What an honor to be sitting in Bad4’s seat.
Did this story happen? Yes.
Did you change any details? Only names. And while I don’t have magical powers to read minds, you can decide for yourself if I correctly read Chaim’s thoughts.
My writing is dedicated to those of you seeking expression, meaning, and healing. I hope you join me on this journey.
I stuck my ear to the door hoping I would catch snippets of conversation. My mother was in the other room, chattering furiously on the phone. It had to be a call about shidduchim. Why else would she be speaking in such shrill tones and saying things like “she is so special” and “she is so talented”? The door handle creaked; I lurched for the chair and pretended to be busy on my phone. My mother emerged from the other room with an enormous smile.
“I’m working on a shidduch for you”
“Really?” I feigned surprise. “Who?”
“You won’t believe it, it’s the son of Rav K”.
This time, my surprise was not feigned. Rav K was a big, big rosh yeshiva. Like maybe a Gadol Hador. Yes, my father was a Rav too, but not like Rav K whose face regularly graced the middle section of Yated and Hamodia. Perhaps my tefillos were finally being answered. It had to be. I needed to wait this long because it was someone so super-special. I envisioned myself at our wedding. There would be so many chashuve rabbonim. Surely the pictures would make it to Hamodia and Yated; well, not pictures of me, but of the chosson, his father, and his proud shver. I was okay with that. After all, externals didn’t matter to me. The ikur was that he would be a true lamdan steeped in limud torah, and perhaps one day he would take over the yeshiva, which would be really chashuv, and I would be the wife of a chashuve rosh yeshiva, and maybe he would write s’forim, and we would be really famous… externals like having my picture in the newspaper didn’t matter. I would also have the special privilege of saving this chashuve yungerman from his alleged huge yetzer horah. After all, “kol hagadol m’chavero, yiztro gadol mimeno”. I was very excited about that one.
“Their minhag is to come see the girl the first time you go out”, my mother explained. I nodded my head obediently. “Chaim will come, with his father and mother.” I knew that some yeshivish people did this. “But it won’t be like the Z’s who just came to check you out without their son.” Well, this was slightly more palatable. The Z’s had come without their son first so see if I was worthy, aka to check out my dress size.
It was Tuesday; tonight was the big night. At 7:00 PM, Rav K, his rebbetzin, and their son Chaim would be coming to our humble home. I meticulously blew my hair and applied my makeup. I wasn’t sure how much eye makeup to apply. Surely I needed to look pretty. But maybe I should go easy on the eyeliner? Eyeshadow? Those were the things mentioned in the Navi, about b’nos yerushalayim who caused the churban. But the Navi never said anything about mascara, so I laid it on thick.
7:00 PM. I was ready. I was wearing my bronze suit; it was pretty but aidel. The skirt would amply cover my knee when I sat and the short jacket accentuated my waist. Was it tznius enough? Too late to wonder about that. The doorbell rang.
“Shalom Aleichem, shalom aleichem.” I could hear the greetings float up the stairs as I nervously poked my head over the banister. I got a glimpse of the boy’s hat but not much more. I could hear several pairs of feet shuffle into the living room and polite conversation ensued. I sat there waiting for my cue to gracefully come down the stairs, but the conversation was getting more animated and I even caught a few chuckles. Every minute was torture. I needed to see my future gadol hador husband already!
The cue did finally come. My mother came to the bottom of the staircase and nodded her head. I started down the stairs, gripping the banister so hard and praying that I don’t trip over my heels. My heart always raced in that moment before I got my first glimpse at a boy sitting in our living room. Because in that first millisecond after my eyes captured the face my brain would involuntarily start firing and I would become completely overwhelmed by the rapid communication that was happening between my left and right brain. I was trained to evaluate a potential partner only with my left brain, with promises that the love and affection would follow. But my right brain refused to comply. My first impression of Chaim was that he looked like a really sweet bar mitzvah boy; he had big puppy blue-green eyes and a pleasant face. But he could have easily been mistaken for a 14-year old and I was well past the stage of finding that cute.
He looked so terribly nervous that I immediately concluded I was the first girl he was dating, an assumption that was later proven correct. I sat myself next to his mother who started talking to me as if to distract me from looking at her son. I don’t recall much of the conversation except something about her often staying over at a relative’s house in Flatbush which I found a little weird. I did manage to catch a glimpse of the Rosh Yeshiva who seemed to be reflecting an unusual amount of light from the chandelier; what hadras panim. He was the real deal. I was just wondering why his wife wasn’t emanating the same glow. Oh well.
It was finally time to go. We said our perfunctory goodbyes with our plastic smiles and headed out. There was a car waiting at the hydrant with a driver inside. “So this is how it works?” I thought. I didn’t like that he wasn’t driving. I was hoping that seeing him at the wheel would help convince me that he was actually over the age of 20. But as we pulled up to a nice-looking hotel in Manhattan 30 minutes later, I decided it wasn’t so terrible. A Rosh Yeshiva was important and busy. What’s wrong with having a chauffeur to display your chashivus to the world? I let it go and decided to give Chaim a fair chance.
We had a pleasant standard hotel-lobby-yeshivish date. He had nice eyes but I otherwise didn’t find him attractive or unattractive. I remember taking a bathroom break to fix my bubble gum pink lip gloss. When I came home, I wasn’t sure what to tell my parents so I said I would go out with him again. We had 2 more dates that were neither interesting nor miserable. Before the fourth date I decided I needed to make up my mind about whether I liked him or not, and I resolved to get the conversation to more meaningful places. Our date was in another hotel lobby this time and we sauntered about, both secretly wishing we could be in a more exciting place. “So why are you in college?” He asked and then promptly added, “My parents are fine with that by the way”.
“Wow”, I thought to myself. “Look how open-minded they are.” And then I caught myself. “How low will you stoop, thinking someone is open-minded for letting you go to Touro on Ave J…”
“Is it because you want to feel young?” Chaim asked. I stared at him blankly. I was 23 years old and probably looked like I was 16, something I was very self-conscious of at the time. What the hell was that supposed to mean? “It’s because I love science, “ I answered, a little too honestly. We then walked past a fancy grand piano and I asked him if I can play it. Apparently, he was unaware of Rav Falk’s section in Oz V’Hadar Levusha that delineated all the talents a woman should avoid showcasing in front of men and he responded with a gleeful yes. I played a little song and when I was finished, Chaim narrowed his eyes and stared at the big word painted just above the keyboard and under the music rack. He started to read it slowly, stumbling over the second part of the word, and then shrugged. “Never really learned how to read English well…” like he was telling me that today is Monday. My heart felt like it dropped from the top of the Empire State building down to the Manhattan sidewalk we just graced. He didn’t learn how to read English? And what was that visceral reaction I just had? Mistama my mind telling me “ad kan”. I was willing to forego a lot of gashmius and chitzoniyus to become the wife of a future Gadol. After all, I was ghostwriting divrei torah for a shul for years already without ever getting the credit. But I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my dignity enough to marry a man who couldn’t read English. Sigh. I knew in that moment that I could never marry this boy-man, green-puppy-eyes-bright-future and all. Ironically, as soon as the question of whether or not this man would be my husband was answered, I felt so relieved that the questions kept tumbling out of my mouth and it actually turned out to be a memorable evening.
BYM: “So what do you think the most important thing in a marriage is?”
Chaim: “You get married because you have to.”
BYM: “What do you mean?”
Chaim: “A man just has to.”
The look on his face said it all. He wanted sex. “Well”, I thought to myself, “at least he’s honest.” I decided to see how far I was able to push. Was there no other reason he wanted to get married?
BYM: “What do you mean “has to”?
Chaim: “That’s just the way of the world”.
Ok, he definitely means sex. I decided to try a different angle.
BYM: “Do you think a husband and wife need to have intellectual rapport?”
BYM: “Don’t you think a marriage would be better if the husband and wife have an intellectual connection?”
Chaim: “My brother and sister-in-law learn a sefer together. It’s cute [dismissive hand wave] but that’s not what makes a marriage.”
BYM: “I think having some sort of intellectual connection is important.”
Chaim: “I don’t think so. And also, second marriages are not like first marriages. They don’t have the same connection and closeness. They’re ‘[dismissive hand wave again] whatever.”
“That came out of left field,” I thought to myself. I then remembered that his father was on his second marriage and his mother stayed in Flatbush a lot.
BYM: “Well, looks like we’ve come to a joint decision that we can tell the Shadchan.”
We then walked to the side of the hotel where the driver would be meeting us. With no decisions weighing on our minds, the freedom and relief we both felt in that moment made space for a tiny little spark between us that may have been ignited by a giant, very untznius, billboard nearby. I saw Chaim glance at the billboard; it was a scantily dressed woman holding a perfume bottle with a man behind her kissing her tilted neck. After a few moments he averted his eyes. Then looked at me. Then stared into space as if looking for the driver. I tried to strike up a new conversation to alleviate the awkwardness, but we were going to tell the shadchan it was a no, so was it appropriate to talk and enjoy each other’s company? We stood there silently. The little spark lingered for a few more moments until the driver pulled up. I could tell he felt it too. Perhaps in an alternate universe, on another planet, at a different time, we would have just fucked and then moved on.
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