June 15, 2010

Not That Kind of a Jew

Damn me, but I still see her. I go to bed hoping that tonight, tonight she won’t show up, she’ll forget to visit, or maybe I’ll have finally moved on, or that she will, instead, be haunting someone else. But there Clarissa is, sometimes just a face, disembodied, other times all of her, appearing the moment I turn out the lights. It’s been 223 days and she’s still there and I have no idea what she wants.

I’m terrible at dealing with loss. My cat’s been dead a year and I still grieve for him. My dad’s been dead for ten years and I still grieve for him. My girl gave me the pink slip in November and I still grieve for her. Someone once told me that you never get over grief, you just find a way to live with it.

There were many reasons she walked, some of them not unreasonable. We were a mistake, despite the good vibes that traveled between us, the team spirit. In the end, her skepticism of me and my fear of her empathy deficit did us in.

I tried to explain this to Diana when I saw her for the first time since Clarissa and I split up.

“But you two seemed like such a good couple,” she said.

“She didn’t think I was Jew enough.”

“What? No. Really? Ha ha ha.”

Diana’s laugh is garrulous, from deep in the belly, the kind that proves the limitations of writing. There is no stringing together of words that can effectively transmit its good-natured, animal root.

You? You’re not Jewish enough? You? What is she, crazy?”

I was confused. When did I ever play up that side of me, the Jewish side? Hadn’t my dad, Holocaust survivor, the man who changed his name to pass among the Gentiles unmolested, hadn’t he taught me how to tamp it down? And when we were among Jews, hadn’t he taught me how to tamp down the Catholic German side?

“There are just two things I ask of you, David,” he said on an elevator down to the hotel breakfast room that time we visited Pennsylvania. A synagogue committee was due to pick us up.

“One, don’t order the bacon. And two, don’t tell them that your mother is German.”

The Jewish side, making your family feel guilty, and the Catholic side, making yourself feel guilty – well, it was like matter/anti-matter. They canceled each other out.

Diana, her eyes a‑twinkle, waited for me to account for myself.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I said, finally getting it. “I’m not talking Woody Allen Jew. I’m talking traditional, practicing Jew.”

“Oh!” Diana sounded disappointed. Then she laughed again, because the error amused her.

“You are a Woody Allen Jew!”

“But that’s not why Clarissa broke up with me. It’s not because I’m the neurotic, hypochondriacal, nebbishy, pain-in-the-ass, complaining, cup half full Jew. She broke up with me because I’m not the other kind of Jew. The kosher Jew. The yarmulke Jew. The bar mitzvah Jew. I’m not that kind of Jew.”

“Too bad. Because you’re definitely the first kind.”

“She wants a Jewish home. That’s what she said.”

“A Jewish home.”

“She wants to be a part of something bigger than herself, she told me. And I just want to stay home and cook a little dinner.”

Sure, I like the idea of attaching myself to something bigger, but the rituals and the synagogues are not for me. Everything in the prayerbook sounds good, noble, but the people, the rabbi – they seem random, of the moment, not of tradition, not really. My dad had no time for any of that. He lit candles for his parents and sister, and I light a candle for him. That’s where it begins and ends.

So I want to tell that face of Clarissa I see every night that I’m only the son of my father. That’s the kind of Jew I am, no more and no less.