Friday, November 12, 2010

Rescuing the Child in Me from Second Hand Hugs

written by Stephie Goldfish
I’ve always felt this yearning to be hugged by my mother; to be hugged in such a way that is reciprocal to my kind of hugs; a feeling of not wanting to let go. I know that when I was a young girl, I adored my mother. In pictures of me with her up until about the third grade, I see a young child latched on to her mother wanting her to have that much affection for me. I can remember about the time I began to feel rejection from my mother.
A memory about my mother that I’ve never forgotten is one summer day when my twin sister and I were in-between second and third grades. We all had been invited to go swimming at the pool of my mother’s latest boyfriend’s home. I remember watching my mother stand in front of the mirror getting dressed, putting on her make-up, and fixing her hair. I was right next to her, admiring her. I was in awe of her.
On this day, I sensed she was happy, and I asked her a question in all sincerity, not meaning to hurt her feelings or be nosy or judgmental. I was curious and didn’t know my question would produce the results it did and I was only about seven or eight years old. I asked, “Did you sleep with him?” I guess it took my mother off guard, and she may have taken my question wrong, and maybe it wasn’t a question an eight year old asks her mother. But she slapped me in the mouth with the back of her hand. The shock of this hurt me more than the actual physical hit, but I began to cry and more on the inside than out. I had felt betrayed by her. I had always sought out her love before this happened.
My mother was so beautiful to me. And I think from a young age I began feeling her emotional pain. When she was happy, I was happy. When she was sad, I was so sad. My mother used to work in the evenings as a bartender and waitress when we were young, and she wouldn’t be home until three or four in the morning. One night, I woke up and went to look for her. I was in about the first grade. She was lying out in the living room where the stereo was and was lying on the floor asleep with the head phones on. She was also wrapped up in her fur coat. I tried to wake her, to tell her I love her, but she was dead to the world. I slipped off the head phones and put them to my ears and an album by The Carpenters was playing a very sad song, and I laid there next to my mom and I cried. I sensed my mother’s pain and her longing to be loved.
My twin sister and I are the youngest of five children and we are from a different father than our two older brothers and older sister. There is about an 8 ½ to 11 year age gap between us. By the time my sister and I were born, my mother had been married and divorced to their dad twice. And she was in her third marriage to another man who was not our natural father and whom my twin sister and I have never met our entire lives. Our mom had fallen in love with our natural father, right after she got married, but he abandoned our mom and us.
Recently, headed on a road trip back home to West Virginia, I confided to my sister that I was longing to be embraced by my mother, longing for her attention and affection. This led us into a deep discussion, and on the way there we decided to turn around. Lately, when we’ve gotten to my mother’s home, my sister and I end up leaving once we’ve arrived. I see the futility of running to someone who isn’t there for me emotionally, as well as physically. My mother likes to smoke, and I feel I can’t put myself in harm’s way especially because of the fact that I have a serious congenital heart and lung problem. And the fact that I use oxygen and a breathing nebulizer, it’s medically advisable not to be around a smoke filled house, to say the least. So, on this past trip, we turned around eighty miles into the 350 mile trip. My sister and I got really sad, knowing how things were growing up and how it is today.
One might say, well, grow up—get over it, and forgive and get on with my life. And I’ve been told that my mother is sick herself and will never be able to respond in the way that I need her or wish her to. I accept that as a reality, and I feel I can no longer bring myself into her presence because of the emotional absence and neglect.
In a high school graduation group photo that my sister and I ran across, we both noticed how my mother is hugging my twin sister, and I am far off to the edge of the group. I look back on this and sense an emptiness that was always present, yet not fully made aware. The longing and hungering is a constant.
I know that I was not as bad off as a child in another third world country. As far as physical needs, we had food, shelter, and clothing most of the time, although our lives were extremely chaotic and we moved around a lot. My twin sister and I attended sixteen different schools from first grade through twelfth grade. And, as twins often do, we developed a close bond, but we basically became each other’s mother, because our mother was so absent emotionally and physically.
When we lived in Los Angeles, in the fifth grade, by then it was normal for us to get ourselves up on our own, go to the corner deli for candy or gum (if we had some change), and walk by ourselves about two miles to school, crossing major highways and streets. Our mother, as usual, would be passed out on the couch when we left in the morning and when we’d come home. I wonder to this day how we survived, but even as time went on, the absence became greater, and now it’s reaping the effects. My mother had been on about 100 valiums a month during that time in L.A., and I’m surprised she was even functioning at all.
It seemed, though, the closer we’d get to finding out about my heart problem, we’d leave and move again. In L.A., I would have severe nose bleeds for hours. It took hours to get an ambulance, so sometimes we’d have to take a taxi to the Emergency Room. But ER’s are known for just treating the emergency at hand. But I still don’t know how my illness went by the wayside. Once, my teacher sent a note home to my mother, after I’d passed out running less than one lap around the track field. So, even this was overlooked. And we moved again.
I was 17 years old and getting ready to graduate from high school that finally something about my heart was discovered. It was during a routine physical exam, and it was only then that my mother and I showed the doctor that my nails and lips turned a deep cyan. But I remember as early as in seventh grade—when we’d have to walk to our classes—a friend of mine noticed my nails and asked why they were so blue. I had no idea. I knew that I’d always get short of breath walking, taking the stairs, or having to run laps.
When I look back on my baby photos, feelings overwhelm me of the neglect from my mother. Didn’t she notice I was always blue, lagging behind in growth, and having trouble keeping up with the other kids? Didn’t she even notice I was a foot shorter than my twin sister at various times throughout our growing up years?  And this question really gets me down: Why wouldn’t she have tried to stop a photo shoot of me crying and somehow try to calm me down a little? But as a child, I thought that everything was normal.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Would You Do?

written by Stephie Goldfish

What would you do if the skyline suddenly changed?
          Would you search for greener pastures?
What would you want if you felt lost in a crowd of millions? 
     Would you hope to be found?
What would you believe when no one else can match your gentle bedside manners?

                Would you care that no one has?

What would you say if I’d said I’d fallen in love with you?

      Would you have told me the same?

What would you hear if you’d been told what I’d just been told?

Would you remain silent?

What would you decide with your heart caught between that Carolina moon and New York City?

                Would you choose to fall in love again?

What would you do? Don't you know?

I was the first to say goodbye, because I couldn’t bear to see you grow old, get sick, and die.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On Empty

written by Stephie Goldfish

At day break, light gradually spills into the room and beckons me to begin yet another day. Today, I am thankful. I pull back the long blinds from the two sliding glass doors in my living room and dining area. I pull open the plantation blinds hanging from my bedroom window to see a beautifully filled clear blue sky, with no hovering clouds in any direction.

So many ways this day can be spent: filling my day creating a work of art—a painting or drawing; filling my day helping someone or volunteering; filling my day working on that book of short stories or screenplays that I am writing.

I empty the sink of dirty dishes that have been sitting in the sink for a day, and fill up the dishwasher with the dishes I just emptied from the sink. I fill the coffee filter with fresh coffee grinds and fill up the coffee pot with distilled water. I begin filling up the bathtub with hot water to take a bath, and fill up the washer with a load of clothes. Then fill up my favorite cup with coffee and soy milk.

And my day continues into this seemingly endless string of emptying-and-filling tasks:

Emptying the washer

Filling up the dryer

Emptying the dishwasher

Filling up my cat’s dishes with fresh food and water

Emptying out and cleaning the cat litter box

Filling the cat litter box with fresh cat litter

In between doing all these tasks, I am checking my BlackBerry: checking for emails, checking twitter updates, “liking” someone’s status or comments on Facebook. Then I realize that my voice mail box is full of messages so I empty some of them out. Yes, I know. To have 45 saved and undeleted messages may be a little insane, but I keep them and listen to them just to get caught up in nostalgia, until I finally relinquish someone’s message into oblivion.

I go to the grocery store and fill up a grocery cart full of food and at the cash register empty out my purse to find my checkbook that I thought I had lost. I empty out the grocery cart and fill up the trunk with the food I just bought. And when I reach home I empty out the trunk and fill up the refrigerator. As I’m preparing tacos, I fill my mouth with fresh strawberries and raw walnuts.

And by the time I sit down to fill up with tacos, I realize that all I accomplished today was that I emptied out my bank account and now the gas tank “empty” light is on.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Poems Written at Maya Stein's Tour de Word Workshop in Asheville, NC

After settling in from the drive from Raleigh to Asheville, and after being taken aback from the breathtaking view only moments earlier, I sensed I was before artists who were serious about writing and who share a love for poetry. About ten of us were there at Maya Stein's Tour de Word workshop in Asheville, and below are the poems I wrote that Maya prompted us with.
"Little Moments" Prompt--This prompt evolved from writing on sticky notes little moments that we remembered from the past year, month, or day:

Raspberry Colored Leaves
written by Stephie Goldfish
Quiet heart that settles down after a long
drive where harsh words spoken along bumpy
roads of racing cars and fast beating hearts,
calmed by the view of bright raspberry colored
leaves on a tree as we entered Asheville up on
a hill that reminds me of a park drive in my home
town that winds around distinctly situated and
procured houses. Welcomed by a yellow mailbox
and a room full of poetry writers, I should be anxious
and yet I’m not. I feel among those where I belong.

“Substitutes” Prompt--We were to bring or think of a food item that we either love or hate, and then to think how we substitute this in our lives.

Peanut M&Ms
written by Stephie Goldfish
Edna would bring the daily peanut M&Ms. Throw a bag to
each of us. I often wondered why I still had half a bag left
while my twin sister’s would be already gone. But I know the
secret of savoring each one. The candy coated layer melts and
shades my tongue a bright red, yellow, green or orange.
They didn’t have the blue ones then, but I was blue anyway.
When my nails are painted a candy apple red, my older sister
says, “They look like peanut M&Ms.” And, after the coat of red,
yellow, brown, and blue are gone, I’m left savoring the milk
chocolate until it uncovers a crunchy toasted nut.
That’s the way I eat my M&Ms, which brings some comfort
in a world where everything seems like there will be no end
to chaotic and unsettled lives.

“First Love” Prompt--First love is kind of obvious.

Journal Club
written by Stephie Goldfish
In the 6th grade journal club is where she found
her first love, but reading stories from the Herald-
Dispatch wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t
like The New York Times. So back to Art Club where
they thought she’d be better off.
She knew someday she’d venture into this writing
life—free afternoons sipping decaf café con leches
at Nueva Victoria, reading the headlines of The Daily
News, and watching and observing millions of stories
pass by outside on the streets.

"Contrasting Poem / Object Poem" Prompt--This prompt was to be a contrasting of thoughts and ideas regarding a clothing item that we also brought with us that we love or hate.

That Pink J Lo Coat
written by Stephie Goldfish
It’s not about driving 600 miles in a nor'easter
just so I can see you for the last time. It’s not
about the last six years we’ve spent having a
home and someone to come home to. It’s not
about the way your smile tilts downward on one
side in a shyish way that says something’s up. It’s
not about a three room flat on the Upper East Side
that I want to keep because a flat in NYC is so hard
to come by. It’s not about whether you and I will be
spending the rest of our lives together. It’s not about
these divorce papers I just signed.
Yes! It’s about that pink J Lo coat I just bought.

"Title of a Poem, Short Story, or Novel" Prompt--In this prompt we wrote a title of a poem, short story, or novel on a sticky note and then passed it to our right, and we wrote a poem with the selected title. The title I received was taken from the book titled Five Quarters of the Orange

Five Quarters of the Orange
written by Stephie Goldfish
Five quarters of the orange is all I ate
that day because Dr. Zins said to eat
everything in half.
Like in Jeremiah where he was told to
eat in portions. I ate all my vegetables
though. I was hungry and starved and
to have that NY slice of pizza that Kim
brought me. But Dr. Zins declared, “Stephanie,
I’m surprised! You know that’s not good for you.”
So five quarters of the orange is all I ate.

Lost Highways & Living Rooms is a compilation of writing created from Maya Stein's "Tour de Word" workshops in the fall of 2010, as well as contributions from readers of her ongoing 10-line Tuesday weekly poetry newsletter. The two-month tour took Maya on a circumnavigational trip around the United States and parts of Ontario, where she facilitated nearly 30 workshops for children, teens, and adults. Lost Highways & Living Rooms features poetry, fiction, and non-fiction from more than 60 contributors ages 8-80.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dr. Else Goldstein: The Good Woman

written by Stephie Goldfish

In the spring of 1991, at the ripe old age of 26 and 1/2, my life was falling apart, symbolically speaking. The words that follow cannot even compare to all the feelings that spring up when speaking about her, Else, but her patience with me through twelve years of therapy with her is how I would define the nature of a good woman.

She is my mother
She is like my mother
She is not my mother

Will I ever see her again?

She is not dying.
She is retiring.
Or is she dying?
It feels like she is dying!

I am dying inside over the loss it will be to not see her as often as I did over those 12 years.

In 2002 Else had sadly told me she had cancer,
"What type?" I asked.
She asked, "As opposed to what type?"
I guessed, "Leukemia?"
She bluntly replied, "I have Breast Cancer!"

Pausing...taking in that information...I started to cry, and so did she.

Life, I thought, would not be...without her...Else.

She walks with confidence. But, mostly talks and listens with wisdom. Pearls of wisdom. She even taught me how to eat swine! And not feel guilt. She taught me how to eat lox and cream cheese on an "everything" bagel, please! A jewish tradition.

She introduced me to Otto Dix, a German Expressionist painter, who painted Else's father, Dr. Mayer-Hermann, in 1926. The painting is now a part of the permanent collection of the MoMA:

the eyes,
the nose,
and those ruby lips.

Else helped me deal with reality, even in my states of insanity. She helped me through periods of depression. She made my sad days happy.

Once, Else gave me the coat off her back when I had gone to see her one early, bright, cool spring day in April 1992, the day after being released from the hospital, wearing a white linen dress suit with no blouse or bra, the jacket was not buttoned either, except I wore a string of pearls. I had lost so much weight after getting Salmonella food poisoning, which one doctor had first diagnosed as Typhoid Fever. During this week, one patient in my room had been double amputated at the ankles — she would never walk again. I symbolically identified with the woman, because back in 1988 I had had two ectopic pregnancies (or tubal-ligations), a metaphor of losing my "feet". No child would I ever bear having tiny feet to run or walk. After seeing me in this New York State of Mind, I was readmitted to the hospital for another three weeks to face more demons. Else made me see that the women in my life will continue having children, and inserted, "Children do grow up, you know!"

And, Breasts of women — another symbol of the life a mother or woman gives.

Else had been battling breast cancer for two years before she retired in 2003. I do not know if she was in remission. Should've I asked? Or did I want to know the answer?

Losing hair, wearing wigs, getting shingles, having chemo and radiation, having radical surgeries, Else showed me the strength of a woman. Through all this, she was still there for me, to help solve my petty little problems they now seem, but never once did she belittle me.

Her words of wisdom have stood the test of time, as I savored every minute that went by speaking and talking with her over my major issues, but to her simple ruffles of life that needed ironed.

I asked her if she would be at my next wedding, if I ever remarried, and she said, "You bet," and pragmatically added, "Only if it is in New York." I regret that I did not invite her, because I went and got married without her knowing. I was so foolish.

We talked of my mother at times. And through all my difficulties in life and feelings I have towards my mother — good, bad, happy, and sad — Else always made me remember that my mother did the best she could with the circumstances she was dealt. And all "that" is the past, and now is the "present", so Move On, as Barbra Streisand sings in her Back to Broadway CD.

Coincidences seem eternal since I have known this woman — Else:

I ran into her on the Upper West Side as she was walking along Broadway doing some shopping. We smiled in acknowledgment. I was with two friends, and she was with her soul mate. It was the winter of 1993.

I ran into her and her soul mate again on the Upper West Side at Nueva Victoria sipping decaf cafe con leches, which she later called dessert. Seeing her I exclaimed, "Else, what a small world!" It was the early fall of 1995.

Running to catch a 5th Avenue bus, I stumbled up the stairs, cursing under my breath, and there she sat, calmly reading The New York Times, which she always promised me a subscription to, so that I would be in the know. It was a hot summer day in 2000.

I ran into her in the spring of 2002 in the 34th Street subway exit to Macy's. She was again with her soul mate, but she was tired and resting on a bench. She didn't see me, but I saw them go to the Macy's Flower Show.

Something was wrong, but I didn't know.

It has been since the spring of 2003 when I saw her last, and now spring 2010 has come and gone. Why did it have to end?

Else calmed my anxieties and soothed my pain as we talked of dying, both facing death. She longed for twenty more years — I thought I just wanted five or ten!

She may not live to see those twenty years, but I pray to God that if she has gone I will see her again.

Else helped me grow up, not just to womanhood, but also to adulthood, a world that is filled with happy moments, sad moments, difficult times, easy times, some angry times, some fun times, a world filled with sometimes-happy people, sometimes-sad people, some difficult people, easygoing people, angry people, a world that is filled with war, and sometimes peace.

Else once told me that friends are precious, and I introduced her as my friend one time. She was curious of my introduction at the time. But, Else has been more to me than a doctor; she truly has been my "friend".

Through this woman's patience with me, I learned to be a more patient woman, which to me is the best attribute a woman can have.