Sunday, November 06, 2011

How was the haunted house, Ayelet?

EG called me Friday afternoon to wish me a good Shabbos and confirm that I was coming over.

"So what time do you think you'll be there?" he asked. "About 2:30?" He sounded pretty eager. I thought that was a promising sign.

"Probably closer to 3," I said. "I could try for 2:45." Which is the time we settled on.

"I really want to thank you again for offering to hang out," EG said.

"Happy to," I said. "I know how lonely feels." We chatted about various things, including my job, our mutual affinity for Scotch, and the journal article I published a while back, because apparently EG had Googled me and found it and read it. I was flattered. Excited.

Shabbos morning I went to shul with Alona and her family for the first time in a very, very long time. It felt... weird. I don't know what I believe or where I belong, but it was easy to slip back into frum mode. But it's just as easy for me to slip out of it when I get back home and I'm alone. I will say that the lemon bars at kiddush were excellent, although kiddush was very crowded, which is stressful for me. I didn't really know too many people there, except for Alona, Batya, Eli, and Adir. I did catch a glimpse of EG, chasing one of his sons through the crowd, but I decided they looked busy and didn't call out to him.

I also saw Eric and Ahuva for the first time in more than two years. Characteristically, Eric invited me for lunch. I guess at some point I'll start going there again. And I saw the lovely Aviva.

Alona & Co. and I all went to lunch at Ozer's, along with two other people -- a single guy, Chad, and a divorced guy, Henry, that Alona and I have known for years. I actually went out with Henry almost 20 years ago, when I'd first moved to the West Side. It never went anywhere -- his decision -- but we remained friends. I hadn't seen him in a long time. I think the last time I saw him, he was married and expecting his first child. Now he's divorced with two, aged 9 and 8.

Alona needed to leave right after lunch to take her children to Shabbat gym, a program at a local synagogue. It's an indoor playground kind of place where kids can run and jump around and do athletic and gymnastics-type activities. Very important for apartment dwellers during the months of inclement weather.

"You're welcome to stay and hang out, Ayelet," Ozer said.

"Thanks, but I'm going over to a friend's," I said.

"Kind of an adult Shabbat gym," said Henry, with a grin. I was a little startled; Henry's usually extremely decorous. So much so that until he got engaged, I kind of thought he was gay. Although Henry was more correct than he realized, since I was going to crawl through the haunted house that EG built with his sons, Extravagant Boy 1 and Extravagant Boy 2.

"Not that kind of friend," I said.

I walked over to EG's apartment building and shlepped up five flights. Knocked on his door at 2:50pm -- no answer. Wondered if something had happened to EG and his children. I waited about 15 minutes, walking up and down the hallway because my knees prefer walking to standing. Finally I walked down the five flights and met EG and EB1/EB2 in the lobby. Walked back up the stairs with them, fortunately not huffing and puffing too much, and gratefully accepted a bottle of water.

"So what do you think of the haunted house, Ayelet?" asked EG.

"It's great," I said. "Can't wait to try it."

"Daddy!" said EB1. "I need to talk to you."

"Daddy's talking to Ayelet," said EG.

"But I need to talk to you now," insisted EB1.

"Give us a minute?" asked EG. "I'm sorry about this." They went off and conferred.Distantly, I heard, "It's fine, EB1. She's going to fit just fine." Ouch. But not the first time that someone's older son has opined that Ayelet is too fat.

EG returned. "Sorry about that," he said. "For some reason he didn't think you would fit in the haunted house. I told him it wouldn't be a problem."

"It won't be," I said, and crept inside. They built it from moving boxes, so I really couldn't crawl on my hands and knees; I had to hitch myself forward on my elbows and push with my knees and toes. It was very kind of creepy-cute, organized into different rooms. They had a "feather room" with a boa that was supposed to tickle the back of your neck when you crawled through. I didn't notice because my hair covers my neck. There was a jail, wrapped in fake barbed wire, and "Gadhafi's Tomb," which featured a pair of bony, bloody arms in torn sleeves.

"Those are Gadhafi's arms," said EG.

"Were they selling those under that name??" I asked.

"No, I can't remember what they were called."

After I made it through and didn't get stuck or destroy any part of it, EG and I talked, or tried to talk while his kids tried to distract us. I was more inclined to respond to the kids; I think EG is a little starved for adult conversation when he has his children, so he was more likely to tell them we were busy, and only stepped in when they started throwing things at each other -- which resulted in a time-out -- or tried to dismantle part of the haunted house.

EG and I talked about my job and the larger issue of why NYC seems to have so many homeless individuals -- or rather, such a high population of persons with mental illness. He pointed out an article in the New York Times about a state mental health hospital that was destroyed by Hurricane Irene, displacing 51 residents.

"In the whole state of Vermont, there are only 51 people who are mentally ill?" he asked.

"No, there have to be more," I said. "But their families might be better equipped to care for them. Ask me if I'd rather be diagnosed with schizophrenia in New York or New Delhi."

"You'd rather be schizophrenic in New Delhi?" EG asked, incredulous.

"Yes," I said. "People with schizophrenia in many third world countries have better outcomes, because they're more integrated into their families and communities. Often they're better taken care of than people with schizophrenia in the US, because family support is so crucial for people with mental illness to function normally.

"Most of my patients have been turfed out by their families -- not through callousness, but because their families are considered 'fragile.' Their fathers might not be around, their mothers might not get child support, unemployment rates are high, urban living is highly stressful. So their families can't take care of them, and they end up on the streets."

"This has been your professional experience?" he asked.

"And personal as well," I said. "I have a person in my family with severe and persistent mental illness. Very high functioning now, works, has a life, you'd never know they were sick. But I've been there with this person -- I've seen the hospitalizations, the medications, trying to find the right therapy -- it's really hard work. And this is with excellent family and social support."

We didn't just talk about me. I asked him about his custodial arrangements, which aren't entirely finalized, and spoke a little bit about Ivan the Terrible and his situation. EG asked me if I'd gone to shul earlier.

"I did," I said. "First time in a long time. I didn't really know that many people there; I was glad Alona was there."

"Why don't you know a lot of people at shul?" EG asked.

"I was out of circulation for a while, during my last relationship," I said. "For almost a year, I was spending most of my time with my ex in New Jersey. After we broke up, I had to figure out where I fit back in on the West Side, and I guess I'm still figuring that out."

In the clear light of Sunday morning, I'm wondering if that disclosure was unwise. I might have also scared him off by telling him someone in my family has a mental illness -- but better now than later. Much better now than later. I'd rather be honest as soon as possible.

The kids had been trying to get us to play Apples to Apples with them -- which I would have happily done, but Daddy was still starved for adult conversation. They pulled out Twister and began playing by themselves. EG invited me to watch a few rounds before I went home and they went to their 4:30 shiur. (Probably why he wanted me to come over as early as possible.)

"That looks like so much fun," I said. "I haven't played Twister in forever."

"It's hard for grown-ups," said EG. "We're not as flexible."

"Speak for yourself," I said. "I could play this if I were wearing pants." EB1 tumbled onto his tuchus, and EG embraced and praised the winner, EB2. I got up, put my shoes on, and picked up my coat.

"Thank you for coming over," said EG.

"Thank you for having me," I responded. "This was fun."

"Could you come again?" asked EB2, turning a somersault.

I was startled. "Uh, sure. Some other time, I'd love to come over. I'll wear pants and we can play Twister."

"Can you come tomorrow?" asked EB2.

"She can't come tomorrow because we're busy tomorrow," said EG quickly. "Also, you can't ask people to get together just the day before -- she's already got plans."

"I do," I said, thinking: go to the gym, come home & shower, go to the gym shoe store, go to the farmers market. "How about the next time you have them for Shabbos -- that would be November 19?"

"Sounds good," said EG. He and the boys walked me to the stairwell. "Let's walk her to the other stairwell!" said EB2. (The other stairwell is about 15 feet from the first.) "Look what I can do!" he cried, contorting himself à la Twister.

"Look what I can do!" cried EB1, not to be outdone. I indulged them for a few more seconds, then wished them all a Good Shabbos and went home.

At about 7pm, EG sent me a message on Facebook:

Thanks for stopping by, had a nice time chatting

I responded:

So did I :) how was the shiur?

Haven't heard anything. I guess we'll see.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

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