In a Different Light

_(excerpted from original article)_
As I drift through the end of my 20s and creep into my 30s, I realize that I still don’t know what love is. When I ask myself why, I think back to my first experience with the emotion. I often wonder if it set me off on the wrong leg, so to speak. My defining moment occurred in 1988 when I was caught masturbating at my Hebrew school teacher’s house on Shabbat.

It was about 1:00 in the morning. My friend Corey was snoring, so I assumed he was asleep. My soft, worn Transformers sleeping bag barely made a sound as I shifted around in it trying to find the perfect position. Unsure of what I was actually doing, my prepubescent mind pictured her wearing that loosely hanging bathrobe I glimpsed only 30 minutes earlier. My heart pounded against my ribcage. I pictured the glorious line of cleavage that led my eyes to the first live bare breast I’d ever seen, and eventually to the first live bare nipple. I slid my pajama bottoms down to about thigh level and rolled onto my stomach. Something was happening. My schmeckel, as my mother often called it, was begging me to rub it. So I did, against the sleeping bag. I loved her. I loved this. Unaware that I was popping my masturbation cherry, I kept it up for about a minute when—flick—all the lights came on and I heard a very familiar voice say, “Corey, Eric. Come up here, boys.” I was 10 years old and only three short years away from my Bar Mitzvah and my first joint. To keep me on the right path to one of those goals, my parents had enrolled me in Hebrew school at the local JCC. Every Sunday, I begrudgingly sat through Mrs. Cohen’s four-hour Hebrew class, counting down the minutes until I would be picked up by the carpool parent of the week. Mrs. Cohen wasn’t the friendliest of ladies or the most patient. She did, however, fanatically love her culture and religion, and wanted nothing less than for us to share her righteous adoration. Let it be known that we, 14 little homely Jewish fifth graders, did not. At 5’4″, Mrs. Cohen was an extremely stout woman, but if she were a foot taller, she still would have been 30 pounds overweight. Her hairstyle probably hadn’t changed since she was a teenager in the ’60s, and every week she wore polyester, brown math-teacher pants and a different silky blouse with one desperate button struggling to keep her ample chest at bay.

On one regular dreary Sunday, my class was about two and a half hours into studying proper pronunciations of vowel symbols when Mrs. Cohen announced that for the next six weeks she would host two kids from class at her house for Shabbat. “I hope this experience will shed some light onto the beauty of a Shabbat dinner. Now, who wants to be the first two to sign up?” Not one hand rose. It’s one thing to waste a perfectly good Sunday in Hebrew school, but to spend a Friday night at your Hebrew-school teacher’s house would be insanity. After an eternity, Mrs. Cohen sighed, “Obviously, anyone who partakes in Shabbat services with my family does not have to attend school that weekend.” Corey’s hand shot up mere milliseconds behind mine.

That Friday night, my mother dropped me off at Mrs. Cohen’s home in a grittier section of Philadelphia. The roads, the sky, the row houses, even the few Orthodox Jews already walking to early evening services looked gray to me. Mrs. Cohen greeted me at the door wearing a long black dress that made her look like a human inkblot. I dragged my overnight bag, secretly containing my Game Boy and two boxes of Nerds candy, into the house. No sooner had I kissed the mezuzah, I was introduced to Yitzy, Mrs. Cohen’s husband. As big as Mrs. Cohen was, Yitzy dwarfed her. He easily weighed 350 pounds and shook my hand with the force of a Silverback. From the permanent sweat stains on his white button-down shirt, I could tell he wore this very same attire for every Friday night service. Inside, Corey had already been dropped off so he was waiting impatiently for me in the living room. As I began to walk towards Corey, Yitzy practically yanked me off my feet and tossed me into the kitchen. “You and I will set up the dinner table,” he said. There, leaning over the hot stove, was a woman. A 14-year-old woman. She turned and introduced herself to me as Sarah, their daughter. I could feel my face warm up and fill with blood. Yitzy and Mrs. Cohen made her?

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One Response

  1. kewlju

    excellent imagery, I felt myself in the room….or maybe I felt her in the room…either way good stuff.



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