9 Lives for a Weeble
It wasn’t all a grim deathwatch waiting for who was going to drop next.
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9 Lives for a Weeble
Wish I could blame nuclear weapons, a mutant virus or Hitler for the malformation in my Russian Jewish bloodline, but my theory is a suicide gene, coupled with an inability to pull close during difficult times. We held our sorrow separately, a silent pact—if we didn’t put words to it, nothing was awry. With a child’s vocabulary I tried to convey the dark storms in my head, but felt my efforts swept aside. “What the hell does that kid have to be depressed about?” I was unglued and my family found me exhausting.
June 1973. My sister Jenny was fifteen. I was twelve. At dinner, Mom said, “Please pass the peas.” As Jenny picked up the bowl I stared at her white-bandaged wrists.
“Does it hurt?” I asked softly.
She turned her head down to her plate, her lip quivering.
“A little,” she whispered.
“Anybody want another Tab?” Mom asked. Before anyone answered, she’d disappeared into the kitchen.
In our Long Island home, generations of ancestors marched in photo display up the foyer walls. I spent hours staring at what a perfect family we appeared to be—Mom like Jackie O in jeans, Dad with Sinatra’s angular cheekbones and straight white teeth. People often said, “None of you look Jewish.” A backhanded compliment meaning we had nice noses and good hair.
That same year, 1973, I stepped on the third rail of the Long Island Railroad and nothing happened. So I stepped on it again. I was under the impression it would kill me instantly.
“Hey Kid!” a station worker called out. “You could get yourself killed.”
Next day in Science I asked a classmate, “Hypothetically, what would happen if I accidentally stepped on the third rail?”
“Nothing.” he said. “You’re wearing sneakers. Rubber can’t conduct electricity.”
At fifteen I ran away to Greenwich Village. It was 1975. One afternoon while fleeing a cop, the subway tunnel lured me. The iron rails offered a solution to loneliness—death. I looked back to see who or what I was running from. Magnetically pulled toward my dead heroes, Jimi and Janis, I jumped down onto the subway tracks in front of an oncoming train. Steel hurtled at me with the promise of ramming, crunching, killing. Uh-oh! I might only be maimed and life would be far worse as an amputee. I squeezed tight against the wall. Blast of horn and screech of metal blew out my eardrums while manic swirls of grit choked off my breath. After the train passed, I followed the rails to the nearest exit and kept running.
Shrinks attributed my morbidity to low levels of serotonin and problematic parenting. My dopamine receptors didn’t light up. That is, until I poured drugs and alcohol on them. I was missing the brain piece that signals enough. I might have learned to compensate for my genetic predisposition if anti-depressants had been the Tic-Tacs they are today.
In 1977, when I was 17, Mom’s brother Carl shot himself in the heart. He died before he fell back on his bed. Mom was angry. Words like selfish and thoughtless circled the air until Mom put the kibosh on the topic.
That same year, I was in a car crash. Three died. For years I’d prayed to die so I figured God had aimed at me and missed. Mom and Dad took me to doctors who fixed my broken bones. Along with other deficiencies, I’ve been told I’m missing gratitude. My reaction to surviving the accident was not praising God. It was to take myself out with Quaaludes, Valiums and vodka. With no note it wouldn’t appear intentional, nobody could call me selfish. After two days I popped up again like the toy in a popular commercial, Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. My response? I took up shooting coke.
In 1983 Dad’s sister Mimi wrapped a plastic bag around her head. Her sons were livid but relieved they found her in time. When we got the news, Dad slammed the Arts section down and said, “Jesus H. Christ.”
It wasn’t all a grim deathwatch waiting for who was going to drop next. There were happy times. Dad worked in radio and cracked us up with on-air bloopers like the Princeton cheerleaders making a big “P” on the field. Mom framed my artwork. We went on trips. I remember Mom’s hands against my forehead when I was sick. But our heads were hard and rammed into each other. Brutal words we couldn’t take back, scenes we couldn’t rewind. My rebellion became predictable. I couldn’t accept life or anyone in it. It wasn’t ending my life that disturbed me—it was being stuck here spiraling down. I ached for a connection but alcohol and drugs flat-lined any chance for intimacy.
At 26, in a drunken haze I cried for Jenny’s sliced wrists, poor Uncle Carl, my own failed attempts. I groped in the dark through ashtrays and bottles, dialed the phone and woke up in rehab. My life began. Years of therapists, chocolates and heartbreaks. Then I sold my first painting, opened a business, got my first dog and fell in love—a quick success story that took 40 years.
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Watching Dexter recently I laughed at my continued fascination with death—bookshelves packed with true crime, Hendrix on the fridge, prayers for another Silence of the Lambs—and the occasional urge to poke a bobby pin into the wall socket just to see what would happen.