By Ira Zadikow
It was a Saturday morning, it was light outside, early part of the summer. I was in my apartment in Brooklyn, the apartment where I’ve literally spent most of my life. I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that was before Williamsburg became trendy like it is now. Back then it was more like an outgrowth of the tenements of New York. (I’ve read that my parents’ generation all struggled to escape from the tenements of the Lower East Side, and now two generations later, their grandchildren are all scrambling to move back). When I was about thirteen or fourteen my family moved to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
When I got married we moved into a building just a few blocks away, at West 9 Street and Quentin Road, right off Kings Highway. My sister Sylvia and her husband Hy, and also my parents, moved into a building right across the street, which was wonderful. My sister Irene and her husband David moved into a building just a few blocks away. We all began raising families. My brother Gil and his wife Mury moved not too far away, just a little bit upstate.
When we first moved into the building, we moved into an apartment on the sixth floor. When my first child was born we moved into my current apartment on the first floor, where I’ve been for seventy years. Seventy years. This became my home, where I raised my three children, my three sons.
And now, I’ve awoken somewhere else. I must’ve been kidnapped. I might’ve been drugged. I have no memory of leaving my apartment, or arriving here. I have no idea where I am. I’m lying in bed somewhere, I can’t move, and I can’t speak. They must be drugging me. I’m being held hostage, a prisoner, but I don’t know why.
There are some women here, occasionally someone comes in and adjusts me a bit. They talk to me, or amongst themselves, but I can’t understand them. They also give me injections, and they give me something through some sort of tube, I think. I think I’m awake, I don’t think I’m sleeping, but, it kind of feels like a nightmare, that sort of upsetting fever dream that you feel trapped in, that you keep dreaming over and over. I’m having problems thinking clearly. It must be all the drugs that they’re giving me.
Why am I here? When will I be released, when will I go home?
It’s like a cross between some sort of horror movie and a Twilight Zone episode, one of those episodes where the married couple goes to sleep in one place, but then they wake up somewhere else. I had gone to bed the night before, it was a typical, basically lonely night. I watched Seinfeld, I talked to one of my sons, I turned out the lights, and I fell asleep. I woke up Saturday morning, I think, I remember it was light out. Then I must’ve fallen asleep again. And then I woke up here, wherever here is.
There are no windows here. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, I’ve lost all track of time. Today could be day number one or day number one hundred, I can’t tell. My brain is very cloudy, like I’m in some sort of sleeping, yet awake state, or maybe I just keep drifting back and forth. But I’m in some sort of state of altered consciousness. Everything is hazy, and I’m not remembering things very well. I’m also in pain, tremendous pain. It’s not only my back, my back’s been bothering me forever, but this is something else. I have pain everywhere. Was I hurt when I was kidnapped? And when these women sometimes adjust me, it’s excruciating, and I want to scream, but I can’t. Can’t they see what they’re doing to me? And I’m lying here absolutely helpless, I’m at their mercy. Why was I taken here?
I’ve got to get out of here. I’m trapped on this bed, I can’t move, they’re giving me drugs, I can’t think clearly, I keep slipping in and out of some sort of dream/awake state, I want to see my family and go home. Why am I here? I want to scream out, HELP ME, I’M TRAPPED IN HERE, I’M BEING HELD HOSTAGE, HELP ME, GET ME OUT!
I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that my son Ira was here, he’s my youngest, he’s my baby. He was standing next to me, and we were talking, I think. It was very pleasant, and very reassuring. But, it had to have been a dream, it couldn’t have been real, how could Ira have been here? I’ve been having very odd, very scary dreams, it has to be the drugs they’re giving me. It’s been difficult to distinguish between my dreams and the time when I’m awake, it’s all been blending together.
When I’m awake I spend a lot of time thinking, although my thinking is extremely hazy, very sort of “feverish.” After all, I’m stuck here, I’m just stuck thinking. I’ve also been sleeping a lot. I’ve been thinking back a lot on my life. I’ve had a good life, I’ve had great joys, but also great sorrows. I have a wonderful family. I have three wonderful children, two wonderful daughters-in-law, five wonderful grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. I loved my husband dearly, and I still miss him terribly. He’s been gone thirty years. I’ve lost my two sisters, and a couple of old, dear friends. My cousin and good friend Helen is still alive and I see her occasionally, and I still see my children and my grandchildren, and my niece Marny. My life hasn’t been perfect, but, for the most part I’ve been lucky. I’ve just been lonely for many years, that’s the worst part. I wish a lot of things had turned out differently, but, life is what it is. For the most part, I’ve been fortunate, it’s still been a very good life.
I was born in my parents’ apartment in Williamsburg. Back then it was common for women to give birth at home. We didn’t have much growing up, and it didn’t help that my parents didn’t have a loving relationship, we all felt that our father treated our mother badly. I loved my mother. I had two sisters and a baby brother, and the cutest little dog, Queenie.
In third grade when I was about eight, my teacher, Mrs. Martin, gave me a Christmas tree to take home. To most people, that might not seem like much. But I was so excited, and I still remember that feeling. We didn’t have anything, and no one ever gave us anything. Although we were Jewish, I was still excited to take that Christmas tree home, it had Christmas ornaments and all kinds of other decorations on it, it was very cheerful, and I was just tickled, for some reason it made things brighter. For some reason I’ve always remembered that.
When I was thirteen, the famous stock market crash of 1929 happened, the day that they called “Black Tuesday.” It led to the Great Depression. Times for us had been tough enough, but somehow my parents managed to get through it. Right around this time, we moved from Williamsburg to Bensonhurst, into an apartment building at 22nd Avenue and 77th Street. Bensonhurst was a nice change, we were all excited, although I missed a couple of friends from Williamsburg. There were more trees, more space, it was much prettier. And, best of all, we had a lot of relatives in that building. My cousin Helen, who I grew very close to, my cousin Florence, my aunt Dora and my uncle Hymie were all in that building. We had so much fun. And we needed to have some fun.
I remember all the changes that were happening then. When you’re a young person, all the changes happening in the world seem new and exciting. And you can’t even really imagine things progressing even further from there. I remember when cars were relatively new. They weren’t yet affordable by most people, and horse-drawn carriages were still common. Refrigerators were new and most people couldn’t afford them yet, most people still used iceboxes. We’d have to buy ice and lug it back home, which was a huge pain. Ice was heavy, especially for a young girl to carry, and it would melt, especially in the heat of the summer. We all wanted to get a refrigerator, it seemed so modern. And I remember when my parents bought our first radio, one of those relatively big, bulky radios. We would sit around and listen to all kinds of things, like music, comedy programs, news, they’d even have plays and things like that. And I remember when they first had movies with sound, “talkies” they called them, you didn’t have to read those little subtitles anymore! All these things seemed so miraculous, that people could actually invent and create these things. Young people today wouldn’t be able to comprehend the fact that back then television didn’t exist yet, that the talkies were only in black-and-white, there were no air conditioners in homes, credit cards were not in use yet (people actually had to pay for things with cash!), and there were no ATM machines at banks or other places. Times keep changing. Those new inventions and developments that were created when I was young are taken for granted now. Just as the new inventions and developments that are now being created, no matter how exciting or startling they appear to us, will also be taken for granted by the next generation.
When I got a little older I went to work for my uncle in Chinatown, he was in the jewelry business. Sometimes I would work as a courier for him and pick up and deliver jewels and money, a lot of money, around New York for him. New York City was an entirely new world for me, a world I had never experienced before, a total revelation. All the people, and all the tall buildings, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the entire world, and the glamour, oh my goodness, the glamour. All the women in their fancy clothes and their fur coats, it seemed like they all had a lot of money, and all the men in their suits, and a lot of automobiles on the streets, and all the fancy restaurants and hotels, it was thrilling. At one point one of my uncle’s couriers was robbed and killed, but I kept on working for him. That’s the other side of New York City, the not so glamorous side.
I met Tommy when I was 21, he was wonderful. Tommy was from Canarsie. His name was actually Tanhum, but everyone called him Tommy. We got married shortly thereafter, when I was 22. Our first child, Charles, was born when I was 24, and our second, Victor, when I was 27. Our third, Ira, came later, when I was 37. Shortly after we were married, and right before Charles was born, World War II broke out. What a terrible time for the world and humanity. Being Jewish we also felt aspects of the war in different ways than a lot of other people did. The complete truths of what had actually happened during the war were not fully revealed until it was over. The war and the Holocaust were just absolute periods of horror and evil. It’s staggering to contemplate the horribly inhumane actions that human beings are actually capable of perpetrating on one another, it’s totally incomprehensible. Human beings are capable of unimaginable greatness and love, but also of unspeakable evil and violence.
Tommy’s father had a small dental manufacturing and importing business on Flatlands Avenue in Canarsie that he worked at, and later took over. The business worked out very well for us. All the boys worked there for brief periods. Later on I worked there, I took care of the books. But, I also wanted to be around Tommy, because he had developed a heart condition. He had had a series of heart attacks, and I wanted to be around, to help out, and to look after my Tommy. Tommy meant the world to me.
When the boys started school, kids would make fun of our last name, Zadikow. They’d say “Is zad a cow, or is zad a horse?” Which isn’t that bad, it’s kind of funny actually, but it bothered me. So I cheated a little bit with the pronunciation of our name. I started pronouncing our name “Zadiko.” And, that’s what we ended up sticking with.
I named my middle son Herbert Victor Zadikow, Herbert for a recently deceased cousin. That’s a Jewish custom, to name newborn children after departed relatives. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the name Herbert, so I always called him Vic. I never even told him that his first name was actually Herbert, I didn’t think much about it. And then Vic started kindergarten. On the first day of kindergarten, they called out attendance, and they called out the name Herbert a couple of times, and Vic didn’t respond. When they asked him who he was, he told them his name was Victor, but they told him there were no Victors in the class. He got upset.
We lived in that Benshonhust apartment forever. For a few years, we co-owned a summer house with my sister Irene and her husband David, it was just a little bit upstate, right outside of Peekskill, at Mohegan Lake. The lake was beautiful. At night you could see the stars, and the fireflies, and it was quiet and peaceful. There were trees everywhere, and there was a weeping willow on our property. I did some gardening, planting tulips and things, and my youngest, Ira, would help. The lake was only a couple blocks away, we would walk over all the time. In the basement of the house there was a pool table and a ping-pong table. Sometimes we would go up just for the weekend, sometimes we would stay for a week or two. It was quite a change from Brooklyn.
We had a small motorboat on the lake that Tommy and the boys would pilot. One day Charles and Vic were horsing around with the boat, and Charles injured himself. He was running down the pier to jump on the boat, and Vic pulled away. Charles fell into the water, and sliced the heel of his foot very badly on the motor’s propeller blade. They rushed him to the hospital, and he was going to be OK, but I was beside myself, I was so upset. Being a mother is a wonderful experience, and I love my family dearly. But I worried about them, and I still worry about them, those are natural feelings that all mothers have, the maternal instinct. You love your children with your entire being, and you can’t even think about something happening to them. My heart goes out to anyone who loses a child, or who loses a loved one, whether it’s due to illness, war, violence, accidents, whatever the reason might be.
I became interested in food design, preparing food in a creative, decorative, ornamental way. I started preparing dishes when friends would come over, and gradually began doing more. I would do big spreads when we had people over for parties and gatherings at the lake house, and I started doing some food preparation for social functions at nearby associations and organizations, at the lake and in Brooklyn. Things like making flowers and animals out of fruits and vegetables, decoratively garnishing food, as well as also making Jello and other kinds of molds and baking cakes and cookies, all those sorts of things. Sometimes it was a bit unnerving, trying to get so much done in a limited amount of time, but it was fun, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot. I even started teaching a night course in it at Brooklyn College. I should’ve kept teaching that course, and I should’ve continued to pursue that field, I’ve always regretted not sticking with it.
I enjoyed the cooking shows that they started showing on television, with people like Julia Child. (Yes, they now had television!) And I liked shopping for new and exotic food products along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. We also went to a couple of the specialty food shows at the Coliseum at Columbus Circle in New York, where they’d exhibit all sorts of new food products. Later on, my son Ira took me to some food shows. We’d get to taste all the different products, like ice creams, fish, cheeses, meats, coffees, drinks, prepared products, everything was scrumptious and we’d have fun. We’d also see all the entries in the food preparation contests, all the entries made entirely of sugar, or chocolate, the ice sculptures, they were all unbelievable.
I had a good life. Tommy’s business did well for us. The business had two names, Esquire Dental, and Z.F. Manufacturing. The Z.F. was for “Zadikow Family.” We were able to go to Europe, we were never wanting, and we were able to put Charles and Vic through college. They turned into fine boys. Charles had two daughters, and Vic had two sons and a daughter. And one of those sons, Peter, made me a great-grandmother with his son Trevor. We were fortunate, things had worked out well for us. Of course, I owed my life to my parents, who had emigrated to the United States from Romania, in Eastern Europe. They came to this country to seek a better life, as waves of immigrants had done and continue to do. America, “the land of milk and honey,” has beckoned millions to come to her shores, to pursue their dreams, to seek freedom and escape persecution, to work hard and to achieve success. People have risked and lost their lives in the pursuit of those dreams. My childhood had been somewhat difficult, but Tommy and my family made my life worthwhile, and I was able to live out the hopes and dreams that my parents, Joe and Rose, aspired to for us.
Tommy and I would watch television, we liked I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Tommy liked the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I liked Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote, and later on, Seinfeld. And the cooking shows, I always loved those.
Tommy used to play cards every Friday night with his friends, they’d play at a different person’s house every week. They would play cards, smoke cigars, and the wives would cook, or make sandwiches and things, and usually all the wives would get together on those nights as well. Tommy liked to play golf, so sometimes he would go play, or go to the driving range. Later on Tommy developed a heart condition and had a few heart attacks. He had quadruple bypass surgery, I was extremely anxious during that time. We hoped and prayed that his health would improve. My Tommy died of a heart attack in 1980, a very long time ago. He was 67 years old. And, I’ve basically been alone ever since.
It was hard after Tommy was gone. I’d go out and take walks, and sometimes people would come over, like my niece Marny and her husband Sam, I’d see Helen sometimes, and sometimes I would go out to Charles’ or Vic’s houses. Ira would come on the weekends, sometimes we’d drive to the bay and take a walk, once in awhile we’d drive into New York and go to a restaurant, or take a ferry ride, or go to a food show, or do something else. And we’d also drive to Brighton Beach, but not in the summer when it was crowded, and we’d take a walk on the beach, and then go shopping for interesting food items in the Russian stores there. I love the beach, and the water. I also like the rain. But, the rest of the time, I was usually alone. And it was hard. I was lonely, and sad. I’d watch TV, or listen to the radio. Sometimes I would sit on the steps by the front door. We were lucky, we had the only apartment in the building that had two doors, one door that opened directly to the street, and a backdoor that opened into the building. Before we had moved into our apartment it had been used by a dentist, and patients would enter through the street entrance. When we moved in we would often leave the front door unlocked, and sometimes we would find strangers in the apartment waiting to see the dentist. There was a large closet which we called the “darkroom,” because the dentist had used that room to develop patients’ X-rays.
I miss Tommy, and I miss my children. As I lie here I’ve also been thinking about all the basic core life propositions. What’s the value of human life? What’s the value of love and family? What’s life truly about? And what if I were never to be released from this place, what if I were to be here forever? What if I were to never see my children ever again, or my grandchildren, or my great-grandchild in Florida?
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* * * * * * * * *
I found my mom on Saturday, June 5. She wasn’t in good shape when I found her. It looked like she’d had a stroke, a bad one. I found out later it’s what they call a “massive stroke.” She was slumped in bed. She obviously had tried to stand up, or had stood up, but she had fallen back onto the bed.
I had spoken with her the previous night. I called her a little after 11 pm, I asked her what she was doing, how she was doing. “Watching TV,” she said in her basically resigned, lonely, almost bored way. I had her put on Channel 5, Seinfeld was coming on. She likes Seinfeld. She also likes cooking shows, she was always into cooking. She used to like to create these ornamental types of food presentations, carving fruit, eggplants, that sort of thing. She briefly even taught a food presentation course at Brooklyn College.
I had her go into the kitchen to take her bedtime medications. We said goodnight to each other. This part of the conversation always lasted awhile, always lasted a couple minutes. We said “I love you” to each other, and then we said “Bye” and “Goodnight, I’ll speak to you in the morning” several times. I felt that mom and I would say this because maybe she always felt as if it could be the last time. After all, my mom is 93, she’s no spring chicken.
And that Friday night was indeed the last time, or, at least the last time that I would speak to her as “her,” as “my mom,” as her being able to “speak” in a normal conversational manner.
Since the stroke, I’ve had four dreams with my mom.
In one dream, my uncle Hy was there, who’s been deceased for many years. And my mom was holding Hy, and she was wondering what was going on, how could he be there. And then, all of a sudden, my mother was young again. I started asking for a mirror, and I said “Mom, look at yourself, you’re young again.”
In another dream, my mom had had a heart attack, initially she wasn’t doing well, but she had recovered very well. She got out of bed and was walking around. I stood next to her and put my arm around her, she was smiling.
In dreams I see my mom as healthy, and “alive.” But the reality of waking life is unfortunately much different.
It’s now been four months, and my mother hasn’t recovered much. She’s bedridden, she can’t hold a conversation, and she’s not very aware of her surroundings. The person that was my mom is now gone. She hasn’t come back, and unfortunately, she never will. She had a big heart, all my friends loved her. She was a really good lady, my mom, you would’ve liked her.
Ira is a native New Yorker, originally from Brooklyn (long before it was cool), and now lives in Manhattan. Nine years ago he started writing business oriented documents, and for the past several years he’s also been doing some creative writing. He’s lived several lives as far as work, and is a total music junkie. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.