I have been in love with my wife Karen since I was nine years old, which is to say for most of my life. We were married in 1977. Today is our 35th anniversary.
I’m republishing the first and final chapter of my series How I Married Karen as a tribute to my wife without whom I am nothing.
The Rabbi’s Beautiful Daughter
She crosses my vision like a moon, nothing seems to touch her.
The new girl has thick black hair; dark, penetrating eyes that seem to look right through you. She has just transferred from Yeshiva Ohel Moshe to Yeshiva Flatbush. Her father is a rabbi in Bensonhurst.
Her name is Karen.
And my life has just become something unrecognizable.
My life has just shifted in ways I cannot quite understand or imagine. I am irrevocably changed. This girl has touched something so deep inside me that I feel as if I’m looking at myself, at my life, from a yawning abyss.
I am frightened. I am experiencing feelings so powerful, so unfamiliar that I no longer recognize my central self.
She wears a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar; a sharply pleated skirt that gently sways with each step.
During recess, I gaze at Karen and I’m abruptly aware of her startling beauty; a mesmerizing, hypnotic visage that is utterly compelling yet at the same time completely alienating.
Karen retreats to a corner of the school yard, she holds a lace handkerchief to her lips.
I am only nine-years-old; such a young child is not capable of being in love — but I am. I am in love with Karen, the rabbi’s beautiful daughter. I look at Karen and my heart is beating in my chest like a trapped bird. In her eyes, there is a ferocious intelligence; there is also a sense of deep privacy, for this is a girl who withholds her central core. Is it ever possible to know what this lovely girl is thinking?
She wears black flats and her ankles are slim, smooth as an egg shell.
I am a short and awkward little dork and for the entire year I watch Karen every chance I get. I watch the way she places her hand over her heart and solemnly recites the pledge of allegiance. I love the way her lips move, the way she hunches over and plays with her split ends when she’s bored during assemblies.
To this day, over forty years later, I become a helpless little boy when Karen wears a white blouse, a pleated skirt and black flats.
Years later, screening an Audrey Hepburn film, I flashback to Karen and her elementary school outfits and oh my gosh, Karen is the Jewish Audrey Hepburn.
The popular girls hesitate to allow Karen into their tight-knit group. It’s obvious that these girls are threatened by Karen’s beauty, by the quiet manner in which she’s able to command respect. But finally, the popular group relents, allow Karen into their clique. Yet I notice that Karen is less than enthusiastic when she’s with these alpha girls. Her smile and laugh are subdued.
Alone at night, unable to sleep, I think about her, Karen, the new girl.
I have started to fail one math test after another and my teachers have assured me that these F’s will go down on my “permanent record.” I imagine this permanent record as being stapled to my chest for the rest of my life.
Karen. I say her name when I’m alone. I have visions where we are holding hands. Between the spaces of my heart beats, I tell her that I love her. But my fertile imagination never quite allows her to tell me that she loves me. Some visions are beyond imagination.
I know the truth. I am a dumb and funny looking kid. The kind of kid who never gets what he wants. Besides, I’m in the dumb class and if you’re in the dumb class, you are doomed to failure. This is what my teachers tell me. This is the reason the principal and founder of Flatbush Yeshiva, Mr. Joel Braverman, beats me up in the hallway. Because I am stupid.
However, I do have dreams. Two dreams, to be precise. Both of them kind of insane.
1) I love movies. I have just discovered that somebody actually writes these movies. I like stories. I like movies. I want to write the stories in the movies.
2) I want to marry Karen, the rabbi’s beautiful daughter.
After the wedding ceremony, Karen and I, and all Torah observant Jewish grooms and brides, immediately retire to a private room to be alone. This is called Yichud. In Hebrew it means union or joining.
There we eat in privacy. Jewish couples do not eat the day of the wedding because marriage represents a new beginning. It has become traditional to enter this new phase of life with fasting and prayers asking G-d to forgive past sins, much like Yom Kippur. Though fasting is not observed on Rosh Chodesh (The New Moon) Purim, Chanukah and several other minor holidays.
Yichud is a vestige of Jewish life of ancient times when the bride was brought to the groom’s house and there the marriage was consumated.
Karen and I are in Yichud.
I wipe silvery tears from my eyes. Stomach churning, I force myself to nibble food and drink water. Karen and I sit across from each other and, well, we just grin. I tell Karen that she is beautiful.
Karen lowers her eyes. Her lashes are so long they can catch rain drops. I have learned that beautiful women are never quite comfortable with their beauty.
“I can’t believe this,” I say.
“Believe it,” Karen says, always the steady one.
“You actually married me.”
“You married me too, Robert.”
I lean over and press Karen’s hand to my face. She smells of vanilla.
“We better go, they’re waiting for us,” says Karen.
I nod, take a deep breath. It is time to tell Karen—my wife!—the truth. Which might make her think that I’m not too normal. But she just has to know. Doesn’t she?
“I’ve been in love with you since the fourth grade,” I confess.
Karen rises, floats to the door in her wedding gown, a Jewish Vivien Leigh—but of course my bride is wonderfully sane, unlike the tragic, bipolar movie star.
Karen looks over her shoulder at me. Her eyes are twinkling.
”Since fourth grade?”
“What took you so long?”
Fade to Black