People always tell you that you need to be courageous and walk through doors. Take a deep breath and push them open, face whatever battles lay behind them. Doors can be untrustworthy, though. You don’t know what’s lurking back there. You might not be ready for the fight. For example, it could be a fire-breathing dragon wanting to make you into human barbecue. That would end your little adventure very quickly.
The greatest enemy of my past was a set of doors. Two double doors. White. The handles shone a steely gray. They couldn’t be opened from the outside, though. Someone inside had to let you in.
That January night was the coldest I remember. I wore a long black coat and carried a bright white shiny purse. It was Friday night, Shabbat, the night where we welcome the Sabbath bride to come into our midst and celebrate with us. We call out to her in the prayer Lecha Dodi, or “Come, my beloved” in Hebrew.
“Boi kallah!” we cry out. Come, my bride. Boi — it was the song, the word that had taken me down the aisle four years before. Come to him, and as the Orthodox rabbi who introduced us would say, I would follow him wherever he went, fighting all the demons he threw at me along the way.
When I got the call to come, it was to a hospital in Laguna Beach. I shouldn’t have gone, didn’t want to go, but the choice was made for me. We had given each other seven years of our lives over the course of our relationship. There was no one else to delegate this task to, and I owed him this much. This was my payment to go across the river Styx.
I agreed to drop off a duffel bag of items to the woman on the phone and then hung up. Going through the apartment, the green bag was filled with his standards: A big round jar of teal hair gel. Several red polo shirts, sized medium, and a pair of jeans. Three pairs of boxers. A toothbrush and toothpaste. No razors. She specifically said no razors.
Turning the car key and flipping on the radio, I realized something important: I didn’t even know that there was a hospital in Laguna Beach, and I had lived in Orange County for nine years. I drove out into a confused night, picking up a friend who knew where this place was so I wasn’t wandering aimlessly.
The building was stark white, across from the water off of Pacific Coast Highway. We went into the lobby to drop off the green duffel bag, but we had to wait to find out details, whether it was safe for me to return to the apartment. So we sat in the waiting room as another friend joined us, and I stared at them. Those double doors that only opened from the inside.
People would go in and out from those doors; nurses in white uniforms, clutching clipboards and grabbing people from the waiting room shaking in corners. A man looked in my direction with his tanned leather skin and unshaved stubble, wearing a ragged black hoodie.
“What are you looking at, you bitch?” he yelled at me, his eyes wide and wild. It was the tip of the iceberg of obscenities that would be thrown. My friends and I giggled nervously, but it didn’t help. He began screaming, loping towards us aggressively as a nurse grabbed him and eventually led him behind the double doors.
Somewhere inside of me, another voice echoed of a different Friday night, as he tackled me viciously to our marital bed. “You fucking bitch!” he yelled at me angrily as he stood over my body, right before I began to shake and cry.
What lived back there, where the man in the ragged black hoodie went? I imagined a hundred versions of that guy behind those doors, with medusa heads and banshee voices. That’s where he was.
I imagined him sleeping, doped up on medications, not knowing what was happening outside. He couldn’t see my pacing the whitewashed fluorescent hallways as my phone kept ringing with my mother, my aunt, my cousin.
His parents were not coming. They had told me over the phone how “inconvenient” this was for them. After all, my father-in-law was reading Torah at shul the next day, and they were hosting the Kiddush luncheon. I should have apologized profusely, then asked them if I should pencil in a more convenient time for them for their son to go to the hospital.
Wandering down the halls, the double doors taunted me. It had led to this; in a way, this was inevitable. How many times had he threatened over the weeks, months, years when he didn’t get his way? How could he have not known that this would happen if he had said that in front of a stranger? How did we get here?
As I returned to where my friend was sitting in the waiting room, I fingered the small gray canister of pepper spray on my keychain that my mom insisted on me buying. My mind was thinking about the other day when, after years of fighting and pain, I said I wanted to be free. That I didn’t love him anymore. His response was, “I don’t care if you love me or not. I’m never letting you go.” It left me wondering how many times he had threatened to hurt me before they sedated him.
The nurse came out from behind the double doors to explain to me what had happened over the past few hours, and what would transpire for the rest of the hours to come. They ranged from the policies of the hospital to how treatment would go over the next few days.
Then the words. “He wants to see you,” she said sweetly.
My friends shook their heads, held my arms back as my instincts moved my body towards the doors. He was sick. He needed me. I was supposed to follow him. My mind would throw caution into the wind, facing anything in order to see him, support him. That’s the kind of person I am.
A nurse rushed by my eyes with a patient, and a memory flooded my mind. Less than six months ago, I was in a hospital bed in the emergency room in Newport Beach, alone with a skin infection. He yelled at me on the phone about how much it would cost us. He had not bothered to come to be with me. He was “too tired.” There I was, ready to follow him, but who would follow me?
My overactive imagination had been building it up, but in truth there was only one monster behind those doors — the one who I brought the bag for, the one who shared my marital bed for four years. This was not an accident. He chewed off his foot to spite his mate, and was beginning to learn how to breathe fire. If I went through the doors, I would feed into the cycle that had been rotating around me for years. How it was my fault, how I was the crazy one.
Not anymore. Never again.
My primal instincts of fight and flight were topsy-turvy. If my heart were stronger, I would arm myself and go through those doors and yell in his face the things that I would say now that the years have passed and my thoughts have collected. But my strength was compromised, my voice weakened by years of systematic emotional abuse and constant self-blame.
But I was strong enough to turn my back and move my feet in the opposite direction of him. Silence spoke louder than any words in my arsenal. After all, there are some doors you just can’t walk through, places you can’t go anymore, choices you might not be ready to make but have to anyway. There are monsters that can’t be defeated, but against our most primal instincts have to be fled from, no matter how much you want to fight.
Leaving the hospital through a pair of transparent glass doors, the cold air slapped me hard. Yet the night embraced me the way that, as I would find in later days, so many people wouldn’t.
Driving into the darkness, unknowing of the days, months and years of pain to come, the words of the traveler’s prayer left the lips of a once-innocent girl walking down an aisle as I crossed over into the newest point in my life. And under the orange lights of the freeway, I could swear the wind was whispering, “Boi kallah.” Come, my beloved, my bride, and let’s marry the night instead.