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My mother and father wanted to name me Cohen but my Zaidie said that they had to choose a different name. It will be his middle name, my father said. No, Zaidie said. It won’t. They chose from a list of backup names. I was told about this growing up. Zaidie was in World War II, my father said. What does that have to do with my name? I asked. I think it was in my teenage years when I understood.

In middle school my mother would pack my lunches in Dunkin Donuts bags that she’d save from using the drive-thru for coffee and breakfast on her way to work in the morning. Ben and Miles, the whole lot of them, Anthony, each of them, they’d sling digs at me during lunch about my Jewishness, claiming that it was Jewish to reuse Dunkin Donuts bags. That’s how cheap you are. How fucking Jewish is this? Look at this fucking Jew! Things like that. I don’t remember ever saying much back. I guess at that age I was a coward. I was young but I knew never to poke fun at someone’s skin. I never said anything like that to Anthony. Besides, my bedroom walls were covered in Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson posters. What was there for me to say?

The kids I went to school with all changed their tune about me once they learned I could play basketball. I was puzzled why Ken Simmons all of a sudden became my good pal once the 8th grade season started but reverted to ignoring me when all the games were done. But I was happy and ready for the attention, and even though my father’s stature standing at 5 foot 6 inches tall didn’t do much in the way of providing the ideal parent to raise a basketball player, I was told that I’d inherited recessive genes. Bubby told me that her brother was tall. He was 6 feet, she said. He died in the war. I still remember her sitting at her dining room table remembering him, her head slouched and eyes fixed on a point in the middle distance. I didn’t understand what she was doing but I do now. She was trying to picture him.

You’re half-Jewish, my parents told me. Mom loved Jesus, but I couldn’t summon it within myself to explain that to the guys at lunch. My mom isn’t even Jewish, I wanted to say about the Dunkin Donuts bags. She packs my lunches. I kept quiet about it, though.

In those days as a young man I was told to white knuckle my problems. I was haunted by intense nightmares. I once sleepwalked so wildly while at a friend’s sleepover that I punched out the basement window, shattering the glass, and ran bleeding and screaming across the lawn to be found by a neighbor on their front doorstep yelling nonsensical gibberish interposed with declarations that there was someone in my friend’s house firing off guns. Nobody had a gun, and I had no real memory of any of it. This was shortly after Columbine, so my parents chalked it up to a “night terror,” but I’d be told by a therapist later on that it was most likely the result of inherited trauma. Did you have a relative in World War II? the therapist asked.

Before my Zaidie died I got to interview him for a school project about The Great Depression. I remember clearly the way he described his livelihood, the food market he owned, and how it wasn’t all that affected by the depression, really. I learned from this. People still had to eat, he said, so the market stayed in business and did fine. He fed people. That’s what he did. He went to war and came back to Rhode Island and fed people and raised a family. My Bubby was a teacher. She taught me how to read.

My mother spoke often about the way that Christ suffered. I think it was her way of explaining to me why Jesus was so important. Does Dad believe in Jesus? I remember asking. Dad believes that Jesus was a great man, a healer, she said. She told me about the crucifixion and it disturbed me to no end. One time I came up with this idea that if Jesus was God then he could’ve done something while he was on the cross so that he didn’t feel anything. Maybe he was able to escape the pain, I told Mom, but she affirmed that he suffered. I guess it’s the suffering that commands a room. I guess that’s how she was taught to believe, and she tried to instill the same understanding in me about what it means to suffer.

My father thought deeply about the world and introduced me at an early age to the Fibonacci Sequence. He spoke of how it predicted all of these important and fundamental truths about the world. The Egyptians used this to build the pyramids, Dad told me. These structures, he said, they’re perfect, and they set perfectly, and the way the Egyptians were able to do this was because of their understanding of the golden ratio. I was fascinated, and I only became more so when I heard whispers from my uncles that it’s theorized that the pyramids were too perfect and they must’ve been built by aliens. Aliens!

My Bubby and Zaidie had Seder at their house and Zaidie used this to explain the resilience