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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The last girl I danced with was my Aunt Et. It was my sister's wedding. She was 98. Aunt Et was, not my sister. I'd spent most of the time retreating in the corner with my wife, the only two Orthodox people at the wedding, me clapping in a circle with my family at the beginning while the band played the Hora, the lead singer, this black woman in a sparkly nothing dress who pronounced all the Jewish words way too perfectly to actually be Jewish herself, belting out "Siman Tov u'Mazel Tov" while the big baritone sax gave it an illicitly funky bassline.

So then we retreated, and then my wife, who grew up both Orthodox and in a big family, told me, forget it, she was diving in to dance, and I stood on the sidelines alone. I clapped along and plastered this big toothy smile. It felt fake at first, my face muscles contorted too tightly, and then I watched my sister and her husband dancing and it got to be real. This guy was going to be with her forever. Then I watched my wife get roped into the inner circle, the family circle, by my uncle, who officially shouldn't have held her hand, but I think I was the only one thinking about that. My cheeks burned. I felt more and more awkward with every passing moment. I went to check on the kids. I went to get another drink. Then my wife, who'd been at it this whole time, grabbed me and pulled me in.

Flash forward: Almost an hour later, most of the bridal party has retreated to their seats. Even my sister and her husband are taking a breather at the head table. I, meanwhile, am still on the dance floor, dancing up a storm with all the cousins whose names I can barely keep straight. Somebody pushes me to the center. It's just me and Aunt Et. I am way more out of breath than she is. She has way better moves than I do. She's dressed better, too. She wears a swanky white pantsuit and is snapping her fingers above her shiny hair. I try to do the Fiddler-on-the-Roof thing with my feet, because that's as much as I can compete with. We are holding hands. We are laughing and salsaing and trying our best to ignore everyone around us, because they are laughing too, and watching us like we are the only thing on TV, and probably deservedly so. It's the only near-centenarian in the room and the only Bigfoot-bearded Hasidic Jew in the room, and they're reenacting a scene from Pulp Fiction that's itself a reenactment of Saturday Night Fever. This is how our traditions prosper: One hazy memory transmits from one generation to the next, passed like a drunken game of Telephone, or rocked on the dance floor.

It's two years later. My sister and her husband have just had their first baby. And I have just gotten a call: Aunt Et died today.

I'm not really going to process it right now. She's my grandmother's sister, and now she feels like she's a little lonelier in the world, which makes me feel a little more lonely too. And death is one of those things I can't talk about and can't even think about too hard, or else my brain will revert to thinking about something else entirely, and even when I write a book about it I can't even really tell you what I think, or how much I miss the people who aren't around anymore, or think much past the times we've had to think about what they might be doing now. I've never actually seen a ghost. Unless these count as ghosts, in which case, I think I see them all the time.

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I was a little too emotionally unstable to think about it myself.


Dave said...

First of all, Mazal tov on being an uncle.
Second of all, Baruch Dayan Emet and sorry for your loss.
Third of all, having been in similar situations, I sincerely believe that what you experienced was not a push-pull away from-towards halacha, but rather a tug of war within halacha amidst competing priorities of behavior and honoring familial bonds. Embrace the tension, and good for your wife.

matthue said...

Dave S, thank you for saying so! It's really kind. At first I got a charge out of that, since one of my rabbis is also named Dave S (David Sacks, if you're reading this, um, hi and stuff.) Maybe I should have called my rabbi first (I'm not being sarcastic; I'm the sort of person who really might). But it was a good moment.

config said...

Mattio, Great post! :) Sorry for your loss!!
Peace bro!

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