Celia Kramer is a writer living with debilitating anxiety. In her weekly column, Celia will write about the horrible and hilarious world of fear, dread, paranoia, phobias, panic attacks, and trying to function as a halfway normal person. Some names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in her life.
On Saturday night, my boyfriend and I arrived home around one o’clock after spending Yom Kippur with his family in New Jersey, and I was eating leftover kugel with a plastic knife I had found in my purse. Our block was crawling with cops, and we noticed one or two of them had masks on. As my boyfriend, Astronaut Mike Dexter, put the car into park, we noticed a specially marked Medical Examiner car pull up. We watch a lot of crime TV, so we knew that the presence Medical Examiner meant someone had died.
“That sucks,” said Mike, mildly concerned. Then we noticed that it was our building the cops were all congregating around, and that our front door was propped open. Shit. There was almost certainly a dead body in our apartment building. I ate some more kugel.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, where you fast and go to services to atone for your sins. As I’ve mentioned, I am a vaguely cultural half-Jew with no real religious affiliation, so I do neither. Instead of attending services or fasting, Mike decided to pay his dues with his extended family, so we trekked out to see them. Here’s the thing about other people’s extended families: no matter how wonderful they are (and these people are basically unbeatable in terms of being delightful, wonderful people), there’s still a sense that you have to be “on.” To impress them. You want them to think “Oh wow, Mike made a really good choice with this half-Jew Mudblood.” So it’s not what I’d call a relaxing day, like lying in bed with the one person who can touch me when I’m having a panic attack and watching Seinfeld.
After fasting and praying all day, Jews come together with their families and friends for a Break Fast, which is exactly what it sounds like. Traditionally, you have bagels, a ton of smoked fish, chopped liver, and kugel (which is like noodle bread pudding) in massive quantities. When attending a Break Fast where you are in no uncertain terms the only person who hasn’t been fasting all day, it’s important to appear hungry and to empathize, but not actually say anything that would be a lie. There is a lot of anxiety around this: the last thing you want is to get caught lying about having fasted when the 14 granola bar wrappers you scarfed in your boyfriend’s uncle’s bathroom fall out of your purse, marking you as a weak-willed, non-observant one.
It’s bad enough already that you have a tattoo and a Catholic mother and do weird sex stuff and have plans to make non-religious children and are Jewish in the sense that you believe no part of the religion but perceive any slight against you to be an anti semitic attack, but it’s another thing entirely to stuff your face with purse snacks while everyone else prays.
We get out of the car and try to figure out our next move. Because Mike’s family is, as I mentioned, delightful and wonderful, they rented us a U-Haul and gave us a ton of their old furniture for our week-old, largely unfurnished apartment. We don’t want to leave the U-Haul full overnight, since our neighborhood is lousy when it comes to cars getting broken into, and the U-Haul doesn’t even lock. We could have just put up a sign that said “Free Yuppie Stuff.” We have to get the furniture into our third floor apartment tonight. This is when I hear the Medical examiner say:
“We’ll bag him and go. Apartment 2B.”
It’s approaching 1:30 in the morning.
We have a U-Haul full of furniture that needs to be moved into our apartment.
We have spent almost eight hours in New Jersey, wherein I explain to at least twelve people I really do make a living as a writer, and promise to consider raising the kids Jewish.
A man is dead on the second floor.