Dancing With Bubbie

My aunt is one of my favourite people, and her role in my life is, to me, like that of a Bubbie: nurturing, loving and steady. In my moments of low self-worth I doubt the validity of our relationship, but she always has a way of reminding me that I am important, such as at a Bat Mitzvah last month when she asked me to dance.

This is a tribute to one of the most fulfilling relationships in my life, and a now very cherished memory.

it’s ten o’clock at night and I’m
dancing with bubbie
or the person I wish I called “bubbie,”
the person I would like to have the nerve to ask to call “bubbie”
the person whose blood has never touched mine and yet
i love her as deeply, no, more deeply,
than if it were her who fed me matzoh ball soup as a child,
soothing my hunger pains and toddler-esque temper tantrums
with warm broth filled with fluffy white clouds that still taste like home, somehow,
than if it were her who would braid my hair on the nights when my parents
would go out for dinner and my baby sister would fall asleep in her bassinet
and I would jump on the bed, plump in my Disney princess nightgown,
filled with that strange kinetic energy you see in young kids who have been given candy
and permission to stay up late
than if it were her whose warm body I eventually fell asleep curled up next to,
the folds of her skin in her robe softer than any pillow,
than if it were her who ran her fingers through my thick auburn locks
and told me bedtime stories and always heeded my request for “just one more,”
enamoured by a child obsessed with poetry
before she knew how to write her own name.

my childhood was mostly devoid of these moments,
at least as far as I can remember.
my grandparents are wonderful
but hardly the affectionate type.
maybe I am being greedy. It’s just that
I wish I could have you there, too.
in the photos from my siddur ceremony when I was six
and my anxious pre-Bat Mitzvah phone calls
and your signature on birthday cards and
your presence seeping into my childhood,
turning it technicolour

[sc name="ad-300x600"]

I wish I had these memories with you,
but the truth is that for a long time I barely knew you
I mean, I knew of you
in the same way that I know I have cousins
in Chicago and family in Jerusalem
people I have never met, or have only vague recollections of
from a half-remembered dream,
I knew you existed, somewhere,
if only as a paper cut-out.
if only as a silhouette.
if only as someone else’s memory.
I didn’t understand how special you were
until you became real to me. until you
took form in my life, a shape shifter,
a hand to hold, a voice on the other end of the phone,
a reason to keep living.
since then I’ve loved you for
your authenticity, for the way that you are so full of love,
of kindness, the way you exude gentleness, life,
the way you overflow with the good things you were made of
for your idiosyncrasies, for your schtick,
for the way you wake up way too early, at one with the sun
and everything good and great and holy
this relationship, it’s sacred to me,
please tell me you know that.

because I have no right to be here, I know that.
moving slowly under strobe lights, one arm around you,
one hand in yours where it has always felt safe.
I know I do not fit in here,
among the people who have made you matriarch,
among those who have called you “bubbie” since birth
because they have never known any different.
a part of me envies them for knowing your love so naturally.
for never needing to doubt its strength, its validity,
though looking back, I feel only shame for doing so.
your love is a tidal wave. it is strong enough to knock me over.
how dare I doubt you when you tell me how much you love me.
just because I am so conscious of my own faults,
especially those I’ve blown out of proportion,
does not mean that you love me any less for them.
i just wish I had some tangible, some visible connection to you —
you’re like a grandmother to me,
I just wish I was more like a granddaughter to you.

so here I am, under these flashing strobe lights,
dancing with bubbie —
or who I wish I called “bubbie” —
or who I’d like to have the chutzpah to ask to call “bubbie.”
there’s a slow song playing,
not one I really like but I think
I will probably like it more, now.
every step laced with sentimentality,
the back of my eyes burning. i want to be fully present,
and i don’t want to blink. i want to memorize the way
my feet feel in these shoes and the way the fabric of your jacket
feels against my hand and the taste of the hot air against my tongue.
i do not ever want to forget this.
please G-d, do not let me forget this.
i am not looking at you, but rather at my feet, terrified that
they will trod on yours, terrified that they will tumble.
i whisper a quick apology to you, a habit of mine you don’t like much,
saying that i’m not a very good dancer. you shrug, say “neither am I.”
I am so warm, warmer than I have ever felt dancing,
warmer than I have ever felt with a fever,
warmer than I have ever felt in the middle of the summer.
beads of sweat reach my eyes; or are they tears? i blink them back.

i am safe here, so safe holding your hand, so safe swaying in simcha,
dizzying to me though our movements are gentle.
you are my new favourite dancing partner,
and I no longer miss those childhood moments I had once deemed so necessary
to my development, I no longer see them as lost time,
rather, as waiting. this, here, is what matters.
these last four years, is what matters.
everything from now on, is what matters.
so what if you weren’t there to comfort me with matzoh balls as a child?
since then you have nourished my soul every day, in every way.
when i finally meet your eyes, mine are shining.
my throat is closing, I am choking with everything I want to say,
until I realize I do not need to. you hear me, you understand me perfectly.
the guitar strums softly in the undertones of this song that
will never sound quite the same to me, now,
and my heart fills with gratitude and
I want to thank you for letting me in.
for making room for me here, with you.
for dancing with me in this space
where only love and holiness live.
for dancing with me through life,
spinning, swaying, holding me up and holding my hand,
and being my Bubbie in every way but name,
and loving me through everything –
i know you can hear my heart, but just let me say it,
while we’re spinning, now –
I love you