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Creating Myself

Ayala Schorr

A medley of emotions washed over me when I was asked to tell my story: relief, sadness, pain, and joy. I’ve never told my story to anyone, and it’s a personal triumph for me to stand before you, albeit anonymously, and pour out my heart, even as I celebrate who I’ve become. It’s a bittersweet, concrete demarcation of where I come from and where I am today, like two polar ends on a globe, with a gargantuan swath of siyata d’Shmaya spanning both opposites.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I’ll try to begin from early childhood, although most of it I’ve blocked out. I was the middle child, quiet, shy, never really allowing my voice to be heard but hearing everything else around me. My parents had married under great stress and both hoped that their lives would ease with the passage of time and the addition of children. Unfortunately, that hope was never realized. It isn’t clear whether nature or nurture gave rise to my parents’ temperament, but they displayed behavior that, way back when I was growing up, I termed “difficult.” Today we call it abusive.

There was never enough food in our house, never new clothing, but there was always an abundance of wrath, followed by long periods of cold, bitter silence. I learned, from an early age, that love was a commodity. It could be bartered, bought, and, of course, taken away at will. I was the “good child”, and thus I received ample portions of this strange “love,” but I observed my siblings, whose personalities were not as quiet and submissive, and what I saw frightened me into even greater silence.

I never heard the term “dysfunction” back then, but I could have written a book on the subject by the time I turned five. In our house, people did not communicate; they shouted. Behind closed doors and out in the open. We teetered around on egg shells, never knowing whether my mother was happy or sad, whether my father would come home yelling or bearing gifts. It was that unpredictable.

We children were caught in a real-life game of chess, pawns in the hands of our parents who instinctively knew how to use us to fight their battles. “Who do you think is right, Ayala?” I was constantly asked by my father, who eyed me significantly. “Your father says this; I say that. What would you like to do?” my mother would exhort.

I will spare you many of the gory details. Suffice it to say that my siblings, one by one, externalized all the pain that they had absorbed for so many years. One left Torah Judaism entirely, marrying a non-Jew, surely as an overt stab against my parents. A few turned to a life of escapism, using various vices to numb their pain. In our community, we were looked at with pitying eyes. Everyone knew of the plight of our family; it was impossible to hide the shambles of our lives. We were broken, and the prevailing belief was that we would never, ever be fixed.

If you had met me then, you would have seen a girl who was little more than a fragile shell, whose emotions were so carefully bottled that the only feelings I could muster were pain and anger. I had no self-esteem to speak of; it had been systematically destroyed by my parents’ scathing words. I teetered at the brink of loneliness and depression, never feeling I belonged or that I was worthy of being loved.

When my parents finally divorced, after many horrendous years of what could only be called “marriage in name alone,” it was little consolation. The damage had already been done and the fallout from the divorce brought fresh destruction. Now there were custody battles and financial wars. Now there was an insistence that the children pledge their loyalties to one side over the other. The back-stabbing and playing of heart strings reached an all-time high and we children reeled from the torment of it all. There were court dates and investigations, prying relatives and friends. The shame was nearly too much to bear.


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