Excerpted from "A Fetish for Men," by Gloria Brame, @2014
I was a breach baby. I was born to land on my feet.
Sometimes, people say to me they wish they were me or at least more like me. I always think, wow, really? In order to be me, or like me, you'd need to have felt what I felt and lived what I lived starting in childhood. It wouldn't work otherwise.
I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone. My parents tried to instill working class ambitions, strict adherence to all norms, safe social invisibility, and a constant awareness that, literally at any second, everything you love and care about could be destroyed. “Just fit in,” they would always say. It was a problem for a kid who didn't fit anywhere.
One learns an awful lot of things from being the child of Holocaust survivors but I cannot say if they are things any children should have to learn. When you're a kid, you don't judge or analyze moral lessons. You accept them in the naive certainty that your parents know the truth and wouldn't teach you lies. You see the world the way they see the world and, for an awful lot of people, it never goes further than that. They will believe the things they learned at age five for the rest of their lives, without asking themselves whether those lessons were right in the first place.
The choices I've made as an adult are an adamant rejection of many of the things I was raised to believe, even though SOME things have protected me and helped me endure emotional pain. It took me decades to sort out the valuable lessons from the ones I wish I'd never learned. Here are some of those lessons and you can decide for yourself on their value.
First, Laughter Medicates Pain
Virtually ever tragic experience in life has two sides to it. The true side, which is the reality of the situation; and the funny side, which is the magic pill to relieve the pain of it. This pill was the product of your own brain’s ability to come up with a joke no matter how horrific the circumstance. The only restriction was something that just happened. Then you had to wait until it was all over so other people wouldn’t hate you for cracking wise too soon.
One time at the dinner table when I was in my early teens, my father told me the story about the time they hid in a filthy hovel outside of Kiev, where they all slowly went mad from hunger. Unable to leave their shelter for fear of detection, they watched one of their friends unravel. He had been so obsessed with sneaking outside to catch a chicken, that he finally convinced himself he was the chicken. He roosted on his cot, and slept underneath it, making clucking noises.
“Did he survive?” I asked my parents. No, they said, he hung himself a week later.
“His goose was cooked,” my father said.
“He couldn’t duck his fate,” I replied.
“How could you!” my mother said, “It’s not right! He was a sick man!”
My father and I froze. It had been 30 years. Still too soon?
But then she laughed, and we all laughed, and changed the subject.
So that was one lesson: if you don’t laugh, you want to kill yourself or, preferably, the fascists who fuck life up for the rest of us.