I was blessed to grow up with my crazy best-friend. We always knew what each other was thinking and were so close that we could communicate easily without ever saying a word. I could go on for hours telling tales about our escapades, both in church and outside of it. Once, when we were middle-school age, the deacons came up behind us at church and separated us during service, telling us we couldn’t sit together anymore! We were stunned and couldn’t even believe it! I mean, when does this ever happen besides in class, Sunday-school, the movie theatre, or the library?
My family loved my friend, but generally dreaded her being around because we drove them all crazy with our inside jokes, being so focused on each other, and our constant laughter. Her family felt the same way about me. Once in a blue moon a dramatic fight would erupt between us and if we happened to be at my house, I’d point my finger to my backyard and demand: “Get OUT!”
“You’re not kicking me out . . .I’m LEAVING!”, she would yell. “I’m going to grandmama’s!” (Her grandmother lived across the alley from us.)
Usually within minutes, or a few hours, we were friends again, laughing and “yukking it up.” One more reason for our families to be less than enthusiastic about our friendship.
Our home lives were dramatically different from each others and she was always relieved to be at my house because there was no doubt that my parents were in charge; she said she could relax. I loved her house because there weren’t a lot of strict rules, and her father was never scary or angry; I could breathe. This girlfriend of mine literally gave me the gift of laughter in the face of great tension and drama, and for that I am forever grateful and know I was truly blessed. I also know that most people don’t ever get to experience the kind of friendship we enjoyed.
However, I wasn’t so blessed with the males in my life and by the time I married my husband I’d been through the ringer, so to speak. When I met him I was 24, had already been married and divorced, and literally had nothing to show for it but a shattered spirit, a shredded heart, and a precious son. I was desperate to become whole and to protect my little boy so I was sure, at the ripe old age of 24, that I was done with men, and that they were all “pigs.” Yes, if there had been a national registry of man-haters I’d have signed it twice.
Marrying my husband was a big game changer for me because he was (and still is) such a nice man; I wasn’t used to being treated with such love and care. The fear I felt in accepting his marriage proposal was multi-faceted: before I could progress to the Jewish question, I had to overcome the having another male-in-my-life question! But, if there ever was a man out there who was worthy of a chance, surely it was my (now) husband, I’d reasoned to myself. After all, I had watched him carefully and noticed that if he said he’d be somewhere, he was there. If he said he’d do something, he did it. If he said he had a twenty-dollar bill in his wallet, it was true, and there were no phone numbers of random women stuck in beside it. Of course, I was prepared for that to all change as soon as I let my guard down.
But he kept on loving me through all of the scary moments when I thought the world was caving in on me. I’d be freaking out and running for cover and he’d just calmly come and tell me everything was going to be alright. “What do you mean it’ll all be alright? How can you say that?” I’d cry. Why couldn’t he perceive all the danger everywhere, I thought. A child who is repeatedly hit begins to jump at the slightest movement, always on their guard and waiting for the next blow, or the final “shoe to drop” and that’s how I was with my husband, so sure he would be unreliable, dishonest, unfaithful, abusive, mean, harsh. I’d even find myself testing him, trying to push him into revealing the side I was so sure was lurking just below, ready to confirm my deepest fears as it made its way to the surface. He couldn’t possibly love me if he knew how I’d been treated, and he couldn’t possibly love me unconditionally; I knew I only loved my son that way. Once my husband knew how damaged I was he’d be done with me and walk away and then I’d know my worst fears were true; you can’t trust a man.
Standing in my tiny studio apartment doing dishes I’d feel his hands come and gently rest on my shoulders as he would begin to ask me a question. My entire body bristled as I held my breath and began to hear ringing in my ears. Walking into Costco together for the first time I remember expecting him to go his own way so I said, “Okay, where do you want to meet?” He gave me a strange look and said, “Can’t we just stay together?”
“What do you mean? Don’t you want to go shop?”
“Yes. . . but we can do it together, right?”
“Why? Why do you want to stay together?” I suddenly felt awkward, and on the spot.
“Ah, I like being with you.”
At those moments, early on in our marriage, I’d begin to wonder what was wrong with him. I mean, was he a weirdo or something? What kind of guy was willing to tolerate my brokenness and fears?
What Kind Of Love
The only person who I felt unconditionally loved me was my mother, and the parent-child relationship was the only place it seemed reasonable to receive such love. I knew people at Church said God loved me that way but I couldn’t see or touch Him. It was a nice sentiment, but it was intangible. I needed something with flesh, and that was the deep cry of my heart. But even when it was standing right in front of me, I wasn’t able to perceive it.
But no matter how much I bristled or railed, or how unstable I must have appeared, he simply, quietly, calmly, and gently, kept on loving me.
Alone in your room, late at night, it’s easy to conjure up all kinds of monsters or to become frightened by a small noise or moving shadow. Turning on the light and seeing nothing is disturbed and no one is there brings comfort but also some embarrassment. Eventually I began to understand he wasn’t going to hurt me, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Years later my daughter and I wondered off while visiting Ellis Island in New York and came upon the plaque at the “Kissing Post.” As she read the last sentence she said, “Oh mom, look! That perfectly describes my daddy, doesn’t it!”
“Yes, honey, it sure does.”
The Kissing Post
“In this area, immigrants were reunited with waiting friends and relatives who had preceded them to America. The emotional and joyous scenes that took place here prompted an Ellis Island matron to write the following in 1910: “The manner in which the people of different nationalities greet each other after a separation of years is one of the interesting studies at the Island. The Italian kisses his little children but scarcely speaks to his wife, never embraces or kisses her in public. The Hungarian and Slavish [sic] people put their arms around one another and weep. The Jew of all countries kisses his wife and children as though he had all the kisses in the world, and intended to use them all up quick.”"
My daughter was so moved that she wrote it in Hebrew and English and presented it to him as a Father’s Day gift that year.
I love you honey.