My best friend was the one that kept calling me during my interrogation. She was worried about me. She knew what I had planned to do that day. In fact, she was on the train that I was waiting for. She arrived in time to see my mother dragging me home. She was scared for me and it was she that kept calling.
When I answered the phone and said what I had, per my father’s request, I knew she understood. We had quite the connection, quite the friendship. See, she was also from the Bais Yaakov world and was living on the fringe of things. She attended college with me. We became friends when we discovered we were one of the few (read: rare ones) that was going to attend a college after High School.
After I had hung up with my best friend and my father had exited the room, I quickly called the individual whom I was running away to. Someone who lived many states away. Someone whose family was willing to take me in and knew my situation.
See, I realized that if I were to run away from home I needed to leave New York. First of all, they’d find me if I stayed in the area. Secondly, why in the world would I want to put myself through the staring, the glaring, the remarks, the gossip that I KNEW would happen for going off the derech. I needed a clean break. I needed to be FAR AWAY fromthem. I needed to start my life anew and I needed to do it without the judgement and hell I would receive if I stayed nearby. I was eighteen and legally was able to leave home, but not by the orthodox standards and I knew it would not happen if they could find me.
Having the Internet enabled me to do research for college. An awesome tool that I was grateful my parents allowed me to have. But it also opened up the door to meeting people just as college had. I found online chatrooms with discussion on books I loved, subjects that interested me, found websites filled with a plethora of information that I lost hours and hours too while browsing and reading and chatting.
That’s how I met him. Now hang on, I said it wasn’t like that!
We met in a chatroom discussing books. I don’t know what possessed him to send me an instant message but we totally connected and chatted every single day! But I withheld information about my cultural background, what it meant, and even my name.
Over a year had gone by and life at home became unbearable for me.
I tried talking to my mother about how I felt stifled at home. I asked if I could transfer to another college and the answer was always no. She explained I was a girl and bad things happened to girls that weren’t home with their parents to keep them safe. I asked if I could wear t-shirts. She said as long as I covered my elbow and collarbone it would be alright. So I did. My brother was angry at me. He called me a whore.
I got angry and unbuttoned a few buttons at the bottom of my skirt so it had the appearance of a slit (which is not allowed!). I figured who would see me at college and tell my parents. I rolled my sleeves up a bit. Then I wore a jacket over a real short sleeved shirt that I removed once on campus. Small things really. Things that I felt really didn’t do any harm to anyone.
I was at the vending machine at campus and without thinking, I hit the buttons and got myself an unkosher treat to eat. I held the bag in my hand and opened it. Smelled it. Reached in and took a bite. I actually had to chuckle at myself because I looked around for that lightning bolt to hit me!
Shabbos was long and it was starting to get dark. I touched my touch lamp and turned on the light so I could finish reading my book. My father opened my door and started yelling at me for turning on the light. He went on and on about how he paid so much money for my education and how dare I throw it all away… I apologized and never didthat again.
I tried talking to my mother, to my father… I felt different than everyone else around me. I felt like I didn’t belong. If I look far enough back I can honestly tell you that I always knew that I didn’t want to be an Orthodox Jew. I saw the hypocrisy at a young age, I asked so many questions about the halachos that we were required to follow, I was only ever met with stares that made me feel ashamed to ask anything. I felt like it was a dance and I didn’t care to follow the required steps. I heard a different beat and was told to shut it out. I have always felt this way. I later found out from a family member that is not religious that when I was a little girl, perhaps eight or nine, that I had told her that I would run away some day. I honestly don’t remember but I remember clearly how I have always felt and how the community has always made me feel.
There was never any kiruv, there was never the warm feeling you get from a group of girls in school. There was just the feeling that I didn’t fit in and they didn’t want to include me. And to be quite frank, I didn’t want to be part of a group of girls that were so superficial.
It seemed to get to a climatic setting. My father might have sensed something, I’ll never be entirely sure, but he was harder on me. He demanded of me a lot and it was having a toll on me and I was feeling trapped, isolated and feeling a great desire to get the hell outta of dodge before I was married off! I could feel the anger emanating from my brother. He didn’t like the transitions he saw. He disliked that I was going to college and made that abundantly clear. My family was easily swayed in what my brother said and for a time, I had lost access to the Internet. After all, the golden boy was a great Yeshiva Bachur and brought great pride to my parents, so if he was unhappy we all were unhappy.
I regained my Internet access after coming home late from college and explaining that I needed to use the computer there for research since I had no Internet at home. That worked like a charm.
So finally, after well over a year, I confide to this individual online about home life and who I am. Just simply unloading helped. He asked if I considered leaving. I answered with a resounding yes, however explained that leaving home would have to be leaving the state. He spoke to his family and his family spoke to me and they were willing to give me a room and place so I can start anew. All I had to do was leave.
I spoke long hours into the night with my best friend about this. I snuck downstairs and we spoke on the phone unbeknownst to my parents. I knew leaving was what I wanted to do. I was simply scared to do it. I wanted to finish my semester in college, but I also needed to be IN college to use it as my excuse for leaving home on the day I chose to leave home for good.
I cannot even begin to express to you the emotions that went through me. I was torn, I was angry that I couldn’t get through to my parents. I didn’t want to lose them. I wanted them to understand me and how I felt. I wanted them to respect my life, my decisions for me. I wanted to be heard, I wanted to be SEEN.
I so often felt that I was invisible. I felt like I was choking, drowning in a sea of ambivalence. I didn’t want to disrespect my family and their way of life, yet they weren’t respecting me and I started to feel like I was drowning.
I decided to speak to someone on campus about what would happen to my classes if I had to drop out, what would happen to my transcripts, how I could transfer to another college, etc. Just wanted to get some information. I set up an appointment with someone. Honestly, I can’t remember whom or what department. I started talking to this sweet older lady and then something happened. I didn’t realize how much I was holding in. I didn’t realize how much all of this was affecting me. I felt like I had reached critical mass and I exploded. I found myself sobbing and babbling incoherently. My best friend was there with me and she tried to speak for me till I was able to get a grip on myself.
The sweet and kind lady took pity. She realized more was going on here and so she asked if I would be open to speaking to a counselor here on campus. I nodded and she picked up the phone and called her. The counselor was available at that moment and was willing to see me. The lady told me all would be alright and that if I needed to see her about anything, to feel free to drop by her office. My best friend led me to the counselor’s office.
I asked if my best friend would be able to come in with me, as I felt she was my anchor. The counselor agreed. We talked. A lot. I hadn’t realized how much I had bottled up inside me. I didn’t realize until then how much pain I was in. I hadn’t realized how I felt like my life was not mine and how angry I was that I had no control over it.
I realized then that it was my life. That if I wanted to live it, I would have to leave my old life behind. I knew what I had to do in order to live. I realized that falling into a deep depression and living my life so my family would be proud of me and abandon any desires I may have, would end up being devastating to me. My life was on the line here and if I kept going as I had, I fear I could not, would not want to live.
What a shocking realization. It was all just so clear to me. I knew what I wanted, I knew what I didn’t. I knew that I was eighteen and of a legal age to make my own decisions. I knew that as scary as it all was I needed to do the hardest most painful thing. Leave it all behind. It felt gut-wrenching, it felt nauseating. It felt so incredibly horrendous. To wrap my head around it, to finally come to realize that this wasn’t just all talk but required action on my part… well, to put it simply, I wanted to go to bed, hide under my covers and pretend it would all just go away. But I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I was considered an adult and to see change occur would require me DOING something about it. I couldn’t just pray for it to work out, I couldn’t just sit around and complain about how bad it was. To see the change you so desire, you need to actually do something about it. What a profound revelation!
I called this family several states away and asked if they were still ok if I came to live with them for a while. I told them I wouldn’t stay long. My intention was to return to college there and find a job and have a life of my own. I just needed that temporary crutch and they agreed to be that for me.
I spoke once more to that sweet old lady who helped me once before. She helped me get my paperwork in order and I agreed to receive Incompletes in my classes as opposed to F’s. I would make up for it, I assured her and I thanked her profusely for helping me arrange everything.
My best friend would meet me at the train station, I would go with her to campus. She would attend one of her early classes while I grabbed some food from the cafeteria for the trip. We would then go to Grand Central Station and I would head out on a Greyhound bus.
But that didn’t quite work out as I had planned.
I left a note to my parents explaining why I was doing what I was doing. I explained how I felt and apologizing for doing this to them. I left the house keys, too. I left it all on my bed under my pillow. Classic running away style.
But I guess I was too obvious? Perhaps I lingered longer than usual when saying my usual good byes to my mother and she sensed something was wrong? Perhaps getting up early in the morning to use the bathroom, so I could catch my father davening and say one last good bye to him before he headed to work, might have given myself away? Perhaps, perhaps…
It didn’t matter now, did it? I had been caught. My letter had been read anyways. I was sitting in my room, recounting all the events that have led me here, pondering what my future would be like and realizing that I really didn’t care anymore. I just plain didn’t care. I would be a shell of a person simply doing the dance, walking the walk, talking the talk that was expected of me. I would continue to do whatever would make my parents proud of me because that was what was expected. My whole life revolved around trying to make my parents proud, so it would simply continue. I would do what they wanted and I would not think and be anymore than that. An empty shell of a person. A robot.