I sit across the table from you looking into your eyes. I know what you are thinking. I can hear the thoughts running through your brain. You think my life is perfect, like a spoiled little princess who is lavished upon by her parents. You think how lucky I am to have been brought up in the lap of luxury, living in the upper crust of society. You think I have it all, while you were destined to live in a dingy one room basement apartment as my parents’ tenant. I see the way you eye my children dressed in designer clothes, their shiny new yom tov shoes tapping against the white marble floors. I see the way you look at my mother, the queen of the abode. Your eyes well up feeling so deprived. My heart aches for the unbearable pain you must have felt when your children were so ruthlessly taken from you, years ago in the height of your youth. When you look at my family you see everything that you always dreamed of for yourself.
My heart feels yours, because one wounded heart feels another. There is so much you don’t know about me, or about your gracious hosts. There is so much you don’t know about my mother, your savior. The one that always has it all together and sends you nourishing meals each night. Would you believe that she suffers from anorexia, and battles many demons of her own? I doubt it. She has an obsession with food as part of her illness and you are just one of the many recipients. She has never tasted a drop of the food she cooks. She would get us, her children to do the tasting. We resented having to taste the steaming soup she would ladle out of the pots, forcing us to test taste it, no matter how much we resisted. I could never quite taste if her soups and other concoctions were good as they burned my tongue, but I always told her what she wanted to hear. That her food tasted heavenly and she was the best cook around. She would take out boiling hot pans from the oven, with no mittens or towels, burning her hands. I have no clue why, she never explained it to us, no matter how much we scolded her to stop. At times she would walk around the house, holding walls, because she was so weak from malnutrition.
I remember the daily deliveries we made around the neighborhood, sending kugels and challah, or whatever she cooked that day to families around us. She would never sit down having a conversation with us as she was always busy cooking or cleaning. Neither did she approve of us lounging around, our noses in books, getting lost in any other world, but our own. If we ever sat down, she would call us lazy. She expected us to clean up her messes, wash the mixers and pots. We needed to Windex those granite countertops till they shone like the top of the Chrysler building and mop the floors till they gleamed like mirrors without a streak.
My father was so annoyed when she sent the neighbors all the food, as were we, her children. After all, even though we were not able to partake in her cooking, hence it would take away from her glory. It was at the expense of our hard work and toil that she was able to be the neighborhood chef. So we did feel like we should have a say in what happens to the food. She always had a perfect explanation for everything in the name of chessed. There was no use arguing with her. What we wanted didn’t matter much. We didn’t have a voice. Her bidding was our duty. Our lives revolved around making her the queen of balabustas, the awe of the neighborhood. The super woman with the spotlessly clean home, freshly baked food, perfectly dressed children that behaved like wooden soldiers under her command. People used to come up to me wanting to hear more, about how she does it all, while still keeping down a full time job. I would just look into their eyes and think to myself how they were idolizing the wrong person.
When she walked into a room she completely took it over, dominating every conversation. We were like her puppets having to nod at everything she would say. I felt invisible in her presence, like a shadow on the wall without a voice. It wasn’t till I got married, away from her domineering presence that I found my own voice. She made us feel so dependent on her. She would always tell us to mention her name to people if we went shopping, met with someone, or went for a job interview. She said that people would treat us differently if they knew who we were, as if she were some goddess. Somehow she thought we had no merit as people on our own. I really believed her then and took pride in being her daughter. I thought that her name opened doors for me, little did I know that people respected me for who I was. She still asks me today, if I tell people I come across, whom she personally knows, that I am her daughter. I gloat inside when I tell her that not, proud that I am confident in myself, believing that people treat me well for who I am. She isn’t the goddess in my eyes that she taught me to believe. Neither should she be your goddess.
I know your life is lonely. I wouldn’t dare ever telling you about the dysfunction in that house you wish were yours. You aren’t wise enough to keep those secrets to yourself. I just want you to know that life isn’t always the way it seems. There is so much more to write about, so many secrets are etched on those walls. Your hair would raise up if you knew more about that house of horrors. You only get to see it through a veil. It’s an allusion of perfection. When I look in to your eyes I see myself reflected in them. We are both tortured souls. When your eyes well up sitting at our Yom Tov table, seeing the the life you dreamed of, just know one thing. You wouldn’t have found happiness as the Goddess of that home.