If I cry it means I’m guilty. If I cry it means I miss my daughter. I will want to be with her. And I can’t now. So I won’t cry. I won’t
m scared of this thing called Life.
My youth is a distant blur; memories hover in cloud formation, like sagging balloons.
I can’t look back. Not at the happier times and not at the sadder times. If I look at the happy times, I may feel nostalgia. I may feel longing, a pull for the joy of youth and for the freedom of innocence. I won’t look. I won’t turn around. I won’t think. I won’t feel.
I give birth to my oldest child. She’s a miracle of pink cheeks and feathered hair. Of perfect fingernails and velvet skin. I’m alone with her in the hospital. It’s late and quiet. I watch her sleeping. Eyes quivering under closed lids. I want to cry, but I don’t.
Tears sting behind tired eyes as feelings of gratitude and disbelief wash over me, as the weight of the new responsibility settles in. I swallow. I blink and look away from the enormity of the moment. The delight of new motherhood. The joy of a newborn girl. The fear of rising to the challenge. If I cry it means it’s real. If I cry I may never stop. So I hold her a little tighter and I don’t cry.
It’s just under two years later. Another miracle. Another daughter. Bald this time. The big sister visits. Toddler eyes and toddler hands cling to Mommy. But she can’t stay with me. She has to go back to her aunt. She cries when she leaves and I hold out a lollipop. It feels like my heart will break. The bigger one and the baby. I love them both.
A tear falls, unbidden, and I know there will be more. But I can’t. I won’t. If I cry I will feel my toddler’s pain. If I cry it means I’m guilty. If I cry it means I miss my daughter. I will want to be with her. And I can’t now. So I won’t cry. I won’t.
One day there’s a little boy. Impossible dark ringlets, translucent skin, and eyes a magical green. He’s three. Dimpled knuckles and angelic smile. The ringlets fall. His yarmulke is rich velvet. His curls were rich too. They’ve gone. He’s licking the honey. The alef-beis. Our Torah. He’s going to learn Torah.
I want to cover my eyes and bend over in intense tefillah. My heart is pleading, “Please, please, Hashem it’s a crazy world out there, and you gave me a precious boy to raise. Help me! Help him! May he always seek You, love You, and fear only You!”
But cameras are flashing and little boys are singing and it won’t do if I stand there crying. So I steel myself. I hold the words. I halt the flow. There are pictures to take. If I cry it means it’s so much bigger than just a haircut. If I cry it may seem I’m overdoing it. Overly emotional. So I don’t cry. I take pictures.
A few summers pass and we’re on vacation in the mountains. The grass is sun-kissed and lush, the lake still and awesome, the waters stilled by the majesty of the mountains they reflect. My family has grown. Healthy children, beautiful smiles. Tanned limbs, sun-streaked hair.
They lie in a circle looking up at the sky. I watch them. I want to turn my face upward and say, “Thank you Hashem!! Thank you for summer and beauty. For kids and sunshine. For health and for smiles. You’ve blessed me. And I am not deserving. Thank you, Tatte!”
My lips twitch with restraint, my eyes squint in the sunlight. But I say nothing. I take the gratitude and fold it back inside. I’m not a woman who prays on mountaintops. I’m not a woman who talks to Hashem without a siddur. So I collect the kids and their shoes, and I turn to go. I look back. My unuttered prayer is now part of the tableau. I leave it there, alone. A small part of me. What can I do? I don’t pray on mountaintops!
It’s a winter evening. Too many dishes. Too few hands. So tired. Pregnant. I start with the silverware. The kids fiddle with the stereo and the song comes up. It’s the song that moves me from the opening notes until the end. It’s a tefillah for strength. For koach to move on. I don’t catch the first few tears because they fall before I notice. But the others I stop. I scrub more vigorously, I brush my eye with a damp sleeve. I bite my lower lip. I don’t cry over kitchen sinks. I’m a have-it -all-together person. Exhaustion is no match for my mission of perfection.
The song hits the high notes. The pleading chords intensify, and I take out the steel wool and scrub harder. How can I stand in my kitchen and cry? The timing is off. The setting is wrong. I tell the kids to switch tracks. I. Don’t. Cry. In. My. Kitchen.
I do sing in my kitchen though. I love singing. Not that anybody would know. I stop as soon as the first child gets back from school. I’ll sing them silly songs or rhymes. I’ll sing to my baby as I spoon cereal into her mouth. I’ll sing with my daughter as she memorizes all the states. But I won’t sing the songs I love. The ones I sing when I’m alone. I might not hit every note correctly. I might miss one entirely. Maybe my kids will roll their eyes. Maybe my teens will be embarrassed. Maybe I don’t sing well enough. So sing only when I’m alone.
When I’m alone, I don’t just sing. I dance too. I listen to the music and the dancing comes. My body knows the sequence. I turn up the volume. I close all the shades. I take off my shoes. I lock the door and I dance. I love the freedom of dancing. I love the feeling of the music and the movement. I dance for me. That’s how I dance. That’s when I dance.
At a wedding you’ll find me in the circle. Doing the staid two in and two out over and over again with the rest of them. I keep my pace even with everybody else. Studiously. What else can I do? I’m not that kind of woman, the one who listens to the song inside. The kind who breaks free of the circle, who lets go. I do two in and two out, while deep within I’m dancing free.
It’s fall. The leaves are a medley of impossible reds, glorious golds, and daring oranges. We pass a scenic viewpoint. There are some parked cars nearby, people have stopped to admire the view. As we cruise past, I’m filled with awe, I’m moved by the wonder and the magnificence of this autumn evening. The sky, the softest shade of violet and the leaves, those leaves… But the words “Can we stop?” stay stuck in my throat. The hunger for beauty must be satisfied by the 35mph view.
I stare out of the window and will my ache to lie down and go to sleep. You see, I’m not the kind of person who stops to enjoy a view. To stand there, mind empty, heart full with the warmth of autumns embrace. I have things to do. Places to go to. Deadlines to meet. Sorry autumn. Sorry leaves. So sorry glorious colors and shades and marvelous hues. Gotta go…
She’s a dear friend. She really cares. I haven’t seen her in a too-long while. She waits, concern in her eyes. She nurses her mug while I toy with my cookies. It’s been a rough winter for me. It’s no secret really. There are words roiling and twisting inside. Pushing themselves up my throat. Storming in my head. Waiting to be set free. To be spoken.
The coffee turns cold. The conversation is a collage of half sentences, the crumbs scattered between us like so many unspoken words. We get up to leave slowly, we hug. Dried coffee rings, stale crumbs, a cafe that’s closing, and a heart that’s locked too tight.
Come June, I celebrate a milestone birthday. Half a century. Years of tears half-cried, of words half-spoken, of putting a lid on laughter. Emotions swallowed and feelings folded and put away. Years of beauty and blessings only half-savored. Years of a woman’s life, only half-lived.
Forgive me, G-d.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 649)