How the Internet Saved My Life

When I started this blog, I intended it to be a place where I could share my thoughts with people who would hopefully like them, share them, discuss them. I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for beyond what every blogger hopes for—high hit counts, lots of shares, fawning adoration, if we’re being honest, some validation of my wacky ideas. It started a year and change ago on Tisha B’av at Aish Center in New York City. I had come early to their Tisha B’av program, and I was just chilling on a couch in their library with my smartphone.

I’d written a piece the previous night about how I relate to Tisha B’av, and what the day means to me. I thought it was a good piece, good enough that the world should see it. At the time I didn’t really have my own blog. I ran a blog for Our Place, I sometimes contributed to FrumFollies, but I didn’t have a place of my own to share my ideas. I copied the piece to Pastebin and shared it around, but there’s a reason, apparently, why people use WordPress, not Pastebin, for their blogging. A friend suggested I start a blog. I hadn’t wanted one at that point because having a blog means you have a commitment to your readers to write content that will keep them interested in you, and I wasn’t sure I had enough to say to fulfill that commitment. Sitting there on that couch, I wasn’t sure I could keep the commitment, but I knew that people had to read what I was writing. I felt I had something to add to the conversation. On Tonight I Mourn and The Gift of Tears I built my blog.

I didn’t just want my blog to be a place where I dumped my ideas waiting for unsuspecting people to stumble upon them and read them. I wanted it to be a new beginning, a more mature representation of my thoughts and beliefs, a departure from the biased, childish naiveté of my Our Place blog where I was forcing myself to seem more religious than I was to appeal to a more right wing demographic of potential donors, and the caustic, scorched-earth  indictments of my contributions to FrumFollies. I wrote things in both places which, while they made sense to me as a time, now make me cringe. They were preaching to a choir that already knew the lines. I wasn’t provoking thought, internal debate—I wasn’t starting a conversation—I was just shouting my way into the middle. I was determined to change that with my new blog, and I believe I have.

Along the way, though, what being a blogger means to me has changed. Honestly, the experience has been nothing short of humbling. Over the past year, I’ve received emails from people I greatly respect who have experienced tragedy, telling me how much my writing has meant to them. My readership has grown to a number I never would have imagined. My posts have been picked up by other publications and have started conversations so big that I’ve lost track of them. But they’ve also connected me with beautiful people, people with incredible hearts whose support and care has helped me through some very difficult times.

Over 50,000 people read my post about my mother’s abuse. For the next three days, I received so many messages sending me love, support, advice, offers for help and empathy, that I had to spend a few hours each night responding to all of them. I’ve made some good friends because of that post. The Carlebach post that followed was the first time I had truly connected with my readers as equals. I left the post open ended, hoping for a discussion, which I got. I spoke to people on all sides of the issue. People who were victims of Carlebach’s, people who had grown up with Carlebach, whose lives had been changed immeasurably by him and his music. I spoke to people who called me a liar, people who praised me for my courage in writing about a subject so delicate, people who themselves were conflicted about the issue and were grateful for the opportunity to discuss it. For the first time, I wasn’t just giving an idea to my readers hoping they would agree with it—my readers were giving me the ideas.

And then you people changed my life, and made me understand the true power of blogging. On January 8, my mother came back home. Those of you who follow my blog know that I was under the impression that she was going to Ohel permanently, and that my grandmother and I would finally be able to rebuild the lives that my mother had broken. But she came back home. I had woken up late that day. Business had been very busy, and mornings that I got to sleep in were rare. I woke at 10:30, and spent the next 45 minutes in bed watching Netflix. At 11:15, I heard her voice in the hallway. I heard her voice for the first time since the family meeting at the hospital, and the fact that I was hearing her voice just did not compute. She couldn’t be there. She couldn’t. How could someone who lived in Ohel be there in my hallway.

I listened for a minute to make sure it wasn’t just my aunt who has a very similar voice. It wasn’t my aunt. It was my mother. Frantically I called my aunt. “She’s here. She’s here and I don’t know what to do. She’s not supposed to be here. Why is she here?”

“Well, where else should she be?”

“She’s not supposed to be here! Is this something that’s been happening when I’ve been at work? Has she been visiting?” Her visiting my grandmother from Ohel is something we had discussed with the social workers at the family meetings.

“Well she’s human, she has to go somewhere.”

“She has Ohel! What is she doing here?!

“She’s not in Ohel; Ohel didn’t take her.”

At this point I started having a full blown panic attack.

“What do you mean they didn’t take her…”

“They didn’t accept her.”

“And no one thought it might be a good idea to tell me?”

“I don’t know, we didn’t know much ourselves.”

“You knew enough to know she was coming home, and you didn’t tell me anything!”

She started stammering, trying to find an excuse, but she was never the one who made the decisions anyway, so yelling at her was pointless. Next I tried calling my uncle. He didn’t answer, so I texted. I had texted him on December 2 asking him if the Ohel interview happened, but he had never answered. On January 8th, this conversation happened:

Screenshot_2015-02-15-08-50-29~2Screenshot_2015-02-15-08-50-18~2Screenshot_2015-02-15-08-50-40~2

I got dressed in my room. At 11:35, I posted this message to an online support group I help run:

“She’s back and oh my god I don’t know what to do and my family isn’t saying anything and Oh my god help I can’t live like this I can’t I fucking can’t she didn’t get into Ohel and no one told me and she’s back and I want to die and help I need to go to work but I can’t deal with life right now I can’t I can’t I can’t do this I thought I was free Oh my god someone help[.]”

At 11:45, I packed my briefcase with what I’d need for work, my medicine, and my laptops, and I left, not knowing if I’d ever be back, or how I’d live. I was, effectively, homeless.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I had just come back from a trip to Chicago a week prior. During my trip, I’d expressed interest to some of my friends in moving there permanently if I could find a job. Through some connections, a tentative job offer was made, which would probably start by the end of summer. That left me a few months to get my affairs in order in New York, including paying off my unfortunate credit card debt. Thinking that my mother was safely in Ohel, thus giving me as much time as I needed living with my grandmother all expenses paid, I spent all my money paying off the trip, and began paying off the credit cards. I had no money in my bank account.

My day started in Crown Heights, where I had four driving lessons to give. I had no idea what I would do after work, but I knew I couldn’t afford to take off, because whatever I did do after work would probably cost money. It’s a miracle I was able to focus.

Thankfully, by 12:12 PM I had already been offered a place to crash temporarily. My friend, Chaim Levin, offered to let me stay on his couch. While that was a generous offer, what Chaim actually did, was sleep by his parents for Friday night and Saturday night, allowing me to get a decent night’s sleep on his bed, for which I am deeply grateful.

At around 1:00 PM, I got a message from Elad Nehorai offering to help me raise money by crowdfunding to move into an apartment. He asked me how much I needed; I told him $5000. I wanted a number that would get me as much as I needed to move, but not more. He got to work on starting a GoFundMe. Being that I run what I like to think of as a sort-of-successful blog, he told me to write a post about my situation, and appeal to my readers for help. I pulled over to the side of the road, wrote it, and sent it off. Elad continued to work on the finishing touches for the campaign. By 2:40 PM, it was up and running.

At 2:24 PM, I called my best friend, and for about a half hour, had a complete meltdown. I was crying, gibbering, talking to myself, shaking, incoherent. She just listened and offered her empathy, which is exactly what I needed. I told her that Elad was helping me with crowdfunding, and she set to work finding me an apartment. By around 6:45, she had found something and emailed the landlady. At 9:00 PM, I went to see the apartment.

At 2:46 PM, I called my uncle. I wanted to know what was going on. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember yelling at him for two minutes about how unacceptable it was that she didn’t get into Ohel, blaming him for it falling through, and demanding to know why no one told me. He said something along the lines of “You’re coming on very strongly, but you have to understand there’s only so much one person can do.” I asked him, “You couldn’t at least tell me? You couldn’t warn me?” He claimed that they didn’t know what was happening. I called bullshit because he had to have known at the very least that she wasn’t accepted into Ohel. He had never answered my texts. He hadn’t even tried to keep me, the one person who was most affected by what was happening, apprised on what was happening. I yelled at him for not telling me, for making me think I was safe when I really wasn’t, for turning me into what amounted to a homeless beggar, for making me uproot my life at a moment’s notice. Then I paused to catch my breath, and waited for him to say something. When he didn’t, I told him “I’m going to hang up now. You go try to find a way to live with yourself; I’ll go try to find a way to live.”

Those were and will be the last words I speak to my family. They’ve hurt me enough.

By 3:00 PM, $500 had been raised. By 6:30 PM, $4900 had been raised. By the following day at 2:07 PM, $7,000 had been raised. By the time the campaign ended a few days later, close to $8000—$3000 above the goal—had been raised.

Around 7:30 PM, I went home to pack my things. I walked in without anyone noticing, put everything I thought I would need into two large suitcases, and moved onto Chaim Levin’s couch. The next day, Elad arranged for me to spend the Shabbos meals by two lovely families who made my first Shabbos as a displaced person feel much less scary. By Sunday afternoon, the landlady had called my references, vetted me, and told me I could move in at 6:00 that night. I didn’t have the money that had been raised through GoFundMe yet, but she confirmed through Elad that it was there, and agreed to let me move in before signing the lease and paying the rent and deposit. Since I’ve moved in, she has been nothing short of a saint.

Around 5:00 PM on Sunday January 10, I went home one last time to get my stuff. On my own, I dragged my fridge, TV, toaster ovens, books, computers, and other stuff to my car as my grandmother and mother watched, not quite sure what I was doing, but pretty certain that I was moving. I didn’t say a word to either of them. By 10:00 PM I was moved in.

The one thing I regret about the move is cutting my grandmother off. I don’t blame her at all for what happened; she was just as much a victim as I was. She still is. I can’t talk to her anymore because anything I tell her will get back to the rest of my family, and I can’t have them knowing about me anymore. I’ve ignored their texts and calls, not that there have been very many. I hope one day to have a relationship with her again, but as long as my mother is alive and a part of her life, I don’t see how that’s possible. I pray that she understands and forgives me, but more importantly, I pray that she finds a way to let go of the guilt that she’s been carrying all these years about my mother. She doesn’t deserve it.

What’s amazing about this whole story, and what makes me truly appreciate the power of blogging and social media, is that all the people who helped me, all the people who have shown that they truly love and care for me, the people that I now consider my family, the people who support me unconditionally, are all people I have met online. Shay, Chaim, Elad, and all the other people who have been there for me, and continue to support me, are all people I’ve connected with online. The money that was raised, was donated by people who, for the most part, have never met me, and will, most likely, never meet me. The only connection they had with me was my blog, and yet they’re the ones who helped me when I most needed it. That is the power of the internet.

The internet has really shaken things up since its inception. The advent of high-speed internet and its ubiquity has thrown a wrench into the social order. Whereas people who formerly felt isolated, whether because of their ideas, their questions, their family situations—people who felt powerless and helpless, like they had no one and no options—were alone, without a community to help or support them, without the basic comfort of another human being to say “I’m here for you,” now have that through the internet. I am no longer a victim because of the internet and the friends it has given me. I am religious because of the internet and the people I found online who were going through the same struggles I was, who listened and advised instead of judging and dismissing. To me, the internet, and how you all helped me escape, is nothing short of miraculous. I thank God every day for the internet. I’d be dead without it, either by suicide or by circumstance.  I have a voice because of the internet. I have a family because of the internet. I have all of you because of the internet.

I have a life because of the internet.

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