Yeah, they can.
So it all started the summer between seventh and eighth grades. I was at my beloved summer camp. It was my fifth and last summer there; I had gone for eight weeks each summer since third grade. I was a Senior, in camp terms.
Each summer, since that first one, I’d had a “boyfriend.” Or at least a crush.
Now, note that having said boyfriend did not connote physical contact of any sort. Yes, there were some adventurous souls who might hold a hand or two, or perhaps have some sort of groping session in what we at Camp Hillcroft called “The Enchanted Forest.”
And during this last summer, my sights fell on Rob, a lanky, curl-haired nerd with huge brown eyes. He was shy. And I’ve always had a thing for shy. And he was friend of Steve’s. And I’d always had a thing for Steve. But Steve was out of my league (and in retrospect, I think he was also probably gay), and Rob was approachable.
He was a four-week guy. I was an eight-week girl. So we spent those four weeks sitting near each other at group activities, making silk screens side by side, sitting by the sidelines together during athletic competitions (we were both bookworms), and dancing, several feet apart, at our bi-weekly dances. And we talked.
I can’t quite remember what we talked about, but I’m sure it had to do with books and protesting the Viet Nam war. Because it just was like that.
And then the day came when the busses came, and Rob and the other four-week kids were taken away.
And it was sad. But then… there were the letters. And come they did, and they were a source of much pride for me and much intrigue for my cabin mates. And they probably went something like this:
I’m fine. I went bike riding with John today. And then we got ice cream. How is camp? Have you talked to Steve? I miss you.
I ask you: can it get any more romantic than that?
So the summer ended and school began and the letters kept coming. Maybe every week or three or four. Occasionally we’d talk on the phone, but that was “long distance” (he lived in Valley Stream, about an hour away by Long Island Express Train), so we couldn’t talk very long. Our conversations went something like this:
Him: How are you?
Me: Um… good. How are you?
Him: Good. How’s school?
Me: Good. And how’s your school?
Well, you get the picture.
And one day a very different kind of envelope arrived from Valley Stream. It was a big, thick envelope. Square. Embossed. My name and address were printed in gold. And the return address was the one I had memorized by this time.
And when I opened it, I was invited at the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. X, to the Bar Mitzvah of Rob X. It would be about six weeks from the opening of the envelope. It was in Valley Stream. A long, long way away. I’d have to go by train. Alone.
My parents said, “No.”
Tearfully, I called Rob.
He called back. His mother would like to speak with my mother, please.
She said, “Uh huh” a lot. And then “I see” a lot. And finally “Okay” a lot. And I don’t quite know what went on in that conversation, but I do know that when my mother got off the phone, I was going to Valley Stream. And we were going dress shopping. That Saturday. And I needed a “formal” gown.
I’d never had one. We went to Bloomingdales and Sack’s and Lord and Taylor. We didn’t even bother with Macy’s or Alexander’s because my mom just knew it had to be special. I didn’t know why it had to be so special, I’d been to plenty of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs before, and usually a party dress would suffice.
“Trust me,” said my mother. “You’ll see.”
So I ended up with a long, peach gown. It had an Empire waist and was tight across my budding chest. The sleeves were puffy and short and showed off my slender arms. There was a peach-colored shift underneath and the top skirt was sheer, with a cameo print etched delicately throughout. We bought pantyhose. And white sandals, even if it was before Memorial Day. They matched.
And the six weeks passed pretty quickly, and I really didn’t think anything of it, other than the fact that Rob’s and my letters came more frequently and now we signed them with cheery “See you soon!”s.
And the day arrived when my father took me to Penn Station and put me on the train to Valley Stream. Rob’s Aunt Ellen would pick me up from the platform on the other side. They promised.
And sure enough, Aunt Ellen was on the platform. She was a very nice, elegant lady with the same curly hair and deep brown eyes as Rob. And she drove me to the synagogue and dropped me off in the section where about forty other girls and boys were seated.
And that’s when I began to know that something was up.
Aunt Ellen had introduced me to one or two girls seated near me, and they shook hands and were polite as she stood there, but when she glided away, the giggling started. And the pointing. And I started to feel that my great new dress maybe wasn’t. So great. And through the whole, endless ceremony I’d notice, from time to time, another whisper and a finger pointing at me. But Rob looked pretty handsome in his new suit, kippah and tallit* and I decided to concentrate on him and his moment.
Immediately after services, I was picked up by the same Aunt Ellen and taken off to the country club where the reception would be held. And that was when the fun began...
For more fun, check out Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. Click on their links and find the other stories!
*a kippah, also known as a yarmulke in Yiddish, is the skull cap worn by male Jews (and now females as well, in certain movements) either in the synagogue or all the time, depending on which branch of Judaism you belong to. A tallit (also known as a tallis, depending on whether you are an Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jew) is a prayer shawl, worn in synagogues (again, traditionally by males, but that's changed in certain branches) and also worn in other settings where prayer takes place.