Early Memories

by Loolwa Khazzoom • October 19, 2013 • Family Secrets

My earliest memory is from when I was three years old, walking home with my family from the synagogue in Chomedey. There were some roses on the sidewalk, and I stopped to smell them. The scent was divine, and the roses were beautiful. I felt so happy, with the sunshine warming my face, and the sense of Sabbath peace. I looked up at my dad, who was gazing back at me with a big smile and approving look of love that felt like a safe, warm embrace. I was happy.

My next memory is that of a dream, also when I was three. In this dream, my mother and sister were in the car outside. Somehow, in that dream kind of way, I was able to see my mother’s face and hear her voice. She was seething with rage, which was a common emotional state for her. The three of us were going somewhere. I don’t remember where. My mother and sister had gotten out in time, but I was running late. There was something I needed to get. It felt essential – clothes, shoes, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that my mother began her countdown, informing me that once she hit “one,” they were off.

I don’t remember what number she started at, but it was probably ten, because that was her modus operandi. Whenever my sister and I would go to a playground, for example, my mother would give us the ten second call when it was time to go. We had to be at her side and on the way out by the time she got to one.

So there she was in this dream, seething with rage, my sister passively sitting beside her, with an expressionless face – as my sister often had throughout our childhood – as I was scrambling to get myself together. (Why was I being punished instead of helped?) “Six, five, four, three…” I raced and raced and raced. “Two, one…” I made it to the car, but it was too late. The car was pulling away, and my mother did not stop the car to let me in. I was one second too late. End of issue. End of dream.

My first memory of my mother was a dream of her abandoning me.

Writing is a profound way to heal. It is a form of getting the stories onto paper and out into the universe, where they no longer haunt or have power over me. It is a way of connecting with other people who understand me, who have had similar experiences, who have resources for healing that might interest me.

Writing my personal stories is also risky and complicated. The people I have loved the most in my life are those who were and are the most toxic to me. I grew up in a house filled with insanity both big and small. It is a miracle – no exaggeration – that I am alive and functional, never mind that I am as healthy, vibrantly alive, free, and successful as I am.

To write about my life is to write about the lives of my mother, father, sister, and relatives. It is complicated, because I love them and feel protective of them, no matter what abuse I endured at their hands.  I do not want to shame them. I also do not want to hide. I do not want to write under a pseudonym, because then I remain in the shadows. I also do not want to change “sister” to “friend” or “father” to “relative,” because then the intimacy and significance of the interactions are lost, never mind entirely confused, given the relationships with other members of the family. That is distortion. And distortion harms, rather than heals.

I have publicly written about this dilemma before. One woman commented, “If they didn’t want to be written about, they should not have done those things to you.”

I used to think that the most important thing to me in the world was family and Jewish community. For this reason, my disconnect from both has been excruciatingly painful. But recently I realized those are not in fact the most important things to me. The most important things are truth, integrity, freedom, health, and wholeness. And that explains why I have chosen to cut out/cut off most of my family and the Jewish community, despite my whole-hearted, devotional love for both. Cutting ties has been for my self-preservation.

Which all goes to say, speaking truth has been one of the most important things in my life. Speaking truth, following that sacred thread, may not bring us ease, happiness, or comfort, but it will keep us grounded in reality. I would rather know truth and feel unhappy than live a lie and feel happy. Among other things, with truth comes possibility. If I know that one situation is untenable, I have the opportunity to find another situation that works. Knowing exactly where I stand in ashes, I know exactly where I need to create new life underfoot.

Because I need to speak truth, I need to write. I need to write my stories, my experiences, my perspectives, my witnessing of life as it has unfolded before me, around me, and inside of me.

Writing is also risky because of the way people see, hear, and respond to one who is sharing deep truth, especially trauma. I first experienced it with a guy I met in a synagogue years ago, Andrew. I was in my mid-20s and sharing something or other with him. As my mother says about me, I have no façade. So I was sharing my truth, whatever truth it was. I expected Andrew to respond with his own truth – sharing and spring-boarding off where he resonated with me, then telling his own story.

I always loved sharing life stories, especially in the most intimate conversations, where we could learn from each other. Figure things out together. Offer the gift of personal experience to help someone else make sense of their own personal experience. Bond over life – the sillness, the sadness, the triumph and the trauma. All of it.

Andrew, however, shocked me by responding not from a place of engagement, connection, or any form of empathy, but rather, from a disconnected, outside-in, diagnostic place – evaluating and judging me, offering his unsolicited commentary on and advice about my life. At the time, I did not know what hit me. Years later, navigating through the world of holistic health, I found this attitude to be commonplace. So many people listen not from a place of identification and relationship, but rather, from a place of evaluation and judgment.

Which makes it unsafe to share my stories.

But just because the world is unsafe does not mean I should hide or shy away. Rather, it means I need to go into the world brazenly, with my heart wide open and my face lifted up toward the sunshine. I must create my own safety.

It’s like when I was showering naked on some beach in Israel, I can’t remember where. I was traveling the country with my best friend, Frani, and we had slept in a lifeguard lookout on the beach, along with a sweet couple we had met that day. In the early morning hours, I woke up and took a glorious shower — naked and free, alongside the Mediterranean Sea glistening in the sunlight. Soon into my shower, a man walking on the beach stopped and stared at me. I yelled loudly, pointing at him and commanding him to look away, chiding him for being disrespectful. “I am simply taking a shower,” I said. “I am not here for you to look at. Shame on you.” With that, he looked away.

That is power. Taking up our space on our own terms. Creating new paradigms, new constructs, new terms of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

And yet it is hard, and it is scary. It is vulnerable to put ourselves out into the world — raw, beautiful, and naked, like a newborn baby, howling our signature cry with our powerful baby lungs. And yet that is how I choose to live. Knowing that I will be judged. Knowing that people will use my story to make up all kinds of things about me. Knowing that people will misunderstand me, while thinking they totally have me pegged – seeing information as equivalent to knowledge, though those are two entirely different things. Information without knowledge, in fact, is more dangerous than total ignorance, especially if one is aware that one is entirely ignorant of a situation.

Which all goes to say, I have spent a lot of time not writing my story, because I was conflicted about writing it. I did a lot of raw, from the heart/gut writing in my 20s, and quite a bit in my 30s, but then I stopped. I stopped for a few reasons: first, someone who was going to hire me for PR services backed out, because his financial sponsor did not like my liberal use of linguistic spice, which she referred to as “swear words.” I was so shocked, I suddenly became frightened. How were people seeing me? I did not like being misperceived and misunderstood.

Along those lines, over the course of years, it was exhausting to field comments telling me that the trauma I had overcome in my life was a sign that I had bad luck/bad karma, etc. It was shocking to me that people could completely overlook my strength, creativity, and resilience in facing and responding to life’s challenges, instead going straight for the jugular and blaming it all on me. Over the years, after overcoming the shock and hurt of it all, I came to understand that it said more about those people and how they walked through the world than it said about me. I was, above and beyond all else, grateful not to be those people. If they talk to me like that, I thought, how sordid must it be in their heads, day in and day out. I would not want to be subject to the soundtrack in their brains.

Second, and most importantly, I was in the process of healing from cancer. And as per the guidance of an energy healer, I decided to conserve my energy. To engage it internally instead of exhale it into the universe — writing about my experiences, connecting with others, and fielding all their responses. I needed to go to a very deep and private place. And so I did, for about three years.

Third, I remained conflicted about writing about my family, for reasons outlined above.

I am now in a space where I choose once again to live “in bold Technicolor,” as a client of mine said about how I do life. Be vibrantly alive, not hide, throw out my experiences and wisdom like jewels that glisten in the sunshine as they are tossed into the air and carried by the winds, sprinkling on those who need them and love them and appreciate them.

People sometimes have asked me how I became a writer, why I chose this path. “It was that or suicide,” I have responded flat-out. Its’ true. I have to tell my story. I have to bear witness. I have to chronicle what I see in this world and share my thoughts, feelings, and insights. In my early 20s, I took a good look at the world around me and saw an overwhelming amount of insanity. Writing about it has been a key way that that I have been able to transform it and/or transform my relationship to it, instead of become indoctrinated by and subject to it.

And so I am back on the writing path. As far as those who judge and twist my stories: Fuck them. They really are not my concern. Yes I feel vulnerable, yes I feel scared, but this is just what I need to do anyhow.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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