Ch. 4: Fear of Sin (and anti-Semitism, and eating ham in front of Jews). August 10, 1987.

Ch. 4: Fear of Sin (and anti-Semitism, and eating ham in front of Jews). August 10, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

In the morning Ruth told Suzie-Q to just keep babysitting her kids like she had been. They’d talk about it more in the evening. In the evening Ruth told Suzie-Q she’d thought about it hard and decided Suzie-Q should stay with them till the end of the summer. Then they’ll see. Ruth took Suzie-Q to the doctor. On Tuesday Ruth told Suzie-Q she’d found a therapist for her to see. She could do that evenings after Ruth got home. On Wednesday Ruth told Suzie-Q she was talking to a prosecution lawyer and trying to put together a case against her Dad. She wanted to work on it quietly while Suzie-Q recovered a little and figured out what she wanted to do next. On Thursday Ruth told Suzie-Q she was trying to find a place for Suzie-Q in one of the better group homes starting that fall. She would be safe from her Dad while the case went public cause they’re locked. She might have to talk to the prosecution attorney a little next week and give him some info about the murder as well. On Friday the family celebrated Shabbat.


While celebrating Shabbat with Ruth's family, a feeling of forbidden belonging overwhelmed Suzie-Q with intensity. Suzie-Q thought she had crossed over onto the other side, into a rite of secret hermetic otherness, as if soldiers might beat down the door at any moment but could never destroy the centuries and centuries of remembering and gesture that set them apart. It was as if she had been wandering alone in the forest on a stormy night in Nottingham, and an oak tree had suddenly transformed itself into a castle door, and the castle door had opened, and Suzie-Q had entered into a magical alternate universe. It was as if she had been given a secret book for decoding the mysteries of the universe, and she could never again be a member of the ordinary masses who rejected the Jews out of ignorance. Suzie-Q felt privileged to be accepted into the Friday rite as if she belonged, and she felt happy that she was mature and open-minded enough to recognize the privilege of being admitted.


The sense that Ruth's family were her saviours, who had granted her entry into a fortified castle in a moment of pain, threat and severe vulnerability gave Suzie-Q a strong attachment that was easier to dwell on than her own situation.


Suzie-Q entered into a routine with Ruth’s family. She didn't feel very much about her own pain and she didn't think about it at all. The therapist told Suzie-Q she needed to think about it and feel something. Suzie-Q didn't know why she should feel or think about anything bad if she could help it. The therapist told Suzie-Q the bad feelings might come back and bite her in the butt, but maybe it was okay to stay numb for a while. Suzie-Q thought the word “numb” was the coolest, smoothest word in the English language, like an ice-cube on a summer day, gliding slippery over your forehead. She told that to the therapist, and the therapist told her she was a poet.


Suzie-Q began reading books about Jews in her spare time with Ruth’s kids. She read books about the Holocaust, and while the nightmarish experiences sometimes brought her into an excruciating confrontation with her own pain, she managed to think and feel lots of things about the victims of the Holocaust without going very deeply into her own trauma. She read books about trauma, and books about post-traumatic stress syndrome, and books about trauma victims telling their stories to sew up the open wounds, and she thought and felt things about other people's suffering. Suzie-Q identified especially with the Jews during the Holocaust, since the Jews during the Holocaust were forever and ever Amen the symbol of suffering, like Jesus but more recent. From her reading about Jews during the Holocaust and trauma victims and post-traumatic stress syndrome she understood about how bad things you don't feel can haunt you your whole life, and she thought that this must have been what “biting you in the butt” was supposed to mean. Suzie-Q felt many things about all these people but tried not to think about herself.


Sometimes Suzie-Q felt guilty about not feeling anything and about hardness of heart and about hate-of-her-Dad encrusting itself in her heart. She became plagued with deconstructing the duty of forgiveness. She thought about how before all these traumas she would have thought that if she wanted to be a nice person and a real Christian, she would surely someday have to face forgiveness. She had always believed before that anybody who didn't face forgiveness would be judged on standards of moral perfection and found lacking. The Holocaust victims and their advocates helped her think about forgiveness too. She decided in the end like them that forgiveness and being nice was not the main issue in front of the horror the horror. She decided as she was reading that maybe all sins were not the same. That maybe it was stupid to resist righteous moral outrage about heinous crimes for fear of being judged over petty things. Maybe they were right that you couldn't even approach forgiveness and being nice before you got justice. She wondered what kind of justice she was looking for, and wondered if any of it could look like something besides revenge. She concluded on her own that justice was about stopping them so they won't do it again. An abuser is not nice, they wanna be stopped, she thought, they wanna be human again like her dead friend D.J. had said so maybe forgiveness really was beside the point.


Suzie-Q had always thought about the Holocaust as the most horrible thing any human beings had ever done to any other human beings in all of history. Whenever she had that thought consciously, she had always had it with a parenthesis, and inside the parenthesis were the words (except maybe slavery). Now after D.J. and Sam and witnessing injustice to Blacks up close, she identified with Blacks too and she sometimes she found a little aggravating comparison slipping in, since slavery had lasted 400 years whereas the Holocaust lasted much less time. This aggravating comparison made her feel guilty. It seemed like a betrayal of the Jews. The comparison threatened to weaken her appreciation of Jewish suffering. It threatened to dislodge the Holocaust as the litmus test for righteousness. The heroism of those who risked everything to hide Jews was the measure not just of bravery but of all moral integrity. It was the moment in history where really good people could show they were good, and ordinary mediocre uncourageous people showed they were really bad. Regarding herioism and slavery, she never went there. Her ancestors were certainly slave owners, and it seemed to her that the number of abolitionist slave-owners must have been so small as to not even count. Like anti-colonial colonialists. Even less than anti-Nazi Germans under Hitler.


Suzie-Q also had other thoughts sometimes that made her feel guilty of betraying her friends and caretakers. Sometimes Suzie-Q found the word “rich” floating past in her brain while she was thinking about Ruth's family. She didn't think they actually had more money than her Dad, though in the end she couldn't know. She didn't really know how much money her Dad made, or how much he had in the bank, but he certainly didn't have as much fun with it as Ruth's family did. He also didn't have as many rich and famous friends. Everyone Ruth introduced her to was a doctor, a lawyer, a gallery owner or a famous conductor. When Suzie-Q thought the word “rich” accidentally at the same time that she thought the word “Jewish”, she blushed.


Suzie-Q thought she should have gotten past this kind of problem by now; she thought that her good-will, close feeling and need cancelled out everything else. She felt that she was in the fold, and knew she was on their side of the fence. Suzie-Q sometimes had these uncomfortable thoughts anyway, but she usually dismissed them. The most important thing was to be on the right side of the fence.


Suzie-Q thought being Jewish was much more interesting than being a WASP. She thought about Jews like David and Goliath, like the little guys, and she thought it was always better to be on the side of the little guys. She thought it was difficult for Christians to be a little bit Jewish even when they wanted to, because of the history of anti-Semitism. She knew Christianity was laden with anti-Semitism even though Jesus was Jewish, and so was the Bible. She wondered if she really believed in Jesus anymore, and she wondered if a Christian without Jesus was a Jew. If a Christian without Jesus wasn't a Jew, then what was she? She also thought the more she felt Jewish, the less she could be guilty of anti-Semitism. Now that Suzie-Q was wanting more and more to be a Jew in order to be sure not to be anti-Semitic, she remembered how when she was little and had been watching Fiddler on the Roof every day on video she had gone one day to the mirror and looked at herself a long time asking herself if she didn't look a little bit like a Jew. She had decided that she did, and had gone to tell her Dad. “Don't you think I look a little bit like a Russian Jew?” she had asked her Dad. “I think I'm gonna start telling people I'm a Jew for Jesus.” Her Dad had got really angry and then he had said, “Don’t you go around telling people you’re Jewish!”


Suzie-Q now decided that she would go around telling people she was Jewish. She wasn’t exactly sure who she would tell, since Ruth’s family were the only people she saw and it would be ridiculous to tell them she was Jewish, but she decided that as soon as she had a chance with somebody non-Jewish she would do it.






A week after Suzie-Q began living with Ruth's family, Ruth paid her the rest of what she owed Suzie-Q in baby-sitting money. “Now you're family as long as you live here, so I'm not gonna pay you anymore. You're the big sister. Take care of Jacob and Sarah like a big sister, and otherwise do what you want. You're family here.”


“If I'm family, does that mean I'm Jewish?”


Ruth laughed. “You really wanna be Jewish??? Ha ha ha!”


The next day, the kids asked Suzie-Q if they could eat at Taco Bell. “Well, Ruth said I'm family and I can do what I want"I won't tell if you don't.”


Jacob and Sarah tittered. They went to Taco Bell.


Sarah and Jacob ordered. Then Sarah yelled at the guy, “Give our big sister a porc taco! Ha ha ha!” Suzie-Q ate the porc taco and the two of them laughed and choked through the whole meal.


The day after that, the kids asked if they could eat at McDonald's. “I won't tell if you won't, but let me order for myself.”


Suzie-Q ordered a cheeseburger. The kids burst out laughing and kept guffawing and choking through the whole meal.


“What's so funny about a cheeseburger?” Suzie-Q tried to laugh too.


The next day, the kids asked to go to the Jewish deli. “Okay, but this time you order for me.”


Jacob told the waiter, “Give our big sister a ham sandwich!” Suzie-Q laughed and told the waiter she'll have the same as Jacob. A ham sandwich for both of them.


Jacob sulked. He ordered a Reuben and Suzie-Q ordered the same.


“Okay, so if Ruth says I'm family that means I'm Jewish, right?”


“You can't be Jewish,” said Sarah. “You're a Goy.”


“Okay, but what if I stop eating pig. Can I be Jewish then?”


“No more cheeseburgers.”


“Okay, so you can teach me how to be Jewish.”


“You have three Gods. You can't be Jewish,” said Jacob.


“So what if I stop believing in Jesus?”


“That doesn't make you Jewish. You have to be born Jewish.”


“What about Ruth in the Bible. Ruth was a Goy but she converted.”


“That was a long time ago. You can't convert now,” said Jacob.


“That's not true,” said Sarah. “You can still convert, but you have to be Orthodox.”


“What's that?” said Suzie-Q.


“That's the really serious ones who wear curls,” said Sarah.


“If you convert for real, and marry an Orthodox Jew, and move to Israel, then you'll be Jewish for sure,” said Jacob.


“I have to move to Israel?”


“She doesn't have to move to Israel,” said Sarah. “She can convert to Orthodoxy here, but if you do that you can even move to Israel. And you have to learn Hebrew.”


“Why is there ham in your fridge if Jews don't eat ham?”


“Mama eats ham. But if you're Orthodox, you can't even have ham in the fridge. And you can only eat out in Kosher restaurants.”


“Is Ruth still Jewish if she eats ham?”


“Of course she's Jewish. She was born Jewish.”


“Does she believe and pray and all that?”


The kids laughed. “Mama's an atheist.”


“How can she be Jewish if she doesn't even believe in God?”


“Ask Hitler. She was born Jewish,” said Sarah.


"What's Hitler got to do with it?" quipped Jacob. "She was born Jewish."



© 2011 Gee Roughin


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Added on October 19, 2011
Last Updated on October 19, 2011
Tags: paranoia, fear, america, 80s, sin, anti-Semitism, paranoid wasp


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Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt



About
Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..

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