If I lift my eyes away from David’s bandaged face, away from the tube going into his nose and the wires attached to the monitors and the bag dripping fluids into his arm I can see out the window to the Mediterranean Sea. Palm trees frame the view of bright blue ocean and deep, clear blue sky, both so blue and bright you can barely tell one from the other. I can’t see the actual beach, but I know it is there, a gleaming ivory strip of pristine sand.
David and I were lying on that beach yesterday, at least I think it was yesterday. I was modeling a bikini he had bought for me from Victoria’s Secret as a honeymoon present. He was nearly panting with excitement when he saw me in it. I felt awesome. Although I enjoyed his excitement, I felt more exposed than I like in public so I wore a long white gauzy blouse as a cover up most of the time. Was he disappointed? I’m not sure; he didn’t say anything at least.
We have been married for what, four days now, maybe five? I’ve lost count. I don’t know today’s date. I couldn’t tell you the time of day except that the sun is high in the sky. David and I came here, to Israel, for our honeymoon. We were married last Saturday night. I’d known David since I was a child, but I only realized how much I loved him and wanted him in the last year or so.
This past year, smothered in his love, has been the best year of my life. He’s wanted me for longer than that, but I spent a lot of time holding him at arm’s length, not letting him get too close. I’m not sure why, and already I feel the regret surging through me. How many more delicious years like this past year would we both have had if I hadn’t been so stubborn and foolish? If David doesn’t pull through my remorse over this alone will kill me. And he might not pull through; the doctors won’t give me any odds. All they say is they are doing everything they can, and I don’t doubt it. I pray it is enough.
I won’t even get into the guilt I will feel if he dies. We were safely in our hotel, making love and then resting. I remembered I had run out of sunscreen earlier. David, who doesn’t rest for long under any circumstances, jumped up and announced he would go to what looked like a pharmacy across the street from the hotel and buy some more. He also wanted to get more film. “To take private pictures of you in your new bathing suit,” he said with an impish, mischievous grin as he left the room.
Five minutes, maybe ten minutes later I heard a huge explosion. Even the hotel seemed to shudder. At first, I couldn’t think what it might be. Work at a construction site maybe? Moments later I heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles. Then I realized. Instantly I leaped up and pulled on the clothes I’m still wearing right now, pulled them on as fast as I could and dashed downstairs. I didn’t wait for the elevator; I just ran down the stairs taking them two or three at a time.
The hotel’s big glass front windows were shattered. You could see mayhem in the street. Bodies and parts of bodies and blood and pieces of metal and glass were everywhere. And then I heard the screams and awful terrified wailing. Police and emergency personnel already were dashing back and forth. Hotel security guards tried to keep us inside the lobby, away from where the door and windows had been.
“My husband is out there!” I screamed and frantically pushed past the guards. They couldn’t stop me. Out on the street I couldn’t tell one person from the next. Everyone looked bloody and dirty and tattered and burned. Then I saw David on the opposite curb. They were already putting him on a stretcher. His beautiful curly brown hair was matted with blood and I don’t know what else. His new designer eyeglasses, a recent gift from me, lay twisted and shattered on the pavement. He had been walking out of the store as the bus drove by. It had just passed him when a suicide bomber aboard the bus exploded his murderous package.
I don’t remember the hours that followed. Somehow I managed to call my parents and David’s. They are flying over here, but I don’t even know when they will arrive. And I don’t much care; there is nothing any of them can do to help David. “Pray to God,” I told them. David used to pray; he actually likes going to synagogue. I never used to pray much. I don’t think I’ve stopped praying since I saw David lying bloody on the street.
When I’m not praying, I sit here holding David’s hand and think. And do you know what I think about? I think about dating. I think about all the stupid guys I dated when I didn’t date David, all the years I spent going out with guys who really meant nothing to me when the one guy who means everything was there and willing and I knew it but wouldn’t admit it.
I never considered myself very attractive. My earliest memories are of my father, a doctor, kissing me on the head and murmuring that I was his smart exotic beauty. He has always done this, since I was a little child. He did it just a few days ago, before he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. “You are my smart, exotic beauty; I love you more than you can ever know,” he whispered. My younger sister is a striking blond with blue eyes and lips that are naturally deep red. He calls her his shana punim, Yiddish for a pretty face.
I’m definitely not a pretty face. I have long, jet-black hair and thick black eyebrows that I can barely manage to keep from joining into a single long eyebrow like some sort of broad black marker line drawn above my eyes. My eyes are large and dark brown, almost black, with long lashes, and my complexion is dark. I seem to have inherited my mother’s Sephardic coloring and my father’s lumpy Ashkenazic nose. I learned how to use makeup and a little eyebrow plucking in high school to make the most of what God gave me and discovered that many men find me strangely alluring.
In college, one French exchange student I dated for a while kept whispering that I was his dark Jewess when we made love and how much my exotic looks turned him on, not to mention my big boobs or long legs. At first I thought the Jewess thing was so sophisticated in a retro kind of way, so European. It should have tipped me off. Anyway, he’s the one I lost my virginity for. Can you believe it? What a waste. It took a few months for his veneer of French glamour to wear off.
After the glamour fell away that was left was a self-centered, self-important condescending, petulant schmuck and a closet anti-Semite too. That came out at the very end. He had made some vicious, nasty anti-Semitic remarks about a study group leader in an economics class we both were taking. The kid was just another student, a smart Jewish guy who admittedly wasn’t very cool but at least could explain the stuff coherently, better than the professor in some ways. When I defended the guy and said I was offended by his utterly uncalled for remarks, my so-called boyfriend snarled under his breath, “fuckin’ Jews, you all stick together.”
“What did you say?” I asked, not wanting to believe what I heard, not wanting to believe any of it.
“Nothing, it was nothing,” he mumbled.
What a weasel, what a coward and a creep, I thought. That’s when I decided to end the relationship. A few days later, just before my French Lit class, I told him it was over. That brought on another onslaught of anti-Semitic invectives. But before it all came to its sudden end he had taken me to some pretty wild Euro-trash parties where he could show off his dark Jewess with a hot body.
I guess David was the first man — other than my father, who is completely biased — to find me alluring, but I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. For a really dumb USY Purim dance when I was in middle school they ran this really stupid Queen Esther contest, which all the girls treated as a big joke. I didn’t actually participate much in USY stuff — USY stands for United Synagogue Youth, the youth group affiliated with our synagogue, but it is pretty much the same as B’nai B’rith Youth Organization or Young Judea or any of the ton of Jewish youth groups — but for some reason I took part in this event. I don’t remember why, maybe my parents made me. All of us went out of our way to put together the stupidest Queen Esther outfits and then we paraded around in them. David, a thin, nerdy kid who still wore glasses that curved around the backs of his ears, was an officer of the USY group, probably because he was one of the few kids who actually took it seriously.
Well, David came up to me after the Esther parade and told me I was the most beautiful Esther of the bunch, prettier even than Rebecca Schwartz, who was the reigning super model of our bar/bat mitzvah class. At first I thought he was joking, then I realized he was serious, then I thought I should be insulted because the whole idea was to try to NOT be beautiful. And then I concluded that he was just a fucked up dork who could easily be ignored.
David went to nursery school with me at our synagogue so that must be where we first met, but I don’t remember him from there. Over the last year we’ve looked at old photos each of our parents have saved. Sometimes we’re both in the same nursery school photos, but we’re never together. My best friend in nursery school was a boy named Adam. He lived next door and we played together a lot. He moved away when I was in the third grade, and I’ve never heard a word about him since. David doesn’t remember Adam at all.
I went to public school. My parents were obsessed that I only date Jewish boys. But then they go and send me to public school. Who did they think I would meet? Either they had some liberal Jewish public school egalitarian thing or they were just too cheap to send me to private Jewish day school. I could never decide which, but I was glad; I didn’t want to go to Jewish day school. There was a huge number of Jewish kids in our public school, but I managed to be friends mainly with the non-Jewish kids. For a long time my best friend was Christine, whose family belonged to some fundamentalist Christian group.
Christine’s parents made her go to church every Sunday and sit through long boring services and sermons. My parents made me go to synagogue almost every Shabbat. So we became close friends, joined initially in our hatred of going to religious services on weekends. She also liked hanging around at our house because my parents were a lot more relaxed about things like watching TV and listening to pop music — stuff her parents thought would lead right to the devil. But her parents liked me, even though I was corrupting their daughter. I think they saw Jews as a big milestone on the way to the next coming of Jesus. My parents liked Christine because when we got to high school she dated Jewish guys. They must have thought it would rub off on me.
It’s not that I wouldn’t date Jewish guys. The truth was that not many of them asked me out. I was a jock in high school and played varsity soccer and basketball. I hung out with the jock crowd, which was not very Jewish at my school. In fact, my parents had a real thing about Friday night basketball games and lodged a big complaint that went all the way to the school committee. It actually was pretty embarrassing. I wanted my father to just drop it, but he didn’t.
You see if you were on a team you had to be at every game. If you missed too many games you were kicked off the team. My father wanted me home for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. My family made a big deal about Shabbat dinner. My father would go to services, and we’d all have this big dinner when he got home. Finally there was an accommodation with the school; some Friday night games were shifted to other days and team members could miss games for religious reasons without it counting against them.
My parents still make a big deal with Friday night dinner. In the last year David and I would spend some Friday nights with my parents. Actually I love Friday night Shabbat dinner now, especially when somebody else is cooking, but I hated it then.
This Friday night thing really cramped my social life in high school. After the games all the kids would go out to a pizza joint and then there would be parties. Friday night was the big high school date night in our town. I argued with my parents about this constantly. My sister, who was younger, backed me up. She was hoping I would set some kind of precedent for her. My mother, who under her maiden name writes books about women and Judaism, might waver, but my father wouldn’t budge. At least they held some school dances on Saturday night when I could go.
So at one point I was sort of going with a guy named Lawrence Jones, a forward on the boy’s basketball team. He was black but if you heard him talking to anybody but his black buddies, he didn’t speak like a black dude. He was tall and his body had these long, smooth rippling muscles. I would touch his skin and think it felt like the smoothest black velvet. I longed to wrap myself in it. He also was pretty smart and had great taste in music and could talk about things other than sports and cars.
Even the supposedly nice, smart Jewish guys I knew in high school had trouble getting beyond sports and cars. Lawrence was the only guy I knew of in high school who could talk about politics and not sound stupid. He should have been on the debating team. My father might even have liked talking with him about the battle with the school committee over Friday night sports, but that was a thought I wouldn’t dare go anywhere near.
We got together mainly at school dances. We clutched each other and danced slow grinding. Hey, it was a high school romance. He’d throw his arm around me in the school hallway. We’d go out for pizza after basketball games and he’d always have me home before my curfew. My parents knew I was seeing one particular guy. Since we never really went on an official date, I never had to confront them with it. So it was like don’t-ask-don’t-tell. All they wanted to know was where I would be and when I would be home. And because we weren’t actually dating he didn’t even have to pick me up at home, so he never met my parents.
My parents are very liberal, really typical liberal Jews. They’re all for gays, they’re all for blacks. They just don’t want any blacks or lesbians dating their princesses.
Then Lawrence invited me to go with him to his sister’s engagement party. It sounded like it was going to be a way cool party. It was on a Friday night in the spring, after the basketball season. I asked my father if I could go just this once. The party wouldn’t even start until 9 pm. “I will still be home for kiddush and for dinner,” I pleaded.
“Who is this boy?” my father asked.
“Lawrence Jones. He’s in my AP history class,” I replied emphasizing the AP, which meant advanced placement. That’s an honors course; my father would be impressed.
“Jones, Lawrence Jones, that doesn’t sound Jewish. Is he Jewish?”
I was sorely tempted to say forget about Jewish, ask me if he is white. But I was too much of a coward. I knew all hell would break loose, and I really wanted to go to this party. The way Lawrence described it, I was expecting quite an event; it was definitely not going to be some Jewish country club engagement party. “No, he isn’t Jewish,” I admitted, realizing that I was going to lose anyway. Sure enough, my father refused to allow it.
“Is he the boy you’ve been seeing?”
“Yeah, I guess. I really don’t see him very much. I mean, it’s not like we’re serious.”
“Even if he was Jewish I wouldn’t allow this. Not on Shabbat,” he added.
Lawrence had suggested plan B, just in case. This called for me sneaking out carrying my party dress and shoes. He would borrow a friend’s car and be waiting for me around the block. I would be able to change at his sister’s apartment. Could you imagine a Jewish guy suggesting something like this? I couldn’t, at least not in my high school. Just the thought of it was exciting. I had never ever done anything like this and I was really nervous, but I agreed.
After we turn the clocks ahead in the spring, sundown, when Shabbat begins, comes later, something I had forgotten. My father got home from services an hour later than I expected. We sat down for dinner late. I had planned to sneak out the back door after cleaning up the kitchen with my sister. My parents would be sitting in the living room in the front of the house, probably reading. My sister would retreat to her room where she’d watch TV — definitely not allowed on Shabbat but, hey, don’t-ask-don’t-tell. My parents must have known what she was doing although they obviously preferred to think she was reading. Anyway, now everything was really delayed.
It was close to 10 pm when I finally slipped out of the house. Lawrence would have been waiting for me for over an hour. I hoped he was still there as I scampered through our neighbor’s yard like I used to do when I was a little kid. As I approached our meeting spot, I saw a car and two police cruisers. Lawrence was standing and leaning with his hands on the roof of the car. The police were frisking him. I was outraged. What could he have done? He was just waiting for me, for Chrissake.
“What’s wrong?” I demanded, running up with my dress across one arm and holding my shoes in my hand. “He is just waiting for me. We’re going to a party,” I said.
One of the policemen turned to me. “Stay out of this,” snapped Lawrence.
It was too late. The policeman asked me my name and address. He immediately realized I wasn’t being picked up in front of my home. Uh oh. They called my father, who does answer the phone on Shabbat because he’s a doctor. Damn. He stormed out of the house to get me.
It turned out the police noticed Lawrence sitting in the car for what they considered an unusually long time and ran a check on the license plate. The car was unregistered and uninsured. Lawrence actually got off pretty easily while his friend, who supposedly owned the car, was hauled into traffic court. C’mon, how petty can you get? My father was furious with me.
“It’s not that he is black. It’s not even that the police were there. It’s because you lied to us and snuck out of the house,” said my mother, as calmly as she could. My father was too livid to even talk. I think that was half true. Yes, I lied to them and snuck out of the house. But if Lawrence had been Jewish and the police hadn’t been involved, I still think they would have responded a whole lot differently.
My parents grounded me like forever. Although Lawrence was cordial in school, whatever we had was over. He wasn’t going to ask me out again. At first I blamed my father for being so damn rigid. I couldn’t wait until I turned 18 and went off to college and got out of his house and didn’t have to follow his stupid rules. It was so unfair, I thought.
My next boyfriend in high school was Brian McCarthy. We met in band. I played clarinet and he played trumpet. He had brown hair cropped pretty close and a narrow mouth that curved in a smile that almost looked like a sneer except that his real sneer, I later discovered, didn’t look anything like a smile. He had green eyes that narrowed to the merest slits when he laughed. He had a reputation for being bad and cultivated a tough guy attitude. Everyone knew he drank and sometimes did drugs. Christine thought he was really cute and scary. I thought he was dumb — half his courses were remedial courses — and he was headed at best for the Army or, more likely, jail, but certainly not college like all the Jewish guys I knew. However, I agreed with Christine; he was kind of cute and really sexy, with a sort of devilish twinkle in his slit eyes, but I didn’t mention the devilish thing to Christine. She took the devil pretty seriously. Like I said, Brian wasn’t Jewish. Even if he were, my father would be appalled if I dated a boy like Brian. That alone was enough to get me interested.
Our school held a lot of dances. I guess they thought it kept us off the streets. I danced with Brian a few times at dances. Then he asked me to the movies. It was a Saturday night. I asked my father and he reluctantly agreed. “Why don’t you date Jewish boys?” he asked angrily.
“They don’t ask me,” I replied flippantly.
“You must be sending the wrong signals. What about David Erhlich? He’s called here a few times.” my father persisted.
“He calls to get me to attend USY things. He’s not interested in me, except to show up at stupid USY events,” I said. David had grown up some since that Purim dance when he thought I was more beautiful than Rebecca Schwartz, who had moved beyond super model to full anorexic, even bulimic. I was sure she was throwing up after every other meal. I didn’t know David very well since he now went to Jewish High School. I saw him around the synagogue on occasion, usually when my parents forced me to go. He had grown tall and his voice had deepened. I had heard he was a good tennis player too, getting all the way to regionals in one tournament. His sandy brown hair was curly and fell halfway over his ears. However, he still wore ugly glasses, although at least he no longer wore the kind that curled around the back of your ears.
“You know, it is as easy for you to fall in love with a Jewish boy as with a non-Jewish boy,” my mother chimed in.
“Who said I’m falling in love with anyone? It’s just a date. We’re going to the movies. We danced a few times at school dances. We went and got a soda. He’s cute. He’s nice. He’s fun. He says funny things. And he wants to do things with me. That’s all,” I snapped back.
“It’s never that simple,” my mother added. I knew what she was thinking: if only I would date one of the nice boys from the synagogue, from USY. But those boys are so boring, so predictable. Besides, they weren’t banging down the doors to date me. David, I had heard at one of the few USY things I attended, even had a girlfriend so he wasn’t available anyway, not that I cared.
My father reluctantly allowed me to date Brian. We could go to movies or school dances. Sometimes after school we would get a soda or hang out at the pizza shop. On dates Brian would come to the door to get me. My father would tell us when he expected me home. Brian hated meeting my father each time, and my father clearly disliked Brian. My parents never said anything against Brian, but it was obvious they didn’t like him or my seeing him. “What do you have against Brian?” I asked one evening after he dropped me off, just before curfew as usual.
“He is not the right boy for you,” said my mother.
“You mean he’s not Jewish,” I corrected her.
“It is more than that. Even if he were Jewish he wouldn’t be right for you. He’s trouble,” she said. She was right. He had that aura of trouble. I thought it was more of a carefully cultivated attitude than real, but it was kind of exciting, edgy. Maybe that’s what I liked about Brian.
Brian and I didn’t do too much of the sexual stuff, not as much as he wanted anyway. About the most we’d do is make out in his car. He wanted to do much more and his hands were all over me. I liked the making out part except when he tried to go too far. Then I would stop him and he would pout. He really was bad and unlike his previous girlfriends, I didn’t let him go any further than I was ready to go, which wasn’t all that far. That’s the stuff we fought about most.
But it wasn’t just Brian; Christine had the same trouble with the nice church boys her parents fixed her up with or even the Jewish guys she sometimes dated. They wanted to get into her pants just as much as Brian wanted to get into mine.
Now, I knew I wasn’t going to be a virgin forever and I didn’t believe in saving anything for marriage. Heck, I knew my mother wasn’t a virgin when she got married just from some of the things she’d published; my father probably wasn’t either. And what if I never married? However, it still had to be the right guy at the right time in the right place. I wasn’t sure what any of that would be, but Brian McCarthy probably wouldn’t be in the picture. I liked him and I loved the attention he paid to me in his tough ass kind of way but this romance wasn’t going anywhere. I think we both knew it.
One night he picked me up to go to the movies. When we got in the car, however, he headed off in a different direction. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“To a party. A friend of mine is having a party. His folks left for the weekend.”
“That’s not what we told my father,” I said, suddenly concerned.
“Don’t worry about it. He said to be home by midnight and I promise you’ll be home by midnight. In the meantime, we can have some real fun.” He flopped his right arm around my shoulders as he drove and pulled me toward him. To get closer to him I scrunched over to the left, as far as you can go anyway in a car with bucket seats separated by a console. This is wrong, I thought. I was wearing a low cut top that was pretty revealing, at least for me. His fingers gently played around on top of my boobs. Then again, this might be fun.
I lost track of where we were driving. Finally, we pulled up in front of a large house. It was filled with high school kids, but I didn’t recognize most of them. Many of Brian’s friends went to a parochial high school. Some music was playing. Brian and I sat on a couch in the corner. There were other couples around. Brian started to kiss me and make out. His hands were all over me. “Not with everybody here,” I whispered. He got up, took my hand, and led me upstairs into a bedroom. He shut the door and started to unbutton my blouse. I was scared and thrilled. He took off my blouse and bra. I removed his shirt. Then we just stood there pressed against each other as if we were slow dancing. We gently swayed to music no one else could hear. He nuzzled my neck and kissed my shoulders and boobs. It was heaven. I don’t know how long we stood that way. Then he led me to the bed. On the bed he started unbuttoning my jeans. I pushed away his hand. “No, not tonight,” I said quietly.
“Yes tonight. This is our only chance,” he insisted.
“I’m not ready. There will be other chances,” I pleaded.
He started tugging at my pants. “No, I’m ready. I’ve been ready for weeks, you fuckin’ tease,” he said angrily, more angry than I had ever heard him. I started to push his hands away. He fought off my hands and started tugging again at my jeans.
“No!” I screamed and sat up. “No! No!”
He slapped me hard across the face. “Shut up you stupid cunt. You’ve gone this far. You’re not stopping here.” That’s when I saw his sneer; it was mean and nasty, slicing across his face like a jagged knife. He pushed me down on the bed. I started kicking at him like mad. He punched me hard; I could taste blood in my mouth. “Don’t you touch me,” I screamed.
Somebody suddenly started knocking on the door. Brian jumped up, grabbed his shirt, and stomped out of the room. Another couple was at the door; they poked their heads in. “Are you all right? Do you need help?” the girl asked.
“I’ll be OK,” I muttered. They left. I must have been dazed. Slowly I picked up my blouse and bra and put it on. Then I staggered into the hallway and wandered a bit until I found a bathroom. In the bathroom I found a towel and started dabbing my mouth and nose, both of which were bleeding.
I stayed in the bathroom for a long time trying to figure out what to do. I had to leave and get home, but I didn’t know how. Brian was downstairs someplace. I didn’t want to see him again. I certainly didn’t want to ride in a car with him. I decided to call Christine. She had her license; maybe she could pick me up.
Somebody who needed to use the bathroom started knocking insistently on the door. I unlocked the door and went back to the bedroom. I flicked on the light and saw a phone on the night table. On the bureau was some mail, including bills. I looked at the address and called Christine’s house. Her mother answered the phone: “Oh she’s at the church. I don’t expect her until late. Is that you Miriam? Are you all right?”
I remember mumbling something vaguely intelligible and hanging up. I was desperate and couldn’t think of anyone else to call so I called my parents. My mother answered the phone. I told her I had to get out of there and gave her the address. “Go outside onto the sidewalk. Your father will be there in a few minutes,” she said calmly, reassuringly.
As I slipped down the stairs and out of the house, I noticed Brian drinking with a bunch of other guys. He didn’t notice me. My father pulled up a few moments later. “Are you hurt? I will take you to the hospital,” he said quietly.
“No, let’s just go home. I’ll be all right.”
At home I briefly recounted what happened with Brian, leaving out the parts that I enjoyed at the beginning, of course. When I finished, I added: “The same thing could have happened with a Jewish guy, you know.”
“I know,” said my father sadly. Then they each hugged me. “You did the right thing to call,” added my mother. No lectures, no tirades, no I-told-you-so. I appreciated that.
Although I knew of David since nursery school, our paths only crossed at the synagogue. Like I said, he went to Jewish Day School and then Jewish High School. I saw him at USY events sometimes. Once we even worked on a mitzvah project, a reading thing with an inner-city elementary school not too far away. Some of the USY kids tutored there after school, which mainly consisted of reading to the youngest children and helping older ones read by themselves. I only tutored in the spring when I wasn’t playing soccer or basketball.
David was great with the little kids he tutored. To help them read, he would come up with all kinds of neat games and puzzles involving words and letters. He’d write a simple word on the blackboard and the kids had to read it and do it, like jump or fall. The kids loved it. They would jump and run and shout. David would put up words faster and faster. It got really crazy, but the kids loved it. Where did he come up with that stuff? Thinking back now, he truly was amazing and what he did with the kids was awesome. Maybe I even thought that at the time.
I hung out a little bit with the USY kids at that time but only saw David as part of the group. Everyone said he was really smart with computers, but he didn’t seemed at all like the geeks I knew at school. He actually could string together sentences without speaking techno-babble like virtual this or virtual that or SSL or GNU, which I stupidly thought was some kind of animal like a moose.
David actually was pretty popular among the USY crowd. He had grown tall and good looking, except for those stupid glasses. Somebody should have told him or something. Anyway, sometimes he had a girlfriend, but it never seemed to last long. In between girlfriends he asked me out a few times. I only remember one date. When I told my father, I thought he was going to have an orgasm. They knew David and his parents from synagogue and thought he was perfect.
We probably went to a movie or something, I’m not sure. I guess I had a good time, but my parents were ready to start planning the wedding. David asked me out a few more times but the basketball season had begun and between that and school I became very busy. Anyway, it was a good excuse to put him off. How could I date a boy my parents so approved of? They were disappointed. Too bad for them, I thought.
Throughout that afternoon I sat thinking about all these stupid guys I had dated and about David. I would lean over him, give him the kinds of fast little kisses he loved so much –machine gun kisses, he called them, because they came in rapid succession — and whisper to him that I was there and would never leave him. Sometimes he would stir a little. I would moisten his lips and eyelids with a damp washcloth.
And I would pray and pray and pray. Dear God, please make him well. God, I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll keep even more kosher. I’ll go to synagogue more (although David and I already went almost every week). I’ll send my children to Jewish day school. I’ll follow all the commandments, any commandment. Just save him. Please God, save him.
Nurses bustled in and out of the room. They would say hello but pretty much ignored me, which was OK. They would change various bags and bottles and check things and write on a clipboard. Once I asked if he would make it. The nurse gave me some hopeful but evasive answer, something dumb like we hope so. Duh. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed. At least he didn’t seem to be getting worse; no alarms had gone off on any of the monitors. I kept praying.
The sun was setting. Israel lies on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It catches the most beautiful sunsets over the ocean. The water actually turns pink as the sun, a blazing red ball, sinks below the ocean horizon. David and I oohed and aahed over it the first night we were here. We sat on the hotel balcony drinking wine and watching the light show. At home the sun rises over the ocean but David and I never got up early enough to see it. The sunset probably was equally beautiful tonight but I barely noticed.
“You should get something to eat,” said a nurse, who entered the room. “You probably haven’t eaten all day,” she added.
“I’m fine. I’m not hungry,” I insisted. It was true; I didn’t feel hungry. Besides, I didn’t want to leave David. It was enough when I left once to go to the bathroom.
“Do you have anybody in Israel, anybody who can be with you?” she asked.
“What does it matter? How can they help him?” I asked dejectedly.
“They can help you. Sitting here alone is very hard,” she replied.
I thought about it; sitting here was hard, but there was nothing else I would even consider doing. David and I had the names of some people from home that had moved to Israel or were here studying for a year. Both sets of our parents pushed pieces of paper with names and addresses on us before we left. But we had no plans to call anybody. Hey, we were on our honeymoon. I don’t even know where we put those names and phone numbers. Maybe we left them back home. “No, there’s nobody I care to call, nobody who could help me. My parents are on the way. So are David’s,” I said.
“I will bring you something to eat. You should eat something,” said the nurse. She returned a while later with a falafel sandwich, an Orangina, and a cookie. I drank the Orangina and nibbled at the sandwich, but I wasn’t really hungry. I did eat the cookie.
David went to MIT for college. I guess he’s a geek after all I thought when I heard about it, but at least he’s a smart geek. I ended up at Georgetown. I wanted to study something to do with economics and international relations, but mainly I wanted to be in the DC area because it seemed so exciting and I thought Georgetown was the best school there. Christine, by the way, got into Brandeis, her first choice, but her parents insisted she go to some fundamentalist Christian college down south.
Of course, Georgetown is a Catholic school. My parents were not happy, but given my strong interest in economics and international studies Georgetown had a good reputation for that. When we visited the school my father saw that it had a really big Jewish student population and a very active Jewish Student Association and a lot of Jewish programs so he was sold. I didn’t intend to get involved in the Jewish programs, but I didn’t tell him that. Anyway, Georgetown is where I met my anti-Semitic French boyfriend.
But he wasn’t the only stupid boyfriend I had during those four years. First there was the frat boy, Marty. He went to American University, which was in DC too. And he was actually Jewish. My father would have been happy if I had ever told him, which I didn’t. Marty boasted to me that he was the first Jewish guy in his fraternity, not that there was anything outwardly Jewish about him that I could tell or that he cared at all about anything Jewish. If anything, it looked to me like he spent most of his time hiding his Jewishness. I guess I did too. I certainly didn’t think about his Jewishness or lack of it. It didn’t matter to me in the least. Anyway, he tried to teach me to drink beer, which I detest. Our dates consisted of going to his frat house, drinking beer, dancing to CDs, and drinking more beer. Then I would throw up and insist he take me home. After a few dates, he didn’t call me anymore. I guess I flunked beer drinking.
Then there was Gregory, my WASP boyfriend. He was really stuck up, but he was British so it was OK. We went to the typical college parties and rock concerts and movies. I worked very hard at trying to hide my Jewishness. Although my first name is Miriam, my last name is Wilson, something my family picked up when they passed through Ellis Island a couple of generations earlier. My grandfather’s brothers and cousins had come before him and adopted the Wilson name. So my grandfather got the Wilson name too. That made me Miriam Wilson; it didn’t sound like an obviously Jewish name. In fact, in my high school there was another Miriam Wilson who was black, except she spelled it Miryam with a Y. So, I tried not to let on I was Jewish.
At one point, Gregory’s parents planned to visit. We had been dating each other exclusively for a few months by then. We weren’t living together or anything like that but it seemed pretty serious to me. They offered to take Gregory and his girlfriend — me — out to dinner at one of Washington’s fanciest restaurants, the kind of place where high priced lobbyists wine and dine senators. It’s not my style, but I admit I was excited by the prospect, at least for the novelty of it. I even had brought one nice dress, I mean a knockout dress, to school with me.
Gregory seemed a little nervous as his parent’s visit approached. He didn’t want me to join him when he picked them up at the airport. He didn’t want me to meet them at the hotel. He didn’t want me to spend any time with him and his parents except for the fancy dinner, which we couldn’t avoid since they specifically asked that he join them with his girlfriend. So, he must have at least told them he had a girlfriend, but I was getting a little suspicious.
Finally, I decided to bring up the issue directly. “Is there something up with your parents? You know, something you don’t want me around for?” I asked. Bingo, I scored a direct hit. Usually so cool and collected and reserved, Gregory suddenly looked considerably uncomfortable. “I mean, I can disappear for the weekend if you prefer,” I offered, although I really was looking forward to going to that restaurant and wearing my nice dress — I looked like a killer in that dress. I knew every man in the restaurant who had any testosterone in his blood would be looking at me.
There was a long pause. Clearly he was trying to figure out how to put into words whatever it was he was going to say. “They’re not going to be happy with me because of you,” he finally said.
I tried to figure out what he meant. He didn’t say they wouldn’t be happy with me but with him. Now I must have looked baffled.
“They hoped I would go to school in the US and meet someone from the American upper class, from the elite. They never thought I would get involved with a Jew. They would never say that, of course, but they won’t be happy,” he explained. He sounded sad, almost pathetic.
Now I was even more confused. We had never talked about religion. I never told him I was Jewish. I was like Marty; I had submerged my Jewishness for all practical purposes. I didn’t keep kosher. I ate moo shi pork in Chinese restaurants, gobbled up shrimp at department receptions for visiting scholars, and deliberately avoided participating in most activities of the Jewish Students Association. OK, I went to High Holiday services but that was before I met Gregory. “How will they even know I’m Jewish? I’m not going to wear a Jewish star or sprout horns?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“Are you kidding!” he laughed. “Anybody can tell you are Jewish in an instant. You act Jewish. You look Jewish. You would look Jewish even if you were wearing a cross around your neck. You talk and think like a smart Jew. That may make you attractive to me, but they will see it immediately,” he said. “And they won’t be happy with me,” he added sullenly. I was shocked. I had worked so hard at not appearing Jewish. I mean I deliberately worked at it. And to learn that all my efforts were a failure. Well, that really was a shock and later it started me thinking about a lot of things.
Actually, I was kind of insulted too. Remember, I was my father’s exotic beauty with my mother’s Sephardic looks. “What do you mean I look Jewish? You could just as easily say I was Iranian,” I argued, trying to keep the pouting out of my voice.
“Yeah, an Iranian until the first time you open your mouth,” he countered.
Anyway, we went to dinner with his parents, and I did look awesome in that dress. Everyone watched me as we walked across the dining room to our table. The static that crackled across the room was sheer lust from the glances of all the men; even Gregory’s father couldn’t take his eyes off me. His parents were polite, courteous, pleasant, and cold, exactly as Gregory had predicted. After dinner, they sent the two of us back to campus in a cab. The food, by the way, was terrific. I’ve never had a meal that good or that pricey before or since.
My romance with Gregory quickly ended after that. We talked about it, but he wasn’t about to go against his parents’ wishes. For now they controlled the money and the trust funds and the inheritances that would all be his, which I gather were considerable. A middle class American Jew, even an upper middle class one whose father was a doctor with a thriving practice and whose mother was a published author and lecturer, was absolutely not in their game plan for him in any way, shape, or form.
I encouraged him to fight his parents on this on principle because I thought his parents’ anti-Semitism and class attitudes were despicable and outdated. “C’mon, this is the 21st century. We’re supposed to be more enlightened,” I argued. But the truth was I didn’t love Gregory so I didn’t push him very hard. He was fun and pleasant and interesting, but I couldn’t imagine a lifelong relationship with him. I couldn’t see him as the father of my children. I couldn’t imagine sharing my life with him. Our values, our world views, in the end just seemed too far apart. Marrying him would be like condemning myself to a lifetime of pretending to be something I wasn’t. And despite my best efforts, my pretending hadn’t even been very successful.
Maybe if I really, really loved him, but even then I doubt it would have worked out. Like I said, I didn’t love him and he didn’t really love me, at least not that much. We parted ways amicably. Eventually he started going with the daughter of a Congressman. A Congressman wasn’t exactly the American elite but close enough for his parents. She also was Irish Catholic, which was very bad — what did they expect him to find at Georgetown University — but not nearly as bad as a Jew. I wish him well.
The whole thing with Gregory made me think about what would happen if I came home with a non-Jewish guy I wanted to marry. I knew my parents would be upset, but I didn’t think they would disown me or sit shiva or any of that kind of stuff. I guess I always thought if he was a nice guy and loved me and I loved him, they would come to accept him. You know, the liberal Jewish thing. And since I’m Jewish my kids would always be Jewish no matter what.
But what I now was just beginning to realize was that I might not be happy marrying a non-Jew either. I had always rejected pressure to marry Jewish on principle: I wanted to follow my heart, marrying whoever it would lead me to and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin. That’s the American way, right? Except after my experience with Gregory and my efforts at trying to not be Jewish, I was starting to question that principle when it came to relationships and marriage and it bothered me.
During the years I was at college I saw David a few times. Not during the summer, which is what you might expect. That’s when I took a counselor position at the same Jewish overnight camp I went to growing up. So I didn’t get to spend much time at home in the summer. But occasionally I crossed paths with David when we were both home during school vacations. At those times, my parents were eager to get us together. “David’s dad tells me he’ll be home next week too,” my father would say with a feigned casualness. Once they went so far at one of those rare times we were both in town to invite David’s family to join us for Shabbat dinner. Now that’s really pushing it, I thought.
I actually liked David when I saw him. And we got along great. I could talk comfortably with him. We laughed and joked around. We liked some of the same music. Once he invited me to play tennis. He killed me, and he wasn’t even trying. He actually felt bad about it. I’m a good athlete and an OK tennis player, but he is great.
Anyway, I might even have gotten something going with David then except for the feeling that my parents were really manipulating this. David came with my parents’ Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which immediately made him suspect in my mind. I knew it was a stupid reaction. Still, it held me back. I tried very hard not to see him in a romantic way although I knew he looked at me that way. Could a guy my parents like so much really be my lover?
The last romance of my college years was Kin-Leong Tay, who everyone called KL. KL was thin and pretty tall for a Chinese guy. He was almost as tall as me so I made a point of wearing flat shoes when we were together. He had a very boyish look, sort of like David now that I think of it, but he had straight black hair and not a trace of facial hair. We met while working on a team project for an international economics class. He was American born and raised but spoke fluent Chinese. And he knew from the start that I was Jewish. “Jews and Chinese are very similar. Both are family-oriented and emphasize education,” he said on several occasions.
“And food. Both Jews and Chinese love Chinese food,” I would always add jokingly. He would laugh, especially because his favorite meal was a burger and fries and a shake, which he could eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
KL was sweet and thoughtful and serious. We had long discussions about international affairs and followed the twists and turns of international diplomacy like other people follow sports. He was quiet, but when he was angry or excited he could be quite forceful. I saw that during some heated debates at school. He also could be very funny and silly, especially when we were alone. He was very concerned about his public image, however, feeling that he was representing the Chinese American community in everything he did.
We became lovers. I was the one who seduced him. He couldn’t resist the dress, which I wore to a fancy department reception for some big shot that spoke on campus. KL was an attentive and serious lover but never spent a whole night with me. He felt he had to be in his room in the morning, which was when his parents might call. And they called a lot, even though it must have been pretty early for them since they lived in California. He was very respectful of his parents, which I found endearing in an odd sort of way. I mean I love my parents, but I would never act so deferential to them. They’d think I was sick or something.
KL and I would study together. We took a few of the same classes. We went to lectures on campus by famous speakers. On weekends, when we weren’t studying, we might hike in some of the wooded areas around DC. I taught him about basketball and we went to Georgetown basketball games and we made love. But one thing we never talked about — the only thing we never talked about — was our relationship and any future together. Maybe we understood without saying anything specific that we had no future together. He would marry a Chinese girl. I wasn’t sure whom I would marry although the Jewish or non-Jewish thing increasingly crept into my thoughts whenever I was with KL.
By the way, my sister, who was in college by this time, ended up not following in my steps. She dated a string of Jewish guys and is even talking of eventually going to the Jewish Theological Seminary to become a rabbi. My parents are thrilled. Meanwhile, here I was plunging into the goyish world of international economics.
As seniors we had begun thinking about what we would do next. KL knew exactly; he was going to Stanford for graduate studies. He had been accepted. His parents expected him to go there and to do great things. Besides, his parents lived nearby and there was this huge Chinese community there.
I wasn’t sure where I would go or what I would do. I too had some interesting possibilities in California, which seemed attractive, especially the weather. I had never been to California. A think-tank in Boston, however, had offered me a chance to work on a big international economic study they were starting. It would lead almost automatically to a prestigious graduate school program if I wanted it. They would even subsidize the tuition. And my family lived near Boston. KL seemed ambivalent about where I went. Although he wasn’t actually discouraging me he clearly wasn’t encouraging me to join him in California.
Then one day in the spring David called. We had been in touch a little bit, indirectly, mainly through a USY email list-serve that kept everyone up to date on what other people were doing. I didn’t post anything to it, but I saw messages other people posted. A few were about David. He actually had gotten involved in some leading edge kind of project; something to do with organic computers and non-deterministic systems — really advanced, heavy stuff that I certainly didn’t understand. One of his professors traveled around to different conferences and David often went with him as a research assistant. He would post a message about where he was going and try to connect with any USY friends who were nearby. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he called. He was in DC for a conference. Maybe I missed that USY message. Anyway, could we get together?
As I said, I was still dating KL pretty seriously at that time. But KL sometimes went to his brother’s house on weekends. He had an older married brother nearby and visited regularly, especially when other relatives passed through. And his relatives seemed to be always coming through the DC area. Sometimes he took me along so I didn’t feel that he was trying to hide me from his family, something I was wary about after Gregory. Everyone was pleasant, even friendly, but I clearly felt like an English-speaking outsider in a Chinese world. Still, the Chinese food at those gatherings was awesome. How KL could prefer burgers was beyond me.
David and I got together for coffee at the conference hotel in Washington. David looked great, not at all like the typical computer nerd I would see around Georgetown. He had put on a little weight so he no longer looked scrawny. I playfully pinched his lean, hard stomach. “I’ve been able to play some tennis. It’s enough to keep me in shape,” he said by way of explanation. He also had new glasses, not great but a big improvement. I immediately felt comfortable with David.
The conference would conclude with an awards ceremony and fancy banquet on Saturday night. Top officials from the government would be there. David’s professor was getting an award, and David was invited to come with a guest. Would I join him?
I’m the kind of girl who can handle only one relationship at a time, and I sort of had this thing going with KL. But, this was different, an old family friend, I thought to myself. And, I knew KL would be at his brother’s house for the entire weekend. And most importantly, I already had a dress. “Sure,” I said, and kissed him quickly on the cheek.
“Not so fast,” he said, pulling me up against him. He gave me a long kiss on the lips. Right there in the hotel lobby. Uh oh, I thought. This could get complicated. But I didn’t care; I would gladly deal with any complications later.
The banquet indeed was a glittering Washington social event. David and I stood in a corner during the cocktail hour and played the celebrity and big shot spotting game. At one point, the vice president even blew through. The actual awards part was pretty boring. David and I sat at a table far in the rear with other research assistants.
It was a black-tie kind of event. David wore a dark suit. “It’s the only thing I had,” he said. He looked handsome in a chief executive sort of way, not like a geek at all. When I took off my coat and he saw me in the dress, he literally staggered. And unlike with KL, I didn’t have to wear flats with David. I had on some killer spike heeled shoes. “You’re beautiful, more beautiful than I remembered,” he sputtered.
“More beautiful than Rebecca Schwartz,” I teased, her name suddenly popping into my head.
“Who? Oh, her. You kidding, far more beautiful than she could ever hope for,” he assured me. I could feel myself blushing and buried my face on his shoulder.
We talked all through the awards and the speeches. Nobody cared. We were so far in the back. We talked about stuff back home. David had stayed in touch pretty well. I knew only what I heard from weekly phone calls and email from my parents. We talked about economics and international affairs, my supposed specialty. We talked about computers; David actually made them sound interesting and understandable. We talked like old friends, close friends, even intimate friends. I felt completely at home with him; I told him things I thought about and dreamed about, things that I had never told anyone, not Christine, not KL or anyone else. And he was the same with me. We talked right through the dancing. I was so absorbed I forgot completely about showing off my dress on the dance floor.
Only when David invited me up to his hotel room did I hesitate. “I’m kind of seeing somebody,” I said, without much conviction.
“Is it serious? Are you engaged?” David asked.
“We’re not engaged. He’s Chinese. I don’t think the relationship will go anywhere. His parents would never accept me, and he couldn’t disappoint his parents,” I said.
“Do you want the relationship to go anywhere?” David asked, emphasizing the you.
I thought about KL for a moment trying to imagine a long-term relationship with him and couldn’t see it happening, even if his parents approved, which they would never do. I couldn’t imagine KL as the father of my children any more than I could Gregory. I couldn’t imagine him sitting at a Seder with my family and tons of aunts and uncles and cousins or lighting Chanukah candles. And I already had been to KL’s family gatherings at his brother’s house so I knew what it felt like to be an outsider. As polite as they were to me, it wasn’t hard to imagine being a permanent stranger within his large, close family all chattering away in Chinese. “No,” I said with assurance, “I don’t want that relationship to go anywhere.”
Up in his room my black dress didn’t stay on very long. David swept me into his powerful arms and held me for a long, deep kiss. Actually lots of kisses. My fingers ran through his curly hair as I kissed his face and neck and chest, a rapid machine-gun fire of little kisses. We made love over and over again. I didn’t want the night to end.
David flew back to MIT the next day with his professor. KL returned from his brother’s house and immediately sensed something had changed although, as usual, we didn’t talk about it. During the few weeks that remained of our last semester we stayed friends but there was no passion or commitment. Our relationship was over. I think we were both relieved.
My parents, of course, came for my graduation. They were stunned and thrilled to see David there. He had come a few days earlier. He would graduate the following week and I would be there. We loaded up my parent’s station wagon with most of my stuff and sent them home. I drove back with David in a car he borrowed from his parents.
We went straight to David’s apartment in Cambridge. His roommate had already moved out; he would start a graduate program at Caltech. David was remaining at MIT to continue his research with the professor. I had taken the think-tank position. I moved in with David that day.
Our parents were a bit shocked at the arrangement, or at least the suddenness of it. They had no idea we had connected. And my parents disapproved of our living arrangements.
“But isn’t this what you have been pushing me toward for years?” I pointed out.
“Yes, but,” stammered my mother, the published writer now at a complete loss for words. It was all token resistance. They had wanted me with David for years. They had won although not exactly the way they expected. Too bad.
Of course we would get married eventually, just not now. Right now David and I only wanted to enjoy being with each other. We didn’t want to get bogged down in planning a wedding. He had spent years longing for me while I had spent years holding him at a distance. I felt driven to make up for lost time. Now we just wanted to enjoy each other completely, thoroughly, and without distraction. We had a glorious summer and the months that followed were a whirlwind of romance and love and play along with the most exciting work either of us had ever done. Sure, the apartment was a bachelor student dump, but we could change that at some point. Later, we started planning the wedding.
It had turned to night. A bright moon perched above the ocean. There were stars in the sky. A different nurse came into the room. She fussed with David’s bandages. He stirred slightly. I jumped up and again moistened his cracked lips with a damp cloth and wiped his face and eyelids, those beautiful eyes. And I gave him lots of those little kisses.
Usually I sat next to his bed, held his hand, prayed, and whispered a quiet stream of encouraging words, as much for myself, I guess, as for him. At some point I leaned forward and laid my head on his bed next to his arm.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I remember is hearing some soft murmuring and quiet commotion in the room. A hand touched my cheek. “Miriam, we’re here sweetheart,” my mother said softly. Startled, I sat upright. My father was there too. He kissed me, surveyed the scene, and immediately began reading the clipboard the nurses wrote on. David’s parents also were here. They crowded among the machines on the other side of the bed. His mother bent over and gently kissed him and whispered more encouraging words.
They had flown over on the same flight, the first flight leaving Boston after my phone call. “Have you eaten anything?” asked my mother, glancing at the barely touched falafel sandwich.
“Not much. Have you?” I asked standing up.
My mother stood facing me and wrapped her arms around me in a great hug. “We’re here with you now,” she said quietly. That’s when I began to cry, first a little sob and then real crying. I cried for David and for me and for everything I feared we would never have or do. My mother sat me down on a small sofa on the other side of the room. I hadn’t even noticed it before. I cried in her arms and she rocked me and stroked my hair almost as if I were a baby. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I kept whimpering over and over again.
“You have nothing to be sorry about,” she said quietly and continued to stroke my hair. She didn’t know. She didn’t realize. She could never know. I had so much I was sorry about but how could she ever understand. As I had been doing since the moment I saw David lying bloody on the sidewalk, I silently prayed to God: let him live, just let him live, make him be well again.
David’s mother sat where I had been sitting. His father stood by her. My father slipped out and returned a few minutes later with a nurse and a doctor. They stood in the doorway and talked quietly. My father would know what to say and what to do, I thought.
After a while they stopped talking and my father walked into the room and addressed us. “They seem to be doing all the right things, and his condition appears to have stabilized. That’s a good sign,” he explained. “David’s pretty lucky; it could have been much worse. We have good reason to be hopeful.” From the doorway the doctor nodded in agreement.