It felt like dying, only you’re expected to reincarnate much faster: rapid loss of breath, chest heaving to compensate. Dizzy. The room would fade in and out. I watched myself descend into fight or flight, an encumbered observer over my own body.
At fifteen, I asked to be separated from that part of my identity rooted in fear. Was it possible to unlink? Could I attain the division of self: an existence without the weight of imminent extinction?
My father felt it too. He brought me tea one night, bourbon and honey. It Will Help You Sleep, he promised. What If I Die, I asked. You Will, he said. But Not For A Long Time. We Are Survivors, You And I.
They gave me Zoloft to stop the shaking and Seroquel to help me sleep and Prozac when I had the urges to go to temple when it rained and they gave me Lexapro for the side-effect depression. They gave me Klonopin and Ativan and Valium and Xanax was my favorite; it made the room spin the least.
The effort was in solid determination to mute what so viscerally tied me to my ancestors: that brink-of-death anxiety we all know so deeply. It ebbs and flows through our veins tethering us to each other, the Jewish people.
Maybe we didn’t speak Hebrew at our Seders but the bloodlines flowed. We were descendants of those lucky enough to hold on, who knew they had to keep living. At family gatherings, the room would get silent. Why Is Our Family So Small? someone asked once. The Rest Of Us Were Killed.
But the drugs seemed to perpetuate more drugs; we were desperate for some kind of medicalized solution, capitalizing on our ingrained identity. Could we learn to escape? Or to ever quell the pharmaceutical self?
The healing had to begin through the (re)discovery of voice. Shrouded by years of institutionalized hate, the beauty of our culture must manifest itself in celebration, unapologetic lighting candles and sharing kindred spirit. Singing and loving and never- forgetting, we must come out of hiding. I want to hear each voice.
From Annie: “This work is inspired by the image of a character looking poised and overwhelmed, the base, supporting a dilapidated castle. The figure represents the protagonist’s Jewish ancestry in the strife and struggle of the Jewish people, who bear a weight that has been carried through generations. Striking colours provided a glimmer of hope through the subversion of institutionalized hatred, confiding in the expansive possibility of self-expression.”