"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.
"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?"
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, indeed, he seemed to love it. 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. This inner irritation was utterly new, and gnawed into her intestines like termites into trees. For her life's first time, 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?
On week 1 after they started hanging out, while Ian Greyling is in the bathroom he says: "Don't get mixed up with this guy, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" Week 2, Alenna and Vicki are in the next room and he says: "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." She saw Vicki hesitantly enter the room as he finished the sentence and had to wonder for weeks if Vicki'd heard. Week 3, he says outright to Kristina "Nu, all Bethany's other friends play at being korvehs, but you're the real thing! Nu?"
Simcha would complain endlessly, Bethany would appease without end. Bethany would confide unreservedly, Simcha would tease without reservation. Both of them derived something they did not realize they needed until they met one another. Simcha replaced Kristina as her confessor, and she was his replacement for Talmud which he studied with the insatiate curiosity of a Talmid Khakham.
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 her exchanged houseguests would teach 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
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 what if she no longer had the morale to be the cheerful person others needed?
Simcha only encouraged this essential darkness which lay dormant in Bethany's personality until she was fifteen. He asked the most pointed, personal questions of and about her as though there was nothing unseemly about it. Even if he seemed to dislike her friends, even if he seemed to hold a kind of contempt for her family, he wanted to know everything about them - a whole of experience of which all his experience until that point was unaware.
Bethany thought every possibility would end in something better, Simcha thought every uncertainty would end in catastrophe. Simcha was seemed to relish his anger, he enjoyed striking out at a world that left him, left his family, left his people without the essential hope for this world that she was taught from the earliest age was necessary to create the world we long to see. To Simcha, there was no hope for this world, only the next world where Hashem would smile on the tzuris we undergo for preserving his Torah.
But about what precisely did Simcha have cause to be so aggrieved as all that? This uncertain mystery simply a source of speculation as fascinating for her as the outer details of people's lives seemed to be for him. Yes, Simcha 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. 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 her 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. Would he be happier if he didn't want to know so much about everybody? Would I?
It's Purim, it's Alamo Square Park, it's time to get so drunk you don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. All Bethany has to say to her friends is that there will be free hard liquor and three quarters of the San Francisco Friends high school will show up, and so do half the adults from the Church of the Holy Fellowship. Not that Unitarians celebrate Fat Tuesday, but when Bethany tells Mary that Rabbi Freylik's terrified nobody'll show up for Purim, Mary suggests that the Freyliks can turn their Purim party into a combined Purim and Mardi Gras, Bethany makes sure Simcha tells Rabbi Freylik and Simcha's father jumps at the suggestion.
Ordinarily, charedim, even Chabadniks, would wretch at the idea of any interfaith celebration. But these are no ordinary times for Chabad. The 92-jahr-alt Rebbe has been unable to talk for two years, he had a stroke while praying at the last Lubavitcher Rebbe's graveside that left him completely paralyzed on his body's right side. The fact that he dwells on with seeming permanence and one foot in the world to come leads to ever greater speculation that Der Rebbe is the Moshiach.
Nobody's in charge of Chabad right now and every Rabbi is jockeying for position. Every Lubavich shaliach has to make his own rules. Rebbe Freylik has big plans for whatever new regime is coming with the Rebbe ascends to Olam Ha'Ba. If nobody shows up for Purim, Ori will have have to explain to the Schlichim coming into town from elsewhere on Purim to check on his progress why they've travelled across the country for so few new members. Nu, what they don't know about how we get people to show up can't hurt them. These schkotzer idolworshippers don't even celebrate Mardi Gras, no goyisher brokhes, no crucifixes, they're just gonna pay for a jazz band, fah deh masks, fah deh hula hoops, and fah deh beads. These ahkoo'im promise they won't bring meat, and they're even gonna bring their own liquor, cuz all dey do is trink. So even if a hundred or two goyim show up along with one or two Jews, what reason to complain?