Excerpt from Tashlich by Bernadette Murphy


The following essay appeared in our Fall 2013 Print. Click here to purchase the entire issue in digital format.

Tashlich (泚・41) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.

I meandered away from the group and felt the bread, sticking together in my hand. Reared in a devout Irish-Catholic home, I remembered making communion wafers out of Wonder Bread, its texture perfect—soft, white, pliable— to form little body-of-Christ discs. This Challah bread, though, felt different, with more edges and crust, sharp fragments that bit into my palm like the pieces of glass that felt lodged in my lungs whenever I thought about leaving my marriage. I tore the bread into little pieces, lots and lots of pieces for all the things I needed to let go.

First off, being a devoted wife. I tossed a piece into the ocean, repentant. I had spent 25 years as loyal as I possibly could be, faithful, giving my heart and soul to my family only to find myself profoundly alone at the end of each day. That hadn’t always been the case, but for the past decade or so, I could no longer ignore the low-grade ache of loneliness within the façade of couple-hood that never left, like a headache that eases on occasion but never departs. I had wanted to be a good wife and had done all I was capable of doing in that way, seeking individual therapy for myself, working on my own issues, asking John to sign us up for couples therapy. But after all that work, I found myself unable to be the kind of fully present wife I wanted to be. To stay in the marriage and fake that devotion was to do us both a grave disservice. But I mourned the wife I had set out to be the day I made my marriage vows.

I tossed another piece of bread into the ocean—my desire to be a perfect mother. Together, John and I raised three wonderful young people. The work we did as co-parents is a testament to our love of them and our desire to be the best parents we could be, a desire that I must admit trumped our need to be good spouses to each other. Whenever I feel sad about the demise of our marriage, I remember the kids that are the product of it and I can’t stay in the sadness too long. While we were unable to help each other in the way that I think the best couples are able to, to love and support each other as unique individuals, we had been fabulous parents together. And maybe that’s why our marriage paid a price—always so focused on the kids. But now that I was planning to leave, I knew I would have to give up the mantle of the good mother. A good mother doesn’t leave her children’s father. A good mother keeps the family together at any cost, is the glue that binds it all together. My glue had long ago lost its stickiness. And I had allowed it to.

I threw in bread for the marriage I thought I had been building all those years, for the household we’d created, for the house we’d lost to foreclosure 12 years earlier and the new house we’d managed to buy just a year-and-a- half ago. I threw in a piece of bread for the many hardships we’d weathered together: John’s near-death from a pulmonary embolism, our second son’s near-drowning at age three, that same son’s diagnosis with a severe anxiety disorder in high school, the death of John’s mother, the passing of my father. We’d been able to weather those hardships as a couple— difficulties that might have ended the marriage long before this point—but rather than strengthening the bond, at some point, the troubles started piling on top of each other, saddling our relationship with a burden we couldn’t quite escape. My sin, I suppose, was in letting it happen, in not speaking up sooner, in not knowing how to correct this trajectory.

I threw in bread for the young woman I’d been when I’d paired up with John—22, wide- eyed, looking for security at any cost—and another piece for the older, wiser and more flinty woman I’ve since become, now staring down the barrel of 50. Bread tossed away, like the hours of our lives, like the dreams and hopes we must relinquish in order for other, new ones to arrive. I emptied my hands of the Challah, letting go of all I knew. My tears mixed with the salty brine licking at my feet.

Center of the Universe Richard P. Krepski

Bernadette MurphyBERNADETTE MURPHY writes about literature, women, risk taking, and life — from motorcycles to knitting. She is an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Department of Antioch University Los Angeles.  A former weekly book critic for the Los Angeles Times, she writes essays on life and literature that have appeared in Ms.magazine, Los Angeles Times MagazineSan Francisco ChronicleThe Oregonian, San Jose Mercury News, Newday, BOOK magazine, and elsewhere.  Other essays and short stories have been in featured in anthologies, including: Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood; Wild with Child: Adventures of Families in the Great Outdoors, edited by  Jennifer Bove and Mark Jenkins; My Little Red Book, edited by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff; Our Working Lives: Short Stories of People and Work, edited by Larry Smith and Bonnie Jo Campbell, and others.  She holds an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles and is the mother of three amazing young adults. Source: http://www.bernadette-murphy.com/about.html

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