A Fish Out of Water

A Novella by Altimexis

Posted February 13, 2010

New York Sunset

7. Day of Reckoning

Saying goodbye to David once the paint job was complete was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, particularly when we’d been used to sleeping with each other on a nightly basis. In a relatively short time, we’d become completely intimate with each other - Dad sure wasn’t throwing out a lot of unused condoms! More than the sex, however, David was much more than my lover - he was my absolute best friend. After waking up with him at my side every morning, working side-by-side day in and day out, eating with him, bathing with him and, yes, making love to him and sleeping with him, my days and my nights for the rest of the summer were going to be very lonely.

At least one consolation was that it took less than a week for our house in Baltimore to sell, and we got close to our asking price, too. With that out of the way, we could focus on the actual move and all of the preparations involved. That meant going through all of our worldly possessions with a fine-tooth comb and deciding what was worth taking to New York and what should be given away. We’d be living in one-third less space, and giving up nearly all our storage space, so more than half of what we owned couldn’t make the move with us.

There were a lot of things we had that we’d been holding on to for years that we clearly would never use again, and these were quickly relegated to the junk pile, to be given to charity if they were of any potential use to someone else. Then there were the things that were of sentimental value, but that took up a lot of space. Things like the stuffed bear my parents brought me when I had my appendix out, when I was twelve. I’d long since put it away, but it had meaning to me. The reality was that it took up too much space, and it could better make a little kid smile than take up room in my closet.

Last were the things I really hated to part with - things that I fully expected to use again - someday. I had whole bookshelves of paperbacks I’d read a long time ago, for example - books I’d thoroughly enjoyed and was proud to display in my room - but would I ever really get around to reading them again? Wasn’t it better to give them to someone who hadn’t yet read those books, so as to make room for books I had yet to read? Yes, as I boxed up my life in preparation for the move, I had to give everything a lot of thought - did I still need it, or could someone else get more from it than I could?

Of course I suggested to Mom and Dad that David come back down from New York to help us with the packing and moving, just as he did with the painting, but this time my parents put their feet down. Going through my things was something that only I could do, and having David there would only be a distraction I didn’t need. I guess I could see their point, but I saw David as being so much more than a distraction.

In any case, we continued to communicate on a daily basis. At minimum, we chatted by IM, but we often texted as well, several times each day. I was sure glad my parents had sprung for a plan with unlimited texting! I also got my parents to increase my minutes for the month so we could talk more often, and we took full advantage of it. We were just so in love with each other.

And then one day, it all stopped. My texts and e-mails went unanswered, and my phone calls went directly to his voicemail. After an entire summer of six-day-a-week communication, for it to suddenly stop like that was unnerving. By the second day, I was worried something terrible had happened to David, even though my parents insisted there had to be a good explanation. By the third day, I knew something terrible had happened. The only reason David wouldn’t call me was if he couldn’t, so I called the landline at his house and spoke to his father, the Hasidic rabbi.

“Hello, Rabbi,” I began, “could I please speak to David?”

“I’m sorry, Danny, but David can’t speak to you,” the rabbi replied. I noted that he didn’t say he couldn’t speak to me then, but that he couldn’t speak to me, period, so I decided to ask for clarification.

“When will he be able to speak to me?” I asked.

“It’s just not possible, Danny. I’m sorry,” the rabbi answered. “Maybe when you get here, you can say goodbye to him before he leaves for Israel.”

“Leaves for Israel!” I practically screamed into the phone.

Chuckling, David’s father answered, “That’s pretty much the reaction I got from David, too. He thought he wouldn’t be going until next year, because he’s still only fifteen, but I was able to talk the director of the kibbutz where we send our youth to make an exception, since he’ll be sixteen in a matter of weeks. It would have been a shame to make him wait a year because of a technicality.”

“David’s gonna be spending a year on a kibbutz?” I practically cried. I couldn’t believe David’s father was sending him to spend a year living on an Israeli commune, and a Hasidic one at that.

“I’ve decided David’s going to finish up his high school education in Israel,” the rabbi answered.

I felt like I’d been sucker punched. I was devastated. Many Orthodox kids spent a year in Israel when they turned sixteen, and I figured that many if not most Hasidim did the same. My parents had offered to send me, but I’d turned them down, since I had no intention to remain observant once I became an adult. However, something told me that poor David didn’t exactly have a choice - not unless he became a runaway, and that involved even worse consequences.

“You’ll survive this, Danny,” my father said when I gave him the news. “I realize at your age, two years seems like an eternity, but it’s survivable, and then you’ll both be adults and able to make your own choices. In any case, I’m sure David’ll have access to Skype or something similar, and if not, we’ll get an international calling plan so you can talk to him on a daily basis.”

At least with Skype, we’d have the ability to talk to each other over the Internet. Small consolation that would be, but I’d take what I could get. Here I should have been looking forward to our upcoming move, and my life had been turned upside down. Not only was I was losing the few friends I had in Baltimore, but I’d be going to a new place and the one person I really knew there - my rock and the love of my life - would be leaving.

My heart only sank further into despair as the date of our move approached, but what could I do? To me, it felt as if the sun had disappeared behind grey clouds - permanently. I went through the motions, seeing all my worldly possessions loaded into a moving van. Our house looked so empty when all was said and done. Sixteen years of my life, crated, boxed up, carried out and shipped away. When all was said and done, all that was left were four blank walls and, ironically, a hell of a lot of scuff marks left behind by the movers all over the pristine walls David and I had painted just a few weeks before.

What should have been an exciting time was just a matter of getting the move over with when it came to moving into our place in New York. I know I should have gotten some pleasure at seeing all my stuff in the new place, and seeing my new bedroom take shape, but it was just someone else’s bedroom with all my stuff in it as far as I was concerned.

Finally, the movers left. My furniture was in place, but it would be days before I’d have everything unpacked, my clothes in the closet and my bookshelves and posters hung. As crappy as I felt, it was going to be hard to find the motivation to even get started.

It was just as I was contemplating all of this, that a familiar face appeared at my door. It was immediately apparent that David had been crying. His eyes were red and swollen and his face was streaked. In the several days since I’d heard the news, I’d been selfishly considering only my feelings in all of this. As hard as the separation would be on me, it would be absolute hell on him.

“God, David, you look like shit,” I said, which actually got a laugh and a smile out of him.

“You don’t look so good yourself, Danny,” he replied. “Everything’s all fucked up. There’s no other way to put it… it’s all fucked up.”

Sitting down on my bed next to me, he continued, “I knew it’s usual to spend a year in Israel when you turn sixteen, but the rules are that you have to be sixteen before you start, so I always assumed I’d be safe until next year, ’cause my birthday’s not ’til the middle of September. Truth is, I don’t want to spend a year in Israel. I’d like to visit, but I’m not a religious fanatic like the rest of the Hasidim. I always hoped that by next year, I could try to argue my way into postponing my year until after high school, and then get out of it entirely.

“But it gets worse, Danny,” David added. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “My father confronted me… about us. It seems he got a call from your rabbi…”

“That bastard!” I interrupted. “That fucking bastard. He had no right! It was none of his God-dammed business!”

“I wish you’d have told me he’d confronted you, Danny,” David countered. “If I’d have known, we might have been able to head him off at the pass. We could have at least denied everything, but instead your rabbi assumed the worst and took it upon himself to call my father with his concerns.”

“He had no right!” I shouted once again.

“Danny, there’s no use beating yourself up over it. What’s done is done. The interesting thing is that my father doesn’t blame you, like I thought he would. He doesn’t blame you at all. In fact, this whole sending me off to Israel thing isn’t about separating us… it’s about trying to instill within me a sense of my Jewish heritage. My father kept saying over and over again that he should have seen it coming all along.”

“So he’s sending you to Israel in the hope that he can ‘educate’ the gay out of you?”

“Basically, yeah,” David acknowledged.

“And if we can hold out for a couple of years, and you’re still gay, then you can live your life as you see fit?” I asked.

Looking down at the floor, David answered, “It’s not quite that simple. The high school program I’ll be entering in Israel is a five-year program… not four years like in the U.S. Sure, I could come home when I turn eighteen and I’m an adult, but I wouldn’t have a high school diploma to show for it. If I want a diploma, I have to stay an extra fucking year, Danny, but there’s more.

“Thanks to the way my father’s handling things, I’ll be an Israeli citizen. After spending three years getting an education in Israel, I’ll have an obligation… like every other Israeli youth does after completing high school, to give three years of my life…”

Suddenly, my eyes flew open wide as it dawned on me what he was saying. “You’ll have to fucking join the army!” I interrupted.

“The only exemption, unless I want to earn the wrath of my fellow citizens by being a conscientious objector… and believe me, I’m tempted to do just that… is to continue my religious studies for the purpose of entering the rabbinate, and even then, it’s only a deferral… an indefinite deferral. Believe me, that ain’t gonna happen. Even women have to serve two years, and gays have to serve. Gays have openly served in the Israeli Defense Force since 1993.”

“Couldn’t you just reclaim your U.S. citizenship and return home?” I asked, almost in tears at the thought of losing David for six years, and maybe forever if something happened to him while he was in the army.

“The trouble with that is if I ever set foot in Israel again,” he explained, “I’d be arrested the moment I arrived. And believe me, they’re very good at tracking their expatriates. I already looked into it. I may not agree with how the Israeli government has handled things lately, but I don’t want to be a traitor, you know?”

Yes, I did know. David was just that kind of boy - that kind of man. He wouldn’t be the David I fell in love with if he wasn’t. We both cried our eyes out that afternoon, sitting in my new bedroom in our apartment on the Lower East Side. This was a very difficult goodbye.

Laughing, David added, “My father did offer me an alternative to going to Israel. He said if I got married now, I wouldn’t have to go.”

“Your father would let us get married?” I exclaimed.

“Not us, silly,” David corrected me. Looking down at the floor, he explained, “I’ve been promised to a Hasidic girl in Brooklyn since I was six years old. Obviously, I can’t marry her. I won’t marry her… ever.”

Looking back up at me and smiling, he said, “You’re the only one I’d ever want to marry.” Then looking down again, he continued, “Obviously, my father would never go along with that, so it looks like I have no choice but to go to Israel.”

On the verge of tears, I asked, “When do you leave?”

“Sunday night,” he answered.

That soon?” I asked. “Man, I thought we’d at least have a little time together. It’s sooo unfair.”

“At least we can see each other at Shabbos services,” he reminded me.

“There is that,” I agreed.

Realizing where he was, David colored up as he asked, “Does your bedroom door have a lock on it?”

“Far as I know, it does,” I replied, “but I haven’t unpacked my sheets, yet.”

“What do you say we put some stains on your mattress for you to remember me by,” David said with a sly smile. “After all, at this point, I have absolutely nothing to lose.”

“Then we might as well fuck like jackrabbits until the moment you have to step on the plane,” I agreed.

We took our time undressing, only because we were constantly distracted as we stopped to kiss, to admire, to caress and to fondle each other. We were crazy in love with each other. The thought of our need to be there for each other was paramount, and I was determined to be there for my David in the end, no matter what. The thought of the time we might be spending apart was enough to drive either of us to suicide if we dwelt on it, but somewhere deep inside of us there was still hope - hope that we’d be together again sometime in our future.

Our passion was overwhelming as we made love to each other. I don’t think there was one square millimeter of David’s body I didn’t explore that afternoon in some way, with my hands, my mouth or my tongue. I even learned about rimming and as gross as I thought it would be, the pure sounds of ecstasy I heard from David when I did it, told me it was something I’d want to do again and again - if only there were an again.

I lost track of the number of times we came as we pleasured each other. David was a part of me and I was a part of him. We were as one, even if only for a brief time. By the time he left to eat dinner with his family, we were both very sore, and very, very satisfied.

David and I ended up spending nearly all of his remaining time in New York together. He helped me unpack and set up my room. He was a huge help to me, even if he was a distraction. It was such a bittersweet time for us. I’d heard the term before, but never appreciated what it really meant. Now I knew.

That Friday night, David took me back with him to his apartment to celebrate Oneg Shabbat with him. It was to be our last evening together, as his father insisted he have his rest on Saturday night, and El Al Airlines would not allow me to go through security with him at the airport on Sunday.

Standing together on David’s terrace, looking out at the magnificent Manhattan skyline, I felt as if it was just the two of us alone that night, looking out on the city and sharing that moment together. Our faces came together as if drawn by an invisible magnetic force and our love flowed between us through the magic of our shared kiss.

Unfortunately, we were decidedly not alone on that terrace. Sharing our space were several Hasidic men, some women, and a number of kids, some of them our age who would undoubtedly be in school with me long after David had left for Israel.

“You do realize that after what we just did, you’re gonna have a hard time of it, Danny,” David said. “Some of these kids go to the same Yeshiva that you’ll be attending. For better or worse, you just outed yourself.”

Smiling, I said, “I know I did, David, but it was well worth it to have this memory of tonight. This memory will stay with me for the rest of my life. I can put up with the taunts and the bullying and whatever else they throw my way, just knowing that some day, you’ll come back to me.”

“That’s one thing you can count on,” David said. “Come hell or high water, I will find a way back to you.”


Life after David left was even drearier than I’d ever thought possible. The school wasn’t much different than the one I’d left behind in Baltimore. The major difference, of course, is that everyone knew my secret, and I was done trying to hide it for that matter. I was simply known as the faggot. What’s worse is that a lot of kids referred to me in the third person. All the time, they’d say things like, “Maybe the faggot would be interested in doing a project with you, Jacob. Bet he’d like to get into your pants,” which of course would have poor Jacob running as fast in the other direction as his legs would carry him. Never mind that Jacob was about as effeminate as a boy could be.

Even the teachers treated me as if I were a nonentity. They clearly wanted to have as little to do with me as possible, calling on me very seldom, and never, ever touching me, even to shake my hand. It was as if they feared they could catch a disease from me or something. I was so disgusted with the way everyone perceived me. I could have put up with everyone’s ignorance if I’d had David by my side.

I’d hoped that I would’ve had regular contact with David once he got to Israel, but it turned out that although his kibbutz had Internet access, it was strictly rationed. E-mail messages were limited to one per week and they were censored. Geez! I guess I should have been glad that David was using his e-mail allotment to contact me and not his family, but with all our e-mail messages being read, there was damn little we could say. Hell, we couldn’t even tell each other how much we loved each other without potentially losing even this much contact with one another.

David eventually did explain that his adult supervisors knew all about our relationship, but they were willing to allow ongoing contact so long as we kept the relationship platonic. It was felt that the most important first step in David becoming ‘normal’ was for him to accept me as a friend and nothing more. Three years of this nonsense was going to be fucking hell. Perhaps I could find a way to move to Israel and join David there, but something told me his Hasidic kibbutz wouldn’t allow conjugal visits, especially between two boys.

For David’s sixteenth birthday, I made sure to send his presents plenty early for him to get them in time, and I spent an absolute fortune to ship them using one of the overseas carriers that could guarantee delivery and obtain a delivery confirmation. At least that way, I’d have David’s signature as confirmation that he himself was the recipient. I could only hope that he would be allowed to keep them. I even went to the trouble of getting the right international adapter, so he could charge them properly, even if they wouldn’t let him hook them up to one of their computers at his kibbutz.

It took a good chunk of the money that I’d saved, but I bought David two iPods - the latest 64 GB iPod Touch, which I filled to capacity with music I knew he’d enjoy, and a red iPod Nano, which had a built-in video camera and FM radio. I filled the Nano partially with songs that had special meaning to the two of us, and with video clips from the neighborhood and from me. It would be something for him to remember me by - something to remember our times together.

Not only did David get his iPods in time for his birthday, but he used the built-in camera to have someone shoot a video of him blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, and then upload it into his weekly e-mail, which he sent me. It was the first and only picture of any sort I had of my David since he’d landed in Israel - a picture I intended to keep forever. My God, his facial hair was actually beginning to look like a real beard, now. He was my red-headed, red-bearded angel. God, I missed him so!

It was a few weeks later during the ten-day period between the Jewish High Holydays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the day we atone for our sins, that my entire world fell apart. The day started off the same as any other. I got up, took a shower, shaved, and got dressed. I quickly recited my morning blessings, and sat down at the table with my brothers and sisters to eat breakfast before school.

One thing I could say about having a large family is that we always had a decent breakfast together. While smaller families often settle for pop-tarts or cold cereal, we always sat down to enjoy things such as scrambled eggs and hash browns, or smoked whitefish, or even bagels and lox now and then. Dad, of course, had left for work long ago, since he had to be at Beth Israel at the crack of dawn, but at least Mom and all us kids could enjoy breakfast together.

So as I took my seat on this sunny, but nippy Tuesday morning and grabbed the pot of coffee to pour myself a cup, I also grabbed the front section of the New York Times to check out the latest headlines. Izzy and Shimmy could battle it out over the Sports section, and my sisters could battle it out over Style, but I was interested in what was going on in the world.

Naturally, a front-page story about a rocket attack on Israel grabbed my attention right away, but I literally spewed my coffee over everyone else at the table when I read that the target had been the kibbutz where David was living. The article mentioned that there were several casualties, including some students from America, but there was no more information at the time the paper went to press.

In that moment, time itself ceased to exist for me. I know my mother asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t hear her. Nothing else mattered. I had to know. I had to know!

I left my breakfast on the table, untouched, as I ran out the door of our apartment. I don’t think I even bothered to close the door behind me as I ran down the stairs, not bothering to wait for the elevator. I ran right across Grand Street, not looking to see if traffic was coming. I heard the sound of tires screeching and horns honking, but I didn’t care. I ran all the way to David’s apartment, hoping to find his father there.

When I got there, I practically leaned on the doorbell, waiting until someone answered, but it was his mother who answered the door.

“Danny,” she said as she pulled me into a hug. I was surprised to say the least. “The rabbi’s already at the schule for morning prayers,” she explained. I felt a tremendous sense of relief wash over me when she said that. Surely he wouldn’t go about his normal duties as a rabbi if his son were injured.

“So I take it David’s OK?” I asked her.

“No, Danny,” she answered. “No he’s not. David was injured. He was taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, the one on the Ein Kerem campus, but we don’t know how serious his injuries are. They won’t tell us anything. The rabbi won’t tell me anything.”

Suddenly, I was incensed. How could David’s father care so little about his son?

I ran from the apartment. I heard David’s mother calling after me, but I was thinking of only one thing. For all I knew, David was dying, and his father was conducting business as usual. Yes, it was the holiest time of the year, but there was another rabbi to officiate. It was his son that needed him most.

I barged into the synagogue and saw the rabbi, on the pulpit with the Hazon. The morning prayers had already started. A rabbi didn’t even need to be present as long as there was a minyan - a gathering of ten men, so why was the rabbi even there? Was he trying to run away from what had happened?

“Why aren’t you with your son?” I shouted, loudly enough for everyone to hear - loudly enough to interrupt the service.

When he didn’t answer me, I repeated my question in Hebrew. I was livid.

Finally, David’s father excused himself and walked to the back of the synagogue, back to where I was standing, and we exited the schule together.

“Danny,” he said, “there is nothing I could do for David by going to Israel. He’s in God’s hands, now. Don’t you see, by the timing of this? This happened during the ten days of Awe. It was God’s will. David brought this upon himself. If he repents for his sins, and truly asks forgiveness of God, God will forgive.”

I couldn’t believe this nonsense. “That’s fucking bullshit, rabbi!” I shot back.

“Danny! Do you want something to happen to you, too?” the rabbi asked.

“If this really is God’s punishment for David being gay, then why did he wait until David did your bidding, breaking his ties with me, going to fucking Israel and living the life you wanted him to. Since he left here, he’s lived as clean a life as can be!” I challenged. “He’s done everything you’ve fucking asked him to, and still this happened to him. Not only that, but there were others hurt in this attack… others maybe killed. Where’s the fairness in that?

“If anything, rabbi, this is God’s way of showing us that what you did was the sin… not what David did. David’s being gay was God’s will and it was your interference that made God angry. Can’t you fucking see that? If this really is God’s punishment as you say, he wouldn’t punish David for doing the right thing, but he sure seems to have punished him for turning his back on his homosexuality and on the man he loves, and he punished a lot of innocent folks along with him for who knows what other sins they may have committed.

“No rabbi, this wasn’t God’s punishment at all. What this was, was a senseless terrorist attack on innocent men, women and children because they live on disputed land… and the best that men like you can come up with as a solution is to move the Palestinians off the land they’ve inhabited for hundreds and even thousands of years… to land that isn’t even theirs. That’s why David was injured and is fighting for his life.”

I abruptly turned and started to walk away, but David’s father called out to me, causing me to stop and return.

“As always, David,” he said, “I disagree with everything you say, but I will never discount the possibility that you are right. That is the essence of Jewish debate.

“I know you love my son. If he weren’t my only son, I would have probably declared him dead in my eyes when I first was confronted with the truth. It is, after all the traditional way… to tear a piece of clothing and mourn your son as if they really were dead… but I cannot do that. David always was different from the time he was born. As I told him, I should have seen it coming.

“I can almost understand your point… that people like you are born this way.” As I opened my mouth to speak, he held up his hands and said, “Almost, but the Torah is so clear on God’s intent when it comes to homosexuality, I cannot discount that.

“I think I do realize, however, that David isn’t going to change. It kills me, but perhaps if the two of you can study in Israel, maybe God will forgive you. That means something to me, even if it doesn’t to you.”

What David’s father said hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d never even considered the possibility, but he was essentially saying he could accept a relationship between David and me if we both completed our studies in Israel. I was not so naïve to think that the rabbi would accept our sexuality, but having him accept us as a couple was more than I ever thought I could ask for.

Although living in Israel and apart from my family was not something I’d ever thought I’d do, being with David was everything to me - if he would only survive.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story and Low Flyer in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. I would also like to thank Rigel for correcting some of my errors with respect to traditional Orthodox Judaism. This story was written as part of the Gay Authors 2009 Novella Writing Contest.

Disclaimer: This story is fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintended. Although a number of the locations, businesses, institutions and residences described in the story are real, the author in no way implies the actual behavior of the owners, managers or other individuals at these establishments. Some of the characters in the story may discuss or engage in homosexual acts, some of whom are underage. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. Opinions expressed in the story are those of the characters and they do not necessarily reflect those of the author, nor of the hosting website. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of this story in any form.