No one has ever made a children’s book about holidays with people off on their own, crying into their pillows, staring at their clocks and counting seconds until the holiday is over. It’s always a smiling family, the children gaily frolicking around the house in their new finery, or joyfully shrieking at the sight of their new presents as their parents look on, smiling. The holidays are meant to be happy, celebrations of past victories or milestones, anniversaries of events that helped shape our present. They are a time when we get together with family and celebrate those milestones.
I’ve been one of those people, however, who has sat alone in his room, crying into a pillow and counting seconds until it’s over. For the past five years, I haven’t had a family. They exist, but not as my family. I’ve always viewed family as a privilege, not a right, and my “family” lost their familial right to me. I come from a pretty large family; I have approximately 50 first cousins, and the numbers grow every day. In fact, it’s growing so fast that I don’t even know them all. I used to, but my family seems fine excluding me. It’s almost like the fact that I felt I needed to leave them was so insignificant to them, that the sheer numbers of other relatives make up for my absence.
It’s not easy to give up your family, and it wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I didn’t feel I had a choice; my family was literally driving me to suicide. I still live at home, though, which makes my estrangement from my family all that much more painful. They all still come over to see my mother and grandmother. Never me, though. I’m generally in my room when they come, which is down the hall from the dining room where they all congregate and socialize. My room is two steps from the bathroom. It’s so close I can hear the toilet flush after they do their business, but none of them ever come knock on my door. I can hear them laughing and celebrating from my room; even if I cried audibly, I doubt they’d hear me over their merriment.
I should be used to it by now, like a sore knee you sort joint you sort of learn to deal with eventually, but it hurts like new every time. The first time it happened was after my mother told me she wished she’d aborted me. She meant it, too. I ran, crying, from my house, and came back a few hours later to find my mother entertaining relatives. I lost it and yelled what would become the last words I’ve ever spoken to her, and stormed out of the room crying. My relatives stayed. With her. They didn’t even check on me to see what was wrong. I feel that every time I sit in my room and hear them in the living room.
I spend most Shabbosos (sabbaths) alone in my room, sleeping, reading, and counting seconds. Shabbos lasts 25 hours. There are thirty six hundred seconds to an hour. Ninety thousand seconds. Ashrei yoshvei vesecha, 1, 2, 3. Lechu neranena, 1821, 1822, 1823. Hashem echad ush’mo echad, 3612, 3613, 3614 (these are all prayers said on the sabbath). Ninety thousand seconds to havdalah (ceremony marking the end of the sabbath), to my life back. I get suicidal on three day yomim tovim (holidays). Holidays in general make me hate life. Shabbos meant to be happy and restful, and I’ve learned to cope with them, but holidays are meant to be particularly festive, and I don’t have anyone with whom to share in the festivities.
Thank God it’s not always like this. I have, what my friend Chaim Levin likes to call a “logical family” to replace my biological family. They are people I’ve come across who have taken me into their homes and their hearts, and whom I love dearly. One family in particular has me over as often as they can. Honestly, I don’t think they understand the significance of their kindness. They are literal lifesavers. All of my “logical family” are. They keep me alive, sane, and reasonably hopeful, and I love them all dearly for it.
It’s not quite the same, though. People expect their own, their “flesh and blood,” so to speak, to love them unconditionally and always be there for them. I know I have people who love me, but it doesn’t make up for the family I was born into and the way they’ve rejected me. It doesn’t fill that void I feel around holidays, that void in place of the family I should have. I think the only thing that will ever truly make up for it will be the family I build myself. I look forward to it.
People like asking what other people stay up thinking about at night. I stay up imagining my family, my wife, my kids. I stay up imagining what I’ll say to my wife when I walk in from shul (synagogue) on Friday night, which tunes I’ll use for which zemiros (songs traditionally sung on the sabbath). I imagine my kids standing up and reciting mah nishtana (series of questions asked by a child to his parents on Passover), shyly at first, but growing more confident as they go on. I imagine teaching my son how to put on tefillin, dancing with him at his bar mitzvah, watching his back as he walks to the bus for his first day of high school. I imagine sitting in the audience watching my daughter perform at her school plays, crying at her graduation. I think about all the places I’ll go, and the things I’ll do with my family. I fall asleep dreaming about having a wife I can love and share my life with.
For now these dreams are painful, but one day I’ll look back on my suffering now, and I’ll look at the family I built, and the pride, and happiness, and love I’ll feel then will be magnified by all that pain.
That hope is what keeps me going.