So there I was, only fifteen years old and unable to participate in my own Miss Teen-Age life. I was in bed, too depressed to think, talk, read, dance, or even care.

One day I was a cheerleader and an honor roll student who studied piano, ballet, jazz and contemporary dance. And after “real” school I went to Hebrew School two days a week and to a Saturday Service to honor the Sabbath. I studied a lot. I worried a lot. I volunteered with Downs Syndrome kids at a local residential facility. I was a busy kid until one day, I just no longer was. The hideous disease of depression had stolen my life.

Mom, Dad and I didn’t really know what to do or even who to ask what to do. Much as I wished to spare them ME, there was no way to hide my hysterical despair from them. And that was one of the most pain-filled aspects of the whole disastrous mess. I loved them so much that to see them agonize about having lost Toni Lisa to this crazed, stupefied, replacement-daughter was like living through a sordid B movie. Without warning, their active, involved, spirited, often too contemplative, maze-like-complex, fun and funny daughter had evaporated. She had vanished without a trace or any clue as to how to retrieve her.

And that was a large part of the story of our next twenty years. But neuro-chemical depression is cyclical; it’s episodic. Between these crushing periods of depression, I would always slowly return to the person who had been MIA. And I would pick up the pieces of my scattered and tattered life and marshal onward.

My Mom’s twin suffered from clinical depressions too, so I knew the drill. The depressive period would abate for eighteen months to two years, but I knew from watching my aunt that depression would descend again and again, stealing my life and all sense of reality.

As time moved forward in its inexorable way, we tried new doctors, established drugs, experimental drugs, psychiatrists, and psychologists. My parents never gave up, never lessened their involvement. And that’s how we lived, one day at a time, from one depression to the next.

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O.K., so there was that …. a recurring disorder that stumped neurologists and psychiatrists, research physicians and chemists.

So clearly, I was not a kid in ANNIE ‘s “Hard Knock Life,” but I endured a tough journey that didn’t leave a lot of time for something I believe is called FUN.

I’ve been perusing a myriad of family photos over this past year, and some of the photos of me at five years old show my nails bitten down to the point of extinction. Now that’s sad, don’t you think? Why in the world would a five year old be so nervous and down-right scared? HHHMMMMMMM ?!?!?!?!?!

* * * * * * *

Recently I was watching INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO; James Lipton was interviewing the cast of MAD MEN and its writer\creator, Matthew Weiner (a Jewish guy). Lipton asked Weiner, “So, Matthew, what was it like growing up in the intellectual power arena of having one parent a psychiatrist and the other an attorney?”

Matthew said, “High pressure and humiliation.”

So here’s the point; I was a scared little bird at five years old because of “high pressure and humiliation.” I know you must be thinking, “Is she nuts? She couldn’t possibly have been under that much pressure at five years old.” Well …..  I think I could have been and I think I was. And if I wasn’t being pressured in a way that others could observe, my sensitive heart picked up on something that flew just beneath the radar, because it was there; I wasn’t dreaming.

But here’s a point of far weightier importance to me. My parents adored me, and I adored them. That was never the issue. That was never even a point of discussion or contention. But that which shaped their lives, slid down the slide-of-life and affected me and my sister profoundly. I don’t think they could help it. Especially Dad. They did their very best every day of our co-mingled lives, and today, as an adult with an advanced perspective, I get it.

I am a first generation American on my Dad’s side, second generation American on Mom’s side. So, their expectations and achievement demands were shaped by the persecution they and their families had personally endured in Romania and Russia. I think Dad must have believed that toughening us up by making us feel close to worthless, would prepare us for the persecution that just might lie ahead. He wagered we would have to dig deep to fight off his assessment of us and we would emerge all the stronger for it.


We were just American kids. We had no reason to believe every word he spoke about us was not golden with truth. His approach boomeranged and both my sister and I fought an almost unwinnable battle to overcome his derision, undermining criticism, and the unachievable level of excellence he expected. We were fighting Dad’s demons and didn’t even know it.

He and his three siblings and parents were quite literally thrown out of their home in Bessarabia, Romania. The Bolsheviks, with rifles and “manhandling,” made it clear that the family had only a few hours to accumulate some personal belongings. Then, the family had to start walking, because their home, property and tobacco plantation now belonged to the Bolsheviks. Dad and his family then walked, yup, WALKED, from Romania to Cherbourg, France to catch a ship going west to that alluring country of milk, honey, prosperity, and opportunity.

Forever have I been awed by people who can “make it” in a country other than their own. These immigrants usually come with little or no money nor an ability to speak the language. Some had little choice because of persecution, but still ….. when I think about leaving America to try to make it in China or Belgium, I get squirmy and want to hide in a cave. I don’t know that I have that degree of bravery. I don’t think I do.

My Dad spoke six languages when he and his family arrived at Ellis Island, but not English. Hebrew was his first language and the one spoken in his school.

When their ship was pulling into New York’s Harbor, my Dad’s Mom, my Bubbi, noticed that her youngest daughter’s hair was no longer on her head. The three-year-old kid was so traumatized that her physical reaction was to lose all her hair. We’re talking Telly Savalas bald.

The officials decided that the baby girl could be contagious, so she was quarantined, with no access to her family. Obviously, the family would not leave Ellis Island without their three-year-old, so they slept on the floor of an office for four days until it was decided that the whole lot of them had to return to France; they did not meet American standards of acceptability. May I take the liberty to declare, OY ?!?!?!?!?!

Once they got back to France, my ten-year-old Dad, now the only one who had not lost his mind, called Uncle Max, Bubbi’s brother, who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and told Max to meet them at Ellis Island on a particular day in July of 1922. They were not taking “NO” for an answer.

Max had served in WW 1 and could easily vouch for the family, which he did. So off they went to Uncle Max’s store-front shop and the little apartment above it where he and his family lived. Now the apartment was bulging and bursting from housing two families. But a family has got to do what a family has got to do, so they made it work.

Dad’s Dad, my Zazzi, got a horse and buggy and he and Dad sold chickens, pots, pans, shoes, used clothing …. anything they could find. Life in America ultimately became familiar. Bubbi and Zazzi talked haltingly in English and read Yiddish newspapers. The four kids picked up the language swiftly. Then the bottom fell out of the world; the Market crashed, and life was a nightmare. It helped that Dad’s family was familiar with real-live nightmares.

GET THIS: Before leaving Romania, tribunals were set up across the path from Dad’s family’s home and he watched phony tribunals convict innocent people. He then watched while these innocents were shot dead or hung from wooden gallows with rope nooses. How could my precious Dad not have been scarred, twisted, terrified, and bewildered?

He ultimately got scholarships to major Universities, chaired a gazillion committees, was the Debate Captain in high school, college, and graduate school, earned an MBA from Wharton at The University of Pennsylvania, started a union for teachers in a small PA town, and co-chaired the Building Fund Campaign so that we could erect a gorgeous new place of worship when we outgrew our smaller Synagogue. Dad became a stellar businessman whose clientele adored him.

He and I had major issues and a contentious relationship, but truly, I was wowed by the man and believe he would have made a superior Supreme Court Justice. Now that he has left this dimension called Earth, I miss him daily. I even miss him misunderstanding me. I miss our arguments. I miss watching him painstakingly remove a stain from a silk tie. I miss his guidance. I miss the love he had for me that I knew would surpass the love from any other man. I miss his scent, his distinguished demeanor, his oratory excellence, the timbre of his voice.