Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Tale 5: Chosen Family - Joshua - First Half Revised and Slightly Expanded Draft
Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility can grow in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end.
"For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this."
"Nu? Why not?"
"It just encourages Tateh. Nu?"
Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, and she now spoke to in secret to her secret best friend more than to any school friend, not a secret for her sake, but a secret for his. Even with their family's detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha was spending every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore.
Bethany loved Simcha, just as she did all her friends, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He seemed to think nothing of being so cynical, so stubborn, so argumentative. He acted as though making fun of everything she loved was the most generous thing in the world a person could do for his or her friends. And he more negative he was, the more need she felt to court his approval. She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to support her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be supported by him. And yet she loved him, as though there was instant understanding of the rules of a game that was as utterly strange to her as it was completely familiar to him. Her inner irritation at him was unlike anything she'd ever known, and gnawed into her intestines like termites to trees. For the first time in her life, she had to confront that not only did she disapprove of someone she loved, but that this person may disapprove of her too, yet still love her back. Around Simcha, from Simcha, because of Simcha, love was suddenly intermingled with dread, pettiness, anger, belittlement, cynicism. Would love, could love, ever feel the same again?
"He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here. Nu?"
"But it's gonna be fun!"
"Nu? Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?"
Pessimism was a responsibility to Bethany, not a state of being. If another person was sad, they needed to be cheered; if she was sad, she required a person to cheer. Her kishkes had the urge to leave every person and place more luminous than she found them in her DNA. But even Simcha's brighter moods seemed tinged with a bitterness she neither understood nor fathomed. She didn't resent him for this, she respected his right to feel any way he liked, how else could she cheer him up? But about precisely what did Simcha have cause to be so aggrieved as all that? It was simply a source of fascinated speculation. Yes, he was deformed and alienated, though nowhere near to the extent he thought was. He had a loving family, a God in which his faith was unshakeable, and such a God certainly knew he was not lacking for self-belief.
In any event, Simcha wouldn't let her know why he seemed to think everything she suggested would end in catastrophe. "Don't get mixed up with Ian Greyling, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends too often while I'm here. They don't like me nu? and I wouldn't like them if I knew them better." "Nu, all your other friends play at being korvehs, but Kristina's the real thing! Nu?" When they first began hanging out, she would ask him, almost annoyed that he never made the transition, to translate these unfamiliar words that he spoke as though this linguistic porridge was all the same language. But the more she heard them, the more she realized she could guess infallibly. There was an onomatopoetic quality to all those weird Jewish words you never got from all those other languages of which she taught herself as much as her exchanged houseguests would let her. But whereas Kristina spoke a language which seemed to have a word for everything, Simcha's language seemed to have an infinity of words that seem to precisely mean only themselves.
Simcha replaced Kristina as her confessor, and she was his replacement for Talmud which he studied with the insatiate curiosity of a Talmid Khakham, and asked the most pointed, personal questions of and about her, the friends of hers he disliked, the family she thought she knew until he demanded details of her background she neither knew nor thought her parents did. Being the perfect daughter of a doctor and a minister as she was, Bethany could not be more concerned with healing the world if she tried, but she seemed to know innately that mysteries do not exist to be solved. The fact that some essential details of life were beyond here ministrations did not trouble her. But for Simcha, the mysteries of people seemed to exist only to be divined. The universe in all its microscopic majesty was a tree growing citruses to be squeezed, a sea with oysters to be slurped. Wouldn't he be happier if he didn't want to know so much about everybody?