Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A map

Here is the entrance to our bike ride: a small parking lot, there’s always a Mercedes parked here, the same Mercedes, an old sedan in that color somewhere between green and brown the color of an assured sense of never failing. Except one time it’s actually for sale, for sale at a low price that assured sense and I try to convince my father.

The park, there must be something pretty about the park I just remember trying to stay on the bike path, not to hit anyone or get hit, not to fly off bridges. Maybe the trees, the trees and the light, the trees and the light and the air yes sometimes the air when we went fast or slow and I wasn’t just trying to catch up he wasn’t yelling at me to catch up or something, yelling at me for something, nothing and one time I fell, fell and hit my head and we went to the hospital and I needed stitches and after that I wore a helmet, we wore helmets, and then there wasn’t any air anymore. If there was air before, because now there was more sweat and I hated sweat almost as much as my father screaming. And we would stop at the field, the field where my father would yell at me to throw, throw like a boy, throw.

There were other people there, maybe even other people yelling, and oh that’s right the fall leaves sometimes the fall leaves, especially when they would close the street on special occasions but that was scary because we had to go through the open street to get to the closed street and all the cars on the way. Here’s my father, in a picture, Europe and his arm is around my mother, his body completely taut, shirt neither tight nor loose. He looks like what they said Jews look like, dark curly hair, thick beard, the nose, we can’t see his eyes because of the sunglasses, it’s a good thing we can’t see his eyes, except. Except his eyes.

He looks like what they say psychiatrists look like, dark curly hair, thick beard, his eyes we can’t see them but we are not his patients. He will see his patients. We will see his eyes.

But here’s a picture of my father, arm around my mother, this is rare that’s how you know it’s Europe, except wait -- 1985? Did we go to Europe in 1985? That sounds too early, except here I am on Lake Geneva at least I think this is Lake Geneva and it’s 1987. Lake Geneva would’ve been our second trip to Europe, even though I didn’t think we went to Europe until high school, high school started in 1987. I don’t know if these dates matter, but they matter in my head, like when I look at that picture where I’m standing in front of the tiled wall in Mexico, the one where I almost look tough, but then if we went to Europe in 1987 then maybe this isn’t Mexico at all. Mexico was supposed to be a test run, a test run to see if we could go to Europe.

Here’s my mother in the picture, her hair rising above the her head with those big curls, blonde, she’s the pale one, the one they always say I look like. It’s just our skin tone, blue or green eyes. They say my sister looks like my father, the olive skin, dark eyes. Of course my mother’s hair is bleached, she’s learned to look Jewish but not too Jewish, a different upbringing than my father. She is not a psychiatrist.

In the way that upward mobility works, my sister and I are almost a different class I mean not in the picture but in our heads, even our hair grows straight, my sister’s is wavy but you can barely tell, and we know there will never be a grandmother living in our house. In the way that our parents are fleeing their parents without fleeing, there will rarely even be a grandmother in our house. It’s strange that my mother is holding a map because she didn’t like maps but here she is with this map and my father’s arm around her, she’s kind of smiling, but why is his hand reaching around to grab her hand her hand looks caught? I mean doesn’t that seem awkward, his hand around her neck and then pulling her hand up his hand is holding tight no not holding this is a grip they’re posing for the camera and there’s my sister in the corner, smiling also oh wait they’re all smiling for me. That’s me, up ahead. Smile, smile for me.

I wonder if moving away from Jewishness was a part of this transition, this transition I’m mapping. As a kid it was something I could escape to, a history of resistance and longing -- if you take this picture of me from 1985, just before my bar mitzvah, I do fit, especially with the same glasses as my father, and the same straight barbershop line for my bangs as my sister. Except for all the fear, there’s almost nothing but fear except in this one picture, the one with my books behind me, a red sweater, there I look like a young intellectual with skin so pale I’m almost whiter than the walls behind me, paler than my mother’s skin because there are no freckles on my face. After my bar mitzvah, I rejected God, rejected God and my parents and I decided that if I was rejecting God, then what made me Jewish? I didn’t know enough about history to know that this was Jewish, a Jewish history, I just knew that my parents’ Jewishness was only about status camouflaging violence. So if you look at me on Lake Geneva, or in front of this tiled wall or an unidentified European window, chin up and eyes looking into the distance I don’t look like I belong to them at all.

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