This is six years


Classic Photo 257

Two weeks ago at 3:45 in the morning, Mr. B’s phone rang. I heard it in my sleep. This the call, I thought mechanically, automatically. We’d been waiting for it, but not wanting it, for the past month. It was his mom, and it meant that his grandmother had succumbed to the heart problems that had been plaguing her for the past thirty years and reduced the warmth of her life to a series of emotionless medical statistics in cardiac intensive care units across Philadelphia for the past month.

I held Mr. B’s hand in the darkness as he fumbled for the phone, and in those three seconds between when the phone rang and when he answered it with someone else’s voice, I felt like he and I I had turned forty years old and the weight of the world descended on us in the early morning gloom. The baby kicked her quiet early-morning kicks, breaking up the silence of our small space. Mr. B got up. He was going to drive with his family to his grandfather to spend time with him before the funeral, four, five people trying to fill the space one person had created through over fifty years of marriage. He didn’t say a word, putting on his shirt methodically. I went downstairs to make him bagels and oatmeal and tea, anything hot, as if that would solve everything, wondering what I would do if he died, how I would fill the him-shaped space in my life. It was still 4:03 am.

Three hours before his grandmother’s funeral, my mom called me. “We’re going to the hospital,” she said. “Your grandfather called himself an ambulance because he was having strong chest pains.” My grandfather had open-heart surgery the following week. Before his triple bypass, all of my family was uneasy. We are not quick to turn to superstition, but when we do, we turn hard. The night before his surgery, I lay quietly in bed, just me, my beluga-sized pregnancy pillow, and whatever room Mr. B still had to sleep on, and I waited for the world to shatter.

I imagined my grandfather in his hospital room with just machines for company, beeping coldly. I imagined that the night before his surgery would be the last time I would see him alive. I imagined him all alone, over 80, in the operating room, under anesthesia, and my heart crumpled into a ball, sending out weak, helpless waves of empathy that couldn’t reach him. I tried to go to sleep on my own but the world weighed heavily on me, mortality lurking at the corners of the peaceful room in the suburbs. I listened to Mr. B. He was breathing the even, slow breath of dreamers, his lanky shoulder blade rising and falling, rising and falling, steady like a wave, and I closed my eyes, confident that everything was still alright.

When I made my wedding vows, these are not the moments I was thinking of. I wasn’t thinking that we would have to go to countless hospital rooms, to funerals, to dimly-lit restaurants where friends were crying because their own worlds were ending. I wasn’t thinking we would sleep on urine-stained mattresses in Jerusalem or that we would sleep separately for months in different cities.

When I made my vows, I just was afraid I was lying when I said I loved Mr. B, and I was terrified he would find out. Because, I thought, love is big and grand and patient and kind and all of that, and every second of every day that I didn’t feel that exact feeling, it meant that I didn’t love Mr. B and this whole thing was just a huge fraud.

But that’s not what love is. Love is not a big, grand man with a trumpet following you around with confetti and champagne. Love is small and quiet and takes time. Love is not the creation of something that’s not there out of nothing. It means creating a space in the other person for yourself, to the point where, if the other person is gone, you are not yourself anymore. Love wedges itself into the cracks of your personality until you’re not sure where yours ends and the other person’s begins. Love is not something that happens to you, or at least something that happened to me.

We built it together. We build it each time I make soup, even though I hate cooking, or each time he peels my pomegranates for me, even though peeling a pomegranate is one of the most pain-in-the-ass activities ever. We build it when we fight but don’t call each other names, or do call each other names but then apologize. We build it when we do things together, and it keeps us when we are separate.

Love means going on a business trip and thinking, “This is a great city, but why isn’t he here, enjoying the view with me? He would have loved this little store that sells tea.” It means waking up every day and thanking God he is still there, alive, breathing, mine.

When Mr. B’s other grandmother died three months into our marriage, I was heartbroken for him and for the woman she had been. When his grandmother died two weeks ago, I became heartbroken for his grandfather, because, after six years, I have finally begun to understand what it is to build love with someone, to carve space inside yourself for someone else, and then to have them leave. I saw ourselves, fifty years later, floating ghosts, soul-less, the love we had built into the other person, draining out, leaving a bottomless world void of meaning.

As he sat in the kitchen at 4:05, ashen, unshaven, drinking his tea, I looked at him, but I didn’t say anything. I could tell he felt the same way. I could tell he was thinking about the ghosts.  I moved to the toaster and quietly cut his bagel in half, turning the setting up to 5, the way he liked it.


A form of modern magic


I am writing this post from my deathbed.

Ok, not my deathbed, but I’m definitely sick and in sweatpants. I haven’t been able to sleep the past couple nights, I have crazy congestion, and on top of that, I still have work, work training, night classes, weekend classes, the novel, and trying not to get fat again.  Oh, and did I mention we are almost out of fruit in the house and we need to call the plumber to investigate a dubious leak in our basement?



Three years of Boykis

Mr. B and I have been married for three whole years, which is longer than the restaurant this picture was taken at has been around (due to Russian business practices), and is about as long as my mom’s (photobombing the pic) been smiling with relief that I married someone Jewish, even if he did take me to a pork-ladden Oktoberfest this past Shabbat.

I was Terrified to get married and I called my mom crying every day for two weeks,paralyzed with fear that I was making the wrong decision and that Mr. B and I would have to eventually get divorced (did you really expect any less of me?) even when it was obvious that we fit together like two puzzle pieces.

I don’t just mean it in a cutesy way.  We have complete opposite personalities, which is the only way we can live with each other, I think.

I come from a loud, aggressive family.  In our careers, we are assertive, hierarchy-oriented, structured, and stick to the instructions given.  In our home lives, we are aggressive and anal-retentive.  We are loud, quick to anger, but also laughter. Everything has to be clean. Everything has to be looked after. Everything has to be in its place before we can relax.  We live by lists and calendars. We hate inefficiency and appreciate good design.

Mr. B comes from a family of quiet dreamers.  Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Mr. B’s family is quieter, and he’s a dreamer.  Of all the time I’ve known him, I’ve only heard him get really mad twice.  And once he apologized to me for raising his voice at me.  He’s logical and calm and really smart and removed from the heights of Machiavellian ambition.  He helps me with my math homework slowly and methodically as I throw pencils on the floor in frustration.

“Don’t you miss DC,” I ask him almost every night as I strain to hear the planes landing at National Airport from our bedroom window and miss the hypnotic blinking of the Washington Monument.  “Yeah, I guess,” he pauses to think, “but I’m happy anywhere that you are,” he says without any second thoughts.  While my mind is racing, comparing Philadelphia and Washington, planning our next escape from humdrum suburban America, planning our future, his is slowing mine down so I don’t clock over 100 m.p.h and self-combust.

Sometimes, I think we shouldn’t have lived apart no matter what. Because now I know what it would be like if I didn’t have him, and that What is miserable.  Sometimes when I’m sitting in class once a week, sketching demand diagrams,  and, in a flicker of my mind, I picture him sitting alone on the couch at home, and my heart curls into a little ball, even though there’s nothing wrong: he’s fed, taken care of, and warm.  Before I got married, I was panicked, because how do you really know if you love someone.    But I think the feeling I have in class is what love really is, and it’s not something you can feel instantly or that movies can teach you about.  It’s the growing concern you have for a person you share your life course with, and I can only be so lucky that, at a stupidly scary age 19, walking across my college campus, the rain filling my shoes with cold discomfort, I decided correctly that this was the right person for me.

And now, because I hate sentimental crap, here is an interesting conversation Mr. B and I had last night:

Me: I’ve been thinking so much at work lately, I’m drained.
Mr. B: Did you know that if you think a lot, you burn a lot of calories?
Me: That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re telling me if I run for 20 minutes, it’s the same as if I think intensely for 20 minutes?
Mr. B: Yes.  That’s why chess masters burn a shit-ton of calories per hour when they think.
Me: I don’t believe anything you just said.  Citation needed. 
Mr. B: *quiets down*

*later today*

Mr. B: WHAT NOW.  WHAT NOW.  *sends me this link*
Me: *I don’t even bother looking at it*  If that’s true, then why haven’t you lost, like, 30 pounds by now?
Mr. B: *with a straight face*  That’s easy.  I don’t play chess.



Getting Married and Living Apart is Like Drinking Non-Alcoholic Wine

For over a year now, I’ve been reading trend pieces about how more and more married couples are choosing to live apart for a variety of reasons.  Some are because of the economy. But some are because of careers that could easily be compromised.

For the people that live apart by choice as opposed to circumstance,  I have to ask: are these people out of their f*$%^*# minds?

Living apart while married is one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through (and that’s including Russian healthcare and drinking Hortex.)  I feel like not only I’ve lost the forward momentum of our marriage, but more like Mr. B is some (hot) dude I hang out with on weekends rather than someone that I am trying to build shalom bayit and Ikea furniture with.

Once we start living together again (and driving each other crazy) things will revert back to normal.  But for now, I feel like Han Solo -frozen, waiting for the thaw to start action towards our future again.

I will probably regret my unyielding, uncompromising stance in this post when I am older and wiser, but to me, being married means marrying your lives and learning to yield, no matter how messy they are or how accustomed you are to doing things your own way. Living together means sharing in the duties of marriage like cleaning, cooking, and watching Jersey Shore.  Living together means having conversations like this at least three times a day (ok, maybe that’s just if you’re us.)

Living together means building your own space as a couple not only physically, but emotionally as well, which is why I will never, ever, ever regret spending our first two years of marriage a bit further away from family, no matter what logistical difficulties it is presenting us with now.  When you live apart, a certain essence of what makes a marriage a marriage, is lost.

I guess, for people that marry well after their careers, households, and families are established, it makes some sense.  Or if you have a can’t-miss career opportunity. In that case, shouldn’t the spouse with less earning potential sacrifice their job ad relocate as well?  But don’t live apart just to live apart, like these people:

Which brings me to a far more compelling reason for our living separately: John and I have nothing in common except that we love each other and our sons. (We also share an antipathy for team sports and shellfish, a solid foundation for lifelong commitment if there ever was one.) But as far as our living habits go, we could not be farther apart. I think this situation is true for many married couples; they simply won’t admit it.

That’s not a marriage.  That’s just a painful form of long division.