Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Shaindy, before you call me a patsy or a plain fool, you have to understand – there were good times, too. On Friday night he sang Eishes Chayil, and when he came to the phrase “And you have risen above all women” he’d look at me with his bulging moist eyes and give me a little smile. He spoke yearningly of the day when he would recite the blessing over his own children, a dream I of course also shared. He complimented my food so nicely. “Did you make this soup from scratch?” he’d say, or “This is truly the best omelet I’ve ever had.”

But oy vey if his wine glass had a little smudge on it. Oh, he was fussy all right. He was devoted to his brands of tissue paper, soymilk, even spray cleaners. Sure, we all have our preferences, but his were holy to him. Once I accidentally bought the Giant brand of orange juice instead of Tropicana, and boy did that rattle him. He didn’t want daily household help because he said the housecleaners never cared enough to get it right. I decided early on that I on the other hand would get it right. I would change my easy-breezy attitude toward running a home. (Still, someone came weekly to give the kitchen and bathrooms a good scrubbing.) I bought a book called The Clean, Organized and Happier You, and thumbed through it to pick up any housewifely tips I could.

Advertisement



It turned out Binyamin was consulting his own book. One day I was gathering up Binyamin’s suits for the dry cleaners when a little paperback slipped out of his suit jacket. I opened it to any old page and my eyes fell on: Tell a dark-haired Jewess she looks like an Italian actress. And: If the woman in question is overweight, praise her beautiful eyes or just compliment her captivating personality. And: Never tell her that supper was good. Be specific. Tell her it’s the best roast beef or apple pie you’ve had in your life.

The air slapped out of me. My husband was consulting a book to figure out how to compliment me! Isn’t that sweet, I tried to tell myself, even as a sickly feeling spread in my stomach. You see, I recognized each of those compliments from when he’d been courting me. I had felt so cherished and appreciated by him, understood, but now I saw it was a paint-by-number courtship all along. My cheeks burned. I felt like such a dupe! No, Shaindy, it was a big deal. A big deal to me.

I heard Binyamin walking up the stairs. I shoved the book back into Binyamin’s jacket. The door creaked open. I took a breath. Another one, and tried to shake off that sour sensation in my stomach. Drop it, I told myself. Hadn’t I known from the beginning that he had trouble expressing his feelings? Many a wife would’ve been happy that at least her husband was trying. I decided to be happy.

It wasn’t too hard. You see, I liked being married. I liked futzing around in the kitchen to make a lovely supper, and watching Binyamin eat it and me asking about his day, and him asking about mine. I liked walking to shul with him at my side, nobody looking at me with Pity Eyes. I didn’t have to wait for salmon to go on sale if I wanted some. No more working at the Miracles Performed Daily Hair Salon. When schnorrers came to the door, I gave money freely, like the rich man’s wife I was, and not the daughter of an electrician. No more skulking around for Shabbos invitations or a seat at someone’s Seder table or having to explain to near-strangers why I wasn’t willing to meet their friend: a talkative accountant paralyzed from the waist down, I kid you not. You can’t relate to any of this, Shaindy, because you got married at 19. Okay, I’ll stop saying that.

Once a month we visited his 83-year-old mother at Daughters of Rebecca Nursing Home. Binyamin set off on these visits with a hopefulness and touching anxiety. He had the car waxed just in case Mrs. Walfish might want a ride somewhere. Before leaving he might change his outfit into something more casual, or the opposite. He certainly gave my own outfit the once and twice-over.

Wait. Did you just see that? Your little one found her thumb already. She’s so precious I could cry.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop interrupting myself. The visits were actually enjoyable. Mrs. Walfish would be waiting for us, in her leopard print robe. First she’d eat the rugalach I’d baked for her. Then she’d pull out a deck of cards and start shuffling, making accordions in the air, and then we’d settle into a game of Casino. Binyamin sat nearby, watching politely for a few minutes (he didn’t care for the game, he said), and then go scavenging for Reese’s Pieces his mother had hidden in her nightstand, under her mattress, and other places, “for safekeeping,” she said. By the time Binyamin had fallen asleep in the easy chair, I’d be buffing and painting her nails, fixing her hair, making it more life-like.

All the while, she told stories of her youth – of the hot shot doctor, plus a lawyer who wanted to marry her, and even a son of a famous rabbi, but she went with her heart and married someone penniless but with a dream: his own brand of rat poison that he peddled door to door in the late 1950s. It sold like wildfire. Eventually he took his earnings and went into the health food business. She confided with a gleam that even here in Daughters of Rebecca, men proposed to her – “when you got it, you got it.” She said I must be good for her son, because he didn’t walk around anymore like the Tin Woodman from the Wizard of Oz. True, I thought.

“Tell me what Binyamin was like as a kid,” I once asked her. “Well, he always did take long showers,” she finally said. I waited for her to go on. She didn’t. From the corner of my eye, I saw Binyamin’s crestfallen face. That was all she had to say? He was her only child! She’d given birth to Binyamin when she’d lost all hope of becoming a mother! On the ride home, I knew better than to ask him about his childhood.

Two evenings a week he attended a Torah lecture, but home is where he felt most comfortable. Now and then we’d turn on the TV. I didn’t care for the silly shows; it was the old movies we liked from the forties and fifties. When I laughed at the antics of fast-talking Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, he chuckled along, too, but truth be known, I think the jokes flew over his head, and his real pleasure came in doing this regular couple activity, watching TV side by side, by golly just like all the other husbands and wives in America. A tenderness would rush through me as I realized: Just as he had rescued me from singlehood, I had been his savior, too, rescuing him from eternal bachelorhood. We needed each other.

That’s why when the “turning” happened, I was more than bewildered. I was floored.

Uh oh. Look who’s hungry. Here, let me put this pillow under your arm.

(To be continued)

 

To see the previous chapter, click here.

Advertisement

SHARE
Previous articleMike Pence Prays in Jerusalem & Hebron, Meets Adelson, Fleisher, Ben Gvir, Bennett & Herzog
Next articleMaximizing The Mitzvah Of Krias Megillah