Stalker’s Assignment Number 12
We weren’t alone for long. Rabbi Yitzchok Weiss had to pick up another passenger at a nearby bungalow colony, another rabbi returning to Brooklyn from the Catskills. I moved to the back seat. I held on to the idea he was taking me directly to my parents’ in the Bronx.
“I’m dropping her off by her relatives in Brooklyn,” Yitzchok said to his passenger. What? My own Borough Park relatives knew nothing of this. His straight-out lying embarrassed me. But I stayed quiet. Best not to create a fuss, I figured. Play it safe. Do not embarrass the rabbi. And somehow this was my fault, I was sure.
I sensed my silence made me complicit in his lie, but I did not know I had any choices. The darkness of the night and the strangeness of the men became too strong a presence for me. I was growing more anxious.
The two rabbis in the front began reciting — in Hebrew, in unison, from memory — the travelers prayer for a safe journey. Again, I was listening, like an outsider, to a prayer I knew of but did not know by heart from years of repetition. The country sky was punctuated with the periods of stars, far from my City’s lights that would outshine them. As I realized I did not know what would happen to me when the passenger left us in Brooklyn, a freeze of vulnerability crept up my spine. My head felt as though it were splitting, as it tried to take in facts which didn’t jive with my old life. My re-entry to the City was becoming shaky and scary. I couldn’t quite make this out as my life. My heart was beating stronger, quicker.
I remembered an old trick. I could shut off. I could shut off my awareness, like turning down the volume on a radio. I turned my mind way down until I couldn’t hear it anymore; until I wasn’t there anymore to notice I couldn’t hear it. I was a blank — not asleep, just not there – I was a television screen gone blank.
I came back to myself in Brooklyn.
“I had to drop him off first, so now it’s very late, too late to go back up to the Bronx,” said Yitzchok. “I will drive you home tomorrow morning. You can stay by my place tonight.”
I tried to carry myself as though all was normal because then it would be. Meanwhile, some of me was coming loose. As I walked up the steps to his Borough Park private house, I hoped my tentative legs did not reveal my vulnerability. I was feeling as though I was pulling along a tag along shadow of myself. I tried to get my parts to coincide, to merge back into one, but it wouldn’t hold. I thought of the eye tests at the optometrist. “Tell me when the two boxes come together, and when they come apart.” A part of myself kept drifting away if I didn’t concentrate.
The living room sported the same plastic, see-through furniture covers I sat on when Chana interviewed me, but now the room was dark in its summer bachelorhood. He showed me my sleeping place. It must have been his and Chana’s room; I saw the ubiquitous twin set that served as the marriage bed in a Jewish Orthodox home. I went to sit down on the first twin, but he said no, the other one. Was it that he wanted me in his bed, or in his wife’s? I didn’t ask. I moved to the one by the window, as he directed. He brought me a tall glass of coke. “Drink this.” I sipped it. I tasted rum. I thought, this is the father of the children. I missed his sons; I missed Schloymala.
The end-of-summer air came through the screens, past the Venetian blind slats tilted open just enough to let the breeze skim by the brocaded drapes. A sprinkling of chilled air fell on my face. I was curled up in my summer cotton nightgown, under a stiff, white sheet. My dark, curly hair sprawled across the bouncy pillow. “Grow your hair,” Dave had said. “Grow it long.” Finally my hair reached halfway down my back, nourished by wholesome summer sunshine and Israeli beef cholents.
The full moon had pierced my eyelids and silently woke me. Yitzchok was in the other bed, separated from mine by a nightstand. I thought of my parents beds’ arranged the same way. I remembered Dave, and missed his embrace — missed spooning with him on his sister’s double-bed on Sunday afternoons, surrounded by cheerful yellow- and green-flowered wallpaper. That had been just last summer. Hers was my first air-conditioned home bedroom. The family must be wealthy, I had concluded.
I longed for hours spent with my right cheek pressed into the male-scented skin of his chest; his left arm supporting the narrow of my back; his right arm bringing me so close into him, we could have merged if only the skin would be more forgiving. “I wish I could carry you in my pocket with me,” Dave said. “Then we would never have to be apart.” He told me he was experienced in these matters of girlfriend and boyfriend, but he could understand and respect my boundaries. We pressed up against them best we knew. We thought we explored all opportunities; looking back now, our knowledge was limited. If only I could do it over. Our hearts burst with love that summer, and our skins knew the ease of familiarity. I knew joy within the comfort and excitement of his embrace.
Now in Yitzchok’s bedroom, as though I were sleep walking, I took a step towards the other bed, where a man with long arms and broad chest lay, and where an embrace might await me. I missed Dave.
Yitzchok must have been awake; I don’t think I made any noise in the night. He sat up before I made it to his bed and put up his hand to stop me. “Wait there,” said Yitzchok. He joined me in my twin bed and helped ease my loneliness. I had no fear; the boy-men beaus of my high school days had been safe and reliable. I was accustomed to the rules being discussed frankly and respected, and took for granted no line would be crossed without consent. Now, we had no discussion, but Yitzchok assumed my innocence accurately and safeguarded me. He did not spend leisurely hours with me, savoring each moment. No, he was not Dave. I was still hungry, but, at least, I was not alone; my fast was broken.
We developed a routine. In the afternoon,I took the subway downtown from the Bronx, and waited by the steps of the 42nd Street Library, by one of the lion statues, for Yitzchok to pull up the car. He took us to Brooklyn. I told no one. My loneliness was trumping my respect of others’ marriage vows. I should have given it more thought, but I would have to make that mistake again to learn the lesson.
My sister got married. I was the maid of honor. In the photos, my tanned face and legs look out-of-place next to the light, white, summer-in-the-city complexions of my family — a permanent testament to my difference.
“I was going to wait until I graduated college to marry, but when I saw what happened to you and Dave, I decided not to wait,” my sister explained. The cause and effect relationship escaped me, so I filed the comment away in my “someday I will understand this when I’m older and wiser” mental file folder.
Now I had a bedroom to myself for the first time. I rearranged the furniture. My weight was getting back to my normal – halfway between break-up-skin-and-bones scrawny and fresh-country-air robust. I was back in jeans and T-shirts. Like the other cool chicks, I gave up wearing a bra, again. With me, it made so little difference, anyway.
I had more friends than when I left; somehow having a summer away had made me more exotic and interesting. Or, was it that being single, without Dave, I was more available now? I was going to be okay. I looked forward to school starting soon at CCNY, and I needed the challenge, the distraction, and the novelty.
Then Dave phoned me.
. . . to be continued
Also see Stalker, the Music
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.