I see you Ruth Lubin walking home on Gerard Avenue to your immigrant mother who will never understand you, who can never understand you, but who loves you beyond all understanding. You are carrying home a cardboard container of sour cream, half of which will be gone on this hot Bronx night before you climb the one flight of stairs to your small apartment. You are 15 years old, your father has left home again, and the sour cream tastes good through the corner hole you have made with your teeth and inquiring tongue. Your mother is not pleased, Yiddish words fly, as she takes the container from you. She has warned you about this before. But the night is hot, and with a heavy sigh of resignation--"nu" --she makes peace with you, and prepares for bed, for the sofa bed you share in the living room.
What were you thinking about that night? Do you remember? School? A chivalrous knight galloping out of Tennyson to sweep you away from all this? Were verses even then rising to the surface of your mind? Were strange stirrings already gripping your body? Did you know that one day you would be a mother with two sons? Did you imagine poetry would become your great aching passion? Did you guess that you would die on May 2, 1989, a Depression and three wars away? Forget all this. Were you even aware that your mother's eyes followed you down the street, as she watched her Rifkele that "nothing should happen to her"? Your mother's eyes often followed you, a great cloak of protection in this dark American city, far from home.
What was your apartment like? Let's go inside. In the bedroom is the boarder and his wife. We can't go in there. The walls are bare but for a few old photographs. The furniture is non-descript, salvaged from used furniture stores and evictions all over the neighborhood. In the living room, between the mohair sofa and overstuffed chair, sits a make-believe fish bowl with an imitation fish. A report on patriotism is spread out on the kitchen table. You will finish it tomorrow and enter it in a school contest which you will win. I will find it in your drawer more than fifty years from now, creased but with penmanship still perfect. There are no distractions when you work. Your mother does not permit them. There will be no suitors calling after your blond curls. Not just yet. She has stuffed the bell button downstairs.
You are at the window now. It is your favorite place, your only place. You hear your mother's snores joining the night sounds of the city. It is hard for you to go to sleep. It always will be. You gaze out of your open window. A neighbor yells across the courtyard, then silence, then the city, always the city. You are staring past the street now, deep in your reverie. You do not hear your mother stir and call you sharply to bed. Your head is full of words which you will have to write down one day. The moon climbs in the sky, a silver balloon carrrying you beyond the rooftops of this Bronx world. Your school and five-and-dime job vanish. A life awaits you Ruth Lubin...who will be my mother.
June 4, 1989