– Ruth’s Story
My father was a truck driver. When we moved to Los Angeles, my older brother and I travelled with my father in the truck. I remember breaking down in New Mexico and just hanging out. It was the best time I ever had with my father.
Our home was never a very happy place even though I parents who cared and brothers, something was always off. As a young girl I didn’t know why. There was a sense of darkness, fear and always sadness. In LA we had no relatives; we became very close to a family; the mother had the numbers on her arm from Auschwitz. That was all I knew about the holocaust.
Until the age of 16 I had never met anyone who didn’t have foreign parents. I didn’t know you could have parents that would speak like you.
The holidays were sad and full of dread. Even as a young girl, I remember the feeling that I could die or someone would disappear and never come back. I had no sense of where that came from.
When relatives came to visit, instead of saying how lovely to see you, they would hug me and cry. It seems that I looked a lot like my father’s mother so ever y time people saw me they were reminded of all the women in the family who didn’t survive. They would cry every time they saw me.
Not only did I have the fear that something awful would happen, it actually did happen.
When I was 12, my father got sick with a brain tumor and even before that he was beaten up during the riots in LA.
He was always sick or in trouble. Nothing went easily. We lived in a small house until I was 16 and I slept in the living room. My brothers got the bedroom and I had a corner with an accordion divider. When people came over I would have to go to sleep behind the divider with them on the other side.
There was a TV show that all my friends got to watch and my mother wouldn’t let me see. She watched it though so I could hear and pretend in school that I actually watched it too.
I grew up pretending that I was just like everybody else but I never felt I was. I never wanted them to know that I didn’t have a bedroom, or what my home life was like.
My father survived the surgery; the tumor was benign. He was so happy he survived, it made him cry. He was very emotional; there was never anything simple or banal, either a high happiness or deep sadness.
When I was 18, my father woke up one day and had some sort of seizure. It paralyzed him on the right side. He couldn’t speak or write and was an invalid for 13 years before he passed away. My mother became his caretaker.
My parents were holocaust survivors.
My father was sent to a labor camp and all the men survived. The women in his family were sent to Auschwitz and all died.
They were both Hungarian. My mother and her sister managed to run away from the death march. She said “we walked home.” It took weeks and she described it like it was nothing. We stole an apple here and there, slept in doorways.
They met in Germany and got married in a labor camp.
I had no connection with my parents; we never spoke, never communicated. It was just rules and you either did them or didn’t. When I came home from school, it was “did you clean the dishes and bathroom sink, take care of your brother.” There was never a question of what did you do in school or if I had done my homework.
Our parents would ask where we were going and we never told them. We never discussed our day or what life was like.
In 1980, on one of my trips back, it was the first time that my mother and I went out for coffee and we talked. She said she never understood how I could leave her when I knew she was taking care of my father. She said it broke her heart.
Once my mother told me she would have wanted me around, it changed everything for me. All of a sudden she became a person, she became my mother.
I started noticing what music she liked and her opinions, before it was always my father’s voice. Suddenly I noticed her. I saw what she liked to do and slowly I formed a relationship with this women who I felt I didn’t even know until I was in my 20s. I don’t know if it occurred to her that we weren’t close before that.
As years go by I think my mother was an amazing person.
She loved her alone time and I’ve learned that from her. We can go out or be on our own, we don’t need anyone. My mother had her sister, a friend and everybody else just was an acquaintance. She wouldn’t give out that label ‘friend’ freely.
She treated my brother’s differently. She favored them. At her funeral, my friend’s holding my hands said, your mom loved those boys so much.
At one point my mom realized that my friends were more important to me than my family. That hurt her. On one of my trips back she was going to take me to the airport and then I saw the look on her face, of course, your friends are going to take you, she said.
My son is like that too. I’m confused by it. The other three are so into being at home and being with each other, why would he choose his friends above that warmth and acceptance.
I choose my friends because my home wasn’t a good place to be.
I have a lot of questions for her and I wish I could have had a conversation with my father. I can’t talk to my older brother, I’m too emotional. My mother never cried and my father cried all the time.
My older brother knows everything; he documented it all but I can’t talk to him. I’m not ready to hear the truth. I don’t want to cry with him. It would be so raw. I’m so tired of crying for so long.
I don’t want to talk about the past anymore, I don’t want to find out why I leave the house and am still scared that it’s going to burn down when I come back.
– Ruth Sery is a High School English Teacher and the Owner of the on-line Store Gifted In Israel