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Two Broken Halves
He’s the most conceited man alive, a real pig, Ellen thought to herself as she rolled her eyes when her blind date smirked at her. “Do you know who I am?”
“No. Do you know who I am?”
Ellen had won Jay over in one line. “‘She’s an independent woman,’ that’s all I could remember thinking,” said Jay when asked what he thought of Ellen decades later. “Yea, and after that I still got in the car with him,” Ellen’s sinewy mouth, rimmed with red lipstick, pulled into a wry smile.
It was the third Thursday in October of 1966. Definitely the third. It was late, and the car shuddered in the envelope of cool night air at the stoplight. An abrupt yellow, then red in the fog. A long red, one of those red’s where feet start tapping and knuckles grow white on the wheel. The couple was running late to see the last showing of Dr. Zhivago at the Wellmont Theatre. The theatre was typical, easily missed by car: a brick-built colonial building, old for the 60’s, the sign coughing to life in white lights. Ellen chipped at the paint crusted on her finger tips, grey from the sea foam dashing against the jetty she was painting. She began to tell Jay where to turn. Jay stepped out of the car, his 5’11” frame piling up, spilling out of the cab. His temper was quick as ever as he took brisk steps to the passenger side while Ellen stared at him, dumbstruck, huddled in her best coat, the one she paid for with her savings as a stock girl. He made it across the bumper in three strides. “Why don’t you drive, Ellen?” And she did.
Ellen sat on the couch, 110 pounds draped loosely in a thick winter sweater, “I should’ve known from that point he would never drive again.” Her head bobbed as she hummed the beginning notes of Dr. Zhivago. Jay absentmindedly added in his harmony.
The movie was forgettable, but the music, the music was excellent. It was the kind of music that stuck in your head for decades.
Their relationship was an odd one, based off of need more than love. They were three years apart, Ellen, 31, and Jay, 34. Both had broken marriages, and they fused together, half of a bleeding heart to another.
Ellen was born in 1936. She grew up in a Newark railway apartment with every room stationed off of a main hall: three bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen. Ellen lived with her mother, father, and brother “Who was an only child, the little prince”. Her family far from “well-to-do”, Ellen worked every day, three hours for a dollar, as a stock girl, then as a sales person at a ladies shoppe “With an ‘e’ dear, always with an ‘e’”.
Ellen’s father Samuel, a frugal man at best evaluation, was a lawyer, a southern man. He knew the value of words and money, and spent both rarely. Cold and stand-offish, he did not allow Ellen to go to Pratt to study art; she went to the Newark School of Fine Arts after finishing high school. Ellen scraped the remnants of her wages after a hot meal and a bus token and bought her own art supplies.
Two years later, Ellen stumbled upon her second “prince” to live with; her brother’s best friend. They had two children, one boy and one girl, just like it should be. The only tangible trace of him uncovered in Ellen’s life years later is one hand, holding up their little girl on a pony in a home video. The hand is large, and the figure in the background is tall, blocked by the horse the infant is sitting upon. When speaking of “him”, Ellen’s eyes narrowed, “He had potential… and no responsibilities”. Married at 19, Ellen was divorced by 25.
Born in 1932, Jay was a man of average height, and uncommon temper. Two phones would be replaced in his house over time, ripped out of the wall after tantrums. Living in a four-room apartment in the Bronx, Jay learned hard work in the Depression. At night, the couch in the living room pulled out into a single bed, shared with his little brother. The bedroom was off-limits, the living room was the kitchen, the bathroom was a bathroom, naturally, and the fire escape was where the new cockroach circus replaced the mouse show.
A smile crept over Jay’s face as he mused, “You know what, Ellen? We should go back to our old neighborhoods”. Ellen looked at him, her silvering eyes wide, “Sure, let’s bring one gun for my neighborhood and two for yours. Those people ruined my garden, put iron bars all around it”.
While his father remained an unemployed banker and his mother a full-time book keeper, Jay began work at ten years old. He was a delivery boy. He worked for the drug store, for the cleaning store, for the butcher shop. Name the shop and he delivered for it. The labor toughened his drive, his discipline, and his aversion to pig’s blood.
Eventually the depression slackened its grip on Jay’s family and they moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey. Jay sped through high school head down with his tie and brief case, spending free time in the science laboratory as an assistant, saying little to others. There was not blip on his record, if you don’t count the incident with the class that was fond of stealing his food and the pepper-laced peanuts. After three and a half years of school, Jay moved on to college where boredom got the best of him. Jay signed up for the draft.
After repeatedly failing the Morse code test and writing a letter of reassignment from Korea to President Eisenhower himself, Jay landed himself in Ochsenbach, Germany on post-war clean-up as a German linguist. He was the first Jewish man anybody at the Ochenbach radio tower had ever met, American or German. Jay smiled quizzically when asked of his friends in Germany, “You know, they were all displaced Europeans. Not one of them was a German”.
Once discharged from the Army, Jay met a woman at a Jewish singles dance in 1962 at the Golden Hotel, nestled in Orange. Jay grinned in pride, “There were thirty men at that dance, and four women. Guess who got the girl?” She was a school teacher, art. She received her undergraduate degree from Hofstra University. She lived in Queens. Nine months later they married. Two years later, lymphoma took her away. Perhaps that’s when Jay developed his aversion to hospitals, to death, and to love.
Nine months after the last frame of Dr. Zhivago left the screen at the Wellmont Theatre and four dates later, Ellen and Jay married. Standing at the altar in her white dress, Ellen shifted under the gaze of those family members who were kind enough, or cruel enough, to go to her wedding; she could feel the eyes penetrating her body, looking for a bastard child resting in her belly. Ellen tugged at the seam of her dress, knitted by her own hands. Her parents had intended to pay for only one dress. Her parents had intended to pay for only one wedding.
As Ellen rose for her toast at her reception, she glanced to the table of honor filled with her and Jay’s parents, her in-laws. Jay’s parents, her in-laws now, sat with their backs to her, Jay’s mother’s one good eye downcast, absorbed in her rings, pecking at the diamonds. Saul glared at Samuel, a vein throbbing in his neck; much like the one in Jay’s does when upset, but Samuel paid no notice. He was watching her. Samuel’s silence stabbed at Ellen like an icy dagger to her gut. Her mother, Bell, fidgeted quietly, her tiny feet swinging above the floor beneath her chair, her supple hands wringing her napkin, muttering an old-world incantation under her breath for good luck. “Ikh bet dikh, gotenyu. Ikh bet dikh, gotenyu. Ikh bet dikh, gotenyu.” Please. Dear God. Please, Dear God. Please, Dear God. A marriage can always use a little bit of luck. Reading her mother’s twitching lips, Ellen peeked back to Jay softly smiling from behind his trifocals. Ikh bet dikh, gotenyu.
Please let this be right.