Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Since I'm out of fresh material this week, today I'm re-posting an essay that was published over a year ago in the St. Petersburg Times' Sunday Journal (Original Title was, "Lord's Prayer.")

Sunday journal
Unseen hands
Published March 6, 2005


The meeting was always held in dimly lit rooms, prepared as if for seances, with its own version of ghosts: people bearing the traces of former lives behind them, gilded shadows framing their eyes like soul bruises.

My mom, with her frizzy poodle perm, would putt-putt-putt in our battered Volkswagen to a place where other activities seemed to have always just finished happening; evidence of business meetings - pens and memos - or bright paper drawings of children would be scattered about.

People would pat me on the head and say, with voices scarred by cigarettes, "You look too young to be an alcoholic," then burst into laughter.

At these meetings I learned the Lord's Prayer. We were not religious; we were bohemians, a nice way of saying hippies. "Music is my church," mom said more than once. My father was not emotional about his Jewish background, the product of parents who, once the truth of the Holocaust was revealed, stuffed their horror deep into atheism.

Still, I learned the words, did I ever, Our Father, those words that - while they made little practical sense in my world - Who Art in Heaven, had a comforting lull, a promise of all things taken care of, Hallowed Be Thy Name, a gentle support, which I envisioned as a large man cupping us in his hands.

His hands were stronger than us. Stronger than my mom, who came to the meeting because of weaknesses I only understood when she forgot to pack my lunch and came dashing to the school with a McDonald's bag swinging in her hand, or couldn't wake quickly enough from a hangover slumber to get me to school on time. Surely this prayer was for people like us, with these embarrassing failures, our life crammed into an apartment that was the attic to someone else's house.

I was certain that I was one of these ghostly people at the meetings and that I belonged. Surely it was only a matter of years before I too would be here, drinking a cup of coffee, saying, "Hi, my name is Jordie and I'm an alcoholic." They wouldn't scoff or yell; they would clap, the way they did for everyone. If I thought the meeting was grand, however, I was in for a surprise when my mom spent a month at George Street Rehab Center. "Your mother is here to get better," a strange woman told me by phone in a chirpy voice. I panicked that "here" was jail or the morgue and that "better" meant without me.

But "here" turned out to be a place as cheerful and lively as our apartment was dark and cramped. At George Street, you could have as many grilled cheese sandwiches as you could make in the bright kitchen, and could smoke cigarettes. Adults even shared rooms just like kids at a sleepover. Sure, it was hard to grow accustomed to my mother being gone for that long. Sure, I didn't like the chirpy woman's certainty that my mom would get better with them. Why couldn't she get better with me? Well, that was part of the deal, see. The lady didn't offer me any Our Father, she didn't promise that my mom would get cookies, or that someone would hold her hand and say "Hi Flossie" when she introduced herself. The program that promised Great Changes didn't offer any to me.

For my first visit, my father bought me a frilly satin dress and black patent leather Mary Janes. We purchased the biggest bouquet of flowers I could persuade him to buy for her. He seemed irritated that she was there, as if he didn't really think she had a problem. Perhaps she cried; maybe I did.

For the second visit, I discarded the stiff Mary Janes for practical Keds. Surely my father didn't refuse to drive me the 15 minutes there. It must have been some kind of impatience of my own 10-year-old mind, some determination that I could not and would not wait until Dad had - finished pulling weeds? Taking a nap? Fixing his car? I just remember the walking, the seriousness of that hourlong trek. I was going to see my mom. It had to be serious. Else, why would one's mother have to leave for a month? I wanted her to be back, so we could go to more meetings and resume the way it was.

I knew all of San Rafael because I'd grown up in it. I had a map inside my head and I trusted my feet, one in front of the other, the backs of my Keds' sneakers rubbing little red sores into my heels.

I said to myself, like a mantra - Our Father, Who Art in Heaven. Hallowed Be Thy Name. And suddenly, after an endless journey of walking, worried that I wouldn't make it, Our Father Himself, whatever or whomever he was, seemed to be there, not cupping me, but pressing his palms against my back, helping me back to her.



At 3:13 PM, Blogger J said...

Brutally magnificent.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Thanks :) Sure is more fun to write about the past than it was to live it.


At 6:43 AM, Blogger Ms. Lori said...

Oh, that last line...That last line!

You knock me out, Ms. Jordan.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Thanks, Lori!



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