Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Adulteress

A story

I remember the day I was married. I was so happy then. We danced at the chuppah; we laughed and cried. I sparkled in a dress that I had taken much time and care choosing, and the look on Josh’s face showed me that he treasured me, that he was utterly and completely happy.

I was only twenty-one. This is the way things are done in my world; this is the way that we live. I had followed the dance as I had been taught, the dance of courtship and little nothings, the polite exchanges and interchanges between me and him. I had been dating for two years by that point, as most Orthodox Jews do. You see, we marry young when we are Orthodox Jews. It is like a bazaar, and the men come and choose those amongst us whom they see as prettiest and most beautiful, the ones about whom they can dream, the ones who fulfill their fantasies. We smile at them and adjust our clothes becomingly, while we talk politely, never raising our voices, never speaking out of turn.

I was a little different. My name is Aurora, and this means I have the fire of the sun in me, or at least, of the dawn. With the dawn comes beauty, and they tell me that I am beautiful. I have long curls, auburn, that reach to halfway down my back. My eyes are dark as well, and they are fringed with long black lashes. They are the kind of eyes that seem to be looking on and on, unerringly, as though they have found what they sought. People often think they can find themselves in my eyes. It is not true. It is that I am looking them through and through and searching for something which remains elusive, something which I still cannot find. I found it in Josh, or so I thought.

I met him at a birthday party. Crowded, with music pulsing all around me, I was engrossed and repulsed by the spectacle. These were all people I knew, people who went to college with me or attended other colleges in the New York area. I watched them dance and play and laugh loudly, convincing themselves that they were having a good time. And then I saw Josh, who stood a little apart from them, just as I did. That intrigued me. I had determined to observe, and observe I did, noting the dark hair which fell a little into his eyes because it was overly long, and which he had to continuously sweep back. I memorized his lips, the shape of them, and decided I liked his face, which, in addition to being handsome, simply conveyed a sense of honesty I admired. He was well groomed, and his clothes fit him well. I looked at him and watched him interact with the others. Then I turned my gaze away, focusing once more on the mingling bodies, the pulse of humanity all around me. Why did I feel dead in this room that vibrated with life? And yet, if anything, it saddened me, frustrated me. I rose to my feet, determined to walk out the door after making my goodbyes. But before I could do that, I was introduced to Josh. Josh was a student at Columbia, and he was instantly witty and charming. And so I laughed with him, and teased him about his books, and soon I was taking part in a conversation the content of which I actually valued.

Josh and I were friends for a while. I would not call it dating; I am not the kind to date- not conventionally, anyway. We would go to places we both enjoyed. We laughed together, we played together. I was infatuated. Of course, I denied that to anyone who asked me about it, because there was a surety, a sense of assurance that he was of course the one destined for me, destined for me from the beginning of time. An angel announces which person is meant for whom when we are born. And I was certain, whenever I looked at Josh, that it must be he. And so we spoke and laughed and drank cups of coffee at Starbucks together, despite the fact that I hated Starbucks, and I decided he was charming and all was well.

Over time, this evolved into a stronger bond. By this point my friends were aware of the relationship, and each of them eagerly pressed me for information about myself and him, appraised me in the mirror and nodded approvingly before I would venture down the stairs and walk outside with him. He was unfailingly kind, and everything was as it should be. I was in love with him. How could I not be? Everything pointed to it. I enjoyed his company, and I pushed aside the things I minded. Why should it bother me that his interests lay in a different field than mine? That was not something of import. Or why that I was more earnestly devoted to my religion and my God than he? He had a more spiritual take on his religion; it was one that was not rooted in the books and academic sources I so craved.

It was three and a half months, and I met his parents. He met mine as well, and all was arranged. He surprised me shortly thereafter, and we were engaged. Although of course I would not profess to care overly much about my diamond, it was a beautiful one, and sparkled on my finger. And every time I looked at Josh I thought of how much I loved him, and how everything would be perfectly wonderful. Of course, I knew that we would have to work at marriage. Everyone had told me this. They had also told me that the first year would be the most difficult, and had advised me about my responsibilities and duties. But I was ready. I knew I was ready. After all, was I not flooded with feelings for Josh, and did he not return them utterly? I knew that everything was as it should be.

At my shower, my friends laughed and teased me as I ripped off the wrappings, showering the torn scraps of metallic paper to the floor. I laughed gaily and threw my head back with joy. Each gift was a practical one- a Cuisinart blender, a Black & Decker set of bowls and knives. Soon I was receiving advice about how to pick out china dishes in my bridal registry, and I ventured from store to store choosing precisely what I liked. My parents were happy for me. Everyone smiled down upon me. And I- I had eyes only for Josh. I existed for Josh, to make him happy, to help him and to heal him.

My wedding was beautiful. A lavish affair, with a varied smorgasbord (that sign of interest amongst the Orthodox), exquisite centerpieces, a simply divine band. My friends surprised me with their entertaining comments and posters, which were used as shtick. Josh and I danced and greeted people and threw each other longing looks over the mechitza which separated us. I could feel his desire, and that made me happy. But I was shy.

At long last, the guests had all departed and I was free to walk upstairs to the bridal chamber. I will never forget that first night. It was memorable because I thought that this was everything that they had spoken of, all the pleasure that was allowed me. And I was surprised, since I had expected something different. I was also shy of Josh at that time, and he of me. You see, we did not really know what to expect, and so we had to figure it out as we went along, and were not sure if we did rightly or wrongly. What I do remember is that my infatuation with him led me to feel desire, and so I was happy that first night.

We attended the sheva brachos and I presided, resplendent, in my new suits and other carefully chosen outfits, receiving compliments upon my hat, my shoes, the diamond bracelet that I had been given. So long as I was surrounded by others, I was confident; I knew that all was well. But once I was alone with Josh I felt more confused, nervous, even. Because what I began to realize was that there was not a basis for our attachment for one another, that I had married him simply because that was expected of me- that if I liked someone enough and found their company pleasant, I should marry them. But of course I did not allow myself to realize this. After all, I was Aurora, the spinner of dreams, the mistress of fantasies. I lived in my fantasy, and I was very good at fooling myself.

I did everything as I ought. I entertained him, I went places with him, I cooked for him and helped prepare the Shabbat meals. We were happy together, except that I began to realize that the things that were most important to me, those which I loved extremely, I could not talk about. They were not the same things that made his blood quicken, that made him feel. I had not realized how much I would miss a man of learning. I had thought that the fact that Josh was good, that he was intelligent, that he was spiritual about his religion and Judaism and related to it honestly, would be enough. But it was not enough. There were things I wanted to ask, things I wanted to know, things I wanted to discuss, but I was shy of bringing them up before him lest it seem as though I knew more than him. It was not that I thought he was a jealous man, or would be angry with me for so knowing. It was that I was afraid to disgrace him- or perhaps, it was that I was afraid to disgrace him in my eyes.

I had cherished a fantasy of a husband who was wiser than me, who knew more than me, whom I did not need to support but who was sufficient to himself- who did not need me, but wanted me. I had wanted someone who was my equal, but I had fallen for someone who had passed himself off as being so, but in truth was not. I realized that I had to think through my every action lest I hurt him or embarrass him, and while I did not begrudge him this, it made me less myself. I was not natural around him, not in the way that I had been before. The lighthearted and meaningful conversation we had made- the barriers we had broken- that was there, and it was pleasant, but this was not what I had dreamed of; this was not the true, deep and meaningful relationship I craved and cherished. I desired someone who would choose me, but who did not need me to lift him up, to save him, to take away the pain of the hurts he had suffered because he did not have the ability to do it himself. I desired an equal.

How was it possible that I had been so blinded? We were six months into our marriage and I could not understand what it was that I had done. I was no fool, and I had not married foolishly. We had discussed our thoughts, our preferences, our desires; we had been very candid with each other. How could it be that I had mistaken my infatuation for love? I felt very low then, as though I was the author of this deception, the one who had cruelly chosen him only to now feel trapped by this marriage, which began to be a marriage of pretense more than reality. Josh did not know me, because I was afraid to let him know me. I realized more frequently that things which I cherished, he judged, and that which I loved, he resented. It was not that he was bad to me. On the contrary, he was very good to me. And that made it all the worse. Because here he was, innocent of any plot, and yet, I did not love him and I was not myself with him.

But I tried very hard to be. I slept with him, and in that there was still passion and sensuality conceived by my mind. Desire begins with the mind, not the body, with the ability to think and to fantasize and to act upon what one desires and what one wants. And as I was beautiful, and intelligent besides, I was satisfied in that way. I conceived a child. We had been married almost a year. I was certain that with the birth of this child, with her to fill my life and to live with me, I would be happy and content, and whatever confused feelings lay within me would be totally devoted to my love of her.

I gave birth to the child, and Josh was ecstatic. The stirrings of love rekindled in my heart when I saw the joy with which he looked upon her, the way in which he cradled her in his arms. I felt myself cruel to judge this man who had only shown me kindness, and I endeavored to be better- a better mother, a better wife. I knew that I was an unnatural person not to love this man who had only shown me kindness. My friends praised me and assumed that everything in my marriage was progressing beautifully. Little did they know of the rebellion that lay dormant in my heart.

I nursed my child, loved her, told her fantastical stories of creatures and fairies in far-away lands. I let her listen to music, taught her Torah, creating fascinating tales of our forefathers and inundating her pretty sweet head with these stories. I cooked and cleaned and was a homemaker, because I would not abandon my child to the care of a nanny or babysitter. But that was all right, as I was able to write columns from home, and in that way managed to bring in a part-time salary. Josh, of course, was studying; he was continuing in chemistry. He worked during the day and studied at night, and all should have been well.

But all was not well. For my feelings for Josh did not exist, even when I guiltily pushed myself to feel them. I acted kindly toward him- I would bring him little presents, surprise him, make his favorite foods, remind him of the times we had had together while we were still dating- but he was tired, and busy, and did not often respond as I might have wished. I was not so cruel as to judge him for these lapses. I thought they were only to be expected. But what did frustrate me is that I could not find in him the source of support that I needed, while I was a pillar of strength for him, he could not be that for me. Instead, I found myself constantly and consistently forgiving him the little wrongs he did me, the slights with words, and telling myself he did not mean it. When I was very low, I found ways to occupy or distract myself, so as not to take out my anger on him- for I told myself he did not deserve it.

Yet we continued as couples do, and the child grew. We were seen together; we attended dinners and functions together, Chanukah parties and the like. People seemed to enjoy my wit, but I was brooding, and I was unhappy, and the telltale signs of strain began to show on me. My friends counseled me that a vacation was what I needed. But a vacation from what? A vacation from my household, which was- or so it ought to have been- perfectly happy? A vacation from myself, more accurately ,but that was unfair, and impossible. How could I escape from myself? And what kind of woman was I, that I could not respond to my husband as I ought?

Over this time, Josh began to change. Money was tight, and we were worried. He began to accuse me of financial excesses, when I had innocently spent what I did not know we did not have. I cut back on my spending, which had never been very prevalent anyway, but he was still angry with me. We began to fight. But all couples fight, don’t they? Yet we would fight about everything. We would fight about the school that our child would attend, where I did not like the education or the things they were teaching her, which I felt spoiled her soul and took her away from the Judaism I cherished. The Judaism she was learning was a cold, dead thing, and it burdened and oppressed her. I cried to see her in her little uniform when she went to school, that uniform she was made to wear to keep her covered to fulfill the tenets of tznius. I did not like my daughter so confined, and so unfree. But Josh saw nothing in my worries, and told me I was being meddlesome and foolish. He was busy, and soon, I was busy, too. By now I had gotten myself a full-time job, where I was respected and much enjoyed. People seemed happy in my company, and would always exclaim over my unusual name- Aurora. The dawn is a concept that attracts many, and makes them happy. It seemed that simply through my presence I was able to bring a little of the dawn to these people, and this in turn made me glad.

My Lisa took after me. She was a dreamer, thoughtful, inquiring. Invariably, she got in trouble at school for asking too many questions. I had grown fearful of Josh. It was not that he was cruel to me, or struck me, but he was worried, and stress overtook him to the point that it was unpleasant to be in our house. The tension was thick, unless we had other people over to act as a buffer between us. When those people were there, we entertained and thought ourselves happy. It is not that we were vicious in their presence, and took joy in dropping little hints and barbs that the other could detect. No, it was that we were truly able to be at ease with other people, and so we determined to practice hachnasas orchim whenever possible, to invite others to eat with us, stay with us, to take up the space in our household, that space caused by the distance between us.

I longed for him to simply come to me and confide in me, to talk to me and trust me. I wanted to confide in him and knew that privilege was denied me. He needed me to be strong for him, to hear him out and offer sound advice- for at times we still reconciled and were tender toward each other- I was not allowed to fall apart. I had no refuge; there was no one to whom I could turn. I was a mother and an accomplished database programmer; I was also a writer, but these were not the things that mattered to him. What mattered was that I be there when he needed me, tender and sweet, and be unseen when he did not desire me.

Slowly, his total dependence upon me began to repulse me. He was weak, and I despised his weakness. It was not fair of me, but it was true nonetheless. What use was he to me, when he could not help me, could not offer me the same comfort which I gave him freely? And yet. What was there to do? There was nothing to be done. We had already committed ourselves to one another; the only thing to do was to continue in this way.

Until one day we were at a wedding at the Marina del Ray, for some younger friends of ours who were now to be married, and as I was exiting the ladies’ room and walking through the corridor back to the main ballroom, I happened to stumble, the heel of my shoe catching on my dress. I fell, but someone caught me, and as I stood up my eyes met his- Michael. It was Michael, and I had not seen him in years, but it felt so natural to be in his arms, so right, that with a sigh of relief my eyes met his, and all the feelings that I thought I had buried so long ago flared up again. I pressed closer against him and felt his eyes meet mine, and then, realizing that we were in public, I stepped away from him.

“Are you all right?” he asked, and his tone was smooth and careful, as though he were merely asking about the fall.

“Yes, quite,” I answered, and flashed a smile at him. We exited the hallway, but in the opposite direction, and stood outside on the pier, where we looked out over the water.

“Aurora,” he said, and it seemed to me that he breathed the name, as though it were laden with memories for him, as it was for me. “I have missed you.”

“Yes, I too,” I answered, and suddenly tears sprang to my eyes and I turned, my face half-shadowed because of the sunlight. But I could feel his eyes on me and so I turned, unselfconsciously, and he saw the tears, though he did not comment. But simply in the way he looked at me I could feel that he would do anything so that I would not cry, and that there was within him a great longing to help, and to take me from myself.

“What is the matter, Aurora?” he asked quietly, so that the other people mingling outside would not hear, and I shook my head slightly to indicate this was not a matter to discuss in public. “It is just that I am glad to see you again,” I answered, and my smile came naturally, but did not dispel the tears caught within my eyes.

“Where have you been?” I asked him, and he told me he had been away, traveling in Europe for a time in business, but had come back to the States now. Indeed, he did not live so far away from me.

“Are you—married?” I inquired, for as he must have been in his thirties, it seemed likely.

“No,” he said simply, and I read an answer in his eyes, an answer which simultaneously thrilled and frightened me, because it suggested that what I now felt was reciprocated. I understood now why my feelings of infatuation had not lasted for Josh; it was because there was something much deeper and stronger, a bond that had been there first and that could not be taken away from me- and that was with Michael, who had always been the one to save me and to help me. Michael and I had always been equals, in our devotion to God and our dedication to our Judaism. In many things we were like-minded; there were a few on which we differed significantly, and these differences were such that I determined, of course, that I could not marry him. I had not admitted to myself that I loved him still, that at the moment, all I wanted to do was trace the pads of my fingers up his chin, around his jaw, down his neck, to run my perfectly manicured fingernails over his lips, to taste his tongue. But I saw the answering look of desire in his eyes, and also the realization that it was inappropriate, and more than that, forbidden. We were Jews and we knew the law well; adultery was the most contemptible thing for it made a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage in which I was bound. For three things, one must die- and one of them is committing adultery with a married woman.

I knew these things as well, and I never thought that I would come to committing adultery with Michael. That was not in my mind, not at all; rather, I was certain that I had at last found someone who could be there for me when I needed it, who could be the pillar of support that Josh was not. And indeed, that is what happened- that is how we began. I would write him letters, or emails; we would speak, sometimes on the phone- invariably when Josh was not around- and then, discreetly, we began to meet- in public, and sometimes for a dinner amongst others.

Yet I refrained from introducing him to my husband. I felt that my husband would sense what I myself knew- that it was this man I loved, and not him. I had not been unfaithful to Josh physically, but I had in my heart, and I knew it, though as of yet, I would not admit that, either.

Until that night- there was a night when Michael called me and such wild pain rode in his voice that I fled, invented an excuse that I had to leave, and came to his apartment to find out what it was that had wracked him so. A friend, a beloved friend of his had committed suicide, a friend who had been David to his Jonathan, and he did not know what to do. And then- it was natural; it was right- how could I have refrained- I threw my arms around him and comforted him, stroking his hair, my fingers twining through his curls, his back, his arms, soothing him and calming him, to quiet the storm that raged within.

I did not sleep with him that night; I merely eased his grief. But we continued on like that and we could not help ourselves, or perhaps, if we could have, it was that we did not want to. I know that I did not want to. What I did felt right, sanctified and pure- I shared my body with the man whom I felt was my true soulmate, not to spite Josh or to hurt him, but because this afforded me a joy and happiness that I had utterly forgotten. I continued my duties as wife and mother at home, and continued in my kindness toward Josh, but I felt myself to be a hypocrite, and even despicable.

How could it be that I was an adulteress? I, who clung to the tenets of Judaism, who lived my whole life by them, and through them; how had I succumbed to this? It was impossible, and yet, there was no way for me to repent, because to repent was to say this was false, but it was not false. I knew that what God desired of me was something stronger still- for me to admit that this was not false, but rather pure, in that it was done for a pure reason, but nevertheless to refrain from it, because I was deceiving my husband and I was hurting my soul, which God had given me. But it was not so simple. I did not wish to leave Josh- you are wondering why it was I did not simply ask for a divorce- because I did not know if I could be wed to Michael. All the same questions that had once existed between us were yet there; I did not know if we could exist in each others’ company in the way that we wished to, or if we would not cause our own downfall there as well. Aside from this, I loved my children- by this time I had two, a boy and a girl- and wanted them to grow up well, in a family not divided.

In my heart I felt my dishonesty hurt and corrupt me, but at the same time, I felt somewhat justified, as Josh had learned to become more and more unkind. He was cruel in his neglect. He took no notice of me unless it was for something he needed- whether his food or his bed- and he thought this was perfectly all right. He would not offer the children the necessary attention unless I begged it of him; he would cuttingly state that he was tired and overworked and the only true provider in this family, anyway, and that he did not have time to deal with them just now. The tears I cried because of this! And I felt selfish, too, to take my joy with another when I had not succeeded in saving my children from the bondage of their respective schools, and they were being raised in a model of Judaism that I myself did not embody. They clung to me, my children, and my way of living and existing; they felt the coldness of what they were taught, the chill haunted them.

I was an adulteress, but I was too frightened to tell my husband- at first, I had not meant to deceive him, and now, I had deceived him for so long; what was I to do? And I was worried about what would happen-because I was sure it would be a divorce, and who would be given custody of the children? I needed the children, wanted them desperately, but I was not sure what he might do to punish me. And so I was silent, and thought somehow my two worlds would not collide.

They did collide. A rumor, then confirmed by Josh realizing that I was not in the place I had told him I would be, and finally showing up at Michael’s apartment one day- who gave him the address, I do not know- and finding me there- fully dressed, as it happened, as I was about to leave, after having had much talk and entertainment with him, with Michael, that is. The blood drained from my face, and Josh, who was cold, simply escorted me outside, into the car, and into the bedroom when we came home.

There, I expected rage. But it was not rage with which he confronted me, but cold fury, cold blind fury when he summed up my deceits and failings as a wife, a human being and a mother. I felt the guilt with which he suffocated me; I felt it tighten like a noose around my neck. I knew that I would be shamed if he chose to tell others of my unfaithfulness, and yet, had it truly been a choice? I had only longed to be faithful to myself, not to hurt him, yet even I could hear how false those words sounded. I was frightened, frightened of being alone and without him, for Josh had become my security, and I was used to him. What then was I to do? Was I to leave my marriage, or leave Michael- and could I even promise to do that- would it be possible? There are some things we cannot do.

At first, defiantly, I told Josh that it was his fault that our marriage had deteriorated to this state- his anger, his fights, his cruelty in neglecting me, in not seeing what it was that I needed, longed for and craved. At this he looked at me with a look that was terrifying to behold, and raised his hand as though to strike me. But he did not strike me; he simply put it down at his side after looking at his fingers, opening and closing his fist as though in wonder, in confusion- could this be he, could this be him- driven to anger and distraction through a woman, a mere woman, his wife, Aurora?

He told his parents; he told my parents. My parents were shocked; they had raised me well and purely. Who could expect this behavior from me? What kind of person was I? And angrily, I stated that I was a person who had been forced into marriage too young, a person who had been shaken from the folds of my society, who had been raised to enter into marriage without being sure, without knowing, without feeling that certainty- I was someone who had been prodded into this because it was what I ought to do, what I had been taught I must do- to marry. I spilled my self-hatred and vitriol out on them, and then I wept, because I did not know what to do, or how to go about it.

I wanted to leave Josh but I wanted my children, and he made it a choice between him and them. He was magnanimously willing to forgive me- that is, to retain his comfortable status of having his woman do everything for him, from listening and looking beautiful to cooking, cleaning and mothering the children- so long as I never saw Michael again. On the other hand, if I chose to divorce- he knew that I would marry Michael soon after, and break the law which states that an adulteress is not permitted to the man she slept with- I would not see my children again. How he managed that, what lies he told, I did not know; I only knew that I could not defend myself and it was this choice that was presented me.

What was I to do? My entire soul was bound up with Michael; he understood and knew me thoroughly, including all my sins, and yet he loved me anyway. And his love was a long, lasting and abiding fact; it was a love that was unconditional, even when he and I both knew that we were wrong- and we did, here, we knew that we were wrong to commit adultery and yet we did it anyway, because we hadn’t the strength to stop ourselves from showing, through love expressed physically- what our souls already knew.

But my children, my children! To not see my children again, to relinquish them into the care of some other woman, to be brought up in a religion that would choke them and bind them, as it had initially bound me- until I had fought free of it in my quest to be my own mistress, and had understood precisely who I was- what choice was this? At first, painfully, I thought I could survive without them- I gave my husband the go-ahead for the divorce. But then, weeping, crawling, I came back to him and begged him, begged him to take me back because I loved them and wanted to stay with them.

He took pity on me and exercised compassion. He did not refuse to have me; he took me back into the house and things resumed their normal course. But my whole soul was consumed with longing for Michael, with the desire to know how Michael was doing, what thoughts interested him, what fascinated him, what compelled him to act. He was a rabbinical student- which may seem hypocritical to some, but you don’t understand that what we did was done purely, not out of lust for the body, but to rectify a mistake, a mistake I made long ago when I foolishly married a man whom I thought was right for me but who was not- a mistake of my youth that I cannot, now rectify.

I heard recently that Michael is engaged. I cannot lie and tell you that news did not come to me as a blow. I had hoped, somehow, selfishly and unfairly, that he could be mine forever, only mine, even if only in my heart. But now he is hers, whomever she may be, and what I must live on is a memory- a sinful memory, yes, I know- and one that I should banish and abolish, and one which I ought to forget. I ought to pray to God and beg his mercy; I ought to do teshuva; I ought to think how blessed I am to have a husband who forgave me this trespass. And yet, I do not lie if I told you that those moments of my life are the ones that help me live, those forbidden moments are the ones that give me strength, that my sin to me does not seem a sin, and what is far uglier is the life I now live, this life that is a lie, which torments and encroaches upon me and presses me, smaller and smaller, so that I am encaged, living within my gilded box. I feel something within me that becomes angrier and angrier and I fear what I may do- and to whom- and all I know is that I am not Aurora, the dreamer, the idealist, the one who represents the dawn, but someone far more savage and angry, primal even, and I am tormented by dreams. In my dreams I do not marry young; I do not marry to please my parents; I do not marry until I am sure. In my dreams, I dance with Michael- and yet I still pray before God. I am still a Jew. Does it shock you that I am yet a Jew? I am a Jew with every fiber of my being; it is only that I am an adulteress, as well…and I do not regret, not truly, for I still sin in my heart.


Credits: The Duchess


Child Ish Behavior said...

A powerful story. If only I could write like that. Though the premise of her giving up her Jewishness for the sake of her Jewishness lacks in the plausibility department. I suppose anything could happen, and people can convince themselves of anything.

Aaron said...

Somehow your story reminded me of Emma Bovary and her quests...

An interesting story nevertheless.

Tobie said...

I think that the fact that I have an immediate and powerful reaction to your story and your character is a credit to the vividness of your writing. The fact that I am disgusted by her morals, personality, and self-justification is probaly more a reflection on my character.

Also, halachic technicality: she is equally forbidden to her husband after the adultery.

nmf #7 said...

Vivid writing, Chana.
I went back to re-read your old stories on here- all so excellently written and expressed.
Gosh- don't really have what to say.
Thanks for the reading time.

Josh said...

The narcissism of Aurora and self-justification comes across vividly.

Josh said...

The narcissism of Aurora and self-justification comes across vividly.

Michael said...

Well, Josh would say that, wouldn't he.

Mindy 2 said...

And I agree. This story rings true to me because I recall, back in my not so distant crazy teenage past, justifying ANYTHING I'd do for the same reasons she did. Her perspective is childish and immature, and she should take full responsibility for the reprucussions of her choices. She should have been more responsible. In any case, like Tobie, her charachter got me nervous, probably because I see too much of myself in there (of my old self, at least), but unfortunately, there are people like this. Thanks for sharing the story with us. (although I do feel like giving Aurora a good shaking and life-management class. That Michael, please.)

Elie said...

Very powerful and well-written. And how tragic for all involved. There was no possibility of a happy ending, no matter what path she chose.

One technical/halachic point, if I may: an adulteress is equally forbidden to her husband as to her lover. So Josh's "compassionate" solution involved a degree of hypocrisy on his part (assuming he knew the law).

Anonymous said...

An interesting piece, but I am struggling with how unrealistic this is. For example, Josh- he's clearly worldly and intelligent (if he attends Columbia), but he doesn't learn Torah, and insists on sending his daughter to Bais Yaakov?
And I must admit that it upsets me to see you writing this woman as a sympathetic character. She is very much flawed, and I don't see (as I hope neither do you) any justification for her actions. If one is in a troubled marriage, the answer is not to run into another man's arms- it appears as though Aurora didn't even attempt to save the marriage, at least not in a constructive way- couples counseling, therapy for herself, etc.
I know that it is a piece of fiction, but as you are young and have not necessarily experienced something like this firsthand, it pains me to read, what I feel is a largely innacurate account of a horrible situation.

And I must comment on this quote: "It is like a bazaar, and the men come and choose those amongst us whom they see as prettiest and most beautiful, the ones about whom they can dream, the ones who fulfill their fantasies. We smile at them and adjust our clothes becomingly, while we talk politely, never raising our voices, never speaking out of turn"
I wonder how all your close friends who marry young would feel about this quote. I remember you writing a beautiful piece for your two close friends who had gotten engaged. They are two frum people, who chose to marry young. Do you think this applies to them as well?

Mindy 1 said...

Btw, Chana- your own fears and thoughts come through very clearly in this story. The BY resentment, the fear of being trapped in a non-fulfilling marriage... As someone who has gonme through her own similar brain warp (and I mean my OWN crooked perception of "the system", which I fully own up to and take responsiblity for), I see myself in you very much. See and my "teshuva" comment.

I am planning on writing a post on that idea. All I can say now is that sometimes it it our own eyes that blind us.

Anonymous said...

This is such a disturbing post/story on so many different levels- I admire Chana's writing immensely but feel this is inappropriate and really cannot see the reason for the story. If there is any truth at all- marriages like this are rare and unfortunate. At not yet 20; why would Chana's thoughts move in this direction? The young couples I know may be young indeed, but they are more often than not very well suited for each other and directed on the same path. I don't buy Chana's fears of ending up like this unless she had some pretty awful role models. I think she wants to shock and draw attention.

Chana said...

Anonymous 5:43,

The quote you reference was an allusion to Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata:

"It is only among a small one per cent, among us libertines and debauchees, that this custom has been found to be bad, and so we have invented another. Now, what is this new way? It is this: the girls sit round and the men come, as at a bazaar, to taek their choice. And the girls wait and wonder and have their own ideas, but htey dare not say, 'Dear sir, take me!' or 'No, me!' or, 'Not her, but me!' or 'Look at my shoulders and all the rest!'


"If the system of the matchmaker is considered humiliating, this is a thousand times more so! In the first case the rights and chances were equal, but in our method the woman is either a slave in a bazaar or the bait in the trap. Tell any mother or the girl herself the truth, that she is only occupied in husband-catching- my God, what an insult! But that is the truth and they have nothing else to do. And what is really dreadful is to see poor innocent young girls involved in all this. It wouldn't be so bad if it were done openly, but it is all deception."


More cruelly:

"Women, especially thsoe that have been through the school of marriage, know very well that talk on the highest topics is just talk; that what man wants is the body and everything which displays it in a deceptively captivating light. And they act acordingly. IF we should once forget this indecency which has become second nature and look at the life of our upper classes as it really is, in all its shamelessness, it would appear like one luxurious brothel."


I find that sadly both of these ideas are quite applicable in our Orthodox Jewish world; would that they were not. As for marrying young, there are different sorts of people; some people should, and some should not.

Tobie, Mindy2, Josh and Anonymous 5:43,

I think you all judge Aurora far too harshly, and I would suggest the reason why is because you don't actually know someone like her, caught in her situation. Sins are always understandable; that is why they are difficult. If one were easily horrified by one's actions, one would never sin. Aurora is an extremely unhappy woman, and she does wrong, but it is not so selfish or childish as you would make it seem.


I appreciate your kind suggestion; however, you are incorrect in this case. This story has nothing to do with my potentially "crooked perception of the system." It has much more to do with what actually is.

Anonymous said...

Chana, this causes me a lot of pain. I am a very avid reader of your blog, and you have always been my role-model since you were in high school

Why would you write such a disturbing, inappropriate story so close to Yom Cippur for.

This causes me great internal turmoil. Because, on the one hand Im surrounded by women who are total bubble-head who make a shita of not learning, which irritates me immensely. Yet on the other, all the Rabbonim and Rebbitzens in my community, say that girls that go to places like Stern to learn, leave the purity and Kedusha of the Torah lifestyle and say and do prust things. And now, as much as Im loathe to admit it, this type of story proves them right..

I would greatly appreciate if you can give me some kind of explanation..

Chana said...

anonymous 11:08,

Difficult to provide an explanation since I don't know what it is that is causing you pain. It is my belief that sin appears to us in attractive ways, and that we sin because we rationalize it to ourselves. Such a story merely demonstrates this idea. Aurora is a very unhappy woman, and she sins, and she finds it difficult to regret her sin. She is conflicted, as many people are, between what she knows is right and what she feels is right. I believe this story typifies much of our very human experience.

Anonymous said...

Methinks someone has way too much time on her hands.

searching said...

Aurora is, of course, extremely flawed. Her choice is selfish and immoral. However, I think what this story indicates is that it is easy to be overcome by emotion--even to the degree that what one knows logically is a sin does not feel like one. Anyone who has sinned (which I would assume includes everyone) knows what this is like, to a certain extent. The story does not justify Aurora's actions--it merely allows the reader insight into understanding a sin of such magnitude and gravity that it often seems completely incomprehensible.

Someone who commits such an immoral, selfish act with no thought as to the consequences, with no pangs of guilt or feelings of regret, does not deserve sympathy. However, when someone is torn and experiences intense agony and suffering in contemplation of her actions, it is compassionate to at least acknowledge that struggle.

As a repeat theme: in no way should such actions be condoned--but they can be understood, at least a little bit better.

Mindy 1 said...

Chana- don't think I don't understand Aurora's character. Unfortunately, I understand her very well. I also am of the shita that although there may be things we don't want to hear about, they exist, and should be written about to help us in various ways. I have no ideological issues against your story- I just agree with the commenters that Aurora is flawed and immature, and I also would like to suggest that there may be some personal misperceptions/immature facets of the writing that come from a lack of experience dragging the story down and making it less relevant and meaningful than it could be.

(And note to blogosphere- it's just one Mindy.)

G said...

Not bad...odd, but not bad.

So long as I was surrounded by others, I was confident; I knew that all was well. But once I was alone with Josh I felt more confused, nervous, even. Because what I began to realize was that there was not a basis for our attachment for one another, that I had married him simply because that was expected of me- that if I liked someone enough and found their company pleasant, I should marry them. But of course I did not allow myself to realize this. After all, I was Aurora, the spinner of dreams, the mistress of fantasies. I lived in my fantasy, and I was very good at fooling myself.

This piece, upon which the entire story turns, comes out of nowhere and is not consistent with what was going on, such is also the case with Josh's 'transformation'.
I would also have to agree w/ Anon 5:43 that the characters are not consistent in who they are throughout the story.

--the same could be said of the momemt she falls into MIchael's arms and ::poof:: an emotional attachment is made that she values above all others.

Anonymous said...

Chana, I dont think you understand. I agree and know full well, how the yetzer hara works, and what drove Aurora to do and feel what she said.

My point was simply that I find it hard to believe that the Rov, or R Shechter,or Rabbi Twerski, or even your teacher that you wrote so much about Rabbi Kenneth Auman, would be telling such stories in public.

How do you understand the Gemarra in Cetuvos, "Everyone knows why the Calla goes to the Chupppa....but whoever is menavel piv...etc"

Tobie said...

Of course I've heard Aurora's voice before- the list of emotional melodrama, self-justifications, excuses, and self-pity. It lives inside my head, although we haven't played for such big stakes yet. That doesn't make it less pathetic or immature. Her grief and sad circumstances notwithstanding, Aurora's mindset is fabulously contemptible, a fact that I do my best to realize even when I am experiencing it.

Chana said...

Anonymous 10:41,

Perhaps I follow in the tradition of Chaim Potok, Chaim Grade and Isaac Bashevis Singer, however.

Mindy, Tobie, and the rest of you,
You are far too harsh.

Josh said...

Is it not possible that you are not seeing the full ramifications of Aurora's personality and behavior.And why do you need to defend Aurora?It is just a story and others perception of Aurora.
Gmar chatima tova.

Chana said...

Hello Josh,

I believe that one's reaction to characters in stories is generally a good marker for how people would react to the situation in its reality. If the woman who is Aurora walked off the street and spoke to someone, I am worried that the reactions would be like those which have been written about here- in effect, "You selfish witch." This bothers me because it suggests a lack of understanding or identification with the woman's pain. Yes, she commits adultery. Yes, it is a sin. But her sin, like almost every sin, is understandable and comprehensible, and there is a way to approach the woman where you acknowledge her pain and unhappiness even while understanding her action was wrong. To judge her so damningly suggests that one would judge people just as damningly, and to me, that is a very distressing concept.

More importantly, seeing as I know Aurora and those like her, I think I comprehend the ramifications of her behavior better than most.

Anonymous said...

No, I do not believe that you understand the ramifications of Aurora's actions. I don't think you could possibly understand what this would do to an actual family- you can't possibly comprehend the pain of separation, the distrust and fear that this would teach her children. You clearly do not understand that.

Aurora acted selfishly and immaturely. As I mentioned previouly, she never makes any attempts to save her marriage, and doesn't seem to think she deserves to bear any of the blame. I'm sorry, but Aurora is not a victim. Her huband was not abusive nor particularly bad. Perhaps they were not suited for eacn other, perhaps she was unhappy- ther is still no justification for her actions.

And yes I do know Auroras, both men and women who were in similar situations. So please don't pretend that you (at 19) are the only one with life experience, who understands human nature. I always have high respect for you Chana, but your responses to these posts dissapointed me. Telling people that they just don't understand, is a great way to silence people and end a debate.

Mindy 2 said...

Chana dear, just a word- I in now way am condemning the story itself nor you for writing the story. I think other people have pointed out the flaws in the story ,and as a writer myself, we know that the best path to improvement is through critisism.

That being said, Chana, I think the fact that you wrote the story is great. Of course none of us like seeing flawed characters, particularly is they make mistakes that we as outsiders clearly see as destructive and avoidable. On a personal note, however, I agree with your rebuttal to the contention that certain topics should be kept private. It's not an easy line to stand on, nor will you be particularly admired by all if you choose to continue writing about things which most people would prefer not to hear about, but I believe that since mistakes, sin, misperceptions, and self-destructiveness across the range of human behavior exist, they must be written about and acknowledged, if only to increase our awareness, understanding, and empathy. To quote the words of Rabbi Dr Marc Shapiro speaking as Rav Haskel Gottleib in the book you reviewed in the YU Observer, 'The Search Commmittee',page 88, "Nothing Human Should Be Alien To Us." Stories like yours and books like Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," amongst countless others in world literature, perhaps make us more Godlike in our ability to understand and empathize with our fellow human beings, and as you stated so eloquently in your op-ed of the YU Observer, "To Understand is Not To Condone." And I think you neglected to point out the most compelling piece of Evidence in the arguement that all aspects of human personality and behavior must be discussed and acknowledged: Tanach. Not that we are comparing our puny little Authorship to God's, but I think that we can take a page from His Book (literally) and learn from His Example. Our task as human beings is to seek to understand, not to condemn.

Gmar Chasima Tova, and looking foward to meeting you,

meggg said...

Hey Chana,

I think it was a great story. However, I have not been raised in Orthodox Judaism--I've just kind of grown into more observant Judaism. So I think I might be seeing it from a different viewpoint.

Far from being inappropriate for close to Yom Kippur, I think it's a very relevant story for the holiday. We all struggle to do teshuvah, especially when the stakes are so high, at this awesome day. (Which starts tonight!). Or at least I do. We repent in different ways--and to read of Aurora's way is not discouraging, but interesting.

The fact that you explore the story from the sinner's point of view makes the character more interesting, and not a flat one-dimensional character. Also, this story is not inappropriate for a personal blog.

It's not one of my favorites (probably because it deals with harsh reality rather than fairies and the magnificent imaginative pieces you weave), but I am intrigued by it. Though I don't necessarily agree with Aurora, I can see where she's coming from. The exploration of the negative effects of being pressured into an early marriage are good, and I don't think they presume to label everyone who marries young. I would go on, but my mind is a bit scattered.

Anyway, do not be discouraged by those who disagree. L'shana tovah and an easy fast!

Josh said...

I am sorry you cannot see the side that Aurora needs to examine her own personality and relationships and not blame others for their deficiences.
With regard to sin I am sure you are aware that her sin is one of the 'big three'-yehareg veal yaavor.But that is between her and God.An emotional affair would have made the same point.

Josh said...

I am sorry you cannot see the side that Aurora needs to examine her own personality and relationships and not blame others for their deficiences.
With regard to sin I am sure you are aware that her sin is one of the 'big three'-yehareg veal yaavor.But that is between her and God.An emotional affair would have made the same point.

Josh said...

I am sorry you cannot see the side that Aurora needs to examine her own personality and relationships and not blame others for their deficiences.
With regard to sin I am sure you are aware that her sin is one of the 'big three'-yehareg veal yaavor.But that is between her and God.An emotional affair would have made the same point.

uri said...

Guys,Chana wrote a piece of fiction and wrote it well. Do we really need to jydge her for writing it?

Chana,well done!

Josh said...

Sorry for the repetition.

Blue Skies said...

If Chana wants praise and positive thoughts she has to take the judgement and criticism along with it.

uri said...

blue skies, constructive criticism is OK and probably expected,but personal attack and judgement are NOT!

Mindy 2 said...

Oy, Chana. Doesn't all this wonderful attention feel so good??? ;)

G said...

More importantly, seeing as I know Aurora and those like her, I think I comprehend the ramifications of her behavior better than most.

Fair enough, but then you're jumping of the page, or screen as the case may be, and into real life and using information not available to the reader.

Elitzur said...

I realize I'm late in the game but I need to come to Chana's defense.

I feel a story like Aurora's in only too likely a scenario. Anyone who's been to SCW cannot deny the pressure exerted their to attain their MRS degree, complete with a 'graduation' (diamond, of course) ring. In my time at YU this led to many broken engagements and I, for one, can easily see how this could lead to an unfulfilling marriage.

With respect to criticisms of the pro(an?)-tagonist... The suggestion that an Aurora would certainly go to therapy is (unfortunately) laughable. How many woman are there in the US suffering in broken or abusive relationships? These are not just poor lower-class women but people in our own neighborhoods. How many other women (or men) refrain from criticizing their spouse for fear of an ensuing quarrel or feelings of inadequacy? How many refrain from mentioning their problems to friends and relatives because they would appear weak and unsure?

As for Josh's transformation... have you tried graduate school in the science's while married with children? Staying awake until at least 1AM, waking up with a baby at 2 and 4 all the time worrying that your advisor will simply drop you and choose someone who actually cares only about graduate work and doesn't have a family to worry about. Trust me, it's stressful and can make you VERY irritable (B"H, my wife is a true eishes chayil).

As for Josh having an advanced degree but not learning and sending his daughter to a Bais Yaakov... I can show you entire shuls of people like this. Educated people who have 'seen the light' and the vanity of all that they themselves did and now realize that what they really want for their kids is to be uneducated and unable to support themselves. And yes, the Torah many of these people 'learn' is simple fluff of the kind you would get at a yeshivish girls seminary in Israel.

As a point in the story, it's obvious that Aurora knew Michael from before. But even if not it's not difficult to see something like this happen. Heck, read the 'Chronicles of Crisis' in the Jewish Press and this comes up all the time.

Finally, Chana has addressed us with this point: if Aurora would come to you as friend, as advisor, looking for someone to talk to, what would you do? Would you dismiss her as a sinner or try to understand where she is coming from? Would you try to help or just say your husband took you back be thankful?

And do we not stand before HKB"H with this same request every day? Don't we realize we sin (and maybe we're not even so sorry about it) but still ask for comfort (not to mention material goods)? Is he not still our Father in Heaven despite our rebelliousness?

YU graduate said...

I could not have written and/or argued the points better. Thank you for the words of wisdom. I also know a few girls with broken marriages,unfulfilled marriages in the MO community/Stern graduates Thanks for this. And more thanks for clarifying Chana's points.
Chana,did you ever consider psychiatry as profession? You have very good insights . And your knowledge of human nature just blows me away.
Good shabbos!

Amanda Lazar said...

chanah, you are cool.

Mister E said...

Can I comment on the comments? I thought that Michael talking to Josh in the comments was hilarious!!!

I've known someone who did something of this nature, which is really why I'm reading this, and many other blogs. Being a victim of my own ineptitude, lack of education, and lack of social knowledge, I helped someone to commit emotional adultery. Oddly, to this day I still care about them, and that is why I ended the relationship. I'm still very confused, and am thankful that we only knew each other virtually and verbally. As much as I miss her, and sometimes do stupid things because of it, I hope that she has a good marriage, and a happy productive life. I may have desired her a great deal, but upon learning of her marriage, I thought it best to do the right thing. I'm a broken person, and probably pretty crazy, and I don't really believe in G-d. Still, my code of right and wrong is very strong, and I probably did the right thing for her much more than for myself.

Having said all that, in many cases, the woman holds the keys to the relationship. There are many guys out there who run around and have lots of women, I, and many of my friends are not those guys. In the cases of "guys like us" the woman wields a great amount of power. It really is in her hands as to whether things continue and progress, or end. I may sound as though I'm negating myself, but remember, it went against the morals I was born with to assist someone in having an affair. Especially if the someone she's having it with is me!

Anonymous said...

rafi says
just come across your blog.

Cant understand that a student like you does not know that once you commit adultery you are not allowed to stay with your husband and if he is a kohen even if it was 'forced'.
will also write comments on your other stories.

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that Michael could be such a strong character in Aurora's life and yet never appear once in the story until the night they meet again.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, makes me want to eat falafel!!!