Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Shiksa Paradox, Part Two

Background music:
“I’m in Love with a Girl” Big Star
“Oh, Lonesome Me” Neil Young

Only once did I make the mistake of going on a date with a Chattanooga Jewish girl. I wasn’t dating Lady Faith at the time. A Jewish friend of mine needed a guy to go with his girlfriend’s best friend on a double date. It was one of the rare times my parents saw me go out on a date, since all my dates with Lady Faith happened without my parents’ knowledge. It was so proper, four nice Jewish kids out on a Saturday night.

After dinner at Shakey’s Pizza, we drove up to Missionary Ridge to a small park that overlooked downtown. In the center of the park was a Civil War monument flanked by old cannons. You can’t swing a cat in Chattanooga without hitting a Civil War monument. My friend and his girlfriend quickly disappeared behind a tall granite column engraved with the names of Confederate battalions. My date and I were left alone, sitting on a stone bench, counting the city lights.

My date’s name was Rona. We were in the same Sunday school class. She was a slow-witted pudgy girl who used too much hairspray. She once confessed to the other girls in our Sunday school class that she shaved her pubic hair. She was curious what it would feel like, so she just did it. This was decades before shaving pubic hair became fashionable, so Rona was a true pioneer. The other girls immediately told everybody Rona’s secret and from then on she was known as “the girl with the bald pussy.”

Since Rona and I had some time to kill until the other couple was done making out, I figured we might as well make out, too. She had colossal breasts, so I tried to cop a feel, but she was wearing a really tight bra with a complicated set of hooks. It was more of a wrestling match than a make out session. After a while, we got bored with each other and went back to watching the city.

The next day, after Sunday school, my sister gave me a detailed account of my date. Rona had told all the Jewish girls about Saturday night’s activities and had spared no details of what did and did not go on between us.

“Rona told us how you tried to feel her tits,” my sister said.

Apparently, I was right about Rona’s bra being more of a barrier than most women’s undergarments, because she added that there was no way I would have been able to get past her “industrial strength bra.”

“The way Rona described the scene really cracked us up,” Freda said. “Marsha and Jill wondered if maybe you have some sort of breast obsession. Do you?”

Yes, I preferred the shiksas. They were never going to tell my sister what we had done the night before. Lady Faith was not part of the Chattanooga Jewish community. She was my secret girlfriend and I was her secret boyfriend. Lady Faith didn’t tell her parents about me because they didn’t want their Southern Baptist daughter dating a Jewish boy. We were perfect for each other.

Still, I felt cheated. I missed out on a normal dating life. I was never able to go on a real date with Lady Faith where I borrowed the car to take her to a movie and I picked her up at her house and said hello to her dad. The secrecy may have added thrills, but it also added resentment. Why did my parents have to be so rigid?

I never asked my parents why they didn’t want me to date shiksas, because I knew the answer. The Holocaust made my parents more paranoid about the survival of the Jews. They were young adults living in America during World War Two. The Holocaust happened to the German and Polish Jews during their lifetime. If the systematic murder of six million Jewish men, women and children didn’t make you want to circle the wagons, then nothing would.

At Sunday school, my classmates and I were shown Holocaust films. We bore witness to the piles of dead bodies, the emaciated prisoners, and the lamps made from human skin, all in grainy black and white that made it even more grim, like home movies from hell.

Over the years, we were shown the Holocaust films many times. There was no age limit; you didn’t have to be this tall to see the human devastation. Instead, we were required to watch the horror again and again so that we would never forget. Our elders wanted the images to be tattooed on our brains.

Instead, the repeated exposure desensitized us. Oh look, here’s the part where the bodies go down the slide and into the pit. Whoop! There’s the oven with the human residue caked on the side. Yuk!

I didn’t think about the burden the six million Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust placed on my life. No one told me that I was supposed to be living for them. I thought of the films as a warning. Don’t trust the Gentiles. At any moment, they’ll turn on you.

Intellectually, I understood that assimilation and intermarriage were real threats to Jews and Jewish culture. I understood my parents’ desire for us to live in a self-imposed American shtetl. Emotionally, I wanted a girlfriend and I didn’t see that happening with any of the Jewish girls I grew up with in Chattanooga. I wanted to escape the responsibilities of being Jewish, and still be a Jew.

Lady Faith wanted to be my girlfriend. A girl wanted me. I could think of nothing more simple and amazing. I was always going to be a Jew, but when I was with my girlfriend, I wasn’t anything more than her boyfriend.

I wished my parents could have understood that. I wished Lady Faith didn’t have to be a secret. I was proud that she was my girlfriend. I wanted to show her off to everybody, even my Sunday school class, even the Holocaust survivors.

One Saturday afternoon, Lady Faith and I were walking back from the cemetery to Eastgate Mall when we crossed a field of thistles. We had just finished making out under our favorite tree in the back corner of the cemetery, so I was feeling mighty pleased with life.

“I know these are weeds,” I said, plucking a thistle, “but they look like flowers. Here have a lovely flower weed.”

I presented Lady Faith with the thistle. She laughed as she swung the weed in her hand.

On another Saturday, Lady Faith and I were sitting on the sidewalk outside Loveman’s department store. Lady Faith was waiting for her mom to pick her up and I was keeping her company. I spotted a metal ring in the gutter. The ring was clunky and had a pretzel design. I picked the ring up and slid it onto Lady Faith’s ring finger.

“Here, this officially makes you my girlfriend,” I said.

We both knew the ring was hideously ugly, but Lady Faith smiled and thanked me with a kiss. I never saw her wear the ring and I didn’t care. Lady Faith and I were deep into our shared puppy love. We believed our feelings for each other would last forever, but a year later, our puppy love had grown into a surly dog.

“Why do you always disagree with everything I say?” I snarled at her.

“I don’t do that,” Lady Faith said. “But, I’m going to voice my opinion whether you like it or not. And you were wrong to say Leon Russell is a better keyboard player than Rick Wakeman.”

“It’s like if I said the sky was blue, you’d say it was green.”

“That is such a cliché. And besides, why would you would you be talking about the color of the sky?”

“Ed was right. I should never have gotten involved with you.”

“Are you breaking up with me? Is that what you want? To break up with me?”

“No, of course not,” I said. “So we argue once in awhile. That’s what couples do. What’s the big deal?”

For Lady Faith, our bickering was a big deal. She broke up with me at the cemetery. We sat side by side on the stone wall that surrounded the place. We both kept our heads down so we wouldn’t have to look at each other.

“We can’t be together any more,” Lady Faith said, “It hurts too much. Here. Take this.”

She handed me the ugly metal ring and an old dried stick the color of mud.

“What the hell is this?” I asked, holding up the dried stick.

“That’s the thistle you gave me.”

“That was a over a year ago,” I said, “You kept it all this time?”

She nodded, then she started to cry.

This was the first time I had my heart broken. The pain spread out all over my body, but I mostly felt it inside my chest. My heart really did hurt something terrible. I tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs.

I put Lady Faith’s ring in my shirt pocket. I crushed her thistle into dust. I got up and walked away.

I didn’t get over Lady Faith until months later. During my recovery, I couldn’t listen to any of my Neil Young albums, because when he sang about lost love, I imagined Lady Faith out with a new guy and what a loser I was for being alone.

I was furious with my parents. I didn’t blame them for what happened. They had nothing to do with why Lady Faith broke up with me. I reasoned that if Lady Faith was going to leave me anyway, then why couldn’t my parents have let me date her like a normal girl? Maybe because Lady Faith was forbidden fruit, I desired her more and felt more pain than most guys felt about losing a girlfriend. I was also furious at my parents because I couldn’t let them see that I was torn up inside about Lady Faith breaking up with me because she was a secret.

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