Dear Mom Who Laughs With Me in Shul and Drinks With Me at Starbucks,
It’s ultimately all my fault, I know. I asked you for your secrets, a funny joke and nothing else. Better I should have asked for your social security number and bank account instead. You called and told me everything, inviting me to share the thrill and share your husband too.
And to my shame, I egged you on. It was outrageous and hilarious, but above all else – it was breathtaking. Do you actually switch partners? New people every time? How do you meet them and whose idea was this? Tell me exactly what you do and how this works. It sounds like fun, I finally said, but not for me, as flattered as I am. Yes, if I change my mind, you’ll be first to know. I’ll call you right away.
For the next six or seven hours, I thought of nothing else. How exciting! A secret life and I was chosen. I am the only one who knows, the only human on the planet. You are beautiful, and thin, and lovely, and you invited me to be beautiful and exciting too. I was overwhelmed, intoxicated with confidence and my desirability.
But late that night, the fault lines shifted on my solid ground. The fissure cracked and split and widened right where I stood. The abyss called me; it knew my name, it knew how little and how much I had to lose. And so I fell. First slowly, cautiously, and then completely. Nothing is holy anymore, nothing is sacred in this world. Intimacy is meaningless, my kallah teacher was wrong, and God has washed His hands of His creations.
What does it mean? What does it mean if you, my friend, keep kemach yoshon and can’t eat at my house if I wear pants? That your hair is always covered and all your skirts fall four inches below the knees. That your sons learn out of town and never talk to girls. That you don’t eat processed food on Pesach and strawberries are out of the question all year round. What does it mean if you commit adultery a few times every month, if you take your pleasure like an animal takes his? And if you ask me to join, what does that make me? Am I that person too? Perhaps I’m just a fool, a scared, idealistic prude, missing out on all the best life has to offer. How do we ever know who people really are?
It was a little lonely in the abyss; I’d never been this far in before. I’m happy, cheerful, and have no faith to lose, nothing to be shaken in the first place. But still. Mocheini Nah M’sifricha Asher Kosovtah. Erase me from the Book which You have written. Please.
And now the hard part: climbing out.
Is there a foothold, a ledge somewhere? Hypocrites represent no one but themselves. People have free will. Religion cannot save everyone – just ask the tax cheats and child molesters. The usual tropes failed me and I tried another path. Maybe you don’t know how wrong this is. Maybe he demands and you just acquiesce. And then another path. This hurts no one. It’s just sex, just biology, just body parts. To each her own, and I’ve no right to judge.
This didn’t help. The darkness thickened, the footholds slipped. I watched a video of little boys singing about Chanuka and tiny flames of light. How does beauty and ugliness coexist like this, in one world, never mind one person? How does the sun dare shine on a freshly-dug grave? I’m being a little overdramatic, yes? I culled my friends at this point, those who understood and tried to help from those who laughed and shook their heads.
In the end, a stranger helped me and also a friend, and someone on the radio. The stranger teaches kallahs and she said that we can never know. Sometimes, she said, it’s not the modest Beis Yaakov girls worrying most about holiness and beauty, it’s the girls in tank tops and ripped shorts. Appearance tells you nothing, and that means I’m okay for now, my jeans and short-sleeved t-shirts all included.
A friend then told me that you are still the same. You’ll giggle as the shush-ladies shush us during davening. You’ll offer me a slice of cake and I’ll hear kiddush from your husband. You’ll tell me what your toddler said, what happened to your married daughter, and how that last vacation went. Your revelation changed me, maybe just for now or maybe just forever. But you are still the same this Shabbos as the last.
A radio show was on this morning as I was rushing, I half-heard it as I tried to find my coat. He said that sex is the most special thing we have, it makes us human and separates us from the beasts. I stopped and listened, not sure how morning news and chit-chat suddenly turned solemn.
He’s right, though. Animals select a mate because that’s who showed up today, that’s who offers the best evolutionary advantage. But people – that’s not who we are. We choose our partner because they make us laugh until our belly hurts and we are breathless and tears run down our cheeks. Because their eyes look kind. Because we trace the contours of their face and letting go seems like a loss. Because we crave their voice, their lilt. Because they know us when we do not know ourselves. Because we think of them upon awakening, before we even know what day it is or where we are. Because they make us better people every day.
And that’s, I think, how we are different. We take this act that could be nothing more than friction, just chemistry and pleasure points and fluids. We take it and we make it into something more. A thirst, but just for one from seven billion on our planet. The fear, the thrill of locking eyes and seeing how another soul takes pleasure. A secret shared by one you’ve chosen from all others, just him, the one who’s also chosen you.
My friend, along the way, you’ve somehow lost this. But that’s okay; we cannot help but lose ourselves once in awhile. You’re still the same as you were yesterday, and so my warmth for you will also stay the same. You’ll have my hugs, my stories, and my jokes. I’ll listen, empathize, and talk too much. But know this, know it with your heart and mind, with your entire being: I’m not the one who’s missing out.
The Girl Who Laughs With You in Shul and Drinks With You at Starbucks