I know what it is to cower in fear against abusive verbal rants that in the case of my manic-depressive father could spew volcanic for cataclysmic days on end. Screams from the depth of his inchoate hell reach a soul-ripping climax, a few moments calm, then the orphaned rage particles gather into a new swell, we cringe to the predictable crescendo. I am not always sure against whom he is hurling this foul abuse, he holds the final notes long, like an unhinged cantor, we smell the acrid odor venting from his pores. The apartment is cramped, it’s our home where my mother lights the Sabbath candles and we gather round the table to sing God’s praises on the many holy days. He paces like a blinded beast, slamming doors, toppling chairs. I fear a wall may come tumbling down but I know from experience that he will not strike me or my mom or my brother. We wait out the maddening storm in his brain, we have to absorb his blasts, breathe his stench. Then at some point there will be a silence that lasts a little longer than the others. We cower and count till the sound of broken-man sobs fills the air. I am six years old or eight or maybe ten and I can’t look at my mother. I think I should know what to do.
When I go to my orthodox day school I learn that explosive behavior is not unique to dad. God floods the whole world in a torrent of pique. The Blessed Be He’s nose spews fire. I know it a terrible sin but I resent the God of the Old Testament who started it all with his vengeful fuming..
So at the age of eighteen I cut ties with an angry father. Now after decades away I am back in a synagogue where I speak the words dad taught me and sing the praises of his God. Why return to the scene of earlier trauma? What am I hoping to find here? Where am I daring to meet this expulsive anger – in my father’s house or the house of the Lord or in some new territory whose parameters are yet to be defined?
Could it be that it is only by revisiting the mined terrain that I can, in whatever way is peculiarly mine, find closure?