For the prospective reader I thought it would be helpful to post a sample chapter.
You can read the text below, or click here to hear me read it to you.
Chapter 1: Jamie Goldberg
Detroit, Michigan, Spring 1970
“I am sorry, Mrs. Goldberg, it is against the school rules.” Mrs. Bradford’s temples were pulsating. I, Jamie Goldberg, was her least favorite student. I was as annoying as a precocious ten year old student could be. Too smart for my own good, but not smart enough to make life easy for myself. She regularly humiliated me in front of my classmates, leaving me to wonder when I would ever feel like I belonged somewhere.
Mrs. Bradford enjoyed thwarting me with brute strength, if not mental superiority; but my mother was a force for which she was unprepared.
“You can’t let me take my own son out of school?” scolded my mother. Her small five-foot-one frame, bobbing red hair, and outrageous blood-red designer coat with the black tentacle fringe, made her look more menacing than her size.
The tall, gray-haired Mrs. Bradford towered over my parent. “He’s not sick; he’s perfectly well. There is no reason to take him out of school, Mrs. Goldberg.”
“Stopping a war isn’t a reason to take my son out of school?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“You won’t let me take my son out of school?”
“No!” Mrs. Bradford barked.
I saw my mother relax. I could not suppress a smile; I knew Mrs. Bradford had lost.
“Okay, just try and stop me then.” With that my mother, Mrs. Ruth Esther Goldberg, demanding wife, defender of the people of Detroit and mother of the school’s most unpopular student, walked over to my chair and picked me up by the arm. I almost stumbled out of my chair.
“Go, Mrs. G!” cried Brian Germaine, one of the school’s first black students—courtesy of my mother’s political machinations.
“We’re going,” she said as she hauled me out of class.
Amid hoots from the other kids, Mrs. Bradford ran to the school intercom, yelling something I could not hear because, in an instant, I was out of the room.
Mom whisked me into the car where my older brother, Steven, was already sitting.
“What Neanderthal schmucks,” she fumed. Off she drove with us downtown. The ride was jerky, but for us it was normal. Mom’s foot didn’t quite reach the gas pedal so she resorted to giving it a good kick in order to maintain speed.
In the back I was breathless from the tension in the school. I was thankful that the fight was over and settled in my mother’s favor, my terror of the later consequences notwithstanding. I was certain Mrs. Bradford would take revenge on me in front of
class in some dark and horrific way, while my mother, who was trying to save the world, was more than ready to sacrifice her son just as Abraham willingly offered up Isaac. Whether God would stop her at the last minute, I was unsure.
Mom was driving Steven and me to an anti-war demonstration, and it wasn’t the first time her political activities had gotten me in trouble with authorities and my pressuring peers.
When I was seven years old she had maneuvered to desegregate the local school district. She succeeded in getting only one African-American child, the aforementioned Brian Germaine, into our school. Mom’s accomplishment turned all my friends against me. Not at first, but as the kids compared notes with their parents, they ended up hating my guts, calling me “nigger lover” and other names my mother would never allow me to repeat, let alone complain about.
The only real close friend I had after that episode was this very same Brian Germaine, the single African-American whose family had the courage to choose the all-white school.
Unfortunately—that is for me, not for the United States—around my eighth birthday my mother tried again. Any remaining sympathizers disappeared when she and a local civic organization successfully sued the school district for discrimination. The presiding judge ordered the school board from the neighboring African-American township to resign. Then the judge fused the two school districts into one. Instantly my school went from seventy-five percent Jewish and twenty-four percent Catholic to fifty percent African-American and forty-nine percent “beleaguered” Caucasian. The latter group couldn’t get out of town fast enough—except my family; we were in it for the duration.
The school became an integrated/segregated school. The African-Americans stayed among them-selves and took my only friend, Brian, with them. This left me with no one. Neither side thanked me for my association with the ruining of both schools. I was alone, but not left alone.
At first the new world order shocked me.
I heard a familiar voice. I looked up from my gym locker. I smiled. It was Brian. I thought my lost friend was coming back. “Oh, hi, Brian. How is it going?”
Then, he was joined by three more unsmiling kids. “Brian?”
“Get up, Jamie.”
Brian’s voice resonated with that friendliness I associated with our former relationship. I even thought this was a discrete moment for us to declare our mutual friendships with new friends to boot. It wasn’t until he kicked me in the groin and his new buddies kicked my legs from behind that I realized something was amiss. The feelings of friendship quickly blended with howling pain and humiliation, creating a cognitive dissonance from which I was never to recover.
I came home bruised and my clothes dirty, chiefly because they were thrown into the garbage by Brian’s friends. My mother gasped, but she was on the phone.
“Mildred, you have to realize desegregating the schools is the most important—wait a sec, what happened to you?—nothing Mildred, my son just came home a mess. Anyway, keep me posted on Oakland County. I’ll come up there for a strategy meeting … knives? Mildred, that’s no excuse for cowardice … Millie, we have to start somewhere … pragmatism breeds poverty … What do you mean who said that? I did—look I gotta go; I’ll call you right back … Okay, then I am calling the mayor … Fine. Goodbye.” She slammed down the phone, then glanced at the damage. “What happened to you, Jamie?”
“I fell.” She accepted the excuse with a surprising ease.
“You fell? Again? Honestly, how can you be such a klutz. You have to be the most uncoordinated kid in school. What am I supposed to do with you?” It was a question she often asked but never answered. “Can you stop looking so sad all the time? Why not invite Brian and his new friends over to play sometime?” She stared at me and heaved a disgusted sigh. “Oh, go wash up—and change your clothes before your father comes home.”
I wasn’t just the butt of the black kids’ fury. I had become an equal opportunity target; both whites and blacks felt a compulsion to bully me.
But by then, I felt I deserved this fate, even the furtive beatings that followed. My situation lightened inadvertently when Jeremy, a high-voiced sissy tried to come to my rescue. Poor Jeremy. His weakness attracted the malicious beatings of our schoolmates with a fervor unmatched by those associated with
my political views. On the one hand I felt a vague kinship for Jeremy. This kinship extended just enough to make me feel guilty about his torment, but not so far as to join his side. Though I suspected even at
that early date that his was the side on which I really belonged.
At the Kennedy Square demonstration, by com-parison, the action was orderly. We marched resolutely around the square in a vain attempt to stop bloodshed in a distant land. My mother’s passion failed to allay my fear of the intimidating police. On horseback with grim unfriendly faces, they circled the marchers. Other sneering policemen in riot gear stood ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. I was shaking. My mother was defiant. For all their scary intimidation, the police did nothing. To Mom’s disappointment, there would be no arrests this time, unlike the 1968 Poor People’s March, the highlight of my youth.
Then, I was in a sea of strangers, the only white kid. My mother and father had run ahead so Mom could hobnob with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s second in command, Ralph Abernathy. I was marching down Woodward Avenue mouthing what seemed like
the words to songs I did not know. We all walked hand in hand, my eight-year-old white hand clasped by larger black hands. It was a beautiful experience. I was not afraid at all … until the march ended at the waterfront. There, white policemen on horses knew how to deal with people who marched in peace. Without warning, the men on horseback charged the crowd. A terrifying chaos ensued, during which I was pushed away, threw a tantrum, and was subsequently whisked away by Eileen, our house cleaner, who had somehow lost her shoes in the fracas. It was a nail-biting wait for my parents to return.
It was not until much later that night that my father and mother reappeared with a small African-American child named Ladon. He was maybe two years younger than I was. He lived with us for barely six months. Why, I am not exactly sure, though I was quite angry when he left. He was my last real buddy, someone who looked up to me. Ladon’s departure made me realize how alone I was in my own home.
This anti-war demonstration in Kennedy Square was pretty tame by comparison. Still, in spite of the solemn chants—“What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”—and our orderly marching with placards, I braced for the police to come and destroy us at any second. I was, for some reason, waiting for the hammer to fall. My brother Steven, looking completely unperturbed, shook his fists at them. My mom, noticing this, followed suit. Luckily, all to no avail, Mom’s only achievement was to heighten her youngest son’s fear.
The police surrounded the demonstration but left us alone, much to Mother’s disgust. “What a bunch of cowards,” she muttered. “If there were three more blacks here, we’d be getting trampled right now.”
I stared at the policemen on their horses. They seemed belligerent and proud. I swallowed. I began to chant, “Trample me! Trample me!”
Fortunately for me, they did not comply.
It has been a little over two years since the passing of my husband, Morris Taylor. And strangely enough it is only now that I am beginning to finally clean up the house. You see, I have been holding on to Morris's possessions like a life preserver: afraid anything important to him during his lifetime was a dear treasure to him in the afterworld/life. I was worried that the absence of any of this stuff would send his spirit off to join the company of his first wife in the grave of far off Berrien Springs, never to be seen again. But this was really only the beginning.
For me, it was the start of the most elaborate and puerile superstitions I would acquire int eh coming two years. Fancying myself a devout a-religious person, I was horror stricken as I started believing in ghosts and spirits, talking to candles and all sorts of strange things all of which was somehow entwined with the compulsion to keep dear Morris with me. I actually believed that, if not bringing him back, these beliefs or faiths would keep him from going away.
After two years of tenacious disregard for reality (a trait I picked up from right wing politicians) I finally realizes these beliefs or faiths were actually nothing more than sentiment or wishful thinking born of a fear to go it alone. That somehow an enjoyment or a success without him would be a betrayal as if I didn’t need him any more. So I tried to perpetuate a need for him. Rather self-destructive since he wasn’t coming back—at least not in a form I would ever recognize again.
The futility and hopelessness was only stopped as I realized this was all a folly born of fear and in direct conflict with my deepest convictions: my a-religousness which I explain to you as a disinterest in religion of spirit as driver of anything other than good or bad literature.
I have settled back to my main belief, which is: God or spirits may or may not exist, but I would prefer not to mix in. Religion is a murky bog of quicksand, once ensnared you will find difficult to free yourself or even write about it with any hope for objectivity. So it’s best to just let those sleeping dogs lie and remain confident if there is a truth to any of it that will then take care of itself whenever or wherever it chooses. In the meantime I returned to my belief or faith that if I keep my nose clean I shall suffer the consequence, if any, with the equanimity I have suffered the loss of Master Morris Taylor the former CEO of my life.
So I am surprising myself with the alacrity and determination I now find in discarding Morris’s precious belongings. As dear as his rave review in the 1964 London Times was, it means nothing to me. Nor does, a very itchy afghan knitted by his derelict, if deceased, mother.
But the things I have the hardest time dealing with are the things that seem to have an apparent, if unknown, value.
For example, Morris did scrawl on a plastic envelope that this faded colorful circus advertisement from the Detroit Free Press of 1881 was a Strobridge Lithograph. I have no doubt it is worth the $3,000 he claimed but finding someone willing to pay it is another matter entirely (dear reader, care to buy it?).
Master Morris was a collector and collected things that really boggled my mind: a collection of antique postcards, old Seventh Day Adventist propaganda textiles, old sheet music, and my absolute least favorite and yet most ubiquitous: his rock collection. I can honestly say in the 8 years I have served and lived with Morris, this was the only practice of which I contemporaneously frowned upon, to very little effect. I had a recent visit with one of Morris’s children and could barely hide my glee—when I was trying to feign generosity—when he said he actually wanted the rock collection.
I was bitterly disappointed to see that he had scarcely picked through a tenth of the collection. But he made the point I am grappling. He took just those stones—regardless of its aesthetic quality—which he had collected with his father when they were in Maine. These stones had more than intrinsic beauty or value to him. I was giving them away until a horrified friend told me I was throwing away untold amounts of money—and that really didn’t bother me except the fear I was wasting something. I mean I could auction them off and give the money to charity that does far better work than those who just took his rocks away.
But rocks are the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended): he collected all sorts of antiques, memorabilia and other things I can only best describe as junk.
But the Indian Spring cleaning has been thwarted by these so-called or presumably valuable items. I don’t really know what todo with them. So I hope I discern the junk and just throw it away (first offering it to family or friends who might be attached to them in some sentimental way. For the rest. I wish I could shovel them all on to the set of Antique Roadshow and be done with them. None of these things embody Morris’s spirit or what he meant to me—except the rocks and that’s a negative influence.
I need not fear that I am getting rid of Morris’s memory. His brilliant watercolors still line the house, yielding only for one wall that has the paintings I have used on the covers of the books I have or will have written. But even then, if the house succumbed to fire or earthquake, I am left with such rich memories and life lessons that my life even without all that stuff is still a living tribute to him.
The bright spot in all this, apart from relieving myself of unproductive superstitions if making the house more my own a place I can live in the present.
But you can take away from everything he ever touched and what I am left with is an enduring emptiness in my heart, a place where he once resided. Even if I get blessed to have a new love or a new husband, he will take his place alongside Morris. The hole Master Morris left in my heart shall never fill up—no curator can touch that. Its this emptiness that I treasure and proof of my deep and abiding love for him.
Did I also mention he has a substantial post card collection of rare and…
I have had to struggle with suicidal thoughts these past years. I am surviving with them, coping with them. And maybe if i share some of my experience it can help you too? As many know my husband/Master of almost 10 years died. I suffered a depression, so I am no stranger to suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they seem so strong I fear they will overwhelm me. And sometimes they do. But those thoughts never switch into actions. I find myself stronger than the thoughts. But I also keep in mind three things: First, I am conscious that I am depressed. That those thoughts are my depression talking not me. It gives the me the wisdom to tolerate them and not hate them; but not act on them. Second, i realize in the depths of depression, or a yearning to kill myself, i long to justify people would be better off without me. I even but up this whole argument about prevention, that by killing myself i was saving people from far further misery than if i had lived. These arguments, though, are simply delusional. Lies meant to ignore how much i am really loved. Third, as Master Morris Taylor taught me. If you do commit suicide, the misery you will inflict on everyone who has ever known you is enough to warrant being cursed. I simply cannot do that to my loved ones, my friends, my colleagues -- all who believe in me. I simple cannot let them down. I heard people say that suicide is a selfish act, and i am not convinced that is so. People who find themselves so drowned in misery can't see the results of their actions, and delude themselves that they are not loves nor valued. All I can say is that consciousness is the only antidote. Be conscious of your the state of your body, the state of your mind. Be aware of the gratitude that quivers through every soul, even yours. If suicide is meant to be a call for help, then listen to your own distress call--and help yourself. If suicide seems like an answer, realize it is a Permanent solution to a temporary problem. Problems constantly change, death never does. So I use suicide as a trigger to tell me: don't kill myself, instead kill time (even if its a marathon session of my favorite movies) something to get me to the point I can fall peacefully asleep and wake up the next day to try again. Give yourself time to prove that to yourself, you deserve at least that much. Lastly, for what it's worth: I don't want you to commit suicide because you are smarter than that. I wrote this not because it will save your life, if you are feeling suicidal, but it will hopefully give you tools that you can save yourself with. And if you do, maybe you will discover your own tools. Then i hope you will share those with others, we can never have enough of that kind of wisdom. Need to talk to some? There is a 24 hour hotline that would love to talk to you: Call 1-800-273-8255 (The National Suicide Prevention Hotline).
Today our electoral college, our last line in defense of fascism will officially elect a fascist dictator to the US presidency. Our country is on the precipice of its final destruction as a democracy. An authoritarian regime is about to take over. One so completely divorced from democracy that they currently aim to harm the very people who elected them. So does this mean we are doomed? No. We can descend into fascism, but we can also descend into chaos. Or we can repeat the last 8 years and descend into gridlock with a bad taste in our mouths. Nevertheless we should be prepared for the worst. It leads me to contemplate the fate of the most vulnerable for they will surely bear the brunt. Time has taught us that the ‘vulnerable’ are not the poor or the downtrodden they are the ‘different’. Think your wealth will protect you? I am sure the rich Jews of Germany thought exactly the same thing. So using that analogy, if this were Nazi Germany (and it very well may be) what kind of Jew will you be? There were Jews who disbelieved in what was happening. Surely this cannot happen here? They cried to themselves even as they were being herded onto trains, to experience exactly what they could not fathom. These were the believers in civil society, the believers in institutional safeguards. The vast majority of the 9,500,000+ Jewish population (https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005161). There were Jews who desperately tried to escape. Some succeeded and went to another country where they could get on with their lives while the rest of Germany crashed and burned. Of those who escaped not all fared well. Many were miserable refugees, some, like Stefan Zweig and his wife, committed suicide, and yet others found they had not escaped far enough like Anne Frank’s father Otto who escaped to Amsterdam only to be captured there and sent to a concentration camp. There were also those Jews slow on the uptake. “Oh my god, this is really happening!” they would realize in various degrees of too late. For these Jews a dilemma came up: they had to fight their fate but how? Some went into the underground. Some went into hiding. Some tried marrying Aryans (some 4,700). Others tried forged papers, and even went so far as to fight in the army for the Germans. There were also the apathetic, the apolitical, the ones with their heads in the sand or up their ass. They simply reacted to consequences as they appeared. They went into hiding when kicked out of their homes. They stole food when they were deprived of money. They were shoved into lower and lower levels of pragmatic survival. (about 1,400 of these survived living in Berlin throughout the war). (http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/berlin.html) Then there were these special class of Jews, call them delusional, call them the elites, call them the traitors. They thought working with the Germans would be the way to help attenuate the circumstances. They enjoyed privilege for so long they were useful to the Germans. They gave an air of legitimacy for the fellow disbelievers that it really wasn’t so bad. Their leaders after all would protect them. But nobody could protect them. Even this Jewish elite, somewhat serendipitously called in German the Jewish Rat, could not protect them nor themselves. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/judenrat.html They were actually called the Judenrat or Jewish Council) Though some did abuse their ‘privileges’ to help their friends or themselves, others wanted to only to find out that wasn’t so easy. They ended up helping the Nazi cause more than they ever hurt it. Of course these Judenrat members did not find these jobs very cushy and were often subjected to the same intimidation, torture and murder as the others. And to be fair, many were forced into the Judenrat, I am referring to those who more willingly participated in them thinking they could reform the Nazis from within. Then there was those Jews who opposed the system from the very beginning. They became the easiest targets of retaliation and often used as symbols of the impending martyrdom to follow. They certainly died with clear consciences. They raised awareness. They disabused the disbelievers, allowing many of them to take action. Many of them won credibility among the underground and as resistance fighters often got free passes from the underground to safer ground. That was surely the fate of Victor Lazlo, the secondary hero of Casablanca. So the question remains. Given on impending Trump presidency: what kind of Jew do you aspire to? Or are you confident this can’t happen here and certainly not to you?
Apart from literature, current events pull at my attention. Donald Trump's stunning takeover of the Republican Party. His candidacy, I originally saw as a joke. This joke has gotten very serious. I am very concerned for the message his ascendancy sends about America. The threat and concern that many groups of people, Women, Muslims and Latinos, must now feel. My Jewish background compells me to call this out and state uncategorically America must defeat Defeat Trump and the attitudes that allow him to flourish.
The personal is political. How one leads one's life is a political act. And for no one was that more true than the early years of Jamie Goldberg. He went to school in the so-called tolerant North. Yet he bumps up against racism he associates with the Deep South. This happens when his mother, a political activist, fights to integrate his school, that is to allow African-American children, who live nearby, to attend the currently all Caucasian school. He finds himself ostracized and in a dilemma: his friends ostracize him for his mother's political views. But they attack his mother. Yet the cost of defending his mother from attacks is further alienation. It creates another bad environment for Jamie, who suddenly finds himself, more often than not, left alone. And this is clearer in the newly published Chapter 5 of this book. By the way. I will be aiming to update this blog on a weekly basis. So if you check in on the weekends, you probably will get the latest entry.
To start I want to point out that because this kind of sexual abuse occurs very early in life, victims have a tendency to block them out of their mind. They block them out because they cannot deal with them or understand them. This means they do not consciously think about them or possibly even remember the event(s). Yet even though they are ‘blocked out of their mind’ the fact that it did occur and did happen still scars them. What I mean is, they suffer in some form or other due to this incident. We see this in the very first chapter of Jamie’s Early Years, when a simple child’s game goes wrong and Jamie feels a deep sense of shame about it. It’s immediate effects are the development of a self-blame, and for Jamie he takes on a self-imposed sense of low-self esteem, the feeling that he deserved feeling bad for doing something ‘wrong’. But as will quickly happen, the event will be blocked and he won’t think of it any more. What he will be left with is a mysterious sense of low self esteem without the memory of its original cause. This has the pernicious effect of making the victim feel they are a shameful person by definition and for no apparent reason. It also leaves nothing to relate to his parents, who never know what has happened, thereby depriving Jamie and his parents of being able to process or think the problem through. This makes Jamie vulnerable to what happens later in the book.