''Eva Braun: Shiksa Nigun''
My Rabbi’s warmly accented voice, through the properly timbered microphone, implores us to raise our prayers to *peearrsse heavben sso that God can hellp uss*. I wonder if going to a synagogue with so many Argentine rabbis was a concession for my mother, in exchange for the times my Jewish father’s mother says things like, “Anna will meet boys later than you did. Latin girls are faster.”
My mother’s family is atheist, and we only went to temple on High Holidays. But when the cantor would call congregants who were praying for anyone who was sick up to the *bima* to recite a certain portion from the Torah re-transcribed and transliterated onto yellow laminated sheets, Mom would say, “Go up for your abuela.” I wonder how much of love are these little barterings.
Little and brief: they simply dunked me in some sacred water with some prayers, and I became a Jew. They gave me the Hebrew name Tirzah, which means, "She is my delight" or "She is my joy" or "pleasing." Isn't that nice? It is the Hebrew name women in my family receive, and it is uncommon—no Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam. Unfortunately, Tirzah herself was not particularly distinctive. She was one of Zelophehad's five daughters who collectively did God's bidding—marrying men of the tribe when the Israelites were in the desert—in order to gain inheritance rights in the absence of a male heir after their father's death.
I remember my littler brother swimming in a fluorescent white room wearing dark orange swim trunks at his conversion. After we left the pool with the charmed, Jew-turning water, I remember looking out the back window of a taxi cab at the low afternoon clouds and the many red-brown brick buildings in my neighborhood.
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I am thinking about Eva Braun at synagogue. I have more in common with Eva than I’d expect. She was a photographer, and so am or was I. Trying to be a photographer that is, but she probably had such doubts as well. She shot herself in the chest with her father’s pistol (not a camera), and historians say it was to make Hitler love me, I mean her.
“Today our community, thank God, is doing pretty well, but our country isn’t,” my rabbi said. It is Nigila on Yom Kippur, the quick service where the congregation wears all white and no leather right before the holiday's customary fast from sunset to sunset comes to an end, and we are supposed to think about when we missed the mark this past year. I’m supposed to be reflecting on this topic alone, facing Jerusalem, bowing occasionally. I’m not supposed to be writing at all. I don’t want to write Eva in sympathy. I don’t know her, just her Wikipedia page. Wikipedia says Adolf also dated or lived with his half-niece, Geli, and drove her to kill herself. She must have been a tough act for Eva to follow.
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Oh Eva, my Eva, she was blonde and tighter than me, and her hair was less wavy than the real Eva’s. It was straight but luscious, and I don’t want to say it was like corn because corn is too yellow and its silk too green, so I never liked that allusion. Her long, long hair was like clean straw and mid-day light, so no wonder he couldn’t find anything wrong with fucking her then calling me the day after with all her light, with the natural appearance of that clear mascara, with her morning motivation to make herself exquisite. Total shiksa. My mother is a slightly darker shiksa and says the word is a slur, but at least she's darker and not lighter than us. We, Tirzah and her Jewish sisters, can hate those golden girls and have our own slur for the more desirable once-upon-a-time oppressors or their look-alikes today.
My Adolf was Bar Mitzvahed in Israel on Birthright where he bought me adorable ruby red stud hamzah earrings back when we loved each other, some months before he started screwing a blonde girl. The real Hitler didn’t leave Eva like that, but come along for the sake of the analogy that is not an analogy, just a wrong, fun secret. Loud, secret moments I re-grafted onto recognizable, historically disembodied figures.
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My Eva’s name was Emily and Adolf’s Aaron. I think about Emily when I see athletic blonde girls in plain, dark sweaters, and when a platinum hair falls loose from her head it must stick out so white in the wool. I didn’t think about her and her ilk when I started crying to Aaron about jamming a blender, the one time we cooked together, before Emily existed to us. Now, only every so often, I think about Emily when I slip up. I imagine them in an immaculate kitchen making breakfast neatly without tears. All I know is that she is to be a doctor, so I presume those people can handle household appliances well. Healthy, I imagine her having satisfying orgasms quickly and lying down neatly for his pleasure with enthusiasm for anything — anal to an ear nibble.
I don’t know why I picked on her hair and her light blue, darker around the pupil eyes, nicely drawn with black, black liner and her slenderness and her thin lips. It wasn't her fault that she was more beautiful than me and that men like to keep doors open, that men like to walk through women like revolving doors. When I pretend I am Aaron, scrutinizing her is difficult, which makes finding the wrong underneath her polished golden mane easier when I am myself, when I am Anna. In photographs, the only way I know Emily (or Eva for that matter) she giggles and smiles in New England fall foliage, and she and Aaron will take Christmas card photos with their alternately blonde and brunette children in the leaves though it is off season. But maybe all the seasons will be off by the time they have children.
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Real Eva was a darker blonde than Emily and had wavy hair, which is strange—a closer kind to that quirky, corky Jewy wave. She didn’t fuck as neatly as that Emily Herr who is perfect and therefore boring. Eva was a different kind of plain and a bit round, and she was loony and a loony lover, hence the missed shots to her chest, hence allegedly loving the evil.
One June Berlin night, she and Adolf walked along the Baueryßtrausse and talked about his half-niece, Geli. They had met when Eva was seventeen, so he had loved more than her in his life. At this time, she was twenty, and he was forty, and she was drunk on tears. If she had died when she shot herself in the chest, would he have missed her as much as he missed his Geli? If she lived, would he still miss her with the heavy kind of love that yearns? He made her want to die, but at least he let her feel something clear and strong as death. He thought he seemed better publically single, more masculine, more chaste, more Nazi, so they allegedly slept in separate bedrooms. She was self-involved enough to ignore his evil and find a body she could imbue with potent and ambivalent meaning. Even so, she never thought he was crazy enough about her. But she was particularly mentally ill back then, so what would being crazy enough for her even mean? "Geli still haunts me," he said to Eva that June night. Eva stood on the cross-section of the Bauery, under the cold glowing streetlamps and sparse metallic, mid-sized buildings, German and gray, and screamed,
"I NEVER BELIEVED YOU LOVED ME, AND THIS IS JUST THE CHERRY ON TOP."
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Love or no love, was the relationship exciting? For Eva and the Fuhrer? For my ex and Emily? Emily had a consistent lay, he seemed cool, and she knew she was more beautiful than him, so she probably felt charitable. Oh, I knew him, and I know it was exciting for him. He was a late bloomer, and now, he had claimed a beautiful blonde.
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I was 16, and the good and Jewish if conservative boy named Benjamin grazed my back in that dark red Upper East Side hallway. I hadn’t understood that his brief fumble was a proposition then, but I was enamored. Something promising, finally. A few weekends later, he asked my friend where Emma was at a party I did not attend. Emma — not an Emily or an Eva — Stein must have been somewhat Jewish, and her adorably freckled tan skin and her curly hair were actually shades darker than mine. I don’t know why. She was delicate and nimble and quiet and sinewy and had quick, quick feet when she played soccer, and she was perfect to me.
I was 16, and the morning after my friend had told me that he had asked where she was, I looked in the bathroom mirror and thought about her. I was naked, and that mirror only shows the top half of your body. I didn’t know it then, but I was ribby. I was ribby, and my straight hair was quite long and sometimes shiny and a little honey in the sun (NOT blonde!). My nipples were and are disproportionately soft and protruding and a taupe color. I realized, what felt profound at the time, that Emma may be perfect, but my flaws made me realer, and isn’t a blemished beauty rawer and riper? A pop song, not slimey, slouchy, hair-gelled Aaron, would tell me that I'm beautiful in this way.
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But pale skin and easy, thin chestnut hair are nothing new, and I guess I wanted to be something new. So then I was 19, and I was guilty, confused about the whiteness then and wanted to be newer still. I thought my naturally browny brown hair wasn’t so “me” anymore. I bought the solution at a CVS after drinking during the day, in the uncomfortable twilight when the drunk leaves in the evening and makes your head twinge a bit. I chose the “medium intense auburn” dye, and it only took twenty-five minutes out of my Sunday! I did it in the bathroom with my friend James. Stringing the dye from the slim, slim white bottle through my thin brown hair with the plastic gloves on, it was funny how red, red, red the paste itself was.
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I worried I’d do it wrong like I did everything else wrong. James and I left the bathroom looking like a crime scene with red spots on those brown, rough paper towels. Almost pink drops of the red dye sunk and stuck just above the floor of the creaky beigey-yellow shower. Rinse, rinse, rinse hair thoroughly until the water runs clear. It came out pinkish, reddish, streaky, darker—all depending on the light, and I loved it. James has thick black hair, which turned maroon. A blonde (Jewish!) girl in my Black Studies course asked if I had dyed my hair for Halloween.
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My mother only dyed her hair once — highlights that turned orange in the fall, Halloween on her dark brown to black hair. She tells me she worries Dad won’t be attracted to her now that her hair turns a silver gray strand by strand—particularly visible because her hair is so dark brown to black. My grandmothers’ have shooed the gray away with so many different shades of brown and highlighted brown that I struggle to name them. Maybe there are not enough words for brown.
In old photographs, their hair is dark brown to me, darker than mine, but this is not how I know them. I identify my grandmother’s naturally dyed hair as auburn. I identify my abuela’s naturally dyed hair as light brown and blondish. Both of my grandma's hairs curl slightly. Mine has always been very straight, lazy straight.
There is a black and white photograph of my bisabuela (my great grandmother) where the light shines on her in a way that makes her hair seem blonde on top and dark on bottom, different surfaces. She must have standing under a spotlight, but the shadow it cast between two textures was endlessly confusing to me when I would look at the portrait on my abuelos’ bedroom wall when I was younger. The hair was white, straight frizz on top and thick black ringlets below. She was really a dark blonde and kept the long curl, the full wave of hair put in curlers almost like Hasidic payos, but she was Catholic.
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Abuela will sit at any dinner table, irises to the ceiling, as she packs shiny, dusty eye-shadow onto her top lid, hands tremoring slightly, head nodding. Is it part of her obsessive Parkinson’s behavior or just part of her behavior or ours?
I slid the purple eyeliner on the thin twitching skin in simple straight lines, curled the lashes, applied the mascara, dabbed water on the permanent pimple places on my face where I’d cream in the light beige cover-up from the small hole in the plastic wand. According to the pictures, I did not have Emily’s knack for a bold lip, which would make my slight mustache stand out, nor did I have her genes for the clearest skin imaginable, so nice against the pale blue eyes. Yet, at that point, Emily had faded for me. It was graduation, and I had meticulously picked out my outfit to look cool and beautiful but not too beautiful, effortlessly beautiful before everyone left us.
Adolf-Aaron invited me to his graduation party in the wall-less white tent with warm sort of Christmas lights, and I went to prove my gracious peace with the whole situation. He and Emily had been over for months, or so I thought. He hugged me like we were chums, or so he thought. I met the parents I had never met, the handsome in a fatherly way. twice-divorced Dad, who gave up on loving Aaron’s mother, who I assume to be an ass like his son, who gave up on loving me because I am hard, or the love was hard. The Mom with curly gray hair looked like Barbara Streisand, kissing her sweet and monstrous first born on the cheek with pride, and the cool sister, who also used to love and rave about me and now has a tongue piercing, greeted me curtly.
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I tried to leave, and he asked me to stay a while. He told me he missed me, missed my friendship. I turned to the boy with squinting greenish eyes and dark hair parted to the side, slick, you know the fascist look so trendy these days, that boy who held me on the Bowery when he couldn’t convince me that he loved me, and I screamed, “I hope you didn’t miss me when you were dating Adolf Hitler’s dream girl!” I needed to say Adolf because what if he thought I meant Klara Hitler? I should clarify that I was belligerently drunk. My uncle always says, or he said once, “There's nothing quite so wonderful as a Jewish broad with a grudge.” I told Aaron to apologize to his parents for my behavior, but he said they thought I seemed sweet.
So I suppose that bitter outburst, and taking a course in Holocaust Literature cultivated what a fellow white brunette calls my “Aryan obsession” or what I'd call my curiosity for Evas. I loved how she was more Barbie doll than I was because I could still be the sad pale girl, had the twisted, inherited right to hate her slightly whiterness, with my naturally brown or blood streaked, pinkish hair framing my soulfully forgettable prettiness. I felt righteous, martyred, pitiable, my ex fucking a blonde girl.
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She is a more perfect woman than I, though she seems almost too all-American. Imagine me with my mustache bleached or waxed, with my eyebrows more plucked, with my teeth whiter from no kinds of smoking and from choosing the Chardonnay over the Malbec, preferring milk to dark chocolate - no gloom, no clouds. The differences are slight, you see, but in this way, I am your perfect woman.
How am I your perfect woman? Maybe I remind you a bit of your mother. I am small and feisty, and I will keep that part of myself because that would be cute. Would I be the girl next door? I will certainly no longer be the girl you hear crying and cursing in the apartment next door. The tears do not make my eyes a wild green and swollen pink and yellow on all sides, they do not make my face fully red before they shudder out. No, they will be pretty tears. They stream out one at a time, snotless rivulets. In this state, they are subtle. I do not scream. You will not question why the floor above your apartment quakes when you hear me jumping up and down from rage. I am the cute girl next door with relatable, light brown hair.
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When I got back from the motherland — Argentina, not Germany, never Germany — I received a routine inquiry on my relationship status from my abuelo,
“¿Tenés un novecito?” he asked.
“She had a boyfriend, but he left her for a blonde girl!” my mom, already tired of my fury, replied with enthusiasm. I like how she phrased that. He did in fact drop me for a blonde.
“No lo puedo creer, I can't believe it!” their nurse said. I couldn't believe it either, or I couldn't believe that I ever believed in him. “Es re lindo pero re pelotudo. Mira la que se perdió,” my cousin said when I told her. We exhale when we speak Spanish, and it inflates me. "He is very cute but very stupid," and yes, primita, "Look what he lost."
I told my Grandma, my father’s mother, the kind of racist Holocaust refugee, about my outburst at graduation, and she said,
“Annie, I understand the sentiment, and it’s very funny. But you really can’t say that as Jew.”
“I feel like I can because I am a Jew,” I said.
“Well that’s true, at least he was Jewish too,” she said with a nod. She pondered this more over her glass of Merlot, “You don’t have to be friends, but you should be acquaintances.” You know what’s odd? Her husband, my Grandpa, had a proper affair with a Japanese woman, so I guess not all of them want Evas.
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Wikipedia divides Eva's life like so: Early Life, Relationship with Hitler, Marriage and Suicide. Why was she with Hitler? Why did she take cyanide for him? Why was she evil as well? Did he help her photography career? Why did I not reach out to Emily, my sister-victim, with kindness? Would my allegedly feminist Mom look at her and say, as she so often whispers into my ear, "You are prettier. You write better. You are more vibrant. You are loved, loving, lovable." I imagine either Emily's or Eva's potentially also blonde friends saying, “You could do so much better. He’s kind of a dick.” Or maybe that was my memory.
Why are the real Eva and I so preoccupied with forgetfulness? With forgetting and being forgotten. I have forgotten so many of the Jewish songs I learned at Hebrew school, but I want remembrance to mean more now. Remembering and never forgetting nor forgiving made me feel more resilient than Emily even when I cried myself pink-faced, tear and phlegm coughed up in one viscous consistency, no contact with her ugly presumably WASPy species of restraint.
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It is Nigila on Yom Kippur, the quick, quick service where the congregation wears all white and no leather right before the fast ends, and we are to reflect on when we missed the mark this past year. You will see grown men who usually wear suits wearing white linens and canvas sneakers.
Have you ever thought about how forgettable you are to your rabbi when you only attend temple on the High Holidays? I am at Nigila, the exciting part of Nigila where they turn off the incandescent lights and the stained glass glows Biblical, and kids carry electric candles or flashlights these days, and you put your arm around your neighbor and sing the nigun—a nonsense melody. *Nainainaynaynay, nainighnainaynigh, nainainai nighnighnigh* It’s impossible to write about. I shouldn’t be writing at all.
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