Pliny, the Elder, a Roman naturalist (AD 23-79),
believed Borage, or Starflower, to be an anti-depressant,
and it has long been thought to give
courage and comfort
to the heart.
Suddenly I cannot imagine offering my arm. The German nurse with her V-neck whites, her fair hair and kind smile, or the Hungarian one with frosted hair and the energy of eight of me—I cannot imagine offering them my arm.
I can no longer imagine the tender fold, the choice of veins, the butterfly needle, the intravenous flood; even the easy chair, so comforting with a foot stool and slight recline, the fan on at just the right distance. I can no longer imagine offering myself to any of this. I have eaten their food, and with such gusto, with such delight over the freshness, the taste of gentle cooking, of love actually; the taste of love is in their food, and I have eaten it.
I write this in Greece. Unable to write a sentence in Germany, in Greece words flood.
A warning sign at the local fishing dock has a word in caps with an exclamation mark—perhaps it says STOP! or ATTENTION! –but the alphabet is something I cannot even write with this keyboard and that is okay.
That is all okay. It is okay not to know the Greek language with my tongue, for it not to be pronounceable, for it not to be recognizable, even to my vaguest history.
There is a history beyond my memory.
A history as if in my memory, as if it has permeated…
Do not exit without your key, as this door to the garden locks behind you.
The garden in Germany is beautiful: rosemary, thyme, and oregano grow here, lavender, yellow roses and crimson ones, twisty trees with white flowers, like a German-style dogwood, and fir trees so high they are a dove’s first choice for superiority, the highest high above the yards.
A fountain streams five spouts in a circular arc, and a curvaceous statue stands nearby, seeming content in her nakedness, showing us that we are all too dressed, too covered, less indigenous to the garden than she.
My body receives the word Achtung instantly. It is an involuntary penetration. I flip it away, ignore the way the word shapes inside me, fuses in that biological way: osmosis—passing through cell walls – a textbook picture of passive transport like-it-or-not. Through membrane.
Memory. Membrane. Memory.
Achtung! After this, in the leaden silence, the crowd would hear words that the Scharfuhrer repeated several times a day for month after month: Men are to remain where they are. Women and children must go to the barracks on the left and undress.
I have just read these words in Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory by Chil Rajchman for the first time. But I know these words. I’ve heard these words—we’ve all heard these words—horrible words we had to read in history class. But I’ve never actually seen German words posted on a wall or a sign, a friendly clinic bulletin board, or even a beautiful garden door before, saying something important I should know about getting locked out or the schedule for Pilates class. It was the language of murderers then and of gentle souls now and still, it is chilling.
I’ve come to Germany for a week of treatments because I’ve been inexplicably trembling for years. The clinic and these intravenous infusions are my hope.
Renee Plonski lives across the fence. In our backyard in Cleveland, where five clotheslines dangle across, we bob for marshmallows at every birthday party, our hands behind our backs while we try to bite the bouncing marshmallow hung from the clothesline. It doesn’t strike me until 30 years later when I am rushing to hang marshmallows for my first son’s backyard party, how slow it is to string one marshmallow at a time, especially under the duress of a line-up of 6-year-olds.
- Beyond the clotheslines, hidden in creepy shrubs through which we rarely climb, is a rusted chain-link fence, and on the other side, the Plonskis. Renee’s father shows up in an undershirt, the corrugated type, skin-tight and muscle style, his stocky frame accentuated, his bronzed skin, his never-smiling face. But what I notice at the time and frightens me for reasons I cannot understand, is the inked numbers, the row of numbers on his forearm, on the tender inner skin, numbers amidst the veins, blurry and terrible for no reason. For no reason, but terrible, nonetheless terrible. My mother has died and my body knows terrible, though she – my body – doesn’t yet know that I know.
This terrible is different.
The book’s preface by historian Samuel Moyn seems to hold a gift for me. It is astounding perspective to come upon; a new take offered by this rarest member of the motherless club.
…most atrocious…I think, is Rajchman’s disturbing reflection – offered in passing, but all the more upsetting for that reason – that it was better for him to lose his mother when he was a child than for her to live long enough to descend into a hell she would never have escaped. It is a dismal testament to their destruction of the ordinary moral world that the Nazi’s could make one of the worst imaginable events of any life seem like it had been a fortunate event.
My husband’s plate is full. I see why. I stand at the shiny silver hot box; steam pours from its contents as I cautiously lift the lid. Within it, this bounty, of cauliflower laced with breadcrumbs, buttery, and the cauliflower tender and hot. This is food my British husband cooks at home in Maryland, and they have served it to us here at the health clinic in Germany. This is the food of his childhood; the food his mother made.
His German mother.
I am elated at yet another discovery of overlap. The day before, we were invited to pick wild herbs with the cook and then to witness a cooking demo with these herbs. Borage leaves with their starry blue flowers are chopped with nettle leaves, ribleaf plantago (lamb’s tongue), and mint, then gently simmered in water for a light summer soup. Lion’s mane mushrooms, (bearded hedgehog), with its potential of dementia- and cancer-fighting properties, is a fluffy fungus the cook flattens like a pancake, then dips in egg and breadcrumbs flecked with oregano, salt, baby dandelion, before sautéing in safflower oil and sprigs of borage. Every dish she creates is a wonder: even the deep-green, herb-only salad, with the dressing of lemon, red wine vinegar, safflower oil, and elderflower syrup, is as light and mysterious as it is surely cleansing.
Now, at dinner, the surprise of cauliflower laced with breadcrumbs. The sight of it is home to me, and to open the steamy box and uphold a beach-size rock pile of these is a shocking hit of my husband’s past. He has fed me many a dinner’s worth of breadcrumbs over cauliflower, always a throwback to his mom, to his mom’s cooking. Now we realize this is not resultant of her cordon-bleu training; this is heritage. This is German food she passed forward; these are nettles she also hunted in London’s woods, proudly returning home to make nettle soup for her sons with a loud So! and a proud serving—only to be disappointed by the children’s English-bred refusal to partake or even consider soup made from leaves that could sting her – this was her German childhood shining through. Like her potato salad. Like her beets. Like her parsnips. All these they serve to us at the vegetarian dining hall of the clinic. I stand before the cauliflower laced with breadcrumbs and am overwhelmed, the desire to shout and call all the quiet eaters forward to see – even those from Kuwait draped in clothes so only eyes show, even those from Switzerland and from Italy – Come! See my husband’s source of knowing! Cauliflower with breadcrumbs, the comfort food of his childhood.
Ursula, the cook, comes by to replenish the tray of vegan salamis. I call her to the steam tray. I am grinning like I have just found my lost cat after she’d walked 12 miles across Cleveland and a family read our ad in the Plain Dealer. “My husband cooks this! His mother cooked it for him! His mother was German!”
His mother was German, I say. I am stating the great equalizer. German. Like you. German like Germany, like this clinic, like the doctors, like the nurses and physical therapists and lymph-drainage therapists, and the lab team and administrative staff. Like Martha, and Ulf, and Guter, and Stefan, and…
It is not until I am back in Greece that I recall that our conversation ended only with her smile. Ended with my declaration that his mother was German. To which Ursula smiled and said no other words, nor asked any other question.
In North Carolina, my client has admitted herself into a clinic for eating disorders. She is anorexic to a dangerous degree, and although we made great strides together addressing the trauma of a domestic sexual assault followed shortly after by the death of her dearest friend, her eating disorder, since childhood, has remained powerful. She self-enrolls for her own safety but discovers she will not be allowed to move. By “move” I mean stand, walk, dance. She is not allowed to exercise lying down. She emails me for suggestions of asana that can be done sitting or lying, but then realizes the parameters do not allow these either. I send her mudra, hand gestures that are physical, connective, and satisfying to body, soul, mind, but require no caloric burn. She is not sure she’ll be permitted these and will have to ask if hand gestures can be added to her file. I wonder what this structure is like for her. I wonder how a creative being, who writes and dances with genius, resources the dance within while in stillness. I wonder about this confinement and deprivation, even as I understand the calorie usage they’re avoiding: every calorie accomplished through the hard win of eating and digesting must remain within her and not be stoked. Every calorie must feed and fatten, I understand this, she is emaciated. I wonder at the confinement; the imprisonment of the expressive soul and body. I sense that my client is Jewish. Or half. And part of me wants to free her.
At age 13, my future mother-in-law Amalia—Malli—is sitting at the piano in the living room in the upstairs apartment in Duisburg, near the draped windows. A shot rings out, breaks through the tall windows and misses her. Uniformed “brownshirts” had been occupying the streets and harassing Jews already, smashing picture windows of her parents’ furniture store below. That night, her parents pack a few valuables and leave, in the dark. Leave. Three children left behind.
Exactly what happens next is not clear. Weeks or months after their parents’ escape, Malli, with her younger sister and little Ze’ev, are guided by a hired Dutch citizen to a train to Holland to unite with the parents. On the train, pre-teen Malli is the adult in charge; she tells her siblings to keep their heads down, terrified their identities will be questioned.
We are on a train from Frankfurt through countryside and towns. The train is clean, no conductor passes through to collect tickets. There is a sense of safety and order and the trains are on time within five minutes, making up any difference as they go. High school kids board with backpacks, some with bicycles, and seem the usual congregations of boisterous, playful, contemporary, shy, and concave.
The land becomes green and beautiful. Terraced grape plants grow on steep, straight-up hills to one side, and a river shines brown and full on the other. Hills are lush, houses are sturdy. A few buildings have murals of graffiti along the train route side. Roofs on modest homes are checkered with solar panels.
In history we learned of trains, of caravans of cattle trucks and sealed railroad boxcars stuffed with frightened prisoners, forced into captivity, no water, no restroom; airless travel that turned out to be the easy part, the living part. The train is death, the arrival is death. Rajchman knows this; he tells his sister don’t bother taking her parcel of belongings off the “freight wagon” with her. One of only several who escape the death camp, in hiding Rajchman will write about the voice barking these words, echoing through the square:
ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! Women and children are to remove their footwear on entering the barrack. Stockings are to be put into shoes. The children’s little stockings into their sandals, boots and shoes. Be tidy!
In the clinic town which seems like a suburb, all is both neat and, in set spaces, wild. The woods which seem so tame, with a wide walking path through them, boast a tick on my husband’s leg later; the lavender is a busy landing post for bees. Roses are perfect and fragrant, a cherry tree near a parking lot is resplendent and we stuff ourselves until all ten fingers are bloody with juice; meadows on the other side of the country highway are lime-colored, with varied rake lines of hay or grasses, so that the meadowed hills in the distance form a sewn quilt of lighter and deeper greens like the AIDS quilt spread on the Washington Mall. Everything at the clinic works neatly and there are no poor smells, even though a heat wave hits 98 degrees and there is air conditioning only in the entranceway, leaving four floors of kitchen, treatment rooms, doctor and therapy clinics without AC and only a few fans. Smiles rarely leave the faces of the staff, and only the odd blip occurs, for example when the Swiss doctor is angered that I am four minutes late, speaks gruffly, is sour as he administers the chelation infusion, but by part two he is speaking about the weather, hinting that the heat has aggravated his nerves, and he ardently and repeatedly apologizes later that day and the next.
We shake hands several times; I thank him for his kindness and for humility rarely seen in a U.S. doctor. Still, it is no coincidence that I cancel a final consult, partly because I need the time to pack and do my morning practices, partly because I am not drawn to return to that office, to sit alone in the airless heat across the desk from him to ask him questions. I do have questions, but now I feel queasy and I don’t fancy asking them.
The country is thriving. One sees wealth, ease in that respect, and a system that is the opposite of broken, the opposite of unreliable. The country feels responsible. They are ground creatures, weighted, and a sense of earth, not sea, not sky, pervades. Angela Merkel might be under duress and show signs of the same malady as mine—or worse, her tremors might or might not be benign—but of all current leaders she is one of few who I admire: her attempts to bridge the people of her re-united country, to rectify their history’s stench, to show compassion to refugees and meld them into German society—surely this is the exact opposite of the minority elimination of Hitler’s day. I admire how the woman stands before her country with strength and empathy, vulnerable to mudslinging, poison darts, and terror. How does a nation undo its past, how do they seek remorse? How do they remember but not mire in it? How do they clean where every bone was rid, where every small footprint was covered with sand? How do they move forward with full due to the innocent next generation yet pull the carcass of their past, that burden that should not lift quickly, that should be announced again and again? Since 1952, Germany has paid more than $80 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors. My grandma-in-law, Ima, lived in England on reparations from the German government until she died.
I was raised in the McCarthy era. The FBI came to our door; the files on both my father and my mother were extensive, years long, and hundreds of pages of detail. On page 7, the FBI agent—posed as a mimeograph machine repairman as he swept around the D.C. Progressive Party office in Dupont Circle—recorded plans for their upcoming fundraiser to be headlined by baritone Paul Robeson. My father, present that day, was an activist college kid. Glued onto page 19 of 400 pages of FBI file, was a postcard another agent later stole after rifling through our family’s trash—only proof, it seems, that my grandfather Bill wanted to say hi from Brooklyn. Both my parents were called to testify before the Senate House Un-American Activities Committee, grilled and probed to name names when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of sharing atomic secrets and ultimately executed. It was a U.S. extension of antisemitic Nazi Germany and our own near-loss of two parents—closest friends of ours were jailed. Many HUAC accused were both Jews and activists; many of them were artists. My parents were in the perfect storm, and even in 1967, when we moved from Cleveland to Berkeley, the front page of the Berkeley Gazette greeted us as we came home from our first day of elementary school: Communist Comes to Berkeley.
When I am assaulted by police in the alley of our backyard, I am 60. The police are eventually found to be wrong, including their lie that I assaulted them, but a jail sentence of up to 13 years hangs over me for many weeks after I am released from a night of handcuffs and a shared cell.
It is a dark night with men and women in uniform. Fear; powerlessness; the airless drive, handcuffed and locked in a speeding vehicle going to an unknown location in the dark with an angry cop; thumbprints, mugshots, the cold of jail. While I write this, my husband enters the room to get something, and as he turns the knob, a bag I’d hung on the conjoining knob falls to the floor and the bang of plastic bottles waiting for recycle is explosive. I jump and scream. Such is the edge and forever of this multi-sensory topic: the banging jail cell door. The lock.
While in the cell, a sudden re-play occurs in my head—of words that slipped from my mouth as two cops jumped me. Later, the proof is in a low-tech recording from my son’s videotaping, youth’s use of cell phone that proves invaluable both for freeing his mom from criminal charges, and for the phrase it confirms I spoke:
“For crying out loud,” I said, two cops on my back. “I’m just trying to walk to my son.”
For crying out loud is not a phrase I say; this is not my style of speech even at the most irritated moments of indignation. It is a phrase my father said, however—when he had really had it, when the “arc of the moral universe” had tired him and some thing, possibly some insignificant thing, had put him over the top. It came out of unuttered storage stuffed in the language-hut of my chest. Or my belly. It rose from my gut the way a French poem about a puppet rose when I once drove into Quebec, though I hadn’t uttered that poem since first grade. These digestions, those herbs, that cauliflower, these words—even at the clinic when I participated in the gentle yet oddly disturbing marching in place, (Knees high! Knees high!), led by a physical therapist in noon-time exercise—all these quiet links are the stunning knowledge of history’s drop box stored in the generation that is returning to the earth, and the generation that carries on. Like radiation, it remains, though filtered, fainter. There is “nothing” actual to remember; I wasn’t there—we weren’t there. Yet we remember, we do remember. We frighteningly remember. I check with my sisters because I hear German phrases in my mind that have no outlined spelling, only their rhythm, set and real. Du dumma schwein hunt is one my older sister calls up— you stupid pig hunt. The thread, I don’t know. But the deliverer was my father, the son of American-born parents. He learned odd German phrases overseas in the war, a war of which he later refused to speak. These phrases roll through my head and the rhythms stick to my tongue. I want to google-translate them, but my rendition is too far-fetched to spell. I don’t dare try these pigeon phrases on the Germans around me, and we don’t mention my father’s service in the war. We don’t mention my mother-in-law again after the cauliflower excitement, and we don’t happen to mention to anyone, as my blood is drawn and veins infused with micro-nutrients, that although I don’t identify as such, and although my second mother was Baptist and Grandpa Bill died a Christian Scientist, by birth both my husband and I are Jewish.
I may be trembling less. My husband and I begin to notice this at dinner, and I have noticed it when my arms are stretched wide in Warrior Pose. Tremors began about seven years ago, but no big deal, they were slight, and I was assured by a neurologist that they were benign tremors, not Parkinson’s. The police assault didn’t help, adrenaline and cortisol baited them further. I remember guards taking me out of the cell in handcuffs at 2 a.m. for a second set of thumbprints, the first ones too fuzzy I was shaking so.
One cause of neurological disorders such as trembling is metal toxicity. Suspected is mercury—perhaps from amalgam fillings I had removed in a less than thorough procedure, as years later a different dentist discovered large amalgam flecks. I’m no expert, but the incomplete dislodging of toxic matter seems potentially more chemically active than leaving whole metal alone. My osteopath in Maryland had been to a clinic in California and a clinic in Germany for heavy metal removal—chelation, it’s called—and when I knew I was flying to Europe anyway, it was time. I didn’t trust my local American option of holistic doctors, and to see them for extensive treatment we would’ve had to mortgage our little house. The clinic in Germany was reasonable, and the devoted staff who belong to The Gabriele Foundation—“Original Christians” who believe all people are children of God meant to live in unity, harmonious with animals and nature as inspired by the living prophetess, Gabriele, and in agreement with the Ten Commandments delivered by Moses—created a holistic medical center where clean lodging was 40 euros a night and food was highest quality vegetarian. Sure enough, my lab reports showed mercury levels ten times the point of “tolerance.” I had three sets of infusion treatments and was advised to return. But first, to relax after the all-night travel, I paid 30 euros for a luxurious salt bath, a most peaceful experience, a filled bathtub run with salts and rose oil, but with accompanying music resonating in colored lights along the tub. The bath was drawn by a modest woman who had an unusually radiant smile. I asked her if I could borrow the washcloth during my stay, as there wasn’t one in our room. She said yes. Her name, perhaps coincidentally, was Gabriele.
Esther Perel. The name makes me sit up on the bed. I’ve been lying down between paragraphs to nurse my spasming neck, laying over a rolled towel or doing angel wing arms to release. An amazing osteopathic appointment at the clinic may have been hexed by next-day travel. Our flight had required a 3 a.m. wake-up, and the lugging of an old uncooperative suitcase through a train station and an airport was a torqued battle-dance. For several days I walk robotically, and turning my head requires full torso swivel. I take breaks from writing, and during one of these, staring at the stucco ceiling, the name Esther Perel surfaces out of nowhere.
She is a sex therapist, this is what I know about her. The author of State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Perel normalizes complicated issues of marriage and sex; in an NPR interview two years ago, I was astounded by her belief in the ultimate transformation of a relationship after betrayal. Many affairs will remake a relationship, she says. You can renegotiate the entire thing…There will be post-traumatic stress—and [then] there may be post-traumatic growth. Hearing the interview helped me remain social with our friend George, who I liked so much but blamed for his 2-year secretive marital affair, a betrayal to his (now ex-) wife I’d also liked so much. Renewal is what Perel perceives possible. Renewal: even after the worst transgression has occurred. She has vision that scopes beyond the obvious single hue, to the polychromatic color that is white light. Marriage is complex, and even betrayal is a dance between two people and all their history. From my perspective as a woman, my friend George is the bad guy, my friend his wife, the good guy and the victim. But I want to like George still, I don’t want to lose this couple and this otherwise likeable friend. They separate, and it is a shame—they both suffer for it, emotionally and financially, and from my irrelevant perspective, they should have fought to transcend the fissure, they were so of a kind and body together. I look up Esther Perel, and am most surprised to see the life-teaching that set her on this path, the ultimate transcendence beyond any I have lived, the one I’ve always wondered could I overcome:
My parents Sala Ferlegier and Icek Perel were survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and sole survivors of their respective families. My father had nine siblings, my mother, seven. For four years, my parents stood face to face with death. Trauma was woven into the fabric of my family history (and would inspire my work for years to come). They came out of that experience wanting to charge at life with a vengeance and to make the most of each day. They both felt that they had been granted a unique gift: living life again. My parents didn’t just want to survive, they wanted to revive. They wanted to embrace vibrancy and vitality — in the mystical sense of the word, the erotic. I owe them much of my perspective on life, as well as my belief in the power of will, the search for meaning, and the resilience of the human spirit. To me, there is a world of difference between “not being dead” and “being alive.” I owe this understanding to my parents.
An editor will cut much of this: You don’t need that segment about your client voluntarily institutionalized for eating disorder. And cut the segment about Esther Perel, a digression.
And an editor will tell me to skip the part I’m about to write. About Stavros on the other side of the clothesline here in Greece, and how until siesta time he is sanding and sawing and fixing outside in his corrugated white tank undershirt, and how his wife shouts “STAVRO!” and he answers “Nai!” in voices audible across the Aegean. And to her shouted question or list of tasks, he replies with a row of “nai-nai-nai-nai-nai,” a litany of yeses. They shout in Greek from inside to outside and outside to inside like we’re in the familiar close confines of the shtetl, and though I know Stavros well enough for a friendly Kalimera! (good morning!), his wife will always be only a voice inside the cement and stucco house. I won’t cut this because it is what makes it possible to write. In the heat of Greece, on an island crowded with kittens, the poor plumbing, boys jumping from dock into water, kids on bikes and trikes along the promenade till midnight, Stavros and his wife shouting all morning—all this makes it possible to write.
Still, good guy/bad guy is not monochromatic: only 5,000 Jews remain in Greece, though before 1943 there were 100,000. To this day, antisemitic “incidents” continue around the nation. During Nazi Occupation, however, the Greek Orthodox Church aggressively condemned deportation of Greek Jews to Poland, and a courageous letter to the prime minister signed by Archbishop Damaskinos and presidents of universities, unions, and major industries declared:
In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity.
Taking a morning walk before it gets too hot, I see a woman down the hill, picking from a wall of high shrubs by the side of the road. I ask her what she’s picking, in English of course, having no other option. She shows me her palm with green and red sprigs overflowing like salamanders escaping her fingers. Do you eat these? I ask. She pinches a tender bud off a new branch and offers it to me. I trustingly eat the herb a stranger has given me from a strange plant in a strange country; it tastes like fir. I ask her if she uses it in salad and she nods yes, and says, And oil, which comes out cautiously as oy-yell, her face shiny with pride, her free hand gesturing as if tossing a stir-fry. I ask her, Greek? and she says, No, Turkish. We smile and nod in a bowing way, and I am off.
For 25 euros a night, my husband and I stay in one room together, cook on one burner plate, swat at flies while writing all day long, and in the evening greet the Greek fisherman and taverna owners as we walk to the sea. Food is bought at a tiny store or off a truck that announces its brooms and buckets, or watermelons, or fresh-caught fish, as it barrels through the town with bream and squid. This is by bullhorn, in muffled words we can’t understand anyway; and a question we’d never ask while paying for tomatoes overflowing from a pick-up truck in a country still recovering from an economic crash is, are they organic?
In Germany, where Rudolf Steiner birthed bio-dynamic agriculture 100 years ago, organic products are big—it’s the top market in Europe. The clinic kitchen makes every effort to use the best natural foods and believes in the harmony of body and soul. The diet is respectful of all life and the teachings of Jesus von Nazarath, whose words, especially when translated from German, resound with layered meaning:
Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you.
The staff describe the food as “clean.” I register it as gentle. Digestion, they realize, for all who’ve come to heal conditions far more serious than mine, is dependent on health of the spirit as well as stomach. It seems they realize this on the level of their nation as well as the individual.
All the food is prepared with love.
My sister gives me a gift of Amanda Gorman’s Call Us What We Carry. One day I open it randomly as if it were the I Ching. To page 75. The chapter is called PRE-MEMORY.
Marianne Hirsch posits that the children of Holocaust survivors grow up with memories of their parents’ trauma; that is to say, they can remember ordeals that they did not experience personally. Hirsch calls this postmemory. Seo-Young Chu discusses what she calls postmemory han, han being a Korean conception of collective grief. Postmemory han, then, is the han passed on to Korean Americans from previous generations. As Chu writes: “Postmemory han is a paradox: the experience being remembered is at once virtual and real, secondhand and familiar, long ago and present.” The whiplike echo of Jim Crow, too, passes through Black bodies, even before birth.
…Postmemory is not the solo but the choir, a loyal we, to be not above others, but among them. The trauma becomes: I/she/he/you/they/we remember. I/she/he/you/they/we were there.
I will return to Germany and do another round of chelation therapy.
There exists an admittedly painful desire to transcend horror, to polychromatize what is singular, the very accent you find ugly, the very people you’ve held in fear. To read about and digest the horrible betrayal to all human morality; and yet to still live, or as Perel wrote, not just survive but revive.
In Greece, I’ll finish writing my resource book which I will title, SURVIVING ASSAULT: Words that Rock & Quiet & Tell the Truth. Then we will fly to Frankfurt. Trains will take us again from the airport to the clinic’s closest town.
German teens will hop on with their backpacks, some with bikes, some chatting and laughing, some on phones or staring out windows. Innocent in their bodies, which are light and seemingly unburdened as if their toxic history is less potent upon them than their parents, they’ll jump on and off the train with ease.
They remind me of my younger son, who comfortably tells people he is Jewish. On a Maryland high school soccer field, when the student captain shouted across the green, Hey, look, our whole team is Hispanic! my tall, dark-haired son raised his hand and shouted back, Hey! Actually? I’m Jewish.
I, on the other hand, will not reveal myself at the clinic, where they beautifully pronounce my Hungarian name, a kind of grape, a kind of wine, a region of Hungary in which no Jews remain. Still, I’ve come for the infusions so I will offer my veined forearm willingly to the kind nurse; and thank her as she helps de-toxify what makes me shake.