about it time and again, when a larger-than-life Catholic man fought against hate for a people not his own, but deep down he knew all people were he is to embrace. When my black friends began to understand my struggle and I learned about theirs. It has manifested into my life in many different ways, from the pallbearers I chose for my mother’s funeral to my current job at a non-profit where we teach tolerance for all, as well as the history of the Holocaust, genocide and hate crimes to students and professionals throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

And my professor was right. We are seeing hate yet again. The roots of the tree are the same, but it’s almost like it’s adapted to a new climate and it is growing stronger with every passing minute. And the worst part is there are people out there defending it and helping it grow, suffocating voices who are calling for a better way.

As I am breathing deeply, as I am told “Never again” yet again, I wonder: Are we ready to do what it takes to heed those words? Are we going to giggle in fear of the task at hand? Are we going to dismiss it, say, “it’s not THAT bad”? Or are we going to roar like that July night, remind ourselves of the fight at hand and join each other in solidarity to make a better world?

My choice is to roar. What’s yours?

She Thought I Would Shoot

pistol girlI sat in our counselor’s office, bouncing my 16-year-old sneakered toes on the floor of Westlake High School. My ratty red Jansport was on the floor, stuffed with textbooks, folders and my favorite notebook, where my poetry was written in my trademark black scribble with strange-looking “e’s.”

Why was I here? I looked around this tiny broom closet they called an office. My eyes darted to the bookshelves, stacked with various generic titles on how to help problem children. And if I was here, that meant I was one.

I hadn’t cheated on a test; I was too lazy for their boring classwork. I had never gotten involved in a fight at school; my numerous bullies were more likely to make me cry than have me attack them. Sure, I stood up to my teachers, but it wasn’t like my classmates were by being disruptive. It was challenging the so-called knowledge they were trying to throw at me, where I became known for writing five-paragraph essays about how ridiculous my essay topic was. If you really needed me, you’d find me in the back of the class, writing.

The counselor walked into the office, a swarthy-looking red haired woman whose name I lost to time. While she wore thin, wire-framed glasses, I opted for funky, thick-framed black eyewear, which in 1999 was ten years before its time, and a pixie cut.

I was odd for a suburban town like Thousand Oaks; I was a brown haired, tall and curvy latchkey kid hanging out at the Barnes & Noble after school, while most of the girls were blonde, petite and yelling at their mothers to get them coffees from a place called Beanscene. They all went to the same church on Sundays, whereas I went into Los Angeles for Hebrew school. We had nothing in common; I couldn’t bond with these girls.

Their mothers were always around volunteering with extracurriculars while their fathers worked; my parents both worked in the city. The only time my mother didn’t was when it was time to take me to the psychiatrist, where he would give me his latest cocktail of pharmaceuticals, musing how he was just like me while shoving them down my throat. The drugs would cause me everything from feeling so angry I could barely contain myself to developing huge breasts and stretch marks all over my body. When I complained, he shrugged and said, “Look on the bright side: You’re not lactating.”

As she sat across from me, all I could think was maybe they were right. Maybe I was a problem child.

“How are you today, Reina?” the counselor asked me.

“Good, but I’m kind of wondering what I’m doing here,” I responded.

“I just wanted to check if you were okay.”

“Um, yeah…”

The counselor then went on about my poetry notebook. Less than a month after Columbine, I had written a poem, and it was sympathetic to the shooters. They were bullied as badly as I was, pushed so hard to the point where they grabbed guns and shot.

She thought I would shoot, too.

I was puzzled by this. I had never seen this counselor before, and because of one poem, she thought I was going to be murderous. She did nothing when I stood in the middle of the classroom and the boys picked on me so hard I burst into tears while my teachers did nothing. She wasn’t there when the girls would pester me, or my choir teacher would yell at me or push kids into doors.

Yet now, because of one poem, one girl, because of Columbine, she thought I would shoot.

My innocent hands had only picked up water guns. The only weapon I knew was my pen. The only harm I ever thought of was self-harm, and even so, I never acted on it, partially because my mother told me that if I ever killed myself it would kill my grandparents. She didn’t know about my psychiatrist, my home life or my life in the halls of high school. But yet this one poem meant dead bodies.

She didn’t remember that there were dozens upon dozens of mass shootings before this point. My parents would let me read their Newsweeks, and I followed the timelines since 1996, seeing pictures of white boys in orange jumpsuits facing trials. I couldn’t understand why Columbine had everyone spooked, like they had never seen anything like that. Yet I was smart enough to know why they did it; guys bringing guns to school, trying to look cool or make up for some missing part of themselves. And there was a hunt afoot for the next one.

I knew what the counselor was looking for. I knew the boys in my classes who hunted in the hills already, who killed bunnies and maimed them for their own personal pleasures. She never asked about them; it was about me, the girl with the thick-framed glasses, pixie cut and ratty Jansport. Because I wrote a poem. Because she thought I would shoot.

I explained to her what it was like to be bullied, to be treated the way I was by the others. That there was no desire in me to pick up a gun; rather there was a desire to understand, to process, to feel. In them, I saw elements of myself, of the pain and hurt that was inflicted upon me as a growing person, and in them I also saw the path I would never take.

Later, when my mother found out about me being called into the counselor’s office, she called her. The counselor told my mother she had never met a student with as much empathy or courage as I had. It was a lovely thought, but all I can think now was that she probably never found the kids in my high school who loved to play with guns and showed signs of being problems. She would have rather gone after those who spoke their truth, who were trying to find a way to cope before moving forward and speaking out.

It takes adult eyes to see the adult mistakes, and hers was the same one as today; where you want to find that one person who would cause the chaos when in truth the problem is larger than that. A sweep under the rug was all she wanted, in the form of a girl who people thought was strange anyway. But the problem with that was that she was smart, not to be packaged in a box.

Since that day, countless children have died at the hands of hundreds of young boys with guns. They have ranged from elementary school children to high school students in Parkland. And calling me into the office that day in 1999, thinking that I would shoot because of a poem, did nothing to stop them.

Now my generation is the adults. And instead of pointing fingers at the children who are speaking their truth, maybe we should use double-sided mirrors instead.

Ghosts of Rosh Hashana Past

familyDuring this time of year, new years and old years collide. Rosh Hashana is the time of reflection, the time of healing. And, by far, it is my favorite time of year.

My childhood finds its happiest moments at my grandmother’s Rosh Hashana table at lunchtime. I’ll never forget the goodies on top of her lace tablecloth – bagels and lox combined with Sephardic foods such as eggs, squash and spinach frittada and cheese-filled borekas, with the sides twisted up by Nony’s delicate fingers. My mother made the apple jelly, which is open on the table next to the traditional round challah. She made a huge batch of jelly every year and gave it only to the people she liked, from the cantor to our teachers.

Being with my grandparents made our holidays. As small children my sister, cousin and I had run of the Spanish-style duplex on Crescent Heights, where they had lived for 30 years. All the cousins make an appearance, alongside uncles and aunts, clergy and close family friends who had been around for so long you couldn’t tell whether or not they’re actually related; they all found a way to Papu and Nony’s house. It hosted the people I love the most and those who I never met. My father’s father, grandpa Saul, adored my mother’s parents and spent his last day of his life at their Rosh Hashana table. There was family history in this place that my tiny child’s body couldn’t hold up yet.

We eventually moved to Northern California, and my grandparents relocated to a Beverly Hills apartment, pristine and white as opposed to Crescent Heights’ colorful and historic charm. One Rosh Hashana, I refuse to go to temple. I’m sobbing in a pink dress with a patchwork skirt, throwing a tantrum as my father sits with me calmly. After several hours, I calm down and we go, with most of my morning spent looking at the stained glass on the ceiling of the synagogue. And, of course, we come back for lunch at my grandparents’ house.

We move back to Thousand Oaks, and I join the temple choir. I was proud to don a white robe for Rosh Hashana, but my mother hates it; it always makes us late for lunch. Eventually, I give up the choir, deciding instead to gossip with my friend Melissa in the bathroom and follow my friend Allison and her sisters around, admiring their handcrafted talits. But we always look forward to what comes after.

At 17, my sister, cousin and I become too cool for just sitting at my grandparents’ table during lunch, instead choosing to chase around our younger cousins Jonah and Hannah. After they leave, we decide to wander to the bar in the den. We’re hanging out there and I discover a pack of Viagra. At 17, I’m disgusted. But in later years, I realized how special it was that my grandparents were still so hot for each other that they were having sex into their 80s.

At 21, I go to college in Fullerton, but after services I trek up to the 10 freeway and make the drive to Beverly Hills for lunch. The dog, Lucy, is hiding under the small kitchen table, mad she got dragged into this ordeal. Nony is cooking as always, my mother helping her, and my aunt Sophie is visiting from Florida. But my Papu isn’t here entirely. A nurse is nearby at all times. His shuffling feet don’t walk as much as they used to. He can barely speak or remember anyone or anything – except the kids. He remembers his granddaughters and his great-niece and nephews, particularly two-year-old Sammy, who he adores.

It’s his last Rosh Hashana.

The venue switches. My grandmother moves from the apartment in Beverly Hills to the Jewish Home and my cousin Lorrie decides to host Rosh Hashana lunches from this point on. The transition is smooth, with bagels and lox, apple jelly and poached salmon. There are no more borekas here, but my mother makes sure to always bring some frittada. Nony sits with her sister Esther as “the kids” all sit outside in the backyard. There are several new additions to this gathering, though – my cousin Kacee as well as my soon to be ex-husband the most noteworthy.

Eventually, Nony starts to fade too, forgetful and frightened. And soon, she leaves our world of Rosh Hashana lunches. As does Esther and her family, who cut ties.

We continue on despite the changes, both good and bad. My mother still making apple jelly for the holiday and secretly slipping some to the cantor in the middle of Rosh Hashana services before we head over to Lorrie’s house. Lorrie producing a cake for my mother and my cousin Dova’s birthdays and they blow out the candles together. There is raucous conversation and laughter, along with teaching my younger cousins things we shouldn’t be even talking them about, but do anyway.

My cousin Sarah moves to Los Angeles with her family and her two young boys, followed by her parents after they retire. I divorce and come to Rosh Hashana lunches by myself again. The younger cousins who I once chased around my grandparents’ apartment in Beverly Hills head off to college. As my mother grows sick, she isn’t able to last as long at the lunches; she gets tired and needs to rest, and the drive back to Thousand Oaks is long enough without it.

Two years ago, I’m mad at my mother. I’m standing in her kitchen and want her to teach me how to make apple jelly for the holiday so we can bring it to Lorrie’s house. She doesn’t want to put in the work to make it, with sterilizing the jars and grating the apples. I tell her I’m happy to do everything if she just tells me what to do. She still says no.

“Mom, you have to pass it on!” I yell at her. “You have to teach me, because one day you’re not going to be around to do it and the tradition will die!”

That was my mother’s last Rosh Hashana. I really didn’t want to be right in that argument. I still don’t.

The Rosh Hashana lunch after her death, and my mother seems to haunt Lorrie’s house. I can see it my cousin’s face; the agony of my mother’s absence is in her every movement. The house seems to be emptier without her presence.

Yet the kids sit outside, joined now by my friend Gary, who my mother treated like a son. And we find laughter, tell stories, eat to our hearts’ content. The food isn’t the exact same as my grandmothers’ table, but the people are just as good. My cousin Amy laughs as her fiancé Kevin makes corny dad jokes. I ruffle Sammy’s hair and ask him all about school and politics. My sister enjoys being with the family away from Kansas. And somewhere in that crowd was my mother’s ghost, because even in death her spirit wouldn’t be able to bear missing a Rosh Hashana lunch.

Yesterday, I stood in the kitchen, preparing for my dad’s and my Rosh Hashana dinner on Wednesday night. My father came and looked at the baking sheet with raw borkeas on them, with the twisted up sides made by my less delicate fingers. His eyes sparkled with tears – even just for a minute, my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and even his own father were alive again in his kitchen. He missed them. I missed them. We were both lonely without them, yet continued to fulfill our family traditions and share them with the people we love.

During Rosh Hashana, we ask in temple to be inscribed into the Book of Good Life. But that book sometimes needs to be pulled off the shelf and re-read. We need to tell the stories again – the good ones, the funny ones, the sad ones, the embarrassing ones. All of the stories need to find a way to our lips, and laughter should roll off our tongues. And they need to be told to the ones who remember them and the people who somehow wander into our lives and homes, becoming our family.

That way, we’re all at the table together, tied by tradition, and not even death can separate us. And that is the best wish I can give for the Jewish New Year.

The Ballad of Thousand Oaks

thousandoaksca_typical_streetThere’s a town just about an hour north of Los Angeles called Thousand Oaks, California. It is one of those sleeper, outside-Los Angeles towns where baby boomers settled with their children in the early 1990s when they didn’t want the stink of the San Fernando Valley on their skins. It was where schools had good reputations and houses were large and cheap, where suburban sprawl reigns supreme and tract houses caress the hillsides.

It’s one of those towns where, 25 years ago, there wasn’t much out there; mainly people with horse ranches, a library, schools and grocery stores. Bigger chain stores and city comforts were out of reach. If you wanted something specific, it meant loading into a car and a half an hour drive in almost any direction.

Thousand Oaks was a place where people ride around in giant pick-up trucks or white BMWs, either cowboys or desperately pretending to be, all while painting the town a bright shade of Republican red. The leading town entertainment was the winning high school football team on a Friday night under those fluorescent spotlights, followed by church with the entire town on Sunday under a huge light-up cross on the lawn.

The children of the people who made their homes out here were tiny little reflections of themselves. If you were any way different you were judged, and your only hope was to cast off your race. religion or sexual orientation to fit the status quo. If you were white and evangelical, like most of the town, you emphasized your whiteness, right down to parental-bought flashy cars, designer clothes and screaming for fancy coffees.

There was a desperate call to win, to succeed. College was the end all and be all of this world, and your extra-cirriculars were everything. Parents slapped football helmets on boys in hopes of getting scholarships and girls fled the cheerleading squad when the dance team won a national championship. You wore show choir sequins and Vaseline on your teeth and let the Napoleonic choir teacher scream and throw his tantrums; bad behavior was excused if you brought home trophies.

This was not the town I was born in; I was actually born in Los Angeles. But from the age of 10, we lived in the house off of La Granada Drive in Thousand Oaks.

It was the town where I was raised in. And I hated it.

Many of the kids grew up together, played at each others’ houses. I was the awkward transplant with liberal, socially conscientious parents — an entertainment techie father and a Holocaust historian mother. We were Jewish and very proudly so, from a family made up of more various people than a cheerleader’s sweet sixteen. My parents worked in the city, came from city families who still lived there, had city attitudes, were city people. There wasn’t room for us in Thousand Oaks.

The teachers never understood me. From a young age I was loud and outspoken. I refused to back down from my beliefs, standing up to my teachers and wondering why their opinion meant more simply because they were older. Passion, smarts, conviction and drive: These were the things that made me.

They didn’t make friends, though. I was that very strange, very tall, loud girl who brought a giant presence to every room. I was teased and made fun of regularly, to the point of crying right in the middle of class when the teacher didn’t do anything to protect me. Don’t get me wrong — there were people who I liked and I know liked me too. But it wasn’t like we were hanging out at each others’ houses. We just were there, acknowledging each other but never really reaching over.

Thousand Oaks was the place of lonely days, where I walked home as a latchkey kid and was left unattended. It was where I felt ugly for being so different and stole makeup from the local drugstore to try to feel beautiful. It was where I cried to Alanis Morissette, watched Sailor Moon in hopes I had a greater purpose in life, and put on red lipstick and my mom’s vintage dresses hoping I would become Gwen Stefani one day.

It was the place of cold evenings where my teenage self packed backpacks and desperately tried to run away, where I hoped I would die to relieve the pain of being lonely. It was where the doctors would cram pills down my throat to control me and make sure I was quiet. I would watch as I lost control over my own body, and when I tried to object they would shrug. It was the place of rejections and no’s, the place where I felt invisible, told to fit in a box when I knew I was better than that.

As a result, all my life there was one goal: Get the hell out of Thousand Oaks.

Most of my family disagreed, particularly my mother. She loved her little castle on top of the hill, all the knick-knacks and designs she made for her house. And one of her biggest frustrations with me was always why I wanted to leave.

In that small town, she had everything she had always wanted. She had her perfect large house with all her comforts, from sewing machines to a large backyard. She had the dogs and the fruit trees in the backyard. The family was far enough away so that they weren’t banging on our doors, but close enough so they could come every other weekend. It was the place she lived. It was the place she died.

But it was quiet. Eerily quiet. And it was in that silence where my anger grew.

By 21, I was gone, headed off to Orange County with a packed Toyota Camry. I fell in love with the beaches and the laid-back college vibe of my new university, and my anger turned to happiness. There were so many friends and fun nights that graduation seemed like a nightmare. After finding a place where I was finally allowed to be myself, thrive and not be alone, I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I would never return to that place where my loneliness consumed me — even marry an abusive man.

One of the things that kept me married was Thousand Oaks; the idea of returning was unbearable. It felt like quicksand; I hated everything about that place. My focus was on the future. My focus was forward.

But even in Orange County, something was unsettling to me, like my feet were getting stuck. There was no rush of culture or whimsy for me, no joy in the pursuit of having a perfect life and family. It was my parents’ dream, my friends’ dream, everyone else’s dream. Not mine.

So I returned to Thousand Oaks.

It had changed in all those years. All the creature comforts of city life were now there, from Costco to Target. Although there were more housing developments, my parents’ house was still on wistful La Granada Drive, where they would complain about kids drinking near the cul-de-sac and street paving with the city council. It was still scrubbed clean, pristine and shiny. And I still hated it.

A year later, I moved into Los Angeles. It was my birthplace, and after a while I wondered if it was more of my hometown than Thousand Oaks. Walking along gum-encrusted sidewalks carrying grocery bags and sipping coffee along Abbott Kinney felt organic, more than than pick-up trucks and perfect lawns. Whenever I would see the downtown skyline, I would take a deep breath and feel my heart thud proudly through my chest, This was my heart. Thousand Oaks was my hometown, but Los Angeles was actually home.

The people who became my friends were also escapees to Los Angeles — from Dallas, Orlando, New Jersey, Arizona, Chicago or anywhere in between. We found home in each other. They were my friends and family, while the people I went to high school with were a mystery.

As the years went on, people added me on social media. Many were married with kids. Some were like me, single with drive. Some I like much, much better than others, and hope we will see each other and share a coffee or cocktail, and really get to know each other as adults.

I think about all of them — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the jazz hands and the stoners — as I drive back to Thousand Oaks. I think of reading my Facebook the other day, when I had to read about the death of a friend of mine from junior high.

His name was Tony. He sat next to me in junior high science class, and we were friendly with each other. He eventually became a football player, playing under those Friday night lights for the winning team. We were barely friends, but his kindness never stopped.

A friend of mine pulled a prank on him because his friends were so awful to me. She called him and asked him about me. He never said a bad word, although his friends would. I was on the other line, muted, listening intently. It made me feel less alone.

Even though I didn’t how how he died, I thought about articles I read about former football players and chronic brain injuries; how they commit suicide, kill people, lose their minds due to the knocks they took. Wondering if his life had been cut short in part because of our existence in this town.

I arrive at the house on La Granada Drive, with the yellow roses in full bloom. This town has changed in 25 years. The children who grew up on these streets had all moved away to create their own destinies elsewhere, and the housing prices grew so high that very few of them could return.

This house was where I grew to my 5’11 height and ate avocados and lemons from our trees. Where I learned to drive and wrote my short stories. Where I put on my first makeup looks and wore my high school cap and gown. Where the pool parties commenced and my father made his famous hickory smoked Thanksgiving turkey. Where my mother walked and our German shepherd Lucy followed.

And the place where, this summer, my father will leave. Thousand Oaks, the town that I grew up in, will transform from home base to simply a memory.

All my life I always wanted to leave, run away and never return. But sitting in the years of memories, dismantling a house, I don’t know how to feel about it. I had grown and changed. I didn’t live in the past, especially this past that I choose to forget. But the past wasn’t done with me yet.

As I drove into the city, knowing that one day soon I would drive away from Thousand Oaks forever, I really thought about this place: the trees growing wild on the hillsides and the lack of streetlights that allow you to see the stars every night. The coyotes howling at the sound of sirens and the roadrunners dashing alongside them. The rabbits run through the canyons and the hawks circle in the sky, and people still ride their horses up and down the street.

There will be a new child to call this place home. A new family trying to do the best they can. And I pray that this place won’t be as hard on them as it has been on me.

And as they put together their new home, I march forward in mine, scared yet determined, fearless despite the anxieties. Focus on the future, let go of the past, no matter how hard it tries to shake you.

This is the way my time in Thousand Oaks will end.

We are the Fools Who Dream

29826475976_f173df6900_bWe all come to Los Angeles with a dream.

It’s cliché to say because the idea of it is ingrained in the American psyche: Hometown hero boys who come off of Greyhound buses in Hollywood with hope in their hearts, and pretty girls who were big names in small towns now praying to become stars on a sidewalk. It’s not only America; people all over the world have joined in that chorus, crossing borders to arrive on our shores.

They come to be a part of the dream, the dream that a lot of us have: To make it, whatever that “it” may be. It could be stardom, it could be a new life in a new country, it could be any number of things. It really doesn’t matter what that “it” is exactly. It’s different for everyone.

After all, in Los Angeles, we are the fools who dream.

That’s the main line in the song “Audition” from La La Land, and with good reason: Because to the rest of the world, we are fools. Ask anyone in New York, San Francisco, almost any resident of another big city, and there is usually a roll of the eyes about us. “The people there are so…” and then you fill in the blank with whatever you like. They don’t know we are so much more than that. After all, in order to survive this city we had to learn to stop caring what people thought of us a long time ago; those who do usually end up on the Greyhounds back home.

We don’t listen to them, because they don’t know the people who live here. We are the immigrants and the fresh-eyed optimists, coming from all over the world with all different backgrounds and shades of skin. We are the freaks and the disenfranchised, trying to escape our pasts. We are the strange ones who couldn’t settle for ordinary life, couldn’t bow our heads in submission to those who thought they knew better.

You know those people. They are the ones who tell us to hang up hopes along with our childhood dreams, which were cute when we were of smaller stature. It’s time to tie nooses around our necks to head to the office or strap a child to our bodies. Their chorus is, “Grow up!”

Apparently, wanting our lives to be better than the status quo was for children. So we come here to Los Angeles, where the clothes were casual and there was still room to breathe — even in the freeway traffic jams and smog.

We are here to pursue. Here, where you sit on the side of Mulholland Drive, with the stars of the city sprawled at your feet. Here, where the Pacific Ocean meets the sand and summer seems to linger eternally. Here, where the sizzle and the smell of bacon wrapped hotdogs from street vendors trying to make a buck fill the night air and we line up at the taco trucks to share a laugh and a bite. Here, where we come to thrive in the sunshine and pound our laptop keys in the coffee shops.

Our dreams are all different and yet the same. Because here is home. It is what we have created, all of us, together as residents of this city.

No matter where I’m coming from, when that downtown skyline hits my eyes, I know I’m safe here. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, even when I used to live somewhere else. No matter what you change in your life, you can’t change where you came from.

In a weird way, I came back home all those years ago to make it. My make it, though, wasn’t for fame. It was for freedom. To have it, it meant the anonymity to grieve, followed by the courage to become. Only a bustling city, full to the brim of fools and dreamers, can you get something like that.

Somewhere in the suburbia where I fled, I’m sure there are men and women who once knew me and call me a fool. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I always was. There was a rebellious core in me back then that was fighting against the suburban box, full of chain restaurants, unnaturally clean sidewalks and emerald-colored laws, perfectly cut.

Maybe it was because I was meant for red Chucks and graphic t-shirts, not billowing housewife skirts and ballerina flats. Maybe it was because of my discomfort in McMansions and gravitation towards the Spanish style architecture of my grandparents’ home. Maybe I saw myself more in the people who came here trying with hopeful eyes rather than the ones who settled in for the as-is, lofty in dismissing the dirty city.

In Los Angeles we are not above it. We live in the grit, thrive in it. That is why this city fights so hard, from the street corners all the way up to city hall. This is a difficult city to be in, we know this. But we don’t give up. We will never give up.

We sling espresso shots and shots of tequila across bars, knock on your doors to deliver food, drive Lyfts, take out trash, wash dishes and serve food to demanding patrons. Almost every person in this city has a story about the time they put in for their dream, and we wear those days like badges of honor.

And even when we do make it, in that great “it” that lies somewhere in our sunshine filled universe, there is no pause. We work the long hours, writing checks for our bills and driving to get to wherever we’re going. And yet at the end of it all, we’re still typing away on our pilots, singing on stage, cooking bright foods, opening shops, telling stories and jokes to waiting audiences.

We don’t stop. We will never stop. Because we are the fools who dream.

You can’t extinguish that with 10,000 realities and hundreds of neckties. You won’t break us by dismissing us. We, from the immigrants to the faces on a Greyhound bus, are the Angelenos who make this place what it is. Together, we are united in something bigger than ourselves.

There is a song in all of us, each individual heart, and we sing it proudly and as loud as our voices can go, to the point where the world begs to see it. And with a light of the screen, a voice in our ears, the note of a song, the dream comes alive again. And it is the fools who make it.

Consent: The Ultimate Dad Conversation

img_0683This is dad. Everyone loves dad. (It’s actually true, most of my friends adore him and ask me to say hi to him for them regularly.) Dad is warm and kind, goofy and fun. He has a lot of devotees, even if only because I post a lot of our hilarious conversations on Facebook for the world to see.

He is an accomplished entertainment professional, having helped develop the first non-linear editing platform and constructed studios as diverse as ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut and the Dolby Theater in Hollywood (once the Kodak Theater and home of the Academy Awards). He sold audio equipment to Aerosmith, hung out with Alice Cooper, cut film with Alan Alda in his living room, spoken at length with James Cameron and worked with George Lucas. He has had a stellar professional career and is a tremendously hard worker, having started at a young age working for his dad in a grocery store in Inglewood. He isn’t happy unless he’s working; this I know about dad.

But although dad loves his career, he has other passions. His first love is the theater, specifically Shakespeare. He is spiritual, often reading the Torah and various commentaries for new meanings. He is truly colorblind, having worked in the civil rights movement and aiding in black theater in the ‘60s. And he has been supportive and devoted to the women in his life, whether helping professional women see their potential or loving his wife and two daughters, doing anything he could to support them.

I was extremely lucky to grow up with my father’s influence. It’s very hard to see when your friends have horrible relationships with their fathers, and then see your dad and wish that he was theirs, too. In many ways I don’t have a lot of luck, but when it comes to my dad, it’s there in spades.

Dad and I talk about everything and anything. Well, almost anything and everything.

My dad is a well-established liberal, saying that one of the few celebrities that he ever met that flustered him was meeting soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s in downtown Los Angeles. When Obama was elected, he called me in tears, remembering how he left places where he and his buddies from the theater couldn’t eat together because they were mixed. Trump has always disgusted him. But when the tape came out, he was floored.

“Why now?” he asked. “Why is it this that is breaking everyone? He tore women down before. He tears everyone down. Why now?”

I was looking for the words, but I couldn’t say them. Yet in writing my previous blog post, waving my fingers across the keyboard, I realized that I had told my mom the story of being in the parking lot. It was one I had never told my dad. We never talked about sex and dating, let alone my interactions with men in general (given everything I’ve done, I think his head might explode). And that was just one story; I had plenty more, some even more graphic.

So one Sunday morning, Dad and I went to brunch in Thousand Oaks. We scrolled through the menu as I lamented about Los Angeles brunches, where all they served was oat pancakes and quinoa. And naturally, we started talking about politics. And Dad continued to lambast Trump.

“Why did that tape make a difference now?” he asked again. He really wanted to know.

“Because, dad, we all have those stories. I do.”

He paused and looked at me. I told him the two stories I had mentioned in the blog previous to this, of summer camp and temple parking lots. He listened, really listened to me. He was almost shocked that those things had happened, like it didn’t live in his house.

I let the quiet sink in. There was a sadness in his eyes that showed he didn’t want to believe, but knew I would be honest with him because that’s the relationship we had. Finally, he spoke.

“When I was young, I was always told that all these girls wanted to date me,” he said. “I didn’t really register it, didn’t really see it.”

“Oh great, it’s genetic,” I laughed, thinking about my past dating history.

“But at the same time, I didn’t know how to approach these girls. I wouldn’t want to hurt them or take advantage of them. That’s not right. I didn’t want to be those guys in those movies, that’s not me. I wish that there was a word for it.”

The waitress served our coffee and I started pouring in my creamers. There was a fear, a tension. My father was a newly minted widower with eyes only for my mother, never having to think about dating until recently. Talking to him at this moment, the idea scared him even years after he did it the first time around, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. My dad wouldn’t hurt a fly, and even if the fly was really bothering him, he would negotiate with it so well the fly would leave impressed by him.

I paused for a moment, thinking about it as I sipped my coffee.

“Consent, dad?” I asked.

“Consent… yes. Yes! That’s the word,” he replied. “I don’t really know about it, don’t know how to approach it.”

Sometimes consent feels like a new topic. We came from a culture of women as tokens and objects, portrayed in the movies as sexy lamps and “take me nows.” We live in a new age, though, where women have a say in our futures and do more than just wait for a guy to arrive at our doorstep. We are worth so, so much more.

“No one really knows about consent that much, dad,” I replied. “They don’t really teach about it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, but they should. John Oliver has a short segment about it though.”

“Really?” Dad lit up; my father loves John Oliver. When I go back home to visit him, we’ll watch it together.

“Yes,” I replied. “He talks about how women have learned how to say it, but men need to be better at hearing it.”

“I want to watch it.”

With this conversation, as we continued to talk about the topic, I learned a lot about my father, and about men in general. Even though I had issues with groping and even attempted rape in my past, this is not what guys are going for; I don’t think most men actively seek to be misogynistic. I look at my dad and realize that one day, when he feels that the time is right after grieving my mother, he might want to date again.

In modern society, you can’t date in a productive, let alone reasonable manner unless you know what consent looks like. He hadn’t dated in over 50 years. But his eagerness to know what it is and looks like, even at an older age where he might be forgiven for not following these rules, gives me so much hope.

For probably the 10 to 15 percent of guys who might pull shenanigans or truly hate women due to some issue, there is 85 to 90 percent who want to not fall into that archetype. They want to know what consent is, what it looks like so that our experiences with them can be special, not disheartening. And they can’t know unless we tell them.

In the true definition of feminism, men are not to be treated as subservient, but as true equals. And if they are our equals, they deserve to understand through communication about all topics, including this one. In discussing what consent is and how it looks, it helps each other as human beings by understanding the stories behind those we love.

It’s as simple as talking about it, getting our voices heard by one another and standing up against those who dismiss it and those who continue to grope and shame women. And that includes your local Republican presidential candidate.

Every Woman’s Story

the_blackmailWe were in the underground parking lot below the synagogue several years back. A group of us had just gotten out of Torah study. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, with my knee high boots and a long denim tunic. I wore my leather jacket over it; it made me feel strong and tough.

I always sensed he liked me. He was overly flirty, and I brushed off his advances. He was pushy, bragging about his family’s money, how much they donated to the temple. He was a board member for the young professionals chapter there, and now a group of us were standing in the parking lot, him being one of them.

He knew I was looking for work. He said to me that he could walk me to my car, telling me he might have a job for me. I couldn’t say no. I needed the work.

We walked up the ramp to where my silver Saturn was. “What are your skills?” he asked me.

“Well, I write and edit blog content, work with HTML and SEO…”

“Are you a good kisser?”

What? What was he talking about?

“Um, I don’t know how that applies to my job skills,” I replied awkwardly. “But I’d like to think I’m a good kisser.”

“Because I’d really like to kiss you right now.”

Alarmed, my feet moved faster. My mouth became dry, because I realized how he manipulated the situation. I eventually was stuck by the front door of my car, but he had cornered me next to it. I couldn’t run; where would I go?

I told him that I didn’t want to kiss him, tried to steer the conversation back to work, but it was to no avail.

“I know you want me,” he said.

“No, not really,” I replied.

“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not attracted to me!”

Looking him square in the eye, I said loudly, enunciating every word, “I am not attracted to you.”

There was a pause as if to register what I just said. Then, as if he hadn’t heard it, “C’mon, just one kiss.”

I kept saying no, and he kept trying to negotiate. Eventually, he asked for a kiss on the cheek. I agreed tepidly, hoping it would satiate him. But then he tried to move into my denim tunic — the v-neck on it was a little low, and I am rather busty. I pulled away as best as I could, but he kept kissing my cheeks, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Eventually he walked away, and I sped from the parking lot. A part of me was so angry that I wanted to run him over, but instead I just sped back to my then-apartment in Culver City.

When I got home, I realized several things about that interaction, like how it wasn’t my first inappropriate encounter, not even at this temple (that came from a middle-aged drunken gentleman one Shabbat dinner asking me to sit on his lap). It wouldn’t be my last. Also this guy was so powerful at this temple that I immediately knew there was no way in hell the men in charge would believe me. I stopped going to this organization’s events for the most part, unless I had friends who would be there to protect me.

My story isn’t rare; in fact, it’s more common than you think. When you have a community structure full of organizations that are dependent on the money of wealthy individuals to function, those individuals are dealt a hand of power. There are many who use it lovingly, but then there are those who use that power to use others and then make their transgressions disappear.

When I read in the Jewish Journal about Danielle Barrin’s story, I was happy about her courage, but slightly angry. She was explaining a story that happened in Los Angeles, but her assailant wasn’t from here; he was from Israel. The guy from my story above lives in the greater Los Angeles area, probably not far from the guesthouse in Beverly Hills that I call my home now. That temple isn’t far away either.

In many ways, it’s easy to dismiss it. Jews are usually upper middle class, owning homes and nice cars, donating money to charities and temples. There are many issues that we see as “over there” problems, particularly with social issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. They’re so heinous we think that they can’t happen here, or we’re too scared to report it when it’s in our backyards.

Yet the first place that I can argue I was groped was at a Jewish day camp. I had just turned 12. The boys wouldn’t leave me alone, grabbing at me in the swimming pool and jumping so they could try to kiss my cheeks due to my height. I told my counselors. The result? “Well, they’re just doing that because they like you.” It was normal for boys to treat girls like a jungle gym; they weren’t reprimanded and I had to learn it was a “thing” and live with my isolation.

I never talked about that summer until very recently. I blocked it out of my memory almost completely, until therapy brought it back to life again. It colored my life and relationships even from a young age — that I was a plaything, not worthy of my voice, opinions or objections.

Up until recently, I felt alone. But in the age of social media we have become more open, particularly about our experiences with abuse and sexual assault. Sure, the social media age has given us some not-so-great things, but when it came to sharing our truths, it was an amazing place to be. It let us know that this wasn’t just an isolated problem, but an epidemic.

When the Trump assaults came up, I saw the echoes of my womanhood past, where we were forced to pretend it didn’t exist or, “that’s what men do.” There were many people who stood up against it. I saw people who were confused, and that’s okay too. But then there were those who excused it away, as if it didn’t happen. Not here. Not right in front of our eyes where we could see it and then pretend it wasn’t real.

Now these stories have a national voice, and hopefully it trickles down and gives hope to others going through those situations. I feel more confident coming forward with my story because of the one in the Jewish Journal, and maybe another woman will become comfortable coming forward from mine. There’s a reason why when a public figure is accused of sexual assault they come forward in groups; because when one person comes forward, it gives strength to others. I want to share my voice.

As for my story above, it came with somewhat of a happy ending. A friend of mine was on that same young professionals board of that temple, and he asked me why I didn’t attend events. As a close friend I confided in him, and as a decent human being he was absolutely livid.

“You know, I always sensed something off about him,” he told me. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think I know what it is now.”

I swore him to secrecy; I was afraid of the backlash. I loved my Jewish community and wanted to still be involved; there was no way to do it if I was saying I was sexually assaulted in any way, especially by someone who had more power than me.

The months passed, and at one point I was in the elevator with that male friend and a girl friend. Apparently the same guy did that to her, and several other girls. That male friend then reported him, to which my parking lot assailant was reprimanded immediately. I attended one of the organization’s events recently, and he was nowhere to be found.

That ending was only somewhat happy. I felt shamed into not reporting due to the power that person in their organization had, and that is a place no one should be. Then I wondered if the only reason why it might have been taken seriously was because a man with power reported it. And when I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, I realized he continued to be friends with him only until recently, knowing two of his female friends had been groped by this guy. The reason why the friendship ended? Ironically, it was because the guy supported Donald Trump.

It was in this moment that I realized the power of patriarchy: not only does it not trust women or dismiss their claims, but it also silences women from the men who care about us, who want to be our allies. I tell the stories above, stories I told to my mother and female friends. Then I look at my father, and realized he doesn’t know them.

My father is as decent of a man that ever was, lovable, sweet and fair. He is truly the definition of a feminist ally, but I never told him about what the boys did to us. We shared it with our mothers and sisters, but not our fathers and brothers.

So one day, I took my dad to brunch. And it’s wasn’t about what I told him; it was what he taught me.

Why I have given up on online dating… possibly for good

2061329074_05077d0272_bIn the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”

But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.

I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.

Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.

The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:

Us In a Nutshell

We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.

Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?

The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.

Let Me Upgrade You

At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.

Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.

There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…

Sex or Pizza?

At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.

Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.

As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.

The Accountability Dilemma

Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.

Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.

When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.

Fear of FOMO

Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.

Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.

Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.

And yet…

My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.

I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.

There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.

There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.

When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?