Before Colombia

Since my first day of college, I had dreaded the day I would have to tell my father what I wanted to do with my life. It might have even been before that. I was terrified that he would cast me out upon hearing my revelation. I didn't think Reuven being there would help in the event that my father had an explosion; nothing would help me in that case. I hoped he wouldn't. No one could understand how scared I was, not even Reuven. I felt as though I should run and hide. Reuven practically had to drag me into the house. Reuven just couldn't possibly understand that I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life, even more scared than when my brother was so ill.

Although Reuven couldn't have possibly understood that, I knew he couldn't, I still hoped that he would. Of course, even after he had seen one of my father's explosions he didn't understand my fear. I didn't understand how he couldn't understand. He had seen just how angry my father had been, yet he seemed to think of my telling my father that I wanted to be a psychologist as nothing more or less than telling someone what you want for dinner. It was nowhere near as simple as that, and I didn't see how he could believe that it was.

As we went up the stairs and into my father's study, I could barely stop myself from trembling. My father started talking about Reuven being an adult and about his going into the Rabbinate. I dreaded having to tell my father about my ideas, yet I knew I had to tell him. I opened my mouth, to let him know, and I swallowed once so that I would have the courage to face the terrible minute; but that minute never happened. At the very moment I was about to announce my plans, my father took over the job.

"You will go one way Reuven. And my son, my Daniel, he will-he will go another way." My jaw dropped, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My dad knew that I wasn't going to become a rabbi. Once my initial shock was gone, I realized that it made sense. He was, after all, the one who picked up the mail. He would have seen the return addresses on the envelopes. I was curious though, why he hadn't said anything before. Before I could voice my thoughts, my father began telling Reuven and I why he had kept me in silence all these years. It was a terrible tale. I did, however, understand why he did it, although I know Reuven was still confused. When Reuven and I left my house that night, it was in silence. It was not a tense silence, but a thoughtful one. We were both thinking about what had just been said.

One day that September, I went to visit Reuven and his father. I had shaved off my beard and earlocks. I could tell Reuven was surprised when he saw me. I told them that I was going to Colombia. Reuven's father asked if I would come visit them on Shabbat.

"I will, and I'll try to come on other days too, but just for a few minutes."

"How did your father react when he saw you this way?" I looked down then looked back at Reuven before answering his question.

"He's not happy about it. I could tell."

"That's all? He didn't say anything? It sounds like you got off lucky." I looked down again and felt the tears in my eyes.

"He said he almost didn't recognize me."

"Really? Danny, I'm sorry, that must've been hard for you."

"Yes, it was a little hard for me, but I tried to ignore it. I know my father is still a little disappointed about all of this." I saw Reuven looking at me before I looked down again. I was starting to cry and I didn't want them to notice.

"I'll, I'll see you later. I…I need to go. My dad will worry." Each word was choked, and I knew that Reuven and his father noticed. I was grateful that they didn't say anything. I looked up just long enough to say good-bye, and then left. I could feel a single tear rolling down my face. I brushed it away with a quick swipe of my hand and started running. I ran all the way to my street. The run had done me some good. I felt better and I was able to fully compose myself before walking into my house.

"Danny? Is that you?" My heart skipped a beat when I heard my father's voice. I was still not used to hearing his voice, especially after so many years of silence.

"Yes father, it is I." I walked upstairs and into his study. I knocked once on the door and heard him tell me to come in. As I stepped inside, I saw a look of pain in his eyes. I knew he was still growing accustomed to my new look, just as I was getting used to hearing his voice.

"I wanted to talk to you before you left for school."

"But father, I'm not leaving for another day."

"Yes, I realized this, but it is better to get it over with now, than to constantly doubt myself about which words would best explain myself. This way, I will just use the words that first come to mind; I can use the best words this way." I thought about this for a minute and realized that what he was saying was true. My teachers had always told me to use the first ideas, the first words, the first anything that came to my mind, because those were the correct ones.

"I have known for almost two years now what you planned to do once you graduated. I was surprised at first, and very angry, but now I have come to accept it all. You have promised to keep true to your religion, to Judaism, although outwardly you have discarded all signs that you observe it at all…" At this I coughed loudly, because it wasn't entirely true.

"Very well, you have kept your skull cap and your tzitzit, but I am sure you shall discard at least your tzitzit once you are at Colombia…" His voice trailed away as I stopped listening. I was thinking about what he had just said. Would I discard my tzitzit? It would look out of place at a normal college. I could just tuck it into my pants. But then I remembered the baseball game and how I had noticed that it left a big bulge when tucked into your pants. I decided against that as well. I realized suddenly that I would have to discard my undergarment, as I had no other choice. I would be ostracized for wearing it at school. With this decision made, I began listening to my father once more.

"…I knew that eventually your mind would stray, and that's why I was so willing to accept Reuven as your friend even though his father was giving you books to read. Yes, Danny, I knew about those books from almost the day you started reading. A friend of mine saw you there. I was surprised that you would be willing to read such things at first, but then I realized what must have been happening. My Danny was rebelling. He was pulling away from our Orthodox ways. That was when The Master Of The Universe…" I stopped listening again. Had I really been rebelling? Was that what it was? It was awful to know what my father thought of what I had been doing. I felt terrible, sinful, cruel even. To think that I had been rebelling against Hasidic ways. I never thought of it that way. I would have stopped reading if I knew what sinful things I had been doing. But then I suddenly thought of Reuven. My father didn't think he was sinful, and he read a bunch of books. Then how could I be sinful when I had been doing the exact same thing? I pulled myself out of my trance-like state to ask my father this question only to find that he had proceeded.

"…Then I saw those envelopes, I saw the return addresses, and I knew what was happening. It was hard for me to accept it at first. But then I tried to look at it from your point of view and I realized that it was I who had been wrong. I was constantly trying to push you into the Talmud, when I should have only been pushing you toward the Talmud. I realized that I had effectively turned you away from it…"

"Father, that is not true! I turned myself away from the teachings of Talmud. I wanted something more out of life. I felt trapped into something which was incredibly easy. I wanted a challenge. Talmud was too easy. I felt like a robot, a robot that had nothing to do but recite the Talmud over and over. I wanted a challenge and psychoanalysis provided that for me. It wasn't you though, don't think that." He looked at me with tears in his eyes. I realized that I had just saved him from a fate worse than death. He believed he was at fault, and I proved him to be wrong. He came around his desk and walked towards me, his arms open. He murmured my name as he enfolded me in a hug. I was so surprised, I almost fell over backwards, but it was a good surprise, a warm surprise, a surprise that made me happy that he was my father.

The next day, I gathered my trunk (I had packed the night before) and my backpack (which contained delicate relics I was afraid to put in my trunk) and walked to the bus station with my father. As we stood there waiting for the trolley, I could hear the silence around us. Suddenly, I was sure I could hear my father's voice in it.

"Danny, you will do fine in college. I'm proud of you no matter what you do, you should know that by now. I am glad now that He gave me a genius son…" Then his voice faded away. I wished it would stay, as it was so soothing. I looked at my father and he looked at me. I saw his eyes shining with a light they had never had before, and I realized now what he meant by "talking in silence". He wanted everyone to be able to hear a person's thoughts as they were in their heads, not as they said them. Your thoughts are marred when they are put into words, but when the thoughts come out of a person's head, the person listening can put them into words that they can understand.

"Thank you father, for all you have taught me. I will try hard to use the brain I was given. I understand you fully now. Thank you." My father looked at me with his eyes full of tears as the trolley came around the corner. It pulled up next to the bumper and I heard the door open. My father helped me get my trunk loaded onto the trolley, and then he turned and walked away. I felt, rather than heard, his last good-byes. The words that I felt warmed me better than any spoken word ever could have. As the trolley pulled away, I took my seat, knowing that my father and I would be able to communicate much more freely now that I understood him.