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Once Upon a Date      

   An SUV plowed into the trunk with a crunch that seemed, at the same time, to shake my ivory tower to its foundations

Once upon a time in Brooklyn there was a Prince Charming who, for some reason I have still not ascertained, deigned to date a lowly out-of-towner (me). Things began promisingly enough as he escorted me out the door of my family friend’s house in Lakewood, where we’d agreed to meet. In case you were wondering, no, we did not instantly click, although I could tell pretty much immediately that he felt just as awkward as I did. We marched down the driveway, feeling the “hopeful eyes a-staring from the window,” just like in the Journeys song (except I’d gotten off the turnpike before the New York exits), remarking airily to each other about how nice the weather was (it was going to pour any second).

The opening of the car door was successfully, if stiltedly, effected. (By the way, a note to boys: Girls can tell if you’re the kind of guy who only does this on a date. How many times have I watched guys execute this maneuver like marionettes, brows furrowed in covert concentration? I can almost hear the script going in their heads.

(Okay, Shmueli. Like we practiced. Smile nicely. Now make a daled amos and edge carefully around her in as natural a way as possible while smoothly unlocking the door with Yanky’s keys. Oy, mamesh a kashe how this car works. Should’ve taken Ima’s van. But it takeh wasn’t shayach bichlal with all the Cheerios on the floor. Oy. Okay, now pull the handle, but don’t open too suddenly — efsher you’ll hit her in the shins. That would be very bad for shidduchim. Okay, now crouch down and look through the window so you can make sure her skirt hem is out of the way before you shut the door. But don’t grin creepily at her through the glass. That would also be very bad for shidduchim. Okay! Five stars, dude, five stars. Shkoyach. Now for the next three hours.)

But I digress. Five points to Prince Charming for his successful execution of the car door maneuver. Then we drove to a place that doesn’t really matter anymore; what matters more is what happened on the way there.

As some of you may know, Lakewood wasn’t always the Jerusalem of the Western world. There was a time when it was just another cute hamlet in the peaceful Jersey countryside, and while few vestiges of that era remain, one particularly noticeable one is the preponderance of single-lane roads. In a city whose population has swelled to over 100,000, this is no laughing matter, but I thanked my lucky stars for it that day, because Prince Charming and I had absolutely nothing else to talk about. I’m serious. I looked at him and every interesting thought I’d ever had simply fell out of my head.

But then inspiration struck. I was like, hey, look, a road! Cars! Cars, right? Guys like cars. Cars are a male pastime. Cars, trucks, ambulances. Vroom, vroom. (Keep in mind that I have no brothers, so my understanding of the male psyche is understandably crude.) Boys like cars, I thought. Let us talk about cars.

So I said something worthy of my blondest highlights. I don’t remember it exactly anymore, but it was probably along the lines of, “So! Cars, right?” Yeah, like a comedian setting up a sequence of cringy jokes.

To his credit, Prince Charming tried to help me out. “Yeah, cars are nice. Useful. Yeah.”

We subsided into silence. I thought perhaps I would launch myself out the window just to get away. Or generate a topic of conversation.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, as we approached a left turn onto the 9, it hit me. Drivers! That’s something people have opinions about!

(Yes, I can hear you groaning as you read this. You are right. It’s a terrible topic. It’s almost as bad as politics. Nevertheless, desperate times call for desperate measures.)

I proudly announced to this born-and-bred Boro Parker that I despised New York drivers. I grew animated, elaborating on their aggressiveness, their tunnel vision, their blatant disregard for human life. The representative of the maligned tribe in question nodded along at the steering wheel (displaying none of those notorious habits that are Very Bad for ShidduchimTM). The drive proceeded and I monologued away, safe in my ivory out-of-towner tower.

Eventually, we switched from Route 9 to a more deserted one-lane road, and at one point Prince Charming veered to the opposite side to pass a slow car in front. Afterward, he glanced at me sheepishly. “That was a pretty New York thing to do, wasn’t it?” I nodded with benevolent superiority.

Fast forward to two days later. The date had been fine. I wasn’t swept off my feet, but I had not discovered any major red flags (e.g., felonies, tendencies to narcissism, spinach in teeth, etc.), and evidently, he had not been put off by my bias against his hometown.

We agreed to another date, but this time he’d come to me, out in my hometown, a place he’d never been to, and which shall remain nameless for the sake of my dignity. You’ll see why soon. He even added a further concession: We’d drive half an hour out of the city in order to avoid seeing anyone I knew (yes, I live in that kind of neighborhood). He made every effort to extend himself on my behalf. He was a total gentleman.

Which made what happened next infinitely more terrible.

Reader, I kid you not. Ten minutes after he pulled up to my house, ten minutes after I slipped into the car, determined to make a quick getaway, as we sat at a red light at a major intersection, we were rear-ended. (And for those of you who are taking notes, this is VERY BAD for shidduchim.)

You can’t make this stuff up. An SUV plowed into the trunk with a crunch that seemed, at the same time, to shake my ivory tower to its foundations. Our makeshift chariot reverted to a squashed pumpkin. Feeble attempts at conversation ceased; in sync, our eyes darted to the back window, which was now half obscured by the tent his trunk had become. The New York license plate was barely hanging on. I had never been so ashamed to be an out-of-towner. Now I have to marry him, if only to make it up to him, I thought dismally.

We pulled over; he called his parents, he called the police, he spoke coherently with the owner of the SUV. I sat on the sidewalk and watched cars full of familiar faces roll by, rubbernecking. So much for a quick getaway.

We had been planning to go for ice cream. Instead, after the police showed up and announced they would not be filing a report since the car was drivable and all of us were still upright (pretty low standards, if you ask me), Prince Charming and I clunked five blocks to a pharmacy, where we purchased a roll of duct tape and spent 15 minutes securing his bumper well enough for it to return to New York with the rest of the car.

I swooned, not from romance, but from shame. My city had let me down. That SUV driver had wrecked Prince Charming’s perception of this place forever, and the irony of the accident’s location, after my extended rant in Lakewood, was not lost on me either. I wanted to duct-tape my mouth shut. I wanted to duct-tape Prince Charming’s shattered dreams back together. I resisted the temptation. That would be very bad for shidduchim.

We did get ice cream, by the way, but its enjoyment was marred by the bitterness of the dragging bumper. We couldn’t see it out the window of the store — in a stroke of genius, he’d parked on the far side of the lot — but understandably, it lingered in our minds. For the first time since we’d met, we both knew exactly what the other was thinking.

It was with a heavy heart that I called the shadchan later that day. I’d known since he’d shown up that afternoon that I was going to say no. We had so little in common, so little to say to each other. And the events of the day had simply strengthened my resolve — here was a responsible, hardworking, sensitive person worthy of a girl who absolutely adored him, and I wasn’t going to be that girl. He deserved more. I had to get out of his way.

So I did. I didn’t cry about it at the time, but I have since then. He was a bona-fide Prince Charming, and I hope he finds his Cinderella. I really do. And I try to keep faith that somewhere out there is my own Prince Charming. But mostly I cling, tighter than duct tape, to the hope that all of us hauling our squashed-pumpkin hearts down single-lane roads — from Brooklyn to Baltimore, Monsey to Miami, Lakewood to Los Angeles — merit our own Happily Ever After.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 858)

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