Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Surprise Visitor: A short story

Most people think that Moshe and I were childhood sweethearts. I guess that’s because we grew up together, not literally, but figuratively. We met when we were both nineteen at a weekend retreat to learn more about Judaism.  I went because it was a chance to get off the campus, out of the crowded city, and into a nature preserve where the Shabbaton was being held. Moshe went because he needed to sort out his complicated feelings for Christie, his non-Jewish girlfriend from high school.
I noticed him already at Friday night services when I peeked at the men’s section. He didn’t notice me until the following afternoon when we were together in a workshop dealing with intermarriage. Three years later we were married, living in San Diego, and very much involved with the observant Jewish community. I think Moshe had more or less forgotten all about Christie. I know I had until she came into our lives.
Moshe was in bed with a bad flu when she first called. I remember how I sprang for the phone hoping its ringing would not wake him.
“Is this the Rosen residence?” a sweet voice asked.
“Can I speak to Mike?”
“Who’s calling, please?”
“An old friend of his.” The voice no longer sounded so sweet, but rather irritated. That annoyed me but also piqued my curiosity so I gingerly opened our bedroom door. Moshe was awake and looking bored.
“You have a phone call. Do you feel like talking?”
He nodded eagerly so I brought him the bedside phone. Now, I decided, was a perfect time to straighten out my scarf drawer. Of course, it did not hurt that I would be able to hear Moshe’s side of the conversation and find out who the mysterious caller was. 
“Yes… Christie…” His voice registered pure surprise and I’m sure my face reflected the same. I would have loved to hear the rest of the conversation but our toddler woke up from her nap and began crying for me. It was a good half an hour later before I could ask Moshe about the call.
He smiled sheepishly and told me that Christie had moved back to Phoenix, run into one of their mutual high school friends, and found out where we were living. She just called to find out what he was doing with his life. Moshe really seemed uncomfortable so I stopped my questions.
That did not stop me from thinking, though. I remembered very well being Moshe’s sounding board the first few weeks after the Shabbaton as he was trying to decide how to break up with his non-Jewish girlfriend. Finally he just met her and bluntly told her the truth. “I can’t continue to go out with a non-Jewish girl.  I’m sorry if I hurt you.” He apologized and took off as quickly as he could.
Once he ended his association with her he felt free to forge ahead with discovering Torah Judaism and developing his relationship with me. We gave each other the support we needed to start keeping kosher and observing Shabbat. After a year we began learning the Jewish Family Laws and were married right after our graduation. With each year we continued to learn more and with our knowledge we made more and more commitments to following the laws of the Torah. A girlfriend or boyfriend, non-Jewish or not, had no place in our new life.
I really did not have much time to worry about Christie. My toddler kept me running, I was studying for my masters, there was the upcoming Purim party I was co-chairing, and I was six months pregnant. It was right after our second daughter was born that Christie called again. This time Moshe answered. And this time we were both in the kitchen and I heard every word. I did not like what I heard.
Christie apparently would be in San Diego the following week for a one-day business conference and she wanted to meet Moshe for lunch. He was evasive.
“Call me at work and I’ll see if I can get away.” He gave her his work number as I gave him a withering glance.
“I couldn’t just tell her no,” he defended himself once he had hung up the phone.
“Why not?”
Moshe readjusted his glasses and sighed. “I acted like a real heel to Christie when I broke things off with her. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Jewish.”
“So,” I flared. “If she was Jewish you would have ended up marrying her?”
“No,” he protested. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
Before he could say anything more I picked up the baby and took her into our room to nurse, closing the door emphatically as I went.
Later, after our two daughters were asleep, Moshe tried talking to me again. He assured me that he would have never married Christie, Jewish or not. She had been a great girlfriend for high school and his first years in university but he was a totally different person from whom he had been. I went to sleep that night feeling somewhat appeased.
I was even more appeased two days later when Moshe called me from work.
“Guess who called,” he demanded.
“Yes, and I told her that I’m sorry but I couldn’t meet her for lunch. Not because I couldn’t get away but because the only woman I wanted to meet for lunch was my wife. So, how about it?”
“You want to meet me for lunch?” I asked, a big grin spreading across my face.
“Do you want to pack up the girls and meet me at the deli in an hour?”
Flattered I agreed. We had a very nice time and did not give Christie even a minute of our attention. I thought she was out of our life but I was wrong.
A year or so passed and I was again pregnant, in my first trimester. This time I felt great and did not have any morning sickness. I was still able to wear my normal clothes and they looked good on me. Shabbat morning we had a table full of guests when our doorbell rang. Both Moshe and I groaned. It was obvious whoever was on our front porch did not know anything about Shabbat.
“It’s probably a salesman,” I said.
“I’ll go,” Moshe gallantly announced.
He opened the door and I heard a woman’s voice.  “I’m looking for Mike Rosen.”
“I’m Mike Rosen,” my husband said.
I didn’t catch the woman’s response but no one missed Moshe’s reply.
“Christie!” he exclaimed. Obviously he had not recognized her either.
Our little girls, dressed in matching dresses and looking adorable, left their places at the table to check out who had caused their father to become so flustered. Recovering himself, my husband introduced his daughters and invited Christie into the house.
 I rose graciously, conscious of the fact that I happened, at that particular point in time, to look great. Offering her my hand I invited her to stay for lunch.  She declined, listened to Moshe introduce all our guests, and then left as quickly as possible. As she walked out I said a silent prayer of thanks that I, the children, and the house looked so good at the time Christie decided to pay us a surprise visit.
That she did not recognize Moshe was no surprise. Since she had seen him last he had begun wearing glasses, grown a beard, and put on a skullcap and a few pounds. I could not help wondering, though, why he did not recognize her.  How much could she have changed in five years? As I puzzled over the question I came to the conclusion that she had probably not changed that much. Again, it was Moshe who had changed and he no longer saw the world, even his old girlfriend, the same way he had once seen it.

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