voices in my head

Rafe dressed as the Cat in the Hat. Jude was a football player. Ayden was a giant banana. And Gabriella was the color Pink.

This past Sunday was Purim. Gabriella answered the doorbell all day long, tutus swishing, screaming with excitement as her friends climbed over 26-inch drifts of snow in front of the house dressed as vampires, or kitty cats, or superheros. Graciously, she received their shaloch manot, and graciously, she handed gift bags back to them. The floor was swept. The bathroom was cleaned. Apple Martinis made their appearance. Dad snoozed at the table. We puzzled over which Chinese dishes to order for the Seudah.

This is our first Purim without Mom. I keep reaching for the box of hamentaschen that she sends every year–triangular cookies filled with strawberry, prune, or apricot jam–to put into the shalach manot bags. It is a jolt to find that the box isn’t there.

For the Seudah, the holiday feast, we successfully pulled together a menu that encompassed vegetarians, people who couldn’t have salt, a diabetic, and someone who doesn’t like Chinese food. Cousins came. Dressed in rainbow clown wigs, they undulated on the new Wii Outdoor Challenge game along with the rest of the kids. We asked Dad about Purim in the Old Country. My brother the ER doctor wandered upstairs and fell asleep. The dog got out and didn’t want to come back in until we bribed him with dumplings. I managed to feed the rabbits in the hutches outside without falling down the stairs on the deck. We ate too much. We drank too much. We mocked the vegetarians. We laughed a lot. Any other year, it would have been a perfect Purim.

After it was over, I ignored the kitchen stacked with dirty dishes. The dishes would still be there tomorrow. I went upstairs to write. I’ve been working on the same short story for six weeks, and it refuses to let me finish. The characters have taken on lives of their own by now, and it’s slow going. I want to gallop through to the ending, but they look at me reproachfully and tell me they need more time.

The story is on my mind all day long. It writes itself as I sweep and clean, solving its own internal problems as I start up the car, pick up the kids, make phone calls, wash dishes. Something in my psyche is working in the background all the time, suggesting dialogue and alternate endings. It works the other way, too. There are days I sit hunched over my computer for an entire morning, without producing a single paragraph worth saving.

To write is to fret. Will someone want to read this? Wouldn’t it be better for my family if I just folded laundry and washed the floor? Should I get a real job? Am I wasting my time?

But it is stories that keep us going. We told stories huddled around the fire when we were still cavemen. We told stories to each other when we were exiled from the land of Israel. My family told stories to each other when they were hidden in the bunker. And I am telling stories now.

2 thoughts on “voices in my head

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  1. Helen, this is sad but wonderful. Your account of Purim reminded me of my favorite series as child, All-of-a-Kind Family.

    1. Oh, thank you, Kathleen. I remember that series! I should look for it. As a child of Holocaust survivors living in Chicago, the Lower East Side was as foreign to me as a different country. It would describe my husband’s family pretty well, though. They have home movies taken in 1913.

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