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Homeless... at Home: Chapter 1 - Beginning

Sixteen years into our marriage, my mother-in-law says something that makes me realize that I canít continue to let my children be hurt. I decide to read through old letters and diaries to find out how we got into this situation, so I can figure out how to get us out of it.

Navigate to other chapters of Homeless... at Home by Shlomit Weber

Homeless... at Home
Table of Contents
Next: Chapter 2 - Compromise

Lucky me

Lucky me!

"You should just consider yourself lucky that he doesn't hit you, Shlomit." Then, as an afterthought, "He doesn't hit you, does he?"

I have always admired my mother-in-law. Her beautiful wavy white hair, and flawless complexion. Her capable, take-charge attitude. But this intelligent woman starts to sound positively demented whenever we discuss her son. The idea of discussing a grown man behind his back doesn't seem to bother her; she has always treated me as a kind of deputy mother for Seth.

"No, he has never hit me, Mom." He has never had to. I jump at the first hint that he wants me to do something, or stop doing something. "Maybe it would be better if he would just hit me and get it over with, when he's mad, though. Instead of being angry for days at a time," or weeks, or months, "or taking it out on the children."

"No, it wouldn't be better," Mom became agitated. "You wouldn't want your husband to hit you. And just so you know, Shlomit, there are fathers who are much worse than Seth. Some men put out cigarettes on their children's arms! You really don't need to get upset about a little spanking now and then."

An image came to mind of little Eli, when he was five, being hit on the side of the head for the twentieth time at that Shabbat meal, and Seth screaming at him when, inevitably, some food dropped from his mouth, "Slob! Idiot!" The next smack was harder, to punish the child for the mess, and finally Eli started to cry. "Sissy! Baby! Crybaby! Momma's Boy!" his father yelled as he reared back for the next smack.

Somehow, I couldn't make this scene fit the phrase, 'a little spanking'.

"Well, I wouldn’t have considered marrying someone who would put out cigarettes on a child's arm." I wouldn't have married your son, sixteen years ago, if I had had a crystal ball.

They say that you can go along and go along, even though things are awful, and suddenly something makes it obvious that you have got to change course. Looking back, there have been plenty of episodes between Seth and our children that should have been 'it'. But when we are alone with Seth and his violence, I'm just a blob of fear. Can't think logically. Somehow, this conversation with Seth's mother yesterday afternoon was finally my long overdue wakeup call.

Seth's mother’s protestations led me to muse about why I married her son way back then.

My childhood was, as my sister Kay described it recently, 'charmed'. The four of us siblings grew up in the midwest, with warm, loving parents. Mature, generous, religious. Fun. The years were dotted with camping trips, pets, picnics, projects, outings, and visits to relatives. Mom stayed home to raise us, then went back to get her master's degree. She was always faithful to her favorite quote: "Children will never remember how clean the kitchen floor was, but they will remember a picnic all their lives." We ate good, hot, sit-down meals together (when we weren't on picnics). Wore ironed clothes. Had stability, security, good role models. Grew up in a home where everyone respected everyone else.

Friends ask why, after turning down a dozen likely candidates, I decided to marry Seth.

Seth seemed like a logical choice. He is disciplined and well organized. Would never drop a scrap of litter, or even dump his jacket on a chair. Honest. Would never cheat on income taxes or even take home a pen from the lab. Smart. Wore a nerdy white pocket protector to hold his mechanical pencils. Implying that he had a shirt pocket to protect - the rest of us wore tee-shirts to class. A bit of a hippie back in college, in the early 70s. His blond hair hitting the collar of his army jacket. Long bushy side burns when they were in fashion. Tall and thin, with Barry Goldwater glasses. He and I have alot in common. Religion, lifestyle, politics. Our technical backgrounds. Preference for reading, hiking, Israeli dancing and chamber music over partying or watching football games. Like me, he planned on going to live in Israel.

We met in grad school in upstate New York. Neither of us remembers the occasion. We were both active in Hillel - the campus Jewish student organization. I was in charge of the Friday night Shabbat dinners, that year, and he was one of the regulars who always came early to help cook, and stayed late to clean up. Quiet, reliable. The first time I singled him out was on the 4th of July, the first summer we both stayed on campus. I was on my way downtown to see the fireworks with other students from the Statistics department, and we passed Seth on the lawn of the engineering building, tossing a Frisbee around with his office mates. I called to him and asked if he wanted to come along, fully expecting a "no thanks", but he tossed the Frisbee to one of the other guys and came. I must have known him pretty well even then, because I remember thinking that such spontaneity was very much out of character.

At first we were just friends.

I wrote that sentence, meaning to imply that the relationship got more 'serious' so that we came to be more than friends. But I realize that it has been nearly two decades since I have thought of Seth as a friend. As someone I could trust, and whose company I enjoy. The two years when we knew each other but were not yet 'going together', I see now, were the best in our relationship.

"I have decided to start going out with girls," Seth announced one Saturday evening in the chapel kitchen, as he and I were finishing up the dishes that had accumulated during the day, "Whom do you think I should ask?"

"What? Just like that, you decided?"

"Correct. When I started college, I decided that I wouldn't date, because it would interfere with my studies. And now I've decided to start. Whom do you think I should ask?"

I suggested a girl who had been coming to Hillel dinners for a few weeks. Frankly, she seemed a little nerdy, herself. "No," Seth shook his head emphatically. The blonde one, right? No. I can't date a blonde. It has to be somebody with more pigment."

I paused with one arm in and one arm out of my snorkel jacket. "More ... pigment?"

"I'm nearsighted because my retinas don't have enough pigment. I wouldn't want to pass the condition on to any children I might have one day, so I must marry someone with sufficient pigment. I was thinking of that music major. She has black hair."

And so he started dating Miriam. It was funny to see staid old Seth going through the motions of dating. The two of them held hands and cooed at each other for a few months, and then the grapevine reported that they had 'broken up'. We girls gathered around Miriam one Friday after dinner in the chapel basement, with all the questions you ask: who broke it off and why and how. She had broken it off, she said, because, "Seth is who he is, and he'll never change!" I, with the wisdom born of being three years older than Miriam, told her that she had no business getting into a relationship and then expecting the other person to change. "That's not it," Miriam said after a moment's thought. "Seth is just so much more like himself than other people are like themselves."

"But that's good, Miriam! Isn't it refreshing to find a person who knows who he is, and isn't ashamed to be himself? It's more relaxing if each person can just be who they are. That's what I like about Morey."

But, then, I liked everything about Morey. Morey was finishing up a double degree - BA in math and BS in physics. But his interests and knowledge ranged through literature and classical music to amateur psychology. His ready wit and ready smile made me glow when I was with him. Morey's warm brown eyes are the kind you can get lost in. Some of our best conversations were wordless - just saying it all by gazing into each other's eyes. I would watch the emotions and reactions and sparkle playing across his face, and loved seeing his expression reflect something I was thinking, seeing his eyes react to the change in my expression. Morey is physically short and stocky with dark curls, to Seth's tall stringy straight blondness. He's analytic and introspective, yet open and sharing of his insights. Interested in every aspect of this wonderful world. We cooked ethnic meals from strange packets bought at the Oriental Specialty Shop. I bought a recorder, hoping to join him and his musical friends who had so much fun playing together. Morey entertained me with anecdotes about his siblings, all of whom he recognized as being special, delightful people, aside from the fact that he happened to be related to them. I almost felt I knew the grandfather who had inspired Morey to become more religious. Morey is self aware without being self-centered or self-conscious. I'm flattered that he liked me, because he appreciates and befriends such interesting, worthwhile people. Morey appreciates the uniqueness in each person he knows.

Morey's younger brother was a freshman the year Morey and I were together, and we often wound up in Max's dorm room to visit. The brothers had been roommates growing up, and were good friends, now. They regaled me with stories of growing up together - the nicknames and code words and greeting rituals. Max taught me to snap my cheek with a 'boing' that sounded like a pebble hitting water. The three of us played concerts whistling between our thumb-knuckles into clenched hands. The brothers tried to gross me out with unflattering stories about each other from their childhoods. Far from grossing me out, the anecdotes made me wish one of my siblings were on campus.

I knew Seth well enough to know what Miriam meant, though, when she said he's more like himself than other people are like themselves. There's no halfway with Seth. He seems to have unlimited willpower to do what he decides is right, and not be swayed by what others have found to work out better. I wonder that he's such a good engineer, if he is so proud of sticking with his theories and practices, never to be swayed by the facts. If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ...

I sometimes stopped by Seth's apartment in the Graduate Living Center on my way out of the building in the morning. Partly for company on the walk to campus. But mostly to marvel at his breakfast ritual. Orange juice and instant breakfast. Every single morning, the exact same choreography in the tiny, dim, airless kitchenette. Bending down to take the milk and juice from their places in the little under-the-counter refrigerator. Pressing the fridge closed with his knee as he straightened up. Placing the containers in the exact same spots, on the counter, that he did every morning. Taking the little blue juice glass and the bigger yellow plastic tumbler from the cupboard over the sink, the spoon from the drawer. Setting them in their spots on the counter. For most of us, routine frees up our mind for other things. But with Seth there was no conversation, humming, daydreaming during breakfast. The radio was playing, of course, but he didn't seem to be listening. He would stare intently at the side of the juice glass as he filled it to the same imaginary line as always. He drank the juice and put the glass back on the counter in its spot. Opened another cupboard where three boxes of Instant Breakfast stood at attention. Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry. Took the rightmost box. Took out an envelope. Replaced the box. Closed the cupboard. The only deviation was when he reached the first or last envelope in a box, and he had to open the new box or throw away the old. Then he would tear open the envelope, and put the paper strip on the counter next to the glass. Pour the powder into the glass, tapping the envelope four times on the edge to get the last flakes. Pick up the paper strip, insert it into the envelope, fold the envelope in quarters and put it in the trash. Milk to its imaginary line, stir eight times around, counterclockwise. Drink with one pause in the middle, during which he put away the juice and milk. Wash glasses and spoon, wipe counter. A robot wouldn't have deviated any less.

I suppose Miriam was also referring to Seth’s theories on life in general. I understand these to have been cooked up with his high school friend Arnold. Seth phrases them intellectually, and sometimes voices the stranger ones as though he were joking, but they clearly still influence his thoughts and actions even now, decades later. They go something like this: "Women are yuchie, sex is dirty, touching is to be avoided, love is for sissies. It's OK to show anger, hatred and disdain, but a strong individual will refrain from feeling or showing happiness, affection or other evidence of weakness of character. A strong person will never apologize, compliment, greet, thank, or ask for help." Seth still turns away when he sees hugging or kissing on TV, saying, "Oh, gross! I think my brother had grown out of that by the time he was eight. Arnold, by the way, at age forty, still lives with his parents. He has been true to their twenty-five year old philosophies, and never got involved with a female.

As the months passed, after Seth and Miriam broke up, Seth and I were together more and more. Morey had graduated and gone away to grad school, and after a few months of long distance romance, we broke it off. Our friends had paired up, so Seth and I tended to do things with couples, and started feeling like a couple. Seth started acting like a boyfriend.

Oh. I just remembered that Seth, like Morey, had a brother on campus: the phantom kosher football player. The undergraduates who ate kosher food in the dining hall during the week had a running joke going - the mystery of the kosher football player. They were reminded every evening that they had to leave one portion of everything for the kid on the team who ate later, after practice. They had never seen the guy, and they postulated about what he might be like. One evening Seth murmured, "I guess it must be my brother. He plays football." We all stared at bookish Seth, and tried to imagine a football-playing variation.

During the four years we were all on campus together, I saw Roger maybe a dozen times. Once when Seth's parents came up for Seth's graduation for his masters degree, once when Roger drove home to New Jersey with us, a few times when Seth's father was in town on business and took us all out to dinner, and then when Seth's parents come up for Roger's graduation. I guess it was fewer than a dozen times.

Now that I look back, this should have concerned me. How was Seth going to relate to me and our children if he had such a remote relationship with his original family? His parents phoned once a week, but it was just, "What's new?" - "Nothing, what's new with you?" - "Nothing special ..."

It was actually meeting Seth's good, stable, close-knit extended family that encouraged me to overlook Seth's rough edges. I could believe that his antisocial proclivities would be outgrown. He had had a good example and he had good genes. Seth lived at home for his undergraduate years, and yet I am much closer to my parents and siblings than he is to his. In fact ... definitely ... I am closer to his family than he is!

Rib-bit

It has been a week, now, since Mom's comment indicating that Seth is only somewhat abusive, not 'really' abusive. I have been musing over the contrast between my charmed childhood and the very different childhood my children are experiencing.

How did I wind up bogged down in a cold, abusive relationship that has gone on for such a huge chunk of my life? Why me? People say that about diseases or robberies or car accidents that strike without warning. But the course of a marriage is different. Presumably I participated. At every stage, though I felt I was without options, there must have been things I could have done differently. With all my intelligence and good will and perseverance and healthy childhood - I have allowed myself to be backed into the worst corner imaginable. Watching my husband hurt my children.

How did I get here? Understanding that is obviously the key to how I can get out, one way or the other. Fix things or get the children away from him.

Maybe I should have a look at the diaries I have written over the years - on the bus to work, or on the computer before Seth comes downstairs in the morning.

Yes, It's time to dig out those old notebooks and printouts.

Archeology

So I climbed up to the top shelf of my closet, and dragged out the box where I've been putting my completed diaries over the years. There are also printouts of letters I've written to people, which have served as a kind of two-birds-with-one-stone diary. I see I have some of my daughter's little diaries up here, too.

There are dozens of actual notebooks, from the years before I used the computer, because every time I thought I had done something to improve things, every time I thought that "from now on things are going to be better ..." "now we're starting fresh ..." I started a new notebook. I hid the old ones away and never looked back at them.

It shouldn't be too hard to sort all of this. Not all of it has dates, but I stuffed things into the box as I wrote them, so it's all in some sort of order.

After I wrote an entry in my diary, I would skim it to see what I had written about, and compose a title. As I do now with the 'subject' for my e-mails.

Some of this just records day-to-day activities. There are some trip logs. I intend to compile, here, just the parts that relate to the deterioration in how Seth has treated us, so that I can see whether any patterns emerge. Look for clues to what I should do, now.

OK, here. The first relevant entry is from a year before we were married.

Seth and Shlomit – Who would have thought!

I guess Seth and I are becoming a couple.

Seth seems happy and relaxed and alive when he is with me. He seems to enjoy the romance - writes me poems, slides notes under my door. Taught me Morse code for "I love you". He loans me books and even his Israeli Kova Tembel hat. We have our song - Pachelbel's Canon - our secret hand squeeze.

We walk along the railroad tracks holding hands - he on one rail, and I on the other. When he was away at a conference for a few days, last month, I drew him a picture of us walking that way, with the caption, "Some things are easier together!" We locate each other across a quadrangle, field or supermarket with a two-note whistle.

He seems to delight in similarities we've discovered between us, but he is also able to enjoy new things I bring to the relationship. We bought equipment and go camping on every nice weekend, as I did as a child. Upstate New York is so beautiful! He eats food he never ate at home, sometimes with chopsticks!

Poem

Seth slid this poem under my door this morning:

If I could look to infinity, a gentler person I would not see.

From worlds apart I come to find, the common bonds that link all mankind.

I'm touched. Inside, Seth has a gentle soul searching for love. I wonder what made him so afraid to admit that he's human? I'm flattered that I have found his heart.

Distance

I still don't feel as close to Seth as I have to other friends and boyfriends. Every once in awhile he does come forth with an insight or idea he has, and I feel privileged that he shares it with me. He says he doesn't remember much from his childhood. He wore glasses from age two. His mother was ill when he was little. When he was twelve, he got tired of living with his sloppy 'middle brother' as he refers to Jerry, and one day moved all his possessions to the basement, where he lived for the next decade, emerging, as I understand it, only for meals.

Seth is not big on eye contact. Maybe because of his poor eyesight. I hadn't realized how important that is to me. How much of the closeness I feel to a person is this basic higher-mammalian connection. I can call up a detailed close-up mental image of the eyes of each of my past boyfriends, close girlfriends, and family members. Seth's cool blue eyes slide away from mine. What bothers me more is that my gaze slides away from his, too. I guess with time, as we become closer in other ways, we'll be able to make the soul-to-soul connection of eye contact.

He seems to like it when we cuddle. I hope that's a good sign - maybe physical closeness will lead to emotional closeness and trust.

Not doin' nuttin'

I'm reveling in that incomparable combination - having both time and money at my disposal.

When I finished up my degree and started working, last spring, I remembered hearing friends complain that evenings were boring once they had no homework to do. What do you do with yourself? Well, I'm getting settled into my little studio apartment. I painted the walls when I first moved in, and I'm sewing curtains and slip covers and tablecloths. Framing pictures and maps and memorabilia for the walls. Building bookshelves out of root beer crates I found out behind the local fire station, on one of my bushwhacking nature walks. They had been planning to set them ablaze and then practice putting out the fire, but the officer behind the desk told me I could take a couple dozen. I made kitchen chairs out of tree stumps I dragged home. (I don't recommend that, unless you enjoy sweeping.) I bake bread and pretzels with high gluten flour Dad gave me from the huge sack he bought, refining my recipes with each batch. I have rewired and pumiced down some old marble lamps I found at a garage sale. I'm getting some house plants established - plants accumulated on the walks I take without Seth. I'm babysitting for some friends' Siamese cats. I built myself a Heathkit radio to listen to while I putter. All Things Considered as I sew myself a new wardrobe; nothing I wore in college in the 60's is remotely suitable to the workplace of the 70's. I subscribe to magazines and am catching up on what has been going on in the world while I was busy studying. I'm getting back to letter correspondences. Keeping in touch with my neglected family and with friends from college, and reestablishing contact with high school and childhood friends.

What I have neglected to plan into my schedule is cooking and eating. Women's work. I don’t define women's work by whether it is done in the kitchen, or by how strong you have to be to do it, or how technically oriented, or how nurturing. I define it by its periodicity. Men tend to do things you do once, and you’re done. Raise a barn, build a table, hollow out a canoe, write a computer program, oil a hinge. Or things that are done annually - plow the south forty, go on the annual bison hunt, change to snow tires or storm windows. Women's work, well, it’s never done! Kitchen duties are thrice daily. Cleaning is weekly. Child tending tasks are never ending. We preserve our sanity with sewing and gardening and watching the children mature - by creating something that won't be destroyed within hours - the food, by eating it, and the order and cleanliness, by the ravages of entropy.

That's where my budding relationship with Seth comes in. He calls up in the evening when I'm up to my elbows in transistors or paint or fabric or bread dough, to ask whether I want to come over. You know how wherever you are seems light and bright and warm and interesting, and when you think of another place, it seems dark and cold and boring and lonely? I look around my cheerful work-in-progress apartment, and I don't want to leave it for Seth's neat Band-Aid colored GLC apartment. Then he mentions whatever he has bubbling on the stove or in the oven, and my place seems hungry compared to meat loaf or macaroni and cheese. So I go over.

Last night, after some delicious lentil soup, eaten in the kitchen he shares with his apartment mate, we went into Seth's room. The radio was on, of course, and he lay down and closed his eyes. I have had guys invite me into their rooms with all sorts of interesting activities in mind, but this wasn't the first time Seth had, seemingly, expected me to just watch him doze. I sat there in the dark for a few minutes, listening to the headlines for the twelfth time that evening, thinking of all the partly finished projects awaiting me at home.

Though I had been taught not to eat and run, I said I guessed I would be heading home.

"Why? Stay!"

"Well, it's kind of boring just sitting here in the dark."

"That's the problem with you!" he grumped, "You always need someone to entertain you!"

Which was strange, of course, because at home I entertain myself just fine. He, if anything, un-entertains me!

I think it will be better after we're married - if that is where this is heading. Then the whole apartment will be ours, and he can doze or whatever in one room, and I can go continue my projects in the other.

Non-sequitor

I keep thinking about that comment of Seth's. He could have complained, "You just can't sit down quietly and enjoy another person's company. You've always got to be busy with your projects." That was the conflict between us just then. He wanted to sit and listen to the radio together, and I wanted to get back to activities I was pursuing on my own.

What he did say was what I could have replied to him. He was the one who didn’t want to be left to entertain himself.

I’m glad he wants to be with me, but then 'be' with me, Seth. Let's talk or do something. Interact. Not just have me there watching him breathe. That's what mothers supposedly like to do with their newborns. Hey, Seth! I'm not your mother!

Tokens of affection

Sometimes Seth is able to show he likes me.

A couple of weeks ago he gave me a necklace saying, in Hebrew, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

I came back yesterday from a business trip, and went over to see Seth. He handed me two candles. I didn't understand why, at first, but then he said, "I thought it would be nice if you had a candle holder, instead of just lighting Shabbat candles on a piece of tin foil every week. So I made you these."

He presented me with a beautiful brushed aluminum candle holder for two candles. He made it in the shop at the lab. As I turned it over in my hands, looking at it from all sides, he pointed to an inscription he had scratched into the bottom:

"From me to thee. Two lights held together in eternity."

Wow! So ... eternity. So ... wow.

I guess he really does have a romantic streak. I just have to be patient with the other stuff.

Prunes and other stuff

Seth and I went shopping today. It was strange. He had called to arrange it.

"Hi, Shlomit, I, um, just called to say I saw an ad for the supermarket. They've got some good sales. In case you want to go out and buy something." He sounded a little nervous. His speech sounded almost rehearsed.

"Maybe. What's on sale?"

"Oh - lots of things," pause, "Prunes."

"Prunes?" I know that Seth is a strong advocate of formed stool, and probably wouldn't eat a prune if it came with a free pocket protector.

"And other stuff. I just didn't want you to miss out in case you need anything."

"Well, I'm pretty well fixed for... prunes just now, but thanks."

"There are other sale items, too. Dairy products." This was scraping the bottom of his imagination, because the store jingle on the radio is, 'Staples, bakery and dairy products'.

"Do you need to shop, Seth? Do you want to go to the store together?" Sometimes, now that I've started working and have a car on campus, we drive out and shop together at the big supermarket.

"I guess, if you're going anyway ..."

So we drove out there, wandered aimlessly around the store, bought a few things. No prunes, of course. As we were carrying the bags out to my car, Seth said, super casually, "Hey, since you're here with the car, anyway, maybe you could just pull over to the pick-up entrance at K-Mart. The metal bookshelves I ordered came in today."

So we loaded up his new shelves and I dropped him off at his apartment. But the episode left me feeling estranged from Seth. Can't he give me credit? Credit for being willing to give him a ride out to pick up his shelves if he asks? Why did he decide to trick me into it? And credit for being smart enough to see through the plot! Was the pleasure at having manipulated me worth the punch in the gut it gave to our relationship?

On the ride home, while I was feeling punched in the gut, he was flying high. He had seemed nervous and strained since the phone call, but now he seemed relieved and happy. Too high to sense my discomfort.

I don't know ...

Snow storm

I lost Seth in a snowstorm tonight. Or maybe he lost me. Or maybe we never had each other to begin with.

When we go for walks, sometimes we hold hands and walk together - Seth showed me how to walk with opposite feet so that our swinging hands will be in synch. But more often, Seth walks several paces ahead, and there's no conversation. I guess he is pondering his research for his Ph.D. thesis. The walk goes wherever he decides - usually the same route each time. He decides when to turn, and when the walk has been long enough and we are going to head back.

Well, tonight, with snow falling, I trudged along looking at the familiar scenery of Seth's back, and wished we could try a side street, instead of walking the same streets we always do. Well, dummy, I chided myself, if you always just follow along, of course the walk will go where Seth decides! He decides where to turn, and you just follow after! Probably if you turn, he'll follow after you, right? So I paused to head down a little street where the houses were decorated for Christmas. I turned to say, "Lets go along here, and look at the lights," but he was just trudging along his appointed route like a golem. By the time I realized he wasn't going to notice that I had turned, he had nearly disappeared among the swirling snowflakes, and I would have to run a block to catch up. I also realized that it wasn't worth the effort. These walks aren't all that much fun. Plus, it would sound stupid to catch up and say, "Did you know I wasn't here?" I was too far back to shout to him, so I just looked at the decorations on the side streets as I wended my way back to his room to wait for him there.

He came back fifteen minutes later, asking, annoyed, "Where did you go? You disappeared!"

"I did?"

"Yeah! I got to the gas station and waited for you to catch up, but you didn't."

"I turned off to look at that house with all the blinking lights." Well before the gas station.

"You just turned?" he looked at me as though I had said I had turned into a werewolf. "If you wanted to go a different way, you could have said something." Very much annoyed.

"You don't say anything, Seth. You just turn where you want and I just follow. I thought it would be the same for me. I would turn, and you would follow."

He was silent for the rest of the evening, so I went home earlier than usual.

Wedding Plans

I feel so special to be the bride of the community. I thought all the attention would be embarrassing but it's nice.

Seth and I are planning the wedding together. DIY. Simple, as we both want. I'm making my own dress to go with Granny’s lace shawl. I'm also making Seth a leisure suit. He wouldn't wear a suit jacket much afterwards, especially once we have gone to live in Israel, but a leisure suit will be useful. We're cooking and freezing food for the reception. Seth ordered wedding rings with an olive branch design because my name means 'peace' in Hebrew.

Seth is writing the Ketubah – the marriage contract - by hand in Hebrew characters he designed himself. The text on the page forms the shape of the Hebrew word, Hai - life. It's alot of work, but will look beautiful hanging on the wall. When I see him working on it, I see a collage of Jewish bridegrooms over the generations and centuries, working lovingly on a marriage contract to spell out the rights of the woman they love and want to spend the rest of their lives with.

I know Seth has some rough spots. Some strange, antisocial philosophies. It's partly the religious thing that has convinced me to marry him. I'm a convert to Judaism, and not everyone who is serious about religion is comfortable marrying a convert. That, and the fact that we both want to go and live in Israel. We'll go as soon as he finishes up his degree.

We found an apartment within easy walking distance of campus - the upstairs of an old two story house. We painted the gloomy mustard-colored walls. The landlord said we could use anything we found in the attic - mostly an assortment of furniture abandoned by previous tenants - so we have pretty much furnished the house just from there.

We don't need half this much space, but it's so nice and cozy to be fixing it up together and settling in.

I keep getting visions - another collage - of how our life together will be. We'll do all the things together that we do now. Seth will finish up his degree and we'll go to live in Israel. I imagine our apartment there, like Ruthi's friend's apartment in Tel Aviv when I visited last fall. Learning Hebrew together. Getting to know our new country. I had been prepared to go to Israel on my own, but with Seth, it will be much easier. I guess we'll have children. I imagine him holding our baby. Being swept up in emotion and probably trying to hide it. Or maybe by then he will trust me enough to show mushy emotions without embarrassment. I guess we will have three or four little blond children. A family. Maybe a cat and a dog.

Sometimes I see an old couple walking along together, and I imagine us like that fifty years from now. Knowing and trusting each other so well. Really feeling part of each other, so that the inevitable parting, when one of us dies, will leave the other feeling torn in half. I imagine Seth there by me all through life. Steady and quiet and reliable. Like the song - "Let me drown in your laughter, die in your arms, lie down beside you, always be with you." What a compliment two people pay to each other when they want to always be with each other.

It's true that life might be easier with a more self confident person. Someone I could lean on instead of the other way around. But it's OK. I can be his interface to the outside world.

I know that many marriages end in divorce. But if you're both seriously committed to the marriage, and if you love each other, and if you have alot in common to start out with - I don't see how any disagreement could tear you apart. If both of you will compromise, it has got to be possible to find a middle course that will suit both of you. And we're older - 25 and 26. We already are who we're going to be.

I joke with Seth that I don't know what we're going to talk about after the wedding is over! It's nice having something to plan and do together. Of course, there will be aliyah to Israel to get ready for. Then getting adjusted over there. Planning a wedding like this is good practice for discussing things, sharing ideas and reaching compromises.

Good omen

Well, here I am ... a married woman!

I find myself looking for omens. There was a blizzard on our wedding day, but that's par for the course in upstate New York in January.

In the car on the way to work, this morning, everything white and fresh and new, I heard the song, "Paloma Blanca" 'It's a new day! - No one can take my freedom away!' I turned the volume up all the way and bellowed it out loud along with the record.

Poetry

Yesterday we exchanged these poems:

Shlomit,

Roses are red, violets are blue,

You are my honey, and I love you.

- Seth


Seth,

Galoshes are wet, runny noses are wetter,

You might love me, but I love you better.

- Shlomit


Shlomit,

If I had time I'd write a verse,

But since I don't I'll make it terse,

I don't love you worse.

- Seth

Snowflake

Last night, crunching home from the store in the snow with our bags of groceries, we heard a plaintive kitten cry from some bushes. I crouched down and found a half grown black cat. He crawled up onto my lap and settled there. I love cats. Especially black ones, after having Domino as a child. But my knees were getting wet. And I was pretty sure that Seth would not agree to our having a pet.

So I dusted off my knees and continued on, anxious to get back to the warm apartment. When I turned into the driveway, Seth, behind me for a change, said, "Wait a minute! He has to pee!"

There was Seth, standing over the cat who was squatting in the tire rut behind our car. When the cat had finished, Seth coaxed him toward the house - rubbing fingers together enticingly, "Come kitten!" Seth looked up. "We have that leftover fish ..."

I guess I don't know Seth as well as I had thought!

As I write this, the cat is washing himself on the rug and Seth has gone out for cat food and litter. So I guess we have a cat. Maybe, in honor of this cold night, we'll name him Snowflake.

Falling

I get a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of what Seth's Mom said at the Passover Seder.

"See-ee, I was right!" she crowed proudly. The whole extended family, arrayed around the table munching matzah, turned their attention to my mother-in-law. I had been to the big family Thanksgiving get-together, before we were married, but this was my first clan gathering as a bona fide member.

Mom is the matriarch of the family, even though she is only in her 50's. To Seth and his brothers, of course, she is the mother. To Seth's aunt she is the older, taller sister. The one who has sons instead of a daughter. To her parents she is the daughter who was the 'son' of the family. Mom had gone to Palestine when she escaped from Hitler's Germany as a teenager, intending to settle there. But her parents pleaded with her to join them in America and help rebuild the family business that had thrived in Europe before the Nazis crushed it. Since then she has been the buffer between her parents and the American culture and language. To her sisters-in-law, she is the wife of their only brother. And to Dad, well, she gave him his job, didn't she, in the family business. His livelihood. For a man, that is often his very identity. Even though the success of the business has been largely due to Dad's efforts and talents for the past three decades, the unspoken fact of how he got there seems to be the cornerstone of their relationship and of the family dynamics.

"I always said," Seth's mother continued when she had everyone's attention, "that when Seth finally falls in love, he will fall hard!"

Was it really as I have replayed the scene in my mind since Passover? Did silence fall and did all eyes turn to me and Seth sitting there side by side? How could she say such a thing? The very statement implies that she knows he isn't comfortable with intimate relationships - what possessed her to taunt him about ours? And in front of the whole darn' family?

I've tried so hard, in our relationship, to encourage Seth's efforts at closeness without rubbing his nose in it. I never make him self conscious about liking me, lest he see himself as one of the misguided idiots he and Arnold made fun of in high school. The stupid jerks who went out with girls.

I wish, now, that I had looked at Seth's face instead of at his mother's, so I could have read what was written there as she said, "Look at the two of them sitting there so lovey-dovey! I knew that when he found the right girl, he would fall head over heels in love with her! I knew that when Seth fell in love, he would fall hard!" Why didn't she stop! Why didn't someone else say something? Drop that plate of macaroons? Have a heart attack?

Doesn't she know her own son, even as well as I already do? That the best reverse-psychology way to get him to stop doing something is to let him know that it was your idea in the first place.

I should just forget that whole scene. Except that I have a feeling that Seth hasn't forgotten it. Since then - unless it's my imagination - he seems to have stopped with all the nice little shows of affection I enjoyed before we were married. Maybe that cold feeling is in my heart.

Magic trick

I think I have learned a magic trick that makes unpleasantness disappear. Poof.

I turned to Seth as I hung up the phone, two weeks ago. "All my siblings are going to be home for Memorial Day weekend. There's a concert at the amphitheater and they're planning a breakfast picnic at Spring Park. We're going to have a big Swiss-food cooking and eating bash for Dad's birthday. I told Mom we will be there."

Seth's jaw clenched in a way I have been seeing more and more lately, "Impossible. I've got to be here over Memorial Day. The best time for me to work is when the other guys are away, so I don't have to schedule use of the chamber. I was going to get in three solid days of experiments."

I rested my hand on Seth's shoulder. "You're sure? It'll be nice." Since I know we'll be going to live in Israel when Seth finishes up his degree, I like to spend as many weekends as possible in Ohio.

"I'm sure. We're not going."

We? "Oh, well, I could still go. If you're going to be in the lab the whole time, I might as well be in Ohio."

"We'll visit your family some other time."

For days, this disagreement stood between us.

I don't think Seth understands why I like to be with my family. He doesn't have much connection with his. He still calls Jerry 'my middle brother' and Roger 'my little brother', as though I don't know their names. His extended family is close. They get together often and talk on the phone between visits. It's a really nice family. He doesn't even know which relatives are from his mother's side and which are from his father's. And this is a German Jewish family, much of which didn't survive Hitler. Somehow, he lived two decades with these people, and doesn't seem to have any shared experiences.

Maybe sons don't have a strong connection to the family. Paul does - but maybe that's because we three sisters kept everybody socialized. Or maybe Seth's remoteness is because his mother worked, and my Mom was always there to keep the home fires burning.

Anyway, since we discussed Memorial Day, Seth maintained an aura of annoyance that colored every interaction. I tried to be super nice, hoping he would change his mind. How, I agonized, could I go visit my family without having Seth be angry? His anger was like a physical force. He was like a creature on his beloved Star Trek - shielded by a force field of anger. I saw no solution to the problem.

Then suddenly, I found such a simple solution! I realized that I could make the whole problem go away by simply not going to the family weekend. I could handle my disappointment, and my family could handle theirs, better than I could stand Seth's anger.

It’s such a relief to be on good terms again!

More poof

I've used my magical technique a few times, since Memorial Day, to banish unpleasantness. Each time a potential disagreement looms - over what to buy or what to do, I feel the tension rising like a cold wave. Then, poof, I can just say, "OK, I guess it makes sense to do as you said."

I'm lucky that most of the issues on which Seth stands so firm are things that don't matter so much to me, anyway. We really are very similar in our likes and dislikes, so usually what he decides isn't far from what I would have done, anyway. Then, after agreeing and feeling the tension fade away like a broken wave, I try to think up reasons why his proposal is a good idea. Seth himself rarely offers reasons for his predilections.

Obviously, we'll eventually have to learn to compromise, and to communicate better about what each of us wants. But for now - while we're just getting used to being married, and while he's under so much pressure to finish up this thesis, this seems like a good way to keep the peace at home. It'll let things go smoothly for now.

On the move

I'm really sorry to be leaving our first little apartment, after only half a year. But we'll be going to live in Israel as soon as Seth's thesis is finished, and our landlord wants to rent to students for the whole year. Seth borrowed a van from the lab, yesterday, and in half a dozen trips we had brought all our boxes and furniture over here.

It's hard to move from four large rooms and a porch and an attic, back into a tiny two-room GLC apartment. The worst part is that graduate housing comes furnished, and we have our own furniture. So in addition to all the boxes crammed in here needing to be unpacked, last night, we also had two apartments' worth of furniture all higgledy-piggledy. The management came today to take away the furniture we don't need, but meanwhile, last night, the apartment was like one of those little plastic puzzles with the squares you put in order. Each time I wanted to put something someplace, I first had to move the thing that was there.

We were exhausted from schlepping boxes all day, but we grabbed a quick supper of PB&J and started organizing.

Seth was sterilizing every cubic inch of the kitchen, so he could start unpacking kitchen stuff.

I was trying to get the bedroom in order. Until I got things sorted out, we would have nowhere to sleep.

Finally, close to midnight, I called to Seth that I had everything set up so we could sleep. I had the boxes cleared from the beds and I had located bedding, towels, toiletries and PJs. Had our underwear installed in drawers. I was ready to crash.

"Nobody is going to bed until we're finished," Seth corrected me, without looking up from loading kitchen cabinets and collapsing boxes. Organizing everything the way he had had it as a bachelor, in the identical kitchen he had shared with Bernie.

"Well, I think I am finished for tonight, Seth. I'll continue when I get home from work tomorrow - by then the extra sofa and chairs and desk will be gone. It's way too inefficient to try to push stuff around, with everything in the way."

"No. It's going to be done tonight. I'm not going to sleep in this mess," he informed me.

I finished putting clothes away and started going back and forth between the rooms with furniture. But there was the rug to put down. Two more hours went by and I didn't see much progress. I had Seth's science fiction books on his metal shelves in the bedroom. I went back to Seth who was putting the finishing touches on the kitchen, sliding boxes of Passover dishes up onto the tops of the cabinets. I told him I really couldn't do any more tonight. I reminded him that I had to get up in four hours, for work. He sleeps until nine, so two AM didn't feel as late for him. He often comes home from the lab after midnight.

"We're going to finish tonight," he intoned with that super-patient slowness that warns you that he could explode in anger if you're not careful.

I love organizing things. I love settling into a new place. But not like this! Maybe he wanted to be sure and be there to oversee me. Anyway, what could have been fun - could have been an activity to do together - turned out to be so unpleasant. I was way past exhaustion, and I took way more time for each decision than if I had been rested.

Finally, at five AM, he was satisfied and I just crashed in my clothes and slept for all of an hour and a half. Was a zombie at work today. He's right that it's nice to have everything done, but it seems that I paid a higher price for it.

Earth to Seth

I've got to somehow grow longer antennae. Seth has some system of his own for telling me things, and most of it goes right by me. I'm starting to understand that he doesn't want me to cook supper until he gets home. At first, I would get home from work - shopping on the way home if necessary - then call the lab to get his ETA, and fix supper for when he got home. Of course, often, he had no idea when he would be coming home, or he would tell me a time and he would come home way before or way after. I guess it all depended on how the experiment was going, or on some calculation.

Then, so often he would walk in the door and say, "Oh, no! Not tuna casserole! I was in the mood for hot dogs and baked beans!" So for awhile I made sure to ask him in the morning what he wanted, but often, by evening he had changed his mind. Or he would tell me at 6:00, when I called him, that he had changed his mind, after I'd opened something or thawed something or chopped something.

So now I wait until I've talked with him before starting anything. Then last night, he had told me over the phone, 'pancakes'. Then when we were walking across the field - I had gone out to meet him - and I said I had the batter all made up, he said he had meant potato pancakes, not regular pancakes. Who says 'pancakes' when they mean potato pancakes?

He was angry all through supper and finally, very annoyed, said, "Just wait until I get home before you cook anything, OK?"

I guess that makes sense, except that often he doesn't get home until 9:00 or later, depending on how his experiments are going. But why couldn't he have told me, months ago, that that's what he wantedme to do?

Babying him?

Over the weeks of this game of charades we have been playing at suppertime, I kept thinking of an anecdote Seth's mother tells. How Seth's brother Roger, as a little kid, would come to the dinner table and ask for something different from what the family was eating. And how Mom, a good mother, would 'have to' get up and cook another supper for Roger. Often dairy when the family was eating meat, or meat if the family was eating dairy, requiring a separate table setting and a separate set of pots and a separate dishwashing operation.

Maybe Seth always wanted his mother to do that for him and this is his chance!

Got to admit it's getting better

It turned out that I was reading Seth all wrong. It was the shopping, also, that he was trying to tell me not to do - not just the cooking. For a few weeks we were cooking together when he got home at night, but there would always be something he wanted to cook that I hadn't bought ingredients for. And other things that I bought that he never got into the mood for, and either I ate it alone or it went bad and he was upset when we threw it out. Now we shop together on Sundays, or he tells me specifically what to pick up on my way home, and everything goes alot smoother.

But it took me weeks to figure it all out.

Before we were married, I had all sorts of Pollyanna ideas that two people could avoid problems by discussing them and reaching a compromise.

Oh, I see what's strange. We've had months of 'problem', but we didn't even start out at conflicting positions. I didn't have any position, I just didn't know what he wanted. If he had said, last January, "Hey, let's shop together on Sundays, and then we'll cook together whenI get home," I would have said, "OK, sure." and that would have been that.

So why couldn't I put my Polyanna plan into action and discuss it openly with him, instead of playing hotter - colder?

Ah. Because there was no point at which I knew what the issue was.

Next time things start to seem strange, I'll have to think of more possible things I'm doing wrong. I mean - things that he wants me to do differently. Or I'll just ask, "Is there something you want to change?"

So many evenings when he was glum and silent, I was assuming something had gone wrong at the lab - that he wasn't getting the results he needed for his thesis project. When all the while he might just have been scowling over how his 'project' at home was running!

Oh, well, soon the pressures of getting his degree will be over. We'll have a five month 'honeymoon' at the absorption center in Israel. Taking classes to learn Hebrew, and arranging to get jobs and find a place to live.

Maybe it will really be like a honeymoon. One problem with our new schedule is that it pushes suppertime so late. I don't mind eating fashionably late - I grab an apple when I get home, but ... well ... by the time the dishes are done, it's pretty late at night and ... that, and, I guess the pressure of his thesis ... the physical side of this marriage never really got into gear. Oh, well, it's only temporary.

Should we post-mortem this? Should I tell him I would like him to come out and tell me, when he wants me to do something? No. It's over, now. He's probably also thinking it over and realizing this wasn't very efficient communication.

Anniversary blues

Eight months have gone by since Passover, and - is it my imagination, or was that the point at which Seth fell out of love with me? And fell hard. He seems to catch himself, when he's doing or saying something romantic or generous, and chide himself for being so mushy.

Is he trying to prove to his mother, or to me, or to himself, or to the never-present, ever-present Arnold, that he never would, never did, fall in (shudder) love with a (shudder) woman?

Does he always imagine his mother there at the head of that long table, scattered with sparkling glasses, the Passover china, and a dozen half-eaten desserts, ready to taunt: "Seth and Shlomit sitting in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

Or maybe, as his mother's taunt implied, Seth had fallen 'in love' with me. Now that that first romantic glow has worn off, real love hasn't taken its place. The deep totally accepting love you feel for your parents and siblings and spouse and children.

A year ago at this time we were working so hard to get ready for the wedding. Shopping and sewing and cooking and writing invitations and choosing a stack of Israeli LPs to dance to.

We chose pots of mums to decorate the chapel, and then gave them to our mothers afterwards. On the phone last week, Seth's mother said that her plant is doing fine. Blooming and getting new growth. I got a chill when she said that. It sounds as though that supermarket chrysanthemum is healthier than this year-old marriage.

OK. We worked n the wedding, and I guess we relaxed afterwards, thinking that the hard part was over. Now it's time to start working as hard on the marriage.

Absorption Center

Well, we're here! The start of the rest of our lives, living in Israel! I have actually been writing alot - about our apartment in the absorption center, bright and new and white and airy, overlooking the Mediterranean. About trips we've been going on, and observations about how it feels to have come to live in Israel. I write this travelogue as letters to Mom and Dad, but it's also a diary - I'm writing the letters on loose-leaf paper, and have asked Mom to save them in a binder so I can have them back later.

I imagine us, old and gray, years from now, Vera, Chuck and Dave at our knees, reading those old accounts of our years as pioneers. Israel will be three times as old as it is now.

This private diary, then, will wind up with all the gripes! Be forewarned, dear diary! The frustrating things we're going through that I don't want to worry the folks back home with.

One stressful thing, I guess, is that Seth and I wind up together twenty four hours a day. After the first two years of the marriage when we, I realize, barely saw each other, because he got up after I had left for work, and often worked in the lab till after I was asleep.

I don't know how Seth's parents manage it - they're together all the time. In the office they sit shoulder to shoulder, then they drive home together, shop together, fix, eat, and clean up after meals together, watch TV together.

Well, it's only for the five months we're here learning Hebrew. When we have our own apartment, and we each have our own jobs and friends and activities, things will be more normal.

Bell bottomed blues

Seth announced yesterday that we’re only going to do one dark load of laundry a month, because he brought enough pairs of socks and jeans to last him a month. Of course, if he had told me ahead of time, I could have bought more jeans, too. But as it is, I just wear these two pairs day after day until they're disgusting.

Actually, there's a reason I only have two pairs of jeans. When we went to Penney's, before we came over here, he wanted me to buy bell bottoms because he was buying bell bottoms. I like baggier pants, because I often sit on the floor. So I only bought two pairs of bells, hoping he will relinquish the fad at some point so I can buy comfortable jeans, now that straight leg jeans are coming into style again.

I can understand that Seth is nervous to be five months without working, and wants to make every lira count. No big deal. I’ll just wash out my jeans in the sink when they get too gross.

Notebooks (more gripes - I warned you!)

There's this strange business with the notebooks we're supposed to use for our homework in the Hebrew classes. I've been letting Seth make the decisions for almost two years now, but it seems that he's being stubborn about the notebooks, just davka. (See, I'm learning Hebrew! 'Davka' means just to be ornery. Or, for inanimate objects, it’s when they obey Murphy's Law.)

Knowing that we would be spending the first five months going to Hebrew class, Seth and I brought over a supply of notebook paper, and a three-ring binder for each of us, because that's what you use in America. Well, we're not in America now, and here, students use little pads of stapled together paper. They're really cheap - probably subsidized. The first day, the teacher asked each student to get two, and we're to alternate - she'll collect the one with yesterday's homework in it, and while she's checking that, we're to use the other one to do today's homework. We saw the notebooks for sale at the grocery store that afternoon, but Seth said we've schlepped all that paper over here, so we'll continue to use that.

So every day when we handed in our homework, there was a neat stack of little notebooks on Hannah's desk, and our two stupid loose-leaf pages sticking out of the stack. Hannah very politely reminded us every day to get notebooks as soon as we could, and Seth would kind of shrug.

I felt so stupid. Somehow, even though Hannah, fresh out of the army, is younger than I am, we all relate to her as school children relate to their teacher. Even the fancy South African lawyers in our class seem to have turned back into third graders. (One day one of them came to class and bragged, "I saw Hannah in the grocery store and she said hi to me!") So I really felt embarrassed each time I handed her that page. Finally, I told Seth I was going to switch over to notebooks, and I bought two for myself.

I'm more comfortable in class, now, but I'm not sure it's worth it. Seth acts as though I've betrayed him. Every time we sit down to do homework, and he sees my notebook, he tisks or huffs or purses his lips. He finds every opportunity to ask, "How can you work like that! The page is too small!" When we hand in our homework, he looks pointedly at mine and rolls his eyes, like "Well, there's that ridiculous little notebook of hers!" Last night he gauged the thickness of the stack of notebook paper we had brought, with his fingers, and sighed very audibly. I don't know why he's so worried that we won't use it up - I use more for my letters home than he does for homework.

Now I wish I had just stuck with the loose-leaf binder, but it would seem dumb to switch back. I can't, anyway, until I know how to say in Hebrew, "Well, ANI know this sounds silly, HANNAH but HAIM around the BAYIT has been really uncomfortable since I bought those little MAHBAROT, so ANI am switching back to loose-leaf NIAR." As you can see, I have a ways to go.

The other day I figured something out, doing my homework, and said, "Hebrew is neat!" Seth snarled at me, "Why don't you speak it, then!" and gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the day.

These notebooks are a sore spot. We'll use the notebook paper eventually. (Here, I've used a page and a half just griping about the notebooks.) Even if I went back to using sheets of paper, I have a feeling that it wouldn't help, now.

I guess we're just together too much and don't have anything 'real' to deal with.

Counting chickens

Last night, coming home on the bus from a class trip, Seth made a statement that has been going through my head all day.

We were talking about the various discounts on appliances, and interest-free mortgages immigrants get.

Seth announced, "If things go as I expect, we could wind up fairly well-to-do after a few years."

Not that I have anything against being rich! But his solemn declaration sounded like a pledge that he will work toward this goal. I know that he can work single-mindedly toward a goal he sets for himself, not letting anything get in his way. I know it's hard for him, now, to see that nest egg dwindling. Maybe I haven't thought enough about my life's goals. But I can think of plenty of things more important than amassing money. I just hope none of them are sacrificed for Seth's goal.

It'll be good when we're into an apartment of our own, and both have jobs, and life gets more normal.

Ruthi and Nahum

It's so nice to have Ruthi here. She is the only friend from college to actually move to Israel afterwards. She came to visit us today and brought her friend Nahum. They met at a singles evening arranged by the kibbutz movement.

Seeing them there on the sofa enjoying each other makes me realize how much like a boring old married couple Seth and I are already after barely two years.

Well, of course, this is a stressful time - setting up our lives in Israel. I thought it would bring us closer together to have all these new things to deal with. We don't seem to enjoy each other very much. Sex is still pretty sparse. Very sparse. Very very sparse.

She stoops to conquer

I did something sneaky, today. We've been planning how we will furnish the apartment we have rented, until we buy real furniture. Seth had said we could make shelves out of cement blocks and boards from the lift until we get some closets. (Israeli apartments don't come with built in closets - you have to buy cupboards.) I had an idea for how we could build two sets of shelves from cement blocks, and then between them, put a broomstick for hanging clothes. I was about to sketch it out for him, but I stopped. I know Seth well enough to know that he would reject any idea I proposed.

So I drew two sets of shelves, far apart, and then in between, two freestanding piles of cement blocks with the broomstick across.

He took the bait! He looked at my picture and tisked, disdainfully, "Look here. You're wasting space and blocks. Look." He drew a set of shelves exactly the way I had had in mind. So I have the best of both worlds. We get the design that makes the most sense, and he thinks it was his idea.

I don't want to start doing that on a regular basis, of course. I want to get more honesty and maturity into our relationship - and that won't happen if I stoop to being as sneaky as he is.

Incommunicato

Dear Diary, I have friends who came to Israel by themselves, and a couple of them wound up marrying Israelis. I always wondered how you could really communicate with someone if you don't share a mother tongue. But with Seth - here we are - we grew up in the same state (the same county, even - our high school football teams played each other) and I swear I communicated better with the old Russian woman who stopped me in the street today and gestured me a query about the whereabouts of Bank Discount, and I gestured her back the directions.

It's so frustrating to deal with someone who gives me one detailed instruction at a time, never giving me the whole picture so I can even follow his instructions intelligently. Why can't we ever just sit down like two friendly, intelligent people who speak the same language, and each of us tell what we know and ask about what we don't know! Oof! (Hey, I'm getting more Israeli if I'm saying "Oof!" when I'm frustrated.)

I do feel sorry for Seth - he had been so proud of the fact that he had a job lined up here before we came. Several scientists from the lab here had done sabbatical years at the university, and they told him he would be very welcome at the Israeli lab. But because it's a government lab, there's so much red tape that while we were at the absorption center I started from scratch sending out letters and interviewing, and I will be starting my job next week. Seth is still at home waiting for the permits and documents. It's hard on him. He has been nearly unapproachable since we moved to this little rented apartment. It should have been fun, getting settled into our first real home, but this job thing, I guess, is weighing on him.

Yesterday morning, Seth came to me as I was about to leave for the long bus ride up for orientation at my new job. The trip won't be nearly so bad once I' have started working. Employers here provide free transportation (and free hot dinners at lunch time). They'll pick me up a block from the house, and drop me off at the gate of the plant, so it will take an hour to get to work, instead of two or more by public transportation. I just hope I can read on the bus without feeling woosie!

Seth handed me two sheets of paper. "You have a pencil?"

"Yes ..."

"Look. Here's what you do. After you finish at personnel, go to the office that coordinates transportation." Seth sounded very serious. Urgent. Frantic, almost. "Ask when the transportation gets to Rehovot in the evening, and what time it leaves Rehovot in the morning."

"Rehovot?" We don't live in Rehovot.

"Yes! Rehovot is best," he snapped. Maybe he's thinking of moving there, when we're ready to buy an apartment. "The bus you take from Tel Aviv, this afternoon, will be coming back through Rehovot. Get off at the bus station and go to that big board at the end where they list all the busses. Write down the times for busses between Rehovot and here."

I wondered what this was all about, but it didn't seem like a good time to ask, so I agreed, took his pieces of paper, and left.

I filled out some forms (favorite Israeli pastime) at personnel and spent the rest of the morning in my new department being shown around and meeting people. Everybody is really nice. Before I left, a nice guy named David, another ‘Gringo’ in the department, as he calls us, explained how to get to the transportation office.

The plant is huge and the transportation office is a good hike from the department, so I had a good long while to dread the encounter. We've been in the country for six months and it's still very hard for me to walk into a situation where I have to explain myself in Hebrew. The efficiency of Israel's Hebrew language courses for new immigrants is legendary, and Israelis are very patient and sympathetic when faced with someone who barely speaks their language. Israelis manage to communicate, no matter what. But I'm accustomed to sounding correct and well educated when I open my mouth!

The guy in the transportation office was very nice. He opened a drawer marked 'Rehovot', and said there were a dozen busses to all the various parts. Plus the overtime bus and the second shift bus and the mothers bus. When he asked me where I live, I murmured uncertainly, "Well, I don't really live in Rehovot". He asked me where I needed to get to in Rehovot, and I said I didn't know. He asked the same question in English, in case that was my problem, and I told him I guessed I just needed to get to the bus station.

He handed me half a dozen printed schedules and wished me luck.

On the way home I got off in Rehovot and duly copied the information from the board at the bus station, and got on the next bus home.

When I got home and handed Seth the papers, he snatched them wordlessly and went off to scrutinize them closely under the desk lamp, circling information here and there.

When he was satisfied, he brought me the papers and started explaining to me how I could take public transportation to Rehovot very early each morning and then run and hopefully catch the transportation to work, half a block from the bus station.

"But why, Seth? I... I'll be taking the transportation from here, no?"

"There's transportation between your work and here?" he shouted at me, angrily. I nodded. "Well, why didn't you say something instead of bringing me all this worthless information?" He threw the papers disdainfully down on the table.

"Seth, I didn't know what you wanted it for. You didn't say anything..."

"It's impossible to deal with you, sometimes, you know, Shlomit?" He strode over and turned on the TV.

I'll be so glad when he's working!!!!

It didn’t seem a good time to remind him that it was my birthday, in case he would have wanted to wish me a happy one. It’s no big deal. Everyone has a birthday. It’s not as though we did anything to earn it.

So I’ll tell you, Diary: Hey, Diary, today is my birthday! Twenty-eight. Wow. That’s old! Half way to 56! Yikes! I wonder what I’ll be doing on my 56th birthday...

Little Head

I'll be so glad when we've finally bought everything we need. I thought it was supposed to be fun - setting up a household. Well, it's not fun at all. It's very stressful. It doesn't even matter to me so much that he decides everything. Let him. But in everything related to these purchases he's so unfriendly.

There's a store where I work, that gives discounts to workers. I hate going there - it's only open at lunch time, so thousands of workers descend on the place at noon. Wall to wall people. It's not self service. There's a big area in the middle, and counters around the edges. Too few sales help. You have to shout to catch someone's attention, and I'm not good at that at all. Then I have to explain in my lousy Hebrew what I want. Or, rather, what Seth wants. Or rather, what I imagine he wants.

He sends me there with a little pad and pencil to write down all the facts about whatever he wants to buy - ladder, bed pillows, heater, blankets, kettle. He hasn't shared with me any of his assumptions about what he's looking for, and often there are so many different models and manufacturers and qualities and sizes... If Seth and I could just talk about it before he sent me, I could use my own brain to filter, and just not bother to research the ones that are far from what he wants. The busy clerks get annoyed, and so, of course, do the people pushing at me from behind. Often I lose the clerk's attention while I'm writing my notes, and have to catch her eye all over again.

At some point my frustration mounts, and I decide it's just not worth it. I decide I'll just tell Seth that this method doesn't work. Then I imagine his anger if I do, and realize that a surging mass of sweaty factory workers and overtaxed clerks is less threatening than an angry, insulting husband, so I plug along.

I get home with my little lists crowded with details about the item, and Seth pours over my notes, and asks further questions. "Does this Phillips model have more horsepower than the Israeli brand? What is the capacity of this P-309? I don't see a price for this one here. Did you ask if we can write a check for the first of next month? Which prices include delivery and which don't? Do they have this one in stock or is there a waiting period?" I never seem to get all the information he needs, so I’m sent back the next day to ask the same frustrated clerk for more details, often unavailable.

There's a term used here, that originated in the army. "Rosh Katan", literally, "little head". Where you do what you're told, with no understanding, not using your brain at all. Even if you're sure there was a mistake, and the orders don't make any sense.

Well, that's how I have to do everything.

Yesterday, when he finally told me which pressure cooker to go and buy, I asked why he wanted to buy that particular one. Just out of curiosity. I really didn't care which pressure cooker we wind up with. Since he didn't trust me to decide, you would think he would want to teach me his principles of deciding. He looked at me with his grimace - where he looks daggers at me and grinds his jaws as though he'd like to crush me between them - and spat out, "Because ... I ... said ... so!"

Am I being petty? Because it's not really how the decisions come out that even bothers me. I have no doubt that Seth settled on a very good pressure cooker. I don't even mind that he decided on his own. It's not even really the store at work that I mind so much. Sure, it's awful, but obviously plenty of people manage to shop there, and the discounts really are worth a couple of hours of unpleasantness. I could think of it as doing some very lucrative moonlighting, at a job that's torture, on my lunch hour. Nothing wrong with that.

What's discouraging is the way Seth makes it all as unpleasant as he possibly can. If he would just be cheerful and sympathetic. Nice. Maybe thank me once for doing his research for him. Make some pretense of asking what I think. Smile. It's like he's in a fight with me, but he's the only one who is fighting.

I know he is under alot of stress. Think about it - in the past three years he has gotten married, written and defended his thesis, come to live in Israel, started his first job, and now we're house hunting. And he's living with someone who is going through the same stresses. For me it's not so bad, though. This isn't my first real job. I've had close relationships with siblings and roommates and boyfriends and girlfriends. Since he moved out of Jerry's room when he was twelve, I'm his first roommate! My family moved to a new state every few years. Seth's parents have lived in the same house since he was nine.

I've just got to give him more time to get adjusted to all of the changes.

Nine Lives

I came home from work yesterday, and Seth said, nervously, that he had something to tell me. We sat on the living room sofa and he said, "Shlomit, I'm sorry, but your cat died."

I started crying. Good old Matthew whom we had adopted at the absorption center. Matthew who enjoyed startling the neighbor by peering around from our kitchen window into hers. Matthew who had come out of the kitchen that time with his fur in spikes all over from washing up after lapping the oil from a tuna can. He was a spoiled brat. A rugged individualist. Good old Matthew! I can't imagine being without a cat in my life.

"I found him downstairs, Shlomit, lying by the entrance to the building. I buried him."

We went down to look at the new grave by the side of the building.

It was a very quiet evening. I started crying a few times, thinking about poor Matthew.

I wonder if he was actually just an excuse for my tears, though. The loss of that yappy cat just underlined the loneliness I've been feeling since we got here. Life is pretty bleak, and Seth is so unfriendly so much of the time.

Actually, Seth is being nice to me now that I'm mourning the cat. I'm sure Seth really does love me and cares about me. He cares about my feelings. As long as he's not the one hurting them. As soon as he gets to the point where he trusts me, and doesn't feel he has to guard himself against me, I'm sure everything will be OK. I just have to be careful not to betray his trust in any way.

Tenth life?

So things settled down without Matthew. I tried to catch a pretty black half grown cat who hangs around the garbage room. He will come over to see what I'm bringing him, but won't let me touch him.

Then last night, five days after Matthew died, there was a meow at the door. I opened it, and in walked Matthew! Alive and well and hungry and annoyed that I was standing there with my mouth open instead of rushing to feed him.

It must have been a different gray tiger that Seth found and buried. But what a coincidence that Matthew disappeared for five days at just the same time as Seth found the body!

Money

I keep thinking about that time last year on the bus, when Seth figured we could be rich if we played our cards right. The thing is, he's playing solitaire.

He just assumes that the money we both work to earn is his to decide about. Actually, I'm earning more than he is, now. It's not his fault - he's in academia and I'm in industry.

Frankly, he has made enough financial misjudements that you would think he would let me have some say. He threw away my first paycheck trying to be a wheeler dealer. We had ordered the new car and it had been delivered to the local dealership, and we were supposed to just pay and get it. But he kept sending me to the agent to stall on the payment, thinking he was going to win out somehow on the inflation vs. price-hike spiral. In the end, of course, the price jumped before he got around to letting me pay for it, and I had to go sell more dollars - an amount equivalent to the salary check I had just gotten. Of course, no apology or even a "Guess I goofed!"

Now he has had his father put a big chunk of our savings into this GPU stock. He picked it because they're the utility company that's going most progressively into nuclear energy - the energy source of the future. Seth is an expert on and advocate of nuclear energy, but he doesn't know the first thing about the stock market.

Seth pointed out that GPU pays higher dividends than the interest rate paid by the savings bank. "But in the bank, your principal is safe," I pointed out. I'm not sure he understood what I meant.

The only principle that's safe with Seth is the principle of doing things his own way.

Finally! Our own apartment

We found an apartment to buy. Actually, Seth found it. While he was waiting for his paperwork to come through so he could start work, he went to agents to see what is on the market.

This one is perfect. Three bedrooms, on a quiet dead end street but a block from the center of town. A view of the sea three blocks away. Overlooking a park. Nice layout - not wasteful like some we have seen.

It will be so good to be settled. This will be the fifth move since we got married less than three years ago. No wonder everything is topsey turvey between us. We don't get the key until January, because their new place isn't ready yet, but the anticipation is fun, too. Thinking how we'll arrange everything.

Maybe it's this depressing little rented apartment we're living in, that's making Seth so glum. Old wooden kitchen cupboards, old bathroom, the dark green and brown wallpaper in the living room.

The new place is bright and white and airy and new.

In Hebrew, when someone gets something new, you wish them, "May you be renewed!" Maybe this new apartment will renew us.

Red Tape

I'm writing this on a bus, on my way to work. Pardon my jiggles. It's the second time this week that I have been so late getting to work that it's hardly worth going in.

I wouldn't have believed the running around that is involved in buying an apartment! Before we made aliyah, I had heard about all the red tape and bureaucracy here, because it's a socialist country where there are special forms and procedures and applications for each special case. In a capitalist country, I realize, free market and money take the place of all this. Fair or not, resources go to those who can pay for them. If you can produce the money, I give you the thing you want, and I don't have to know any more about you. But as soon as you are going to make special considerations based on 'to each according to his need', you must have procedures in place to make sure the recipient doesn't cheat. To prove he's really a new immigrant or over 65 or a single parent or proud parent of six or more children, a kibbutznik, a veteran, mother of a child under the age of four, disabled, a conscientious objector on religious grounds, living below the poverty line, etc, etc.

Here, everyone has pretty much the same lifestyle, because if you earn half the salary, you also pay half the taxes, medical insurance payments, daycare tuition, school fees, water bills, TV tax, pool membership, etc, etc. And part of your salary is made up of things given out to employees on a per capita basis, regardless of the work you do - gifts and allotments and benefits.

This morning I waited for over an hour at the bank where we are getting our new immigrant mortgage. (See? There is no incentive for the bank to provide speedy service - new immigrants are sent to them for their mortgage - you can't walk out in a huff and go to the bank across the street.) The good thing about the mortgage is that it is unlinked. With double digit inflation, that's like getting an outright gift.

They're actually very well organized at the bank; the clerk took out a thick packet of various shapes and colors of forms, and went through it, plunking papers in front of me with rapid-fire instructions. Where I was to go and who was to sign it.

I only half understood most of the things she needs me to do. There are a couple of forms in this stack that I do think I understand. She said to come back at the end of the week with whatever I have managed to accomplish, so I guess it will be an iterative process.

Seth can't really take time off just now to help take care of this stuff, because he just started his job.

Well, every new immigrant goes through this. Some with far less education and understanding of finances, and they manage somehow. Part of the Israeli experience!

Still Buying the Apartment!

I'm still running around. For the past month, I seem to spend more time waiting in waiting rooms and riding busses than I do at work.

Let's see - in the past two weeks I have been to the mortgage bank, our bank, and the mortgage bank in Tel Aviv where we get an extra loan for being members of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. I've been to the AACI office. To our lawyer, to the lawyer of the people we're buying from, and the lawyer of the company that originally built the building. To the contractor who took over from the builders who built the building, when they went bankrupt, to make sure they don't still owe anything on the building. To city hall, to the land registry in Rehovot. The gas company and electric company. The phone company, though there is little chance we will get a phone very soon. There are people who have been waiting for a decade.

Most people here don't have telephones. I guess that's why all this running around must be done in person. Even if things were computerized, it would help alot, so they wouldn't have to dig through file cabinets, or tell me to come back in a week - they've ordered the files up from the archives.

There are so many concepts here that are, well, foreign to me. Every once in awhile there's a form that needs 'stamps'. That means you have to go to the post office and buy the necessary denomination of special stamps that they stick on the bottom of the document for whatever reason.

I've heard that this country runs on a combination of Turkish law from when the Ottomans were here, and British law from the mandate period, with remnants of Roman and, for some reason, Dutch. And of course Jewish law. I guess they just added their red tape each time the region changed hands, never bothering to remove the old layers.

Then for each mortgage, we need guarantors. People who know us well and have steady jobs and are willing to agree to pay off our mortgage if we don't. This is because of a religious injunction not to take a person's house or cloak or millstone as collateral for a loan. How many people do new immigrants know at all, let alone people willing and able to sign away their financial security for them? Not to mention the terrible embarrassment of having to ask a new friend to do this.

Still at it...

Last night I told Seth that I really need some help with all this running around for the new apartment.

I know he's new at work, and can't take time off. But I'm also new - I've been working there less than four months. And he doesn't really have to prove himself - the other scientists know him from the university, he has his degree and his work at the university, and his thesis. I have to make my own reputation from scratch, and all this time I’m taking really doesn't help.

Seth says it doesn't look as bad for a woman to miss time to take care of household matters as for a man. He said this reluctantly, because there we all were, back in college, advocating women's lib and everything.

He said it's harder for him to get to work because there's no bus that goes all the way to the lab. He would have to hitch a ride with someone who is driving in. But it's hard for me to get to work, too! He doesn't want me to take the car, because gas is expensive, so it's one bus to Tel Aviv, and another from there to work. If I leave here at 11:00 AM, I get to work at 1:00 PM, if all of the connections work out just right. I've missed six hours, because we start at seven. He would be at work by noon, only missing four hours, because they start at eight.

The thing is, if I were in his situation, and he were in mine, he would see things exactly the opposite from how he does. He would still find reasons that I must be the one to do all of the running around. It's no wonder he never wants me to explain how I see things - it would upset his apple cart.

I tried to show him some errands that he could run in the evenings to help with this house buying process. He gets home before the banks and offices close. But he said my explanations didn't make any sense to him. It's true, it's all so complicated and interrelated, that it would be hard, at this point, to turn any of it over to him. I never would have believed it two months ago, but it's all starting to make some sort of sense to me. And I'm getting to be good at finding my way around various cities, and presenting my case at various offices.

I guess what I really want, is just moral support. To be able to come home after a frustrating day of trying to make progress with this stack of forms, and get some sympathy. To be able to tell Seth how rude this clerk was, or how long I had to wait, about the people who pushed ahead of me on flimsy excuses, times when I waited in the wrong place. Or when I waited for nearly an hour outside a closed door because the sign said, "Don't knock! If the door is closed, it means we're serving another customer". Then when the coffee lady, with her little tray, opened the door, and I saw the guy just sitting there reading the paper, he said, "Why didn't you knock!!!" And about getting lost in Tel Aviv (at least the solar panels all face south, so I've learned to orient myself by that). Or rushing to Rehovot to get to the land registry ('Tabu' in Turkish) and getting there at 1:08, just after they closed for the day.

But when I start to tell him, he gets angry. I guess, since I'm doing all this because he decided I should, he takes any complaints personally. What a pity! Half the fun of being a new immigrant is being able to gripe to other new immigrants about the inefficiencies and frustrations we encounter. This could have been a bonding experiences.

Another thing I would like from Seth is a 'thank you'. Just once. But, I guess there, too, if he were to thank me, it would imply that I was doing him a favor, and of course, he argues that I'm doing all this because it's the most logical solution.

Ah, well, it can't last forever, can it. People do actually move into apartments. On the bus yesterday morning I looked around, at the hundreds of apartment buildings, and realized that each apartment represents a folder full of forms like mine. I just can't wait to move in!

Tripping

We had such a strange shopping trip yesterday. We were shopping for bookshelves to fill the long wall in our new living room. Usually Seth makes all the decisions. But this time he didn't seem to have any preferences at all. We took the bus to Tel Aviv where all the big furniture stores are, and Seth just sort of wandered along. Finally, I saw a store that looked good, and I asked tentatively, "Should we go in here?"

"If you want ..." Seth answered in a super-mild accommodating way. What's come over him? Maybe he sniffed too much glue at that little carpentry shop where they were making end tables.

Once inside, he resumed his aimless wandering till I went over to something that seemed like what I thought we had in mind, and asked if he liked it. "If you do ..." he drawled.

The salesman came over and I expected Seth to start firing questions, or at least, as he often does, muttering questions he wants me to ask. But he just stood there. I couldn't involve him in any discussion, find out what he liked, nothing!

In the end, we bought a big set of shelves. Or, I guess I did. He didn't object to anything. I wondered if he's getting sick.

Then, on the bus home, he suddenly became his bossy self and started listing things that are wrong with 'your shelves'. We should have waited till the 15th of the month when the cost of living figures are published. I should have asked how thick the veneer is. He would have wanted to know where the teak came from. He said it would have made more sense to go to the kibbutz where the furniture is made, and see a wider selection. Or to wait for the big annual furniture exhibition in October. I should have tried to stretch out the payment schedule.

Why didn't he mention any of that in the store? Or before we went shopping?

Maybe he has realized that I should be included in the decision making. Or maybe he was trying to show why I shouldn't be.

Seems a really idiotic way for two people to decide things.

His Way

I try to come up with the advantages of Seth’s policy decisions, even though he never bothers to explain his decisions.

But he seems annoyed, rather than pleased, when I find logic behind his preferences. As though he would rather have me going along because he decrees, and not because I agree.

I thought I was earning credits for when things come up that are important to me. That we just happen to be in a run of things that are so terribly important to Seth. That if I could manage to say, "Well, this one doesn't matter so much to me..." I could keep things running smoothly. I was proud to be the generous flexible mature indulgent one where I could.

But I'm starting to think that it's always going to be this way.

Interior Decoration

We have finally moved into our new apartment. We came over and painted all the walls together before we moved in, as we did with our first apartment three years ago. I was feeling nostalgic for that newly-wed period when everything seemed so simple. When I thought we could just work each thing out as it came along, as I did with siblings, friends, roommates and boyfriends all along. I can't even point to anything in particular that we disagree about. Seth just always seems to be in a private battle with me. Always angry.

We went to a carpenter in Tel Aviv who specializes in dining room tables. I guess I only went along to drive the car. The whole time we were there, the poor salesman was trying to talk to us as a couple - talking to me, presumably the wife, who presumably has some say in the final choice. The salesman was listening for my comments, but Seth just acted as though I wasn't there. Ignored anything I said. Finally I just fell back and watched, as I do more and more lately.

Seth wound up buying chairs I wouldn't have picked up from the tree lawn. Tall, narrow, uncomfortable looking. To accentuate the stiff at-attention constipated look, they're upholstered in a brown and black plaid with the vertical stripe dominant. You can't imagine hunkering down to a comfortable meal on them, relaxing with other relaxed people - you would have to sit up straight and mind your Ps and Qs. Crook your little finger.

When we got home, I guess it was pointless, but I told Seth I would have wanted to take part in choosing the furniture. He looked surprised. "I picked out chairs that go with the rest of the livingroom!"

I looked around the room: The new teak bookshelves, brown sofa bed for which we plan to make slipcovers, Seth's little oriental rug from his bed room back home, the steamer trunk coffee tables from when we came over. The rest is bare, so far. I said, "But we don't really have the rest of the livingroom yet."

"I know we don't!" he exclaimed, annoyed, "But I know what I have in mind for the room! I got chairs that would go with how I want the room to look."

Tackling the Terrazzo

I can't wait for Seth to get home from work. From when they built this apartment and cut the floor tiles to fit the edges of the rooms, there have been penciled letters and numbers on those tiles. Finally today I hurried through all my other Friday chores and got to work with a scrub brush and cleaned them all off. It looks so nice!

Trouble with Terrazzo

I couldn't wait to show Seth the clean floor tiles on Friday, so when he came in the door, I said, "I want you to see something! Look!" I pointed down toward the baseboard. "I cleaned off those penciled numbers!"

He crouched down to examine the floor, and I couldn't see his face, but - from the length of the pause or the set of his shoulders or something, I got a wave of bad vibes in the bad-vibes sensors at the base of my spine, just before he spoke. "I hope you realize you've ruined our floors," he said through clenched teeth. Furious. "This looks terrible. I never told you to do anything like this, Shlomit. The tiles at the edge are lighter than the rest, now. It looks terrible."

"A little lighter, maybe, but - isn't it better than having writing on them? The color will even out..."

"It looks terrible. Nobody would have noticed a little pencil mark here and there, but this looks awful. Just leave things alone from now on. You've ruined the floors."

When he did the vacuuming, that afternoon, I could hear him muttering and huffing. Maybe, with his eyesight, he hadn't seen the marks, and then when he bent down close, he saw that those tiles are cleaner, now.

It was not a cheery Shabbat.

Cartwheels

Our building is switching over to solar water heaters, instead of using the big gas heater out behind the building. In this land of sunshine, it's a good idea. But of course, I was the one who stayed home to wait for the guy to install the panels and tank on the roof. Twice. He didn't come at all the first day I waited for him. We don't have a telephone yet, and I was afraid that if I went out to use a public phone to find out where he was, he would come and find an empty house and just leave. Anyway, usually the dispatcher just says, "I can't help you, lady, you were on his list when he left this morning ..." So I missed two days of work. Then after the guy left, I realized he hadn't put the handle back on the faucet.

I said to Seth, how much could a simple faucet handle cost - let's just go buy one. He said it's the principle of the thing, you can't just let a person cheat you like that, so I, of course, spent all day today at work asking the boss if I could use the phone in his office to call the solar boiler company. I finally got through, but they can't check with the guy who installs the boilers until tonight, because he's out working. So I have to call back yet again tomorrow.

I'm willing to make sacrifices for my own principles, but why should I have to turn cartwheels for Seth's?

We're coming up to our third wedding anniversary. I had thought that by now the stresses coming from the outside would have diminished so that we would be able to settle down and be comfortable together. Sigh.

Untouchable

Dear Diary, Happy New Year and happy third wedding anniversary.

Wow. I sighed a big ragged sigh as I echoed those words in my head. Three years.

I haven't written about this, but it's on my mind more and more:

A couple of years ago, all the guys at the office signed a gag wedding card for a co-worker. It said to take a jar and a big bag of jellybeans. For the first year you're married, you put a bean into the jar each time you make love. Then, after the first year, you take a bean out each time. And see if you ever empty the jar.

I laughed along with everyone else, but the joke deepened my worries. We had been married for less than a year and, well, we wouldn't have needed a very big jar. I had been telling myself that we just needed to get used to each other, but if it was only going to get worse... what kind of marriage was this going to be?

Now, nearly two years later, I can’t shake the thought that if we had a normal physical relationship, we would also feel closer in other ways. Dad once said that you should only marry someone if your relationship would almost survive without sex. Even Dad - of the generation we assumed were such fuddy-duddies - realized that you need the physical side. And now, when there seems to be so little relationship on an emotional level, Seth and I certainly need something!

I'm sure Seth knows this isn't normal. Years ago we laughed over his copy of "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex". According to the book, the national average is three times a week! Maybe Seth remembers it as ...a month? But with us it's not even that often.

Seth quotes a classmate who once mused that married people are 'getting it regular'. So at one point, at least, Seth realized that sex is a normal part of marriage.

I have pondered so many possible reasons, that I have convinced myself they’re all true at once. Maybe it’s because he's depressed right now. Or maybe he just doesn't like me. Of course I wonder if there's another woman. Maybe he's ill.

I hesitate to come out and say anything that would make us self conscious and make things worse, so I just try to make sure I'm approachable and friendly. I sometimes pat him or give him a spontaneous hug, even though it only earns me a 'tisk' as he disentangles me and turns away.

Seth never wants to go to bed early or just read in bed or anything where something could happen spontaneously. He makes me stay up late, just sitting at the table with him while he reads. I put my head down and doze, just waiting for him to get tired. Which happens so late, because he gets up late. By the time we do get to bed it's so late that I guess he's just too tired.

The worst is when he seems to be teasing me. Over supper he'll say something like, "Maybe tonight..." and raise his eyebrows suggestively. Usually, I try not to expect anything, because it's only frustrating when there's nothing. But when he suggests that he's in the mood, I can't help but look forward to it. I'll touch him in passing, and just feel closer. Like we share the anticipation. Sometimes I hug him in the shower or flirt with him. Otherwise, during our water-saving showers, I try to pretend I'm not standing there naked, a foot away from a naked man, because it's just frustrating. I snuggle close to him when we finally get into bed. But more often than not - I don't know what happens between supper and bedtime to change his mind - but usually there's no further mention of sex, and no sex. Maybe there’s something that he's waiting for me to do, that I'm not doing.

I would have thought that Seth, the old skinflint, would want to partake of a comodity that's totally free! When he sees me, every morning, downing these pills we pay for, wouldn't he decide to reap the best return on investment, and do it every day? Maybe he's afraid the pills won't work and I'll become pregnant. I switched over to pills because I thought all the messing with other techniques might be what was putting a damper on things.

The Lady and the Tramp

OK. Instead of just moaning about the problem, I'm trying something. Sometimes when we're reading a book together, and there's a bedroom scene, it seems to give him the idea. The books we usually read are either science fiction or military death and destruction, so there's not a whole lot of romance. I thought maybe if we were reading more titillating books, it might lead to something.

We were at the used bookstore yesterday evening, and I found copies of 'Fanny Hill' and 'Lady Chatterly's Lover'! Seth was mortified when I checked out with them, and muttered about 'trash' all the way home. I tried to make a joke of it.

As soon as we finish Foundation Trilogy, I'll give them a try.

Fanny

Well, I should have figured he wouldn't like a character named after his least favorite part of the body. Fanny Hill is too blatant to be erotic, and I stopped reading when I realized it was having the opposite of the intended effect. I should have started with L C's L. I told him it's a classic, so he grudgingly agreed to let me start it.

Fanny Revisited

The Lady just bit the dust, too. Actually, we kept going for quite awhile. The sexy part doesn't start until pretty far along. I was wondering what Seth was thinking about poor Lady C with her unpleasant, self absorbed, incapacitated husband. Did that give him any insights into how I feel as the weeks go by?

Then finally, after tantalizing us for pages and pages, Lawrence gets the lovers together. The scene is SO evocative. When the gamekeeper reaches under the hen - who could write something so erotic about a chicken! I was barely breathing from the tension. You're just melting, willing them, "Touch each other, already!" Finally, the caress. There I was, barely able to voice the words, assuming Seth was just as caught up as I was in this tender scene, when he burst out, "I can't believe the trash you read, Shlomit. Throw that thing in the garbage where it belongs. He just touched her rear end! Uch!" and he went and switched on the TV.

So that's the end (pun intended) of Lady C.

Now what?

Should I do something, or should I just go back to ignoring the whole business?

I should talk to Seth. But I don't want to make it worse. But it couldn't be much worse.

I don't want to tell him what to do. I just want to know if there's something I'm doing wrong.

On the rare occasions when he is in the mood, it's really nice. I assure myself that this nice experience will encourage him to indulge more often. Even for him, the effect seems to linger. Often, the next day, he'll refer obliquely to 'last night'.

So much for Self Help

I was actually in tears this morning over a depressing library book about how to have a better marriage. I read it Friday morning when Seth was at work. Most of it doesn't apply to us. I mean, the problems apply to us, but I can't use the author's recommended solutions, because they depend on things that Seth wouldn't allow. Open communication, etc.

I turned to the chapter on sexual problems and was told that I, the wife, must take into consideration that my husband has a much stronger sexual appetite than I do and what might seem like excessive demands, is actually right for him. The author said that as long as both members of the couple understood this, and took each other into account, it shouldn't be a problem.

No hint that it might be the other way around.

Is my face red!

Well, at least I know now what I'm dealing with. And feel totally stupid and embarrassed.

I finally got up the courage last night and told Seth that I don't seem to know how to initiate sex. That I do what seems natural and right, but he never seems to get the hint. Should I be more explicit or what?

And Seth burst out, "No!" He turned away from me and talked to the wall, shaking his head. "That's exactly the problem. I can't have you initiating. I can't have it! I've got to do the initiating!"

"So... I should... If I..."

"Do nothing! Just don't do anything. I can't... with you always..."

Seth went to the bedroom and turned on the TV.

Isn't it amazing how just one statement can change your whole understanding of what has been going on! I'm so embarrassed to think of all my little charades. Patting and hugging and grinning flirtatiously and snuggling up, and those stupid books. No wonder he can't get in the mood. If he moves a muscle toward physical closeness, his wife is all over him in a second. No wonder he's so tense at home - he's afraid his sex crazed wife will attack him.

Of course, realistically, my attempts to get things going were few and far between, and pretty tame. I never pranced around in little negligees, or tried to tear his clothes off him. Most of the time we've been married, I was just waiting.

Sigh. Marriage is so much harder than I had expected. I have heard that you have to work at it, but I didn't know you could work so hard and still do everything wrong. How can you ever know what another person is thinking?

I'm staring at that question I just wrote. Usually the person opens his mouth and tells you what he's thinking, if it's something you need to know, doesn't he!

OK. Never mind. It's prim and proper from now on. I'll be - like that joke - so frigid that when I open my mouth, a light goes on. I guess when he says, "Maybe tonight..." I'm supposed to act puzzled. Innocent. To what on earth could he be referring? "Oh, you think maybe tonight Manuel won't drop the tray when he comes out of the kitchen on Faulty Towers?" And when Seth does initiate, I guess I'm to be more reserved?

I always liked the term 'initiate' because it implies that you just need to do a little something at the beginning of the process, and it all continues on its own from there. Nudge into action a process that's on the verge of happening, anyway. Now it sounds like a bad word.

Holding Pattern

It's been over a month since our little talk. He's still staying away from me, even though I've been really careful. Not that it's any worse than before, but talking to him certainly didn't clear things up.

Counting the weeks before that conversation, it's been over two months.

OK. Now I know not to initiate. But now, also, he knows that I would like sex on a more normal schedule. Well, obviously he knew it before, what with all my blatant come-ons. So why can't he initiate, if that's important to him, but just more often? Then we would both be happy!

Maybe we'll never do it again - now that it's my stated position that I want more, and his that he wants less. Each time we do, it'll be like a point for me?

Why should it be such a problem! Sex is supposed to be fun. How did it turn into a power struggle like everything else. Where 'who decides' is more important than the thing itself.

Darn, darn, darn!

Worse than Nothing

Curiouser and curiouser.

Last night Seth finally seemed to feel affectionate, and then, right in the middle, he just got up and picked up his bathrobe and walked out of the bedroom. I thought he was going to check on something - maybe he had heard the cats scratching the furniture or something, though he didn't turn on any lights. I waited and waited but he didn't come back. Finally, I guess I fell asleep. Maybe I acted too appreciative. But after almost three months, who wouldn't!

So many couples have problems that come at them from the outside - sickness or financial worries or getting robbed or losing a job. We have everything anyone could ask for. Why does it seem that Seth manufactures problems where there are none?

Things are looking Up

We seem to be getting slowly back to normal-for-us.

I suppose women have lived this way for centuries - just waiting and hoping. I try not to think about it, but then when he is affectionate, it's less enjoyable because I've gotten so good at just burying any desires out of self defense.

There are still times that he leads me to believe I can expect something, and then nothing is forthcoming. I never know if he just forgot, or if I did something he took to be 'initiating'. I have to be more careful to act as though I don't care one way or the other.

I don't know if our jar of jelly beans would be full or empty by now, after four years of marriage. Just full of dust and cobwebs, I guess.

Dear Diary,

No, I haven’t been holding out on you. I was hoping all this crazy stuff would fade away if I didn’t carve it in stone here in my notebook.

But I’ve got to write some of it down, so it will stop churning round and round in my head - keeping me awake at night and distracting me during the day.

You be the judge, Diary. Does Seth hate me as much as he seems to, or is it my imagination?

He's forcing me to grow my hair. OK, if he had told me that he likes it long, I would gladly have grown it to try to cheer him up. But he just barked at me one morning as he went out the door, "And don't cut your hair anymore. I want you to grow it long."

And he's been making me take cold showers all winter. That's funny. I wonder if he's really trying to cool me off before we go to bed. We take showers together, which could be companionable if he were nicer. It's been cloudy all winter, and he won't let us turn on the electrical booster for the solar boiler, so the showers are ice cold. Now with my hair long, I can't get it dry with the towel, so I go to bed with damp hair, in that unheated unfriendly bedroom. Often I can't even bring myself to wash my hair. The other day at work I turned my head and got a whiff of unwashed hair. Yuch. I hate to feel dirty and offensive.

He only wants me to read the books we read together. If I pick up a book to while away the long silent evenings, even if he’s sitting there reading a magazine - he snarls and tisks and mutters and sulks. Luckily, I have two hours a day on the bus to work, when I can read whatever I want. I've read - let’s see - Flatland, two volumes of Newman's World of Mathematics, two of Josephus' amazing books, some Jewish Philosophy, a biography of Herzl, House on Geribaldi Street, O Jerusalem, and The Source for the second time. I've read the first eleven books of the HASAMBA series in Hebrew - geared at twelve year olds, but just the right combination of easy Hebrew and exciting content to keep me reading. After the first few tries, I don’t dare share with Seth my excitement over anything I’m read on my own.

He won't let me go to bed when I want to - even though I get up two hours before he does.

His latest thing is that he has stopped letting us buy fruit and vegetables. Here in Israel, the land of fresh produce! He said I can just eat a hot lunch at work as he does, and get my vegetable matter there. So I'm pulled in two directions. Our work isn't the kind you can just leave at noon and come back a half hour later. It's only when the test engineers go to lunch that we get debugging time on the computer. So Moshe and Alex and I grab sack lunches from the kiosk by the dining hall and eat whenever there's a slack point. I hate to run off to the dining hall and leave them, but sometimes I start to imagine piling that salad on my plate - the crunch of the cucumber and the refreshing zing of the tomato - and I find myself lining up.

Lonely

And I'm so lonely. Seth's silences didn't bother me before we were married and I had other friends, too. And when I could visit and phone my family.

But back then, he was just remote and silent. Now he's actively antagonistic. He's constantly picking on me. Criticizing me. Not for anything specific - just general insults. "Too bad you weren't smart enough to think of that." "You're so clumsy it's a wonder they haven't fired you."

If I say something generous or complimentary to him, he comes back with an insult.

Even if I try to just ask him a totally non-personal question - 'What do they burn over at the power plant?' 'When was the second aliyah?' - it never turns into a conversation. If he knows the answer, he ridicules me and makes me feel stupid for asking. If he doesn't know, he just insults me for asking a question so stupid that no normal person would want to know the answer. "I wouldn't know." As though I had asked him whether the prime minister has freckles on his backside.

I’ve tried to treat his barbs like good natured ribbing. I would laugh self effacingly and agree. But it got worse and worse until now that’s the only way he relates to me - with insults and put-downs. So a couple of weeks ago I told him it makes me feel badly, and now, when he taunts me, I don't smile. I just look away to show that I'm hurt. So now, when he attacks me, he's not smiling, either. Not even his jeering smile. He's spitting out the insults through gritted teeth. Why? What's his game? What am I doing wrong?

I read a quote in a book - "You deprive me of solitude without affording me company." That's our marriage. He's there, preventing me from doing what I would do if he weren't around, and preventing me from being with other people, but he's not "with" me.

I need companionship. To establish some friendships. What's the point of dragging along day after day with nobody else in your life? What was the point of coming to live in Israel if we keep ourselves isolated?

I need to talk to him about this. I don't want to do as I did with the sex problem and just let it drag on, trying to figure out on my own what's going on (and getting everything totally wrong). But I don't know how to bring it up.

Daydreaming

More and more often, at work, I find myself staring into space, chanting, "What's happening to Seth? What's happening to our marriage?"

Yesterday morning, I was hunched there at my terminal, numb, trying to digest the awful weekend. My friend David poked his head in the door of my office on his way to the control room and asked the standard, 'How was your Shabbat?'

I was already feeling sorry for myself, and his kind voice reminded me that the last person to speak to me, smile at me, make eye contact with me - had been David himself, Thursday evening, when we split up in the bus lot to get on our separate busses, and he wished me a good Shabbat. I could barely croak, 'Shabbat was OK.'

I was glad my back was to the window as David told me about wrestling with his two little boys. He didn’t notice that I teared up with longing at the thought of living in a real home with a family and activity and noise and conversation and - life!

Women's Lib

They were teasing me again as I left work today - good naturedly, but still it hurt, because they were right.

I was rushing out to catch the regular bus home, even though we're in the middle of a real crunch. Everyone else was staying to finish this series of tests so a new series can be started tomorrow.

David called out, grinning, "Boy! I wish my wife wouldn't let me work late!"

"Oh," piped up another engineer, "Shlomit's just using her husband as an excuse to abandon us. He probably doesn't even mind. Hey - the Americans invented women's lib!"

I laughed good naturedly and hurried out.

I hate that part of the day. Aside from the joshing, it's so unfair to the others. There are only the three of us in the computer group, so if I can't stay late when we have deadlines, the others have to work every other evening instead of every third evening. If anything, I should be staying more often. They have children at home. I've got ... nothing to go home to.

I'm merging the two scenes in my mind, as, here on the bus, I hurtle inexorably from one world to the other. Work is fun. We enjoy each other. Especially the overtime crew when everything relaxes. The control room is brightly lighted and bustling, and there's banter and purpose and camaraderie.

Compared to home. I get to the apartment and unlock the door. Seth, on principle, doesn't open it for me. He doesn't return my greeting when I walk in.

On the fast day of Tisha B'Av, when we remember the destruction of the temple, a sign of mourning is that you don't greet each other. I just read Josephus’ account of what it was like for the people back then when the central fixture of their lives lay in ruins. I'm sure that if we really had sustained such a loss, we really wouldn't feel like greeting each other. We wouldn't check 'how are you' because we would know that the other person was as devastated as we are. But nowadays, it's incredibly hard to go a whole day without greeting. Greeting is just such a natural thing. Especially with non-religious co-workers who don't know why you're not returning their reflexive ‘Hi’. You worry they'll think you're angry at them. Even when you try, you can't help an acknowledging nod of the head or "um" or twitch of the hand.

It’s not even because our mothers prompted, "Say Hello." It's a deeply rooted mammalian behavior. When I come home, the cats wander over to greet me. Or, if their spot is too cozy for that, at least they raise their heads and "burrrrt?" at me to let me know they're there. To let me know our relationship is still OK. I'm OK, you're OK.

This not-greeting seems to come easily for Seth, though.

More and more often, lately, he's sleeping when I get home, anyway. Everything is dark. Quiet except for the ubiquitous radio.

Other times he meets me at the bus stop, glaring at each person who gets off, ready to be angry for the rest of the week if I have missed the bus.

There have been evenings when I have lost track of the time at work, or missed the bus just as it pulled out, or was making a crucial modification to the program that I just couldn't drop when the whistle blew, or else they wouldn't be able to run tests that evening.

Sometimes, to be truthful, I accidentally-on-purpose miss the bus, I so dread coming home. But it's not worth it. There's hell to pay when, inevitably, I do get home. Even if I have called to apologize.

If I had a warm, loving husband waiting for me, I would want to come home. Or if we ever visited anyone or talked about anything or did anything.

I feel so trapped in my life. Everything except work is so bleak.

Collegiate Terminology

Seth is silent and angry so much of the time that it’s actually a relief when he comes right out and tells me about something I’m doing that bothers him.

On these silent evenings, I try to say something every once in awhile even though he doesn’t respond, and might not even be listening. It makes it seem a little more normal around here, if there's not total silence.

But what could we even chat about? We have no friends to gossip about, during the hours we’re home we do everything together, and he has me read letters from my family out loud. So I tend to talk about work. One thing we have in common is that we’re both technically-oriented, so I do find things to share.

Last night I was actually looking forward to getting home because I had a riddle to tell Seth that might cheer him up.

'My friend David at work thought up a really cute bi-lingual riddle, Seth: what’s MISHMISH-TARA?' I grinned up from constructing my cheese sandwich to meet that red pursed-lipped nostril-blowing about-to-explode visage.

‘The people with whom you work are not your 'friends', Shlomit,’ he spat. ‘They’re your colleagues.’ He got up, though we had just sat down, and putting his plate into the refrigerator as he passed, went to lie in the dark and listen to the BBC World Service.

Since I had nothing better to do as I ate, I went and got Webster’s and looked up ‘friend’: ‘A person whom one knows well and is fond of.’

OK - I guess you couldn’t say I know my colleagues ‘well’, but I’m certainly fond of them. I feel happy when one of them comes into the room. I love Seth, but right now it feels more like a duty. Like loving him in spite of everything. I wouldn’t say I feel ‘fondness’ for him lately. And right now I feel very far from knowing him. I know him in that I can predict what he’s likely to do. If he were to look up when I came in the door and say, ‘Hi, how was your day,’ I would be thinking, ‘Wow - this isn’t the Seth I know!’ But I don’t at all understand what’s going on in his mind. We never share what we’re thinking. David and I don’t share earth-shattering insights, but we talk about neat things we’ve thought of. We know each other well enough to know which ideas the other would find interesting. I mention things to David that I would never share with Seth unless I were in the mood to be ridiculed.

Seth didn’t even bother to hear the punchline of the riddle. OK - so I’ll tell you, diary: MISHMISH-TARA is an APRI-COP! Get it - MISHMISH (apricot) and MISHTARA (police)! Cute, right? How does David come up with things like that?

So I learned that I talk too much about work when I'm at home. OK. Mum's the word!

Lonely, I'm Mrs. Lonely, I got nobody...

I'm so lonely. David and the other guys at work are great. I was thrilled when Naomi - whom I met at the Absorption Center - came to work at my company. I eat lunch with Naomi a couple of times a week, but that's not enough. There are nice, English speaking people who go to our synagogue, but they all go Friday night and Seth and I go Saturday morning with all the old Romanian men. I once suggested that we go Friday night, but he said you’re not supposed to go to synagogue for social reasons.

My soul needs to interact with other people. Like when you walk in a deep woods and some part of you is happy. A part you didn't even know was hungry.

I don't think Seth feels lonely. Partly, he likes to be alone, and partly he's got me. I make comments here and there all evening, even when he doesn't respond. I smile at him and touch him. If he's in the mood to say something, I'm there to listen. He's got a companionable friend. I haven't.

I have to talk to Seth. Tell him I need friends. Or that I think it would be better for us if we would get together with other people.

I was worried a couple of months ago when he seemed interested in buying one of those nice little houses out in the country, because then we would be totally cut off even just from casual nods to neighbors in the stairwell. Luckily, because Seth doesn't drive, he was wary of depending on a few busses a day.

OK. I'll talk to him. Just state my problem. I need a normal amount of human contact. No, that sounds accusative. I need more contact with people.

I don't know how to start up a conversation with him. How to make a request. There's not even any casual conversation from one end of the week to the other. How can I drop such a bombshell?

I'll pick a time when he seems happy and - but then I won't want to wreck his good mood. But I certainly won't bring up anything unpleasant when he's already grumpy. Is it worth damaging my primary relationship just so I can have some casual ones?

But it's not a big deal, what I'm asking. Just to be like any other healthy couple on earth. I'll talk to him. When it seems like a good time.

OK. I've psyched myself. I'm going to ask Seth to let me have friends. 'Let me'? I mean, to have him not mind my having friends, so that if I were to go out once in awhile, or have somebody over, I wouldn't be inviting his anger. Yeah. I guess I mean 'let me'.

Clones?

After all that planning, in the end I just blurted it out, all wrong.

A week passed, and I didn't get up the courage, or find a good time. Then last night, we were sitting down after supper to read, and I had 'Armageddon' on my lap. Seth was waiting for me to find the place and start the Berlin airlift roaring up again. Instead, I just blurted out, breathlessly, "Seth? Seth - I need friends. I need contact with people."

I expected him to say, "I never said you can't have friends," because he has never actually said the words, just made it clear in all his little Sethie ways that he’s Displeased when I even mention anyone else. I try to remember to say, "Somebody I work with..." But anything I say about these... colleagues... meets with frowns and that annoyed little line of a mouth and the foot stamping that announces, 'I'm hearing something I don't want to be hearing'.

But when I blurted that I need friends, he exploded and started shouting, in a panic - "No! Don't say that! You're not like that! You and I are just alike! You're not like other people! You don't need anybody! You only need me! We only need each other! You're not like them! You're just like me! You're just like me! We're the same!"

His face was red and those veins were bulging in his neck and it was so scary! Like he had gone crazy! Pounding his fists on the knees of his jeans. I wanted to move farther away from him on the sofa, but I was afraid to do that, too.

Here he is, so strange and different, and he's shouting that I'm just like him? So foreign and sick and maladjusted and abnormal so much of the time, and here he is, saying I'm just like that?

He stood up. As though his anger had propelled him to his feet. "It's that Naomi!" he growled as he paced back and forth. "She's poisoning your mind against me!" He turned toward me and I leaned farther back on the sofa. "Shlomit, I don't want you to eat lunch with her anymore. She's poisoning your mind against me."

Here he is, so mean and distant and strange. Enforcing all these restrictions. Designing this weird parody of a marriage. And he thinks there must be some outside factor that's turning me against him? As though any outsider could have more influence than his own behavior.

As a matter of fact, I have never talked to Naomi about how awful things are at home. I always assumed it's not fair to my husband to broadcast his problems to other people.

He ignored me for the rest of the evening, of course. We went to bed in silence, and then this morning he acted as though it hadn't happened. But we'll both know that his policy of isolation is official, now, whereas before, I could have claimed he just didn't realize how important it is to me to have contact with people. We'll never mention it again, but I'll be bound by it.

Company!

Well, I misjudged Seth. Our talk (!) about my needing social contacts did have results. Last night Seth growled through his cheese sandwich, "You can invite that Karen for dinner Friday night if you want."

She wouldn't have been my first choice. We walked home from synagogue with her once, and she and I didn't have much in common. Actually, she's sort of a female version of Seth - neat and fussy and boring. Self centered because she lives alone.

But Seth has a damping effect on any social encounter. When he's around, everyone sits up straighter, is more polite and watches what they say. Nobody lets their hair down when Seth is in the room. Not that he even says much. He just somehow enforces seriousness. Or maybe this is just my perception because he has that effect on me.

But hey, at least we're finally having company!

Two's company

Well, that was a strange dinner!

Karen came, and as soon as dinner was over, Seth told us to go sit in the living room while he washed dishes. We tried to think of things to say, till he could join us. But instead of joining us, Seth just went into the bedroom and read the paper and eventually went to sleep. Leaving me with nothing to say to the person it was his idea to invite.

Eventually, she said she wanted to catch up on some sleep, and I walked her half way home.

I guess Seth was making it clear that she was only invited for me. Or that my idea of getting together with people wasn't a good idea. Oh, well.

Them apples

I sometimes dream that I’m totally, totally furious at Seth and I'm screaming at the top of my lungs and tearing into him or throwing things, to vent my frustration at the way he makes us live. Definitely the frustration-aggression mechanism we learned about in Psych 101.

Well, yesterday I felt so angry and insulted in real life that I felt there was no limit to what I wanted to do to him. It was scary to feel such raw emotion.

We were in the supermarket (one of our typical trips - I push the cart, and he puts things in). We passed the fruit section, and I stood there for a few moments window shopping - watching other people filling plastic bags with fruit and vegetables that looked so incredibly good! It's been over a year, now, since Seth has let us have fruit and vegetables at home. Then I just decided it would be worth his anger to have a few apples. I didn't ask him. I’ve tried that, and it only earns me his lips-pressed-together huff of super patience, controlling his anger - but just barely - at his impossible wife. Plus, none of the other women were asking their husbands’ permission. Maybe if I act normally, he'll treat me normally.

Actually, I doubt if all of that really went through my mind. I was just crazed at the prospect of crunching into a sour crisp fruit-juicy apple. A few weeks ago I had gotten yelled at for trying to snitch one of the tomatoes he had bought for the spaghetti sauce he freezes and then rations out. And he was angry for a week when I presumed to help myself to one of the peaches he bought a couple of months ago. He explained, as he grabbed the peach away from me, my jaw already opening and my salivary glands already doing their thing - that peaches are his favorite fruit, so he bought some just for himself. He didn't want me eating them, because peaches are expensive.

So, there in the supermarket, I took a bag and I had put in four Granny Smiths when Seth stormed over and roared, "Just! What! do you! Think! You're! Doing!" He grabbed the bag away from me and shook the apples back into the bin, in a fury.

I felt so angry and frustrated and embarrassed in front of the other shoppers, who had all turned to watch. Now I understand the phrases, 'so mad you can't see straight' and ‘so angry you see red’. Everything was unreal. I felt as though I didn't weigh anything. I floated out to the front of the supermarket in a buzz to wait for him outside. I didn't know what I was going to say when he came out. It was all so outrageous, I didn't know where I would begin. We can't go on like this. It's just so far from how any other couple in our culture acts! How can he treat me like this and not realize how far from normal it is?

When he had checked out, he walked right past me. I caught up, and he hissed, without turning to look at me, "Well that was a nice little performance, Shlomit. I hope you're happy, embarrassing me like that. Storming out of the store just because you wanted some stupid apples."

I said, "Seth, we have to talk about this."

"I don't HAVE to do anything, Shlomit."

Playing it straight

So I didn't get my apples. Of course, I could go buy a couple of apples on a Friday morning when he's not here. But I have tried to play it straight. He so mistrusts me, anyway, that I feel I have to be totally trustworthy.

Plus, I don't want to escalate the problems. At least, so far, I'm behaving myself, and acting as much as I can as though things were normal. So far I've just been playing defense. I don't want to go over to offensive action.

Partly because it certainly isn't how I believe marriage partners should behave.

But also, I have to admit: Seeing how he treats me when I'm trying to be obedient, I can't even imagine what he would do if he felt justified in defending with all his might whatever it is he's defending. I'm so afraid of Seth. There. I said it. My heart is pounding. I'm afraid of my own husband.

I'm glad we're going on vacation to the US pretty soon and I'll see my family and feel normal for awhile.

House on Geribaldi Street

We passed by the movie theater on the way back from our Shabbat walk on the beach. Seth stopped to look at the titles being shown, and I sounded out a long unfamiliar Hebrew word. 'ger-i-bal-di'.

"Seth! Look! It's 'House on Geribaldi Street'! The movie about the capture of Adolph Eichman! Oh, we have to see it! I read the book last year!"

"We don't 'have to' see it, Shlomit."

"Right. I meant, you know, I would really like to see it. When is it showing?"

"Well, I don't want to see it."

"Why not?"

"I just don't."

"Seth ... I've gone to so many movies with you. Whatever you suggest, we go and see. Now that there's a movie that I want to see ..."

"Nobody told you that you had to go with me, Shlomit. Nobody told you that you had to put yourself out, if it was such a chore. And nobody's stopping you from going to see whatever movie you want. Go ahead. I'm not stopping you."

"But it's more fun together, isn't it?"

"Not if I've got to sit through a movie I don't want to see, no. I wouldn't call that 'fun'"

We've seen every science fiction movie and blow-'em-up adventure movie that has hit town. He usually likes history. I guess I should have introduced the idea less enthusiastically. Go by myself? Wouldn't that be making an even bigger deal of it? Ah, well - I'll catch it some other time.

Hey - Now that's no way to say Good Bye

I'm writing this on the plane. I was looking forward to this trip. We got a new computer at work, and they're sending me to New York to learn to be the system manager. I'll stay with Seth's parents for the week and just drive in to the city with them every morning and walk to the course.

Seth seemed OK with the whole idea. Until today when he just ... I don't know what.

This trip was arranged on short notice, and my tickets weren't ready until this afternoon. I had to go over to the other side of the plant to get them. The secretary gave me the keys to the delivery van to speed things up. Only, in the end, it had the opposite effect. I drove over, and had to wait and wait, and finally it was just a couple of minutes before quitting time that the tickets were ready. If I hadn't had the van, of course, I would have grabbed the tickets, signed on the dotted line, and run for my bus. As it was, I had to return the van to the department first. Once the whistle blows, and the busses start rolling, they don't let private cars use the road between the two halves of the plant. So I sat there in the van watching the busses leave. Shoom! Shoom! Shoom! Bus after bus after bus. I had always liked that spectacle, before, but now I just hunched there miserably.

At first, of course, I had that familiar dread that Seth would be mad at me for coming home late. But once I explained it to him, of course, he couldn't be angry. Obviously, the last thing I would want to do is spend two hours on public transportation when I have to finish packing and get to the airport by 22:00! I was impatient to get home and have some time with Seth - we'll be apart for a week until he comes over to the US.

Now I see that I should have called him once I got back to the department. But it can take an incredibly long time to get a phone call through to another city, and I could just imagine spending ten minutes trying to call, and missing the bus because of it. Plus, I'll admit it - those phone calls to tell him I'll be late are torture - whether he's angry or just doesn't talk at all.

So I burst into the apartment two hours and three busses later, sighing, 'Wouldn't you know! Davka today!' Expecting, I don't know - 'Poor Shlomit'? 'I was worried, what happened'? 'Do you need help getting ready'?

OK. It's Seth we're talking about. I didn't expect anything so positive and friendly, but I also didn't expect his nearly-exploding fury! When I came in, he looked at me as though he wanted to kill me. They say, 'if looks could kill'. Well, his was that kind of look. I tried to explain, but he pretended I wasn't even talking. Just went back to eating his sandwich as though I weren't there. I did my final packing, not really concentrating on it.

A couple of times I went to him and begged, "Please, Seth!" or "Seth, I'm sorry!" or "I couldn't help it!" The only words I got out of him were, "Right, Shlomit!"

So, when I couldn't wait any longer, I just called the taxi and carried my luggage down to the curb. For all the good-bye I got, I might as well have brought the suitcase to work with me this morning and worked some overtime until it was time to go to the airport. I could have saved myself three hours of travel for the sake of two hours of angry silence.

I phoned Seth from the airport, in case he had had a last minute change of heart. He at least let me explain, but then just grunted and hung up. Now there will be a week when who knows what will be going on in his head.

Maybe it has nothing to do with my being late. Maybe I did something else - wrote a check or something. Something I bought or something I forgot - or somebody said something. Maybe I got a letter and he read it and there was something. I don't know who or what it could have been.

Maybe he read one of my diaries. I leave them around, hoping he will. He doesn't talk to me, and doesn't let me talk to him - this could be a form of communication. I daydream that he will read a diary entry and come to me, apologetic, saying he never realized how his moods were affecting me. But maybe it would just make him angry that I write this stuff down.

Maybe it has nothing to do with me at all. Maybe he's sick. Maybe I was so caught up in my own problems that I didn't notice. Or something happened at work that he had hoped to share with me (though that would be a first) and I was so hyper about missing the stupid bus. That's probably it! It's not that he didn't believe my explanation, but that for two hours I dwelled on that, when there was something he wanted to say. Then to top it all off - I'm so stupid - I'm finally out the door, and I call from the stupid airport and harp on that missed bus some more!

Oof! I never get anything right!

Long Distance

My week here in New York is half over. It's nice, here with his parents. It's more relaxing than when Seth is here. The course is good, but when it gets too abstract, I find myself wondering if Seth is A) OK, and B) still mad at me.

Then tonight, he called. I assumed he called to talk to me, because he never calls his parents, but when they asked him if he wanted to talk to me, he said, no. OK. That probably means ... what? He has forgotten all about that last evening and doesn't need to talk to me? Or he is still angry and doesn't want to. Ugh. Today in the course we learned about error handling. How to access the completion code returned by any system routine or facility. So that if something is wrong, you can know what it is, so you can handle it.

Will someone please tell me how to access Seth's return code!

Reunion

Well, I guess things are OK. I was so nervous, waiting for him to come out of customs. In one way I wanted the next person through the doors to be Seth, so I could know where we stand. In another way, I dreaded seeing him. When he finally came out, his parents hugged him first, and he just sort of looked at me out of the corner of his eye and muttered, "Hi." Not angry, but not friendly, either. Embarrassed? Over that last evening, or over the fact that I was trying to hug him in front of his parents? He just stood there with his arms at his sides when I hugged him, but that's what he had done when his parents hugged him, too.

He seems OK. Grunts replies to his parents - but that's normal for him.

Maybe I just blew everything out of proportion. Who knows!

Home Sweet Home

We have bought the loveliest slip cover material! 'Lovely'? Where did that word come from? I guess I got it from the lady in the store - it's what she said as she smoothed her hand over the bolt before cutting out twenty yards. But it is lovely. Mom and Dad took us to a huge store near them with just upholstery material.

Picking it out was so nice. Seth was interested in the process, but let me participate, too. I really felt we were doing something together to build our home for the future. I think it's this nice experience of shopping for the material that is reflected in my delight over it, as much as the fabric itself. We have other things at home that are nice in themselves, but are tarnished by the ill will and antagonism rampant at the time we bought it.

Now I'm day dreaming about how the house will look with the ugly brown sofas covered in happy flowers.

We’re going to have a real home. When we get back we'll get a rug to match - before our three-year immigrant rights run out. I can't wait to get home and set up the sewing machine. Start earning that 'Homemaker of the Future' award I got from the Betty Crocker contest in High School.

Maybe if the house looks welcoming, instead of so bare, Seth will be in a better mood. He's in a really good mood here in the US. He was saying that New York City makes him feel alive. It's not like him to share a thought like that with me. He was actually smiling when he said it, standing with his hands out as though to hug the place. But here we are in Ohio and he is still in a good mood. Is it because he's on vacation, or because he's in the US?

I'm relieved, because it at least means that I'm not the cause of his depression. Maybe his job is more stressful than I'd thought. He comes home and brags about the triumphs, or at least he did at first, when he talked more, but he never shares the frustrations with me.

I'm proud of Seth. When he got to the lab it was just a typical government-run entity in a socialist country - put in place so that we would have scientists keeping up on what was going on in the world of physics. I doubt if anyone really expected any new discoveries to come out of this lab. The work day was a string of coffee breaks and political discussions. Then Seth came, young and gung ho, and actually did some experiments. He wrote up his results and got ready to submit a paper for publication. When he got the draft back from the typist, instead of his name as author, there was a whole slew of names. His name wasn't even listed first. "What's this?" he asked. It turns out that papers that go out of the lab have everyone's name on them - in alphabetical order. Otherwise most of the guys wouldn't have any publications at all to their credit! These jokers who had sat poking fun at him for working so hard, got credit for Seth’s work!

The next paper Seth wrote, he said he refused to publish at all unless his name appeared as author, and anyone else who had participated would appear as co-author. This was considered very unsportsmanlike, but they agreed, because no papers had gone out at all since Seth's previous one. So it came out with Seth as author, and ... the lab technician as co-author. All the PhDs hit the ceiling. The guy can't even read English well enough to know what the paper says. "Rafael is the only one who helped," Seth told them. Little red hen.

So, it doesn't seem that it's work that gets Seth down. Even the stress of living in Israel - I absorb most of that. All the banking or running to city hall or paying bills or anything, I take time off of work to deal with. Well, he's good now, and hopefully it will last even after we go back.

Going back

Seth seemed so healthy when we were on vacation, but now that we're home, he is the same as he was before.

Can't I help him somehow? I'm half of this marriage, and just as he is all I have, I am all he has. I try to speak once in awhile even when there's no answer. Try to pretend that things are normal. There are breaks in his moods. I walk up through the park on my way home from the bus stop, and if he's in a better mood the shutters are open. If he's in a worse mood the shutters are all closed and he'll be in bed. When I look up and see those shutters closed, I have the strongest desire to crawl into a corner someplace and hide. My whole being dreads walking in that door and being in his scary presence.

Even on a "good" day, when he's not in bed, he expects to totally control my time. He is home whenever I am, during the week. I leave the house at 5:30 and get home after six. He leaves at 7:15 and gets home at 4:45. And even though we have five rooms, he won't tolerate my having any projects. No sewing - it makes a mess. No guitar - it makes noise. No house cleaning. The house matches his mood. Dull and disordered and depressing. He proofreads letters I write. But the worst is the silence. He won't even look at me.

Here in Israel, Sunday is a regular work day. I don't work on Fridays, and Seth works a half day. All week, anything that comes up that needs to be done, Seth decides that I can do it on Friday. All the laundry and banking, and shopping and running around. He is home three hours a day more than I am, during the week, but all the errands wait until my time off.

By now, instead of feeling interesting and happy and pretty and energetic, as I thought of myself in college, I feel, at age thirty, unattractive and boring. Obviously Seth regrets being married to me, but it's really unfair. Because all the things I was back then - having a personality, liking to do things, and being upbeat and pleasant with people - have been crushed out of me by him. Why didn't he marry someone who just wanted to sit and do nothing, instead of marrying someone who's the opposite, and forcing her into his mold?

Goldstar

This afternoon at work. I came up with a suggestion that led to solving a problem that we have been batting around for days, and David said, 'You get a gold star for that one!' Gali asked why, and David explained that in the US they give schoolchildren a gold star if they do a good job. Gali was still puzzled, and it took a few rounds before he realized that David was NOT referring to the local beer named Goldstar!

So I’m in a good mood, partly because of that funny exchange, and partly because I came up with that useful solution. I can’t wait to tell Seth.

Oh, well. I just ran the scene through my head, where I tell him about an accomplishment at work that other people appreciated. I guess it wouldn’t be a good idea. He would only give me that look and say something to deflate my mood. Certainly wouldn’t give me a congratulatory gold star - verbally or in a raised glass.

That archetypical template of spouse as friend is the one I keep reaching for instinctively, even if it is never there.

Principles

I guess what his old girlfriend Miriam referred to, when she said he’s more like himself than other people are like themselves, were all these principles of his. I've gotten so that on principle I never do anything on principle!

He will never ask anyone for a favor.

He doesn't believe in giving charity because he never intends to be in a position to ask for it.

He never apologizes. NEVER. Even to mumbling "sorry" if he steps on your toe.

Never gives compliments.

He won't open the front door if he knows it's only me. "You have a key," he intones. Doesn't he ever feel glad when I come home? Last week I schlepped to Tel Aviv to pick up the rug we had ordered, and carried it up the four flights of stairs to the apartment. Seth knew that I would be bringing 2x2.5 meters of heavy woolen oriental on my shoulder, so I figured he would relax his rule about door opening just once. But of course it's a Principle and you never know what might happen if you relaxed one. I'm sure he doesn't know, never having done it. So, when there was no answer to my knock, I lowered the heavy thing down to the floor to get my key out and open the door. I really hoped I wouldn't find him at home, but he was sitting right there at the dining room table, not two meters from the door, reading a magazine.

The golden rule needs an amendment for people like Seth - Do unto others as you would want them to do to you IF YOU WERE A NORMAL PERSON.

Last week I went to the post office and lugged home half a dozen (free) phone books for all parts of the country. I arrayed them on the table along with the shoelaces, light bulb, Band-Aids and bank statement he had told me to get. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the phone books there. I had actually been dumb enough to think I could win some brownie points with him. But he just snarled at me, "I don't remember telling you to get phone books." Spitting out each sibilant. "...TTTTelling you to get FFFFone books."

I've been married to Seth for five years. It seems an eternity. I only dimly remember how I really am, or how normal people really behave.

Every year at our anniversary, I vow to try harder. But I don't know at what, or in what direction.

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Copyright 2020 by Shlomit Weber

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Homeless at Home

Email: homeless.home@gmail.com