When the matchmaker came up with the idea of Binyamin and me, everybody went crazy for the idea – that is, everybody except for you, Shaindy. You wanted to know why someone from a prominent old Southern family was seeking a wife from a plain family like ours from Baltimore. I know what you were also thinking: How was it that someone tall, handsome and rich, with all his hair, would be willing to go out with me, Plump Ruchella, and here I was, thirty-five and five months, with only a frown line to show for the 120 blind dates I’d endured thus far.
Will miracles never cease. Binyamin liked me. He treated me fine, more than fine. He opened doors for me, took me out to Holy Schnitzel, the Kosher Nostra, and all the kosher restaurants in a thirty-mile range, asked me questions about myself and listened to the answers. I wasn’t used to any of that. I was used to a fellow’s face falling a little when a size 14 came to greet him at the door. You, Shaindy, never had to suffer the indignity of rejection – engaged at 19! Sometimes I’d see Binyamin fidgeting or staring out blankly, then he’d catch himself and listen harder, as though dating didn’t come easily to him, but he was going to nail this thing called courtship, by golly he would! Funny enough, that made me like him more, and how he always encouraged me to order a second dessert. Guess he didn’t think I was too plump, but just right.
Care for some sweet tea, Shaindy? Come on, let me pamper a nursing mother. Yes, it’s ice cold. Where was I?
One night he took me miniature golfing. He was the tallest man there and would’ve been the handsomest, but he had this herky-jerky way of walking, stiff-shouldered, like he’d just been released from a box or a coffin and wasn’t used to natural movement. At the 14th hole, he informed me that he wasn’t looking for fun, but a wife, a family, the whole package. He was an only child and wanted to give his elderly mother some nachas before it was too late. Then he gazed at me through his slightly swollen brown eyes, and in an awkward rush asked, “Did you ever go on a helicopter?” I told him no, but would love to, and he smiled cryptically, and it was obvious to me he had Something Big planned.
Do you remember how you kept pressuring me to do the research? We’re from different towns, I knew so little about him, why wasn’t an eligible forty-three year old married already or at least divorced, it was happening way too fast – so I made some calls to his hometown. Spoke with his rabbi, his neighbors, old teachers, and everyone said nice things, how hard-working and smart he was in the health food store chain he’d inherited from his father, may he rest in peace, how generous his family was, how community-minded and devoted a son, a regular at the synagogue, too. In short – a catch. Someone mentioned he was on the introverted side, but that I knew. A neighbor did say Binyamin had suffered from a bad case of acne as a teen-ager, and truth be known, just picturing Binyamin purple-faced and gawky made my chest go soft with pity, and I thought I could love him, and if not right then, then most likely later.
Would you stop noodging me to go faster, Shaindy? I have to tell it like it happened. Your little one isn’t waking up any time soon.
Listen. So on our next date, we flew in a helicopter over a lake with a setting sun and he said, quoting the holy sages, “He who is without a wife dwells without blessing, joy, goodness, life, help, and peace.” Is that a proposal, I asked, and he sheepishly nodded yes, and I nodded my own acceptance back. It might not seem romantic or special to you, but it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. Maybe that’s because you’ll never know what it’s like to be overlooked. You were the chosen one, the smarter one, the daughter Poppa looked at when he shared his Torah thoughts at the Shabbos table. I’m not trying to stir up the past but let’s just say, finally, I could hold my head high.
The wedding was out of a dream, the fanciest our town had ever seen. As I stood under the chuppah, I peeked behind me, and I saw, no– felt the approval of our whole community swell up and swirl around me, and I swear, Shaindy, the feeling was so strong I could touch it with my finger. I nearly wept to think of all the years I’d lived without it.
The rabbi blessed the wine, gave the Kiddush cup to Binyamin and then to me. As I reached for the cup, my hand wobbled, and a purple drop spilled on the sleeve of my white gown. I glanced at Binyamin, and his nose squinched or puffed up, irritated-like –no big deal – but it did give me a moment’s pause, and then I drank the wine, he stomped the glass goblet to smithereens, and there we were, married in the eyes of all.
That first week, Binyamin brought me roses and made me breakfast – waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream. He surprised me with a gold bracelet and a Hamsa necklace I happened to admire. Compliments spilled from his tongue like sugar: You look like an English rose with your peaches and cream skin or what have you. Shaindy, it was like the happiness you see in the movies.
Binyamin was sensitive, I discovered by the second week. Or as you would say, fastidious. I’d be munching my Granola at the breakfast table, and suddenly I’d see him look away, shuddering a little. I was hurt, but then again, I’d lived by myself for a long time, and decided from then on to eat more lady-like. One time I changed his laundry detergent, and right away he said he felt his skin crawling and itching unbearably, so of course, I changed back to his old brand. So yes. He had all sorts of sensitivities.
You’d think I’d be bored with no work to go to or children to tend. I took walks in the park, pored through furniture catalogues, cooked up gourmet meals, sewed curtains with gorgeous linen material I’d ordered from a fabric store, attended classes at shul on all kinds of topics the rabbi gave on Tefillah, the Torah, and, because I was a newlywed, Shalom Bayis.
Speaking of Shalom Bayis, I read in a magazine that the secret to marital harmony is having separate bathrooms. All my woman stuff that littered the medicine cabinet and sink counter– you know, the tubes and creams and make-up – well, they grated on his nerves. Big time. So, in the name of Shalom Bayis, I plucked up my woman stuff and plopped it all into an empty basket and hauled it over to the hallway bathroom, even though it would slightly inconvenience me. I thought he would notice or say something but he never did.
One day he took me clothes shopping. Uh uh. Not to Hechts Department Store. To Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus. “A king needs a well-dressed queen at his side,” he declared, which made me feel glad but well, bad, too. Did my clothes look that shabby? Still, who looks a gift horse in the mouth? A petite personal shopper magically appeared to help us with our shopping experience, which Binyamin seemed to take as his due.
“What size are you?” Binyamin asked me.
“Bring her a size 16,” he ordered the personal shopper who raised her barely-there brows. “No, make that eighteen.”
I gaped at him. “But-but” I sputtered, and he said soothingly, “Trust me. You may be needing these larger sizes sooner than you think,” and gave me a wink wink. I stared blankly, and then I realized: These bigger-sized clothes would double as maternity. My whole body flushed, all size 14 of me. Of course, Shaindy, I also longed for a child, for a full house of children, just like you, but we’d barely been married a month! Give a girl a little breathing room.
Still, I have to admit, the dresses and skirts, the 100 percent cashmere sweaters and leather boots perked me up. I could get used to this life, I thought. And was it so terrible that he hoped I would be expecting soon? Didn’t I want the same thing?
At home I spread all my purchases on my bed, ready to hang them or tuck them into drawers. When I opened the closet, though, all I saw were dangling hangers. I turned to Binyamin, alarmed. “Where’s my clothes?”
He just smiled.
“Uh Binyamin,” I said awkwardly. “I need to know where my clothes are.”
“I thought I’d save you the trouble of tossing them yourself,” he said, rather pleased with himself.
I pressed my lips together and felt my cheeks go hot. The turquoise silk dress with the princess waist that made me look so elegant! My burnt orange blouse that brought out the auburn lights in my dark hair! The cozy cream sweater I wrapped around me when I davened.
“In the future,” I said tightly, “let me decide what to keep and what to throw out.”
Just then Binyamin’s nose turned red and his nostrils puffed out like they had under the chuppah, and I got anxious, Shaindy, or to be honest, scared. Right away, I rearranged my expression into a more grateful one and started ripping off tags and hanging up my new clothes. Later, I mentally checked off: Binyamin doesn’t like to be challenged or disagreed with – what people call the controlling type. Being that I was the flexible type, I thought I could handle it. I didn’t mind being controlled a little for the sake of our marriage. I wanted to make it work.
(To be continued)