April 24, 2020
A Kosher Love Story: Chapter 4
My high school writing teacher used to ask my class where we saw ourselves in ten years. I was much of anything in high school. I was a mediocre trombone player who hated practicing but wondered why I never sounded like Bill Watrous and failed Math 11 twice. No one really expected I would have much of a future.
Though, in my imagination, I always went to the extreme. I visioned myself working at a New York magazine, living in a Penthouse apartment, you know, a humble celebrity that wears high heels to walk her dog and has one of those boyfriends with an overly chiseled jaw. And even though I considered that a stretch, I felt deep down, it was a possibility.
But I never thought I would meet a guy off of a dating app while living in a post-war country in the Balkans, only to then pack my bags and take my atheist ass to Jerusalem to test the waters by living with Nate's religious family in the Middle East. If you asked me a couple of years ago which situation was more likely to happen, New York or the Holy land, I think I would have shit my pants at the thought of either of them becoming to reality. And yet, here I am. Shit free in Jerusalem.
I don't know who thought this would be a good idea. When the idea was suggested, I was excited. "Really? I think this will be such a great idea. I really want to get to know where you're from," my voice echoed on the other end of the video call. "Should I come for a couple of days? Weeks?"
We both sat for a moment thinking. "Why don't you come for the entire tourist visa?" Nate replied. "It'll be summer and the visa is three months long, so we can travel around and go to the beaches." Without much thought, I was convinced. "Okay, I'll get the ticket."
And that's how it all started.
So innocent, don't you think? Two lovers crossing into unknown territory, seeing whether their Whatsapp relationship could really work.
At this moment, like right now, as we speak, I'm holding my bags in front of his family's house, sweating profusely. I move to the side, "you open the door first," I whisper as I hear a loud conversation of a million voices coming from inside his home.
"Why are you whispering? Just relax." He opens the door, and a dozen faces turn towards us, "everyone, this is Natasha. Natasha, this is everyone." His family all sat on and around the couch as his mother made donuts in the kitchen.
I peek out from behind him and wave timidly, "Hello everyone." Oh, sweet Jesus. They politely wave back as their conversations go into a soft murmur.
Nate grabs my suitcase as I managed to get a peek at his family's house. The house is long and narrow. Everything is white. The walls, the floor, even the light is white. I never had a white wall in my house growing up. Every room was a different color, our kitchen was orange, our computer room was red, and my bedroom was neon pink. A wall says a thousand words, and I can see we're already different.
His mother comes from the kitchen, her hands shaping a soon-to-be fried donut. "Come back down for donuts after you rest," she says warmly.
"Come," Nate says as he starts to go up the stairs, "I'll show you our room." I nod goodbye to everyone and hover closely behind Nate as he walks up the stairs. We make it to the third floor, with a single white door at the end of the hall.
"This is our place," he says, opening it up. As I guessed it, the bedroom is white. A big bed takes up most of the room, with a huge tv hanging on the wall and a bathroom in the corner. A single window brings light into the room and faces the park across the street. "Yeah, I know it's the attic, but we have our own bathroom, which helps since there's like...five? Yeah, five other people in the house."
I'm living in the attic of my boyfriend's parent's house in Jerusalem. Well, you really thought this out.
"Oh, wow. It's a full house." Damn right it's a full house. I come from a family of four people. Four people with three bathrooms. We never argued about who's going to shit first.
"Oh, and my sister, the one with the baby, well, she's staying here for a couple of months too, you know, so my mom can help her out. The little guy cries a lot, but I'm pretty sure we won't hear it."
I take a seat on the edge of the bed trying to absorb everything. What the fuck have you done Natasha. Nate opens up the closet in front of me, "oh, I cleared some space for your clothes." I stare at two empty shelves.
I smile tenderly, trying to cover up the realization I'm completely alone. No, you're not alone, you're here with him. Yes...with him...and his entire family...all under one roof...for three months..."So, after, you know, I put all my things away, what should we do tonight?"
"Oh, right," he says, checking his watch. "Uh, well not much. It's Shabbat soon. So everything is closed until tomorrow night. And then we have Shabbat dinner with my family in a couple of hours."
"Oh, okay." I try to think of a question to ask that doesn't make me look like I don't know what Shabbat is. "This Shabbat dinner happens...once a month? Or..."
"Nah, Shabbat's every weekend. Friday to Saturday."
"So, what do we do during Shabbat?"
"Well, typically, you're not allowed to use any electronics. So, like for people who keep Shabbat, they read, play games, talk. You know, it's just time to bond with your family." Bond with the family echoed in my mind. "I told you I'm not religious, but it's the first weekend with my family, so it would be a great time to get to know them and for them to get to know you."
I start biting the flesh around my fingernails. "Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree. It sounds good." It does not sound good. No tv? No cellphone? How do I get out of a conversation without answering a pretend text? Holy shit.
"I'm gonna run downstairs and see if my mom made anything to snack. I'll be back in a couple of minutes." He bends over and gives me a kiss before leaving the room.
Sitting on the bed, I look outside at the park. Children are playing basketball, an old woman is walking her nearly-dead dog, and a couple of teenagers are sitting on a bench smoking cigarettes. The normalcy of their actions calms me as a clip-clop sound draws nearer to me. See, it's not that different from home. It's gonna be fine. You're just freaking out for no reason.
Looking out the window, I see a man with a long beard, two long side curls, wearing a black suit, and a giant fur hat, riding a horse and buggy. His six daughters are politely sitting in the buggy, wearing matching baby blue dresses with giant bows in their hair. His two sons sitting next to him are in matching suits and miniature side curls.
I watch the buggy pass the window, Nate walks in with a plate of freshly cooked schnitzel. "You okay? You look like something happened."
Where the fuck am I.