Who Am I: I Am Unbreakable

Hi, my name is Asher, and I’m a…

I don’t know. I’m twenty-two. I work two jobs, one as a driving instructor, the other as a computer technician. I make good money. I dress well. I write well. I look fine. I’m a jokester. Sometimes I’m very quiet. Sometimes I’m the life of the party. But that’s when I’m not home. That’s when I’m wearing my mask. My life isn’t easy. At home I’m…

I thought things had gotten better since last time. I mean, things were never great, but they were livable. But then they weren’t. My mother started abusing my grandmother again, turning her into her slave, making her do things you wouldn’t make the most menial laborer do. My mother forced my grandmother to wipe her ass, and bathe her, bring her whatever she wanted at any time of the day or night. My mother made sure my grandmother didn’t sleep, made sure she couldn’t rest, and all the while degrading her, calling her names, accusing her of every wrong in the universe, laying a mighty fine guilt trip.

And I sat safely in my room, listening, waiting, attentive, making sure my grandmother’s life was never in danger. I couldn’t sleep either. What if she snapped. What if she hurt my grandmother. I was on constant alert. I needed to make sure my mother didn’t escalate to violence against my grandmother, make sure she didn’t act on the countless threats. And there was nothing I could do, you know? My grandmother refused to throw my mother out of the house even though she hated living the way she was. My grandmother was too merciful to see my mother on the street, or in a state mental facility.

My mother stopped taking her meds about a year ago, it turns out, and for the past year, she’s been steadily getting more unstable. The more unstable she gets, the more she starts lashing out at everyone she believes wronged her, and made her life the meaningless pile of shit it is today. The way the mental health system is set up in this country, the only way to get someone committed involuntarily is if they pose a danger to themselves or others. That law is very broad and ill-defined. I could see the danger my mother posed. I could see the damage she was causing my grandmother, but there was not a single thing I could do to prevent the inevitable violence. The law only recognizes physical violence as danger, and threat of violence is not always enough. I could only pray that I could contain it when it occurred, and call the police in time to stop it from escalating.

I got my chance about four months ago, when she got into a fight with her boyfriend. She had taken to walking around the house naked in the weeks leading up to this, and she was naked four months ago when they got into their fight. I heard him hit the ground and scream, so I ran out of my room to see if anyone was hurt. He was running down the hallway toward the door. I stood in the hallway, back to my naked mother, preventing her from chasing her boyfriend. “Get out!” I yelled at him. He didn’t need telling twice. I went back in my room, grabbed the phone, and called the police. They came within two minutes, barely enough time for me to pull on my pants and run to the door to open it for them. My mother was sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother, next to the door. Both were telling me not to open it. Open it I did.

She was taken away, and I thought we’d finally get some peace. I thought the hospital would treat her, make her take her meds. I thought they’d be responsible enough to send her home stable. Heh. She came home and went right back to abusing my grandmother. She never touched her, but I could see my grandmother suffering. I begged my family to do something, and this time they tried, but there was nothing they could do with my grandmother refusing to act against her daughter. Things got worse.

A few days before Rosh Hashana, I was getting ready to leave to work, and I heard my mother yelling more violently than she had been. She was threatening to kill my grandmother. I had to leave for work, but I didn’t want to leave my grandmother alone with my crazed mother, so I called the cops. A horde of them showed up along with EMS, after a fashion. Took them twenty minutes to get there. Apparently threats of death aren’t enough for New York’s finest; they didn’t care because no one had been hurt yet, and she had no weapon yet. EMS came in, checked out my mother, asked my grandmother if she felt she was in danger, and then left. My grandmother had covered for my mother again. I went back in the house to get my laptop, and my mother threatened to kill me if I ever called the police on her again. Apparently she felt powerful because they hadn’t taken her. I knew it was going to be a long holiday.

It was terrible. My mother was as angry and violent as I had ever seen her, shouting at my grandmother, making her do disgusting, degrading things I’d sooner not mention here to preserve my grandmother’s dignity, in addition to the usual slave labor she forced on my grandmother. I wasn’t let off the hook either. The entire night, she stood outside my door shouting, cursing, threatening, and insulting me, loudly enough that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I slept maybe a total of 6 hours over those three days. Rosh Hashana came and went, and I was worried about what to do going forward. I doubted I could go much longer without sleep.

Thankfully, I got a text from my aunt after Rosh hashana. Apparently, my mother had gone over to my uncle’s house, and shattered a window there that morning. My uncle hadn’t called the police because it was Shabbos, but after asking me what to do, he did call. They came and dragged her, literally kicking and screaming, into an ambulance, and off to the psych ward. And my grandmother and I breathed a little easier. Surely this time something would be done. My uncle had been talking to the hospital, and they assured us they had the resources to monitor her once she was released, and help her comply with outpatient treatment. Eventually, they promised, she’d be stable enough to be moved to a supervised living facility. I should have known they were full of shit.

A month later she came home, and this time it barely lasted at all. Two weeks ago Friday, right before Shabbos, she sent my grandmother to ask me to turn the light in her room off. I know my mother doesn’t give a fuck and a quarter about Shabbos, and more to the point, why the hell would I do anything for someone who abused me for so many years, so I just laughed and went about my business preparing. Apparently that was the last straw. She well and truly lost it. It all came out, all at once, the anger, resentment, the jealousy, how she “gave up so much” for me and how ungrateful I was being. How I was a lowlife bastard, a little baby who claimed to be abused, but was really abusing her. And that’s when I knew: She’d read what I’d written about her. I heard her hitting something on my doorframe. “I just took the mezuzah (Small parchment scroll with bible verses, placed on doorposts in Jewish homes; it is meant to serve as a protection) you hold so dear, and burned it in the Shabbos candles.”

Then she started threatening to kill me if I didn’t leave the house immediately. She tried breaking down my door, but I stood against it, shoring it up. She swore she’d kill me if I didn’t leave, and ran around the house yelling words to that effect for the next few hours until my grandmother managed to calm her down. I didn’t leave my room that night until I was sure my mother was sleeping. The next morning, I assumed everything had calmed down. I walked into the kitchen, around 12:30 in the afternoon, to fetch some stuff for my Shabbos meal.

Shabbos for me is now a very lonely affair. I have a hot plate and fridge in my room, so I buy all my food on Friday, and just eat it alone in my room if I’m not invited out for any of the meals. I make Kiddush, and wash, and then eat alone in my bed while reading a book. Sometimes I’ll sing to myself. It used to bother me, being alone on Shabbos, but after 6 years, I’m used to it. It’s what I know. Anyway, I needed some grape juice, so I left my room, and went to get some from the big fridge in the kitchen. My mother was sitting there with my grandmother, and as soon as she saw me, she started again. This time there was no calming her down, much as my grandmother tried.

I went back to my room and started my meal while my mother raged outside. It worried me, but it was always just talk, and I wasn’t going to let it bother me too much. Then I heard her come back to my door, and this time she was threatening to do something to me and my grandmother, leave the house, and leave us to die together. Now I was worried. I heard her pouring something outside my door, and walk away. She’s going to set the house on fire, I thought, and I’m trapped inside. I’m going to have to walk through fire to get out of here. Quickly, I looked around my room for something I could drape over myself as I ran through the flames I was sure were just moments away. I grabbed a flame-retardant blanket and stood by the door.

I touched the doorknob to see if it was hot, but it felt as cool as it always does. Ok, if it’s not fire, then what is it? I had heard something being poured outside my door. “I poured oil outside your door. I hope you slip and fall and break your neck. Maybe you’ll wind up paralyzed like your uncle in some nursing home. I hope you suffer and die.” I could live with that. I went back to my bed. My appetite was gone at this point, but I still had a good book to occupy my mind. My mother wasn’t having any of my not leaving the room and tripping on her trap, so she came back and tried again. I saw a clear liquid sliding across my floor from under my door, and smelled bleach. Shit.

I quickly grabbed a bundle of white laundry out of the hamper, mopped up the bleach, and slid the whole mess up against the bottom of my door. It needed washing anyway, right? Besides, on its own, bleach isn’t flammable. Unless mixed with ammonia. And then I heard something else being poured against my door. As any child who has ever done a chore knows, you never mix ammonia and bleach. Ever. The fumes are toxic when mixed, and the solution is highly flammable. I grabbed my blanket again and stood by the door, touching the doorknob every few seconds. “I’M GOING TO LEAVE NOW AND WHEN I GET BACK YOU’LL BOTH ME DEAD. I’LL CALL THE POLICE AND TELL THEM I DID IT. I DON’T CARE; I HATE YOU; I JUST WANT YOU BOTH DEAD.” And I heard the front door close.

I stayed in my room until I was sure she was gone, then went out to check on my grandmother. Of course, I slipped on the oil and went down, scraping my elbow forearm on the floor. I felt my arm start to burn and looked down. The skin had been ripped off, and the ammonia and bleach mix were beginning to burn the flesh underneath. I got up and ran to the sink, furiously washing the wound. After it stopped hurting that much, I checked on my grandmother. She wasn’t hurt, just shaken, scared, and hopeless. She didn’t know what to do any more than I did. I went back to my room and took the opportunity to sleep. With the way things were going, I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance very soon.

I elected not to call the cops this time because it was Shabbos, I wanted things to quiet down, and I wasn’t sure they’d take her. I didn’t want another false alarm riling her up. I prayed for quiet. The next few days were mercifully tolerable. She still threatened me when she saw me, but she wasn’t acting on it, which was a step up. That lasted until Thursday night.

Thursday night, she sent my grandmother to ask me for the iron and ironing board. My grandmother is not a particularly loud person, and I had been sleeping, so I didn’t hear her request until my mother started threatening to kick in my door if I didn’t give her the iron and ironing board. Well, I’ll be damned if I give in to someone threatening me like that, so I stood up against the door, ready to brace it when she inevitably tried kicking it in. She started attacking it fiercely, more violently than she had before. That door has taken many beatings from her before, and I guess this time it just couldn’t hold up. After about two minutes of her kicking it, the door finally splintered, buckled, and came off its hinges. I had barely enough time to throw some pants on, and grab my belt as a weapon in case she attacked me.

I stood in the doorway, blocking her entrance, holding up my belt as a warning. I wouldn’t attack her without provocation; it would ruin my case when I called the cops. She sent my grandmother in to get the iron and ironing board, and loathe as I was to let her have it, I wasn’t about to stop my grandmother. She has enough people forcing her to do things she doesn’t want to without adding me to the mix. Iron in hand, my mother stood there, facing me. I looked at her face for the first time in six years, and what I saw was a pathetic little toddler, stamping her feet because she wasn’t getting her way.

“You’ve taken everything from me. You stole this iron, you stole my last dollar, broke my computer, and my tv, I gave everything up for you, EVERYTHING!” Looking at her face while she delivered this diatribe, it was all I could do not to laugh. This pathetic creature was the cause for all our suffering. This little shit was what caused our family so much grief for so many years. “You ARE a bastard! I don’t care what anyone says! You’re a bastard!” I’ve never understood why that’s my failing and not hers. I’m not the one who spread her legs for someone other than her husband. “You don’t know what I’ve been through because of you; you don’t know how much I’ve suffered. You don’t know what it is to be abused. I was really abused. I was raped. You have no idea. You couldn’t handle the truth. You don’t know how good you have it; I’m only telling you this because I love you.”

I knew she’d been raped when she was 16. She’d told me so when I was 13. I knew she’d had a hard life. She and my grandfather hadn’t always seen eye to eye, to say the least, and being from the old country, as he was, he believed in not sparing the rod. My mother married at 17 to a husband she barely knew, a violent man who hit her, mistreated her, and no doubt raped her himself. She claims she’s been mistreated at the psych ward she’s been sent to for the past twenty years. It was an odd moment hearing her opening up about what had been done to her. I took a second to see how I felt about it. Not a single shred of sympathy at all. The way I see it, someone who themselves suffered should know better than to do it to someone else. I’ve suffered at her hand, and if it taught me anything, it was how careful I must be not to hurt someone else unless I have very good reason to.

This seemed like as good a time as any to pick up the phone, right in front of her face, and dial 9-1-1. The cops came a few minutes later, and took her away to the psych ward. Finally, I thought, another little breather. Two hours later, my grandmother got a call. It was my mother from the hospital: they were discharging her. Four hours later she was home, and she was pissed. I had no door, just a sheet, flapping gently in my empty doorframe. Thankfully my mother was done with me that night, and was content with just yelling at me from her room while forcing to grandmother to pick up where my mother had left off with the ironing. I was so tired I somehow managed to fall asleep anyway.

The next morning, this past Friday morning, I was awoken by my mother screaming in my doorway. She had torn off the sheet, and was trashing whatever was in reach from the doorway. I’d made sure to sleep fully clothed because I expected that sort of thing. I jumped out of bed and ran over to the door to protect my stuff. I grabbed the sheet back from her and put it up again. She tore it down. I grabbed it back and put it back up. She tore it down. And on it went for ten minutes until she got the message: That sheet was mine. She ran and got my grandmother.


And for the first time in all this, I was really scared. I had no more options. I’d called the police and they had brought her back. I couldn’t live like this. I couldn’t. Could I? Who could? And then like an angel from heaven, sent over 4G LTE, my aunt messaged me. After realizing that she was getting nowhere with me and the stuff I’d supposedly stolen, my mother called my aunt, demanding she return a sweater my mother had given her a few months back. “GIVE ME BACK MY SWEATER, LEAH, OR I SWEAR I’LL COME DOWN THERE AND KILL YOU.” My aunt, bless her heart, who has in the past been my mother’s champion regardless of how unstable or violent she’s gotten, had the good sense to call the police to report the threat. They were there five minutes later, and took her away, as she ranted on about the sweater and the iron and all the other supposed crimes we’d all committed against her. This time it stuck. She’s there now, and we’re all figuring out what to do next.

So what does this make me? Victim? Survivor? Honestly I’m not sure. I’ve been meaning to write a book about my experiences, but honestly, I don’t feel I can until this is behind me. I don’t feel I can say I survived if I’m still trying to survive. I can’t say I’m past it when I’m still getting panic attacks every time the front door opens, because she might be back before I have a new door. But I’m not a victim, am I. I’m fighting back when I can. I’m standing up for myself. I’m not that little kid anymore who sat there and took it. This time I’m doing what I can to protect myself and my grandmother. So what does that make me, somewhere in between?

Hi, my name is Asher. I’m twenty-two years old, and my story is still being written. I have my share of scars, I have my wounds, I have my cracks. I still have my battles to fight, and sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. Sometimes I can stand tall in the face of everything, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I bend, sometimes I sway. I don’t know yet if I’m victim or survivor.

But this I do know: What I am is Unbreakable.