Let Me Tell You How We Met
About the Writer
A New Jersey native, Jen Maidenberg lives with her husband and three kids on a kibbutz in Israel's lower Galilee. She received her MA from the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. A former publishing professional, Jen is now the director of Or HaLev, a center for Jewish spirituality and meditation. Her CNF column, "My Time, Your Place" is published bi-monthly in District Lit.
Every couple has a definitive how-and-where-we-met narrative. Here’s the one my husband and I tell at dinner parties:
I was a counselor on a teen tour to Israel. He was the manager. He hired me. We fell in love in Israel that summer, the summer of 2000, the summer just before the second intifada. But first, we flirted around a bonfire in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania.
I told him that night his pants looked comfy. “Are they?” I asked. “Yes,” he admitted, eyes on the ground. “They’re actually pretty comfy.”
We tell people how he was shy. They smile knowingly at this. He is still shy.
Sometimes we tell people the long version: My husband and I got engaged that fall and were married a year after that in the garden of the Morris Arboretum outside Philadelphia. Our wedding was on the first sunny day after seven days of rain. It was also the Sunday before the Tuesday of the September 11 attacks.
No matter which version we tell at dinner parties, however, we inevitably leave out the part about the people whose lives we ruined for a moment with our decision to love each other.
No one wants to hear that part, or so I always assume. I know for certain my husband doesn’t want to hear it, nor does he want me to tell it, even though it’s the part now – fifteen years later – I am most eager to tell.
I am tired of secrets.
I want to tell it so I can know, for certain, that in the years since I fell in love with my husband I have learned better how to love.
The first time my husband and I ever spoke was on the phone.
At the recommendation of a friend, I called the JCC Association for an application to be a counselor on a summer program. I was 25, enjoyed a full-time position in publishing, and lived with my high school boyfriend in Manhattan. I was also itching for change.
My not-yet-my-husband answered the phone. (I almost didn’t answer, he’ll sometimes interject at dinner parties. I was half-way out the door.)
“I’d like to apply for a position this summer,” I said.
“Too late,” he replied. “The deadline was yesterday.”
I begged him to reconsider, throwing out all the reasons why he should. Eventually, he did. (You beat me down, is what he’ll say if wine’s been served.)
The aforementioned bonfire was on the second night of staff orientation. On the third and final day, we all boarded a chartered bus headed back to New York and I maneuvered sitting next to him. We talked the whole way.
Was I already cheating on my boyfriend then?
Is it cheating when you ask another man, “What CD are you listening to?”
Is it cheating when you want very badly for him to ask you for your email?
Is it cheating when you open your inbox, heart racing, hoping to see his name?
The first time I cheated on my boyfriend was in high school. It was May.
We had met the previous spring during my sophomore year. By January, after much anticipation and planning, we lost our virginities in his bedroom on the second floor of his mother’s townhouse. But by April, an adolescent impulse to stray was heightened by the attention of the student director of the school play I was in. I kissed him – or he me -- in the woods one day during a thespian-sponsored picnic.
The fling with the student director lasted less than two weeks: he was a bad kisser.
My boyfriend and I soon got back together, but when he left for college in August, we kicked off a 10-year pattern of breaking up and getting back together again.
“A cycle,” my boyfriend would call this years later when he was no longer my boyfriend, no longer anyone’s boyfriend, but someone’s husband. Not mine.
Most of the time, I don’t want to go back and do anything differently, no matter how awful I feel about what I did back then. What I want, most of the time, is just to observe Me then, to investigate, to discover if how bad I remember Me during that time is in fact how bad I really was.
This is the prologue to the how-we-met story. I don’t tell it to anyone, but myself.
You were 25!
We shouldn’t have been having unprotected sex.
He agreed about the abortion.
He could have asked you to marry him. He didn’t.
He never once said, “Stay.”
Cheating is different when you’re not married.
You are not your father.
You were 25.
Once, I was a counselor on a teen tour program to Israel. He was the manager.
When he and I met at the edge of a bonfire in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania, I didn’t know I was pregnant. But two weeks later, during a rainy Memorial Day Weekend down the shore, a stick resting on the toilet seat in the third floor bathroom of my boyfriend’s uncle’s house told me I was.
On the bus ride home from Atlantic City to Port Authority, my boyfriend and I talked about our “options;” about whether or not to “keep it.”
We didn’t keep it. We let it go. We let it all go.
Well, most of it.
What I love best about the how-we-met narrative we tell at dinner parties is the certainty of its ending.
We met, we fell in love, we got married, we had a few kids, and here we are, sitting across the table from you, telling you about that time I was a counselor on a teen tour to Israel and he was the program manager.
And how--mostly--we’re happy now.
How now, that time is just a cause. And we, the effect.