The Things He Carried

The Things He Carried

In honor of the The Muse in You book release on April 28th, which you can preorder now, I thought I might share a little more of it with you, an exclusive look no one else can see.


There are several favorite chapters of mine and this is one part of one of them. It’s actually an essay I worked on in a writing class in NYC, called The Things He Carried. It was one of the hardest pieces of writing I’ve ever done and I was also super challenged by my teacher. In fact, she only graded with a pass/fail and it took a year of weekly edits until she approved of it.


From my heart to yours, I appreciate you reading.


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As someone adopted at birth, having a baby was fraught for me. Especially, while I was going through infertility with my ex-husband.


Shlomi was a gentle, handsome six-foot four and ex tank commander who had fought in the Lebanon war. His biceps were so large I could barely get my fingers around them. When we started dating in Los Angeles, he was thirty-two. I was thirty-four. We both wanted a family.


He was so much like my father. They had the same clever sense of humor. Both were hardworking salesmen running their own businesses. They were always positive, cheering me up. Dad took my cheeks into his hands and kissed my forehead. Shlomi did a “happy dance,” shuffling his shoes on the living room carpet, swinging his elbows. My siblings did a double take when Shlomi crossed his leg sideways, fidgeted with his wedding band and grinned like Dad.


For our wedding in Los Angeles, a year after we met each other, Shlomi’s family flew in from Tel Aviv and mine from Tulsa for the event. For a photograph after, he raised me up, folding me in the crook of his arms. But at the party as we all danced to a big band, Dad wasn’t his usual swinging self. He had found out he had lung cancer the day before our ceremony and kept it to himself. I felt so grateful that he and my mother walked me down the aisle before he fell ill.


Two years after our wedding, before my father’s body broke down, he and my mother rented a simple one-bedroom apartment on the Santa Monica beach for the summer right next to the pier to be close to Shlomi and I. From their apartment window, we could see the Ferris wheel and at sunset we would gather together for a glass of wine, which my father couldn’t drink. Then, he would ride his Segway (my father loved his toys and this was a fun way for him to around, without taxing his weak lungs) to the closest neighboring restaurant for Friday night Shabbat dinner.


Nothing gave my father more pleasure than a good meal. He tried to stay positive as he told the waiter, “Nothing for me” because he had stopped eating entirely. All our eyes leaned towards our plates, knowing what he was losing. Yet, true to form my father would order his favorite dessert regardless of his appetite: Homemade butterscotch pudding with raw vanilla bean, and we would all share together without him in the remaining joy with long spoons.


After one Friday night dinner, I put Glen Miller’s “In The Mood” on speakers for Mom and Dad to have what would end up being their final swing dance together as Shlomi took pictures of their smiling faces.


At the beginning of October, I went back to Tulsa to be with Dad for his last month. He dressed each morning: Mephisto walking shoes, khakis and a knit sweater to sit in front of the television set and watch M.A.S.H. reruns. Though his body was failing, it was important he could still “get up and at ‘em.”


I’d sit by him to keep him company and be near almost all day. We didn’t talk much, he was too tired, but one afternoon out of nowhere, he told me, “I’m not worried about you because you have Shlomi. But I’d like to help you find your biological mother.” Tying up his loose ends, Dad wanted me to find my own closures. He let me know he asked our family attorney to look into it though it had been a closed adoption. It made me feel cared for that Dad understood I still had questions about my origin.


Shlomi met me in Tulsa each weekend at my parents’ house where I was staying. He sat with us as we watched Cash Cab together. He’d help lift Dad from his wheelchair into the bathroom. He picked Dad’s whole weight up as we changed the sheets when my father could no longer move. My mother and brothers, and I were moved to tears by Shlomi’s care.


When Dad passed at seventy-four years old, I was thirty-eight and Shlomi and I were running out of time to have children. Getting pregnant was easy for me. My problem was keeping the baby.


By my fourth miscarriage, each around ten weeks, we stopped expecting to see a heartbeat on the monitor. Once, after I fell off the gynecologist’s table onto my knees on the cold tile floor, Shlomi scooped me up with both arms. Another time I lost so much blood, he carried me to the car to take me back to the doctor’s office. Another time, he toted the remains of our baby in a paper bag to a lab at Cedars Sinai to be tested as I waited in the car still drugged and despondent.


For two years, I was on bed rest and told I shouldn’t lift anything heavy, so Shlomi carried the groceries, my purse, the UPS boxes inside. Frequently, he did his “happy dance” across the living-room floor. In sunken despair, I pulled a blanket over my head and curled up with Lita, our beloved Jack Russell Terrier, the only baby I could have.


Then, every morning and evening, Shlomi patiently administered shots but three fertility treatments failed. The doctor said, “Look into finding a donor.” Defeated, Shlomi held my purse and helped me out of the office again.


“What about adopting?” I asked him.


“Let’s look for a donor egg. Adoption would be my last option,” he said.


“Is it because you want the child to be like you?”


He lowered his eyes, “Yes.”


Shlomi was a traditional Middle-Eastern. His family believed having the child was what brought happiness, a gift from above. I wanted to know that feeling too, the bond of a baby that was part of me. But as my mother always reminded me growing up, “You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”


When I received news our attorney had found the woman who gave birth to me, I wasn’t prepared. When the phone rang, Shlomi held my bouncing leg as he sat on the floor beside me.


“I’ve been looking for you. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life,” she said.


“You have?”


“Yes, honey. You’re my daughter. I gave birth to you,” she said.


I had read many books on adoption, including one called The Journey of The Adopted Self, illuminating the adoptees’ search for identity, particularly those part of the closed adoption system like Oklahoma when I was born. The book explained how closed-adoption adoptees were “betwixt and between.” My confused identity issues combined with the inner-conundrum of the closed adoption system made me feel like I couldn’t belong anywhere, drifting.


On one hand I wanted her to love and want me but on another, I had the only mother I wanted and didn’t need another to replace her. “I would just like to get some answers about my history,” I told her.


She willingly shared her story: Oddly, the first thing she said was that she gave birth to me on her birthday, September 2nd, and that she hadn’t celebrated it since. I didn’t like this. I wanted that day to be only mine, my special day to be celebrated. She told me my conception was a one-night stand when she was twenty. My biological father never knew about me. Later in life he committed suicide. I was relieved to fill in my missing puzzle pieces. I also asked her about my medical history, my birth, and confided my problems having a baby.


“Why don’t you just adopt? It seems that would be good for you. Maybe even important for your own healing,” she said.


After the call, we friended each other on Facebook and when I saw her pictures, I felt comforted that we looked like each other, the exact same eyes, nose, mouth and chin. However, I felt pressure to have to message her on our birthday after that but I came to accept that I wanted bonding as an infant and this was the way I could have the attachment. The rest of the time I kept my distance. I felt she wanted more than I could give.


I thought when I was married that having a family would provide me the identity I was seeking. Yet, working so hard to have one, I still felt like I wasn’t me. Now that I had the answers I always wanted, I questioned everything: What if I didn’t have a baby? Would that take the pressure off of me? What if it didn’t have to mean anything about me if I decided not to become a mother? What if I reneged on a commitment and a promise to Shlomi but stayed true to myself, could it be better for the both of us? Who did I want to be? And would Shlomi change with me?


I couldn’t help but wonder why in this modern era I felt I didn’t have any other choice than to be a mother—that that’s what a woman should do by her late-30’s. Who knows if I was just trying to please my husband, if it was my hormones, that crazy ticking biological clock, or if it was something I picked up from my Jewish ancestors.


Even though my mother was raised in the 1950’s, she never put any pressure on me to have children. She empowered me instead by insisting from the moment I graduated high school that it was my life, not about what she wanted and I should make my own decisions. And although she adored Shlomi, she did warn me when we first married about our cultural differences. I was starting to come to that realization. I did wonder if adopting a child might be healing, but I also knew that my happiness could come from another place rather than having a baby.


Two years after Dad died, when I was forty, Mom was diagnosed with Lymphoma when she was seventy. I flew back and forth from Los Angeles to Tulsa to help care for her. Yet, she still insisted I take our annual trip to Israel to be with Shlomi’s family for the High Holidays. She knew how important it was for him.


One night, Shlomi and I went to a bar in Tel Aviv with his brother who asked, “So when are you going to have children?”


“We’ve had a lot of trauma. I need a break.” I said.


“You don’t want kids?”


“I’m not sure right now.” I evaded the question.


“You either want or you don’t want. Which is it?” he asked in his thick accent.


“I don’t,” I said bluntly, angry he was asking.


“Did you just say you don’t want children?” Shlomi asked, having overheard. “Get me another whiskey,” he told the bartender in Hebrew.


After the month holiday, we flew back to my mother.


“Well, this is the first time I’ve been comfortable around the two of you in years,” Mom said, intuitively sensing I think something major was different between Shlomi and me. It seemed the tension of the last few years had diminished. My decision had relieved the pressure. I suspected it also would be the final blow that ended our seven-year marriage.


“You’ve meant so much to me,” Shlomi told my mother.


“You’re going to make me cry. Don’t say any more,” she said with a Kleenex in her hand.


A month after Mom died, in November, Shlomi and I sat together at our back porch table in Los Angeles.


“I sense you’re leaving,” he said. You never wanted to be a mother, did you?”


“I thought I did. But, I’ve been unhappy.”


“I’ve been unhappy too. I just didn’t know it,” he said, standing up. Always a man of a few words, he was finished with talking.


In December, he moved out. In January, we signed the divorce papers. In February, I called to tell him Lita was dying and needed to be put down. He rushed over. He found me curled on the couch holding our terrier.


“Take the time you need. We don’t have to rush to take her in,” Shlomi said as he went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water and brought it back to me.


He helped me wrap her in her white snuggly blanket. He placed her in my embrace in the passenger seat and drove us to the hospital. The doctor came in. With Lita on my lap, head resting on my thigh, I adjusted in my seat so all three of us could get more comfortable.


“Shlomi, scoot over,” I said softly and felt his body press to my side. He put his arm around me so we could be a family, as I knew it, for the last time.


To get your copy of The Muse in You go here.


I appreciate you and your support.