I lie in bed at night. Alone. I feel so young, so vulnerable. My birthday is in a few days. Thirty-five. Time to grow up, if I haven’t yet.

I tighten my quilt. Protection. What can protect me in this world? My children come to me, searching for sense in the struggle, for clarity in a muddy web of confusion. To me? I have weathered the storm. And I stand at the mast, washed by wind and rain, my essence penetrated by the elements. I strive to navigate with balance and trust. It has been a long year. At 34 I was a married, busy mother. With our beautiful children, we were basically indistinguishable from many other families in the neighborhood. Now I stand alone.

After police, doctors and legal battles, I am aloneAfter police, doctors and legal battles, I am alone. I coveted peace of mind, but I am lonely. Fragile, perhaps.

My mind wanders. I am sixteen. My world is cavernous. My mother struggles for survival. I struggle to get away. I’m basically a normal teen, a bit counter-culture, but a good kid. I love to babysit. The breeze lifts my long, winding purple hair, as I fly through the forest on my bike. My jeans hold on tight. Rusty jazz cafés, orchestra pits and rock rehearsals propel me and my music through the weeks. Toward what?

I cannot picture myself an adult in the world in which I live. My friends’ parents are all divorced. Except for Jason’s, but they split when he left for college. Some friends find solace in drugs, but I prefer being in control to being lulled into drugs’ fuzzy embrace. I look at the adults around me. Harried, hurried, what are they escaping from? Where are they running to? Has anyone ever crossed the finish line? No, this is not for me.

I yearn for protection, a second skin against the storm. One day I see it. On a high rack in a store downtown—a black leather biker’s jacket, complete with snaps, zippers, a buckle—metal and hide. I slip into its embrace, surrounded by a skin thicker than my own. The smell. The caress. I feel my feet plant just a little more firmly on the ground. Out comes my wallet. Every last cent of my babysitting money gleams on the counter. The jacket is mine. I step outside, and breathe a little deeper.

Yes, I’m missing my jacket. I left it behind when I got on the plane. Me, my bike, my trombone and my guitar, some clothes. No jacket. I was ready for a new life, and I found it. In Israel, with Torah, my world turned technicolor. I found meaning and connection. The language of my soul was spoken in the streets. I was seventeen and a half. Half my life ago.

Life is full. Jubilation juxtaposed with loss, the elixir of life. I drink deeply. I am energized by the junctures of connection, flashes of understanding, those moments that I am Connected, not Alone. But lately they have been harder to reach. I feel the storm raging around me. Are the winds blowing right through me?

I take off the jacket, replace it on its rack, and run out the door I walk into a store in town. There it is—a leather jacket. It is the dignified great-aunt of the original. Classy and streamlined, it beckons me. Delicate suede detailing. I lift it up. Put it on. The smell hasn’t changed, nor the comforting caress. I look in the mirror. Yes, it is befitting for a professional mother. It is notquite my size. The saleslady has caught me. “You have excellent taste!” I glance at the price tag. She notices. “It’s on sale, 20% off, and you can pay for it over ten months. Let me bring you one in your size.”

I take off the jacket, replace it on its rack, and run out the door before the saleslady returns and I will have to explain to her what single mothers do to make it though the month.

I have left the jacket. It hasn’t left me. I am alone, and I yearn for its embrace: that supple second skin to fortify me for the effort, to content me as I climb. To feel my feet planted just a little more firmly on the ground.

Twenty-five dollars a month. It won’t break me. It is my birthday, after all. I consider desire.

Yet, have I really come this far spiritually just to crave the caress of a cow carcass? Perhaps, instead of protection from without, I can find fortification from within? In Hebrew leather is ohr, spelled with the letter ayin; light is ohr spelled with the letter aleph.

G‑d, can you fill me with enough אור light inside that I no longer crave עור leather outside?