A BOY ON THE TITANIC

 

It was to be a number of years before I was even able to allow my narrative about the life of this young adolescent boy to acquire any sense of reality - in spite of numerous events throughout this life that have pointed to the life of that young boy. Looking back, it's pretty clear to me that the delay represented the extent to which the horrors of that life's ending were still reverberating in the many episodes that had occurred involving a fear of drowning in this one!

After recapturing the story of that life, I initially rejected it as "too dramatic" to be real - and finally decided to challenge its reality by attempting to "find" myself in an actual passenger list of those who had been aboard the ill-fated liner. My reasoning was that if the story were in fact based on reality, I should be able to recognize my family name on that list!

So I went to the stacks of the public library and pulled out a book on the voyage of the Titanic which gave a complete listing of its passengers at the back, listed alphabetically and by class. Starting with Astor in first class, I began running my finger down the pages, each one reaffirming my belief that I would find nothing. On I went, through the lists within the three classes, finding nothing! But then, to my surprise, I saw that there was a list of steerage passengers - which I had not even known existed on board! Down that list I went, through the As, Bs, Cs - nothing! It was when I got to the Ts that I suddenly found them!

The name created a flash of imagery whose vividness brought back the sense of reality I had been distancing myself from ever since my session. "Charles Thomas, his wife and two boys, one an infant!" I burst into tears, as it all came flooding back all over again! My father, oh, my father, whom I adored - gentle, a long face with a wispy, hay-colored moustache - oh, a lot like Bruce Loveys, who had helped me co-found The Free School! My reaction left no more room for doubt!

My mother, so vivid, with black hair and piercing black eyes, a good Jew, and determined that I too become a good Jew, but with very little tolerance for my preference for my non-Jewish father and my wish not to be dominated. We fought screaming battles over my rebelliousness, but in the end, I attended Schul on weekends to learn Hebrew and practice reading the Torah in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah! When my baby brother was born, I became very jealous of him, and this increased my mother's and my own intolerance of each other, in spite of my father's efforts to make peace between us!

I didn't explore the beginnings of this story with my guide, but found myself already on the way home from a trip to Palestine with my family. I don't know if my Bar Mitzvah had occurred before or during this trip, but it had already taken place by the time I take up my account.

We had a small cabin deep in the hold of the ship, and when the iceberg finally struck, my father insisted that we stay there until he could discover what was happening. When he returned, he told my mother that the ship was foundering, and that she should come up on deck with him, carrying my little brother, to get into one of the lifeboats. I immediately raised an outcry, begging him to let me come too! - but he answered,

"No, there are not enough lifeboats for the men, only for women and children. You have had your Bar Mitzvah, so you are a man like me! You will stay here while I take your mother and little ... (Isaac comes to mind, but I'm not sure!) ... to the boats, and then I will come back for you."

So I stayed in the cabin, waiting for him to return - but he never made it back, and I died in the dark and cold alone.

The Navy Hymn, that ends in the phrase

"Oh, hear us as we cry to thee
For those in terror of the sea!"

has always been one of my favorites.

That was in 1912. I wish I knew his name! All I know is his last, Thomas.

I was born into this life in December, 1919.

 

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