It was the bunny rabbit that made me cry that first time. Seeing my daughter's arms wrapped around her little plush bunny, its toffee fur worn down from loving, and hearing her ask in a tiny, plaintive voice when she was going back home. The answer, as it turned out, was never. Or more accurately, home was someplace else now.
Suddenly a single parent, I went through the motions of mommyhood in a daze. I covered my toddler with a blanket, read her a bedtime story, helped her say Shema, and watched her drift off to sleep. But the bunny looked all wrong, as if it didn't belong snuggled beside her in the big bed with the flowered sheets in Bubby's spare room. It belonged back at home, tucked into the crib with the white slats and brown trim.
Tears blurred my vision, and fell one by one onto my sleeping daughter's soft brown curls. I cried for the first time since I had left our home behind and moved back into the sanctuary of my childhood home. I cried for the years in which our little family had tried hard but never quite managed to make it. I cried for our lives, suddenly interrupted, and for the future – unknown and terrifying.
When my eyes finally dried, everything looked different. The bunny rabbit. My daughter's curls, shiny and fanned out on the pillow like a crown. The suitcases into which I carefully arranged the meager possessions salvaged from our old lives. The unfamiliar rooms in a new apartment. The borrowed furniture. The sunrise. The sunset. The new days coming again and again, despite me not knowing what to do with them.
Everything sounded different. The high pitched whine of a car alarm. The neighbor practicing the violin; notes tinny through the thin walls. The throaty wail of a train whistle in the night. The littlest things impress themselves in your memory when you are too frightened to think of the big picture. I was keenly aware of every sight and sound and smell and emotion. Every detail stood out in sharp relief; splintered and fragmented like our now shattered lives.
In the daytime there were words. Always words. Tossed unthinkingly like confetti to scatter carefree in the wind. Words, and the sound of doors closing and paths constricting. The word ‘broken' echoed through the days and weeks that followed. The sound of condemnation. The sight of turned backs and self-satisfied smiles, of eyes so sure and yet so frightened at the same time.
At night, there was silence. A heaviness descended on the small apartment when the numbers on the clock blinked past midnight. I would sit alone at the kitchen table, and put my watch to my ear just to listen to the comfort of its sweet, steady tink, tink, tink. The train call punctuated the darkness, shaking me from my reverie. I would get up slowly and start putting another day to rest.
The brilliant fire of Autumn. The sounds of acorns falling, plink, plink, plink, onto the sidewalk. The sound of the geese, honking overhead on their migration to warmer pastures. Then the dry rustling of leaves. Elul. A new year dawning. The smell of challahs baking, round and plump in honor of the upcoming festivities. I never stopped trembling. The fear clenching my heart was more than a reaction to the Days of Awe. I was afraid of the future, of the past, of what had happened and what I had done and what would happen next.
"Who will be my daughter's father? Let us call upon You in our times of need."
Rosh Hashana. The silk kerchiefs on bowed heads. The letters in the machzor black on the white pages. The sound of the shofar, broken, broken, broken, and then a long wail echoing the one in my heart. Tears, suddenly, again; the pages now a gray blur. I cried for the second time since my new life had begun; the tears a release of the tense emotions of the past few weeks.
"God," I cried, "I am alone! The future stretches out before me, vast and unknowable, and I must walk it without anyone to stand by my side. Who will be my daughter's father? Who will she turn to when she wants to cry out? Avinu Malkeinu, my Father, my King. Walk with me, with us, with our little family of two. Let us call upon You in our times of need."
As the last long note of the shofar faded, its echo pulsing in the air, my tears dried. I felt my soul open, and a still, small whisper settled in. Silently, yet with a deep resonance that vibrated in the chambers of my heart, the words entered my spirit.
"My child," I heard, "Do not fear. I am with you, always. I will walk beside you, always. I will not let you fall."
And everything looked different again. Like a veil of mist lifting before the tender rays of the sun, the world came slowly, gently, into focus. Details tumbled into place, rearranging once shattered fragments into a unified whole. I looked up at the white kerchiefed women in the shul, each of them bent over a well-worn machzor, each of them asking for the same thing, and I felt complete again.
The round challahs, brown and shiny. The red apples dripping a golden stream of sweetness. The clink, clink, clink of plates and glasses and forks and knives. The easy laughter and murmur of quiet conversation. I sat at the table, surrounded by people I knew and loved, and saw my reflection in the faces that were as familiar to me as my own. My family and friends had been there for me throughout these first difficult weeks, and would continue to support me as I began my journey into a new life.
And I knew, now, that God was with me as He had always been, and always will be. The future seemed less terrifying, somehow, when tucked away in my heart I still heard that whisper, that voice. I will not fall. I will walk forward, head held high, melding my emergence with the brightness of the new year; its possibilities unknown, yes, but exciting, also, and surely full of promise and potential and opportunity.
A new year.
A new beginning.
A new life.