Beginnings: Jewels of Elul

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I decided to be Orthodox in the middle of college. I was on scholarship to a very big school, and I was feeling very small. One of my best friends had just gotten raped and then sort of ignored by most of our circle of friends, and ran away to Europe. I’d thought I was going to New York for college, then realized that going to New York for college actually cost money, and so I was back in Washington D.C. on scholarship and with noplace to live.

jewels of elulI surfed around on people’s couches. Some of them were good friends, but more often than not, they were randoms — people I’d met once or twice at a concert or a club meeting, the ones who noticed I was looking even shabbier than I usually did. I tried never to stay more than a day or two. I didn’t want to impose, but more, I didn’t really want these people — these vague people who faded in and out of my life — to notice I was changing.

And it wasn’t like I was choosing to change. It was a side-effect of being around different people every day. No one expected me to say “the Matthue thing,” whatever sort of thing I always said, or to behave a certain way. I was getting born again every day. If I wanted to skip breakfast, how would they know I had a rigorous routine of a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk every day since 9th grade? Boom. Today, I am no longer a breakfast eater.

But I had all this time. I’d been hanging out with my friend constantly and now she was gone. I’d been searching for a place and now I was promised one; I just had to wait three weeks for the old tenant to move out. It was maddening. I didn’t know what to do with all this time. Study more? No; it was college. Why would I do that? Write a book? I’d just written a book. It took time, but not the time I had free — that was for late nights and early mornings. In my life now, where I used to call my friend constantly or hang out in the privacy of my room, there was just an empty silence.

On Friday I was crashing with the guitarist from my band. He was going to a concert in Alexandria; he left me the keys on the bureau and headed out. Faced with a rare weekend night with no plans, I asked myself the question that, in college, surrounded by a million other people, you never actually ask: What do I WANT to do?

Posted on August 18, 2010
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