Stalker’s Essay Assignment 12
Dave had said we would get married in 1971, as soon as I turned 18. In June 1970, I graduated Bronx Science. And Dave broke up with me. Life = cancelled. I couldn’t see my way without him. I went into shock. Stopped eating. Stopped feeling.
As we got dressed one morning in our bedroom a couple of weeks later, my sister said, “I haven’t seen Dave in a while. Where is he?” I couldn’t speak. My streaming tears were her answer. I couldn’t tell my parents; I was too ashamed of my failing. No one brought it up again. A suffocating, humid, empty Bronx summer stretched in front of me.
Then I kicked into survival overdrive. Realization! No longer did I have to append myself to Dave. I could do what I wanted, now that I did not have to fit into his plans. I could try something new, have a new experience, go somewhere! Ah, excitement and relief helped to assuage my broken heart. Freedom is always a good choice for me.
But how to pull it off? I had no money, no connections. Then there were Daddy’s published rules and Mommy’s unspoken ones. These included: do not go out after dark without a male protector; do not travel to unfamiliar places (unfamiliar to them!) without a male protector; do not travel on the Jewish Sabbath at all; eat only kosher food; come home every night by the time we tell you; blah blah blah. If I broke the rules, Daddy was known to write up stricter ones as punishment. The year before, I came home from school one afternoon to a new “constitution” taped to my telephone. “The New Rules. You will come home directly from school and stay in your room except to eat meals in the kitchen and go to the bathroom. You will not visit friends after school. You will not use the phone. You will stay in your room until further notice.” I was not just in prison, I was in solitary confinement! My sobbing lasted so many hours, they called the family doctor. “I always thought she had emotional problems. Give her one of her father’s tranquilizers and send her to therapy.” Yeah, let him try to live with them and stay sane. And Daddy is on tranquilizers? What?
To get out of the Bronx, I needed a loophole.
I found one. Daddy abided by The Jewish Press; he trusted the weekly Orthodox paper and everything in it. In its back pages, I found the classifieds. “Wanted. Mother’s Helper for summer at upstate bungalow colony.” I phoned. I put aside my jeans and donned a skirt. (I had lost enough weight that my skirts hung on me. Now they reached my knees, satisfying the Orthodox dress code!). Thank you, Dave, for teaching me the subway system, so I could get myself to Brooklyn for the interview.
Two sisters, each with two boys, were going to Greenwald’s, near Woodridge. They needed help. As was the custom, wives and children would enjoy being in the country in a community of rented cottages with a communal swimming pool, while their husbands stayed behind in the city, working Monday through Friday. The men arrived in the country for the weekends. The mother’s helper shared the vacation at no expense to herself. In fact, she earned twenty dollars a week, plus room and board!
I visited the first sister, Chana — who was 28 years old, trim and modern looking except for her sheitel — in her private house in Borough Park. The furniture was protected with plastic. Her husband, Rabbi Yitzchok Weiss, an Israeli, worked in the diamond district in Manhattan. Their son Avrumie was four, Schmuel just two. Chana was so excited with her find (me!), she put me in a taxi to go over to her older sister Essie. Essie’s living room was furnished simply, just with a playpen for the 18-month old. Yussie, two-and-half, was playing quietly by himself nearby. Essie, more casual than Chana, wore a tichel on her head. She loved me, too.
My parents were delighted! I’d be going off with two families who were even more religious than they were! I would be safe for the summer, and out of their hair, out of their worry zone. I packed my suitcase with my Orthodox Jewish Bungalow Colony costume, just long-sleeved blouses and skirts. I left behind my bell bottoms, workshirts and drug inspired-paraphernalia accessories, along with cigarettes, Acid Rock and Central Park be-ins.
I was happy and relieved. Yes, I craved breathing new air, without the stress of Dave and the loss of Dave and my parents’ rules and my wondering what do I do with myself? A safe haven. Playing straight was the price, and I was willing to pay.
How naive we were.
. . . to be continued