Putting on an act can pay off.
I was terrified. My sister and I sat in the front seat of my great-grandfather’s Cadillac. She was 10-years-old and I was 13. Today marked the day of my passage to manhood. The parking lot at Temple Isreal gave us a minute of privacy before services began.
My GG asked me to move his car into the handicapped parking spot while he used his walker to find his seat in the temple. Renee smiled and looked at me as I maneuvered into the parking spot.
“What’s wrong Greg?”
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t want this. It’s not for me. This Bar Mitzvah is for everyone else.”
I was dripping with shame.
Had I studied enough? Why didn’t I feel like I was doing anything worth value? I didn’t learn to read directly from the Torah so was I less worthy for the Bar Mitzvah honor?
Why did our Rabbi quit last week? We had an interim Rabbi I didn’t know or like when we met. I had to run the service without the Rabbi’s help. What if everybody thought the way I did things was terrible?
“You’ve worked so hard. Riding your bike to Mr. Zigler’s house for Haftorah lessons. Coming to temple all these years with GG. You deserve to show everyone what you know and have your party.”
“It’s not about me. I want to kill myself,” I said. Renee’s eyes watered and she drew back as I pulled out the 38 caliber pistol, I stole from GG, from under the front seat. I held the gun on my lap pointed at the Cadillac steering wheel.
Renee pleaded with me. “Greg we all love you. Please don’t kill yourself. I love you. We are here for you today.”
“I don’t know what to do. It’s all too much.”
“Please put the gun down,” Renee sobbed. I couldn’t bear to see her crying and did as she asked. Carefully, I replaced the gun under the seat.
“Please don’t cry, Renee. Go wash your face inside so no one will think anything is wrong. I won’t do it.” Renee wiped her eyes and nose on her forearm and left without saying anything. I said, “I love you. Thank you for listening to me,” as she got out of the Cadillac and went back inside the temple.
I stayed in the car for a few minutes contemplating putting the barrel of the gun in my mouth and ending the tormenting question and nerve shaking insecurities.
My parent’s recent divorce and lack of having my father around the last few years had eaten at my self-confidence and self-love. My mother was distant gaining personal independence and the rest of my family were busy living their own lives.
My self-defense took shape in constructing an ego and persona aloof and unbothered by the stress rattling around in my thoughts. Cognitive dissonance and an irrational teenage mindset aided me in taking on the facade of a bold, irreverent, “In-charge” man-of-the family attitude.
I lived in a fable. A lie built around false strength and unearned bravado.
Swallowing my fears and leaving the Cadillac I walked into Temple Isreal’s back door entrance, washed my face in the bathroom, and took my place on the bema(The stage in the synagogue) to greet the congregation and begin leading Jewish prayers.
The idea of taking my life didn’t have another chance to rear its frightening thought pattern the rest of the day or ever again. My sister and I never again spoke about our tearful, anxiety-filled Cadillac discussion.
Accepting all the congratulations and gifts on leading Sabbath services and being Bar Mitzvah, I melted into the deception and act showing everything was great and it was a fantastic day.
The kiss my friend Audrey gave me in the elevator on the way up to my Bar Mitzvah afterparty erased any disquiet still hanging around in my gut. A 13-year-old boy will overlook a heap of anxiety when blessed by a crush’s kiss.
Looking back on the deceit to myself, friends, and family -that I was happy and ready for my supposed passage into Jewish manhood- I’m glad I decided to lie through the day. Later on in counseling, I learned the phrase:
Fake it till you make it.
How deep the concept resonated with me upon hearing those words.