My Shattered Reflection

Trigger warning: This piece contains content which may be disturbing to some: Self harm, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

 

They say a leap is just a matter of faith. Well, yesterday, I leapt. Straight thru the bathroom mirror. You read right. Thru the bathroom mirror. Sliced my veins. Shattered my reflection. And broke my soul.

Now, dear reader, if you understand what I’m saying, you’re worried. But don’t worry. I always come back. Let me explain.

From the day I got married, as each month slowly ticked by, it was just a question of when. When would we be blessed? When would it be our turn? When would my stomach grow? But as months became years, well, the blessings never came. Even as doctors were consulted. Even as we got the brachas. And as those years ticked by, the darkness started to take over. When would I reach my limit? When would I be ready to give up, draw the curtains in my mind. Invite the shadows out to dance. Leap.

Well, now is the time. “Like skinny-dipping in a cool pond on a hot day,” I told myself. One. Two. Three. Jump. Just jump.

The preparations were simple. First, lock the bathroom door. Check. Then take off my clothes. Naked. I said its like skinny-dipping, right? OK, now stop. Reach out. Touch my reflection in the mirror, one last time. Feel the soft lines of my skin, one last time. Let my reflection touch me back, one last time. She and I, we both stand sideways. The silhouette of my stomach? Flat. Hers too. Been that way for three long years now. Not that it matters anymore. My reflection reaches out and grabs my hand, guiding me to the jump. I pull back, pause for a second and let the tears come. She waits patiently. She has time.

After a few minutes, I stopped, wiped my tears, and mentally confirmed my certainty. “Stay focused,” I tell myself. My reflection smiles at me, and I smile back. Then, when I’m ready. Well, then I jump right thru. Thru the mirror. My reflection, she gently reminds me to hold my breath, then stop. Stop breathing.

Now let’s rewind just a bit. I’ll tell you that the days before the leap were rough. That’s the way it always was. But especially this time. I was overflowing, yet at the same time, empty. Like a bell jar. Understand? Actually, maybe you don’t. Why should you? So, let me just lay it all out for you right here.

It all began with the invitations. You’re all so nice, sending us those invites. I could check my email two or three times a day, and there’d be another invite. To the Kapowitz baby bris. (Mazel tov! Such a beautiful baby.) To the Cohen baby bris. (Mazel tov! He looks just like you.) To the Adler baby bris. (Mazel Tov! Such a big boy.) To yet another sholom zachar. Another pidyon haben. To yet another simchat bat. Mazel tov, mazel tov, mazel tov. Did you hear me? Mazel tov a million times over.

Afterward, the community would ask for chesed for the new moms. Chesed for them? What a joke. As if they need help and I don’t. If I’m still not clear, let me just say it. Say it just me to you, my dear reader. I know you’ll keep my secret. And well, say it to my reflection too. She’s always kept my secrets. So, here it goes. “I don’t want to bring you a meal. Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re tired. I’m sure you’d love to take a shower, wash your hair. Straighten up a little bit. Take some time for yourself. But I don’t want to bring you a brisket. I don’t want to make you my grandma’s Yerushalmi kugel or her mandel loaf. Someone else can do it.” But in the end, I brought the meals. I always did. Always.

“Your wife is so filled with chesed,” people would tell my husband.

And, while we’re talking, my dear reader and, you too, my reflection, let me just say it. “I don’t want to shop for baby gifts every Sunday morning. I’m done. Umbrella stroller. Onesies. Baby blankets. So sweet and oh, those onesies, so small. The catch in my voice every time I tell the sales clerk “It’s a gift.” A gift. Hah. No, it’s not a gift. I mean, yes, it is a gift. If it was for me, well, you wouldn’t be reading my story. Sure, it’s a gift. For every new baby, I bring a gift. Of course I do.

That’s what we do, right?

And yet, no one saw. No one saw my emptiness. “How could anyone see your emptiness?” my reflection would laugh at me. “How can anyone see emptiness?” Meanwhile, I went to each and every new baby celebration. Always with a gift. Always with a smile. “Always looking good,” my husband would say. What a joke. And the next day? I’d always stop by the new mom’s house. With that brisket, that Yerushalmi kugel, and that mandel loaf. Always. Always. Always.

But once back home, I’d rush to the bathroom. Lock that door. Go to the mirror. To my reflection. With the door locked, I didn’t need to smile for anyone. Just look at my reflection. Then scream, because there was nothing left to say. Scream. Loud, if no one was home. A silent scream if my husband was there. Those screams were the worst. Mouth wide open, but no sound. Eyes looking straight thru, searching beyond my reflection. That’s when it became dark. Curtains drawn, shadows dancing, and all that.

That’s why we’re here. Behind this locked bathroom door. So, I did it. I leapt. One. Two. Three. This was no attempt. Don’t let anyone call it that. No cry for help. This was success. This is what I wanted. What we wanted. My reflection and I. I leapt straight thru the mirror, holding my reflection’s hand. She carried me from there. To the other side. And after the initial shock passed, then I‘d see her. She promised. My daughter.

She was there. Waiting for me. On the other side, I strained to see more clearly. It was difficult. The darkness was solid, as if curtains were drawn. Yet, I could feel her there. And as I grew more accustomed to the darkness, I saw her. At the long table, patiently set for shabbos. The smell of brisket, Yerushalmi kugel and mandel loaf in the air. The entire scene was odd, but somehow not unexpected.

There was one empty seat at the table, right next to her. I’d wait for her to look my way. Call me over. “For me?” I’d ask. “Of course, mom,” she’d say, totally natural, motioning me to take a seat.

I told her my story. Our story, I guess. The invites, the meals, the gifts, the years that went by filled with emptiness. And then I told her how I got there. When I was done, she said my story was disjointed and harsh, but wasn’t finished yet. There was more to be done. I had to go back, she said.

At that she stood up, gave me a sweet hug, and sent me on my way. As I left, I turned and saw her push her chair in, grab the hands of the other women at the table, and invite them to dance. Together they formed a circle. Started to dance. Slowly at first. Gradually picking up the pace. But who was dancing with her? I strained to see faces, but could only make out shadows.

And when I woke up in the hospital bed, my eyes took time to focus. Someone had opened the curtains in the room, letting the light in. I noticed the bandages around my wrists. The doctors had repaired my veins.

And, as my eyes grew more accustomed to the light, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the wall. There she was, reaching for my hand again. Inviting me to jump into that cool pond. I closed my eyes, squeezed them shut, resisting, grateful for the straps holding my arms down.

My eyes took time to focus again. I sensed the nurses in the room, with their silently choreographed movements. Felt my husband and the doctor nearby, a wordless tango of truth between the two of them. But as I tried to focus, my eyes could only make out their shadows and I knew. I knew that my soul was still broken.

When they eventually released the restraints on my arms and after I regained some energy, I wrote it all down. Wrote down my story. Just as you are reading it now. It’s not done yet. My story is not yet finished.