I remembered that, back in the very early 1980s, there had been a winter during which it had gotten very cold in central Ohio, with temperatures below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. I remembered being in the basement of our house (which was not a logical place to be, since it was always colder in the basement) and looking up at the ground-level window view of snow and grass, and worrying that the excessively cold temperatures might cause nuclear missiles in Kansas or Nebraska to launch accidentally towards the Soviet Union. It was a completely irrational fear, but I was obsessed with nuclear war at the time.
I also remembered that during that winter, or maybe another one that was nearly as cold either before or after, I had read a story in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper about a toddler who had followed his father outside on Christmas Eve and who had remained trapped outdoors, unnoticed by his parents, until he froze to death. The story was that the father had gone outside to get some Christmas presents from the garage.
I remember sitting and thinking about this story for months, or years, and feeling incredible sadness.
It was similar to the sadness I felt when I had read about one of the children who had died after taking paracetamol capsules that had been poisoned in a series of murders in Chicago in 1982. The child had woken up sick and had been given the pain-relief and fever-reducing medicine by her parents, who then watched her die.
I thought about this incident throughout the rest of my own life. It was hard to think of anything worse.
We were having the first cold winter in many years of globally warmed-up weather.
The day after Christmas, I developed awful nausea, fever, and body aches. Presumably I had caught this malady from our daughter, Mali, who had vomited on Christmas Eve.
I had not been able to bleach my hands before holding them out to accept the consecrated bread at church on Christmas morning.
I was unable to get out of bed, although I tossed and turned owing to the aches and pains and fever. In my delirium I imagined that I had typhoid, like Port Moresby in The Sheltering Sky. I consumed nothing but sweetened iced tea and anti-emetic agents. We had to send the children to the house of our paid child minder, Audra, in Brooklyn, since I could not take care of them.
I did not vomit.
I was better the next day.
I took a walk.
I was excited to see some new trash and recycling receptacles in Central Park.
It didn't take much for me to get excited those days.
We took the children back to Audra's for Feast of St. Silvester. We went to the apartment of some friends where a party was being held.
It was nice enough. I was tired, though. There was a young person who was very drunk and who kept taking off his shirt.
I spoke to someone I had met in New York in 1995 during a visit with a college friend who then became an arch-enemy. I then met this someone on a periodic basis over the next two decades, and we were so-called friends on social-networking websites.
He didn't remember me.
Amazingly, Asaph found a normal taxicab for us to go home.
The next day we went to see friends who lived in Beekman Place.
They were a non-heterosexual couple -- one Sicilian, the other a urologist -- who had an adorable son a year younger than our kids. They served us pasta with lentils.
It was a cold but relatively clear day, and their apartment was cozy and cheerful.
Maybe this winter won't be so bad after all, I thought, incorrectly.
Mali, our daughter, was afraid of their dog.
I was alarmed to see something Zionistic outside on the street as we left.
At the daycare center to which the kids were taken twice a week for six hours, Mali had been given a new hairstyle.
It made her look like a real little girl. I was shocked and pleased.
There was a big snowfall.
It made stroller usage a challenge.
We went to visit our Brooklyn friends who had two young daughters. Asaph had worked with the wife at the soon-to-be-demolished bowling alley where I had had my 40th birthday party.
There were many cute things in their part of Brooklyn, and very few tourists.
We changed diapers in the stylish room of their youngest daughter.
We walked back to the subway through vibrant Brooklyn neighborhoods. These neighborhoods had none of the desolation that had afflicted Manhattan in those days, with its endless chain drugstores and bank-machine vestibules and empty storefronts as landlords waited to rent to chain drugstores or banks.
Our children were still always sick.
We had a birthday party for them in the chain gymnasium located in our apartment building.
There were many activities for persons not yet grown up.
Asaph had stayed up all night preparing food and decorations. I had done next to nothing. Or nothing.
I felt impressed and guilty.
Asaph had invited 70 guests, including children. It was overwhelming.
Our good friend Jubal made their cake.
Kids ate it, even though it contained coconut.
I never ate coconut as a child.
Most of the parents with children left and some of our old and former non-heterosexual male friends came up to our apartment for wine.
It was nice.
"Who was that hot [non-heterosexual] dad at your party?" asked one of these friends.
We realized that he was referring to the stylish and swaggering Israeli (although he spoke English with an American accent owing to parentage) who wore designer clothes and designer sunglasses with whom we had had a Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) lunch the fall prior. He was extremely non-homosexual.
Our friend was disappointed. Non-heterosexual men were frequently very attracted to non-homosexual men who were swaggering and masculine, since relatively few non-heterosexual men were that way, and the ones who were were often real jerks.
Our daughter had begun to make a new concerned face.
Mary, who had birthed our children, had come into town with her new son, her old son, and the man to whom she was engaged.
We babysat for her new son, whom we called "Squishy", while the older members of her pack went to see a Broadway musical.
We had forgotten how to deal with a baby.
Later I took care of him without the others present and things went better.
We took our kids to their two-year checkup.
No shots were administered but our daughter, Mali, screamed and howled with rage and fear and indignation.
We went to a brunch at the spacious and sleek and clean loft apartment of some non-heterosexual parents whom we knew from the, or a, synagogue.
We had brought pastries from a branch of a coffeehouse chain based in Seoul, South Korea. When we arrived we learned that the two fathers did not eat any grains of any kinds or type.
We were served delicious muffins made from nuts and pancakes made from bananas and something ancient.
I felt a bit shabby.
We had to take the pastries with us as we left. I thought that we should distribute them to those among the poor who didn't worry about gluten nor about excess abdominal fat.
Our children had started to demand waffles for every breakfast. I had to make them in the oven, and I burned or burnt my arm on a daily basis while taking them out.
We needed a toaster, but I knew that such a purchase would never be authorized by Asaph.
I tried to make time to go to my fancy gym full of awful and conceited persons. It was located in the basement of the dull and soulless upscale Time Warner Center complex.
Every time I would go down in the elevator at the Time Warner Center, I would be joined by someone who had wanted to go up in the elevator at the Time Warner Center. I thought that this was partially due to poorly designed car-direction indicator lighting, but also due to the tendency for the kind of people who wanted to go up at the Time Warner Center to have a difficult time imagining something not going their way.
The most expensive restaurant in New York City could be accessed by going up in the elevator at the Time Warner Center, as well as another extremely expensive restaurant, and a few other very expensive restaurants.
My gym was full of entitled people who not only appeared to be very wealthy and aggressive and unfriendly, but had gorgeous bodies and sometimes even faces as well.
We were scheduled to attend a Shabbat (שבת) dinner at the home of our acquaintances who were non-heterosexual fathers and committed Kabbalists.
I often felt insecure in their presence. They were both handsome doctors. One was a French person of North African Jewish origin (as most French Jews were, after World War Two), the other was an Ashkenazic Quebecker. They all wore white on Shabbat, in keeping with the Kabbalistic custom. They had two sons who were not going to receive haircuts before the Lag BaOmer (ל״ג בעומר) after their third birthday, although we were planning on following the same absurd and relatively modern practice.
The Shabbat dinner was pleasant, although I kept suspiciously eyeing their children's fingers as they touched most or all of the food on the table before we transferred it to our plates. I realized that when one ate at the home of persons with toddlers, one should assume that all food served was covered with fecal matter and vomit.
This was also true of our home.
At one point Asaph starting weirdly talking about Jewish heritage and how it was expressed in the genetics of the persons who make up the Jewish people. The handsome doctors got very quiet.
"We think the soul is more important," they said.
It was awkward. I wasn't quite sure what Asaph meant, although it wasn't the first time he had said something like that. Our children had 50% and 100% Jewish deoxyribonucleic acid, whatever that might mean.
The winter got very wintry.
Because of the weather and the closure of a street owing to construction associated with a fashion industry event, lasting approximately one week, allowing fashion designers, brands or "houses" to display their latest collections in runway shows and buyers and the media to take a look at the latest trends, I had to walk directly through the Lincoln Center complex to get to work.
This walk involved an underground hallway connecting a parking garage with a feature that was actually labeled with the French word porte-cochère.
This hallway was not only one of the quietest places I had ever been in New York City, it was one of the quietest places I had ever been anywhere on the planet.
It was a bit eerie when empty.
Snow was followed by bitter cold not seen in decades, owing to global warming.
Our children continued to be sick.
In Israel it was already the so-called New Year of the Trees (ראש השנה לאילנות), even though they were still having an awful drought over there.
We attended the B'nai Mitzvah (בני מצווה) ceremony for the children of a non-heterosexual male couple whom I didn't really know. We spent most of the time in a different room full of toys for the smaller children. I kept trying to keep our kids from putting things in their mouths.
It was held in a church.
We entered the sanctuary for the kiddush (קידוש) and meal.
Our kids just started running around in a poorly behaved manner.
I noticed an aumbry containing reserved sacrament. I didn't dare say a word about it.
Not one Word.
That night Asaph and I went out for dinner, as we had a night off from the children.
There was some sort of televised national sporting event or awards show, so the restaurant was empty.
We had a nice time, although our waitress looked as if she could have been the biological mother of our children.
Since our kids had started daycare, they said "mommy!" all the time.
It was unsettling.
We walked home.
I was a bit tired of all of this.
I often felt frigid.
Construction of a new skyscraper to house billionaires made a lot of noise in our meeting rooms at work. It was hard because we were always having conference calls with our Budapest colleagues.
"We can't hear you with all that banging," they would say, with impatient and aggressive Hungarian accents.
I started taking an "Introduction to Judaism" class at the Jewish Community Center, in addition to my Hebrew class. I had to be interviewed by a kindly female rabbi to be admitted to the Judaism class.
Unlike my Hebrew class, which was filled with and by middle-aged losers, the "Introduction to Judaism" class was filled with beautiful young non-homosexual engaged couples in which one of the potential spouses was converting to Judaism.
There was one guy who looked like a model, in that he was gorgeous and tall and looked like he had 25% East-Asian deoxyribonucleic acid.
I sat next to a clean-cut young man who looked like he had stepped out of a catalog for the kind of clothing associated with private preparatory schools.
The teacher was a slightly nerdy female rabbi who wore a kippah (כיפה) that matched her unstylish sweater.
I liked her.
I loved the class.
A long month began before spring.
I had become very in touch with the cycles of the moon.
We went back, yet again, to Brooklyn, to the few friends who would have us.
It was actually relaxing to take the children there.
Wine was served from a giant bottle, owing to the reduced percentage of Jewish deoxyribonucleic acid in the apartment.
These friends always had nice guests at their house, including a mildly gender-non-conforming child who I predicted would grow up to be a very amazing person.
Our friends' youngest daughter was threatened with and by sharing a crib with our son, Ozman.
She was not pleased.
We made the trek back home.
One of the subway employees yelled at us for not allowing her to observe and condone our correct and legal and authorized entry through the service gate, even though one normally couldn't get these subway employees to observe and condone this authorized entry if one tried.
Think of Laszlo, I thought.
Development continued on the west side of Manhattan.
And then another snowfall.
Oh the LORD God another snowfall, I thought.
Pretty, though, I thought.
I still had to go to work, owing to living within walking distance.
I paused and snapped a photo along with thousands of other ambulatory commuters.
I wondered about these bicycles. They seemed suspicious.
I still went out from work 30 minutes after arrival to fetch myself a hazelnut flute from a chain restaurant originating in the controversial and troubled Benelux countries.
I wondered if Schneemüdigkeit was or were a word in German.
I had to attend an appointment with an analyst in a tonier section of the Upper West Side.
He had a very comforting office. I felt like I was in a film by the disgraced director Woody Allen.
When I first moved to New York, I had hoped that my life would be like those depicted in the films of the dishonored director Woody Allen.
Then I had then quickly decided that I wanted my life to be like a New York version of the films of Pedro Almodóvar.
Then I had changed my mind again and decided that I wanted my life to be like a New York version of the film Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
None of these dreams were realized as envisioned or envisaged.
There was a big melt.
Water dropped on freezing stones.
There was danger everywhere.
I went to meet Audra at our kids' daycare center to pick them up for the afternoon. Retrieving the stroller was a Herculean task.
After much effort, I removed our stroller from the room. I got a large scrape on my arm.
Then Mali wouldn't get in the stroller and started screaming. After failed negotiations, I agreed to let her walk outside with me. Ozman started screaming that he wanted to be let out of the stroller so that he could walk too.
The employees of the daycare center watched silently as my two children howled and bawled and whimpered and whined.
As we got outside, an older woman walked by with her dog. She looked at Mali.
"That girl should be wearing a hat," she said.
"F___ you!" I yelled.
I was shocked. I wasn't sure if I had ever uttered those words before, especially to a stranger. But I had been pushed to the breaking point.
I sent Audra a text message when I got back to work. My hands were shaking.
I am so sorry I used that language, I wrote.
It happens, she wrote.
I felt dirty and ashamed. I was reminded of my literary idol Julie Hecht and her story "Who Knows Why" from the June 3, 1996 issue of The New Yorker, in which her character does the same thing in a paint store.
What defense could I use? I didn't have Tourette's syndrome. People with that affliction can't control what they're saying. Different defenses flipped through my mind. "Temporary insanity." "Irresistible impulse." "Crime of passion."
By the time I got home, I was deep into remorse. When the floorman came in I pretended that nothing had happened. But he started saying how great it was: "More people should do it," and "You'll get some respect now." I mentioned something about Jacqueline Kennedy, although I felt unfit even to say her name.
We had a baby shower at work.
It wasn't for me.
I taught Ozman how to do a "fake smile" in case we decided to move to Los Angeles.
Mali's needed some work.
Despite the icy conditions, the days got longer.
Our paid childminder had to go to Trinidad for a week, so Asaph and I took turns staying home with the kids.
It was hard to keep them entertained.
We made it all the way until Thursday afternoon before Mali started throwing up.
And it was in our apartment building's playroom! And the other mothers and nannies with children DIDN'T IMMEDIATELY LEAVE!
I didn't understand people.
I called Asaph at work.
"You have to come home, [Mali] is puking," I said. We had an arrangement. I took care of them every morning, but Asaph had to deal with all vomit-related affairs or matters.
"I can't come home!" he said. "I'm in a meeting!"
She kept throwing up, and then heaving dryly, for around two hours. I used one dry heave as an opportunity to show her how she could try to do it in the toilet. She looked confused as I walked her over to the bathroom.
Asaph got home.
Mali suddently started acting totally normal. She asked for rice.
"Don't give it to her!" I screamed.
Asaph gave it to her anyway. She didn't throw it up.
She slept through the night normally. I was shocked.
Asaph had invited a bunch of people with children over for brunch on Saturday.
"You have to tell them that [Mali] threw up!" I said. He grudgingly agreed.
Everyone came anyway! I was even more shocked!
I never would have come. I didn't understand people.
Asaph took Ozman swimming.
He picked out his own outfit for the walk to the pool.
I took Mali on a walk outside. I saw an attractive man in tight -- but not too tight; just right -- pants walking towards me. It was the stylish and swaggering Israeli (although he spoke English with an American accent owing to parentage) who wore designer clothes and designer sunglasses with whom we had had a Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) lunch the fall prior. He gave me a hearty handshake.
We tried to go to a snow-covered playground, but we were followed and bothered -- molested, perhaps -- by a strange little boy who kept asking me questions, proposing things for Mali to do, and telling me to wait for him when I tried to walk away. His non-English-speaking mother followed, lagging behind by several paces, quietly muttering into a mobile phone in some Sino-Tibetan language.
I tried to flee to the river.
Eventually I told him that Mali wanted to go back home. I turned around and took her to back to the snow-covered playground. There, another little boy dressed like a wealthy person kept coming up to us and whispering, "Take cover. There is great danger."
This started to freak me out so I just took Mali home.
The next day we went back out to Brooklyn for a birthday party being held at a ballet studio for children.
Asaph was violently reprimanded by the ballet teacher when he tried to take Ozman into the class that was being offered as part of the party.
People involved with ballet seemed to take things very seriously. I thought of the Israeli actress Natalie Portman's role in the 2010 film The Black Swan.
This child's birthday party reminded me of that film.
Later than afternoon at home Mali threw up again, just barely missing me with her forceful emesis.
"I told you not to give her milk!" I screamed at Asaph.
The next day Asaph was sick too. He stayed home with Audra and the kids. Ozman was acting sick too.
Then Ozman threw up on Asaph.
Then a few hours later Ozman threw up on Asaph again.
I went to go get my ears waxed.
We kept Ozman home from daycare that week.
While at my Judaism class, I sent Asaph a text message to see if everything was alright. He replied that it was.
When I got home the apartment smelled like vomitus.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I gave him milk," Asaph said.
My rule had been no milk for at least five days from the last occurrence of vomiting.
That Saturday I took the kids out to stay with Audra overnight.
It had been well over a month since she had kept them.
I still couldn't really relax even when I knew they were in good hands, as opposed to my bad hands. I just could never relax.
We went out to a stylish bar near our old apartment. Everyone was young and attractive and looked like they lifted a lot of weights. It was very dark!
I didn't feel well the next day.
Asaph's mother was in town, so we took the kids to a gym to which we had access during those times.
There was a wealthy Israeli woman there with TWO sets of twins and two nannies.
I didn't feel well. I then realized that I had gotten the stomach virus that had afflicted everyone else.
I took a long hard look at myself in the mirror. I had many new wrinkles in my life.
There was a minor snowfall. I took the day off work.
Later that week I went down to get ashes at noon. I deserved repentance.
I couldn't go to the evening service owing to my Hebrew class.
The next day I had to go to on a field trip for my Judaism class. I walked across the park.
There was still light in the sky. This time right before spring was one of my favorite sub-seasons. It was full of nothing but potential. No fruition; only potential.
But it was really cold and I had mislaid my hat.
I arrived late to the museum.
It was interesting.
The next night, for homework, I attended a service at Temple Emanu-El, the largest, and one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world.
The service was akin to that in a or of a Protestant church.
As I left, there were uniformed servers standing behind tables filled with glasses of red and white wine in the lobby. The rabbis were assembling behind the table on which was placed the challah (חלה).
We were on Fifth Avenue, of course.
I went out into the night because I was alone.