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May 18, 1984 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

26

Friday, May 18, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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Mysterious obsession

Continued from preceding page

hands. "I said. It stinks in there!"
"What?"
You don't care, you don't notice
anything!"
Mom fled the table, wrenched a
coat from the hall closet and rushed
out of the apartment, the slam of the
heavy metal-cased black door her
last word.
Her exit proved my Dad right —
that's what I read in the self-
consciously satisfied way he finished
his dinner and washed all the dishes.
Each one he stacked seemed to me a
smug "I don't need you" to Mom. But
she would probably come back from
her walk or flight to a neighbor's —
wherever she'd gone — and not pay
attention.
Because I never confided about
my parents to anyone — partly, I
think, to protect their past and their
pain — that night's incident regis-
tered inside of me but wasn't con-
nected to anything else. I didn't im-
agine myself discussing, analyzing,
recreating; I simply went to my room
and tried to study.
What would my room have told
you about me? All the paperbacks
were alphabetized by author and sub-
ject, so were the albums. The rug was
always spotless and the pictures
paralleled one another on the sky-
blue walls: landscapes, mostly, from
Carot to Seurat, stillness and trees.
Blue predominated that room I
thought was cool and ordered, but
now I wonder. I was an attempt at
control, a bastion, a room that failed
because it summoned its opposite —
chaos — unintentionally.

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hat upset me most af-
ter Mom's accident was
the new perfume she
bought. Small and almost dainty-
looking, Mom had always used unob-
trusive scents, but suddenly she had
all the brashness of a gleaming
cosmetics counter in a department
store. The laundry, the gaping win-
dows, the air filter seemed somehow
a part of the heavy-smelling perfume
that almost made me dizzy.
I was worried.
Mom seemed unable to concen-
trate on her teaching, was taking lots
of baths, where before she'd preferred
showers; she stayed up after Dad was
asleep, sitting in the living room,
smoking. It was that — the picture of
her sitting in the darkness with a
tiny red flare, and the perfume —
that pushed me from my comfort and
reserve. One December night, before
Chanukah, I rose from my bed, slip-
ped on my robe and went out to her.
"Mom?"
"What?" Her voice was hoarse
and unfamiliar.
Are you okay?" My eyes began
to find her in the dark.
"Why shouldn't I be?"
"That sounds like Dad."
I think she chuckled.
"Mom? Can I sit with you?" I felt
like a little kid.

She patted the couch and I
moved across the shadowy strange
room where everything was blurred
or invisible in the night.
You never talked about the ac-
cident," I began, surprising myself.
"No."
"Why not?"
In the silence, she stubbed out
her cigarette. I saw her pale pale
hand, saw more of her. She sat head
down, legs crossed in her grey wool
robe.
"I didn't miss the light. I saw it.
But I wanted to kill the man crossing
the street."
I asked who.
"A camp guard. The one who kil-
led my brother. He's here, some-
where in Queens. A German. He
pushed Stefan into a latrine pit — "
Her voice was electric. I didn't move.
I'd never been told how Stefan died.
You saw him?"
"I heard it. And then last month,
he was here, in Queens, crossing a
little street, thin, still pretty the way
they were. I went through the light to
kill him. I shouted and he knew. He
ran back. That's when I hit the light
pole."
"Nobody saw?"
"No. It was empty."
I shuddered. "Are you sure
he —"
"You don't forget."
There in the room that seemed
darker than any I ever known, the
terrible sick past threatened to swal-
low me up. I felt I could go crazy, I
wanted to, wanted to surrender fi-
nally to the madness, to purify my-
self, to drown out all the voices and
the noise — but Mom kept talking
and that saved me.
"You don't know what it was
like, Frank. The filth, the piles and
piles, worse than death. The smell."
She started to cry, hesitantly.
It came back. The smell. And
now it's on me," she stumbled.
"No." "It's on me. I can't take it
off —" And those hopeless words
broke through the night. I reached to
hold her and for the first time in my
life, Mom cried in my arms, heavily,
with the desperation of an aban-
doned child. I was terrified.
When she stopped at last, I
brought her tissues.
She asked, You think I should
see a doctor?" "Yes."
"Will you help me find one?"
I squeezed her hand. "Sure."
"Don't say anything to Dad. Not
yet. He hasn't mentioned the war for
years. And he thinks doctors are
crazy. Maybe they have to be."
I didn't ask if the smell was still
with her.
"There's so much," she said
softly. "So much to tell."
"I'll help you," I said, not know-
ing how or when — only wanting to so
much.
"You know," she said as if sur-
prised. "You're a good son."
It was my turn to cry.

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