“Come by at 8:30. We can talk then.” Even though it was a text, I could feel the flat tone of my girlfriend’s mood coming through. The verdict was in and it did not sound promising.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought it all through when I embarked on the “Second Seder Initiative”. The notion was admirable – an unmarried guy throwing something special for friends and neighbors of whom he had been ‘shnorring’ for years. Rosh Hashanah lunches at the Feldsteins, breaking the Yom Kippur fast at the Weinbergss, a fistful of Sukkot parties at Hershey Faigenbaums and too many Shabbat dinners to count at the Zuckermans. None of the hosts would call it schnorring, a yiddishism for freeloading. Such was their generosity in performing a mitzvah (good deed) for a poor schlemiel on his own after twenty years of marriage.
For some additional flavor I was going to sprinkle in some denomination-appropriate strays and a couple of gentile women from the office. Add in the kids, the ex and the aforementioned girlfriend – ah, you see the storm clouds forming – and I was looking at kosher for Passover catering for sixteen. I had a handle on some high end bridge chairs to go with the folding tables. While global satellite technology developed in the diaspora has eclipsed the absolute need for a second seder, it has evolved as a relatively convivial replay for most.
When I told the former Mrs. Gross that my girlfriend would be in attendance, she reacted badly. She made it clear that if this was the case she and my two kids wouldn’t be coming. Much cursing ensued as we dug in our heels. My position was weak as my former wife had always, generously, made her Seder table open to me. Jewish holidays are about family and even if the limb of marriage was long amputated I still had some vestigial longings for that life during the festive seasons.
Planning a seder is no easy task especially if you are playing by “Strict rules of Passover, Mr. Goldstein.” We’re talking separate dishes, cookware and cutlery, total ethnic cleansing of the kitchen and wildly overpriced seasonal foods for which you have to wrestle over bottled borscht with old crones from the Gulag who have no problem backing over your still twitching body with their shopping carts. I was having a nervous breakdown just putting together a seder with catering and waitstaff!
Girlfriend was now a problem. It was a relationship that spanned four decades through several acts. I was smitten the first time I saw her sashay, with just the right amount of notice, through a plaid skirt across the floor during a mutual friend’s basement party. She was so far out of my league that it took another four years for act one. I asked her out during a break from what was then a long running romance with a woman who went on to be known in New York magazine circles simply as ‘The Boss Lady’. For the few months of that first pass, I was in heaven but too daft to understand what she meant when she looked at me with those lupine blue eyes over a smile you would want in your carry-on for that last flight to eternity and whispered, “We’re playing with fire.”
We were consumed by the heat. Eventually she went off and met her husband. I eventually met my wife. Save for a couple of sightings that was it for the next twenty five years when, freshly out of my own marriage, I ran into a friend of hers and enquired as to her well- being. “Well she’s getting divorced.” My response, “Would she take a call?” The email response was a solid affirmative. We found ourselves having drinks and catching up. The smile was pretty much intact as was the incandescent sapphire in those eyes. We went out about ten times but it never got physical. She wasn’t ready and I saw that. Ultimately we parted and for the next couple of years we stayed in touch via email in an irregular fashion, all of it on my initiative.
Then about six years ago, shortly after New Years, I got a request for a live appearance. Drinks and some catch-up. It was all pleasant enough until I had to “flip all the cards” and ask her why she called. “I made a resolution for the year” she said. “I want to have more sex.” Did not see act three coming to be honest. Nor did I foresee the intensity of her physicality – she had a obtained a degree in dance in the quarter century interim – that was exponential in relation to what we had way back when. Alas, even though she was ready for something serious, I was not and I walked away after a few insanely hot months. I should have held on a little tighter.
Yet, incredibly, I had one final chance. We had kept in touch and I stepped in just after a long running relationship of hers had ended and I decided to improve my game for one last shot at something substantial. And so, act four began. We were great. For a while. A ski trip to Whistler, double dates, theater, concerts. And then it was just good. I could see that her divorce, the years building a business, keeping a house together, raising three kids, burying a father and a sibling had taken a toll on her soul. There was a chill in those eyes and some ice on the wings. Drinks were more than social. I was looking for some emotional content and outside of a few flashes, it never appeared. In fairness she tried and I remember the effort. But it was tough to fight against so much and wrong to expect she was even a distant shadow of what I fell for forty years ago.
Back to the Seder. Yes, the road to gehenim, (hell) is paved with good intentions. Part of the problem was that she wasn’t as observant as I am. I was keeping a pretty good Shabbat, staying away from the trayf and doing some learning when I could. A lot of that had to do with my ex who took a turn to the Torah after the passing of my sister almost two decades prior. I had caught on with an orthodox shul in which I could grow and grow old. Sadly I made the second error of judging her on the basis of observance.
Outside counsel was of little help. Single women said my girlfriend should be my first priority – “Are you not in a relationship?” My crew of disenfranchised single dads told me to put the kids first. Without the kids there, a seder is a waste of time. Indeed the whole point (and this is in the Haggadah itself!) of the the experience is to pass it on to your children so they will continue the tradition when you are gone. But I didn’t want to use mine as the reason why my girlfriend should “take one for the team”.
The bottom line is that even if both parties could exist at the same table the tension would have been as thick as the matzoh balls in the chicken soup. The girlfriend was going to be asked to step aside. The mistake and third strike was to not have had the foresight to have nipped this in the bud and kept her out of the plans from the start. I think she would have understood and maybe we would have stayed together….who knows?
She was upset when I dropped her off after a fairly horrible night at the movies. “Don’t do anything rash,” I said. “We have some equity here.” But I knew it was over when I walked in the door the next night. That usual effervescent greeting was not there. She offered me a drink we sat down and then she uttered the words – “It’s over” – through a stream of tears from those eyes. More hurt than angry, she said I was still married and that I should go back to my ex. She didn’t need the drama. An epic story arc of almost 40 years was coming to a painful close. I felt it and still do on occasion. Was she my beshert as they say? What can we really expect from a woman with 55-plus years of wear on their life engine? Was I doing more taking than giving? In the end I know it was too much to ask anyone to turn back the clock and go forward simultaneously. Frankly, at my age, I should have been thankful for any level of vitality in a partner, let alone a killer smile.
Both the battle and the war were lost at the expense of a seder that was, surprisingly, a resounding success, especially when a power blackout put the clusters of candles into play. The conversations were of an elevated nature, the food was great, and my son co-chaired the proceedings with an enthusiasm that I won’t forget. Was it worth losing a lover? The spiritual rationale, based on the understanding that Passover is the real Jewish New Year, is that ridding one’s self of both material and spiritual chometz, combined with the metaphor of shunning leavened bread as a flattening of one’s ego, offers a true opportunity to improve one’s soul.
Postscript: This was written a couple of years ago and submitted to a few appropriate outlets, all of which passed. Maybe for good reason. I didn’t publish it here because I was involved with a woman – see my New Year’s post and she was a little sensitive. Now that she is gone – I have someone new but is twice removed so to speak – I don’t feel any guilt in publishing this. Further, my ex-wife has fallen very ill and I am hoping and praying she is well enough to attend this year with my kids. Funny how your priorities change with age.