KR BlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsEthicsReadingRemembrancesWriting

Dybbuk or Ibbur: Midnight Dances with Isaac Bashevis Singer

Ghosts and all these things which people call today superstition are the very sparks which we are ignoring in our day.

—Isaac Bashevis Singer in The Paris Review

In an interview with The Paris Review, Harold Flender remarked to Singer that he was that rare Jewish author to write about the devil while “Hebrew literature avoids the theme of the diabolical.” Singer agreed that “Yiddish and Hebrew literature are both under the influence of the Enlightenment,” its authors focusing on the “rational and logical… deal[ing] with the real world.” Singer knew some of his most famous tales were rooted in old superstitions and “the dark ages,” and yet what was most real to him was the darkness. In his stories everyday men and women are tricked by demonic figures. They give into such vices as easy wealth, lechery and vanity, which leads to the ruin of an entire village or worse: eternal torment for the most transgressing of souls.

Of course in addition to his supernatural tales of Asmodeus, Ketev Meriri and other minor demons, Singer wrote about the darkness of the real world itself. In his autobiographical story “The Shochet’s Wife” set in early twentieth century Warsaw, a young Singer spies on a corrupt shochet (a kosher butcher) named Wolf as he slaughters chickens:

“The cellar was full of blood and feathers and stacked cages filled with live fowl. Wolf stood there working next to a washtub filled with live fowl. He seized a chicken forcefully and, it seemed to me, with anger. He turned its head back flickered out a little feather, made a cut and threw the chicken to a girl in a bloody jacket who plucked feathers…with a murderous fury while the bird was still quivering and thrashing about… How could God see all this and remain silent? Why did He need such a world? Why did He create all this? And why would repay all these little chickens for their suffering?” (18)

Singer, a vegetarian and animals rights’ activist, once compared animals as living in “an eternal Treblinka.” The shochet himself is drawn as a wild beast who trims his beard (forbidden among Singer’s Orthodox Jews), lusts after a “bareheaded piece who doesn’t keep Yiddishkeit” and visits “his wife during her unclean days” before abandoning her for America. The young Singer wonders if it’s the everyday slaughtering of animals that made the shochet the way he is, and why God would allow it.

During this time of his adolescence, Singer’s father was a deeply pious Chassidic rabbi, who preferred the solitude of studying and writing his Jewish commentaries to serving as a rabbinical judge, the family’s sole source of income. Despite a dalliance in socialism (only because it would give him more time to study Torah) Singer’s father was greatly displeased with his Jewish peers as much as he with the world at large; in the story “A Forged IOU,” his father had a “Jewish, scholarly repugnance for anything having to do with police, gentiles, courts of law and their entire legal system…he that the masters of this world were all evil, knew nothing of justice…” (209). The rabbi told his son that only when the Messiah comes would there be a world worthy of his attention; he preferred to ignore the growing secularization of his Jewish neighbors, rising anti-Semitism and the impending First World War.

While his father became more withdrawn, only wanting to lose himself in Yiddishkeit, Singer’s brother Israel Joshua began to bring home all sorts of illicit (meaning secular and non-Jewish) literature; he questioned the very faith and its laws that defined their entire life. It wasn’t long before I.B. Singer too was reading Gogol, Dostoyevsky and others who’d provide a gateway out of the confines of his father’s beth din. Soon, his father’s world would vanish, as I.B. Singer and his mother departed for her ancestral village; eventually he’d leave Europe altogether for Palestine and then New York.

Yet, despite leaving the ways of the Chassidim, his father’s world never left him, and I imagine I was not the only young Jew, living in the late 20th century Jewish Disapora, for whom Isaac Bashevis Singer provided such a gateway into a lost world consumed and destroyed by the Shoah. A world preserved by a man whom Henry Miller intoned: “Isaac Bashevis Singer! Bless the name! A writer to drive on crazy is one has the ear for the underling melody, the meaning behind the meaning… afraid of nothing…as for sex, always full-boded like a rich wine, sometimes with love, sometimes without, but never hidden or disguised…”

FullSizeRender
From the back cover of the 1957 Edition of GIMPEL THE FOOL

I remember asking my father what these very words meant, and his face turning red as he took the book from me. It was I. B. Singer’s Gimpel the Fool, 1957 edition for sixty cents, translated by Saul Bellow, Shlomo Katz, Isaac Rosenfeld and other Jewish writers. Eventually my father would give me his copy, with Gimpel on its cover, looking content with his one-leafed weed:

My father's copy of I. B. Singer's Gimpel the Fool - 1957 edition, 60 cents, translated by Saul Bellow #jewishlit
Front cover of 1957 edition of GIMPEL THE FOOL

 

But back then all my father said was: Well, Singer has always liked the ladies.

Of course, I couldn’t let it go at that.

What do you mean? What ladies? I asked.

My father turned the book in hands, opened it to a page and silently read a random passage to himself, rocking slightly as if he were reading Mikra. He chuckled as I jumped up and down trying to see what he was reading. He looked at me over his glasses, and then put the book back on the shelf.

Not yet, he said.

Not yet what? I said.

You’re only 10, he said, patting my head.

At that age, for some reason, adults like to tell you how old you are.

Go finish your Torah studies, he added.

But I want to read that book, I said. Isn’t it a Jewish book?

What do you mean? My father asked me.

I mean… I began, but couldn’t say what I meant. My head swarmed with images I didn’t altogether understand: my mother laughing over a glass of Sabbath wine, her bare shoulder peeking out through her shawl; her neat Hebrew script next to my clunky block letters as we went over the language together; me pointing to a print of Chagall’s “I and the Village” that my father’s mother gave us as I asked if the horse and peasant were about to kiss, were they a couple like my parents, and my grandmother scolding me in a jumble of Yiddish, Russian and English for having such weird and impure thoughts.

First things first, my father said, interrupting my reverie.

But what did you mean, he likes the ladies? I persisted.

My father sighed. It means he was never happy living with one woman.

Why? I asked.

Hmmm, my father said, smiling again, I think it’s because he never met a woman like your mother.

You mean because Mama’s Mexican?

My father laughed. No. Now go study.

A year later I got my hands on that book. It was a difficult year which I’d recalled in “Not-Quite Goodbye,” when my mother was ill, my father shaken of faith and my ever-curious fingers touched an actual Torah as our rabbi tried to comfort me. What I left out then were the very strange things that began to happen in our home that year, and as a tribute, here is my own tale of discovering the world of Isaac Bashevis Singer just as my own world was falling apart.

*

In a small room he used as a study, my father had three towering bookcases that held a strange mélange of the sacred and the secular, though mostly Jewish, authors; many of the books were very old. As my mother lied in bed, recovering from extensive surgery that removed her entire reproductive system, my father stayed by her side, reading to her from one of two volumes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: Collected Works. I would sit by them, and listen, but Doyle was too tame for me. By then I had discovered Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Madonna on a gondola singing “Like a Virgin,” the brave man who faced down a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. I memorized the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t the Fire” without knowing exactly what most of the events or symbols were. I couldn’t turn to my father at the time. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t tell me; unlike Singer’s father, my father wanted my older brother and I to know of the world at large; he felt that living in ethnic seclusion could only spell trouble for the Jews, or any given people. Besides, he’d once said to me, rumpling my hair, if he’d only known Jewish ways, my brother and I wouldn’t be here.

No, I couldn’t ask him because he didn’t do anything but tend to my mother. My Aunt Nena had to come and take care of my brother because my father was so devastated at the thought of losing my mother. I tried to be good, and came straight home from school, did my chores and then my homework. But that’s when strange things began to happen. One day I was drying dishes and felt something behind me, like a cold gust of air, only it stayed and wrapped around my torso. I whirled around, and dropped a glass which shattered on the floor. I searched the kitchen, but there was nothing there. Another time a toy bear, which sang when wound up, went off in the middle of the night, not only waking me up but also my cousins who’d come with my aunt and shared my room. Soon after that, I was doing my homework in the kitchen when I saw, quite visibly, a bird fly into the window; I heard the smack and all. But when I went outside, there was nothing there.

I came crying to my Aunt Nena, and asked her not to share any of this with my father. I didn’t want to disturb him. But adults will be adults, and one day I overheard her telling him about the things that I’d seen. I heard my father sigh, and say that I must be having a tough time seeing my mother so sick, with not going to temple anymore on Friday nights, with this new morose nature of his.

My ear pinned to the door, it took all my will not to shout out: But these things are really happening!

The next day my Aunt Nena called me into the study. She rarely went in there, so I was curious what she had to tell me.

I have something for you, she said. It’s one of your father’s books. I thought it might help.

The Singer book? I asked excitedly.

My aunt frowned. No, she said, and then handed me a tiny, red book, meant to fit neatly in the palm of a grown man:

IMG_9287
Cover and title page of A BOOK OF JEWISH THOUGHTS. Selected and Arranged by Joseph Herman Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. Abridged Edition for Jew in the Armed Forces of the Uniter States. © 1943.

My aunt, being from mother’s side and Catholic, probably thought by the title alone, this little book contained the help I needed in dealing with the circumstances. She kissed my cheek, and left the study. I sighed and thumbed through it. The book, given to my father during his brief stint in the U.S. army, contained Jewish quotes, and about one-third of them were from non-Jewish authors, politicians, anthropologists and thinkers who’d written on subjects such as “The Jew in America” and “Patriotism and the Jew” — one in particular, a Unitarian minister named R. Travers Herford, was even cited as a “rabbinical scholar.” Here’s what Herford had to say:

“With the Synagogue, began a new type of worship in the history of humanity, the type of congregational worship. In all their long history, the Jewish people have done scarcely anything more wonderful than to create the Synagogue. No human institution has a longer continuous history, and none has done more for the uplifting of the human race.”

My mind began racing; I felt offended and didn’t know why. These were good things that this Herford fellow had written—but how could he be a “rabbinical scholar” and not be a Jew? Why did he italicize the word congregational? Why capitalize Synagogue? Why was it uplifting and how did he know? Why did A Book of Jewish Thoughts include non-Jews? Could non-Jews have Jewish thoughts? Why is it entirely in English? Was this a holy book? Was it a prayer book?

Suddenly I felt a chill behind me, not unlike the first one I’d felt in the kitchen, and it enveloped my chest again. I froze, unable to move or even speak, though I tried. Was I dreaming? Was I trying to awaken and couldn’t? But my eyes were open. I could hear my aunt downstairs talking on the phone, our parrots chattering on and squawking, the screeching sound of someone rewinding a tape on my brother’s boombox. I shut my eyes, all the while trying to move, and suddenly I saw my father. But it was a younger version of father: here he was remote, taciturn, dressed in army fatigues, camouflaged and clean-shaven, totting an M-16 through thick vine and fog, his right hand clutching this little red book, squeezing it as though his own heart. I tried to call out to him, but he couldn’t see me and then he vanished, only to appear again, sitting alone in some wooden shack, eating peas out of a can, in blue jeans and a t-shirt, no books to be found, no kippah on his head. I tried again to call out to him, but he just went on piercing the peas with his fork, eating four a time, slowly. Alone. His sad eyes watched as the sunset and his shack was slowly enveloped in darkness. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Just as I was about to lose sigh of him, he reappeared again anew, this time at my mother’s bedside as she slept, his hands clasped behind his back.

I was still very afraid, but relieved because I knew this side of my father; he was no longer unfamiliar. This is how he walked, hands behind his back, when he’d still attended services regularly, when he was a man whom prayed in the most private of terms, but prayed morning, afternoon and night. I saw my father reaching for this little red book on the nightstand, the very book I thought I’d still had in my own grasp. He thumbed through it with shaking hand. My father’s shaking hand. My father, who never completely shed that melancholy of growing up in such dire straights, now so afraid to lose the one who was the reason he hadn’t lost his house of prayer.

Suddenly whatever had wrapped around me loosened, and I opened my eyes. I was still in the study, the little red book at my feet. I picked it up. My hands were shaking. I’d dropped it; should I kiss it, like a prayer book? Just to be sure, I did. Then I put the book back on the shelf, and wiped my eyes. What had just transpired? What had I seen? What dark matter?

I crept out of the living room to my parents’ bedroom. I stood outside the door, and pressed an ear to the wood. I couldn’t hear anything. I clasped my hands behind my back, and thought of my father sitting alone that wooden shack, that can of peas, that loneliness.

I understood: this would have been his life without my mother. A world without love, without purpose, without holding onto the books that made, unmade, remade him a man of faith, of Torah, of hope. I understood and wanted to tell someone I understood, but I didn’t know who that was. I didn’t know the one who’d showed me these things.

*

That little red book was a prelude to the question: What is Jewish writing? In that interview with The Paris Review I cited earlier, Singer revealed he did not like the idea of one singular idea of the Jewish writer:

“But if you forced me to admit that there is such a thing as a Jewish writer, I would say that he would have to be a man really immersed in Jewishness, who knows Hebrew, Yiddish, the Talmud, the Midrash, the Hasidic literature, the Cabbala, and so forth. And then if in addition he writes about Jews and Jewish life, perhaps then we can call him a Jewish writer, whatever language he writes in.”

My father would include Israeli and Palestinian writing to this list, and that included everyone, including stories and histories from the Druze, Dom (Middle Eastern Romani) and other ethnicities as well. My young head would spin when he’d tell me this, and I get overwhelmed by the number of cultures, languages and conflicting histories that made up the ever-conflicted country.

Good. My father would say.

How can that be good? I’d ask.

So there’s no one expert, he’d answer. When someone claims to be an expert on Israel, he or she will never be able to tell you the truth.

B. Singer would have agreed with this kind of thinking. Recently I’d tweeted a picture of my father’s copy of Gimpel the Fool, and poet and editor Don Share replied with a photo of three Singer epigraphs in his book Squandermania:

My book Squandermania has *3* epigraphs from Singer!
From Don Share’s Squandermania. Used with permission of the author.

That last epigraph in particular seems very Jewish, at least to poets like me, to thinkers like my father, for whom everything begins and ends in/as/for a book, the book, the missing book. There is the book we are always trying to write even as Singer argued “every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression,” and there is the book whose narrative we constantly rage against, challenge, subvert, even as Singer suggested that “Life is God’s novel. Let Him write it.”

I believe it to be very Jewish to value both quotes; after experiencing the strange visions of my father, I, of course, went back to the study by myself. I had to stand on a chair and then my tiptoes to reach Gimpel the Fool, but soon I had it in my hands. I read all the stories in two days. Henry Miller was right: the book was much more erotic and disturbing than anything I’d ever read or seen. In the title story, above the opening lines “I am Gimpel the Fool. I don’t think myself a fool”, my father had made a note that Bellow isn’t translating this right: the first fool is “tam,” which means “simple,” whereas the second “nar” really does mean fool! (Later, he’d tell me Singer didn’t let Bellow translate any more of his stories, that one really has to understand how rich in puns and figurative language Yiddish is.)

While I found myself frustrated with Gimpel, who my younger, rougher self found to be a pushover many times deceived, the real magic began with such as stories as “The Gentleman from Cracow,” in which a doctor-turned-charlatan-turned-chief-of-devils dupes and ruins an entire village; “The Wife Killer” Pelte who meets his match in his last marriage choice, a “demon” of a woman; the one who declares “I am and I am not” in “From the Diary of One not Born” who goes from playing childish pranks to full-on debauchery. My favorite from the collection was “The Mirror” due to its graphic descriptions of the female naked body and the funky-looking imp that lusts after her, as well as the story’s frightening depictions of hell and its many demons.

I knew of the various demons Singer described in his stories from Jewish folklore, but had never seen them act so deploringly, and in such detail. By the time I finished the collection, I put it back on the shelf. I wondered if my own father was a superstitious man. I thought of all the stories he’d told me, when I’d remembered the one about his parakeet Zevi and the recliner my grandfather had often he slept in.

My father kept parakeets all his life, or rather his parents bought him some, so he’d be less lonely. His mother had him in her mid-to-late forties which was a rarity in the mid-twentieth century. His father was in his sixties when he was born. My grandmother had been married once, my grandfather twice, perhaps three times. Because of this, and for other reason, my grandparents’ relationships with their families were strained. My grandfather had grown up religious but left his community as a traveling salesman, rounding the world twice, spending long stretches of time in China and the Philippines. By the time my father was born all he had to give him were stories; they were broke. My father told me that my grandfather, already ill, would sit in a reclining chair, with Zevi perched at the top; it became the parakeet’s favorite spot. Zevi was supposed to be my father’s bird, and would perch on his finger and eat from his hand, but after my grandfather past away, his loyalty was revealed: no matter how many times he brought Zevi to the recliner, the little bird flew away. He’d sit in his cage, listless. Soon he stopped eating. He’d sleep all day, his head tucked behind a wing. Shortly after shiva ended for my grandfather, Zevi died, having fallen to the bottom of his cage, his broken neck stretched out like an accordion.

The parakeet, my father had told me, had committed suicide, either by refusing to eat or plunging down to his death.

I remember thinking it strange that a bird would feel such things for a person, or feel such things at all. I went to the kitchen where our three parrots were, and as I unpeeled a still unripe banana, I watched them play around on their t-stands and the wooden jungle gym my father had built them. All were rescues from people who’d bought them without realizing the degree to which birds will bond with their owners, or how long some of the larger parrots could live. Even as they played they seemed to sense the tension in the house; they were quieter these days. One in particular, Sunny. a prima donna of a cockatoo who loved my mother, carefully took a piece of a banana I offered her. Sunny was brought to us by the daughter of an old woman who’d died; the daughter had cats and couldn’t take her in. My first thought had been to change her ridiculous name.

We can’t do that, my father had said.

Why not? I asked.

How would you like it if you were suddenly orphaned and your new family wanted to change your name, the only name you ever had? He asked me.

It never occurred to me parrots could be attached to a name. Or that Sunny was indeed an orphan. I watched the parrot eat the banana slowly as she turn her head to the side, as if she knew I’d had something to say.

Nothing weird happened today, I whispered to her.

Her white and yellow crest rose as she chewed the banana.

Hello are you there, I whispered, looking around the room.

Sunny’s eyes then focused on what was left of the banana. As she cleaned her foot, it occurred to me that we ate some birds and not others. Why was that? If we had to eat them for whatever reason, were parrots considered kosher?

I offered her my arm, and she climbed on. We looked at each other, and she puffed up, a sign of contentment. She ran up my arm and settled on my shoulder. No, I would never eat Sunny or any of the parrots. I’d soon rather starve. I’d show my devotion to them. I’d remain human. I’d be good.

What I really meant: Please God, save my family.

*

What happened that following night has been preserved perfectly in my memory. I remember everything: how it began, what I was feeling, the look on my mother’s beautiful, sunken face. And yet I still cannot make sense of it.

What happened was this: I fell asleep that night rather quickly. Usually I’d lie in bed for at least an hour, trying to drift off. I’ve long been a night owl who’s used her chronic insomnia to write, but back then, as a child who’d have to wake up at six in the morning for school, this was not the best of situations.

So I’d drifted off to sleep when suddenly I felt something next to me. I sat up in bed with a gasp. Somehow I did not wake either of my two cousins who shared the room with me. The door to the bedroom was open, and the hall light was out. Usually we slept with the door shut and the hall light dimmed down to a faint glint. I felt something wasn’t right, and left the room.

That was when I heard my mother calling me from my parents’ bedroom.

I tiptoed past my brother’s room where my aunt was sleeping and the living room where my brother slept on the couch, ready at a moment’s call to help my dad out if he needed it, to give my aunt some reprieve. My parents’ bedroom door usually creaked when it was opened, as all the doors in that house did, but this time it didn’t make a sound. I went in.

A dim light filtered through the blinds as I made my way over to my mother’s side of the bed. I leaned down to look at her. She was awake. She smiled at me, and motioned for me to lay down next to her.

I was 11 years old at time, and it had been years since I’d crept into my parents’ bed during a thunderstorm or after secretly watching a horror movie with my cousins. But I did as I was told.

Are you alright? she whispered.

I felt like I had not seen my mother in years. I suddenly teared up.

Shhh, she said, and wiped my eyes.

I felt a lump in my throat and tried to swallow it away.

Let’s get some rest, she said.

She shut her eyes, and I watched my mother fall asleep.

I tried to fight it, that strange, blue-tinged sleep falling over me. I wanted to remain awake to protect my mother, but from what, I did not know. I thought of our parrots sleeping in the kitchen, their cages covered with cut up bed sheets. Usually they made a ruckus whenever anyone wandered around the house at night. Everything about that night was so silent I felt someone had to keep watch.

But soon too I was asleep, facing her, with my back to the window of the room.

I didn’t know how long I’d been out for it happened again: I woke up with a start, only I could not move this time. I woke up looking into my mother’s eyes, but my mother was not looking at me.

She was looking just past my head, above.

She looked terrified.

I had never seen her look this way before.

What is it? I asked without asking, and I shut my eyes. Still laying on my side, I pushed out my arm behind me, groping in the darkness, reaching out for whatever was there, whatever she was looking at.

It was then that I felt something—a hand of sorts, enough of a hand to tell my sense of touch that it seemed hand-like— and it gently grab my own, closing around my fingers, and then pushing it away, gently. It pushed my hand away, but it also held on.

I have never been so afraid in my life.

I tried to cry out, but I couldn’t.

When I opened my eyes, it was morning. My mother was out of bed. She smiled warmly at me. All day I tried to get her alone. When I finally did, the next day, I asked what had happened, had she had a nightmare or seen anything.

She went on stirring her tea, looking at me, kind of sadly.

She shook her head.

My mother’s cancer had been further along than expected, but she completed chemo and radiation therapy without one complaint. And she survived. It has been over two decades. Knock on wood. Knock on wood. And whatever it was in the room that night, I believe it was part of her recovery, but for years, my mother would not discuss it with me.

*

Years later, when my eldest uncle lay dying in his home, my mother brought it up with me.

Do you remember that night, she asked, that angel came to us?

She was feeding my uncle Ensure; he sipped through the straw slowly, his tired eyes burrowing into mine.

Yes, I whispered.

Well, it wasn’t an angel, my mother said.

My uncle coughed. He coughed up a bit of fluid, and my mother laid him back down. I offered her the rocking chair next to his bed, but she motioned for me to sit. She sat on the small bed across from him and me, the bed where my Aunt Nena, who’d taken care of us those years ago, now slept. My uncle’s bed was all railing and clicking machines; it moved, repositioned and massaged his back so he wouldn’t get bed sores. I held his hand, and he weakly squeezed it.

I consulted a rabbi after it happened, my mother went on.

What rabbi? One of ours? I asked.

No, she said, and straightened her mouth.

Anyway, she went on, he said it wasn’t an angel. That it was an ibbur.

Now I’d heard of the dyybuk, and I’d heard of many other supernatural forces in Judaism, but I’d never heard of an ibbur.

What kind of spirit is that? I asked.

My mother looked pleased. She liked it when she could explain things about Judaism.

It’s not a particular spirit, she explained, but a state of being. It’s explained in the Zohar, and it occurs during hard times when other souls will join yours to offer you protection and guidance. The union usually takes places when one is sleeping, after one has prayed.

I looked at my uncle, who’d fallen asleep, his grip growing soft in mine. I leaned over and kissed his hand.

Do you believe that? I asked her.

My mother got up and stood in front of my uncle. I could tell she was trying not to cry in front of him. It was very difficult for her. He had been sick for a long time, and hadn’t gotten the proper medical treatment. There were a lot of reasons as to why, but she and I will never really know those reasons.

Suddenly my mother told me: I had a dream the other night. I was terrified, about losing my brother. I was wondering in a forest when suddenly I saw this beautiful woman sitting under a tree, holding a baby. It was a beautiful baby—fat, joyful, gurgling. The woman looked at me, smiled and said: Don’t worry; everything will be fine.

My mother stopped talking, her voice cracking. She adjusted the blankets over my uncle’s feet.

I think the baby was your uncle, she said quietly. I think he’ll get another chance.

I got up and stood by her. We watched him. I could not believe we were standing over my uncle, only to watch him die. That we were helpless to do anything else. That there was no prayer or pill that could save his life. I began to rock back and forth on my heels, and my mother sat me down on the bed.

Your aunt will be home soon, my mother told me.

I nodded.

Let’s not upset her.

I nodded again.

We sat there, as his bed creaked, readjusting his position again. After a while, my mother said: It wasn’t from here, that’s for sure.

I looked at her.

We were both awake, right? I asked.

Yes, she said.

What was it, then? I asked, feeling somewhat defeated.

Angel, ibbur, something from not here, what does it matter, my mother sighed, looking at my uncle.

But what did it look like? I persisted.

My mother looked at me and smiled.

I waited for her to tell me. I looked at her imploringly—even if she could just tell me what its eyes were like, or the hand that grabbed mine— but as if she made a promise to someone else, for something I’d never fully understand, she never answered me.

I’m old enough now to know she’ll never tell me. And that there are reasons for her silence.

As Singer once wrote: When you betray somebody else, you also betray yourself.