Category Archives: The past

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.

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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?

Grief: A Tisha B’Av HOWL

Tisha B’av is considered to be one of the saddest days in Judaism, commemorating the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem amongst other countless tragedies in our faith. For me, it commemorates several other tragedies that I think about today. So I decided to write a Tisha B’Av meditation/HOWL for it, in partnership with East LA Jews’ #24HourWail. Theme: Grief/Loved Ones.

Once upon a time, I told you I loved you. You were about to slip through my fingers down the river of time, lost to me forever. I watched you flow away without me, or maybe you were on the shore and I was the one sailing on. Either way, you are lost to me. Lost and never coming back.

I felt every drop flowing away from my eyes as I laid on my back, their salt feeding the earth underneath me as I stared at the ceiling. My zombie self was coming to life in the ruins of the temple we built together, categorizing the days of my existence into two piles: Days with you. Days without you. There is nothing else anymore.

Many people have come and gone. The past is littered with empty cups of coffee, clean plates where food once was and forced mealtime conversations; kisses of hope and comfort left me behind while the quiet crept in. Yet somewhere in between the seconds, hours, days, years we spent together, you carved yourself into my soul, a mirror reflection in myself. You are etched in permanence, merging into my drifting insanity and hopeless dreams, sneaking up on me in the dark corners of my world.

There in the night before sleep takes me, I wrestle with your legacy, because despite my missing you I refuse to idolize you. I cannot see you with the childlike wonder that once consumed me. Although we are in different places, we are both past the point where innocence can touch us. You are imperfection personified. Even in my love for you, inside me I hate you too.

Hate is love’s constant houseguest, and love is hate’s companion through everything the world has to offer. They live together on this great spectrum of the universe, and one cannot exist without the other. I used to say I could never hate anyone. But I also never knew how deep love could go.

Because hate is the anger residing in the holes where love doesn’t live, manifested into words, phrases, courses of action that, if left to its own devices, can destroy. Only love can fill those empty spaces, reverse it in its own manifestation of words and actions. Whether you want to call it happiness, empathy or even sacrifice is entirely up to you.

I miss your beaming joy, which I so rarely see in photographs. Your very skin could glow with warmth, your eyes bringing me in for the warmest hugs even without hands, but when you looked at me you told me you loved me without the actual phrase. When I walked away, I always sensed you wanted one more word. The last word. The words that I will ache to have every day, but you will never know it.

There are no more words left. You are now far away, in some other part of the universe where my reality doesn’t cross with yours. Left behind or leaving. Love or hate. They mesh together inside of me as I rend my garments over and over again, because the pain is still that deep.

We needed more time. That’s all I ever wanted. Time. The days are ticking away from us now, along with months and years. Echoes of you haunt my life, tiny little parts of the world where you come back to me in a split second, and then just as quickly go away. I stand in halls of walls full of clocks that would physically give me more, yet all while still clinging to the desperation, the hope that time will stand still. And love cannot stop it. Love is powerful, but often not enough.

In slumber I dream of parallel universes where we are together again, where our great monuments of faith still stand before the heathens crumble them to the ground and send us into exodus yet again. There we stand in the dark deserts of the world, separate from each other, crying to the heavens, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”

If I forget thee… my soul awakens as I look out to the water once again. Here I refuse the darkness, because it’s a new day. I turn back and head inland, letting the wind take me as I watch the last flower fall from the jacaranda trees, the innocence gone as the seasons change once again.

There is no forgetting you, but there is also the refusal to be held back by ghosts. You are gone, you cannot come back. And yet we live on, not as whole as we once were, but adjusting to the new way. Thinking of a new life, and knowing we must never give in.

We do not forget. Instead we build again. There are new temples to construct, peace to be found in the universe. We cry in our beds, but we stand in the mourning, walking our feet forward into the uncharted world.

Today remember the patch of ground where we laid in grief; tomorrow, it will be consumed with new memories. Today we sit in the silence, tomorrow we will sing a new song and dance to the music, stomping our feet with joyful noise. Today we are sackcloth and ashes. Tomorrow we will rise.

Dear Hillary

819px-hillary_clinton_official_secretary_of_state_portrait_cropDear Hillary,

When I was 10 years old, on a chilly day in January, my mother sat us down at the kitchen table and made us write letters to our elected officials. Although I was too young to really understand what I was doing, one of those letters was to your husband, then president Bill Clinton. I haven’t written another one since then, but feel that now is the time.

You have to understand something about my mother: She loved this country. She was a Democrat, but proudly displayed the American flag on national holidays and put up a green light outside for veterans. When I challenged this country in my writings, she would write comments and say this country meant more to her and should mean more to me, to us and the future generation.

I was the rebellious one, taller than almost all the boys; the headstrong granddaughter of Turkish Jews blessed with my grandmother’s name, her bubbliness, savvy and sneaky sense of humor. The matriarch of our family who could have easily been a CEO if the times permitted, she could never have imagined America as it is today.

All my life, I heard things from outside my family structure; things that I can never shake out of my head, no matter how I try.

“Don’t be so bossy.”

“Sit still and be quiet!”

“Boys will never like a girl with so many opinions.”

“You don’t have to be so loud!”

As I got older, they morphed into other words, like “weird” and “strange.” And then there were my ex’s favorites: “You’re out of touch with reality” and “You f**ing b*tch.”

(As I am addressing what will hopefully be my future commander-in-chief, I hope you’ll forgive the language above.)

I’m sure you’ve heard all of these and worse. I’m sure my mother heard them too. We get them as strong women trying to break the mold. My mother, who was told “nice girls don’t go to college” in the early ’60s, worked part-time in packing at an ant farm factory to pay tuition at UCLA while her mother worried about her finding a husband. Fortunately for her, she found my father, a uniquely compassionate and feminist man.

My mom wanted to be a doctor, but “girls don’t become doctors.” Her brother did, and my mom worked in his office. She was wife to a theater artist and eventual entertainment tech executive, helping him type his MBA papers while enormously pregnant with my older sister. He encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree and her master’s, but at the end of the day my mother was the support for her ailing parents, two daughters and one niece, who had lost both her parents before she turned 30. She was the backbone of our family.

Growing up, while the world told me to stop being stubborn, she loved my resilience in disappointment. When I never gave up while others told me to quit, she was inspired. I made her laugh so much she nicknamed me, “the human Xanax.” Sure, as mothers and daughters go, we fought quite a bit. Although she was an active second wave feminist before I was born, we often disagreed about the ideas of men versus women. But at the end of the day, she was my strong, dutiful mother, with a dash of silly whenever she put on her light-up Mickey Mouse ears while working in her home office.

Meanwhile, I got my degree and married a man who was strongly and abusively conservative. I was too scared to speak up with my liberal leanings in fear of his rage. When the day came where I realized that he was too mentally unstable for the future, I fought my way out. My mother was there that terrifying night I left, calling me practically every five seconds to advise me, with my aunt giving me resources I needed to get out safely and legally protected and my friend offering me a safe house. In your own words, it took a village to get me out. I was broken, but determined to put myself back together.

Free of the constraints of marital censorship, the fight of feminism was mine to take on as a part of the younger generation, to shape how I wanted my future: Living independently and on my own terms, eventually working freelance in communications and obtaining national-level clients. Hoping for a full-time job to help pay off my student loans, but even when I didn’t get there, to keep applying. Keep moving. Be strong. Not necessarily with a man, but seeking one who longs to be my partner in family and the fight for equality. We as women can be the backbones, but we can be also the hands that hold tight to our dreams and work for them every day. The fight morphs and changes from generation to generation. And for many of those days, there was my mother, not always understanding but respecting.

I’m writing this letter to you because in April I cried at her hospital bedside because her face was so jaundiced and she was struggling to breathe. Her fingernails were the lightest shade of pink and she was running them through my hair. She told me she was proud of me and glad she got to know me as an adult. Less than two days later, I was wailing at the bedside, sitting on the hard floor holding that same hand, cold as ice while whimpering like a child, “I want my mommy.”

For two years, we fought the battle of breast cancer with her, sacrificing almost everything for her care. She died of a lung complication that took numerous doctors, plenty of “I don’t knows,” and eventually her life. It has been three months since then and there are still bills coming in that scare my father, her partner of almost 50 years, wondering how he’ll survive without his love. I think of your fight for health care and how my mother wanted to see it come full circle. How she cared about women’s health, teaching us at a young age that our bodies were not a place of shame but of pride. That being a woman was, in so many ways, an incredible thing.

And tonight, how I long for her to see you at this moment of your life, when “girls don’t become doctors” becomes “girls can become President of the United States.” It’s because she loved this country with her whole heart. And tonight, for the first time in a long time, I can say the same.

There are people out there who don’t trust you; many of them are women. It’s easy to throw labels around, toss words like they’re playthings: Corrupt. Criminal. Crooked. For almost 24 years, since you have come into the national spotlight as First Lady, you have heard them all yet remain stronger than Wonder Woman. You aren’t perfect, but as my mother used to say, you remembered who you are and kept moving. That is an incredible feat.

But the bigger task is at hand. The future of this country needs you: Allowing us to obtain quality educations without spending years in debt. Helping Planned Parenthood stay open and strong alongside access to birth control across the board. Making sure there are not only jobs for us, but equal pay for equal work. Letting us live without the fear of someone grabbing a gun and killing us. Allowing our parents to be comfortable in retirement, not scared of insane prescription and medical costs. Making sure that America is safe for all of us, no matter the color of skins we wear, those who we love and the places we pray. Yet still being someone who will be able to reach across the aisle, avoiding the dogged partisan politics of the past.

We, as the younger generation, need you to do this for us. We know what’s at stake in this election as you do. You have served as both Secretary of State and in Congress. You are beyond being a woman in this race; you are utterly qualified, and I put my faith in you.

One of my favorite stories is that, when you were a girl, you wanted to be an astronaut and you were told, “NASA doesn’t hire girls.” Well, guess what? I want to hire a woman for my president, and I have to believe that the rest of this country will too, for the sake of democracy. I hope you take that torch all the way to the White House for the memory of my mother, Jacqueline Amira Slutske, whose smile I saw reflected in yours Wednesday night after President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. So let’s get out there and show them what we’ve got.

Sincerely,

Reina V. Slutske

Tears: A Portrait of Depression

sad-505857_960_720Depression is a serious illness, with more than 3 million reported cases per year. Although I’m typically a happy person, I have experienced bouts of depression over the years, with this one from about a month ago being the worst. Those who have never experienced it doesn’t know what it looks like. Somewhere inside of me during this time, I got the gumption to get it down in writing. I felt the need to tell it as it is, because if people could really see it they’d know the truth: It is a serious illness affecting so many, and we need to not judge, but simply understand and lend a hand.

It’s 2 pm and I just got off the phone with my friend Stacy. She’s concerned, because she knows I’m not a crier, usually leaving that to more private moments. Yet I’ve been in tears half the day and I don’t know why. The sadness is beyond belief. I’m staring at one spot in my room, where the wrought iron frame of the bed meets the mattress, where it’s dark and gray. I’m lying down and can barely move. It’s as if I suddenly don’t know how.

My body is wrapped in blankets like a cocoon, strangely unable to get up, too frightened of the world outside in this immediate point in time. My back feels like there are butterfly wings, but they’re stapled to me, unable to unfurl. A sense of desperation takes over. My mind is paralyzed in the sadness, unable to function, unable to do what needs to be done.

Stacy said this isn’t like me. She’s right; my recent birth control removal has triggered this. They call it the Mirena crash, where your hormones go haywire, and amongst other things it can launch you into a serious depression. For the past week, I’ve been up and down. But this has been the worst day.

There was only one other moment in my life that I can recall where I was like this, and it was not triggered by hormones. It was on a day in late July of 2012, when I cut someone I love dearly out of my life completely. It was necessary, but his removal from my existence left me in bed for two days. That was more sorrow, though — a state of mourning, the death of something that had to be felt fully. It was a vital stage in order to recover properly. This was not like that; it went deeper, infected every sinew of my body.

The stress of the past few weeks was washing over me: Out of work a month earlier than anticipated, my mother’s health problems compounding while I was living with her because I didn’t have a steady job, a lawsuit filed against me for an accident that was ruled not my fault to target my insurance policy, bills piling up, feeling incredibly far away living apart from the city and my friends with an uncertain future and no prospects. Combine that with the hormones, and I was destined to crash. What I didn’t expect was this heap that I had become.

Somewhere in the depths of this despair I hear my father calling for me. I try to respond, my voice weak, but he can’t hear me — he probably doesn’t have his hearing aids in. He keeps repeating my name. My voice starts to scream, which seems to agitate the beast of depression inside of me. The monster holds on stronger, tightens his grip so my brain feels like it’s being strangled. I begin sobbing again, focusing on that tiny corner. For some odd reason, it’s all my mind wants to know at this moment.

The texts are coming into my phone, and I don’t see them. Or I respond to them, but it’s as if I have transformed into a robot, going through the motions as if there is no other way to do it. I give excuses: The drive is too far. I’m running low on gas with very little income. I don’t feel like it. I had become a blubbering mess and didn’t want to be near anyone, not even myself. Yet at the same time it’s hard to be alone, but no one is coming for me. It’s too far.

My head was throbbing as the crying dehydrated me. I drank small sips of water from a water bottle, grasping onto the bottle as if a baby, my body weak as a hospital patient’s. I tried to eat a little popcorn, the salt accumulating in my mouth, feeling like dirt. A couple licorice sticks follow, but it doesn’t do anything either; it’s like I can’t sense anything. In a last-ditch effort, I watched some shows on Netflix, and not even that could restore me.

My mother was in her bed, reading while her oxygen tank pumped its Darth Vader tone. Weakly, I walk in and lie next to her, a hopeless child sobbing into a pillow like I skinned my knee again or a boy pulled at my pigtails, teasing me mercilessly. She didn’t need another thing to worry about, yet she strokes my hair as my sobbing continues. It’s as if my body regressed, unable to function properly. I don’t see the world around me, just the cocoon of blankets that are keeping me safe and warm, which allows me to rest.

Waking up, it takes a bout of physical effort to get me up from the bed and be able to move into the other room. My very body felt held back from some great force of nature. Yet something inside of me is making me move forward, pushing me down into the seat at the kitchen table, taking the plate of food and putting it in the microwave, then shoving the food into my mouth with dire force.

In the physical force of ingesting that night, I was realizing that I was sick. This is what it felt like at 21 to be in the hospital fighting for my body to survive five blood clots. During this day, I’m fighting for my mind, which in turn is also disabling my human functioning. It may not be as extreme, since the Mirena crash has exacerbated the problem, but it still manifests in similar forms: Cutting myself off from the world. Not calling people. Staying away from activities and then making excuses for my absences — depression was alive inside of me, just that I found a strange way to function through it.

It took two Tylenol PM to get me to sleep through the night, to cumulate the day that I truly understood depression. I woke up the next morning feeling motivated and strong, praying that this wasn’t another ebb and flow in the Mirena crash. But there were no guarantees. Depression is an illness that was taking a hold of my body, as debilitating as a broken leg and devastating as a heart transplant. You can’t tell people to just “cheer up” — it just fuels the fire. I had to hold on, fight this, although sometimes it feels like a monster that can’t be killed.

The next day, I get a call from Stacy first thing in the morning. “You worried me to death,” she said. In the fog of the day before, I could barely see my dear friend. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone. It didn’t mean I didn’t love them; far from it. They are my rocks, my saving graces. They keep me tethered to the world.

But that’s the beast we fight: Depression makes us forget everything that we love, retreat inward against our own will. There isn’t one definitive way for a cure, but the simple request — just to be there, hang on and support — is sometimes good enough.

Four Years Later: The Golden Girl

1935438_10100526411484091_1163281782139100211_nWhen it’s sunny, winter afternoons in Los Angeles seem to take on a luscious golden hue when the skies are clear. I can’t explain how the light turns that molten shade which dances across the gorgeous palm trees and the ocean in anticipation of the oncoming twilight.

During the week, looking out from my office window over Ventura Boulevard while staring out at the hills, I fall in love with this light over and over again. I smile with an ear-to-ear grin, satisfied as if after a delicious meal, full of hope and life.

Four years ago I didn’t smile as much as I do now. There wasn’t as much laughter or contentment in my soul, or time to really notice the subtle differences in the atmosphere. There were just swooping feelings in the stomach about my life, and how it was changing dramatically.

The light didn’t shimmer this way four years ago where I used to live — or maybe it did, but I don’t remember. I just remember black, the darkness of the night. Hiding in my old car making fearful phone calls to my parents and the police. Sitting on the bathroom floor with the lights turned off while his ear was pressed against the door, listening in to my private thoughts to different friends. Sitting awake and watching him sleeping, fearful of drifting off because he had been so out of control I didn’t know what he would do while I was unconscious.

The only light I remember was being perched in my friend’s sitting room on a cushioned leather chair next to the illumination of a Christmas tree, Adele playing softly in the background. There was the smooth baritone on the other end of my phone, who was home from law school for Christmas break. His voice comforted me, slowing my wildly beating heart and rapid voice that told one of my closest friends the truth that I wanted to hide from him: That I was thinking about leaving my husband and the married life I had crafted for four years behind.

The voice, the tree, the music… those were only golden things I remember from that time. But they faded. Everything faded into blackness that was only illuminated by stark orange fluorescent street lamps as I made my choices. Not all of them were good, but many were the right ones. That fact didn’t make enacting them any easier, though.

Four years ago there was a restlessness stirring in my soul. There was a girl inside of me dying to get out, who needed to be free from the golden shackles she had put on herself because the world told her this was the way life had to be. My resignation in accepting this existence was stopped by a moment, a blink in time where there was the realization that I didn’t have to live in constant heartbreak and stress. I didn’t have to spend most of my time hiding his tantrums from friends’ watchful eyes and listen to him constantly demean me and tell me regularly how I couldn’t live life without him. That there was more to life than suburban existence and cookie-cutter dreams.

As a friend said to me later, I had the chance to hit the reset button, and when that shiny red button was pressed I let that other person out of me. Now, after years of struggle and difficulties, that person is finally here.

She’s skinnier, feistier and a lot more fun. She doesn’t wear her thick-framed glasses as often, accenting her light colored eyes, and her fashion has gone slightly trendy versus the ‘50s style housewife styles she used to wear. Her hair is long with beach waves, like the California girl that she is. She’s downright sexy, and suddenly the world knows it — whether it’s the random guy at a bar suddenly pulling her up during karaoke to serenade her with the song, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” or her female co-worker who laughs when you joke that you’re the single old maid of the group and says, “Shut up, you’re 33 and hot.”

She eats healthier and takes care of herself. If there’s a problem, she tries to fix it. If she’s hungry, she eats; if she isn’t, she doesn’t force it, because she remembers what true hunger looks like. She doesn’t cook as often as she used to, but loves to go out and try new flavors. She reads books more often and writes regularly, experimenting with her creativity. There’s outspokenness in her veins now, both politically and life-wise, and she’s proud to have an opinion, although she still doesn’t always express it at the highest level.

There are ambitions on her terms, not feeling guilty or forced in it. There’s always a business card in her hand, waiting to connect. The hustle in her is strong, and she runs with it to get her own without worrying if a guy would be scared of it. She does life on her own terms, not wasting time on those who don’t matter.

The circumstances of her life, from cancer to death, have shaped her into being more thoughtful, more compassionate, and occasionally a bit more reserved. Her friends have changed over time as well. But she’s still warm. She wants to see you, talk to you, get to know you, catch up with you if you haven’t seen her in a while.

She may not have a dwelling of her own, but she wants to welcome you into her home: The City of Angels, the place where she was born and she came back to all those years ago. It first gave her the anonymity to grieve the past, then it gave her the ability to become who she always wanted to be: Slightly eccentric, always creative, full of pure hunger and zest for life that she had to hide before. But there is no hiding now. And she likes it that way.

Does her heart get broken? Sure. Does she have difficulties with romantic relationships? Without question — she hasn’t had once in the four years since she left. Are there tears? No doubts. But there are also friends who kiss your forehead, stroke your hair, adjust your smeared makeup and sling you a drink. When you ask what’s in it, they say, “Don’t ask. Drink it.” Then they hug you tight and pop in a movie and make snarky comments along with it.

This is her life; she created it. It’s not perfect and it’s not always right. But it has become mine, and I take complete ownership of it.

It’s not permanent. Gold doesn’t stay and never has. But it’s here in this present tense. Golden, single girl days overlooking the San Fernando Valley may fade for other opportunities and other places in the world. If my past and the choices I have made say anything, it’s that when we think we have it all together, the universe has other plans.

But for now, this is my life. I fought for it, starved for it, dragged myself through the shit for it. I kissed and fucked the frogs and cried plenty of tears while wondering why I couldn’t find new love. I even went momentarily insane on occasions, letting the terror of my past rush over me in any way it came — drinking heavily and crying on bathroom floors, pulling off the road and screaming at the stars if necessarily, or dragging my hands along the bathroom rug when I was curled up on it because I was too paralyzed by my past to get up. Then I was left watching as time made the attacks shorter, less scary, or perhaps made me strong enough to fight them head on.

And, despite everything, I’d do it all over again. Without question.

The earth-shattering choices we make affect us and change us indefinitely. Some people, who have taken more conventional paths and just accepted the horrible things as “the way it is” rather than make a shift, wonder about those of us who chose to chase other ideals. Instead of settling, we chase overwhelming ambition, golden sunsets and oceans, and the hope that there is something better out there.

So those of us who made the difficult decisions laugh, lift our drinks into the air and smile high, because we prefer to run into uncertainty with those who share our drives rather than just settle. These choices come with sacrifices, but when those golden days wash over our bodies, we know the truth: That we made the right choices together, to live every day rather than just be, and to live our own versions of happily ever after. And four years later, I can’t ask for much more than that.