The first big yom tov after I moved out of parents’ house was Pesach. Most of my family still didn’t know I wasn’t frum at that point.
I went home for the first days, as everyone expected me to. Of course – it’s Pesach, it’s a time for family.
But I was very unsure that I’d be able to make it through the full 50 or so hours of the first days with my family. So I made plans to go to a friend for the first day meal.
I knew that decision would puzzle my family. The tensions over it started earlier than Pesach, though. When my mother called me Friday afternoon before Shabbos HaGadol, she was going over some plans and menu decisions, and I told her that I’d be going away for the first meal.
She was hurt. It’s family time. Why do I want to spend time away from my family during family time?
I was apprehensive (okay, terrified) enough, about pretty much everything about these two days, not to realize I should lielielie at this point.
“Of course I want to be with family,” I said (though there was no of course about it for me, so I guess I did lie at least a little bit). “But you know how it can get, with so many people in such a small house, and our family can get pretty loud and nuts – I just figure I’ll most likely want a little escape.”
That didn’t go over very well, and as she continued pressing me about why my family induces escape-reflex, I in desperation blurted out that I wasn’t frum, that that’s what I want to get away from.
Flawed reasoning – that certainly took her attention away from me wanting to get away from my family, but it brought a whole new set of problems.
So when I woke up the morning after the first Seder, I was already subdued, with a roiling pit of snakes where my stomach should be. My mother was always up early on yom tov, and I knew she’d be waiting to say goodbye to me when I left.
As I prepared to go, I shot off one last text to a school friend – probably something like “once more unto the breach.”
The night before, I had left the Seder table numerous times to go sneak a look at email, Facebook, text messages. I kept the phone hidden in my bag with the ringer turned to silent so my sisters, whose room I was sleeping in, wouldn’t hear it vibrate and realize I hadn’t turned it off before yom tov.
At night, after the Seder, I continued texting under my blanket, but I couldn’t figure out how to stop the vibrations each time I pressed a letter. So I was typing very very slowly…
But as I stuck my phone into my bag again and prepared to leave for the day, I realized what I was doing. I was cutting myself off from everything in the outside world for a full day – I wasn’t going to get home until late at night.
The friend I was going to was one of the few who knew I wasn’t frum. She was at her parents for Pesach, with her husband and baby, and she had invited me with the full knowledge of how I would use the invitation – as a getaway from the stress of pretending with my family.
Unfortunately, I had focused on that and forgotten that I’d have to pretend at her parents too. We hadn’t discussed what’s okay and what’s not before yom tov, and of course I couldn’t call her now to ask.
At that point, when I’d been “out” only a few months and barely anyone knew, I didn’t even know where to start thinking about juggling all this. I was confused about how to deal with going back at all – I stayed away a lot because I couldn’t figure it out.
So I hadn’t thought ahead enough to realize I would probably want my phone with me when I walked to her parents’ house the first day.
As wonderful as my friend was being, I needed to hang onto “this is not me anymore.” When I was still pretending so successfully, it was important to hold onto a sense of myself and my choices, and having contact with the “outside world” was crucial.
I stuck my phone into my jacket pocket.
My mother waved me off at the door, asked when I’ll be back, was disappointed when I said late that night and that I wouldn’t walk back immediately after the meal.
I didn’t check the phone as I walked through the streets of Boro Park and then Midwood. Dressed as conspicuously frum as I was, I knew the throngs of frum people walking to and from shul and family would notice a frum girl with a phone in her hand on the first day of Pesach.
But I kept slipping my hand into my pocket and closing my fingers around the phone, just to have a tangible reminder that I don’t have to belong here if I don’t want to.
I got to my friend’s parents’ place and said hi to her, to her mother, cooed over her baby. I shrugged out of my jacket, and my friend, holding a hanger, reached for it.
I tried to stop her – there was a phone in the pocket, it was muktzah, she can’t move the jacket…
But her mother was standing there and chatting with me, and I knew if her mother knew I wasn’t frum, she’d freak out about having me at the seudah.
So I said nothing, but felt my insides dropping out once again as I watched my frum friend, who invited her OTD friend out of sympathy, be mechalel yom tov without knowing it.
The meal and the subsequent afternoon were great. But at the back of my mind was a constant sense of having betrayed my friend.
That hasn’t stopped bothering me in the two and a half years since it happened.