Henry Greenspan

Sleeping with Kafka

There is nothing I can do. It doesn’t matter what sin I committed. Or didn’t. It has been decided. I have to leave.

A dream.

I’m seated at a round, wooden table. It’s a large room, maybe a library or a cafeteria. Not many people. There are two of us on opposite sides of the table—Bob, a close friend and colleague who works at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and myself. I know we are in the museum, where I have been many times. I am a Holocaust scholar.

Bob is obviously upset with me. I don’t know why. He is stern, disapproving. There is none of his usual friendliness. He refers to something from the night before without naming it. I’m confused. I ask what it was. He simply looks at me.

I search my memory. I don’t come up with anything. Indeed, I have no memory of the night before. I wonder if I got drunk and blacked out. That happened once in college. But I don’t remember drinking anything. Maybe that’s proof I blacked out. Bob looks at me.

I apologize for whatever it is. He has been a good friend. I ask if he could just tell me what I’d done. I am sure I’d be sorry, whatever it is. It must have been serious given his look.

He remains silent. Again, I search my memory and find nothing. I wonder if whatever it is had been offensive to others. I go over to the serving area—it now seems like a cafeteria. I say that apparently I did something hurtful the night before. If I offended anyone, I was very sorry about it. I don’t remember what I did, but I am sorry either way. Like Bob, they just look at me.

I go back to the table and Bob. I say again that I’m sorry and that I don’t remember. He says I have to leave. Not only leave the building. I have to leave town.

I don’t argue. It must have been serious. But I realize it’s late in the day. I say it is almost certainly too late to get a flight. Bob says I should take a bus. Take a bus. I must leave. I have to leave. As soon as possible.

In the dream as in reality, I have a back injury and 10 hours on a bus can do me in. I say something about my back. Bob remains impassive. My back doesn’t matter.

* * *

I wake up, still immersed in the dream. I try to go back in to sort it out. What did I do? But the door to the dream is closed. There’s nothing I can do.

And then I realize: That’s it. There is nothing I can do. It doesn’t matter what sin I committed. Or didn’t. It doesn’t matter that I’m with a friend in a safe, familiar place. Whatever I did or didn’t do, where I am, with whom I am—none of that matters. It had been decided. I have to leave.

It is October 10th, three days after the Hamas massacre. Many of my close university colleagues have signed a petition that says, in context, that I am to blame. Structurally. There is no safe place. Who I am. Whom I know. What I’ve ever done. What I’ve ever believed. Doesn’t matter. I must go. The sooner the better. Structurally.

About the Author
Henry (Hank) Greenspan is a psychologist and playwright at the University of Michigan who has been interviewing, teaching, and writing about the Holocaust and its survivors since the 1970s.
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