Oh, the Mountains You’ll Climb| January 6, 2021
I don’t need to get married. All I want is single friends
"You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
My phone rings, pings, sings. I reject, reject, reject again, then toss it onto my bed, hard.
I don’t care if I’m being rude. They won’t even let me wallow, for goodness’ sake. And yes, I know Shaina got engaged. So now I should squeal, shriek, and perhaps even twirl each time I hear it again? Gimme a break.
I stare up at the ceiling for a while, brooding. Then I get bored, and reach for my phone.
A text from my oldest sister, Gali. Nu, heard the mega engagement news! Details, please…
I scrunch my forehead, wondering how my decades-older-than-me sister got pulled into this twirly, shrieky whirlwind, too. What does she have to do with Shaina? Oh. Right. She teaches the class parallel to her. Exciting.
Details are that I’m 24 and have no single friends left. And no, don’t go on a pity party! Just get me some singles and I’ll be good to go. I send the text before I reread it.
She calls a moment later. Good old Gali.
“Listen. There are people out there. You just gotta find them. It’s time to look beyond those tight circles you’ve had all these years. Go out, have some fun. Believe me, there are singles in your life. You just have to look for them.”
I’m quiet when she finishes her monologue, because I’m debating whether or not to tell her my principle of never believing someone who says ‘believe me.’ She senses I’m not convinced, so she repeats emphatically, “Believe me, you just have to look for them.”
I mumble something, then hang up. I’m going to wallow.
I call Dassy a while later. Good, stable, single Dassy.
“Listen here, if you get engaged before I go to Eretz Yisrael in two weeks, I’m canceling my return ticket, do you understand me?”
I reiterate, enunciating each syllable clearly: “I will not return. For real.”
She sounds distracted. One second.
One second. One seeeeeeeeco-
“Are you getting engaged? Are you—”
A small giggle down her end. I never knew my heart could do this funny thing of melting to my toes while feeling rough and jagged.
“ARE YOU—” I'm bellowing. I consciously lower my tone “—getting engaged?” It finishes sounding tentative and vulnerable and I hate myself for it.
“Come over in 20.”
The world stops. I think I may have poofed into nothingness.
Then I hear howling laughter. One second… How did I fall for this again?
“I don’t know how I’ll believe you when it actually happens,” I tell Dassy. “I mean, the boy who cried wolf and all.”
“You were nearly vicious there, you know. Maybe just get yourself engaged already.”
“I DON’T NEED TO GET ENGAGED YET. Get me singles and I’ll be fine. Just fine. I have a life.”
“Okay. Okay. I didn’t say anything. Just do me a favor and come back from Israel, okay?”
“You can get all hung up, in a prickly perch.
And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in the lurch.”
Okay. I won’t pretend that sometimes, under the cover of dark, the fears don’t loom large and ugly. Lace and frills and white veils take on a shadowy, phantom-like appearance, dancing a macabre dance.
There are voices, too, echoing in the gloom.
What’s taking you so long? Will you ever get married? All your friends are gone. Soon they’ll forget you, those caring friends and busy shadchanim… Twenty-four… What’s wrong with you, anyway?
I cry out in my sleep, thrashing to try to avoid being whipped by one extra-long, spinning veil.
I sit up in the dark, breathing heavily. Twenty-four. I’m 24, oh, for goodness’ sake! Young and healthy and well, youthful. It will be good.
In my mind though, those ghostly veiled figures twirl slowly, menacingly, as I huddle under the covers, feeling old and weary and very lonely.
I’m teaching about the Ku Klux Klan, and there’s a massive image of hooded men on the board. They’re white and ghostly and looming out of the shadows behind them and oh my goodness — my breath is suddenly caught in my throat.
And maybe it’s tiredness or maybe its Shaina’s engagement or maybe it’s that two of my closest friends — both kallahs — are wedding shopping today while I’m stuck here, but suddenly the midnight macabre picture is looming before my eyes, and I’m starting to get teary-eyed right here in the classroom.
No. No, no, no. I continue talking about the KKK while gesturing wildly back at the image on the board, which I cannot and will not look at right now.
Lace and veils… and linen and towels and frying pans and… and, and what else might they be shopping for right now? I think, trying desperately to distract myself. Not veils, just not veils. Nothing white, actually.
Through the haze going on in my head and maybe in my eyes too, I suddenly see them. They’re all staring up at me—
Singles. Twenty-two of them.
Believe me, there are singles in your life. You just have to look for them.
I flee the classroom as soon as I dismiss them.
Peelers. My friends might definitely be shopping for peelers now.
I must move onto a new topic in history.
“The Waiting Place…
For people just waiting…
Or waiting around for a Yes or No
Or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”
My hair is falling out. My hair is falling out. MY HAIR IS FALLING OUT! My HAAAIIIIIIIIIRRR IS—
I hear her pounding feet, then a panicked shriek: “Are you okay?!”
I can’t even talk, I’m barely breathing. She takes the stairs two at a time — mind you, she’s 60. I hold the bath towel firmly wound around my head, refusing to even look at my wet hair.
“My hair.” I point to the white turban, gasping for breath.
This cannot be happening. I’d heard the stories; my friends had all spoken of their hair falling out.
Chaya said she couldn’t shower for a week for fear of the chunks which would fall out when she brushed her wet hair. And Deena’s 3-D powder; yuck. I had laughed then. Cried too, with them.
But they were married now, with long, thick, wavy wigs. We’d danced with Deena’s 3-D powder as shtick at her wedding, even. Good joke.
Good, good joke. “But I still neeeeeed my hair!” I wail. “Maaaaa!”
She looks like she doesn’t know if she should yank the towel off, berate me for making her think a thief had climbed through the upstairs window, or actually pity me. She stands there, hands on hips, breathing heavily from her jog up the stairs, glaring at me.
Pity wins, it seems.
“Okay. We’ll buy a different shampoo and it’ll be fine.”
It will not be fine. My hair will thin and thin and I will be bald.
MY HAIR IS FALLING OUT, I text Rivky. She’s my best friend and I don’t care if she’s married. I need sympathy, and best friends should get you.
She answers a moment later. Yalla! Get married! Stop staying single!
I yank out my laptop, trying to balance the huge white turban on my head, and google: Hair falling out WHAT TO DO.
“Some hair loss every day is normal, so don’t freak out.” Well, I am.
“Losing over 100 hairs per day — or 700 hairs per week — would be classed as excessive and may indicate an underlying issue…”
I sigh, shut my laptop with a bang, and sit down to count the strands I brushed out of my hair.
This is so not funny.
Ta and I are lugging heavy grocery boxes to the car when I see Bella waving to me cheerfully from across the road. I nod back vigorously from over my box, grinning to show her I see her.
Ta watches the whole jack-in-the-box exchange with some amusement, then furrows his brow. “So… she’s one of the single friends still, right?”
“Uh. Nope, Ta, she’s actually a kallah. Shlomo Feld’s daughter — you know he’s making a chasunah soon.”
We’ve reached the car. He doesn’t open the trunk, though, just leans the box against the car and peers at me sideways.
“Are you…er… you know”—a clearing of the throat. Gosh, what’s coming?—“upset not to be engaged yet?”
Ooookay. So we’re going to have a DMC. Right here, now. Cute. The box I’m holding is dead heavy. I prop one knee up against the car and balance the box on it. Let’s settle this once and for all.
“Ta.” I stare at him. Straight in the eye. “I don’t need to be engaged yet. I don’t want to be engaged yet.”
He stares at me, eyes wide.
“Give me two things—” I wave a finger in the air dangerously close to his face, “single friends and—” I raise another finger and my voice goes an octave higher, “hair!”
His eyebrows disappear for a moment.
I lower my voice and finish through gritted teeth: “…give me that, and I’ll be happy.”
He opens the trunk wordlessly and plonks our boxes inside.
He talks on the way home, in awkward, hesitant tones, of the importance of getting engaged and comfort zones and having to want to get engaged. I stare straight ahead at the road being swallowed beneath us, and point out that it’s not as if there’s anything to talk about. Nothing’s happening, anyway.
We’re silent for the rest of the way home.
“I’m afraid sometimes,
You’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win.
‘Cause you’ll play against you.
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
You’ll be quite a lot.”
I wake up Sunday morning to three missed calls, two voicemails, and a text from Mordechai Ben David. I freeze and blink very fast. Then I break into a grin that gives forth to a croaky morning laugh.
Dassy is so, so nuts. I’d forgotten that I told her about my dream of getting a text from MBD with an invite to his concert. I silently vow never to tell the girl my dreams again.
I call her back.
“You don’t even remember the mad things you do?! You almost gave me a mini heart attack this morning, then you’re like, ‘huh?’”
She shrieks with delighted laughter. Wicked witch. I make a mental note to get back at her ASAP.
“Get outta bed already! There’s a great shoe sale at Ballerina.”
Ugh. I hate crowds.
I burrow under my covers. “Mercy. You know I hate sales.”
“Well, just being kind. You said you needed shoes for Zeesy’s chasunah.”
“Yeah.” I grunt. I pull myself up with every effort. “So when do you wanna go?”
“Oh no, I’ve been!” she says breezily. “You think I’m waiting until you’re vertical? I’m just telling you about it… they have loads left in your size. Go!”
“Kind, kind soul,” I mutter. I’ll have to face the chicken coop by myself.
I listen to my voicemails on the way to Ballerina. There are two from Dassy, one from a colleague, one from an international caller, hey, what on earth?
The woman on the line is polite and knows my name. She asks me to call her back. I do so immediately.
“Hi, Project Inspire, Hindy here, how can I help?”
I’m wary as I try to figure out if this is Dassy’s voice putting on an accent. “Hi, I received a call?”
“Oh, Liba!” She greets me like I’m an old friend. I’m awkwardly silent; I still have no idea who this woman is.
Suddenly the penny drops, and I’m excited. I’d signed up to be a learning partner over the phone with Project Inspire, and they’re probably calling to offer me a partner.
I’ve arrived at Ballerina, but I pace up and down outside as Hindy checks that both my parents were born Jewish (“yes, they were”) and that I’d be okay with any age (“yes”), and other technicalities.
I’m waiting for the main point — the name of this prospective partner. I’m already imagining us in Project Inspire e-newsletter ten years from now: “Happy Anniversary of learning partners Liba and _____.”
She’s wrapping up.
“So, it was good to hear your voice, and we’ll be in touch!”
“Oh. Er, yes. Yes! Yes, was good to hear from you, too! Er… no partner, though?” I sound like an idiot now, and I feel like she’s going to remove my name from their list permanently.
She sounds almost sorry for me. “Oh, we’ll let you know when a prospective partner comes up. These things take time, y’know…”
We bid polite farewells, and I turn to walk into Ballerina’s chicken coop, alone.
These things take time, y’know.
Oh boy, do I know.
“And I know you’ll hike far,
And face up to your problems
Whatever they are.”
I’m walking home from the doctor’s office. He reassured me this hair loss was “normal,” to my total horror. He said the loss cycle could last up to two years. I’m convinced I’ll be bald by then. This is a race to the finish line, then. Wig in two years, no matter what.
I’m armed with a new, even milder shampoo and iron pills that may or may not be needed but will keep me calmer.
I meet up with Deena. She’s holding balloons and streamers, and I’m not amused. Rivky and Deena are celebrating her engagement anniversary. For goodness’ sake, when were those invented? I bet you my mother’s generation didn’t do these kinda things.
There’s a kerfuffle around the house we’re passing by. It looks a little like Meah Shearim; men in kaftans and long, hanging peyos, women in flowery shpitzels and black tights and black dresses. They all stream into the side entrance and disappear down a long, narrow path which leads towards a garden, it seems. It looks like Alice in Wonderland. I follow, Deena right behind me. We see a sign: ‘Frauen’, and dip inside.
Wafting music greets us, a beautiful white canopy billows in the breeze. A chuppah, COVID-19 style. We sneak into the garden. We don’t know a soul here, but no one gives us a sideways glance.
The chassan is swaying fervently under the chuppah, his long black peyos swinging, eyes closed tightly. The family and crowd stands around, gazing at the white, billowing canopy which seems to be aglow between the overhanging trees.
I love chuppahs. Always have, always will. This garden one seems surreal.
We stand, taking in the scene we’ve stumbled across, trying to figure out if we maybe know anyone here. We don’t.
Somehow, I don’t feel out of place.
Deena leans towards me and whispers into my ear: “You know what the best part of standing here is?”
I raise an eyebrow in question.
“We get to enjoy a chuppah without losing a friend.”
Ha. Dark humor by one who cannot speak. She’s deserted me herself.
There’s a sudden hustle and flurry, the music takes on a richer, warmer tone. The kallah arrives, and starts to circle her chassan. Under the sky in a haze of glowing white, two half souls unite.
“Hu yevoreich es hachassan, es hachassan v’es hakallah…” And then, I’m crying. I know that because the trees are suddenly blurry, and my cheeks are wet.
I might, if I were more aware, be mortified at myself, bawling like a baby at this chuppah where I don’t know a soul. But I’m entranced.
Deena whispers some more; she may have figured out someone she knows here… but I’m oblivious. Davening. Davening for the chassan and kallah, whoever they are, and every chassan and kallah out there — they should be happy, always.
And then I’m crying for myself, too. I’m clutching my iron pills and shampoo and they feel… cheap. Like I’m short-changing myself.
I also want to be happy. Just happy. And secure and content.
A tall woman steps in front of me and I lose sight of the glow before me.
Now the past few months pass through my mind, a haze of memories. Smiling, smiling, smiling at my glowing friends from the edge of the halo, ushering them into dressing rooms while I go “find this adorable dress in a smaller size for you,” admiring their jewelry and pictures and happiness, all while—
All while what? Settling for single friends and a headful of hair, convinced I need nothing more.
What do I really want? Who am I pretending for?
The tears are streaming down my face; my eyes close and I’m davening, and clutching onto my iron pills and shampoo for all I’m worth.
I really am lucky no one here knows me.
The glass breaking pulls me out of my reverie; laughter and joy and chattering fill the air, and the woman near me turns to me and whispers, “Mazel tov! Im yirtzeh Hashem by you!” I turn and look into her eyes; they’re warm, sincere, kind.
I don’t wince, I don’t eye-roll, I don’t shrug and echo sweetly in a sing-song “Im yirtzeh Hashem, in the right time…” I don’t think of single friends and I don’t think of hair.
I look her in the eye and whisper softly, “Amein.”
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray,
Or Mordechai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to great places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
There’s this weird twitch I feel at random times. Like right now. The marrieds have come for Erev Shabbos kugel, and they’re leaving now. Everyone’s piling out the door in a messy heap of kids, strollers, and cheerful noise.
I’m watching it all, part of the happy storm but also far removed. I’m dispensing kisses and hugs and tissues and lost socks in the tumble out the door, and then the door closes.
And there’s me, and Ta, and Ma.
And even though Rochel and her family will be coming for the seudah tomorrow, I feel a quiet and loneliness that will last all of Shabbos.
Shabbos morning, on the way home from shul, I see Esther, pushing a stroller alongside her husband. We’d had passionate conversations in quiet stairwells, Esther and I, back then in seminary, about not getting caught up in the engagement hype that had dominated then, sweeping young, eager girls off their feet into la-la land.
She gives me a slight nod and a wink. She’s with her husband now, of course.
Across the street I see Chana, waving madly. Also with her husband, of barely two weeks. I wave back with a laugh, but dare not cross the street to chat.
Instead, I hunker down deeper inside my coat, bury my hands in my pockets. I’m weary and cold and very alone. Worse, the old cynicism in me, the one that would usually mock the “marriage-clouds-fairy-tale-hype,” wasn’t kicking in this time. Had it wearied and withered, too?
Or is it just that my friends look so evidently… happy?
I walk briskly the rest of the way home.
At the seudah, I watch Rochel share a wink with her husband over Avrumi’s adorable antics. The twitch is there, right back in full force. Sometimes it niggles, sometimes it nags, but sometimes it hits head-on, hard.
It’s only when I excuse myself and go upstairs and look at myself in the bathroom mirror, where there’s no KKK and no Dassy and no Rivky and no shampoos and no Ta’s hesitant looks, that I focus on this weird twitch.
“You’re afraid of admitting to yourself what it is you really want.”
I say this patiently and slowly, as if explaining this to a child. Which, in a way, I am, I realize. I close my eyes tight.
Then I open them and look myself dead in the eye. “Liba. You really, really want to get married.”
Hope, I realize, is awful. Absolutely awful. It pulses in your heart and flutters in your chest and adds spring to your step and makes you smile stupidly into space.
The worst part is, it isn’t.
It’s nothing. So elusive, so absolutely vague and fuzzy and far. And near. Like waiting at the foot of some mountain, waiting to be whisked off in some savior cable car into the clouds. Where you stand at the top of the world and feel the sun in your face and the wind in your hair and the clouds float by, puffs of lace and tulle.
You’re still at the foot, though.
The wait may be long; it may be short. It may be strenuous, or it may be calm. You may have company, or you may delight in company that is only your own.
As long as you allow yourself to know the mountain you face, if you allow yourself to turn toward the peak you know you seek, already the wait at the foot is a happier one, guaranteed.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 725)
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