Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Mommy died on April 16, 1986. The hospital called my uncle to tell him that she had taken a turn for the worse and perhaps we should come in to speak to her doctors. A turn for the worse? She'd already spent a week in the intensive care unit, had tubes running in and out of her, been robbed of her speech-oh that was the worst, being unable to speak! She'd yanked the tube out of her throat once too often and the nurses had tied her arms to the bed- and the use of her limbs. So what could be worse than that?

I had spoken to the nursing staff before I'd left for work that ordinary Wednesday morning, like any other Wednesday morning: "No change." What could have happened in the seventy minutes from when I locked my front door until I sat down and changed from sneakers to pumps? What?

Everything changes in the blink of an eye.

A child is conceived.

A person falls in love.

A truth is revealed.

A woman dies.

But that is all neither here nor there because tonight I want to talk about what happened sixty day later, twice sheloshim.

Sheloshim is the first thirty days of mourning. At the end of the month of mourning, the bereaved are allowed to wear regular clothes, uncover their mirrors and return to life, or the end of the world, as they know it, and are expected to function, to be okay with things, be normal.

I am expected to function and to be okay with things. But I know I'm not, I know that I am filled with slivers of glass. Twenty years in the future in a time and place where life appears normal, the bottom of my foot will be shards and I will leave a trail of blood, but I don't know that. I look into a shattered mirror and see nothing.

No one looks past the mirror, past the teeth of a shredder.

Sixty days and Jeff was admitted to Mt. Sinai for the first of many stays, the beginning of a too long, too short period of dying, pain and funeral planning.

I begin to count on June 16, 1986, like the counting of the Omer, long hot summer followed by a wet fall. David and Jeff went to the high holiday services at a temple near their home. We didn't have a regular temple, didn't have a congregation to support us for good or ill, a spiritual home where we could pad around in our slippers and drink tea with honey while analyzing the meaning of the letter ‘bet' in a particular word and why god chose to pass this cup of bitter to our lips.

Jeff carried the prayer book which had been given to him for his twenty-first birthday and had his name embossed on the cover in gilt lettering. Although his grandfather or maybe it was his great-grandfather, had been a rabbi or at least a big-macher in the reform movement, no one remembers the truth of family legends, Jeff was the product of a mixed marriage and not ritually observant. I have always numbered him among the holy thirty-six, but what do I know anyway?

He and David were reveling in exploring their Jewish roots and their new found spirituality. They shared Jeff's prayer book that year, the first time my brother had gone to services in his adult life, and struggled through the Hebrew together.

A year later, while Jeff drifted in and out of consciousness, David read the services to him and the minyan of friends who stood at his bedside in that small room at Mt. Sinai, or so I was told later.

When I spoke to them, to Jeff for the last time, from Hong Kong, I asked if they would meet me at the airport when I returned in a few days. Jeff replied, "I don't know. I can't predict what will be tomorrow, let alone a week from now. Little Sister, everything changes in the blink of an eye. You, more than anyone, know that."

Yes. Yes, it does.

In the blink of an eye, David read the services to Jeff, read them despite his inability to read Hebrew, read them as Jeff struggled to breathe, read them as Erica steeled herself not to cry, read them as Brian punched his fist through the wall, read them as Jews all over the world prayed for forgiveness, for repentance, prayer and charity to temper judgment's severe decree, and by the time the blink was finished, he was gone.

The next year, David carried Jeff's book to BHS, the home we'd found on Remsen Street, the congregation that adopted us and became our place of peace, took us in as we merged until we didn't know where one of us started and the other one ended, Meanddavid.

But that is still another story, the story of the lost years and I cannot bear to revisit it.

David carried it every year and let me hold it now and then. He'd hold Lizz and I'd hold Jeff's book open so we both could read.

When he died, I looked for Jeff's book with all of David's other prayer books, his tefillin, the collection of kippas, in the buffet in his dining room behind the left door. It wasn't there.

I looked in the bedroom.

I looked in the bookcases.

I looked in the garage.

I looked in the cars, woodshop, office, parlor, behind the wood stoves, under the loose tiles, above the kitchen cabinets, on the shelf in the closet where the cats slept, in the pockets of his jackets, under the mattress.

It wasn't there.

I sat on the floor in the dining room. "David, you need it? You need it so bad you took it with you? You're with Jeff now, you need his book, too? You're with your bashert, you couldn't leave me the book? You left me all the drek to deal with, the house of cards fell down, but you couldn't leave me the book. Fuck you, David."

He didn't answer. Not answering is also an answer.

I nodded, got up from the floor and went about my business. What choice did I have? At services, I used one of the books from the piles of books stacked all around the sanctuary. Every year when I took a book from the pile, I thought of Jeff's book and resented my brother for taking it, resented him for standing next to me, telling me things I knew, what I had to do or not do, to live my life without regrets or guilt, but not sharing the book. Being dead gives one a kind of omniscience or perhaps it changes one into an obnoxious know-it-all. I'm not sure which and who am I to judge anyway? Every year I did this, but I continued to search, moving furniture, emptying closets, cupboards, shelves of life. I enlisted all my friends in the search as we dismantled David, but it never turned up.

We contracted to sell David's house about five years after he died. All the furniture was gone, the cars, tools and supplies. All that was left was a folding table and three chairs, where we'd sat boxing up the last few things. I clicked the remote and opened the garage, looked around. I'd lost my brother and I'd lost a child and I'd lost years of my life. Gone. The echoes of sunlight were swallowed by this cave I'd wandered for so long, tripping over stalagmites of Stickley tables and knocked in the head by stalactites of log rules.

I sighed, walked to the table, stopped.

In the middle of the table was Jeff's book.

I reached out, touched it with a fingertip to see if it was real. Pulled my cell from my purse, dialed.

"Richie, did you find Jeff's book?"

"Stephen, did you find Jeff's book?"

"Harrison, Antoine, Micheal?"

No. No. No.

"Honey, Jeff's book is here."

"What do you mean? David took it."

"It's here. On the folding table."

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

My husband pulled into the garage and got out of the car, walked over to me. Reached out and touched the book with a fingertip to see if it was real.

"Feels real."

"Did you....."

"No. I would have called you or brought it home. I wouldn't have pulled a stunt like this."


"I dunno, hon. I dunno. Maybe David decided he doesn't need it any longer."

"Or maybe that I need it more than he does since we're..."

"He passed it on."


"How? How do we know? Do we really want to know? Do we?"

We stood there, staring at the book, for bit longer. I picked it up and put it on the passenger seat of my car. We backed out of the garage and drove home.

Every year I carry Jeff's book, the book he received for his twenty-first birthday, the red "Gates of Repentance" embossed with his name.

Jeffrey H. Glidden.

I never did find out what the "H" stood for

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