Meet Me Where You Left Me

Watching the news one night, my husband raised the feminist flag. Four women awkwardly crossed their bare legs on the couch. One man, his legs spread wide to accommodate his shrinking masculinity, sat in the center. On our side of the screen, my husband squirmed and called it out. And I rolled my eyes.

We talked about it. He blamed his background and thanked me for helping him see the reality but didn’t appreciate that I don’t allow him into the conversation. I said I spent too many lonely years screaming to now pat him on the back when he sees misogyny. I’d rather he fight where it makes a difference, calling men out when they say that stupid joke or comment or gesture from an upright position as it happens, not as casual commentary when we’re alone.

We didn’t do a good job validating each other and went to bed upset.

The painful conversation the next morning covered my loneliness and the fact that for years I was convinced I would lose him.

I knew he had to find his way on his own but I didn’t know if it would end up at my side. He explored every aspect of Judaism; the cracks and corners where the grey turns vibrant and the black and white pages of his youth. When the walls caved in and he saw his truth, I stood next to him while he found his footing. When he did, it was solid and purposeful. And he walked ahead, leaving me where I had been waiting, exploring a world of ideas that excited him and broadened his mind in a way that overwhelmed me.

I was still lonely.

We cried, and we talked, and we promised to find a blank page we could write in together.

Then, because he was searching for something to help understand me better, he found a path that led straight to my open wounds.

Our relationship is not strengthened by what we have been through together. Those experiences, the cycles of life and love, have shaped who we are as people. What draws the outline of who we are together are the things we overcame as we circled around each other desperately trying to wrap our arms tight around the individual experiences the other had without us, soothing the loneliness we carry in our hearts.

This is how the love of my life discovered the crater between us and, without bothering to build a bridge, leaped over to my side and made us more than we ever were.

* * *

The panel is comprised of Orthodox women actively fighting the status quo. They are strong and intelligent and hell-bent on being heard. They talk about women disappearing and how it is not their Torah. They speak of holiness and femininity and their right to learn and teach and participate in the halachic discussion.

Then they open the floor to questions.

“How do you explain the halacha that states when a man and woman are drowning, you must save the man first?”

There is a moment where I, sitting on the other end of the couch reading about the different ways humanity is working to abolish hatred from the world we share, raise my head in mild hope to hear what wisdom the women my husband is trying to learn from can possibly have that I have not heard before.

I’ve learned to lower my expectations so I’m not that disappointed when the answers fall where they have always gathered, exposed on the ground shamefully.

But his eyes are widening and he is turning to me in shock. He can’t believe the way they have walked around the question, claiming to have accepted the bad with the good because it was different then. He can’t believe they dismiss the inconsistencies and ignore the way their bad answers leave more questions in their wake. He is bothered by it, bothered by my eyes rolling up in response because these, and more sophisticated pacifistic answers I have spent my life combating, are just a drop in the vast bucket of inadequacies I have been made to feel as a woman made from the ribs of a man.

He is racing through it all now; hearing the ways I have been explained since I realized my vagina made me less than. He is learning the tones and nuances of words falling flat against an ever-expanding sense of worthlessness. He is walking in the imprints my shoes made as I wandered around and around in my loneliness and he is gutted by the pain I never could describe.

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I mean, you told me…but I didn’t really get it. I never heard these words said these ways…I never looked and looked and couldn’t find a way to make it feel right…I never walked a second in your path, and I didn’t know how lonely you were.”

I thank him. He is sorry it is so late.

But I am grateful because he gets it.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me that I am valued to you, not only as your friend and partner but as a woman who faced this alone my whole life.”

I pause as I think of the weight we carry when we walk along our destiny.

“To have you take my hand and stand with me makes it all feel a little lighter.”

I remember how years ago, I stood at a crossroad and watched him walk down a path that didn’t suit me. Watching him disappear, I wrote.

I walk the lonely road…

twisting…turning…forever changing…

and as I wander…

I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.

He walks…on a different road…

twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…

with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearning…a want…so different from mine.

Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.

He goes right…I go left…

our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…

as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.

We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.

And I smile because there is a place in my little corner of the universe where I have finally been given the strength to fly farther than that road ever could have taken me.

13 Years

We stand under the canopy separated by the discomfort we feel at the display.

You are wearing the uniform of a team you don’t really play for. Your hair is cut according to someone else’s taste. Even your shoes are a stranger’s style.

I am in white for the first time in my life. My face is covered by a thick veil that holds significance to other people. I hate that I cannot see you.

We stand in the stifling heat and we listen to people bless and pray us into our future.

You break a glass; we sip the wine.

You grab my hand and we run towards a few moments of privacy.

I am in your arms and we are happy because we are alone and also happy that we are certified now and they approve and also dreading the rituals and the obligations we are about to face.

But we are together so we can draw strength from the power we found when we became us.

We are so young. We are so desperate for acceptance. We will do anything to prove our love is the right kind of love…the kind that we were raised to believe in…the kind that builds the acceptable kind of family…the continuation of the Jewish bloodline…the kind of future our ancestors would be proud of.

So we face the hundreds of people who have come to witness this return to the fold. We dance on opposite sides of a curtain. We wash our hands for bread and we make the blessings with all the truth we can muster because we are determined to begin our future the way we have been brought up to believe is the only way.

We are happy.

We are together so we are happy.

We make meals and we invite friends and we beam and we pray and we hope and we continue to love as we become the adults our parents prayed we would be.

We lose a child and we thank God.

We are happy because we are together.

I immerse every month and I pray and you slip away as you doubt and then I slip away as I doubt and then we are staring at a little girl and we are so in love and so happy and so together.

Our love looks different from what we saw love to be so we think maybe it’s not the right kind of love but she loves our love so it has to be right. She laughs and sings as we hold her between us and dance to songs we were kept sheltered from when we were babies. She knows Led Zeppelin and Santana and grows to idolize Queen even as I adjust my head covering and you grow your beard long and your side-locks even longer.

We are unconventional and learning to be fine with that.

We move closer to our family and we think our little life is so normal and then we see that our way doesn’t match their way and we feel isolated and unsure.

We are so in love that I hurt when you hurt and you choose me when I hurt and so you lose people.

We are happy because we are together.

We are back in our homeland because we have found out that family cannot replace the soil where our roots grow deep.

I am flat in bed while you work all day and we are poor and we are getting angry and we are stuck because we are so in love that when we aren’t together we are scraping at our skin and bleeding ourselves to death but our love is standing against the fears of our youth that are shaking our foundation.

Now we are five minus one and we are broken and complete and we are ready to face things because we know it is time for our love to expand into our days so that we can build on us and not them.

I shave my head because the noose is tightening and you stroke my cheek and untie the cloth that proclaims my allegiance.

You torment your soul and bare it before me and I squeeze your hand and promise you forever.

We are slowly moving away from everyone else and closer to each other and even though we are scared we know we can’t lose.

We are happy because we are together even when we are alone.

The air is heating up around us and is getting heavier so we shake off the chains that bound us and we face the mirror side by side. We know we will become an island if we peel it all off but if we don’t we will become strangers.

We have to be together because we have to be in love.

Our love is stronger than the faith we lost. Our love is accepting and forgiving and we don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.

But I am falling and gasping for air and you aren’t falling with me because you need to be the one to catch me and your arms reach out the length of two years while I tumble and turn down a rabbit hole I didn’t see coming.

I slam into you and think I broke you because it is taking you so long to stand back up until I realize that my arms are still around your neck. I peel myself from you and you stand me at your side and you slowly lift my shoulders until I can meet your eyes.

We are together and we are crying and we are still happy because we are crying together.

We laugh and dance and sing and cry and rage and lose and grieve and search and change and live together.

We are in love and we are so lucky because we are in love together.

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It is 13 years since we stood beneath a canopy and couldn’t see the future.

Happy Anniversary.

The Only Squeeze Hug I Can Manage

Hey Sis…this one’s for you…

This one’s for the times we couldn’t stop laughing…

Inside out kisses and shoulder blades…

Djoghurt and Stonehenge…

And that toot guy.

This one’s for Friday nights…

People watching in the park…

And Super Hatzlacha.

This one’s for the times we forgot to say I love you…

And the times we knew we never could.

This one’s for the times we had when we were young…

And it was okay to hold hands…as I took you to school…

And hug tight those few times I came back.

This one’s for the current hugs…

The squeeze hugs…

The (uninvited) hair playing…

The constant (sometimes annoying) desire to be so close to you it literally hurts.

This one’s for music videos and mashups.

This one’s for birthday parades and hafganot…and that one levaya.

This one’s for capstones and deadlines.

This one’s for pushing things off and pulling all-nighters.

This one’s for your friends.  ‘Nuff said.

This one’s for philosophy and the matter of your existence.

This one’s in case you’re not really here.

This one’s for your production. 🙂

This one’s for all the things we thought we knew about each other…

And all the things we found out along the way.

This one’s for learning about sisterhood…

And how to form a bond amid a storm.

This one’s for all the things we can’t say out loud.

But probably should.

This one’s for Uptown Funk and Michael Jackson.

For playlists and music education.

For Sukkot and Channuka and Purim and Pesach and another Seder and Lag Ba’Omer.

This one’s for endless laundry and sleeping on the mirpeset because of…laundry.

This one’s for the space you’ll leave…physically and also…not.

This one’s for what we built…

Through good times…

And less good times…

Through courage…

And change.

This one’s for the kids.

This one’s for Naftali.

This one’s for me.

This one will always be…

For you.

For You

I could do what you asked and write you a letter with all the things I’ve ever said to help you on your journey…but then it would just be another time I told you so…and I don’t want to tell you so anymore.

Instead, I’m going to put this out here…where it might not get to you right away…where you might have to think to look for it…and I’ll tell you what I really think.

I think you’re afraid.  Not of the past…not of the demons you cuddle with at night…but of the future…the future where you need to dispose of the past and acknowledge who you are and what you’ve done.

I think you are less fragile than what you want others to think of you.

I think your strength is the one thing you have tried to throw away so that you wouldn’t have to move mountains.

I think you have a massive heart that beats to an extraordinary rhythm you have not yet learned to sync with the brain you sometimes pretend is deficient.

I think you know how to love but hate how it feels.

I think you despise the word potential because it means those using it don’t really understand what you already posses.

I think you think you know all of this…and maybe you do…but I know you never let yourself feel any of it.

And so this is the only piece of advice I can give you.

Feel.

Feel it all.

The hurt

the pleasure

the shame

the pride

the guilt

the joy

the anger

the love

the betrayal

the loyalty

the loneliness

the fear

and the hope.

Feel it all.

And then come home to me, and tell me you told me so.

If I Could

If I could…I would tell you.

I would tell you how hard it is for me to watch you drown.

I would tell you how hard it is for me to keep my distance.

I would tell you how hard it is for me to know this might not be it.

If I could…I would show you.

I would show you how to break those bonds.

I would show you how to commit for real.

I would show you how to give in.

If I could…I would yell at you.

I would yell “DANGER!” as you open that bottle.

I would yell “LIAR!” as you spin another web.

I would yell “PLEASE!” as you turn away.

If I could…I would hold you.

I would hold you as the nightmares rage.

I would hold you as your body fights.

I would hold you as your soul caves.

If I could…I would whisper in your ear.

I would whisper words of love.

I would whisper words of encouragement.

I would whisper words of hope.

And if you could…I know…you would listen.

Dear Spouses,

 

Dear, dear spouses…

of victims…

of survivors…

of the broken people…

Thank you.

Thank you for not letting us push you away.

Thank you for seeing past the desperate facade we thought was infallible.

Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to be touched…or can be touched…and adjusting your needs accordingly.

Thank you for remembering not to ask about it.

Thank you for listening to all of it and accepting it…

even though you wanted to kill someone…

even though you wanted to let anger take over and justice prevail.

Thank you for knowing that you just had to embrace it.

Thank you for sleeping on the floor when the bed became a trap.

Thank you for letting irrational behaviors slide…

because they made sense…because you got it.

Thank you for never attempting to relate to it.

Thank you for teaching us that we can be loved despite…

in spite…

because.

Thank you for always, always standing by…

through panic…

anxiety…

fear…

shame…

confusion…

delusion…

and hope.

Thank you for waiting for us to come to you.

Thank you for knowing when we were ready.

Thank you for knowing when we just weren’t there.

Thank you for agreeing to take part in a holy matrimony we believed we could never deserve.

Thank you so very much…dear, dear spouses…

for loving people…who sometimes doubt the love they are in.

We are grateful for your patience.

We are overwhelmed by your strength.

And we believe in the salvation you offered when you looked into our eyes…

and showed us who we were.

 

The Lonely Love of Faith

I walk the lonely road…

twisting…turning…forever changing…

and as I wander…

I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.

He walks…on a different road…

twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…

with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearning…a want…so different from mine.

Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.

He goes right…I go left…

our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…

as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.

We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.