Karen and I were married in 1977. Today is our 40th anniversary.
But the truth is I have been in love with Karen since I was nine years old. Which is to say I have been helplessly, hopelessly in love with Karen for most of my life.
I’m publishing the first chapter of my eBook How I Married Karen as a tribute to my wife without whom I am nothing.
She crosses my vision like a moon; nothing seems to touch her.
The new girl has thick black hair; dark eyes that seem to look right through you. She has just transferred from Yeshiva Ohel Moshe to Yeshiva of Flatbush. Her father is a rabbi in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
Karen Singer is her name.
It is 1959 and my life has just become something unrecognizable, shifting 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 experience feelings so powerful, so unfamiliar that I no longer recognize myself.
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 instantly aware of her startling beauty, a mesmerizing, hypnotic face that is utterly compelling yet at the same time deeply alienating.
Karen retreats to a corner of the schoolyard, she holds a lace handkerchief to her lips.
I am only nine-years-old. Such a young child is not capable of romantic love—but I am. I am in love with Karen Singer, 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 something withheld, for this is a girl who reins in her central core. Is it ever possible to know what Karen is thinking?
She wears black flats and her ankles are slim, smooth as an eggshell.
I am an awkward little kid, 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.
Years later, screening David Lean’s Great Expectations a film that profoundly moves me, I flashback to Karen and, oh my goodness, Karen is the Jewish Jean Simmons.
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, and ushers 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 obsessively about Karen.
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 being stapled to my chest for the rest of my life.
I recite her name when I’m alone. I have visions where we are holding hands. Between the spaces of my heartbeats, 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’m 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.
However, I do have dreams, two dreams, to be precise, both of them kind of insane.
1) I love stories. I also love movies. I want to write the stories in the movies.
2) I want to marry Karen, the rabbi’s beautiful daughter..
Robert’s image of me conjures the Rashomon effect. That delicate handkerchief on which he fixed was a way of hiding the little upchucks of vomit caused by the anxiety of being in a new school. I remember stuffing one handkerchief into the inkwells they had in the old fashioned desks — anything to mask my fear. No one knew how scared I was. No one knew how hard I studied. No one knew that I had missed several chapters in Torah class when I transferred schools and always had to cover for them. Thus are the secrets of the A class, the overachievers.
If Robert only knew.
Excerpt From: Robert J. Avrech. “How I Married Karen.” iBooks.