Mia Yenkel and Gideon Sampson began their twisted love affair in September of 1962. Of course, as strangers at the tender age of 6, neither intended their relationship to move this way, so fast, where in 10 years, Mia’s parents who shirked from negative (or any) emotion would shorten his name to “Mr. X”, the monster who took their daughter away from them forever. For now, they were just two little Jewish kids, being integrated into their secluded little community.
“Mia, I have someone for you to meet.” Miss Miron led her towards the middle of the classroom that would turn into the Children’s Service for Rosh Hashanah in mere minutes. “This is Gideon, your designated buddy.”
Mia gave the boy a hard looking-over, unabashed as usual. His skin looked like her father’s coffee and cream, the darkest color she’d ever seen on a white person. His hair too was dark, dark and curly like her father’s in his old photographs.
“Nice to meet you,” he said shyly, sticking out his hand. Mia took it and suddenly remembered seeing him around the temple playroom in years before. She’d mostly kept with her sister, Miriam, but now the two of them were enrolled in Children’s Services, a bold step forward into becoming a Jewish adult.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” their mother said to them time and time again, her back ramrod straight, a lecturing pose. Mia thought her mother would make a good teacher looking like that, if she ever decided to get a job outside the home that is. “When I was your age, the bat-mitzvah didn’t even exist. All girls could do was sit in a balcony with the rest of the women and take in the Lord’s word every week. Now, you have a chance to become a scholar of the Torah.”
Of course, Mia wanted to take part in this, starting with this very switch from being a toddler in a playroom into taking part in children’s services. Who knew better than her mother?
“Why don’t the two of you sit down and set an example for the rest of the children?” Miss Miron suggested, already beginning to walk away. “We’re about to start the story of the creation of the earth.”
“OK,” Mia said distrustfully, though she didn’t like the babyish tone Miss Miron took with her. Besides, Mother and told Miriam and her this story time and time again; how would this help her in her quest to become a Jewish adult?
Mia looked over to where Miriam and her buddy, Asher, were making their way to the floor. At seven years old, Miriam had started attending Children’s Services last year, but made no move toward her sister. How typical, Mia thought, to be abandoned when I need her most.
“What school do you go to?” the boy- Gideon- suddenly blurted out.
“What?” Mia almost shot out of her skin in surprise. “I- I go to Ridgeport Elementary.”
“So do I,” Gideon said, his brow creased in thought. “Wonder why I haven’t seen you before.”
“Well, it’s a big place, you know.” Mia could hardly keep the scorn from spilling over onto her face. How stupid could the boy be?
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
G-d above, could the boy just be quiet? “Yes,” Mia answered shortly. “She’s over there. Don’t look though; she’s being a spoiled brat.”
“Wish I had some,” Gideon said wistfully. “I don’t even know where my parents are.”
That sure got her attention. “What do you mean? They must be in regular services, with all the rest of the adults.”
“No, they’re not here,” Gideon said, not sounding angry, just sad. “I don’t even think they’re in Kansas City at all. They left me here, with my crummy Aunt Sarah.”
Mia’s throat felt parched dry, strange for one who usually had the ability to sass even her father. Not have parents? How was that possible? “Do you mean they’re… dead?”
Gideon snorted. “Aunt Sarah says so. But I know they’re not dead. I heard her screaming at them one night on the telephone…” his face suddenly darkened even further. “Said they should come and get me off her hands.”
A strange humming throbbed in Mia’s ears, as all the other children, laughing and screaming, sat down near her, drowning out any nonexistent words she’d like to say. Finally, she felt herself opening her mouth but just then, Miss Miron clapped her hands and the room grew silent.
“Welcome, yeledim old and new. Welcome to a new year of Children’s Services. I’m Miss Miron and I’ll be reading the same stories from the Torah that your parents are studying in the next room. I’m also the director of the Hebrew School, which will begin the week after Yom Kippur, so you’ll all be getting to know me very well. Now, will you please open your machzors to page 5…”
The room filled with sound again as 30 children groped around for their prayer books and rustled the pages open. Mia, for once, couldn’t move. Gideon’s tale of abandonment hit her much more poignantly than any over-told fairy tale.
Mia’s family had a long history of over-attachment to their “designated buddies,” her parents being the prime example. And now Asher seemed to follow Miriam around like a lost puppy. Perhaps it was normal for Mia to feel so empathetic towards this stranger who would be the same to her.
The days rolled into weeks and their friendship grew. They sat together in class as they learned Hebrew phrases and made arts and crafts. They played together at recess, pushing each other with all their might on the stiff, metal swings, willing each other to fly away. It was more than being forced to spend time with Gideon; Mia greatly looked forward to it. He was a rare bird, a closed book she was just itching to explore.
Their second grade year at Ridgeport, they found themselves in the same class and suddenly became “the terrible two-some.” Math equations and history lectures paled in comparison to passing silly notes under the table, seeing just how far they could go before the teacher caught on.
They didn’t reach the limit until their antics spilled over into the world of religious study. One afternoon of fun and mayhem with the arts and crafts supplies started them on a downward spiral when Miss Miron called Mia’s parents.
They had been mad at her in the past, but never this mad. Stirring the water a bit with goyim studies was one thing, but deliberately disobeying teachers at Hebrew School? That got you into serious trouble with G-d!
“I can’t understand what would drive you to do this!” her mother said, shaking her daughter’s small frame. “That boy is a bad influence on you.”
“It’s not his fault!” Mia protested, anger rising, hot to her face. “I thought up gluing those kiddie prayer books to the wall! They’re not real machzors anyway!”
“Oh, Mia, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!” Her mother looked to the corner where Miriam stood, still and silent. “Do you see your sister carrying on this way? No! She knows better. When are you ever going to grow up?”
“Maybe when you stop treating me like a baby!” Mia spat, pulling herself free. Half-blinded with rage, she ran to the room she shared with Miriam and slammed the door shut.
Miriam. Perfect Miriam. As first-born, docile as a little doll, she could never do wrong. It was like being compared to Moses! Mia slid to the floor, almost unable to contain her tears. Gideon. Gideon would know, know what it felt like to be abandoned by his parents.
She approached him outside of the synagogue before their next service. The spring season was slowly pushing the cold away and Gideon stood, scratching himself through his wool overcoat. Mia waited in the shadows as her parents herded Miriam inside. “You could take that off, you know.”
Gideon nearly jumped into the air. “Mia! Don’t sneak up on me!”
“But I’m already over here.” She hesitated. “Tell me about your parents.”
He snorted, but took her advice, dropping the coat to the ground. “What’s it to you?”
Mia’s cheeks flushed. No one ever talked to her that way. Well, maybe her parents… “I was just curious, that’s all!” She said. “Because my parents hate me too!”
“Don’t you talk that way about my mom! She’ll come back for me; I know it!”
“Mia?” The front door flew open and her mother’s head popped out. “For goodness sakes, Mia, I thought I’d lost you. Come on inside; services are about to begin.” Her eyes traveled disdainfully over to where the coat- or Gideon- lay. “I’d advise picking that up, young man,” she chided. “Your aunt, Sarah, probably paid a pretty penny for it.”
“Who gives a damn?” Gideon yelled and before Mia or her mother could respond, he took off running down the street. The women watched him, frozen in shock.
“Where on Earth could he have learned such language?” her mother sounded appalled. “I’d better take this up with Sarah… come along, Mia.” Her tone didn’t change. “I told you he was a bad influence.”
Mia stormed inside, brushing past her mother without a word. She got to the classroom in a matter of seconds and plopped down alone. Hesitantly, Miriam made her way over to her. “Where’s Gideon?”
“Who gives a damn?”
Miriam’s face seemed to push back in shock, her dark curls jutting forward. “You better not let Mother hear you talking like that.”
“You better mind your own business!” Mia turned away with force, hoping her frizzy curls stung at her sister’s face. “Asher’s waiting.”
For the first time, Mia found herself dreading services. Being a Jewish adult suddenly seemed like a lame dream- Miriam’s dream- that her parents forced onto her. If all these hours at the little, dingy synagogue in the midst of the Protestant Midwest taught her anything, it was the value of friendship.
Gideon had made no attempt to contact Mia over the next few days and the girl felt new feelings of guilt twist around her stomach. Then again, what kind of friend was he, if he refused to share his deepest, darkest secrets? Mia had told him everything- about her perfect sister, her over demanding mother, even her aloof father, who didn’t seem to exist at all, save from stumbling home after a hard day’s work and entering the synagogue with the family.
On the next day of Hebrew School, Gideon simply sat next to Mia on the matted floor, wearing his usual trousers, tie and yamaca, as though no inordinate amount of time had passed. Mia just stared, unused to denying the truth, but unwilling to sacrifice her only friendship- and the only person who made any attempt to understand her.
The days, weeks and months continued to drift, slow in the winter with the heavy cold air weighing down upon negative emotions, and faster in the summer, when Mia looked back on her life and wondered where on earth that childhood went, when her only concern was making her mother proud. She used to be a lively child, desperate to discover all the inner workings of the world, but now stubbornness took over, making her mad when first her family, then Gideon and finally the rest of the world refused to answer any questions. Six years of Hebrew School, an entire half-lifetime, and when in 1968, she and Gideon moved on from arts and crafts to one-on-one preparation sessions for the mitzvahs, Mia held staunchly to the fact that she had not learned a thing. What she wanted to know, she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
What she did learn during that 12th year of her life was not covered by Cantor Flagstein and his incessant memorization lessons. Mere years later, she would remember not a word of her Torah reading, but every conversation she had after practicing it, when she and Gideon would meet by the synagogue steps and start the long trek home.
Mostly they talked about school woes and inside jokes, but Mia was growing attuned to something else, something primal, gnawing at the insides of her stomach. Even when determinedly staring straight ahead, only seeing him through the corners of her eyelids, she was aware of his changing attitude- they way his voice would crack around her (Miriam called it “male puberty,”) the way he’d find excuses to grasp her hand or shoulder as they made fun of their shallow classmates at Ridgeport. Without thinking about it, she’d begun to surmise and change her own appearance- buying tighter-fitting clothing with her allowance money, stealing makeup from her mother’s bureau drawer, even kissing her soft, white pillow with moist, red lips. There were some things she couldn’t change; her hair was a frizzy mess, passed down from both her parents, and her sharp, squinty features were hardly considered to be any blossoming fashion statement. What they were, though, she’d come to find out when passing strangers could pinpoint her ethnicity, were Jewish, and considering how their lives revolved around Judaism, perhaps Mia would do well to look like a Jewess for him.
But as her heart wrapped itself around Gideon, her mind traveled far and wide, to a world beyond both her Jewish community and Kansas City. Across the nation, adults mere years older than she were protesting, protesting G-d knows what? The fact that they stomped out discontentment on long hauls to the Capital spoke to Mia’s adolescent soul, as she too tried to find her place in the world. It was through watching the news while her parents attended cocktail parties that Mia learned of all the forbidden secrets that adults refused to discuss- secrets about rebellion, war, drugs and even sex. Miriam would enter the den from time to time, purse her lips in a perfect imitation of Mother, making Mia lean back in her chair in satisfaction, knowing that for once, she was the smart one, the old one, the one who knew all the answers.
But the events never came to touch her until after her bat-mitzvah. She stood in a straight line with her parents and sister, watching as adult after adult rushed to her mother, congratulating her for her daughter’s achievement. Mia clenched her sweating fists by the sides of her pure-white dress, shifting from side to side, wishing for the indignant nature of her youth to rise up and claim her. A hand touched her shoulder.
Mia knew better than to gasp; only one person would approach her so secretly. Gideon stood like an Adonis, shrouded in his own gifts of bar-mitzvah, wearing a smug grin to match. “Well, little girl, you’re a Jewish adult now.”
Mia groaned softly, contented in seeing her family absorbed with old Mrs. Flagstein. “Don’t remind me.”
He took her arm and wrapped her around his tallis. Mia felt a shiver go down her spine as his fingers grasped her shoulder like tendrils, the tallit slapping at her bare arms. Gideon led her past half the congregation, making their way to the doors in a desperate attempt to escape the three-hour service.
“So what are you gonna do now that you’re a Jewish adult?”
Mia laughed, trying to sound old and sophisticated. “Try’n figure out a way to get out of Youth Group. I’m sick of all the hocus pocus.”
“Hey, you can’t do that,” Gideon protested. “Who’ll I pal around with then? Your sister?”
The two of them snorted at the idea of suave, mischievous Gideon approaching the perfect Miriam. “Don’t tell me the old bitch is making you go.”
“Of course,” Gideon near-growled. “Gotta keep up with appearances ‘n all. We’re just one, big happy family.”
“You’re the only family I’ve ever known, Gideon,” Mia mumbled, not realizing she said it aloud.
Gideon lifted her face in his hands, his teeth glinting in the sunlight. “Kiss me then.” Without waiting for a response, he covered his mouth with hers.
It tasted sweet and sour, lasting a moment and a lifetime. Gideon guided her movements and when he let go, she felt a pang of loss. “Come back here,” she whispered, and took his face in her hands, battling his lips and combing her fingers through his hair.
Startled, the two-some broke apart to find bony, old Sarah Kettleberg glaring at them from under her wrinkled skin. “You let my nephew go right now!”
“Ah, Auntie, we was just playing,” Gideon laughed, pulling Mia into an embrace.
Sarah’s eyes seemed to pop out of her sockets. “A true gentleman does not kiss until he is engaged! Now come along!”
Gideon groaned in false agony and took an extra second to give Mia a hug, his hands slipping down to regions he’d dared not go before. “See you on Saturday night.”
Mia leaned against the doorframe, her chest sticking out suggestively towards Gideon’s departing frame. “Wouldn’t miss it, honey.”
“Wouldn’t miss what?” Mia jumped and turned around. Her sister stood in the doorway, dress billowing out around her. “Where have you been?”
“Just saying goodbye to my… buddy.” Mia turned away from her, staring out into the distance. “Miriam, is there dancing at these youth group things?”
“Of course. Nothing inappropriate, mind, but some nice, respectable dancing.” Mia heard her giggle. “But Asher’s asked me to do some frug steps a few times.”
“Oh, the frug. How exciting.” Without even the courtesy of a withering glance, Mia swept past her sister into the synagogue.
If the frug was new and exciting for Miriam, she’d get a taste of new worlds, looking at her sister’s rendition of “dance” over the next few years. But Mia had felt Gideon’s hands on her once, and wasn’t ready to let those feelings slip away. First, they just danced hand in hand, even to the fast songs, but as the new decade came into prominence, the two waltzed chest to chest, hand to butt, and mouth to mouth.
At fourteen years old, Mia lived for that one moment, once a week. The rest of the days flew by in a haze of yelling and grades, while she waited not-so-patiently to feel the caress of Gideon’s hand on her backside, his tongue flicking at her teeth, as though they were making love, right there.
Finally, one day, in the midst of this psychedelic-like bliss, Mia heard in some vague corner of her mind the crisp clip-clop of high heels that could only mean one thing. Miss Miron had finally had enough.
With surprising force for someone of her stature, she yanked the two hormone-driven teenagers a part. Gideon looked at her with his best sheepish expression, but Mia’s gaze flicked around the room, contented to see the shocked stares of the other teenagers, especially her sister, Miriam, not even daring to clasp Asher’s hand.
“Mr. Sampson, Miss Yenkel, I have put up with this far too long,” she hissed though the music had stopped and undoubtedly the entire silent auditorium could hear every word. “You may think this is some sinful musical tour, but we’re in a respectable Jewish community, not some Beatles party! Now, I have already called your parents and they’re expecting you home.” As if that wasn’t a broad enough hint, the little, old woman took to steering them towards the door. “Where you will remain until your parents have taught you some respectable manners!” The door slammed in their faces.
As if on cue, the two of them began to laugh, looking at each other in surprise and pleasure. “Ah, we’re sick of you too, you old hag,” Gideon said hoarsely, wheezing with effort. He took Mia’s hand and led her down the walkway.
“We’re not going home, are we?” she giggled.
Gideon looked at her quickly. “Of course not- that is, unless you want to.” He slung an arm around his shoulder. “There’s something I’d like to show you.”
“I hid it…” Gideon snorted, burying his head in her shoulder. “In this old, abandoned warehouse near the Tillerman farm. This guy in my health class deals it out; it’s a blast, really.”
“What is it, drugs?”
Gideon looked at her, unable to contain his surprise. “I keep on forgetting- you know about all this shit. Sure ain’t much of a lady, are you, Mia Yenkel?”
“Sure aren’t much for grammar, are you Gideon Sampson?” Seeing his blank response, Mia quickly went on, “so what is it?”
“It’s weed,” he grinned. “Choice weed; I tried it myself. Give us a helluva better time than that snooze festival in there.”
“Does it… does it make you stop feeling?”
Gideon looked at her as though she’d sprout another head, but quickly laughed it off. “It’s a party, baby. Makes you feel any damn way you want to.”
“All right,” Mia resolved, feeling free. “I’m there.”
Mia would never forget that feeling of disgust she got when Gideon handed her that piece of rolled-up paper in the darkness of warehouse, willing her to smoke it. But he was right; once she squinted her eyes shut and went through with it, she never went back. One sniff of the stuff sent her reeling backward in time, to a place of happier emotions, where she couldn’t feel any pain. Perhaps as the months continued on again, and she used the stuff with more and more frequency, (adding a bit of coke to the mix,) she elaborated a bit on that first time but hey- anything to keep her going back to it and the feeling of weightlessness that settled over her like a warm blanket.
She had an uncanny ability for not getting caught, especially surprising given her outspoken nature. Even on that first night, when she was expected home an hour before, she was able to shirk through it with no more than a weeklong grounding. Her sister, though, regarded her suspiciously in the dark. “I never told them about the way you danced,” she whispered while Mia tossed and turned in agitation. “I always knew you’d do it yourself.”
One thing hadn’t changed since her youth; Mia lived on dreams. Jewish adulthood had passed her by without any special metamorphosis besides for Gideon’s kiss, so now she was on to bigger, better and more secret things, safely ensconced with a lover in a warehouse that would become her marriage bed. At first they just touched new areas, but as the drug coursing through their blood made them careless and aroused, the world started spinning at a much faster rate. Mia couldn’t pinpoint the exact day she ceased to be a virgin. She found she didn’t want to.
But as she used the drug to stop caring, she found she had less and less control. At first, she could sleep it off; her parents resigned to the hour she’d stumble in. She wasn’t sure what made March of 1972 so different; perhaps it was Miriam?
Her sister had opted to do the unthinkable, though next to Mia’s unspeakable crimes, it was a mere step off the beaten path. Miriam had scored well on her SATs, and her teachers at Ridgeport High started suggesting college. Her parents flat out refused, and perhaps for the first time in her 17-year life, Miriam responded by turning towards what they had admonished. So much for her fate with Asher. For Miriam could see it now- and so could Mia. There was no delightful irony in their parents’ marriage, as Mia had believed in her youth. Their whole lives had been a set-up, from their male buddies at Hebrew School, to their bat-mitzvahs being the focal point of their lives, to who Miss Miron prodded them into dancing with at Youth Group socials. They were bred by matchmakers to partake in the Jewish-woman’s life- go to synagogue, marry, reproduce, so that your sons and especially your daughters could go to synagogue, marry and reproduce. Mia had pinpointed that thing she found wrong with religion, that thing Gideon’s parents had run away from all those years ago. Its shaky foundation even affected Miriam, as she looked toward KU like ancient Hebrews to the Promised Land.
Mia was so proud- and mad that her sister had finally discovered the truth. What’s better- or worse- she had found a way out. All those years of sucking up to the folks; she could use those times to buy her way into college. And here was Mia, rebellious since six, whose parents would no longer give her the time of day, with a bag of pot and a stoner boyfriend for company. Life had nipped her in the bud once again.
Amidst all these ramblings, she continued her days, her nighttime activities, and arrived home one night, flying higher than an eagle. Even in her reduced state, she remembered the looks of horror that lined the faces of her family, as she staggered around, pleased as all hell. She never knew it would be the last time she’d enter that house.
Her parents took her to the rabbi the next morning, locked her in there like a Catholic sinner with a priest. Rabbi Ambsterdeem leaned forward, his chair creaking along the wooden floor, though he was a lean man, Mia thought, licking her lips with her tongue, young and sexy. The yamaca completely turned her off though.
“So, Mia, I’m assuming this isn’t your first time being high.”
Mia snorted, rolling her head back to look at the ceiling. “Welcome to the seventies, Rabbi.”
Ambsterdeem just smiled, nodding. “I assume you and Gideon Sampson have been doing more than a little drug use in that abandoned warehouse.”
Mia didn’t say anything, scared enough at how much her high ramblings might have cost her friend and lover.
“So what started all this?”
Mia decided to shock him out of his mind. Setting her most sardonic expression in place, she exclaimed “why, I don’t know, Rabbi. Perhaps I was just sick to death of Judaism.”
“And what’s wrong with Judaism?”
Mia blinked in surprise. “The enchantment’s worn off, Rab,” she blurted out, too shocked to say anything but the truth. “I trusted this institution as a child, and it let me down. I wanted answers, and it gave me fairy tales. I wanted beauty, and it handed me my mother’s life, marriage, kids, synagogue. Do you know that as we speak, women are marching for their rights in DC?” She folded her arms across her breasts for emphasis.
“And you think that Judaism is holding you back? That G-d would think you abandoned Him if you stood up for your rights? Look around you, Mia; you’re not being forced into anything. Your own sister may be off to college in a few months, to obtain a degree of education some men can only dream of. And you still think religion is at the root of all your problems?” Condescendingly, Ambsterdeem mimicked her actions and folded his arms across his chest. “You better think long and hard about what it is that’s holding you back- Judaism- or yourself.”
Mia just stared, at a loss for words for the first time in 10 years as he went on about having to rat her out to her parents. Before she could think to respond, Ambsterdeem beckoned them back in and she went back to being inconsequential. “It seems that Mia has a serious drug problem,” he said soberly. “I would go as far to suggest a rehab center.”
“Rehab center?” her mother whispered in horror, while her father looked, shamefaced at his hands. “Surely it can’t be that serious!”
“Your Mia’s a smart girl,” Ambsterdeem said, with an ever so slight grin. “The fact that you just saw signs of it now indicates it’s probably been going on for awhile. This is outside of my jurisdiction.” He folded his hands onto his desk. “But if you get a physical examination done, you might be able to get the cost reduced to, say, half. All you need is a doctor’s consent.”
Mia laughed, a hollow sound in the back of her throat. Anything to economize.
And that they did. Didn’t go to their normal doctor, of course, but some big shot in the city at large. And less than a week later, Mia found herself sitting, incarcerated, at Rosewood Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in Lawrence, Kansas where her mother sat asking, “So how much do you think this will cost?”
The admissions director seemed a bit taken aback by the question. “Well, well it depends on- on-” she glanced down at her papers. “Mia’s response to treatment. Could be several months.”
“Several months?” her father repeated. You could always count on him to get interested once money was involved. “We could never afford that, even with insurance. How much, say, for a week?”
The woman positively blanched in horror. “Oh, well that- that would be-” she rustled through her papers, a nervous sounding gesture. “Two thousand dollars out of pocket. But I still suggest-”
“That’ll have to be fine,” Mia’s father interrupted. “We’re not upper class folks after all.” Mia would have laughed if she’d known those would be the last words she’d ever hear him say.
Four days in that hellhole lasted a lifetime. Mia never realized how attached she’d grown to that stuff, as she was forced to go so long without a sniff. Or perhaps it was Gideon? She missed him so hard she hurt inside. She wondered, as she listened to the screaming and cussing of other teenage girls in similar predicaments, if his aunt, Sarah, had forced him into a similar program. If he’d ever speak to her again. If she’d ever see him again.
Four days too late and two days too early. Mia had a keen eye for getting out of trouble. That Sunday night, she walked through the shadows, garbed in stolen clothing, waiting patiently for the door to open to admit one of the nurses in from her midnight smoke. It was all too easy to tiptoe past the staggering women, whose breaks seemed to slow rather than revitalize them. Outside, she used her natural charms, her outstretched breasts and flirting smile to hitchhike back to her house.
She didn’t even know why she went there first. Perhaps she truly believed Gideon would be gone. Perhaps she thought that- just this once- her parents would be parents to her.
They weren’t even home. Miriam answered the door in her flowing, pink bathrobe, eyes going wide upon seeing her sister.
Mia wasted no time. “You’ve got to help me, Miriam,” she blurted out before her sister could utter a word. “That place is killing me; you have no idea. Let me stay here- just a little while.”
“I can’t,” Miriam said, toying with the mezuzah, nailed to the doorframe. “Mother and Dad- they won’t like-”
Mia’s rage rose hot in her throat. Once again, Miriam had ignored her greatest hour of need, more concerned about trouble than her sister’s sanity. “Always the good little girl,” she spat. “Perfect Miriam, dancing respectably on Saturday nights, kissing her tallit goodnight! Well I’m sorry that wasn’t enough for me. I’m sorry if the same old stories and songs got old and drab! G-d started to make me feel dead so you know what I did? Found something to make me feel alive!”
“That stuff will kill you in the end!” Miriam exploded, perhaps for the first time in her life. “Go back to the rehab center; you’ll see!”
“No!” Mia declared, and suddenly she felt free, though she’d defied her whole family thousands of times before, this time it was different, this time she felt the chains slip from her ankles and wrists. “I’ll never see your world- your precious Judaism- ever again! I’m leaving!” She spun around and stormed down the front steps.
As she clamored down, her sister cast down one, last pitiful plea, “Go back to the rehab center! Don’t go back to him!”
Mia nearly stopped dead in her tracks. Gideon. He was still here. She’d been gone since Thursday; he’d probably been dragged to services on Friday and Saturday. Miriam had seen him. Why else would she be worried?
The trip to his house seemed to take forever, filled with doubt that even if he was there, would he want to see her? And how could they escape Sarah?
Somehow, seeing his fast, red car, parked in the driveway, did it for her. Her parents hated that car, as did his aunt but it was his money and his life, he used to scream as they went careening down lonely, country roads at top speed. Gideon was Gideon. They’d fought over Hell with each other, but always managed to clasp hands in the end.
She threw rocks at his window, the way he used to when they were but 10. He opened it like a scared little girl, whiter than usual in the pale moonlight. “Mia?” his voice was hoarse. “What the hell are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in rehab?”
“Why the hell aren’t you?” Mia retorted in a croaky hiss.
Gideon shimmied down the drainpipe, making him look like a little boy again. “Appearances, you know,” he embraced her like a lifetime had passed, kissing every inch of her face before continuing, “I’m surprised your parents were willing.”
“I guess it’s different for girls,” Mia spat, thinking of the feminist marches she’d missed over the years. Swayed with sudden emotion, she clutched at Gideon’s chest. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“That’s my Mia,” he grinned, like a fox pouncing on dinner. “I’ve got some weed stashed at the warehouse-”
“No,” Mia held up her hand. “I mean away. Forever.”
Mia couldn’t read his expression as he turned away from her. She remembered that first conversation they’d shared.
“C’mon, Gid, it’s possible if your folks could do it. It’s like we were meant to.”
“My folks are probably dead, Mia,” Gideon spoke softly, a tone that scared Mia more than his anger all those years ago. “They had no money. Neither do we.”
“But times are different now!” Mia persisted. “There’s bands of hippies ‘n all-”
“Oh Mia,” Gideon chuckled, a berating sound that Mia despised. She resisted the urge to punch him in the stomach. “Tell you what,” he said, in a voice still rich with mirth but eyes drawn and sad. “Why don’t we take a hit of coke, OK? We could sell the rest for a helluva lot in KC. Then we’d be set.”
“OK,” Mia said, kissing him again and again, desperate to show her consent, desperate to have him take her away forever.
When they got there, Mia inhaled hungrily at the substance that had been denied her at the rehab center. Gideon watched her cryptically, twisting the bag around his fingers, surreptitiously taking in just as much as she did.
Their car ride to nowhere was much less constricted, as the drug made it’s way past their mental defenses. Mia lost herself to that feeling of glee, her mind not on the unwatched road, the accelerating speed, the cows penned up nearby. She groped at Gideon, playing with his hair, his face, desperate to possess him.
“Tell me about your parents,” she whispered. “Just this once.”
For the first time, he seemed to consider it. Finally, with a lethal-sounding sigh, he turned away from the road and fixed her with a somber stare. “I only had a mother,” he said. “Angie Kettleberg. She was a lot like me, according to my precious aunt. Pothead rebel ‘n all. Anyway, when she was 16, she fled this hellhole for the larger KC area and got herself pregnant.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Sarah doubts my father… was Jewish and I can’t say I blame her. Who else has skin like this-” he thrust out his tarnished arm- “’xcept a colored person? Sarah made me feel like I wasn’t a real Jew cuz of that.”
You better think long and hard about what it is that’s holding you back- Judaism- or yourself… Ambsterdeem’s words suddenly echoed in Mia’s head, like a passing rite. She turned away.
“So what, you gonna hate me now ‘cuz I’m only half Jewish?” He actually sounded scared.
Desperately, Mia turned back to him. “’Course not. Religion’s what you believe, not what your parents are. We can die Jews, even after all we’ve done.”
“All the arts-and-crafts wars and sex-dancing…” Gideon laughed weakly.
“But they let us down too,” Mia said stubbornly, holding on to that last tendril of thought. “We never found G-d.”
“I found G-d,” he whispered. “I found you.”
Mia’s throat closed for the last time. Feeling artificial calm, she leaned forward and kissed him hard, blinding his view. I’m ready to go now, she thought, tried to whisper. I’ve found my G-d.
The car crashed into the tree at 3:40 am, with enough force to send the cows from the nearby farm running. Press would cover the gruesome remains for days, a startling event of love and loss in the usual sleepy outskirts of Kansas City. The gory handprint lived on in the Jewish tradition the lovers tried to escape, staining the community until 10 years later, when Mia’s niece and namesake was born and the cycle began over again.
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