The Jew Who Loved Me – Melissa Lewis-Ackerman

I stood beside your grave as the rabbi recited prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

I wasn’t Jewish.

Covered in misting rain, under an overcast sky, I wanted to cry, but couldn’t.

I didn’t believe death was a real end to anything.

 

I was sorry it was only me, the rabbi, and the rolling tombs, present.

I know you didn’t want to leave the world without a parade.

I thought of your lean body, your broad chest, laid out on the slab at the funeral home.

I didn’t want to wake you up, though I knew the one thing I’d miss would be your devouring me.

 

In my mind I wished to see the ghosts that haunted your life surrounding us at your burial.

Because of the camps I’d never met your father, mother, sister or brother.

I felt judged by the rabbi, wearing my borrowed black dress, with dark hair unkempt, flinching openly with each of his important, cautious gestures.

I wondered if he ever got laid, deeply handsome and aged like you were, with his ring finger limp and barren.

 

When I reached for you in the night I was surprised to find your body cold.

But not surprised enough to call anyone.

I turned over in our queen bed, reached for my smokes, wondering what I’d been doing in your life in the first place. You’d touch my hair. You’d liked that I was scrappy. I guess you wanted god-damn better for me.

The light flicker of death hadn’t made the impact I thought it might, as I took one long drag off my cigarette after another.

 

I could hear you telling me this was going to happen at some point with the sickness.

But I’d given up on you in the third year of the six I’d known you.

Your being Jewish had always meant something was lacking in me as I was unsophisticated and southern. The salad fork eluded me. You got angry over the way I fled from the six o’clock news.

And now I’d at least have the peace of mind not to think about it.

 

A squirrel ran for cover in a swooping, heralding, magnificent magnolia as I felt the small rocks in my black sweater pocket.

The scent of the blossoms made me jealous of the squirrel, because I couldn’t remember simpler things.

I opened one small pale palm to the sky, letting rain kiss it gently.

I realized with the arousal of dewy wet that I’d spent too long opening my legs for you trying to feel things, not wanting to lose myself completely in your emptiness while you were still alive.

 

I wanted to say something when the rabbi halted, newly empathetic, starring at the loose dirt at his feet.

I wondered what he’d do if I asked him to spend time with me, but guessed he’d think I wanted something or was crazy.

I shook my head, choosing silence, as the rabbi’s eyes watered through the next part of his ritual.

I wanted to believe he would have cried for the motherless girl that I’d been, but figured he only had enough room in his heart for his own people.

 

The rabbi passed the shovel as I squirmed uncomfortably in my ratty black sneakers.

I couldn’t see where our lives together had ever been as meaningful as that ceremony.

When I didn’t take the shovel the rabbi came behind me, trying to hold the shovel with me.

I’d never felt such an electric intimacy in my life, and found it startling.

 

I shook and I shivered with the tossing of all the dirt we could gather together from the side of the grave.

I hadn’t known I’d been so cold in the misting rain until the rabbi’s robes stayed so long against my skin.

I pulled the rocks out of my pockets with both hands as he gestured for us to leave the cemetery.

He nodded, waiting for me to drop them, before taking one of my empty hands.

 

Melissa Lewis-Ackerman is a bi-coastal English Professor, dividing time between Southern California and Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte. 

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