THE FINAL? TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:    March 23, 1992

 

Damn David, what was he thinking?  I should be over at Shirley’s playing mah jongh, but no.  Ma, you need some adventure in your life.  Like I need hemorrhoids, I need this.  Schvitzing like a fountain, I’m the queen of Mardi Gras.  Who is he kidding?  I’m a Jewish dishrag in a swamp, Fat Tuesday.  For this I raised him, fed him, and bought him a fine education at the best goyishe schools money could buy.  And he sends me to a swamp.  Was I such a bad mother, I deserve this?  Tea at Sibley’s, that’s where I should be, but No, “Ma, you’ll have fun.”  If this is fun, God, bring on some suffering.  Where did I go wrong to deserve such tsuris.  Okay, so maybe there were days I didn’t change the diaper soon enough.  He resents me so much he sends me here?  Not a Jew in sight, and these fakokteh masks, I’m schvitzing my mascara off.  And what kind of hotel has fans and no air.  Local experience my tuchus.  At least in the mountains the air moves.  Here, bupkis.  So maybe it was her idea, that princess he married.  This is her way of getting even, for what, I don’t know.  She sits around the “Club” all day while he breaks his back making a life.  He would have been better off with that shiksah he dated in college, God should cut out my tongue.  Shirley save me from this madness.  Ethel, where the hell are you when I need you.  And Saul, may it be really warm in the place you are going, you putz, for giving me a son like this.

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ENTRY:  August 18, 2005

So he calls this morning, out of nowhere, my David.  He who’s allergic to the phone, how often he calls.  David, whose diapers I changed, it seems like forever, the sheets till he was ten.  His pediatrician had some long name for it, but I knew he was just too lazy to go to the bathroom during the night.  It’s not like he had to wash the pishy sheets after all.  And Lizzie hated handling the smelly things, but that’s what maids do I, had to keep telling her.  So he calls this morning, this son of mine, this child who, God willing, will say to me before I’m deaf as a stone like that composer, before they plant me in some discount plot with no view, Ma, thanks for all you did for me.  Like he even remembers!  From him I get mishegas in heaps, and tsuris in unhealthy doses.  And he calls in the morning?  Who died, I say.  And he goes silent.  The last time he was silent he was under general anesthesia, with a tube down his throat.  But now, he calls me for the first time in forever and then goes silent when I open my mouth.  I want to say thanks for the bupkis, but I bite my tongue, mothers shouldn’t be sarcastic.  Who died, I repeat.  “Dad is dead,” he whispers.  I say, “like I don’t know my father is dead, he died years ago, when you were still pishing your crib.”   “Not grandpa,” he says, “dad. You know, MY FATHER.”  Oh, I said, thanks for telling this to me.  “The memorial service is Thursday in the Interfaith Chapel over at the U.”  This I truly needed to know, I’m not at all sure why.  To me, I buried Saul, the schmuck, years ago, nice and deep in my memory, didn’t want his head popping up.  I buried the putz and now he’s got to go and die again, he couldn’t leave well enough alone.  So now I’m supposed to stand there in black, which makes me look twenty pounds heavier than I am, and pretend to cry, like I’d risk getting tears on good Italian silk.  Better they shouldn’t give me the shovel, I’ll dig him deeper still.  And with the black lace for the head, like a bit of drek landed on my hair.  So maybe that’s why he died, so I should stand around in black and everyone should stand around and whisper, just so I can hear, “look at Yetta, she looks so old, and has she put on the pounds.”  God, why do you punish me so?  Okay, so I made a mistake, I married the putz.  You blessed me with a child, so what if he can’t remember my birthday and thinks Mother’s Day is sometime in October, when he recalls it at all.  So now God, you think I haven’t suffered enough.  Like my tsuris meter is reading empty and I need a refill?  With a sense of humor like that God, it’s no wonder we had to invent the Borscht Belt.  Okay, so we had a couple of decent years, and the Caddy was a nice touch, but why would he think I’d want red?  You go figure.  And a memorial service at the Interfaith Chapel, what’s with that, unless it’s cheaper than the Chapel at the Schul.   So he thinks maybe he’ll pick up a shiksah in the next life, fat chance.  He didn’t want his non-Jewish friends to be uncomfortable, David said.  Like either of those goys could be uncomfortable in a room where there’s wine.  Discomfort? They should have shared a bed with Saul, they want to know discomfort.  You want sorrow?  Feel some for the Levy’s, next plot over, Saul, now they have to put up with your snoring for all eternity.  And me, all I got is this silent house with the toilet in the guest room that never flushes right.

First appeared here April 5, 2016

THREE MORE TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:  March 27, 1971

So, finally he’s here.  Nine months, what God, another joke?  Okay, she ate the damned apple, so stick it to the snake.  But what would you know, another man.  For six hours I’m lying there, dying from pain before the shmendrick walks in like some king, smiles at all the cutesy nurses, finally sees me and says “Yetta, you look good.”  I look good and he should get a giant boil on his tuchus.  God, me again, a couple more things:  One, it would kill you if David, yes a good biblical name, to hell I was going before I’d agree to Morty like my Saul wanted, so it would kill you if you gave him some hair so he doesn’t look like an overripe peach with eyes?  Two, so how about a new rule, labor before childbirth lasts only as long as the act of conception.  I could live with a two minute labor, and that’s from when Saul starts thinking about it.  And David’s lying on my belly (God, you can have the extra weight back now, I’m done with it) and he’s smiling at me  and Saul says “can I hold him, you’ve been carrying him for nine months.”  It’s a good thing I’m so tired or Saul would get a second bris, this time with a butter knife and no wine.  So listen, God, I need some rest, but a tip for the next world you create.  Skip the cockroaches, and if women have to suffer, hemorrhoids will suffice – we don’t need husbands too.

 

ENTRY:   October 2, 1987

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and this year Saul got the good seats.  Just in front of that new, cut young Cantor, what a Kol Nidre this will be.  And he’s single, not that I am.  Memo to self, find out what Saul’s hiding with the good seats.  I know he’s not schtupping his secretary, for that he’d have me made President of the Woman’s Club and maybe a seat on the Board.  And God, what to wear.  I could wear that new black silk, but it doesn’t go at all with my mink.  God, could you maybe give me a hint what kind of shmatah Natalie Stein, you know her, big nose and too much eye makeup, is wearing tonight?  Would that be too much to ask?

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ENTRY:     June 14, 1990

That putz, where does he get off saying he doesn’t love me, hasn’t for years.  What? I didn’t cook his meals, sew buttons back on his shirts always popping off, always a size too small.  This is how he repays me.  He should breakfast with worms.  It would be easier if there were another woman, maybe a bit younger, maybe a shiksa, that I could understand.  But no, god forbid, just “I don’t love you anymore.”  What a schmuck, and me – didn’t see it coming.  So God, this is payback for what, exactly?    That Yom Kippur I snuck a half a bagel before sunset.  Have a heart, there was no cream cheese, much less lox.  The kids are grown, I should be thankful for that I suppose, some nachos I’ll carry forward, that and the house the Lexus and the summer place, let him live in some apartment, may he someday rot in hell.  What to do?  First a good lawyer, heaven knows he’ll find some shyster.  Second, two buttons left on each of his damned shirts.  Let him poke himself with the needle, the prick.  I’ll survive, it’s not like my life with him wasn’t tsuris heaped on mishegas.   I’m better rid of him.  I’ll show him, clean him out good, he’ll think prunes are second rate when I’m done with him.  Oh God, am I such a bad person, you should make me suffer like this, you haven’t given me enough grief already?  This is how You repay a mother and wife?  God, you have some twisted sense of humor, but I’ll survive, just to prove You wrong too.  Oy, if only God were a woman, what a world this could be. 

First appeared here on April 4, 2016

MANUAL LABOR

(Instructions for Mourning a Marriage)

It didn’t come with an instruction manual,
no simple, poorly translated diagrams
telling me to “be inserting Tab A
into the Slot B,” none anywhere to be found.
But I was young, and didn’t worry,
despite entreaties to get help first
before beginning the intricate task of assembly.
I laid out all of the parts carefully
until it looked about right, and made
my own checklist, noting each part in detail,
smug when I found that all were present
including a couple that had no discernable purpose.
I cobbled together a small toolkit,
things that looked like they might work
and set about the laborious task of building it.
It went together fairly easily, logical connections
made, wires twisted and wrapped in small bits
of duct tape, until it took shape and function.
I reached out gingerly for the starter switch
and depressed it with great trepidation.
It began to hum, its gears crawled to life,
almost meshing seamlessly, with only
the occasional groan, shake and click
from some dark corner of the machine.

For some time it worked reasonably well,
with occasional starts and stops,
but nothing a little oil didn’t correct.
Every now and again I would find the odd part
left in its wake, and for a while
I would put them in a drawer in my desk.
But they grew too numerous, and since it
kept sputtering along, I slowly discarded them.
Now I can’t tell when it happened, since
I long ago stopped checking it each morning,
but one morning recently I turned to it
and it sat, refusing to move, static.
I pushed and prodded it. It sat.
I changed its battery. It shuddered and sat.
I took it to the repair shop and they stared
until one of them laughed and said,
“There is absolutely nothing we can do, we have
no idea how it worked this long, all we can say
is give it a proper burial, and next time
do yourself a favor and read the fuckin’ manual.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).

A SMALL PAIL OF TRUTH

The Good news about rom-coms
is that Hollywood (and occasionally
Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin)
crank them out endlessly, and each
contains that grain or two of truth,
like salt rubbed in the wound
of a failed first marriage, and the balm
of the discovery of true and abiding love.
The small pail of rom-com truths
is easily carried, sometimes off
a too strong wind, but it is never enough
to build a dune to hold back
the waves of emotion that attend
the most fragile and passionate
of all human relationships.
Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping
that this one’s grain is the one that tips
the scale ever so slowly in our favor.

A MESSAGE HOME

What I want to tell her is this:
it’s fitting, perfectly, that you
who so assiduously hid the past
from me, your past and mine,
now bars your entry, refusing you
even the briefest glimpse.
You want so to grab onto it
to have it carry you to a place
removed from here by time
and distance, where it is warm
and most of the time, cozy.
It is also fitting that you
call out his name, as though
he was in the yard
pruning a tree, delaying dinner,
the same he you cursed
glad to have him out of your life
and out of your house,
you wished him dead
so that you might call yourself
a widow and share
condolences with the other
black draped women.
You never mentioned
the six months of foster care
or the little sister who came
and went so quickly
when he had the audacity
to drop dead on you one morning.
This is what I would say to her,
this is the curse I would
place upon her
but she no longer
recognizes me, I am no more
than a well dressed orderly
come to remove her lunch tray.


First Published in Riding the Meridian 1999/1;2

GAZING

As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.

THE SON

He hangs on the guest room wall,
simply framed in black, adjoining
his more ornate, Cheshire-
cat smiling sister. He isn’t brooding
really, there is just a certain needful
sadness, as he stares out, imagining
how he pictured things would be,
how they were supposed to be,
realizing here, they never were,
never will be, and although there is
no failure, no blame, he wears it
as his personal armor, still
so easily pierced by dreams.

TOMORROW

Tomorrow I will lie to him
will tell him when he asks,
at least the first ten times he
he does, that she is doing fine,
that she is a tough old bird,
that she’ll outlive us all,
that she’s a Taurus, the bull
and he will remember the end
of their marriage, the Battle
Royal that was the war of divorce,
and he will smile a bit,
and say, “I miss her,” and I
will agree with him.
I do miss her a bit, but even two
and a half years of death have not grown
the size of my missing appreciably.
We will move on to other topics,
will circle back and rerun the tape
for with him every day is a series
of scenes from Groundhog Day, but
in his world, it never snows.

SORT OF

She is sifting through photo albums
deciding which pictures to keep, which
to discard, questioning why she kept some
in the first place, blurred, ill composed.
She sets very high standards now
wondering why some were taken, the sun
she says, all wrong here, the background
in that one just swallows the subjects.
I left my photos behind when I moved out,
so many of the woman I was leaving after
finally admitting to myself that she said
she had left me emotionally two years earlier.
Now I sit here and sift through memories,
deciding which to keep, which I wish
I could discard, questioning why I remember
certain things in the first place.
She will have far fewer albums
with only the best pictures when she’s done,
I will carry a mind full of memories
that absolutely refuse to be discarded.

GLASS HOUSES

You want to yell at him, tell him
to stop, that it is too soon, that he
is not ready, cannot be, won’t be
for months to come, but you know
he will not listen to you
standing, gesticulating, imagining
a stone in your hand, shattering
the glass walls, the crackling
gaining his full attention
causing him to realize what is
so very obvious to you.
But you cannot do so, wishes aside,
there are no stones to be found
within the house in which you stand
and if there were, there still are
very clear rules against your throwing one.