After a while, there was a sense of normalcy. Routine and schedule for work kept me going. Having newfound friends and Sam made me feel like I belonged and life was good.
During all this time, my youngest sister kept emailing me. She was just a little girl and I felt so incredibly bad for leaving her behind. There were days I wished I could sweep her away from the life she was in, but it was not up to me to do so. It needed to be her choice, her decision. And I just knew she would be content with the life she had.
But she emailed me frequently. She would babble about her day, what she did, etc. and would ask how I was and what I’d been up to. Idle chit-chat, really. For a long time I believed it was my parents that insisted she keep communication with me -later I learned it was a Rabbi that told my parents that she should do so because it may pull me back into the fold. Whatever the case, I felt it harmless at that time and so occasionally replied to her but kept things vague. So although I didn’t talk to my parents, I had that strand of a connection to them.
Months went by… I was still haunted by not having my family in my life. I frequently talked to Sam about it all and tried to see if there was a way I could make amends with my folks. There had to be a way. The only form of communication thusfar was emails from my little sister. Once in a while she would ask that I call or visit, but I always dismissed it and did not respond to it. But it was hard to truly ignore it. I craved to have my family in my life. I craved for them to be proud of me. What child doesn’t want their parents to be proud of them and their accomplishments?
Here I was living independently, able to support myself financially, have a place of my own… I felt proud of these little accomplishments and so badly wanted my family to see this and be proud, too. But their world is different and they would never see any of this as something to be proud of.
One lazy afternoon I was reading a book. It had been months now.. fall turned to winter and I was snug on the couch reading a book while Sam was doing some work on the computer. Not entirely sure what possessed me to say it, but I found myself declaring out loud that I was going to call my parents. Sam froze at his computer and turned around to meet my gaze. He asked if I was sure. I nodded.
I felt a bit queasy at the thought but I knew if I thought about it some more I’d chicken out. I hit #67 before dialing to block caller ID and waited for someone to pick up. My heart was pounding loudly in my ears.
It felt like forever but someone did answer.
It was my father.
I completely surprised my father but he was so incredibly happy to hear my voice. I could hear his voice quiver. He asked if I was alright. I told him I was. I told him I had a job and was doing well. He asked with whom I was living with. I kept it vague and said some friends and I are renting a place. He wanted to push for more information on my whereabouts but I could tell he held himself back from doing so. He said he needed to see me in person. He said he absolutely needed to see me in person for himself. He said it was very important to him and that he would hop on a plane this very instance. I felt it was going way too fast for me and told him I’d have to think about it. He asked if he could get my number. I looked over at Sam and he nodded that it was up to me. I decided to give him my number.
He told me my mother needed time to process and wasn’t able to talk to me yet. He told me she is very hurt by what I did and took it very hard. That it had affected her health. ….great, I thought. More guilt! Just what I needed.
It was a very brief talk and nothing of great substance. After hanging up I didn’t quite know what to make of it. In fact, I didn’t feel better like I had thought I would. I felt worse. I dismissed it and allowed us to re-mend bridges in whatever pace it needed to be done in.
My father called the next day and asked if I had thought things through and if he was able to come for a visit. I agreed. Sam was very supportive and did not want to stand in my way of mending bridges with my family, although I could tell he felt very dubious and concerned. He told me he didn’t want me to be alone with my father. I could have privacy to talk with him but someone would be in the house, Sam insisted. He did not want me going out alone with him. I could understand his concern and I agreed. And to be honest, I didn’t exactly feel safe to be alone with my father so it was easy to agree to the arrangement.
He didn’t take long to book a flight. Three days later and there we were waiting at the airport. Sam was there with me.
I debated as to whether to put on the skirt I still had from when I left home and decided against it. I was going to present myself as I was. So there I was, at the airport in my pair of comfortable jeans, anxiously awaiting to see my father for the first time since that very traumatic day.
It was pretty easy to spot my father amongst the sea of people… he ran towards me and hugged me tight. He was crying. It was hard not to get wrapped up in the moment. So many emotions, so many feelings, some I didn’t even feel I could explain.
Once we stepped back, I introduced Sam to my father but he barely even nodded in his direction. He completely and totally ignored Sam! We started to walk towards the parking lot and he made certain to not even acknowledge Sam. Sam led us to his car, he loaded the baggage and my father didn’t even look at him. He did not exist. I was starting to feel anger bubbling inside me. I was starting to feel resentful and wanted to kick myself for allowing my father to come visit me.
We walked into our home and I led him down to the den area. He sat down on the couch and I could see his eyes briefly rest on the vase filled with roses and a Valentine card resting next to it. A gift from Sam. My father asked where I sleep and I pointed to the back of the house where the bedrooms were. I can see where this was going. He desperately wanted to find out whether Sam and I were sleeping together. Nice.
But I wasn’t going to make this easy for him. I was getting angry and could feel my blood pressure rise. I kept repeating to myself to remain cool, calm and present myself as a mature adult. He wanted answers, he needed to be blunt and ask. And I would be honest with my answers.
My father told me how smart he was without actually coming right out and saying it. He bragged about how he had my computer taken apart and hacked by some geek friend of his. How he had found phone numbers and instant message conversations that I deleted. He mentioned how he had rifled through my personal belongings and found some other phone numbers. He mentioned he found a number on one of my college notebooks and called the person whose father happened to be a cop. And on and on it went on how he so intelligently came across personal information and managed to get detailed info on me and my life back home.
I remember trying to stay cool, fighting to stay calm, but all the while just feeling really angry and resentful at this man’s continuous gloating-fest.
He then told me that I owed a huge thank you to his boss because his boss was the one that put together the Shomrim and others to help in my search. He insisted I sit at the computer and email a thank you to him. He kept pushing and pushing me and telling me how I owed a thank you for their time and efforts. I am incredibly embarrassed to admit that I did what he asked. I hang my head in shame that I was so easily manipulated and turned into the submissive daughter that I was back in NY before I left.
It was such an easy role to fall back into and it shamed me at how easy it was for my father to assert such control over me. He even managed to get me to call my grandparents and say hello and apologize.
I was weak… operating under the (wrong) assumption that I could still make my father proud of me by simply doing what he asked of me and disregarding my own moral compass.
My father handed me my Siddur and Tehillim books and said that I may need them. I looked down at the books in my hand and choked back a sob. Why was he doing this to me? Why have I agreed to have him visit?
It didn’t get better. I decided to be bold and request my money in our shared account. Money rightfully belonging to me. Money that was gifted to me at my Bat Mitzva. Money I had earned working all those years at day camps. Money I had freely handed to my mother to put in the bank account so I’d have it when I got married. Money that was rightfully mine.
He said it was gone. Every last penny of it was used. I stared at him confused and he continued. He explained that he used it to hire a private investigator to follow me, so that he’d know for certain that I was alright. He then proceeded to give me detailed accounts of where I’d been on certain dates. He told me the vocation of, what he presumed was Sam’s, but was indeed Sam’s friend’s vocation. The investigator followed my roommates, as well.
I sat there stunned. Absolutely unable to process what I was hearing. I felt sick. He then stated he had all these papers and information and that I was not going to be shown any of it. He was gloating at the knowledge he had acquired! I just plain felt sick.
I was glad when he decided he wanted to turn in for the night so we drove him to the motel nearby.
I felt like I had been run over by a truck. To say I had any sense of self worth at that moment was a lie. I felt degraded, violated… I felt like I needed to take a shower.
On the last day of his visit, he handed me a one hundred dollar bill. He told me that I am not to share that I have this on me. He specifically stated Sam was not allowed to know about it. It was money that I could use to come back home when I was ready to do so. He said that he believed I would come home and that it was only a matter of time. I didn’t know what to say but he made me promise I would not share this money with anyone.
And finally, he left.
Calls continued from him. Mostly he called me. I think slowly he began to realize that I wasn’t going to be returning home any time soon. So he had to change his tactic. He started to pry and press about Sam. He started to ask if Sam had considered converting to Judaism.
That man was gutsy, I tell you! He never gives up. And he’s quite manipulative.
Once again, I am ashamed to admit that I started to ponder the ‘what if’ Sam did convert… would I be accepted again? Would I be embraced with open arms?
I admitted to my father that I did not keep Kosher, nor did I keep Shabbos or anything! That I was not a practicing Jew PERIOD. My father dismissed it all and said it was fine as long as I lived where I did and when I visited I followed their ways and if I chose to be with Sam perhaps he’d do this for me. If indeed he loves me, perhaps he’d convert for me just for show. Once again, I was left standing speechless. He asked that I think of it and hung up.
Sam was dubious on where this was going. Sam said my father is trying to manipulate me and control me, but I was adamant that was not the case and that he was just trying to find a way to welcome me AND him. I thought I saw a glimmer of hope there and I latched onto it very tightly. I latched onto it because I still believed deep down that my family would welcome me the way I was and perhaps even Sam… but I now realize how incredibly foolish I was and how incredibly weak and blind I had been.
With my father, over many years, I have learned the phrase “give an inch… take a foot” truly does fit the bill. He siezes control when he sees the opportunity. He is quick, shrewed, he is manipulative and wants complete control. And I was too weak to stand up to him. I was too afraid. I still held onto the trying to appease and be a good daughter concept. That concept should have been shelved a long time ago but it would take me years to get there and many lessons needed to be learned along the way.