The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “lost love”

Across a Crowded Room…

first published 8/4/15

Some_Enchanted_Evening

Sa

I remember one particular moment of my life so clearly. It was a small moment, just a snapshot of an emotion set in a frame.

I am making tea for him in my kitchen. I am standing at the little corner counter top next to the stove. I am facing the wall, pouring the just-boiled water into the tea pot. I see the striped place mat on the Formica. The counter is so small, the place mat almost covers it completely. I realize, “I really like this man…more than I have liked anyone before.” And in this instant, I am caught exactly and equally between two emotions: love and terror. Two trains of thought slap through my brain, like the ropes in Double Dutch:  “This love can change my life” and “If it’s not real; if he is just playing with me, I will not survive. The blow will kill me.”

But he was not just playing with me. And indeed, he did change my life.

I was working as an exotic dancer.   I was not a slut or a drug user or an alcoholic. It was simply the only work I could find that paid my bills. I knew I couldn’t do it forever, but I was still young enough not to have to think about that for the time being.   I was just happy to have a steady, decent income; happy not to be dependent on anyone. I’d learned young that no one else can be counted on. The job paid more than working in a factory or as a cashier in some supermarket or greasy fast food joint. I wasn’t stupid but I had no education. I didn’t have a lot of options.

But being seen, night after night, through the eyes of horny, lustful, lonely men — that slowly kills something inside a woman.  It’s kind of strange. You might think that being in a position of sexual power (the men were, after all, paying to be close to me while being forbidden to touch) would make me feel, well, powerful. In control.   It did not.   It made me feel as if that was all I was worth. That my mind, my feelings, my soul, were of no consequence whatsoever. I was only my body. It made me feel hollow. It numbed me to my real self.

Then, one day, he came in. He was with a bunch of guys; friends from work, it turned out. (One of them was getting married.) He seemed uncomfortable, as if he were there reluctantly. He wasn’t drunk; he nursed the same beer for an hour. He was pleasant looking. He had the kind of face that could make you relax just by looking at. He caught my eye and smiled, a bit sadly. His expression was completely lacking any lust.   I felt his eyes on me all evening, and in the end, even though I didn’t do anything special for him, he gave me a very big tip just before he left. He looked me right in the eyes and said, without any sarcasm, “Spend it wisely.”

After that, I thought about him a lot. He’d really gotten under my skin.  Even through the whiskey haze of that place, amid the flashing lights, over the hooting and jeering and drunken remarks of the patrons, beyond the half-naked women who were adept at teasing as much cash as possible out of the men, in this room ripe with the overpowering scent of sweat and pheromones, he looked at me and saw a whole person.

It was unsettling and yet exhilarating.

It was a couple of weeks before he came back. This time, he was alone. He remained aloof. He did not look at or engage with the other girls. He nursed his one beer for a few hours, resisting all entreaties from the dancers and the bartender. He watched only me, but in the most respectful way. He never leered or stared , but his glance always returned to me, letting me know he was always at least peripherally aware of me. Once again, before he left, he handed me a large tip, and said, cryptically, “I don’t need any change, but I think you do.” And then he was gone.

I scratched my head over that for a while. Who was he? What did he want from me? And why me?

He returned a week or so later (maybe it was longer – my memory for these things is not so good any more.)  It went that same before – the watching me from the corner of his eye, just the single beer.  Again, he waited to leave until after my set was over then he came over, as before, to hand me money. This time I looked at him closely, noticing the details of his kind face. He appeared to be a few years older than I was (seven, I later found out). He was nicely dressed in casual business clothes. There was just something so comfortable about him. I’d never felt like that about anyone before. He handed me the tip and said, “You have something. Don’t waste it.” He smiled, and left, as usual.

I ran after him and caught up with him just outside. I was intrigued but confused.

“What…?” I said, not even knowing what to say, what to ask.

He smiled, “I noticed you the first night I came here, with the guys from work. There’s something different about you. You’re not like the others…”

I didn’t really know what he meant. I was, to my thinking, not so much different from the other girls. When I did compare myself,  I always felt myself coming up short. I knew I wasn’t as good as they were at getting the most out of the men. The girls who’d been there a while really knew how to play those drunken guys. Compared to them, I was nothing. I was just some loser girl, working a humiliating job to pay the rent. I didn’t feel in any way worthy of being singled out. So what could he possibly have seen in me?

“I don’t understand…” I said.

He was shy, which struck me as sweet. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

At first I thought he was judging me negatively and was offended. He must have seen that on my face and quickly tried to explain.

“I mean, there’s something about you that doesn’t fit here.” I don’t remember everything he said exactly, but he tried to convince me that it was time for me to make different choices in life, and that they would pay off better in the end.

After my shift, he took me for coffee at the diner. We talked for a long time…about our lives, about our childhoods.   He was easy to talk to.  He really listened. Nobody had ever listened to me like that before.

I guess he saw in me someone he could help; someone he could save.  He suggested possibilities I’d never considered.   He made me feel as if I could choose differently and still be OK.

After that, he came to meet me every night at the end of my shift and we’d sit and talk in the same back booth.

And finally, one night, I invited him back to my apartment. That was the night I made him tea.

I was shaking with fear and uncertainty when I brought the tray to the couch. He was so respectful and kind.   I’d never met a man like that before. I was afraid to do anything, for fear of spooking him.

Finally, I fell asleep on the sofa. In the morning, I woke up alone, neatly tucked in, covered with the blanket.   Nothing had happened.  I was both disappointed and overjoyed.

My life changed after that in ways I never would have imagined. Just having someone believe in me made everything seem possible.

We were together for 27 years and I loved him more every day of my life, until the day I died. And he loved me the same.

At the moment we first saw each other, it was as if we recognized each other. Now I know we have been together in lives past; and we will find each other again in our next.

 

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Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

 

The Greatest Sin

NEW!in-shell

 

Pau

Of all the sins and injustices ever perpetrated against me, the second cruelest was being told “I love you” when it was known to be lie.

I lived for years believing it was true, when all the while I was nothing more than a convenience, a stepping stone, someone to be mollified until something better came along.

The reality of the lie shook me to my foundation.   It was more than a betrayal by a lover. It made me doubt myself to my core.  How was I not able to differentiate truth from lie? How could I have been so naive? Was I really that gullible, that desperate to believe?  How did I  miss the signs, which in retrospect seemed obvious. What did all that say about me, about who I was? About who I thought I was?

I never did get over it.  I could never bring myself to trust anyone again because I was no longer able to trust myself. I crawled down deep inside myself and let nothing and no one pull me out.  It was lonely but it was safe.

The cruelest sin of my life, the one that did the most damage, was the one I perpetrated upon myself.

What I could have learned, what I should have learned, is that there is no love without risk. The very nature of love requires flying without a net.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Forbidden

first published July 26, 2014

hasids2

Yi

If they had known what I was they would have thrown me out of the community. That would have destroyed me.   Such love, such relationships, were not allowed. It was more than sinful; it went against God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

I married young, as proscribed, and my wife and I had eight children. I was a good husband and a good father, but I lived all my life hiding my true feelings.

I first felt the stirrings as a young man in the Yeshiva, surrounded by boys and other young men, young rabbis, teachers. I felt a kind of love and attraction that I never felt for a woman. Perhaps it was merely that I could understand men better. In our community, men and woman had very different and specific roles.

I suppose there were couples who really loved each other, but I suspect that more just played their part, did what was expected. Men went to work and studied and prayed. Women raised the children, kept the home, obeyed their husbands. And in this duty, in this obligation, a kind of sentimental attachment was forged. The love for one’s spouse was an extension of one’s love for God.

When I was young, the feelings were inchoate, vague, undirected at any one specific person. I simply preferred the company of men. But this was not unusual. Unrelated men and women were not allowed to be alone with each other, thus men were always together. We prayed and danced and socialized amongst ourselves. Any affection I felt towards another man I assumed to be perfectly normal.   And truly, it was not strange for me to spend most of my free time in the shul, praying with my brethren.

But when I was 32, I met another young man a few years older than myself. He had just moved from another community to be closer to his wife’s family. We quickly became the best of friends, spending as much time together as possible; always seeking out each other’s company. We spent hours discussing obscure religious tracts and the minutia of Jewish law. Initially, it was a meeting of minds. We had a deep, spiritual connection. I always looked forward to our walks and conversations about the most profound subjects. Nobody had ever understood my mind the way he did.

I missed him when we had to be apart for a few days (over a holiday, for example, when we had obligations to our extended families).

And then, one evening, it happened. We were a bit drunk after a Purim party (the only time Jews really get drunk). We were walking home from the shul. It was very late and we’d been amongst the very last to leave. The street was quiet and dark.   We came to the corner where we had to part, each to go in our own direction home, and there was a look that passed between us; a look that said, “I feel it, too.”

We lingered, wanting to savor the moment. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I reached out and touched his hand – just a brush of my finger against the back of his palm. He took my hand in his and pulled me close, first glancing around to be sure nobody could see us. He drew me into the shadows of a closed storefront and kissed me.

The kiss lasted for what seemed like blissful eternity. I could taste the sweet wine on his tongue. We were drunk enough to lose our inhibitions, but not so drunk as to be foolish or careless, so that was as far as it went. What else could we do? Even if we’d had the opportunity – a place to go to be alone – we would not have done it. We were men of God, and such things were forbidden.

But from that point on, we were damned, or at least it felt that way. It didn’t matter how much we desired each other; ours was a love that could never be consummated. The desire was both a blessing and a curse. Strangely, this torment brought us closer. We were both feeling the same emotions; both learning so many deep lessons about love and duty and choosing our obligations to others over the fulfillment of our own selfish needs. We were both traveling the same path, both equally committed to remaining on it. This was how we shared and nurtured and demonstrated our love.

Our physical relationship consisted at best of a furtive touch when nobody was looking; a “brotherly” embrace that lingered a bit longer than it should have; the feel of his warm palm pressed against mine with our fingers entwined as we danced the hora,  trance-like, ecstatic. I lived each week for the few brief moments at the end of Shabbos prayers, when I could safely feel his arms around me.

We still spent time together but rarely allowed ourselves the opportunity to be completely alone or in any compromising situation. We were careful never to let ourselves become too tempted. We did not get drunk together again. Sober, we were much more sensible.

And so it went. I preferred his company to that of any other human being; valued his wisdom more; thrilled at the sound of his laugh. There was never a moment when I did not think of him. Ours was a deeply spiritual relationship and remained so for decades. Our chasteness was a testament to our love of both God and each other. We both agreed: This was a test put upon us by the Almighty and we would embrace the challenge and rise above it.

And then I got sick. I was only in my late 50s but the cancer came on fast and I was gone in a matter of months.

He was at my bedside when I died, along with my wife and children. We prayed together in those final days, until I could no longer speak, until I could no longer remain conscious. His presence and love calmed me and let me pass over in peace.

I know he still feels me in his heart when he prays. I know I still live in his soul, as he does in mine.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

Hope Springs Eternal, Damnit!

First published Aug 13, 2015

praying hands

Mo

Hope ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve seen people invest their entire lives hoping for something that will never be when they should be making something out of what’s right there in front of them.

I wasted most of my best days chasing something I wasn’t ever gonna catch. I neglected my family. I neglected my finances. I neglected my health   People in my church told me to “have faith…it will happen!” and they thought they were doing God’s work. I will tell you, they were doing the Devil’s work, because what did I get in the end? Nothing. Sure enough, not what I was running after all those years.   My wife was long gone, hitched up with some guy who treated her a lot better than I did. My kids? They barely knew my name. I never supported them, not in any way.   I had no money. I was living hand-to-mouth. I was chasing smoke.

When I was in my younger days, I would look at the guys who give up their youthful dreams (whatever they were), got married, found steady jobs, raised their kids in a decent place, in a decent way; I’d look at them and think, “Coward!”   I thought they were all pussy-whipped, in one way or another, at least the ones whose marriages lasted. But I eventually realized that for most of them their wives made them better men, and they knew it. Without that steady hand at the rudder to keep them on course, they would have drifted off in a cesspool of booze, cheap women and no commitments to anything.   They would have been like me.

Except I was taught it was a sin to stop hoping. I thought it was a sin to give up faith. I believed in myself. That was the most important thing. I had to keep plugging away, as a sign of my devotion.

I knew a woman with a very sick child. That little girl was sick for years, and the mother prayed every day. She hoped and she prayed. She counted on God to make her daughter well. But in the end, the girl died. And that mother was inconsolable.

Instead of eventually understanding that such things happen in life; that one must mourn and grieve and move on (which is not to say forget the person, but rather move them into our past) she was consumed with guilt.

She had, on occasion, sat in the hospital or fretted in bed at night, wondering what it would be like if the child died. Maybe it would be better for everyone. The girl would never be well; she would be a burden to someone all her life. Her care would be expensive. Was it terribly selfish to want a life without such a burden? She was only in her 20s herself, with her whole life ahead of her.

But everyone told her to “Never give up hope.” “Have faith!” “Believe in the lord!” They said it as if they were channeling Jesus himself.

When the girl died, the mother was consumed with guilt. She knew she had put aside her faith to think about herself for a moment or two, here and there. What a horrible mother she was! She didn’t deserve to have children! It was all her fault. God was punishing her because of her inherent selfishness.

You get the idea.

She ended up in a mental hospital.

That’s where faith got her.

She was never able to work through the untruth of all that.

Some things just have their time. We walk through the corridors of the maze of our life, only able to see what’s immediately around us We can’t know what or who is on the other side of that wall or what or who is around the next corner; certainly not what’s around the next three or ten corners.   Sometimes, we come to a split in the path and we have to choose a direction. Sometimes we find ourselves at a dead end. Sometimes we are on our path alone; sometimes with others. But no matter when we die, it’s always one short corner from the end of the maze of that particular life.

Faith, by itself, it not a virtue. It can even be a vice when it’s faith in the wrong thing.

Maybe the best kind of faith you can have, that only one that makes any sense, is a belief that you are listening to the universe correctly… the faith to be open enough to allow the spiritual realm to guide you – not where you want to go, but where it wants to take you.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

He Carried a Torch

originally posted May 23, 2014

George_Rennie_Cupid_Rekindling_the_Torch_of_Hymen_at_the_V_and_A_2008

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Dim

I married her because she was the closest thing to the One Who Got Away, but she was not the same girl at all. I probably should have married someone who was the total opposite so there would be no temptation for comparison; so I would not be constantly reminded of what I was missing.

The reality, of course, was that I had no idea what I was missing, or even if I was missing anything important or worthwhile.

I idealized her insanely; nobody could reach that impossible standard.  I hid this truth from my wife but such feelings cannot be concealed.  They permeate every action, every thought, leaving a whiff of disappointment and regret on everything.  My heart was elsewhere; my desires lived in the past.

My wife deserved to see love in my eyes, but I never fully gave myself to her. I held back a large part of myself for a phantom. I refused to let go of this fantasy of a missed lifetime of perfect love based on a few hormonal months when I was seventeen.

My wife didn’t know any of this. She just thought there was a piece missing from my soul; that I was crippled and unable to trust. I let her believe it. She was patient and loved me anyway, always hoping that someday I would let it all go and that she would be there when the floodgates opened, that she would finally be washed in all the love I’d been holding back. During the occasional discussions about my inability to embrace intimacy, I let her believe that this was the issue. I never told her “the truth.”

Looking back, it’s obvious that she was right the whole time. I was the one who didn’t understand the issue.

I never cheated. I was good and kind to her. I treated her well. I genuinely liked her and didn’t want to hurt her. She loved me and was good to me; she believed in me and was there for me whenever I needed her. And I really did appreciate all that. But still, I refused to give her my heart.

After she died, when I was in my late seventies,  I made a serious effort to find my lost love, as if it were my last chance to finally have what I’d been missing my entire life.

I never found her. (I know now that she died in her 20s. Oh, the irony of that!)

I lived my entire life chasing some imagined love out there when all the while, all I had to do was turn to my wife and look at her and really see her. If I had done that just once, everything after that might have been different.

I thought I was worshiping love, keeping it holy, when in fact I was avoiding it.

Perhaps it’s the same thing.

There are a lot of kinds of love, and one type is not necessarily better or worse than another. Most people are lucky to have even one kind of love in their life. To have more than one is to be truly blessed.

I was blessed, but I didn’t know it.

I should have trusted her with my heart. She would have taken gentle and good care of it.

 

 

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-Adrienne

 

The Look of Love

NEW!

old-married-couple

 

Le

There was a time when just the sound of his voice, the sight of his face, brought me joy.  His presence soothed me; made me calm,  allayed my fear and disquiet.  My heart leapt at his caress.  I slept better with him safe beside me.  He made me feel invincible.

But then, over the  years,  he grew distant.  Perhaps we simply grew apart.  In any case,  we became strangers occupying the same space.

And even though I was no longer pained by the loss of love, for it was gradual and mutual and impossible to get back, I missed the relief of unpacking my troubles to someone who was listening.  I missed how everything could be made right again by touch.  I missed falling asleep feeling protected.

I never took a lover although it was probably would have done me a world of good.  Not even after he died.  I felt too old at that point to even think in that way.

But strangely,  alone,  I started to regain my equilibrium.  Instead of feeling sad that he was not fulfilling my emotional needs, I began to learn how to fulfill them myself.   I was not alone long enough to learn all I needed to learn,  but these are lessons which I will have to learn another time.

 

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

Too Clever For His Own Good

NEW!Wenceslas_Hollar_-_The_sword_of_Damocles

Lig

Mine was a sad story, an old story, a story that’s been repeated a million times.  I saw the opportunity for easy illicit gain, and believed myself too clever to get found out.

This miscalculation was my ruin, all my youthful potential wasted.  With one ill-conceived plan, I blocked every path I might have taken to a normal happy life.  There was no undoing any of it yet not a day went by without me willing myself back in time to warn my younger self against this colossal mistake. For me, there would be no forgiveness…not by anyone else, but certainly not by me of myself. This compounded the tragedy and deformed my life into one of adversity.

If I’d been able to forgive myself for throwing away my life, for wasting my talents and intellect, for hurting and disappointing and bringing shame upon the people I loved and who loved me, I might have found a measure of contentment in whatever I could make of things. But I didn’t feel as if I deserved any respite from my guilt and my shame, because my guilt and my shame told me I wasn’t worthy of respite. And thus, the unbreakable, inescapable circle. I punished myself far more harshly than society could have.

I’d started out with such promise, so clever and ambitious. Everyone thought I would be a great success. But eventually it occurred to me that I might not have what was necessary to fulfill these expectations. It took more than just cleverness and ambition.  To win, you had to play the game by their rules. But I’d always bristled at rules. I choked on the bit of authority. I would not follow when clearly I was smarter than all of them.

I would show them!  I would beat them at their own game! I would write my own rules!   They might try to keep me out, but they would be underestimating me.

And when I couldn’t break through, I decided to take what I felt was my due. I’d show those smug bastards!

In the beginning, none of them had any idea. I lived the kind of comfortable life from which they thought they’d successfully excluded me.

But my situation was untenable. I lived in denial for a while but it hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. I could not hide my malfeasance forever.

When discovery was imminent, I ran away with whatever I could salvage and lived the rest of my life in hiding, abandoning everyone and everything I’d ever known or cared about. I would not bring anyone else into my sinking ship. My life options had narrowed 1000-fold.

I never married. Never let myself get too comfortable in any once place, with any one person. Never dropped my guard. Never used my real name again.  Never let anyone get too close for fear of giving it all away or dragging them down with me. Never stayed in any one place too long. Never again held job worthy of my talents.  I died sad and alone, never again feeling the touch of someone I trusted, which I took as my penance.

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Love is the Way to the Truth

First published Sept 18, 2014

 

artwork: Jessica Perlstein

Aya (a new voice)

I believe in the redemptive power of love. It is the prism through which everything passes. It is the path along which the most important lessons are learned. Love turns you inward; directs you to where the most important answers are.

When two people make a commitment to each other in love, that commitment is as much to themselves as to each other. It is a promise to grow and change; to bend to fit with an open heart; to see clearly both the good and bad in oneself;  to continually reevaluate beliefs; to rethink behaviors and view them from different perspectives; to see the world through another’s eyes.

To love is to commit to working on everything that prevents us from becoming our best self. We commit to knowing our own true self, and when we have discovered it, all things become clear. The result is true intimacy — with ourselves, with each other, with the universe.

In loving fully, we make ourselves whole.

[more from Aya later]

artwork: Jessica Perlstein


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Across a Crowded Room…

first published 8/4/15

Some_Enchanted_Evening

Sa

I remember one particular moment of my life so clearly. It was a small moment, just a snapshot of an emotion set in a frame.

I am making tea for him in my kitchen. I am standing at the little corner counter top next to the stove. I am facing the wall, pouring the just-boiled water into the tea pot. I see the striped place mat on the Formica. The counter is so small, the place mat almost covers it completely. I realize, “I really like this man…more than I have liked anyone before.” And in this instant, I am caught exactly and equally between two emotions: love and terror. Two trains of thought slap through my brain, like the ropes in Double Dutch:  “This love can change my life” and “If it’s not real; if he is just playing with me, I will not survive. The blow will kill me.”

But he was not just playing with me. And indeed, he did change my life.

I was working as an exotic dancer.   I was not a slut or a drug user or an alcoholic. It was simply the only work I could find that paid my bills. I knew I couldn’t do it forever, but I was still young enough not to have to think about that for the time being.   I was just happy to have a steady, decent income; happy not to be dependent on anyone. I’d learned young that no one else can be counted on. The job paid more than working in a factory or as a cashier in some supermarket or greasy fast food joint. I wasn’t stupid but I had no education. I didn’t have a lot of options.

But being seen, night after night, through the eyes of horny, lustful, lonely men — that slowly kills something inside a woman.  It’s kind of strange. You might think that being in a position of sexual power (the men were, after all, paying to be close to me while being forbidden to touch) would make me feel, well, powerful. In control.   It did not.   It made me feel as if that was all I was worth. That my mind, my feelings, my soul, were of no consequence whatsoever. I was only my body. It made me feel hollow. It numbed me to my real self.

Then, one day, he came in. He was with a bunch of guys; friends from work, it turned out. (One of them was getting married.) He seemed uncomfortable, as if he were there reluctantly. He wasn’t drunk; he nursed the same beer for an hour. He was pleasant looking. He had the kind of face that could make you relax just by looking at. He caught my eye and smiled, a bit sadly. His expression was completely lacking any lust.   I felt his eyes on me all evening, and in the end, even though I didn’t do anything special for him, he gave me a very big tip just before he left. He looked me right in the eyes and said, without any sarcasm, “Spend it wisely.”

After that, I thought about him a lot. He’d really gotten under my skin.  Even through the whiskey haze of that place, amid the flashing lights, over the hooting and jeering and drunken remarks of the patrons, beyond the half-naked women who were adept at teasing as much cash as possible out of the men, in this room ripe with the overpowering scent of sweat and pheromones, he looked at me and saw a whole person.

It was unsettling and yet exhilarating.

It was a couple of weeks before he came back. This time, he was alone. He remained aloof. He did not look at or engage with the other girls. He nursed his one beer for a few hours, resisting all entreaties from the dancers and the bartender. He watched only me, but in the most respectful way. He never leered or stared , but his glance always returned to me, letting me know he was always at least peripherally aware of me. Once again, before he left, he handed me a large tip, and said, cryptically, “I don’t need any change, but I think you do.” And then he was gone.

I scratched my head over that for a while. Who was he? What did he want from me? And why me?

He returned a week or so later (maybe it was longer – my memory for these things is not so good any more.)  It went that same before – the watching me from the corner of his eye, just the single beer.  Again, he waited to leave until after my set was over then he came over, as before, to hand me money. This time I looked at him closely, noticing the details of his kind face. He appeared to be a few years older than I was (seven, I later found out). He was nicely dressed in casual business clothes. There was just something so comfortable about him. I’d never felt like that about anyone before. He handed me the tip and said, “You have something. Don’t waste it.” He smiled, and left, as usual.

I ran after him and caught up with him just outside. I was intrigued but confused.

“What…?” I said, not even knowing what to say, what to ask.

He smiled, “I noticed you the first night I came here, with the guys from work. There’s something different about you. You’re not like the others…”

I didn’t really know what he meant. I was, to my thinking, not so much different from the other girls. When I did compare myself,  I always felt myself coming up short. I knew I wasn’t as good as they were at getting the most out of the men. The girls who’d been there a while really knew how to play those drunken guys. Compared to them, I was nothing. I was just some loser girl, working a humiliating job to pay the rent. I didn’t feel in any way worthy of being singled out. So what could he possibly have seen in me?

“I don’t understand…” I said.

He was shy, which struck me as sweet. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

At first I thought he was judging me negatively and was offended. He must have seen that on my face and quickly tried to explain.

“I mean, there’s something about you that doesn’t fit here.” I don’t remember everything he said exactly, but he tried to convince me that it was time for me to make different choices in life, and that they would pay off better in the end.

After my shift, he took me for coffee at the diner. We talked for a long time…about our lives, about our childhoods.   He was easy to talk to.  He really listened. Nobody had ever listened to me like that before.

I guess he saw in me someone he could help; someone he could save.  He suggested possibilities I’d never considered.   He made me feel as if I could choose differently and still be OK.

After that, he came to meet me every night at the end of my shift and we’d sit and talk in the same back booth.

And finally, one night, I invited him back to my apartment. That was the night I made him tea.

I was shaking with fear and uncertainty when I brought the tray to the couch. He was so respectful and kind.   I’d never met a man like that before. I was afraid to do anything, for fear of spooking him.

Finally, I fell asleep on the sofa. In the morning, I woke up alone, neatly tucked in, covered with the blanket.   Nothing had happened.  I was both disappointed and overjoyed.

My life changed after that in ways I never would have imagined. Just having someone believe in me made everything seem possible.

We were together for 27 years and I loved him more every day of my life, until the day I died. And he loved me the same.

At the moment we first saw each other, it was as if we recognized each other. Now I know we have been together in lives past; and we will find each other again in our next.

 

 

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Forbidden

first published July 26, 2014

hasids2

Yi

If they had known what I was they would have thrown me out of the community. That would have destroyed me.   Such love, such relationships, were not allowed. It was more than sinful; it went against God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

I married young, as proscribed, and my wife and I had eight children. I was a good husband and a good father, but I lived all my life hiding my true feelings.

I first felt the stirrings as a young man in the Yeshiva, surrounded by boys and other young men, young rabbis, teachers. I felt a kind of love and attraction that I never felt for a woman. Perhaps it was merely that I could understand men better. In our community, men and woman had very different and specific roles.

I suppose there were couples who really loved each other, but I suspect that more just played their part, did what was expected. Men went to work and studied and prayed. Women raised the children, kept the home, obeyed their husbands. And in this duty, in this obligation, a kind of sentimental attachment was forged. The love for one’s spouse was an extension of one’s love for God.

When I was young, the feelings were inchoate, vague, undirected at any one specific person. I simply preferred the company of men. But this was not unusual. Unrelated men and women were not allowed to be alone with each other, thus men were always together. We prayed and danced and socialized amongst ourselves. Any affection I felt towards another man I assumed to be perfectly normal.   And truly, it was not strange for me to spend most of my free time in the shul, praying with my brethren.

But when I was 32, I met another young man a few years older than myself. He had just moved from another community to be closer to his wife’s family. We quickly became the best of friends, spending as much time together as possible; always seeking out each other’s company. We spent hours discussing obscure religious tracts and the minutia of Jewish law. Initially, it was a meeting of minds. We had a deep, spiritual connection. I always looked forward to our walks and conversations about the most profound subjects. Nobody had ever understood my mind the way he did.

I missed him when we had to be apart for a few days (over a holiday, for example, when we had obligations to our extended families).

And then, one evening, it happened. We were a bit drunk after a Purim party (the only time Jews really get drunk). We were walking home from the shul. It was very late and we’d been amongst the very last to leave. The street was quiet and dark.   We came to the corner where we had to part, each to go in our own direction home, and there was a look that passed between us; a look that said, “I feel it, too.”

We lingered, wanting to savor the moment. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I reached out and touched his hand – just a brush of my finger against the back of his palm. He took my hand in his and pulled me close, first glancing around to be sure nobody could see us. He drew me into the shadows of a closed storefront and kissed me.

The kiss lasted for what seemed like blissful eternity. I could taste the sweet wine on his tongue. We were drunk enough to lose our inhibitions, but not so drunk as to be foolish or careless, so that was as far as it went. What else could we do? Even if we’d had the opportunity – a place to go to be alone – we would not have done it. We were men of God, and such things were forbidden.

But from that point on, we were damned, or at least it felt that way. It didn’t matter how much we desired each other; ours was a love that could never be consummated. The desire was both a blessing and a curse. Strangely, this torment brought us closer. We were both feeling the same emotions; both learning so many deep lessons about love and duty and choosing our obligations to others over the fulfillment of our own selfish needs. We were both traveling the same path, both equally committed to remaining on it. This was how we shared and nurtured and demonstrated our love.

Our physical relationship consisted at best of a furtive touch when nobody was looking; a “brotherly” embrace that lingered a bit longer than it should have; the feel of his warm palm pressed against mine with our fingers entwined as we danced the hora,  trancelike, ecstatic. I lived each week for the few brief moments at the end of Shabbos prayers, when I could safely feel his arms around me.

We still spent time together but rarely allowed ourselves the opportunity to be completely alone or in any compromising situation. We were careful never to let ourselves become too tempted. We did not get drunk together again. Sober, we were much more sensible.

And so it went. I preferred his company to that of any other human being; valued his wisdom more; thrilled at the sound of his laugh. There was never a moment when I did not think of him. Ours was a deeply spiritual relationship and remained so for decades. Our chasteness was a testament to our love of both God and each other. We both agreed: This was a test put upon us by the Almighty and we would embrace the challenge and rise above it.

And then I got sick. I was only in my late 50s but the cancer came on fast and I was gone in a matter of months.

He was at my bedside when I died, along with my wife and children. We prayed together in those final days, until I could no longer speak, until I could no longer remain conscious. His presence and love calmed me and let me pass over in peace.

I know he still feels me in his heart when he prays. I know I still live in his soul, as he does in mine.

 

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