A funny thing happened on the way to the Old City. Well, technically, it happened in the Old City. My friend, Matt, invited me to Shabbat lunch at his rabbi's house. I covered my cleavage and accepted the invite. Packed with kids and black hats, this third meal was standing-room only. I was balancing a Kiddush cup in one hand and the rabbi's baby in the other, when Matt introduced me to Yakov. Yakov was a tall drink of Manischevitz. A bearded yeshiva student about my age, he took one look at me and said: "Carin, are you from Chicago?"
Confident my Chicago accent didn't come out during 'da Hamotzi, I wondered how he knew.
"I went to high school with you. My name back then was Jake."
Of all the Jew joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I walk into his. The artist formerly known as Jake didn't just go to my high school. I was a freshman cheerleader in a sophomore geometry class and Jake was the hot football player who sat next to me. He barely noticed me. But every Friday, game day, he'd wear his jersey, I'd wear my cheerleading skirt, and we'd talk through morning announcements about how Deerfield High School football rules. I had a major crush on Jake, I passed notes about Jake, I dreamed he'd ask me to homecoming. Then I learned he was dating Risa Rosen -- a sophomore. I cried, I sulked, I couldn't eat for days. And today I'm eating lunch with him in Israel. Someone call VH1, I know where he is now.
After each of my high school heartbreaks, my mom would say, "Ten years from now you won't remember this boy. Who knows where you'll be by then? Who knows where he'll be by then? Forget about looking back on this and laughing. You won't even look back."
She's right, I'm not looking back. I'm looking across the table -- at Jake, his sweet religious wife and their adorable baby. Talk about a high school reunion. What are the chances? I try to figure out the probability of our random meeting, but can't run the numbers in my head. I should have paid attention to something in math class besides Jake's profile.
I have a million questions for my hometown hottie. When did he become observant? When did he move to Israel? Does he still play football? Can frummies play football? When did he get married? How did he pick this yeshiva? How many licks do talumudic scholars say it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
I can't ask him that. I can't even hug him. I can't even shake his hand. If I don't know the hummus fork from the salad fork, how am I supposed to know how to greet a long-lost, now deeply observant friend? I should have brushed up on my Shabbat etiquette. Where's Martha Schwartz when I need her? Do I sit next to him or next to his wife? Do I bring up old times? Should I bust out a DHS cheer? Of course, the rabbi would see doing the splits as working on Shabbat, so I settle on a smile and say, "What have you been up to since grunge was in style?"
We exchange a decade of Cliffs Notes over cucumber salad. We've got a lot in common. He's married, has a son, lives in Jerusalem. I'm single, have a plant, live in a studio. OK, not so much in common. Except that we're both happy. As the great sage Peter "Pinchas" Brady once said, "When it's time to change you've got to rearrange who you are and what you're gonna be."
Jake is an Orthodox yeshiva student in Israel. I'm, well -- I'm still figuring things out. But I have figured out we weren't meant to be together. I couldn't have known that in high school. I didn't even know it an hour ago. Actually, I'd forgotten about Jake until an hour ago. But seeing him made me realize that things happen -- or don't happen -- for a reason. Even running into Jake had a purpose, if only to hear him say, "Wow, you look just like you did in high school."
Seeing Jake also gave me a fresh perspective on my boyfriend shortage. I used to blame myself for my single condition. Why am I alone? What's wrong with me? What does Risa Rosen have that I don't have?
But now, I've kicked the habit. Instead of crying into my kugel, I think of Jake. I can't get down on myself every time some guy doesn't want to date, commit or ask me to a semi-formal, buy me a corsage and take awkward photos under a balloon arch. I can't get my fringes in a knot over every unrequited crush.
Maybe we just aren't meant to be together. Maybe life has a different path for me -- or him -- that I just can't see yet. And maybe, like Jake, our paths will cross again sometime.
As for Jake, well, we'll always have geometry.
Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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