Friday
Sep282018

Pour Out Your Heart Like Water Before Me

Abby Horowitz


 

Before I had the rabbi, I had a dog.

And one day, the dog died.

The dog was old and had been sick, and I believed in proportional grief.

I loved that dog, but it was not a devastation.

And my dog's body, still on the exam table.

My hand combing through her fur.

We were talking about next steps, the vet and I.

(I could already imagine moving on to whatever might come next.)

(I was not struck prostrate on the floor.)

(I did not hide for days afterwards in bed.)

And the vet said: Many people like to bury their pets right in their backyards.

But I did not have a backyard then.

I lived in an apartment that overlooked a lot of cars.

And so my dog's life ended in a crematorium for pets.

I did not have a backyard and so I scattered my dog's ashes around her favorite park.

It was May and there were some sunbathers by the park's fountain and I scattered the ashes in such a way that when the wind blew, the ashes would blow onto those sunbathers, lying half-naked and carefree in the grass.

I confessed this to the rabbi after we had started dating, not the part about the sunbathers, but about how there were ashes in the first place, how I had sent my dog's body to be turned to dust. 

The rabbi said, I'm sorry for your loss.

The rabbi said, and his voice was full of kindness: You know, a dog is not a person, so the rules of Jewish custom here do not apply.

And I nodded, grateful and gratified.

Comforted and content.

Now I have a backyard full of dirt, and nothing left to bury.

 

My mother was concerned when I said I loved the rabbi.

My mother said, I should never have sent you to Jewish camp, that's where you fell for all this stuff.

She said, Think of all the rules you'll never have the option not to follow.

And all those many holidays you'll need to cook for.

And how you won't be able to drive to shul.

My mother pulled me to my closet, pointed out all my lovely shoes.

How will you ever wear these heels again, she said, if you have to walk all the way to services?

And I said, That camp was a blessing.

I said, We'll split the cooking.

I said, Marrying the rabbi is like marrying God, and I smiled as she laughed.

Besides, I said, heels don't get you any closer to heaven. 

 

And all the things my mother said came true.

The rules that were optional growing up were now required.

And we always walked to shul and the walk was so long so my heels stayed in my closet.

And all these rules, they were like answers.

All these boundaries like some divine embrace.

And I was doubly in love: the rabbi, God.

And God said, Be fruitful.

God said, Multiply!

And the rabbi smiled his soft smile and said, Ready?

And so we did.

We tried.

 

And the rabbi entered our room, quiet on his feet.

He checked my face as if checking the clouds for rain.

(This was two days later and still there was blood.)

(Still, my stomach knotted up in ropes.)

The rabbi patted my legs beneath the blanket.

Give me something, I said.

By which I meant: not drugs to mute the pain, but some ritual that might drag me out of bed.

And the rabbi quoted some line from psalms that went in one ear and out the other.

I lost my grip on Hebrew at times like this and with me, the rabbi never translated.

This was part of the deal of being his wife.

Something else, I said. 

And the rabbi—

 

Let me say first: 

The rabbi loves me.

The rabbi had wept as he wiped my blood from the bathroom floor.

 

If it had been forty days, he said.

If forty days had passed from the moment of conception to my body spilling out those worthless cells—

Then it could be treated as a kind of life.

There could be a burial, if the parents desired.

(No parents ever did, he said.)

Of course, there would be no marker.

No marker, no kaddish, no name, but it would merit something, even if it were only a hole in the ground. 

Those were the words that came out of the rabbi.

And the words, they came out quietly.

And the rabbi, he reached for my hands but my fingers were already busy, I was counting off the days, I was counting and recounting and counting off once more.

And if, I said, if it happened before the fortieth day?

And the rabbi looked down at the rug.

 

What the rabbi said:

If it happened before the fortieth day—

If it happened before the fortieth day, it is as if nothing were really lost.

According to—he said, and named the source down to the very verse. 

Before the fortieth day, he said, it is considered to be nothing more than water.

Water? I said, and he said nothing.

Water? I said, lifting up the cup there by the bed.

He said, It hurts me to say these words.

He said, I know how this must sound.

And the rabbi clutched my foot like it might save him.

So hard, he held it.

If I could have seen my foot there beneath the blanket, I knew the toes would be turning white.

Losing life, the blood running backwards from the pressure of his hand.

And the rabbi said, This too is the doing of God; it is awesome in our eyes, and this time his Hebrew slowed so that I might follow along.

And was it my fault then that my cup of water flew in his direction?

That for the second time that week, I made the rabbi wipe up my mess from the floor?

 

And there was evening, and there was morning, and on and on and on.

I got out of bed, but only part of me.

Part of me was gone.

And the rabbi, each day, he tried a different tactic.

The rabbi offered context, said, You have to understand, it was more common then, these losses, these laws were meant to save women from years of grief.

But I did not want to be saved, I did not want to be outside the rules.

Outside there was dirt, and nothing left to bury.

And the rabbi offered kindness, said, You can be angry, you can rage, it is okay. 

Let me take you to the mikvah, he said, for healing.

But before forty days, there is nothing to heal from.

(Besides, I was still bleeding.)

(I mean, there were still clots of blood each day.)

Forty days is not some arbitrary line, he said. 

Think of Moses and the Israelites in the desert.

Or Noah, think of Noah, the rain that came for forty days and forty nights. 

I know how many days, I said. 

Biblical precedent, he said.

Please, he said.

He pleaded.

 

But here is the precedent as far as I can tell:

Before the fortieth year, those fools were still nomads in the desert, lost and forgotten.

Before the fortieth day, the water was still pounding down.

There was no land, no dove or olive branch.

On the thirty-second day or the thirty-fifth day, or whenever it might have actually been—

On that day, Noah's wife sat on the floor of that forsaken boat as the blood spilled out of her, and she thought, Now what?

And there was no answer besides the rain.

Besides the rain and the rustling of the animals.

Besides the sound of Noah snoring, safe in their bed.

And the rabbi says, When something like this happens, it can either bring people together or push them apart.

He says, This loss was real, no matter what.

He says, Let this draw us closer.

He means this us: the rabbi, me.

 

In the tallest heels I own, I tower above the rabbi.

He thinks that's why I wear them now.

It isn't that.

It isn't that.

These are shoes in which you'll twist an ankle, and walking takes forever.

The rabbi's on the bima by the time I push open the sanctuary doors.

Blood and blisters dancing on my ankles.

The skin rubbed raw.

And the rabbi looks at me and smiles.

If he could, I know that he would wave.

Around me, people singing, people chanting, all that praise, praise, praise.

Listen:

It's not that Noah's wife, she wants to jump into the floodwaters and swim away to some other story, some other world where blood cannot be water, where life is life is life is life.

I'm not saying she is tearing Noah from their bed, shouting by his ear wake up.

I'm saying she is up there on the deck, heels clicking as she paces on the wood. 

That she is up there waiting, for her other love, the one who said, Be fruitful!

Who said, Multiply! 

The rabbi looks at me, and I look at him, and I look past him, to the ark, to the sky, to wherever it is You've gone.

 

After Susan Steinberg