Note: This story addresses an abusive relationship and portrays sex in a way that may not be comfortable for some readers
She pleaded with her eyes, don’t do this to me, don’t make me do this. Why did he get like this sometimes? He could be so nice, but then this.
“Do it. Now,” he demanded, unzipping his fly and pulling out his penis. She reluctantly started to take it in her hand. “With your mouth, you stupid, ugly slut,” he shouted. He grabbed her by the hair and yanked her down to where she was on her knees. With his hand on her head, he jammed her face against his penis. She opened her mouth and took his penis inside. With both hands on her head, he started thrusting. She gagged and thought she would choke. It took about a minute, then he came. She gagged again on his sperm and tried to spit it out. “Swallow it, you fucking fat dumb cunt,” he ordered, and pushed her on the floor. “I’m going out to have some beers,” he said, zipping his fly, throwing on his jacket, and slamming the door to her dorm room as he left.
Rebecca slowly got up. Why is he like this? She couldn’t understand. He used to be so nice. When she and Tommy started going together, he made her feel great. He gave her silly little gifts and they laughed and cuddled. And when they made love, it was like heaven. Then the gifts stopped; the cuddles stopped. And he could turn so mean and nasty. It frightened her. What had she done wrong? She couldn’t figure it out.
She had tried to break it off with him. Twice they had broken up. Each time he came back pleading how much he loved her and swearing he would change. It would be just like it had been before, he promised. And it was, for a short time, but then he would start the nasty name calling and the slapping and hitting and the ugly, mean sex. He blamed her for everything, even things she had nothing to do with. Maybe it really was her fault, she wondered. Sometimes Rebecca thought she was going crazy.
Rebecca wished she had somebody to talk with, but somehow in going with Tommy she had cut off her friends. He was so demanding. He didn’t like her doing things without him. And he didn’t like her friends. He wanted her to be ready for him whenever he called or came by. When she tried to see her friends, it would only get worse. He would get sullen or morose or violent, like tonight. Even if she had somebody to talk to, what could she say? Could she really tell them about the blowjobs he forced her to give, the names he called her, and the hitting? It was so embarrassing; she wouldn’t know how to say the words. She even thought about suicide, not seriously really but just in case things became impossible.
Rebecca Smith was a junior at college. She had a single room in the dorm; Tommy could come any time he wanted. Her family lived 1000 miles away. She used to talk with her mom every week by phone, but her parents were so absorbed in their own lives. Rebecca was their youngest child. With her away at college her parents felt liberated and seemed eager for Rebecca to be completely on her own. She didn’t want to burden them. Now she just sends them email, telling them about her classes. At least her grades are still okay. She hadn’t actually talked with her mother for weeks, maybe a few months.
So, she was surprised when the phone rang and it was her mother. Her grandfather, whom she called Zadie, had died. He was old and had been sick for a long time. Her grandmother, Bubbie, was taking it very badly, Rebecca’s mother told her. Rebecca should come home right away for the funeral, her mother insisted. Jews bury the dead very quickly. Rebecca’s parents were as non-observant as you could be, Jewish only in name and not even that since her father had Americanized his family’s Jewish sounding name, legally changing it from Smoller to Smith. Zadie was her mother’s father. Zadie’s funeral would be tomorrow afternoon. There was a late flight that evening, and her mother had already made reservations for her. Tickets would be waiting at the terminal. She should leave for the airport right away.
Tommy will be furious when he comes back and I’m gone, she thought. She hesitated. “What’s the matter?” her mother asked. “If the school or your professors have a problem, I will let them know there was a death in the family. They will understand,” said her mother, sounding almost impatient. “Take a cab to the airport. Don’t worry what it costs, we’ll pay for everything,” her mother added.
“I’ll be there,” said Rebecca. She hung up the phone and started throwing some clothes and things into a suitcase she pulled from the closet. Tommy will go crazy if I’m not here, she thought again. She decided to write a note and leave it on the door. All it said was my grandfather died suddenly. I’ve gone to his funeral. She thought she should say something about when she would be back, but she didn’t really know. Then she thought to add something like I’ll call you, but she didn’t. She taped the note in the middle of the door where he couldn’t miss it even if he came back drunk, which was quite likely, and left quickly.
It wasn’t until she was on the plane that Rebecca had a chance to really think about her mother, Zadie, Bubbie, and Tommy. Bubbie and Zadie were very observant, orthodox Jews. Growing up, Rebecca saw very little of them, usually only at Passover. Zadie’s Seders went on forever, she recalled. Her father used to complain whenever they had to go. She didn’t really know much about Zadie except that he and Bubbie had lived in different places, usually fleeing Nazis or anti-Semites of one sort or another. Other than the long, boring Seders, he seemed sweet and kind, always having a treat of some sort for the grandchildren. She was the only granddaughter. Her older brothers and cousins would always win the race to find the Afikomen, a special piece of matzo hidden during the Seder, but Zadie always had a special treat for her anyway. Still, she didn’t really know him at all and didn’t feel his loss. She was going to his funeral simply because her mother told her to. Did she always do what people told her to do, she wondered? That thought bothered her.
And why was her mother so insistent she go to the funeral? Her mother never got along with Zadie and Bubbie that much Rebecca knew. They didn’t like her mother’s non-Jewish lifestyle at all. They wouldn’t eat at Rebecca’s home or even eat food her mother had cooked and brought to them, unless she brought it already cooked straight from a kosher place, still wrapped and everything. They really disliked her father, especially when he changed their name, which happened before Rebecca was born. She couldn’t imagine her mother broken up over Zadie’s death, and her father certainly couldn’t care. Sometimes her father referred to Zadie as that old Yid troublemaker, but Rebecca didn’t know what he was referring to. Probably he blamed Zadie for trying to create trouble between her father and mother or not approving of the marriage in the first place.
Rebecca always remembered Bubbie, a squat woman, in a plain housedress and apron and wearing a scarf over her hair. She seemed to spend her entire life in the kitchen boiling food in gray enamel pots. She didn’t really like Bubbie’s cooking–boiled, stringy meats covered with smelly gravies, boiled potatoes, and overcooked vegetables. One of her mother’s favorite jokes was she never ate in restaurants that advertised home cooking because her own mother’s cooking was so awful. But Bubbie did bake wonderful cookies and cakes and sweets of all sorts and she had such a sparkle in her eyes as she gave them out to her grandchildren. When Rebecca visited as a child Bubbie would give her lots of hugs and kisses and sweets, but she never knew much about Bubbie, she realized.
Then Rebecca thought about Tommy. She couldn’t imagine ever bringing him home. First, he wouldn’t come. Second, her parents wouldn’t like him because of his language and his drinking. They would go crazy if they knew about the sex, but she’d never let on a thing about that no matter what. She could imagine how furious Tommy will be when he gets back tonight expecting to have sex and she’s gone. At least he probably won’t have a clue how to reach her at home although it wouldn’t be hard. Then a funny thought crossed her mind and she smiled; it is sad that Zadie died, but she likes getting away from school and the dorm and Tommy, even if it is just for a few days. A shudder suddenly passed over her: Tommy will go crazy when she comes back, and she was afraid.
Her mother was waiting at the airport. Rebecca gave her mother a small hug and a kiss on the cheek. She looked very sad. “I’m sorry about Zadie,” Rebecca said. Her mother smiled weakly and squeezed Rebecca’s hand.
They walked slowly out of the airport. “I’m sorry too, I guess. You never really knew him. I didn’t mean for us to drift apart the way we did, but with your father and all…Well, it’s too late now,” said her mother. Rebecca could feel her mother shiver. “Your Zadie was really a pretty remarkable man, especially as a younger man before I was born. Maybe Bubbie will tell you about him, but she’s pretty upset now. Anyway, I sort of feel like I messed up a lot of things.” Rebecca wondered what her mother was referring to but didn’t think it was the time to ask.
Instead, they rode to the house pretty much in silence, except to mention trivial things. Rebecca’s mother would point out a new store or development that had popped up since the last time Rebecca was home. She asked a few standard questions about school, and Rebecca gave brief, vague answers. Her courses were okay; she was working hard, the usual stuff.
The funeral took place the next day in an old funeral home. The mourners sat on ugly vinyl chairs. Dull faded green wallpaper covered the walls. A worn out, drab orange carpet ran down the center aisle, otherwise the floors were scuffed linoleum. The place was utterly depressing even without a funeral. Her Zadie’s casket, draped with an Israeli flag, sat on a rolling cart in the front. The room was filling up with old people mostly. The few younger people looked like religious Jews. “I guess all the frummies will turn out. They never miss a free meal,” sneered Rebecca’s father. He called every observant Jew a frummie in the most derogatory tone of voice. He had always shown contempt for observant Jews, for any Jew. Rebecca wondered how her mother felt. Did she agree with him?
In a small room off to the side, the immediate family gathered around Bubbie, who was wearing a shapeless black dress and a black hat with a little veil. She carried a small black handbag that seemed to hold nothing but tissues. Bubbie was one of those short busty little old ladies. Rebecca hadn’t seen her for a long time, several years at least, and Bubbie now looked so old. As children, she and her brothers took great pride when they grew taller than Bubbie. Now Bubbie’s entire body seemed to droop in sadness. Pretty soon, it seemed, she would become nothing more than a black puddle on the floor. Rebecca slid through a crowd of cousins and aunts and uncles. Bubbie turned to her and gave Rebecca, her only granddaughter, a tremendous hug. “Oh my Rivka, my pretty sweet Rivka. I’m so glad you came,” she said. Rivka was Rebecca’s Hebrew name; only Bubbie and Zadie ever used it. She didn’t even use it for her bat mitzvah, which took place in a reform synagogue to Zadie’s great disapproval, but it was the most her mother could get her father to accept.
“I’m so sorry about Zadie,” said Rebecca, keeping an arm around Bubbie. “I came as soon as Mom told me.”
“Zadie was asking about you, even at the end. He was always thinking about you, his pretty little Rivka,” Bubbie continued.
Rebecca gave her another hug, surprised that she would have been in Zadie’s thoughts or anybody’s thoughts for that matter. “I thought about him too,” she said. She wasn’t really lying she told herself; she had thought about him on the plane at least. By then, others were eager to see Bubbie. Rebecca kissed her again and slipped away.
By the time Rebecca and the rest of the immediate family entered the main room with the casket, every seat except those reserved for the family was filled. People were even standing along the walls. “Frummies, frummies everywhere,” muttered her father.
“Put this on,” Rebecca heard her mother say to her father. Then she saw her mother reach up and put a kippah on her father’s head.
“I’m not wearing this stupid beanie,” her father insisted.
“Yes you are. Show some respect for someone else for once in your life,” hissed her mother in a tone Rebecca had never heard her mother use with her father or anyone else. Her mother glared at her father, who sullenly let the kippah stay on his head.
A young rabbi stood up and recited a few Psalms in Hebrew. Then a parade of Zadie’s friends came up one by one to give the eulogy. “Boy, this is gonna take forever,” whispered her father as he glanced at his watch.
Rebecca expected to be bored stiff, but when the eulogies began she actually found herself intrigued. She didn’t really know her grandfather as anything but a frail old man who spent his days reading the Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper, and going to synagogue. She didn’t really know what kind of life he had lived, what kind of interesting things he might have done. Now these people were making references to things she never would have associated with Zadie. One talked about his fighting as part of the Jewish partisan resistance against the Nazis. Another talked about his efforts to recruit Jews in Europe for Jewish settlements in Israel before World War II. One old lady recounted how Zadie organized a big labor strike in the United States and was instrumental in winning the passage of some key labor laws. Rebecca was stunned; she never ever in a million years would have imagined that Zadie did any of this. The funeral service ended, but Rebecca wanted to hear more. After a very brief service at the grave, Rebecca was surprised to see these old people step up to the edge, take a shovel, and throw some dirt into the grave. Her brothers and cousins left town shortly after they returned from the cemetery. Rebecca planned to stay overnight.
The next morning Rebecca stood before the mirror in her room in her parents’ house. She had put on a gray blouse and black pants. She pulled her dark brown hair straight back and tied it in the back with a silver scrunchie. She studied herself in the mirror. She had nice, firm boobs, not nearly as big as Bubbie’s but big enough, she thought. Still, she wondered if she really was fat, too fat–Tommy said so often enough–although in truth she had quite a trim, muscular figure. She had played a lot of soccer in high school and still liked to play tennis and squash, although since she started going with Tommy she hadn’t done much of anything.
Was she pretty? She didn’t really know anymore. Bubbie and Zadie obviously thought she was pretty. In high school people must have thought she was pretty. She went on dates and had a couple of boyfriends. But Tommy kept calling her fat and ugly. Had she really turned fat and ugly? Not many boys had taken much interest in her in college, except Tommy. The face she saw in the mirror looked sad. She tried to smile but it was difficult.
Her bedroom was still the room of a child with posters of cartoon characters and horses on the wall. She had school soccer awards and tennis trophies on top of a bookcase. She moved some books; a picture of David Merkin fell out. David had been her first boyfriend in high school. He was a nice boy, she recalled, gentle, sweet, funny. She had thought the same about Tommy too at first. Boy, was she ever wrong about that. She wondered what David was like now. She picked up the photo. On the back he had scrawled the words you are beautiful, I love you. Would he think that now, she wondered?
Rebecca heard a knock on the door and her mother entered. “Hi, I’m going over to Bubbie’s to help get the house ready for the visitors who will come by later. Why don’t you come with me? I know Bubbie wants to see you.”
“Sure,” said Rebecca. “Is Dad coming too?”
“Your father? You must be kidding. He wouldn’t be caught dead over there, and frankly I don’t want him there,” her mother said.
Bubbie’s house was filled with big stuffed furniture covered by an assortment of spreads and protective coverings, although Rebecca could never understand what Bubbie was protecting the furniture from. No cats or dogs ever lived there. End tables and coffee tables were scattered about; on every surface was a doily or two with vases and various knick-knacks set on top, things her grandparents had picked up from different places–little candy bowls, exotic figurines, spice boxes, music boxes, sealed bottles with scenes that snowed when you shook them—worthless tchotchkes her father called them. When she was little, Rebecca loved shaking the bottle with the New York City skyline and watching the snow drift down.
When Rebecca and her mother walked in every mirror in the house was covered with a sheet or towel, customary for a Jewish house of mourning. Her grandmother was sitting on a little footstool, another Jewish mourning custom. “Mom, you don’t have to sit on that now. You can sit on it when the visitors come. Here, sit in a regular chair,” Rebecca’s mother said, taking Bubbie by the arm and guiding her to a stuffed chair. “Talk with Rebecca. I’ll get you some tea,” said her mother.
Bubbie seemed to just notice Rebecca and a smile suddenly brightened her sad face. “Rivka, my sweet beautiful Rivka, come sit with me,” she said. Rebecca kissed Bubbie and pulled up the footstool.
“So my darling, it has been so long. Tell me about yourself. You’re still in school?” Bubbie asked.
“Yes, but I took a few days off to be with you,” Rebecca said.
“And you have a boyfriend? A pretty girl like you must have lots of boyfriends,” Bubbie continued.
“I sort of have a boyfriend, but it is nothing serious,” Rebecca answered. The last thing she wanted to bring up was Tommy. “Tell me about Zadie,” said Rebecca, determined to steer the conversation in another direction. “I heard so many fascinating things at the funeral. I never knew he was a partisan or a labor leader or any of that. What was he like?”
“Oh, your Zadie was more than fascinating. Did you know he rescued me?
“Rescued you? No I didn’t know,” said Rebecca.
“Well, not rescue, exactly, but that is how I always thought of it. You know, back in the old country my family was very, very religious, and my father was very strict. He was going to marry me off to an old widower who had a lot of money–we were very poor. I didn’t love the man. In fact, I hated the man, but my father didn’t care. I had already worked in the widower’s house for over a year doing cooking and cleaning. He was mean; sometimes if I didn’t cook and clean just the way he wanted it, he would hit me or kick me and swear at me. And not just me. He would hit and swear at his children for the littlest things. I complained to my father, but he wouldn’t listen. Then just before the wedding date, your Zadie arrived in our village. He was young and so handsome and had modern ideas, things like choosing who you marry and marrying for love–things girls like you take for granted today. He was a Zionist and was recruiting Jews to go to Israel, but we called it Palestine then. I was quite attracted to him. He saw what was happening with me and my father and he guessed what the widower was like. When I told him about it–and I remember his exact words to this very day–he said nobody who loves you ever hits you, not ever. Later on I saw lots of marriages where husbands beat their wives or abused them in other ways too, but I never forgot those words. I always thought about what Zadie had said to me. My father hated your Zadie and his modern ideas and speeded up plans to marry me to the old widower. I was brought up to do what I was told, but this was something I didn’t want to do. Still, I didn’t know what else I could do, but your Zadie had an idea.”
Rebecca’s mother returned with some tea and then sat down to listen too. Bubbie told the story of how she eloped with Zadie in the middle of the night, how her father and the widower sent men from the village after her but it was too late. How she returned with her new husband a week later, and there was nothing her father or the widower could do. And then Zadie still tried to convince people to go to Palestine. “You never did get to Palestine, did you, Mom?” Rebecca’s mother chimed in.
“Not then. We didn’t get there until it was already Israel and then only to visit. No, your father had too much to do trying to rally people in Europe to the Zionist movement. We went from town to town. I read everything there was about Palestine and Zionism and when we got to a town, Zadie would talk to the men and I would talk with the women. We convinced a lot of people to go. As it turned out, it saved their lives, but we didn’t know that then. We were a real team,” Bubbie continued.
“Wow, that’s so romantic,” marveled Rebecca.
“You think that’s romantic? That’s not the half of it,” Bubbie continued. She told about their great love for each other, how they scrounged for food and often slept outdoors. Zadie always showed her the greatest gentleness and respect, looking away to protect her modesty, she reported. “But he didn’t look away so much. It was a miracle I didn’t get pregnant,” she added, her eyes suddenly sparkling at the memories.
Bubbie went on talking, seemingly oblivious to who was there. Although they sent people off to Palestine, Bubbie and Zadie never got there before World War II began. Then Bubbie went into hiding with partisans while Zadie joined other Jews fighting the Nazis. Bubbie learned some first aid and nursing by helping an old doctor and would care for injured partisans, Jews and non-Jews alike. It was dangerous and often she had to sneak away to another hiding place during the night. Zadie would always find her, returning as often as he could. “Then we would have to rig up a sheet and try to stay as quiet as we could,” Bubbie said with an embarrassed giggle. To hear Bubbie tell it, the biggest problem wasn’t hunger or cold or the danger, although those were constant but the lack of privacy for their lovemaking.
Rebecca couldn’t help herself. “How did you not get pregnant?” she blurted out.
“Rebecca, that’s not something to ask,” her mother immediately admonished her. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
“No, it is a good question, especially from a beautiful girl her age living on her own. Rivka, all I know is that God must have been taking care of us. We didn’t have any of the precautions you girls have today. As soon as the war ended, though, I got pregnant with your mother and then your uncles followed right after. God did the right thing for us; I don’t know why we should have been so blessed. But you can’t count on God for this; you and your boyfriend should take precautions.”
Now it was Rebecca’s turned to be embarrassed. Her face instantly turned bright red. Still, she wanted to hear more about Bubbie’s life with Zadie, but other visitors, the frummies, started to arrive carrying trays of food and cakes. Rebecca started taking visitors’ coats, bringing tea, and assuming other chores all the while carefully listening to anything her Bubbie was saying. Slowly it dawned on her that Bubbie wasn’t just the little old lady in the kitchen, but was a real participant, a player in what she imagined a great adventure and some kind of hot lover too, it seemed. Half a century later Bubbie still warmed to memories of lovemaking with Zadie in dangerous woods. Sex with Tommy, Rebecca thought, was not something she much cared to remember, more like a nightmare better forgotten.
After a few hours, the stream of visitors stopped and the last one left. Bubbie went to her bedroom for a nap while Rebecca and her mother cleaned up. An hour later Rebecca heard her Bubbie stirring. Her mother sent her to Bubbie’s room with some fresh tea. Rebecca knocked on the door and entered. She found Bubbie sitting up in bed reading a book.
“Mother sent up some tea. What are you reading?” Rebecca asked.
“Rivka, come sit next to me,” said Bubbie, motioning her onto the bed. “I’m reading a prayer Zadie sang every Friday night, from the Book of Proverbs, Eshes Chayil. Do you know it? A woman of valor who can find/ For her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Ask your mother about it. As a child she used to call it the mommy prayer. Here, read it yourself.”
Rebecca looked at the page and started to read aloud: “Her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her, and lacks no good thing.” She read ahead quickly to herself. It spoke of the woman planting vineyards and spinning cloth and helping her husband. “This is kind of corny today,” she said finally.
Bubbie took the book and began to chant very quietly from memory in Hebrew, closing her eyes as the words drifted out of her mouth from someplace far away. Rebecca tried to follow along in English: She is clothed with strength and splendor; she looks to the future cheerfully. Her mouth is full of wisdom, her tongue with kindly teaching. Her husband praises her. Many women have done well but you surpass them all. Grace is deceptive; beauty is illusory. Extol her for the fruit of her hand, and let her works praise her in the gates.
She opened her eyes and turned to Rebecca. “Yes, I guess it would sound kind of corny to young women like you. But when I was your age, women weren’t respected. They didn’t have any rights. Many men treated them worse than animals. Jewish tradition requires that women be treated with utmost respect, even in, you know, bedroom matters. I know young women today think that Judaism treats women as second-class citizens, but that’s no so. Your Zadie sang this prayer every Friday night praising me to God. It was one of the ways he let me know how much he appreciated me and respected what I did, even though it was different than the things he did. Love and respect, if you have that, you and your husband can do anything, survive anything. Believe me, I know.”
Tears formed in Rebecca’s eyes. “I wish a man appreciated me and treated me with that kind of respect,” she sobbed. Bubbie reached over and pulled Rebecca to her breast.
Observant Jews observe shiva, the immediate period of visits to the mourner, for a week. Rebecca joined Bubbie every day. When there weren’t visitors around, the two of them would sit and chat. Sometimes they would take a walk around the block, always talking as if Bubbie needed to pour a lifetime of what she had lived and learned into this young woman. Bubbie talked about their life in the US. She told of labor strikes over the sweatshops in New York; once Zadie pulled her out from the middle of a riot during which she had been badly injured and nursed her in a dingy tenement, afraid to take her to a hospital for fear the police would find her. Another time she had to bail Zadie out of jail. Years later, they were both given a plaque by a U.S. Senator honoring their work in the union movement. The plaque is still hanging on the wall in the living room, Bubbie pointed out.
Rebecca listened eagerly, soaking up every word. Sometimes she disagreed with Bubbie, usually about the way Judaism treated women. “That’s not so,” Bubbie would counter each of her objections. “Yes, in synagogue women may be what you call second class, but at home, women make the rules,” she pointed out. She knew the Torah and explained how God, through Moses, gave women property rights from the start. She cited the Talmud about women’s rights in what she referred to as bedroom matters. She even pulled out her Ketubah, her Jewish marriage license. “It is all there in writing, even about love making,” Bubbie declared proudly.
They talked about violence too. Rebecca marveled how Bubbie had been right in the middle of the partisans fighting the Nazis and later on the picket lines with the strikers when riots broke out. “But you and Zadie are so gentle. It so not like you,” wondered Rebecca.
When you are threatened, Bubbie explained, you have to protect yourself. And, there are certain things that are worth fighting for, like human dignity. Even the Torah describes how Jews fought to win the Promised Land. But when it comes to personal relationships, you can never be violent, not if you love the person. “Don’t get me wrong. We sometimes argued. I could get really mad at Zadie and he would get mad at me too. But we never hit each other. Remember, nobody who loves you ever hits you, not ever. We didn’t even use nasty words to each other, like you hear people use today. No, even when we fought it was always with love and respect.”
Bubbie’s words made Rebecca shudder thinking about her relationship with Tommy. Then she thought about her mother. Did Rebecca’s mother know all of this, she wondered? “No, I could never get your mother interested in Jewish things. She would make faces when Zadie would chant Eshes Chayil. I think she was embarrassed. It is my greatest regret, my only regret that I couldn’t get her interested in Jewish things. I don’t know what I did wrong,” said Bubbie sadly. “But you, you understand these things, I can tell.” Rebecca wished she understood, but she really felt confused. When she thought about Bubbie and Zadie and then thought about Tommy, it just seemed so crazy.
“When do you plan to return to school?” Rebecca’s mother asked one morning toward the end of the week of shiva.
Rebecca had so enjoyed these days with Bubbie and so dreaded going back to school. Well, not school exactly but Tommy. She couldn’t imagine facing Tommy, his rage, his violence, his humiliating demands and behavior. It was just too much. “I might not go back,” Rebecca blurted out unexpectedly.
Her mother was stunned. “But you’re doing so well. I thought you loved it. Something’s the matter, isn’t it?”
Rebecca hadn’t intended to say that and now she didn’t know how to explain. How could she tell her mother about Tommy?
“It’s that boy, isn’t it? Tommy,” her mother said for her.
Rebecca nodded. “How did you guess?” she stammered.
“He called here,” her mother said.
Rebecca felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. “Here? You talked to him? When? What did he say?” said Rebecca, shocked that Tommy would even find the phone number, although it wasn’t exactly a secret.
“You were at Bubbie’s, and I was out. He left a message on the machine. I saved it. You can hear it for yourself,” she said, adding quietly, “It’s disgusting.”
Rebecca, in horror, could immediately imagine the message. Tommy was probably drunk and gross. She walked to the answering machine rewound the tape and listened. It was Tommy all right. “Where the fuck is Rebecca, that fat, ugly fucking slut? Well, tell her Tommy called and she better get her fat ass cunt back here right away or…” Rebecca hit stop.
“There’s more,” her mother said. There was both anger and sadness in her voice.
“I don’t need to hear more. I’m sorry,” Rebecca said and started to cry. Her mother hugged her for a long time and then led Rebecca to the sofa. “Now you know why I don’t want to go back to school. He’s awful, horrible. He’s been a terrible nightmare,” she said through the sobbing. Slowly, she told her mother the entire story of Tommy. How what seemed like a wonderful romance quickly turned into a mean, nasty relationship that she couldn’t seem to get out of.
Her mother cuddled her and rocked her. “My precious darling. You’ve been living this hell and I didn’t even sense anything was wrong. Nobody can handle things like this alone. You’re not alone in this. I’m with you, and your father is behind you all the way.”
“Daddy knows? Daddy heard this?” Rebecca asked, amazed and horrified.
“Your father wanted to immediately call the police, but I talked him out of it for now. We might yet. It depends on how we all decide to handle it. Whatever we do, we’re going to do it together.”
“Oh God, Daddy knows,” Rebecca moaned.
“Daddy is on your side. Look, he may not be the most sensitive man and sometimes he is not even very nice and we certainly have our problems like every other couple, but when it comes to protecting his daughter, he is right there,” said her mother.
“Please don’t tell Bubbie. She’ll be so ashamed of me,” Rebecca began sobbing again.
Rebecca’s mother called the university administration. Security officers met Rebecca and her parents at Rebecca’s room, which had been trashed by Tommy in a drunken rage. The bureau and desk overturned, lamps smashed, clothes and books strewn all over the room. In surprisingly quick action, the University expelled Tommy, and under the threat of criminal charges he agreed to leave the state and never go near Rebecca again. Rebecca also took out a restraining order against him although she didn’t think that would stop Tommy. Once he was gone Rebecca quickly reestablished friendships with her former girlfriends and moved into a dorm suite with two of them.
It didn’t take long for Tommy to figure out where she’d gone–he still had his pals on campus–and start calling. First the calls were angry, nasty. She hung up on him immediately. Her roommates hung up on him too. Then the sweet, apologetic calls started coming. The promises, his pleading–he would change, it would be different, it would be like it was at the start–tugged at her emotions as he knew it would. She hung up the phone without saying a word, but her heart ached. Gifts started arriving. First flowers, then fancy candy, cute stuffed animals, even jewelry. Encouraged by her roommates, she immediately threw it all in the trash. Her roommates let Tommy’s friends know his gifts were immediately trashed, including the jewelry.
Then Tommy showed up at her dorm suite door. One roommate, Sarah, opened the door at a gentle knock. She was shocked and angry to see him there. “Get out. You could be arrested for being here,” she informed him. He tried to push his way into the room. Sarah threw her full weight against the door catching Tommy off guard and slammed it shut, throwing the bolt and slipping on the chain lock in a fast, smooth motion.
“Not until I see Rebecca. I love her. I won’t leave until I see her,” he insisted from the other side of the door.
Reluctantly Rebecca came to the door, the portable phone in her hand. “Go away. You don’t know what love is,” she called through the locked door.
Now Rebecca and Sarah heard a new sound, soft whimpering. “Is he crying?” Rebecca asked.
“If he is, it’s just another of his manipulative tricks,” Sarah said quietly, and then shouted through the door. “Go away or we’ll call the police.”
“I’ve changed. Really, I have. It will be all different, I promise. I swear it,” Tommy pleaded, whimpering like a scared puppy.
Rebecca felt truly moved by Tommy’s tears. “I can’t believe he’s crying. It’s so not like him,” she whispered to Sarah. “Maybe he really has changed?”
“In a couple of months? Don’t kid yourself. He is the same monster he always was,” Sarah insisted. “Just think of the things he did to you.”
Rebecca was torn. She thought of what he did to her, but she thought of those early, good moments with Tommy too. Then she thought about Bubbie. Nobody who loves you hits you, not ever–the words reverberated in her mind. With newfound determination she called through the door: “Go away and leave me alone. I don’t ever want to see you, talk to you, or hear from you again. Not now, not someday, not ever.” Tommy’s sobbing grew louder.
Sarah opened the door just a crack, as far as the chain allowed. “Get the hell out of here or I’m calling the police. I mean it.” Rebecca stood to the side, out of Tommy’s sight.
“Stay the fuck out of this, you stinking cunt,” he hissed.
Rebecca stepped into Tommy’s view and pressed some buttons on the phone. “This is Rebecca Smith in 324 Sykes. Tommy McCrory is banging on my door in violation of a restraining order.”
“Don’t do this to me, Rebecca. Please, won’t you just…” This time it was Rebecca who threw her full weight against the door, slamming it shut. A minute later, Sarah and Rebecca looked out the window as a patrol car, its emergency lights flashing, pulled up and two burly campus security officers got out. Moments later, the local police drove up as well.
Rebecca never heard from Tommy again. She went on to date other men. With some she had serious relationships for a while. Some even wanted to marry her. All promised her love, but she wanted something more. With Bubbie’s words always in her mind–nobody who loves you hits you, not ever–she insisted on respect along with love. Eventually she did marry a nice guy; a passionate yet sensitive lover, maybe not the smartest or the most handsome or the best athlete or the one with the biggest salary or most important job but the one who showered her not only with love but with respect.
They would light candles on every Friday night, bless their children, and say Kiddush. He never chanted the mommy prayer and she didn’t ask him to. It really was too corny, she decided, although she loved the idea of it. Instead, she would close her eyes momentarily and hear Bubbie chanting it as she had done that day in her bedroom. As her children grew older, Rebecca would tell them more and more about their great grandparents and someday chant the mommy prayer for them. Everybody, she believed, deserved love and respect and must never accept anything less.