As was our custom, my partner and I were reading through different sections of The New York Times while eating our breakfast and waiting for the world to wake up. He was usually more of a skimmer than a reader, and so I was surprised when I saw him intently focused on one particular article. I glanced down at the article and realized it was a review of Oliver Sacks’ book Hallucinations.
He caught me watching him. “Did you read this?” he asked, and then took a sip of his espresso.
“Yeah, while you were pretending to wake up.” Most of the time, I was the first one to get out of bed when the alarm went off.
“OK,” he said, and put down his coffee mug. As he picked up his fork to start on his egg whites, he spoke in an almost theatrical aside: “So people really do hallucinate visions of dead people.”
“Of course they do. Of course that happens,” I quickly agreed. Then I took a few seconds to wipe some of the remaining sleep from eyes.
“Myod,” I said.
“Horoshow,” he replied, which was he said when I got a Russian word right. “Myod,” he repeated with the correct pronunciation.
I took the correction. “I need some myod,” and I got up to get some honey for my coffee. It was already sweet enough, but I just wanted to get up. I was wondering if one of those conversations were about to take place, one of the ones I hated having with my orthodox Jewish Russian boyfriend. One of the ones that reminded us just how deep our differences ran.
The windows were open, but the world outside of our house was very quiet. We always woke up earlier than most people, and were rewarded with the stillness that flirts with you right before the sun rises.
I grabbed some organic honey from the cabinet, and made my way back to the table, where he was still reading the review. Squeezing a few drops onto a teaspoon, I repeated what I’d just said, “Of course hallucinations happen.”
He looked up at me, and we both realized we were on the same page. He said “OK,” and drank another long swig of his espresso, with his eyes still fixed on mine. I decided I should say something.
“Hallucinations don’t explain everything, though…” and I let my comment trail off.
“Sure they do. Did you read Sacks?”
“Babe, I read it, and I’ve read other people’s opinions before – ”
He shook his head. “Opinion?”
And we were off…
“Yes, opinion,” I repeated. “Look, here’s the thing. Hallucinations happen now, and they happened in the first century. But they were understood to be hallucinations, or visions, or apparitions, or something like that.”
He asked me what I was getting at, and I told him something that I knew about ancient history, that when someone had a vision of a dead person in the ancient world, the vision proved that the person was dead – not that he was alive, and certainly not that he’d come back to life.
Then he started talking like a doctor. “Baby love,” he said, straightening his posture, “people who are grieving sometimes experience visions, and these visions seem verifiably real to the person having them. This is a perfectly normal phenomenon, and it’s common knowledge to medical experts.”
I hated when he invoked a term like “medical experts.” It was as if he was saying, “I know you studied philosophy, and religion, and I know you’ve spent the better part of a decade formally studying the Bible, reading it in its original languages, situating it within its ancient context, and poring over countless volumes of critical scholarship written about it… but look, I’m a medical doctor, so I’m going to dismiss what you say.”
I didn’t let it phase me this time. “Even if that is that case, it doesn’t explain an empty tomb.”
“Other things do,” he fired back.
“Like what?” I asked, ready to discuss any theory he’d toss at me.
“Brandon, I’m done talking about Jesus today.” He brought a handful of berries to his mouth and, before tossing them inside, whispered the words Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei p’ri ha’eitz.
A lump formed in my throat; I had to take a sip of coffee to force it down. Was I being a Jew-hater? Was it anti-Semitic of me to have this discussion with him? Should I apologize, and promise never to bring it up again?
I assessed the situation and decided the only thing I should say was that I loved him.
“I know,” he said, in that Russian patronizing falsetto. “And I love you.”
“I know,” I told him, finishing my coffee. Then I went to the living room, curled up on the couch, and thought about the two Jewish men I loved.
And about how I might convince the one that the other wasn’t a hallucination.
I “met” Brandon through a guest post he had on AliseWrite. I don’t read Alise regularly, but when I saw the post about Brandon and his Orthodox Jewish boyfriend trying to celebrate holidays together, I had to read. This “mixed marriage” is exactly the sort of stuff that resonates with me. Reading Brandon’s heartfelt and humorous story, I knew I had to have him! 🙂 I immediately friended him on Facebook and unabashedly begged him to write a piece for hatch*! He surprised me with TWO pieces, so stay tuned for the second part of Brandon’s story.
Brandon studied Literature and Philosophy at Liberty University. He currently lives between New York City and Seattle, WA, where he spends most of his time dancing and writing. He enjoys telling stories onstage and on paper. You can follow his blog here: http://brandonambrosino.blogspot.com/