Authors: Eishes Chayil,Judy Brown
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #People & Places, #United States, #Other, #Social Issues, #Sexual Abuse, #Religious, #Jewish, #Family, #General
, Hashem,” I said, and covered my face with the blanket. Then I remembered something.
“Totty,” I asked him, “do I
to get married and have a baby when I grow up?”
My father chuckled.
“And will I have to make supper every single day for the rest of my life?”
“Why are you suddenly worried about such things?” my father asked, laughing. “You still have plenty of time.…”
“Yes, but why don’t boys have babies also? The mother could have half the babies and the father the other half. All boys do is wear a hat and have a
, and why don’t girls have
“Whoa, whoa, what do you mean? Of course you have a
“Oh, that’s not the same!” I protested. “Boys have fancy
s in a fancy hall, with a big meal, and a lot of people and presents. Girls don’t have anything like that.”
“Well.” My father pondered. “Well. Maybe it’s because the boys do things afterward that girls don’t, like wearing a hat, putting on
every morning, and
and learning all day.”
I thought about that some. “Maybe,” I said.
My father kissed me good night and left the room. I stared at the ceiling, thinking. I did want a fancy
like Yossi and Leiby had. But then again, after their
, when Yossi and Leiby walked down the street, they had to keep their heads down. They told me that they were keeping their eyes pure and thoughts holy by not looking at women, especially
girls. Purity of mind strengthened one’s spirituality, and the only way to do so in this temptation-filled world was to keep one’s eyes clear of all evil. Yossi and Leiby also had to wear a black
coat and a hat, and although they were very proud of it, I most certainly did not want to wear a black
coat and hat every day for the rest of my life. I liked my colorful clothing. Neither did I like the idea of waking up every morning at six a.m. to go
, like Leiby did. My father would scream at him that if he didn’t wake up he would be the biggest bum in the class.
Praying once a day in school was enough for me. Three times was exhausting. I also didn’t like the idea of having to learn and learn and learn all day long. The boys did nothing but that. Even in the summer, after
boys weren’t allowed to do anything like roller-skating and sports and amusement parks. My brother told me that the only break they had in camp was swimming. Only the bums did anything else. On the other hand, the boys didn’t have to study math or science. They didn’t learn any English or get diplomas, while my sister Surela had to study all day for exams. But Yossi learned Torah from seven a.m. until six p.m., and my father once told him even that wasn’t good enough. A true Torah scholar studied at least until ten, if not midnight.
I turned over and closed my eyes, comfortably resolved.
or not, it was much more fun to be a girl.
My mother was furious. “Look at your skirt; it doesn’t cover your knees when you sit. How do you expect to get married?”
I didn’t know how I expected to get married. I just would—like everyone else—wherever their skirt was. I didn’t mean not to cover my knees when I sat. It got pulled up accidentally as I was sitting down, and I hadn’t pushed it down fast enough. My mother was always upset with me these days. We just couldn’t seem to get along. My father said it was because I was turning into a woman, and it was always hard for a mother to see her daughter become a woman.
The change in our relationship started when I was thirteen and my cousin Moishe, just
ed, ate by us on
. Moishe and his four younger siblings came with my aunt Yitty often to eat by us on Friday night, and sometimes we would talk. We liked to read mystery books together, especially the ones by Gadi Briskman. But two weeks after his
, Moishe stopped talking to me. He had taken two steps inside my room that Friday night, noticed me standing near the bookshelf, gave a startled jump, and ran out. I said, “Hey, where are you going?”
He said, “I’m not allowed to be in the same room with a girl.”
“But why not? I’m your cousin.”
He fidgeted awkwardly. He looked down at the ground, blushing as he spoke to me. “My
said if you are in the same room with any girl, a baby would come.”
I took a step away from him. I imagined a baby sprouting in the air between us if we were only in the same room long enough. I told him his
didn’t know what he was saying. Babies didn’t come until one was married, and then only when Hashem decided. But he said, “No, no, that’s what the
said, and we are forbidden to be in the same room,” and he quickly walked away to the dining room.
After they left, I asked my mother if what Moishe had said was true. She said, “Take the glass cups to the sink. Why is your sleeve dirty? Don’t you know the laws of
yet? Didn’t they teach them to you in school? Of course boys and girls are not allowed to be in the same room. Yossi, go to bed now—you have to wake up early for
“But what does it have to do with a baby?”
“Put the salt shaker in the closet, behind the
cup—not near it, right behind it. Be
—my father gave that to me when I was married; you think I have a spare one? If the
told Moishe that, then that is what is true. You’ll learn about it when you grow up. Now clean the challah crumbs off the table. I can’t believe the Baums are eating over tomorrow. Never invite people on Monday for
. What was I thinking?”
She picked up the edge of her turban in one hand, deftly tucking in a loose hair above her ear.
“But the baby—how would that come?”
“Here they are! The prayer books from Segal’s wedding! I was looking for them all over! Come, Yossi, sweep the floor, do a
. That’s my boy.”
I cleaned the challah crumbs off the table. I thought of asking my father, but I already knew he would just tell me to ask my mother.
My father always told me to ask my mother about “women things,” as he called it. But my mother did not like talking about “women things” either. When I had asked her about what a period was when I was twelve, and if it was true (Hindy, youngest of eight sisters, had warned me of it) she said it was complete nonsense. A few months later she changed her mind. It was when I was in seventh grade, after everything had happened.
She had informed me suddenly, while standing in Landau’s supermarket and choosing avocados, that I was now old enough to know “things.” I asked her, “What ‘things’?” and she answered, “Women things,” but then busied herself with the avocados. They were tricky to choose. I asked her again, but she ignored me and only looked more closely at her list. Finally, pulling a plastic package from aisle six, she gave it to me. It said “Always: Regular Maxi with Flexi-Wings.”
Oh, I knew that stuff. She had told me once that it was for children who wet their beds. Old people too. It happened. But now she changed her mind. She said it was for me. For my period, when blood would come out from between my legs for a week. This “thing” had been happening to women ever since Eve ate the forbidden apple from the forbidden tree, and Hashem cursed her, saying, “Thee shall suffer when thou shall have children.” It was a good thing to get my period, she reassured me, because that meant that though cursed, I was healthy and would have many babies as soon as possible. It meant that when I grew up and became pregnant by Hashem’s will, the bleeding would stop. What one had to do with the other, I hadn’t the slightest idea, but I had my pads.
I clutched the pads tightly. I looked at the shelves. I saw that there were many kinds of pads lining the aisle and they offered all sorts of protection. There were the Long Super Pads with Flexi-Wings and the Long Super Pads with the Flexier-Wings and the Long Super Fresh Pads with the Flexiest-of-Wings. There were the Overnight Maxi and the All Day and Night Maxi and the Make Your Period Disappear Maxi—which wasn’t there, but I kept searching for it anyway.
I grabbed all of them. But still I wasn’t sure. What if I used the wrong pad? What if I bled until my heart gave out but was too embarrassed to say anything? Would I just lie there dying alone? And what if a baby just got in there somehow despite the bleeding, not knowing there was a period going on? Regardless, it was extremely important that I have those wings, all of them. I explained to my mother between the produce and the Pantene that I needed all those maxis, because one could not know what unexpected circumstances might require the Extra Heavy pad or the Flexiest-of-Wings as I lay somewhere and died a sad and lonely death.
My mother told me to quit babbling. She could not find the coupons she had certainly put in her pocketbook and I should put all fifteen maxi pads back at once; they were all the same. They were certainly not, I countered. My mother looked at me. She looked at the pads. She sighed and said, “Put them back.”
I dumped them all in the cart.
“Put them back!”
She said this because the pads were choking her avocados. But I ran back to the aisle for more. My mother thought otherwise. She followed me to the shelf and plucked out package after package, placing them in my arms, and said that she would buy me one—and only one—pack for the period I did not yet have. I could choose which one.
I chose one. Then I chose the other one. Then I chose still another. My mother changed her mind. “I will choose,” she said. She picked the Long Super-Fresh Maxi with Super-Fresh-Flexis and Wings.
But then we had to pay. And the cashier, the one who would pick up my Super-Fresh-Flexi Maxis with Wings and know, just know, that I had my period, was a male. A
male, with curly little
dangling from each ear, drumming his fingers on the cash register as he listened to Avraham Freid warble into his headphones.
I pulled on my mother’s arm. I held her back. I whispered that there was no way she could pay for the pads. We must sneak them out under our largest coats that we had stored away for next winter. My mother said nothing. She simply walked over to the cashier and threw everything out on the conveyer. Mortified, I watched, standing far away behind the brooms, as the cashier, with a bored gesture, rolled the pads right by the scanner as if they were nothing more than a can of condensed soup. I felt anger. Also wonder. Had he no respect for basic modesty and Hashem’s glorious curse? I waited until everything was safely in shopping bags. Then I flounced to the exit, away from my mother. I had nothing to do with those bags. So I did not ever speak with my mother about “women things.” And she would not tell me now about babies and how one would come into the room where Moishe and I had stood. It had been annoying back then, when I could no longer talk with my cousin the way we used to—though I had known the day would come. By seventeen, the only boys I was speaking with were my brothers, who I wished would shut up. And my father, of course. My father would often sit with me and tell me how he couldn’t believe that I was already of marriage age.
“You’re a big girl already,” he’d sigh. “Seventeen…Look at you. Soon you’ll get married, and get busy with your husband, and then you’ll forget all about your old,
father at home.”
“Of course I won’t,” I reassured him. “I’ll still need your money.”
My father would chuckle and stroke my head. “Yes, that’s true. How could I forget?” He pointed a hand to heaven. “Thank you, Hashem, for Your money. I wouldn’t have children without it.”
And we’d laugh and go outside for a breath of air, because, my father said, “There’s nothing like New York’s polluted air to energize the system.” Then he’d tell me all about his first year of marriage with my mother, and how they didn’t get along all at once, but eventually they ran out of things to fight about, and look, today they were the best of friends.
He also told me about my aunt Rivky and how she had gotten married by seventeen because it was easier having babies than studying useless things, and about his parents and how they had been married back in the
, not much different from today—but never, ever anything about how those babies happened in the first place.