Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

On My Rejecting Forgiveness/Darker than You Can Imagine…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 5:28 am on Friday, August 13, 2021

On Rejecting Forgiveness

by Robert M. Katzman © August 11, 2021

Yom Kipper is coming soon, (Sundown, September 15th) the holy Jewish Day of Atonement, world-wide, where every person is expected to forgive those who may have done terrible things to them — even though they may not be deserving of such generosity of the heart — in order to receive God’s blessing. 

I will admit I am guilty of not forgiving someone who was horrifically evil. 

Well, perhaps God will give me a pass on this one. 

Our story can be found here:

Dear Reader, this poisonous moment in time occurred in my life on July 7, 1987, 34 years ago, and 14 years before my Mother Anne’s death from cancer on August 3, 2001. She was 80.

Some people who when they encounter the now grown children of barbarically cruel parents, for unknown reasons feel compelled to dismiss those former children’s ancient recollections, essentially expressing a condescending attitude about their pain with a tone of distain, saying, 

“Jesus Christ! That was decades ago. Get over it already.” 

These words have been said to me, down through the years. Well, this particular event occurred when I was thirty-seven, not a child. Sometimes it comes to me in dreams, her voice unaltered by the years, the image as indelible as when the moment was new, though today I am 71. 

You out there reading this; you can decide for yourself if you would be “over it” by now.

My Grandfather Nathan Warman, an immigrant from Minsk, Byelorussia and the last of ten children, died in Chicago on July 4, 1987. He had three children: 

My mother Anne, her younger brother Milt and their younger sister Adele.

It had been a long service followed by a slow burial where everyone there participated, each shoveling the traditional one to three piles of dirt into the grave atop the casket. He was born 1894; 93 when he died. 

Mysteriously, my Mother Ann, his first American-born child was not there for the funeral. 

My Grandmother Celia was fuming at this unforgivable disgrace.

It was very hot in Chicago, being July, and when all of us returned to my Grandmother’s home for the Shiva –the Jewish period of morning after the burial when immense amounts of food arrive, along with each new person or family. Shiva means the number seven in Hebrew, which was once the normal period of days of mourning in ancient times. Nathan had seven grandchildren, two of whom were men. I was the younger one.

As the day dragged on, I fell asleep in one of the bedrooms to escape the loud tumult of conversations. 

Then I was awakened by my Uncle Milt’s deep voice, who said, 

“Bobby, you better wake up.”

Sleepily opening my eyes, I listened as he quietly closed the bedroom door, so that others wouldn’t hear him.

“Bobby, someone broke into your Mother’s office on Kinzie street earlier today; robbed her, beat her up and escaped. Eventually, she managed to call the police and was taken by an ambulance to Northwestern Hospital. Here’s the address. You better go there now, she’s in bad shape.”

My immediate thought was, why not you? 

But our family wasn’t remotely close, and he hadn’t mentioned this to anyone else, including Bonnie, my older sister by two years, then 39. Then he turned and walked out, having handed over the matter to another person. We never discussed the incident again, for the rest of our lives. This was normal behavior in my family.

I got up, splashed cold water on my face, said goodbye without a reason to my Father and Adele, who was more like an actual loving mother to me. The building was on Chicago’s Lakefront facing Lake Shore Drive, about five miles north of the hospital. I found my car and drove there, parking in the Emergency area.

Then, stopping at the nurses’ station, swiftly identifying myself, I asked where Anne Katzman was. 

The woman’s eyes widened and she pointed down a hallway, telling me a room number; adding that my Mother was conscious, but severely beaten. 

I went to the room, saw two male nurses wearing green scrubs who were attempting to hold down her arms so a doctor could examine her blackened eyes. My Mother was five foot three, but very strong from years of moving furniture and lifting heavy rolls of carpeting, which led to a miscarriage of what would have been a third child when I was eight in 1958, because she ignored her doctor’s instructions about not doing any more lifting. I have often thought about the child I would never meet, who would have been 63 by now,

and how that might have changed my life.

My Mother’s muscular arms were thrashing around, and the doctor paused upon seeing me, hearing from me who I was to her. She turned and glared at me. I asked him what needed to be done to help her recover. 

My voice, my attitude was straightforward, business-like. An, “Ok men, let’s get this done” sort of voice.

My Mother was a monster, and I was there to help her. In my doing so, I was faithfully keeping my promise to a certain man who intervened in my life, when my Mother requested that he do so.

She had beaten me when I was a child from the age of 5 until 14, when I ran away from home and went to live with my Father, Israel. He had long since abandoned any hope of a civilized relationship with her and had left in 1963. My older sister was a ghost in the house, a stranger to me and she never intervened in the violence.

Now, in one of life’s strange turnabouts, I was in the ER to see about helping her when someone had beaten her.

Exasperated, frustrated and like all men she met, unable to comprehend her behavior, the doctor explained that besides her being smashed in the face, while her nose wasn’t broken and her teeth were still intact; her eyes took the brunt of the punches and her eyelids were slit open. The cuts had to be sewed shut. She couldn’t be sedated to do this, although I don’t remember the reason anymore. 

I didn’t question him. I was sent there. I would do whatever I could to help him help her; but my being was absent. The beaten and terrorized child remaining within me felt nothing, and the present circumstances between us were of her own making. 

I offered to help. 

The doctor requested I assist in holding her down, unaware of my relationship with my Mother. I agreed to do that. One of the male nurses moved away, mistakenly assuming that the Cavalry of Love had arrived. I was no

fainting flower, had spent my life doing carpentry and other very difficult physical work. 

I knew what to do.

Not greeting her, nor kissing her like any normal son might do — as if I knew what that was supposed to feel like, I firmly held her shoulder down with my left hand, her wrist in a tight grip with my right hand, and using my knee on the inside of her elbow, like I was pinning an opponent to a mat in a wrestling match, then I said to the doctor, 

“Go ahead, this should hold her, if the nurse does the same on her other side. She’s not easy to control.”

The two male nurses, the doctor, looked at me with amazement, like, 

“What the hell is this?” 

I was not surprised, of course, and offered no explanation to them other than muttering that my Mother had never been the Mother of the Year, and that he should do what he needed to do to sew up her slashed eyelids. 

My successfully restrained Mother turned her head toward me, her bruised face an ugly mask of fury, barked at me before the doctor could begin his work, yelling:

“Damn you, Bob, bet you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

I said nothing.

The three men –stunned — said nothing.

This was beyond their ER experience, I guess.

The doctor sewed up her eyelids and after that, gave her a sedative so she would sleep.

I thanked the three of them, offering, 

“Guys, doctor, thank you, but my life when we lived together is beyond anyone’s comprehension. 

Sorry.”

We shook hands all around and I left, returning to my family at the Shiva.

I didn’t bring any food back with me.

I wasn’t hungry.

***

It was a time when I was no longer self-employed and learning about the misery of working for egotistical self-absorbed cretins, men who treated employees like pawns, who expected silence when they chose to publicly verify a man’s worthlessness. I learned that this time would end, knowing I was never like any of my bosses to my hundreds and hundreds of employees over my 20 years. 

My wife and three children were depending on me for food and rent, so I kept my silence, however the times embittered me. I knew my chance was coming. Knew it.

Yes, this woman, now a caricature of ugly madness and cruelty, was once such a beauty, able to talk cops out of speeding tickets, once a dazzler at parties, telling stories, charming all the men. Born in 1921, when she died there remained boxes of letters to her from her time dancing with so many of them at USO events during the years of the war, when she was 21 to 24. She finally got her soldier, my Father, who was not prepared for her.

How to describe her, a person whom, when a second transplant to my face at age 20, to recreate a jaw lost to cancer at age 18, failed and I was quarantined for two weeks with a terrible infection, I had to convince my doctor to have my Mother banned from the hospital because she was obnoxious and loudly blamed the doctor for my situation.

He didn’t take me seriously at first, especially because I couldn’t talk very well at the time. But my anger and determination came through sufficiently and he had her on the “Do Not Admit” list.

Now she was 66, I was keeping a promise to another person about her. A deadly person who was once her friend, maybe more. When I was in a 6-year periodical distribution war with America’s biggest distributor who would brook no competition, no matter how tiny and insignificant and sought to crush my insurgency, I made a big bet to buy Chicago’s largest newsstand at Randolph and Michigan by original Chicago Library and the Illinois Central Railroad steps. 

Yeah, I bet all the chips on the famously illegal giant newspaper operation to keep it out of my competition’s hands. The cost was $90,000 for a structure with no lease, bathroom, heat or running water. The electricity to illuminate that 24-foot wide, eight-foot deep and eight-foot high space was taken illegally via a visible wire from the top of the entrance to the train station steps. Everybody knew all of this, including the cops. That newsstand was a beloved Chicago landmark.

That’s more than $400,000 in 2021 dollars. Only in Chicago would a bank loan a man money for such a transaction. And only a guy with solid Chicago Moxie would take on such a debt.

I won that one battle but was about to lose the war, when suddenly Chicago’s Street Inspectors came crashing down upon me, deciding that after a century being where it was, the way it was, my showpiece acquisition was determined to be illegal.

I had two weeks to turn the situation around. But everyone I approached to plead, or bribe brushed me aside, the City was too big for anyone to interfere. The days raced by. Just before the end, when losing the newsstand would bankrupt me and everything would crash down up my wife and kids, my Father, unable to stop the steamroller from flattening me, suggested one day to…call my Mother. Be polite, be quiet, but call her.

What?

Trap myself between my snarling Gargoyle and Chicago’s all-powerful beastly street inspectors?

Choiceless, almost day-less, I steeled myself to call her, ask her for help, whatever form that might take.

I could see her 56-year-old face wreathed in Pall Mall cigarette smoke, and she granted me a few moments, perhaps deciding that she, and ONLY she, could destroy her son at will, but no one, no one else could touch me. 

She spoke in monotone, gave me a name and number, told me to be very, very polite, then hung up.

Though I have written about this Chicago Gangster before in intimate detail, I will be brief here. 

I called, was told where to be and at what time. He already knew — the heavily accented-voice told me — exactly what I wanted, but I had to ask the man for help in person.

We met in a remote part of the City, I said little, but the man who headed Chicago’s Syndicate and who had great affection for my Mother, briefly took down the names of the men coming for me, then spent perhaps ten minutes talking only about my Mother, how I should treat her, how I should be a better son and to look after her for the rest of her life. And that he would know if I was an honest son, or not. His voice was low, strangely gentle and convincing, all at the same time. 

I agreed to his wishes, promising I would be the kind of son HE, not her, expected me to be. 

We shook hands, my rough and muscular hands engulfed in his, he looked into my eyes, did not squeeze as hard as I knew he could if he chose to, and he said to me,

“Good”.

Then I was dismissed. Never saw or spoke to him again. But I did find out in an indirect way that he kept tabs on me.

Not just in scary stories in fiction, but also in real life, there was a heavy price to pay to receive aid from the Devil.

It is not possible to describe the horror on the faces of the two Chicago Street-Inspector men, formerly all threats and commanding, when I accidently invoked the name of my new protector—a sin—because apparently they never got the memo that the situation had changed, that I was to be invulnerable from now on. Period. 

They recoiled like they were two coiled springs bouncing away from me back to their car, faces showing me a look of terror I’d never experienced before. 

But after that, it was true, all of it. In this very particular arena of Chicago, and only this spot at the intersection of Randolph and Michigan streets, I was untouchable.

But my somber promise was a promise, never to be forgotten in all the years to come. 

When she called me, I came. Flowers on her birthday. A restaurant on Mother’s Day. She was always invited to parties at my house for any reason, and all the Jewish holidays. Frequently her behavior was intolerable, but no matter. My wife knew the score and was also on call when my Mother’s health declined.

Me? I was tethered to her for the rest of her life. 

In the remaining 14 years of her life still to come, as was the pattern of our lives, when I faithfully showed up when it was necessary for me to do so, like arranging and paying for her funeral, this moment of her last minute family and career-saving intervention was never mentioned by either of us; like it never happened at all.

A year after my chilling meeting with the Gangster, on a Passover where my wife and I and my three-year-old daughter Lisa picked up my Mother in Downtown Chicago where her office, 222 West Kinzie St., was across the street from the Merchandise Mart. We lived far south of her and the family parties were far north of her in the suburbs. My mother sat in the backseat next to my daughter.

On this one occasion, in April 1978, for no reason whatsoever, my Mother launched into a fifteen minute tirade to my small daughter about what a terrible child I had been and how much trouble I got into all the time and what a bad son I had been. Joy and I said nothing while Joy squeezed my hand tightly, sharing my frustration.

Then my Mother stopped to light up a cigarette, breathe the smoke in deeply and let it exhale, filling the car’s air. 

Lisa, who had been silent for the entire time my Mother spewed her lies, took that moment to respond to her Grandmother in this way. She said in her high, clear voice:

“Well, he’s been good to me!”

All of us were startled by this unprompted response from Lisa.

But amazingly, evidently stunned, it shut my Mother up for the next hour it took to get to our destination.

No one wanted to be involved in her burial. 

She was friendless and ferocious until her death in 2001.

With no options open to me, I was the one who hired the Rabbi to read her obituary, who would officiate over her entombment in the ground. He was a stranger to me, she belonged to no synagogue. Still tethered, I did my job.

I became stone during all of this. Some part of me, deeply hidden, was filled with bottled up fury and desiring destruction. I decided when I was 18 to never drink alcohol, afraid that the possible fire-breathing Dragon within me might escape and create mayhem. My friends and family were amused by my rigid soberness as if it were one more strange characteristic of mine in a family where wine and beer flowed freely. Over the decades, I never explained it.

“Bobby, be good to her”, the Gangster said. Bobby was going to be very good.

I met with the Rabbi alone in his office. In a frank voice devoid of emotion, I told him the truth about who my Mother was and what she had done to me, to others, knowing he was bound to never repeat any of it. His face recoiled, his clean hands nervously intertwining with each other. I stopped talking.

Inside of my black suit-jacket I produced a script and a check. A check large enough to end her hold on me and persuade the Rabbi to stick to my script, a carefully constructed fiction to the unexpected mass of people who came to see her off. 

I was always a writer, since childhood. So, to complete my “sentence”, I wrote something imaginary, something funny, a little sexy, describing my razz-ma-tazz Mother, born in the Great Depression, as charming, hilarious, and invincible to all but lung cancer. Her bawdy stories in Yiddish would be remembered. 

Once, I wrote, when I sought a person in a particular line of work to help a friend of mind lose his virginity after four years of college, naturally I turned to my Mother, who with her many connections immediately produced a name and a phone number which shortly resulted in the desired goal. Everyone laughed at that line, which was, in fact, true.

But the room erupted hysterically when the Rabbi unexpectedly ad-libbed that it was the first time in his long career he had used the word “virgin” in anyone’s obituary.  Somehow, that Rabbi got into the spirit of my work, bless him. 

Yes, he said, her family adored her, and would morn her loss for years to come.

The Rabbi read the script-obituary exactly as written. I watched him, as hard as I felt other eyes watching me.

People laughed where they were supposed to, cried where they were supposed to and then he was done. Many people passed by me expressing the words people say when that person’s beloved Mother died. I thanked them.

I said my own scripted lines, hugged people when it appeared required and watched the minutes slowly tick by.

My Mother may have been surprised at her son who could summon up the frozen heart he needed to do all of this, to keep his promise to a terrifying Gangster, 24 years before. Perhaps I inherited her ability to become empty, evil and heartless. Perhaps her poisonous words and deeds would live on, in her captive son.

I remembered the man’s hands, huge, hard like marble and capable of convincing people to see things his way.

Wasn’t he dead after all this time? Did anyone anywhere know about my promise? 

But in the end, my Mother saved my family from disaster. 

Her dangerous and evidently all-powerful friend, in response to my Mother’s request, kept his part.

And me?

A promise was a promise, etched in blood and stone. 

I kept my promise, did everything I was required to do, and now?

Now I was free.

Free.

Yes free, but empty for a time, like a ripped plastic bag blowing randomly in the wind.

It took a long time, but ultimately I never became like her.

Her death became a hard shell for me to shed, like a Cicada.

In spite of such a life, I managed to be capable of love, of finding women who loved me back, of having children who felt love from me and easily returned it to me, and to each other. I see this as a miracle.

Will I ever “get over” the earlier described insane ER incident in my own life, and the nine years of the earlier years of her unchecked fists and words like arrows in my easily pierced childhood heart?

Would you?

Could you?

I am old now, have many kind and warm friends, a woman today who claims she loves me, after the death of my wife of forty years four years ago, and I believe her. She types my stories, helps me form them into books. But when she first encountered my ghastly tales of my Mother and what she was able to do to me, unchecked, for nine years, she told me it was almost impossible to believe. Didn’t the neighbors know? Didn’t I try to call the police? 

I told her no, not a soul knew anything. I told no one and almost until her death, she denied ever laying a hand on me, knowing this could make me crazy.

As I held her closely to me while saying these words to her, my new love, my new friend, my talented artist and editor, I thought to myself,

“You know what? That’s good. 

I am the very last witness still left alive, and all those evil memories of my Mother will die with me.”

I think there is a part of me which remains frozen and furious, certain that the cavalry will never come, and that when help has arrived at times in my life, it is almost unbearable to accept, comprehend and endure. Objectivity is impossible for someone caged for so long. Yet, I can love

A mystery.

*****************

(My response to a kind comment to me by Bonnie Classen, which seems a good way to close on this jagged intimacy): You are kind to me. I respect your opinions. Writing a story like that was an emotional striptease caused by the coming Yom Kippur which is a very charged day for Jews in intimate contact with who they are. I felt that it might give some venting relief to people who don’t/won’t/can’t write such a tale, and maybe the horrible story might give a voice to other people. Thank you.–Bob

*****************************

Publishing News!

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998 (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools can call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations, Synagogues, Churches and so on.

10 Comments »

Comment by Jim Payne

August 13, 2021 @ 8:10 am

Bob, no matter how bad your mother was, you could handle it. Others may be shocked by you, but you knew what to do to help her and by doing so got a hand on your feelings. What you did wasn’t what “you had to do” but what you chose to do. She may have restrained you for a few years, but you went on about your life and made it what you wanted it to be choosing your lovers and friends. You are a writer.

Comment by Don Larson

August 13, 2021 @ 12:37 pm

Bob,

I cannot and will not judge you. This is your story of the events.

Rest easy, my friend.

Don

Comment by Brad Dechter

August 13, 2021 @ 1:20 pm

You are a good man Bob. A mensch.
That’s all I will say because I stay away from mother things.

Comment by Janet kern

August 14, 2021 @ 9:02 pm

funny today at a bible study our discussion was on forgiveness. I had the same lesson years ago when living in another state and doing a study. It frees the person from the physical effects and bitterness. I had some of the same problem with my mother .I learned about forgiveness and how it harms me but she had passed so all I could do was rite her a letter forgiving her and begging her forgiveness for all that I could have done to hurt her. Then I destroyed the letter. I cannot explain how it frees you but it did and does as I see sisters still holding bitterness to her. Maybe you could try it as the saying goes “what do yah have to loose”

Comment by Beth Walsh

August 15, 2021 @ 9:10 am

I think no one can really comprehend the walls one needs to build to survive an abusive parent unless they have experienced it for themselves. For some, it’s a lifetime of abuse. For others, like myself, instants of appalling abuse entwined with normal love and everyday life.

You split your personality into shards to survive. It was necessary and saved your life. I will always be grateful you found a way to choose love and hope over despair and ruin. It’s odd and sad to think about, but the life you have treasured, indeed the man you are today, were both born of your will to survive and thrive. Without your history you would not have met Joy, had your children, or been able to give us your gift of writing.

Love and eternal warmth to you Bob.

Comment by Bob

August 15, 2021 @ 7:39 pm

I could attempt to craft all sorts of responses, but I love you, too, Beth, is simple, honest and the wonderful woman you turned out to be.
It can be amazing to be at the farther end of your life, look back and wonder how you survived at all.
I have been gifted with comprehending friendship, its joys and obligations and the meaning of showing up during the worst of times.
I know what it means to feel powerless and terrified, so whenever I could, I tried to be where I might make a difference.
In my spirituality, I believe God keeps track of those who try to help, even if they fail, and those who never bother and walk on by.
This is a long response, but from my heart, Beth.
B

Comment by Brad Dechter

August 23, 2021 @ 10:14 am

An even better story. Hugs.
Brad

Comment by Bonnie Classen

August 25, 2021 @ 8:42 am

Dear Bob, You are an extremely gifted and amazing writer with a caring, compassionate heart, which is rare today. It’s wonderful that you have such a beautiful family now, and so many endearing friends who care deeply about you, in addition to your remarkable talents and stories to tell. I know many who struggle with unforgiveness due to similar situations, so you are not alone. No one can understand the heavy burden you carry except you and God. I pray that he will help you to forgive and you will be released from the pain forever. “With God all things are possible.” Onward my friend. You are in my prayers. However sad, this was a GREAT read!

Comment by Memee

August 26, 2021 @ 10:52 pm

Abuse is real; so is child abuse; so is parental child abuse; so is its lifelong damage; lucky the man survived
at all– not all do. So, let’s not generically sentimentalize forgiveness, the past or someone’s parents who have indeed, abused their child.

It’s not so much the necessity to forgive as the deep need for understanding– self, others, life.

Read on…
Dr. Miller was a Polish-Swiss (w. Jewish ancestry) psychologist psychoanalyst, philosopher who championed the victims of child abuse.

Miller, Alice (1990). “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware”: Society’s Betrayal of the Child, in series, Meridian Book[s]. Trans. by Heildegarde and Hunter Hannum. New York: Penguin. x, 329 p. Trans. from the German, titled Du sollst nicht merken. ISBN 0-452-00929-4 pbk

http://www.alicemiller.com

Comment by David Griesemer

September 1, 2021 @ 7:13 pm

This piece should be read alongside a section of Bob’s autobiography, pages 16 through 65 in volume one “A Savage Heart.” Especially the poem from 2001, “I Have to Bury the Monster” on page 60.
It’s a wonder – or “miracle” – that Bob didn’t emerge a schizophrenic. That he “never became like her.” Probably Beth is right: the good man Bob is today was born out of that war.
As for forgiving, how does one forgive those who eat their young? Was it the Cossack who murdered Moshe, turning Celia into a stone? Is that what produced a psychopath?
And why just Anne? Why not Adele or Milt? And what paralyzed both Israel and Bonnie? A perfect evil storm.
Forgive? Bob forgave by loving. Not the other way around.
G’mar Chatima Tovah.

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