She called at 5:30 pm Friday. He heard the ring and looked at the caller ID and walked out to the street to get her, to bring her inside the gate, and finally inside the hovel.
It’d been a couple of months since she’d joined him on a Friday night.
That was OK. They were not in a relationship. They were just spending time together.
If they had been in a relationship, then spending Shabbat together would be important. If they were in a relationship, it would be important that she return his calls promptly. If they were in a relationship, they’d make demand on each other. That’s what a relationship is about, he thinks. You build a life together by giving up some freedom and making some commitments and doing some things that you don’t want to do to achieve the union, to build something magnificent that was unachievable to the single person.
But they weren’t in a relationship. At least not a conventional relationship. They were just hanging out twice a week.
Tonight would be the third time this week that he’s seen her. There was Sunday and Wednesday night.
He brings her into the hovel. It’s cramped. There’s no room for a table with a white tablecloth. Instead he pushes the keyboard aside on his computer desk.
He forgot to light candles. The hovel does not feel very Shabbosdic.
To compensate for his failure to light candles, he decides to start with singing "Shalom Aleichem."
Normally when she comes over, he just cuts straight to kiddish.
She’s rolling her eyes and not enjoying his singing.
He asks for her help with the Hebrew of Eishet Chayil. She refuses.
He feels miffed, shot down, cut off at the knees. He feels like he’s walking down a staircase and the stair isn’t where he expected, so he’s falling through space.
He fills the kiddish cup. She’s crumped on the ground, leaning against his book shelf.
She’s equally sick at the confrontation and she’s feeling that she’s about to be abandoned.
"Do you want to rise for kiddish?" he asks.
"If I hadn’t pushed her for Shalom Aleichem, she would’ve joined me for kiddish like she normally does," he thinks.
He sings the kiddish, his stomach churning.
"I’m not going to react," he tells himself. "I’m not going to ruin this evening. She does things I don’t like and she does a lot more things that I do like. I’m going to stay poised."
He washes his hands and says the blessing. He makes hamotzi on his own and bites off some bread.
It tastes like straw.
He adds some peanut butter and swallows again.
He dishes up the lentil stew. A big bowl for him, a small bowl for her.
He sits down away from her.
"What are you feeling?" she asks. "What do you want to say to me about what just happened?"
He takes a couple of mouthfuls and thinks about what he’s going to say. He doesn’t want to fight over Shabbat dinner.
"I’m disappointed you didn’t want to join me," he says.
"And that’s all your feeling?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says.
Dinner is quiet and awkward. Afterwards, he thinks about asking her to leave (but realizes he wouldn’t be any happier if she did, and he might lose out on opportunities for joy with her). He thinks about embracing her.
He discards those choices and instead asks, "Would you like to hear excerpts from my journal?"
She says yes.
He reads for about 20 minutes from his journal over the past month.
The tension between them disappears as he opens up. By allowing himself to be vulnerable, he opened up space for her to be vulnerable.
They lie down on his bed and embrace.
Their real conversation begins at 9 pm.
"It just felt like a performance," she says. "There’s such a disconnect between the image you present to the world and who you really are. You look chareidi, but you don’t act chareidi. That’s why I embarrassed to hold your hand in public. It’s mares ayin (leading others to sin).
"Your Judaism does not feel authentic to me. That’s why I don’t want to join you in it. Yeah, I make kiddish with friends. I don’t mind making a Shabbat dinner. When I make a seder, it’s the real deal and lasts until 2 a.m. I don’t get your Judaism. It feels phony.
"Why do you want to look like a chareidi Jew but don’t act like a chareidi Jew? If you take your Judaism seriously, then what are you doing with me? I hate Orthodox Jews. I will never marry an Orthodox Jew. If you are serious about your Judaism, then we should break up."
By 10:30 PM, she’s driving home.
Saturday. 3:30 pm. She calls. He comes outside to get her.
She’s dressed in jeans. He wears a suit.
They walk to her friends place a mile away.
She says she’s freaking out at all the Orthodox Jews.
He feels the distance between them.
He sees friends from shul. He hasn’t been to that shul in about two months.
He catches up with his friends and wishes them a "Gut Shabbos."
He forgets their names as he tries to make introductions to his girl.
They wish her "Gut Shabbos." She won’t wish them "Gut Shabbos." Instead, she gives a mild "hi."
She has no interest in meeting them because they are Orthodox Jews.
She won’t hold hands because he looks like a chareidi Jew.
After Shabbos, he suggests they watch the British TV show Coupling with his Netflix instant streaming device.
"I’m surprised," she says. "I’m surprised you wanted to watch a comedy. You take life so seriously, you read such serious books, I didn’t think you’d want to watch comedy."
"Does she know me at all?" he thinks. "I love to laugh."
As she leaves Saturday night, she says, "Call me tomorrow."
He calls her at 11 am. She does not pick up. She does not call back.
He feels low as he does his internet drudgery for his publicist boss. His headache and lethargy grow. He feels too tired to do anything. He wants to save his meager energy for the week ahead. Yet, he can’t face staying home alone any longer.
At 4:30 pm, he leaves for yoga. He sees friends. He finds his energy recharged. His insecurities disappear. When she calls him at 9pm, he picks up, feeling good.
When she talks about breaking up, he’s not flooded with his traditional fear of abandonment. She’s frantic and heart-broken, he feels poised and secure. What a strange turnaround. Normally he’s the one fearing abandonment and wanting her to keep giving them a chance.
Has he burned out on her threats to break-up? Has he become blase? For nine months, she’s been breaking up or threatening to break up. Now he feels strangely strong.
Is he denying his feelings? Is he not in touch with the potential loss? Does he have a yoga high? Or is his therapy kicking in? Is he staying poised in his emotions because he’s using himself in a poised way?
She keeps talking about her sore stomach. He wants to tell her that she’s in a negative mental loop, that she’s clenching and pushing down to her stomach, and that if she would breathe, release excess tension, and think up, returning to her length and width, the stomach ache will go away.
He stays quiet. He’s enjoying his poise. He’s not reacting to her as much. He’s learned a vocabulary through therapy to describe his situation. He’s in an emotionally unsafe relationship, but he can keep control of himself and not allow himself to be perturbed by her emotional hurricanes. He allows himself to enjoy her drama rather than to react to it.
He’s in a day-to-day relationship. They’re not in building mode. If they go a few days without speaking, it’s not a big deal.
Every time we get close, she feels a need to run away.
Where do his fears of loss come from? His fear of abandonment?
It must come from childhood. He’s told that he had a good first year. Then, on his first birthday, his mom got very sick. It was soon diagnosed as bone cancer. He got farmed out to different families. He attached to some of them, but those relationships never lasted beyond a few months.
He didn’t have that one secure attachment in his early childhood. His dad loved him and his mom loved him and his stepmom loved him and his siblings loved him, but those attachments never lasted long in his first five years.
That’s where his insecurity comes from. That’s why his father ran across him at age five flinging manure at other kids and screaming, "I hate you, I hate you." They’d probably rejected him and he reacted badly.
He often reacted badly to rejection, either with anger or depression.
His therapist had a big stuffed bear in her office and he liked to hug it when he talked to her. It made him feel good, like when he hugged ****.
Chaim Amalek emails his Advisory Committee about Lukeford.net:
I still click on it, but no, I don’t actually read much of it anymore even when I do. Instead, I skim hoping to see some of the old fire, sadly note its absence, and leave. To begin with the obvious, most of what he writes about these days concerns the Jews, and living in New York, I get more of this on my own or through the failedmessiah web site than I need from Luke. The remainder seems taken up with the muffled musings of a middle aged man who at times writes as though he were a teenage girl, and this does not do anything for me. I just don’t want to read anything a man has to say about relationships — that’s women’s work, and it does not interest me. There’s just not much punch left in this prose. Also, no young fertile females show up here (really – not a one!), not much politically incorrect material (remember when Luke would cover the late William Pierce? Good times for all!). All the interesting characters from Luke’s past are gone: Cathy Seipp and the smart set she let Luke socialize with, Jimmy D, Mike Albo, and many others. In their place we read of Rabbi X and his budget problems at temple Bnai Boredom.
Luke has become detached from the people and subjects that made writer Luke Ford of Lukeford.com an interesting read, and that’s that. It happens.
Khunrum emails: “Well put Chaim. I log on occasionally and skim for something of interest…99.99% of the time there is nothing. The recent meanderings on the “He said…She said” relationship are a complete bore. For those of us from “the old days” it’s very sad. Like an old friend has lost his mind. Above all what is missing is the humor. There’s no humor anymore. Jews and “associate” Jews like Robert and myself cannot live without humor. It’s so grim that the recent addition to our Advisory Committee seems to have resigned without giving notice. I don’t blame him.”
Chaim Amalek emails: No humor, no sex worth having, and not even the scent of money. The old lures are gone.
In their place are orthodox rabbis, the occasional nutty older woman (all women lose their heads if by forty they’ve not borne any children), and poverty.
Holly Randall was his last best hope.