I Live In The Park

For the past six years I have lived in the park.

When, in 2013, I left the hospital, the clinic in which I’d spent two months of treatment, I went to the park at least twice a week. And I lived there.

I had come from the hospital with a new outlook. Be mindful, I had learned, and everything will be okay. That’s the definition of mindfulness, perhaps, that everything is okay even when it’s not, because everything is as it is and that’s the only way it can be.

And when I ventured into the park with this outlook, I became aware that I had never up till then lived in the park. I had always walked through it with my mind set on leaving as soon as my dog had had his fill of parking, and I felt vulnerable on my own with my dog, among other people and among nature where I might get bored or judged or feel depressed. And so, one day while walking through the park, I decided to be okay, to be there in that space where I might be bored or judged or even depressed, and I became alive.

I finally lived in the park. I was not focused on the past or future, or of being in any moment other than the boring, vulnerable moment I was in right then, and it was then that I looked around and saw the trees and foliage in full 3D, and everything became clear. I was alive, and the world around me reflected this. I did not feel “good”. I did not feel “bad”, although I did feel sad and vulnerable. And I did not feel bored, because one cannot feel bored when one is not focused on the past or the future. Time does not stop, so much as it becomes now. Actually, it does not become anything. I became aware of being alive in that now, that now which is the same as this now, even though I’m in a different time and space.

Quite simply, I lived, and that cannot be described in any explicable way. My life in the park cannot have any adjectives, because adjectives are judgments, and judgments take one out of the moment. I simply knew I was alive, and that intimate knowledge was enough to let me see in 3D, to access infinity, the connection between the trees and the grass and the air and the me to everything else in the known and unknown universe. I became aware of all of that, all in the now, not in the then, but the now, the now that is the same now as this now, except in a different time and place. I learned that now is not a series of moments, but simply the unmoving time of being in which we exist constantly, whether or not we choose to be aware of it.

And yes, I say choose as if it’s a simple choice, and I know very well it’s not, and that most people are unequipped to make that choice, and even I struggle to make that choice these days when my life is perfect and wonderful and I don’t want it to last for only a moment and I forget that now is not a moment or a series of moments and I don’t have to hold on to anything in order for it to remain as is and be what it’s going to be no matter what.

I know that I haven’t lived in the park for a while now, contrary to what I said before, and when I do live in the park these days it’s more haphazard and unexpected and spontaneous than it was back then, when I started living in the park. I know that I need to focus more on living at home as well, and not only in the park, so that my lived experience is broadened and that I live more often than not.

There’s no reason I need to live, neither in the park nor at home. Except that, aside from living there really is nothing else. Nothing else worth doing in this world of existence. Nothing else that makes sense in this world of being. That it’s the whole point of it all, to live, and that there’s not really a point of it all, but it is something, and something I can dedicate my life to.

I live in the park, albeit less these days than I’d like to, and I live at home, also less than I’d like to. But there’s always the choice, and the choice to become better equipped.

I’m trying, right now, to make that choice. That choice that keeps me sane, no matter what is happening around me.

I will become more equipped, and I will once again live in the park and everywhere else.

Don’t You Dare Blush

Don’t you dare blush, I thought, as I felt my face already starting to heat up. I did not need a mirror to tell me that I was going red. If you blush it’s over. The only reason you’d blush is because what he’s saying applies to you, and everyone will understand that. So don’t you dare blush.

Usually, telling myself not to blush was like not thinking about the pink elephant. It would only make me redden more quickly and start to sweat profusely. The more I would sweat, the more embarrassed I would get, and the vicious cycle would go on. This time, however, my face began to cool. Maybe the dire nature of the situation gave me the willpower to conquer my physiognomy’s betrayal. But I’d only held back the tide. The lesson had only just begun.

“You see, the Torah prohibits it because it’s not natural,” Mr Scheftz said as he paced in front of the board, chalk in hand. “Animals do not do it, because sex is for one purpose, and that is procreation.”

I tried to focus on the words that had no special meaning for me. Animals. Purpose. Natural. Natural. Natural. Just don’t think about the meaning. I kept my head down, looking at the desk, so as not to catch anyone’s eye. I could not risk them seeing my inner turmoil.

“You hear couples say that they broke up because they ‘just weren’t a good fit for each other’. That is totally false. Men and women fit each other perfectly. They were made to fit each other. Men and men, or women and women do not fit each other.”

Jacklyn put up her hand. “Mr Scheftz. I’ve heard that gay people say it’s not a choice. How can God punish them for being born that way?”

Mr Scheftz took a deep breath in, still pacing back and forth like he always did.

“They say it’s not a choice,” he intoned. “But it’s always a choice. No one has to have sex. If a man is attracted to men and not women, he can choose not to have sex. God punishes the sin, not the sinner.”

The sin, not the sinner, I thought. The sin, not the sinner. I considered putting up my hand, just like Jacklyn had. If I was brave enough to ask a question, that would make it look like I had nothing to hide, right? But I knew that if I did that, I would go bright red and sweat would pour down my face, and then everyone would know. If only I had a little bit of composure!

I tried to focus on the words he’d said. The sin, not the sinner. I was the sinner, and I’d already sinned over and over again, hunched over a toilet. If anyone ever found out about that… The sin, not the sinner. Don’t blush. You’ve done well so far. Just keep it up.

“There are even special shuls where gay people can go.”

How could anyone go to one of those shuls? I wondered, briefly considering the option. If anyone sees you going in, they’ll know your secret.

Kerry put up her hand. “The Torah says that men can’t sleep with men, but it doesn’t say women can’t sleep with women. Are you allowed to be a lesbian?”

“That would be physically impossible for me,” Mr Scheftz said, and the class giggled. I laughed with them. “No, the Torah says that you must not follow the way of the Egyptians, and that’s referring to their sexual practices. In Egypt, women had sex with women, men cheated on their wives, and they had mass orgies.”

I could smell my deodorant, activated by the heat under my arms. I was still putting all my mental power into not blushing. I could not afford to. Would this lesson not just end? I looked at my watch. Still 20 minutes left! I could not make it, I simply could not make it that long.

I put up my hand.

“Can I go to the bathroom please?”

Mr Scheftz gave me the go-ahead. I exited the room quickly, without looking around at the rest of the class. Could they tell? I barely ever put up my hand, not even to go to the bathroom. Would this breach of character show them what I was going through?

As I walked down the corridor, I lifted my face to the breeze and felt the air cool my skin. That’s better. Finally, I was free, if only for a couple of minutes. I was alone, the only way I should be, the only way to ensure no one ever found out what type of person I was. Alone I could pretend that my red face and sweat meant nothing sinister. Alone I could collapse into myself, and hide within the heavy burden of my pathetic existence.

But I’d have to go back to class soon, and there’d still be 15 minutes of that hell. I wished for a moment that I’d get sick, faint, fall flat on the floor. That I’d wake up and the nightmare would be over, and I’d never have a bad urge again. That I’d never blush, or have to hide. That I could be myself and be proud, and not feel the immense shame I carried with me wherever I went. And that I’d suddenly be someone that mattered, and not a constant disappointment to myself.

That was a pipe dream, I knew. Better not to dream at all. My only hope was in telling myself that one thing: just don’t blush.

Guilty Half Sentences

The flight home from Israel went by in a daze, and before I knew it I was standing at the luggage carousel, waiting for my big black suitcase. I already had a heavy load. A suit bag carrying most of my clothes, along with an overnight bag. For a few moments, I forgot everything and focused on wrestling my baggage from the carousel.

The time had come to face my parents. They would be waiting just through the sliding doors. I did not want to. I could not imagine how I would face them and pretend that I was fine and not on the verge of a breakdown. I knew how excited they were to see me. Especially my mom. She had been waiting for me to come home since before I left. Over the past few weeks, I had considered asking her if I could stay, but I knew the question alone would devastate her.

My heart trembled and my head pounded, bringing me back to drunken nights as a teenager. The night I got wasted and told my parents I was depressed as an excuse for my bad behaviour. I breathed in deep and located the way out. I walked briskly, staring straight ahead, my teeth clenched to hold back my emotions.

I spotted them after a few seconds. My father had already seen me, and I saw the dorky smile on his beaming face. He pointed me out to my mother, and I saw her nervous excitement grow. My own face dropped and tears nearly came flooding from my eyes. I tried to smile, but I might as well have tried to sink through the floor. I found my way to them and stood lifeless as they hugged me and welcomed me home.

I tried to find my voice and share their joy – I promise – but the sadness lay way too deep. They did not know that I had lost everything. The country I loved, the yeshiva I loved, all of my friends, and N. N especially. I could never tell them that.

I watched my parents’ faces change. My dad suddenly looked sad and concerned. My mom disappointed, angry, and deflated. I had ruined her moment. She looked as if she’d suddenly aged twenty years and been purged of everything but skin.

My dad said that I was overwhelmed. That it would take some time to get used to being home. We walked to the parking, where he proudly displayed his new Tata Indica. Guilt flooded through my arteries as I tried – I promise I tried – to show any kind of interest. Instead, I flopped inside the car and breathed heavily, clenching my teeth to stem the emotion.

As we finally rolled through familiar streets, I became all the more despondent. The sight of foliage, like you’d struggle to find throughout Israel, made my insides churn. It was all exactly the same as it had been during my past life in this land. This land in which he did not exist. A land in which he could not exist, because if I let him exist, my parents would know the impossible truth.

It was impossible. I could not be gay. And it was still somehow the truth.

*

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“He’s getting settled now,” my mom said, as I scooted around the house, trying to find any sign that I hadn’t gone a year back in time. “He’s back in familiar surroundings, hey?”

She spoke in the third person, her despondence having turned to pity and concern. I was her son and I would soon show her my love. I just had to get settled in my familiar surroundings.

There could not have been a more inaccurate choice of words than settled. My entire being was in upheaval. I could not accept being back here – I tried, I swear, I tried. I could not accept what I had lost.

Getting settled. No, agitated would have been accurate, a word that perfectly described the conflict within me of being in a world both post-him and somehow pre-him. Living in the horror of grieving for someone who never was.

“Can I phone someone… there?” I said, unable to stop myself.

My parents looked at each other.

“Okay,” my dad said. “Just don’t be too long.”

I used the landline to call N’s cellphone.

“You’re already back?” he said.

“Yes,” I choked.

“Jeez. I’m sorry.”

“Everything is the same as it used to be. I just want to be back” with you.

We had never really discussed our emotions. Our relationship had always been a happy-go-lucky slew of insults, affection, and jokes. This call could only last a few minutes. Neither of us knew what to say, and when I hung up I felt worse than I had before.

I attempted another route back to the Holy Land. Dovi Broner had put together a video of the guys from our programme. It was really just a slideshow, scored with songs that each of us liked, burnt to DVD.

I told my parents I wanted to watch it. We went to the playroom which had long ago become the living room in all but name. I started the DVD and watched as the faces of my friends went by. I saw myself smiling, happier than I had ever been, as Nothing Else Matters mournfully played.

N went by in bad photos that belied his vitality and charm. I looked at my parents, neither of whom were watching.

*

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I lay down in bed at around 9PM, believing I would somehow fall asleep and end this long day. Misery flooded my body. Depression overwhelmed me, and I stood up, thinking somehow that would make it better. Standing up could not help. Lying down or standing up, I was fucked. I could not bear this hell, I could not. Not for another moment. I could not be in this dark room, alone with my terrible thoughts and burning memories.

I went back to the playroom. My parents were still up, eating dinner while watching Little Britain on BBC Prime.

“I can’t sleep,” I managed to choked out.

My dad nodded, a serious but nonjudgmental look on his face. My mom just stared at the TV. Bed was better. I went back, paced up and down my room, returned to the playroom and sat all alone on the couch, as my parents ate dinner a couple of metres away.

There was no solution, I could see that. I had no way of ever getting back to him. Even if I did, what would I do? Tell him that I loved him and wanted to be with him? How could that do anything other than make it worse?

I wanted to talk about him. I wanted to tell someone how much I loved him. To detail to them every little thing that made me crave him.

Instead, I remained silent for five years.

*

I was depressed. Not a major, agitation-filled “episode” like I would experience later in life and like I had experienced that first night, but a constant inability to smile or enjoy life that led me to believe I had to somehow get back. I told my parents I wanted to emigrate, to make aliyah.

“If you can’t be happy in my home, why am I alive?” my mom said. “I should just kill myself.”

My guilty lips trembled, unable to form a response. Unable to reassure her and tell her it was not her fault, and that I could not be happy no matter how hard I tried.

“It’s like he’s in love with a girl there,” my dad said, sometime later.

I would wake up every day at around 5AM, and lie in bed vaguely panicked with the near-certain knowledge I would not make it back to Israel in time. N was only there for another year. After that, there was just no point.

My father was an Israeli citizen, and if I spent more time there I’d be forced to go to the army. My only option, as I saw it, was to voluntarily emigrate and do their hesder programme. Another year in yeshiva, after which I’d spend a year and a half in the army. I would have to get back there in May if I was to start the programme while N still lived there. No one else understood how urgent this was.

Every day I would listen to Dana International’s version of Zemer Shalosh HaTshuvot, an Israeli song about a woman agreeing to go through anything for her man. Promising to let him sleep with whores and leave her all alone, if that’s what he asked for. But declaiming that she would not do one thing – forget him. Not even if he begged her to.

I wondered if there would ever be a day that I did not think about him. I wondered if I could bear the possibility. I needed to get back. I set the wheels turning.

Getting things done had never been my strong point. And now, I had to organise my emigration all by myself. It was impossible, I knew. I did not have a driver’s license. I had no money. I had very little information.

Still, I did not give up. I did not speak of it with my mother except in guilty half sentences. I felt my dad supported it to an extent, but he would not openly back it. I stopped speaking to my parents. I stopped being miserable around them. I showed them no sadness. I showed them no anger. I showed them none of my existential terror. I showed them nothing but numbness.

When, after three or four months, I began to feel happy once in awhile, I did not show them that either. They might think my resolve had changed. They might expect me to start talking. To say things I had no will to say. I showed them nothing.

I immersed myself in a South African yeshiva and moved into a flat there. I shut my parents out, visiting for an hour or so on a Friday afternoon, and staying every fourth shabbat. I could never be happy in that home, nor could I be sad or angry. I could only be numb. I dreaded those visits, and could not wait to get back to the yeshiva, feeling immense relief on Sunday morning. Holidays were the same. I stayed away from my parents’ home, even when I had to be physically present.

It was the past. A world in which my reality did not exist. A world of silence that could never be reclaimed, even when I came out five years later.