Bang!, was the sound I heard in the middle of my sleep. I jumped up, but my husband Matt wasn’t there. I bolted out of bed and ran down the stairs, tears streaming down my face, praying, “Please God, don’t let this be what I think it is.”
I ran into our home office, where Matt might have been working. No Matt. I noticed the door to our garage was unlocked. I ran into the garage, crying, shaking, and there, I saw my husband of 15 years lying on the ground in a pool of blood surrounding his head. He had finally done what he talked about over the years.
It began last February, when my wife, my daughter, and I went to Israel to visit my son, Max, who had been studying in a yeshiva in Jerusalem for his gap year between high school and college. It was a long-anticipated trip, for which we had planned a fun-filled week. What we hadn’t planned was the sea change in our lives that was about to ensue.
At 4-feet-10, wearing sports goggles, I stood as the smallest captain the eighth-grade basketball team at Yeshivah of Flatbush ever knew.
Like many young Modern Orthodox boys (and girls), I grew up subsumed by sports. I knew the Beckett Sports Card guidebook better than the Bible. When not watching sports, I spent hours on the court, shooting hook shots or making the perfect John Stockton bounce pass. I cried when my team lost, and celebrated in victories I took no part in.
A man with a long white beard, dressed in rags, comes about an inch away from my face and says, “I’ve been waiting for you.” I try not to act too startled. I had just finished leading a session on spirituality at a day program for the Jewish homeless, and this would be the first of many such conversations, where social norms disappear amid the schizophrenic street prophets of New York City.
The dress was perfect. Light worsted yarn woven into glowing blue and green medallions, it fit that elusive category of “transitional” clothing. And, just before Thanksgiving, it was on sale. I didn’t care if it was held over from the summer or orphaned from the fall season. I bought it immediately, threw out the sales slip and put the dress away for the spring. Passover, or maybe Shavuot, I thought.
When you’re facing a divorce, you cast about for signposts of your identity. You seek indicators of who you were before, and glimmers of the stronger, more empowered person you hope to become.
In my case, newly separated from my non-Jewish husband, I find myself looking to Judaism for a renewed sense of self. Well, not Judaism, exactly — my relationship with the religion hasn’t changed much. I still go to a Reform shul on the occasional Shabbat, alone, as I have since college.
He is a character from a story I’ve read, but I can only recall the description of his humble, bearded image, not the plot in which he finds himself a player. He comes and goes, an apparition here to foretell or forewarn, and each time I see him, that is precisely what he does.
We share an annual ritual, he and I, in the kosher aisle of our local market. On an inclement February day, while filling my cart with reinforcements for an impending snowstorm, I spot him — without warning — out of the corner of my eye.
As I sit here in Tokyo reflecting on the first anniversary of the tsunami (it hit last March 11), I recall my surprise the first time a Japanese person thanked me, as a Jew, for Israel’s immediate response to the disaster. It was certainly not the time to instruct that well-meaning person that not all Jews are from Israel — the average Japanese does not make a distinction between them — so instead I proudly basked in the thought of Israel being the first country to come to Japan’s aid with its emergency field hospital.