My People, My Son

Erica Landis –

The smell of chlorine.

On my clothes, on the red terry cloth towel.

I can’t stand the color red. Even before that day, the color would make take my heart beat quickly up into my throat. The chlorine wafts through the air and in my hair and fingertips as I try to dial 911. Tried. My fingers wouldn’t work. And when they did, my voice could only vomit unintelligible sounds to the woman or man on the other end. I cannot remember who answered with “911 what is your emergency?”

Chlorine smells like panic. Chlorine smells like screaming NO louder than a howler monkey. Howler monkeys can be heard up to five miles away.

I try to skip the month of July. The sunny – but not too sunny – skies. But July keeps repeating despite my best efforts. Despite wall calendars featuring sloths reading books and drinking tea; despite my resilience that has been celebrated in public while I remain confused and sad in private.

Oct 7th news slowly flows like a sink left trickling rhythmic drops to my television in New Jersey.

What? What happened? This is really bad. This is really big.

Oh my God, I say to my husband as we know we must temper and regulate and pace our emotions with our constant grief. All roads lead back to OUR loss.

But this. The horror-filled flow of news speeds up. My two shelves of books on The Holocaust sit there somehow looking like they want to speak.

This disruption

This upheaval

This this-isn’t-really-happening

This assault to my DNA

Friends and acquaintances begin to take sides and the sides scare me into silence. The silence morphs to shame for not speaking out. I stay in friendly territory.

Will I get work when my resume shows I also write for a Jewish newspaper?

Will I get coffee with grinds at the bottom when the barista sees my shema necklace?

Will I be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I take my daughter to her swim lesson, watching children go under water and come back up – instructors at their side. My heart involuntarily thumps in my throat at this view of submersion. And the smell of chlorine.

I make the connection between traumas.

My son. My people.

Written at a Writing on the Wall Workshop – March 20, 2024

Image by Arik Ventura אריק ונטורה –