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The Secret

Even as I search for the watch online, I feel a sense of growing dread, as though I’m walking into a trap

It’s an impressive-looking watch. Supple brown leather, a chrome-plated face, thin hands that circle smoothly.

We’re at a jewelry sale that has reduced rates for kollel couples. My benevolent husband has brought me here Erev Yom Tov to pamper me with a new necklace, something beautiful that’s still within our budget.

Between putting another kugel into the oven and frying more onions, I’d thrown on something presentable to dash into the pop-up shop in a neighbor’s dining room. The jewelry sparkles like a million fireflies. But I’m feeling rushed, and unless I’m really wowed, I’m hesitant to spend. In the end, nothing grabs my attention, and I’m ready to return to the kitchen.

But my husband is dawdling, his fingers trailing over the table holding men’s jewelry. His eyes flit back, again and again, to the bronze box, propped up in the right corner, displaying the beautiful watch on its plush cream pillow.

I see him deliberating. Although he has a watch already, the one I bought him years ago as a chassan, the invisible pull toward that watch is as solid as the item itself.

I’m thrilled that he wants it, encourage the purchase, because although he’s generous with others, he’s stingy with himself. Something is different tonight, and for that, I’m happy. He rarely expresses his preferences. It’s so seldom for him to indulge that I’m gratified when he agrees to spend money on something that is beyond a utilitarian necessity.

My husband is over the moon when he hears from a passing customer that he’d seen it online, priced at well over $1,000. We pay a quarter of that, for this supposedly designer watch that is built with precision and class.

He’s thrilled, I’m thrilled, and we return home with the watch. He places it ceremoniously on a shelf in his closet, closes the door, seems to continue with his evening.

A few times I catch him opening the jewelry box just to eye his purchase, the excitement at wearing it in a day’s time palpable. I can’t help but notice the pride over this steal of a deal, this lavishness.

I see how the knowledge that he wears something of value is helping him realize his own. My Yom Tov present is the lightness and joy exuding from my husband. Suddenly he’s transformed into a schoolboy, this 5-foot-11-inch man, his face all grins, eyes bright with a light I can practically feel.

Through all the glitter and gold and giddiness, I push away a niggling thought, a pesky droning insect that won’t allow me to enjoy the radiating warmth. I ignore it, busy myself with cooking and measuring and frying and basting.

Finally, late at night, when I’ve finished tidying the kitchen, my husband has retired to bed, and the buzz of uncertain knowledge is louder than ever, I allow myself the luxury of confronting my thoughts: that name of the company, although familiar to me, didn’t strike me as designer. A fine watch, to be sure, but over $1,000?

Curiosity gets the better of me, and the glowing computer in the blanket of night only adds to the suspense. I can practically hear ominous music as I type the information into Google.

Even as I search for the watch online, I feel a sense of growing dread, as though I’m walking into a trap I will have no way of escaping. It’s partial madness, this drive against reason to uncover the true value of that watch.

After typing up the product number, there I see it, being sold on Amazon, the same supple brown band, same gold-colored face.

The snare I knowingly entered clenches tight, and I’m a trapped prey. My stomach churns.

The price is not $1,000. It’s not even half of that. Not even a quarter. It costs less than the amount we paid at the jewelry gemach.

I don’t think the seller was dishonest. In America, watches are certainly less expensive; perhaps that was part of the consideration of the price, and perhaps here in Israel, it’s considered a steal of a deal.

Yet the knowledge that with one click, I could have ordered the exact same piece for my husband, at not only a cheaper price, but with warranty included, makes me feel nauseated.

I want to tell him we got ripped off, to return it to the saleslady, to buy the same one online. The knowledge rankles, and I’m certain my husband can hear the indignation coursing through me from the next room where he sleeps.

He’s living in a fantasy, so confident and assured. But it’s a fantasy, nothing more. I’m confused, I’m upset, I’m hurting for him. It’s not fair. I want to complain, commiserate with him.

And yet...

If I were to share the information with him, he’d feel bad and stupid. I want to share what I discovered with him, but at the same time, a part of me knows it will wound him deeply.

I struggle, vacillating, the knowledge bubbling in waves, waiting to pound out.

I don’t want to keep things from him. I’ve read enough marriage books to know that keeping secrets can poison close relationships.

Secrets are bad. Secrets are dangerous. Secrets are the erosive substance of trust.

Yet surely, if I told him I’d researched the true value and we’d overspent, wouldn’t that deeply wound him? Wouldn’t that, too, negatively impact our relationship?

Right now, he’s on a high, in his fantasyland of “gvir-hood.” I literally see how clothes make a man, how a simple watch can do so much for his self-confidence. Could I take that away from him?

The watch is so evidently more than just a watch, serves a far greater purpose than a simple adornment. Who’s to say that’s any less valuable than the price he thinks it’s worth?

I can’t take that blissful ignorance away from him.

When he mentions the watch, looks at it admiringly, I smile, although a part of me burbles, and I must rein myself in before the information bursts forth. I carry the secret from a place of love, of care.

The secret is weighing on me, but I bear that load alone — my gift to him.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 674)

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