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If I Didn’t Push You
by Jay Deitcher

If I didn’t push you to be at the top of your class, as though you didn’t put enough pressure on yourself, not sleeping for days, waiting for your grades to come in, thinking you failed although you never received less than an A-,

if your mother and I had gotten you early intervention,

if I didn’t nag you, about the books on your floor, about getting out of the house more, about watching too much Seinfeld, about playing Billy Joel too loud, about helping your mother vacuum, about sleeping for days,

if we called the police the moment you went missing instead of being embarrassed that our Adam ran away, again,

if I didn’t force you to get a job with that crooked lawyer who had no understanding about working with someone autistic,

if I let you stay in school after your masters instead of pushing you into the job market,

if your mother and I didn’t force you to go to that shrink,

if we didn’t let them put those awful diagnoses on you,

if your mother didn’t talk me into putting you on those drugs,

if your brother let you live with him, in San Francisco, like you wanted,

if I didn’t fight with you about cleaning dishes,

if I didn’t let you take the car,

if I didn’t let you leave,

if your friends didn’t use you for rides,

if they cared as much about you when you were alive as they claim to now,

if they were as kind as you were,

if your brother didn’t marry the drunkard who never understood you,

if your grandmother was alive,

if your mother didn’t put you on drugs,

if I didn’t fight with you,

if I didn’t let you drive off,

if I didn’t let you leave . . .

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The “If I” prompt fit perfectly with the thought patterns of someone who loses a loved one to mental illness. I wrote this piece from the perspective of a father who has lost his son, yet it’s a piece I’m very close to as I lost one of my best friends to mental illness. I wanted to show how “if I’s”and “if you’s” can continue to cause the illness to destroy relationships between family members and their communities and each other. I’ve seen it, and I empathize greatly with parents who get caught in endless questions and blame, from society and from themselves. Judaism teaches that it’s a sin to take your life. Modern Judaism also teaches that a sane person cannot take their life, but mental illness can. Therefore, it’s a mental disorder or disease that causes the death, not a person’s sin. May your memory be a blessing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, New York. He attends Stony Brook’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program. His writing has appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal and his computer.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, New York, on June, 19, 2016. My friend, who the piece was inspired by, would have loved my jacket. That jacket is awesomely ridiculous.