Like Kings

Kadesh (sanctify)

When Sharon Yarden walks in, you notice first that he looks clean. Not clean like the opposite of dirty but clean like an impeccably-folded sheet in a Tide commercial. He’s wearing a white linen shirt with thin blue stripes and a knit yarmulke. A silver band around one of his fingers. The smell of just-cut lemons, and you wonder whether it’s his detergent or his actual skin. The wondering embarrasses you. You back away, ears thumping in anticipation, letting Guy and Rebecca do the greeting, and retreat to the kitchen to chop horseradish root, a task no one has asked you to complete.

You hear Sharon’s thank you for having me from the next room. His voice still soft, accent detectable around its very edges. You inhale the bitter as you chop. Sharon asks a question you can’t make out, and you hear someone say Ethan. At the sound of your own name you blink, feeling like you’re being introduced to yourself for the first time.

Urchatz (wash)

You shake Sharon’s hand with the firm and muscular handshake you have learned certain men prefer. He shakes back, all vigor.

“It’s good to see you, man.” Claps you hard on the back. Sharon has changed since the seventh grade, you note. Ridiculous, because of course he has, but here you are in a time warp, so you think it anyway. He’s confident but relaxed. Broader. Still lithe, and definitely not tall, but on Sharon’s muscular frame, delicate seems less fragile and more lupine. “How’s it been?”

“It’s been good,” you say quickly, going for casual, impressive. “How’s it been with you?”

“Great,” he says. He looks you up and down, not shy about it. You fixate on the small silver chain around his neck. “You look well,” he says. Not good, but well, and you instantly remember how formal Sharon used to sound when he spoke.

“Thank you.” You stand up straighter, wanting to have earned the compliment. You don’t look him up and down—you certainly haven’t earned that—but you look long enough to take in what he’s wearing, and how he wears it. “So do you,” you say, quietly willing him to know that you mean it.

Something has equalized you now, you and Sharon. You both have adult hands. You’re wearing your favorite green jacket and brown wingtips and, at thirty-two, you feel spiritually tall, like you’ve lived something of a life. Sharon’s toothy grin is easy, and he meanders over to Guy, congratulating him on the new house. You stay put and shove those adult hands into your adult pockets.

Karpas (spring greens)

Nothing says spring like a bouquet of lilies, said the florist when you asked what flowers you should bring to a Passover dinner. You chose a bunch of pink and yellow ones to bring to Guy and Rebecca’s. Guy wouldn’t know a lily from a hamburger, but Rebecca would have been insulted by a sheaf of grocery store carnations, so you feel like you’ve achieved something when Rebecca compliments your floral taste. “You know,” you parrot, “nothing says spring like a bouquet of lilies.”

“I don’t know,” says Sharon. He still speaks with his front teeth. “Parsley says spring pretty loudly, too.” You are seated directly across from him and you look down at your plate, trying to come up with a charming response. You can’t. You find yourself wishing he’d take you into the kitchen, tell you how he’s really doing and how he really feels seeing you like this after so many years. He doesn’t. The parsley makes its way around the table, followed by a small bowl of salt water. There is a brief discussion about whether it would be cool or weird to attend a holiday gathering and present a bouquet of herbs as a gift instead of flowers.

“I think it would be really nice,” says Rebecca. “Unexpected.” Despite the fact that Guy and Rebecca just moved into this house two and a half months ago, Rebecca already has an entire herb garden out back, and would have no use for a bouquet of chives, but she doesn’t mention this. She is gracious, humble without being self-effacing, and you are still sometimes surprised that she married your old friend, a tech guy whose wardrobe is entirely plaid and khaki and who still unironically listens to Weezer.

Guy, formerly Gavi, got even deeper into God after an already-God-heavy high school career, and then skipped college in favor of three additional years in an American yeshiva in Israel. You tried to convince him to pick a yeshiva in New York—there’s a global boycott, you said. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? There was a short eruptive argument, until Guy said we don’t talk about this, remember, so we don’t kill each other? Off to Israel he flew.

You weren’t in touch with him much during those years—some combination of avoidance and laziness—but he finally returned to Boston, light-deprived and burnt out. Me and God might need some space, he told you, and you tried to keep your face neutral as he did. Listless and restless on your couch, scrolling for jobs and new crushes on the internet, he happened upon an organic farm in upstate New York that was taking volunteers. It was the un-Guy-est thing he could have chosen to do, but he was in a state, so off he went for three weeks of cow-milking. Rebecca, the director of education there, found Guy standing uselessly one morning in the middle of a barn full of pigs, overwhelmed by the screeching and a general sense of treyf. You seem lost, she said, probably charmed by Guy’s befuddlement and big earnest eyes. Guy worshipped Rebecca instantly, followed her back to Brooklyn, leaving God at the farm to find his own way home. Now, Guy is completing a computer science degree. Rebecca is executive director of a culinary community center that pairs cooking classes with agricultural education. She has two master’s degrees and a podcast where she interviews do-gooder celebrity chefs.

“I think parsley would be cool,” says Guy, smiling good-heartedly. He opens a second bottle of wine. As if invited, the smell of the chicken soup Rebecca has simmering on the stove wafts in like an affirmation.

Yachatz (break the middle matzo)

At Rebecca’s request, you do the honors, picking up the three-stack of matzo from the table and breaking the middle one, leaving the top and bottom matzos intact. It represents brokenness, your rabbis always said, like Leonard Cohen’s “crack in everything that lets the light in”, your later rabbis always told you. The funkier and more progressive ones, the ones who quoted Mary Oliver in high holiday sermons and belonged to CSAs. Not the rabbis of your youth, furrow-browed indoor men in layers of black who said the broken middle matzo was about the destruction of the temple, or the rot wrought by diaspora. Every year, new explanations. Maybe it’s about mental health, or maybe it’s about oppression, or maybe it’s about capitalism, or that old Jewish text that says ‘there’s nothing more whole than a broken heart,’ the Seder a carnival of infinite interpretations. At the Seder, everyone’s a rabbi.

You, distinctly, are not a rabbi. Your father, as it happens, is a rabbi of the most formidable and bearded variety, but you rarely speak to him anymore, and you’re certain he has never read a contemplative contemporary poem or sampled a breakfast radish. Your mother left your father and his inelastic version of observant Judaism when you were six. She still sent you to Jewish day school, though—that way, you would still stay connected to your heritage, she thought. So, your schooling, while pious, was almost incidental. Meantime, your mother got involved in social justice work and married a woman. They are still rooted in Orthodox community, Rita and your mother, surrounding themselves with people who keep kosher and light the candles on Friday come sundown, but are otherwise social and political misfits.

You are supposed to break the matzo not in half, but into two unequal parts, one slightly bigger than the other. You overdo it, breaking off only a sliver, leaving the piece that constituted the majority of the matzo to be hidden somewhere in the house for the afikomen ritual later in the night. You wrap the unwieldy half in your cloth napkin and hand it to Guy.

“That’s going to be hard for Ethan to hide,” says Sharon.

You feel it in your whole body when Sharon says your name. Like an indictment and an endearment at once, accusation and sweet nothing. “I’m good at hiding unwieldy things,” you say, and it comes out quiet. You want it to sound lighthearted, like a joke, but it doesn’t, and in response, Sharon’s eyes narrow slightly into a look you can’t translate.

The silence between you spikes for only a moment before Rebecca gamely offers to hide it herself, remarking that the curved sliver of matzo you’ve left behind looks like a new moon. Guy disagrees, says it looks more like a giant fingernail. “That’s gross,” Rebecca says, but she is laughing, and everyone else joins her, relieved.

Magid (the story)

Here is the story: Sharon started at your school on the first day of seventh grade, just moved from Houston, the only place where his dad could find a job when they moved to the United States from Israel.

Sharon’s not a boy’s name, said Avi Fisher, who bore a twisted resemblance to Adam Sandler and whose clownish sneer is still imprinted on your brain. It’s gay. The more popular boys—the ones who wore Billabong and boat shoes and had traveled to places most of the other Orthodox kids at your school had never been or even heard of—echoed Avi. Sharon is gay, Sharon is gay. They pronounced it Sharon, like Sharon Stone. And there was Sharon, petite and dark-eyed, green polo shirt, curly black hair and long eyelashes that didn’t help his case.

Distinctly, for whatever reason, you saw Sharon look directly at you.

Sha-RON, you bellowed, right on cue, not SHA-ron. And it’s not cool to use gay as an insult. Avi looked at you, blank bro comedy face frozen into a grimace. He didn’t get why you weren’t more afraid, or why the word gay shouted so many times by so many boys in one stuffy hallway hadn’t yet effectively blown up the school. Then the morning teacher strode over in her khaki skirt, blouse buttoned all the way up to her earrings, face pursed and head vigorously shaking all the way over to where you stood. That’s not how we speak, Avi. Zeh lo lefi kvodecha, she said, Hebrew for this is below your honor. You weren’t sure it was below Avi Fisher’s honor, actually.

It’s Sha-RON, the morning teacher said, and, internally, you rolled your eyes, thinking, I’ve already covered this. The morning teacher squared her shoulders. Sharon, like the prime minister of Israel, like this was a proud thing, but you were at the ready. Seventh grade, somehow, you were fearless. Ariel Sharon is evil, you recited. He hates Palestinians. Ever since last summer, when Sharon infamously visited the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, your mother and Rita had been protesting weekly, embattled by their families. At best, theirs were fringe views, said the uncles and the cousins. At worst, they were betrayers of their community. You already understood that what you’d just said was more controversial than Avi calling the new boy gay, but you also knew you were the only one in that entire school who would say it. The morning teacher’s face clouded over, her eyebrows turned in on themselves. That will not be tolerated here, she said. Israel must protect herself and Ariel Sharon is a Jewish hero. Go to Rabbi Kahn’s office and tell him what you said. He’ll teach you what it means to fight for your people’s survival.

You didn’t go to Rabbi Kahn’s office because you weren’t interested in this lesson. Instead, you tracked Sharon down at recess. He was standing in one corner of the shabby field, kicking at pebbles with the toe of one sneaker.

Hi, you said. My moms are gay. Which you immediately realized wasn’t the best opener, since Sharon looked up at you with an unmistakable expression of fear. You were used to needing to change the subject, so you did. Want to shoot hoops? You weren’t great at sports, but you also weren’t afraid of the mean boys or their put-on prowess. I do not know how, said Sharon, sounding it out like a proclamation, and you thought, you won’t do well here unless you’re willing to try, but instead you said, I’ll show you. You were willing to try, after all, and you liked feeling the expert. You showed him a lay-up. He threw the ball across the court at waist level, weak as a soap pump. Okay, you said, watching the other boys watch you and Sharon. That’s enough for today.

In this way, you became Sharon’s companion. Companion more than friend, because friend would have required a kind of mutual choosing. You were socially flexible, a maverick, which made you uncommon for an Orthodox seventh-grade boy. Sometimes, you hung out with the more yeshivish boys—the ones who chose to stay in the beis midrash during recess to brush up on Talmud. Sometimes, with the boys who didn’t quite fit, the ones people whispered about—boys whose parents were broke or single or dead, who still had to share rooms with siblings, the ones who’d been thrown out of other yeshivas for using or dealing hard drugs or even soft ones. Sometimes, you hung around the boys you could take at face value. Unlike the Avi Fisher set, these guys hadn’t already spent a dozen winters in Vail or summers doing Kosher tours of Paris. They skewed nerdy, enjoyed class as much as they enjoyed basketball, and wore their tzitzis hanging out of their polo shirts. On the courts, they were nice to you, even if you missed an easy shot. You weren’t a threat to them.

You weren’t a threat to anyone, really. You just seemed unafraid, and, in your world, unfear was scarce, a superpower. This is why Sharon chose you. He needed a protector. He needed what you had. In seventh grade, in yeshiva, there was only so much to go around, and your bravado was paydirt.

A week later, at lunch, Sharon said, You really think Ariel Sharon is evil? Each word soft and labored through gapped front teeth. Yeah, you said. Sharon’s mouth rounded into a little O. How can you say that? You know I am Israeli? It was the closest Sharon would come to a challenge. Yeah, you said. But the government of Israel mistreats Palestinians. You’d heard your mother say it enough times. And violence is not a Jewish value. Sharon looked like he might cry. I am Israeli. This time he said it like he was reminding himself. You felt a little guilty telling him the truth, yanking away what he had. It was his identity here. Already, in Hebrew class, he’d been given a special guest spot to present about the short story the class was reading—a story about an impoverished mystic who befriended all of the neighborhood stray cats because he knew that, secretly, they were ancient prophets incarnate—since his mother, a teacher, knew the man who wrote it. Sharon is Israeli, the Hebrew teacher said proudly, rolling her r’s exaggeratedly. I know you’re Israeli, you said. Just think about it. An appeal you’d heard your mother use on her conservative older brother countless times, though, admittedly, you’d never heard it work. Sharon looked down at his Tupperware. Its contents looked adult—vegetables and grains—and smelled pickled. He picked up a small plastic fork and took a bite. He didn’t speak again until the teacher came over and told you both to wrap up, it was time for afternoon prayer.

Rachtzah (wash)

Handwashing, you think, like handwriting, can be so revealing. Rebecca gently places her rings sinkside, pointing her slender hands one after the other into the stream of water like a dance. Guy washes as quickly as he can, drying his hands on his pant legs instead of the towel, like he’s in a rush to get somewhere other than just his own table. Sharon, for all his aggressive handshaking, turns his hands in the water, slowly, as if carefully considering them.

Weeks ago, when Rebecca said let’s do a low-key second night Seder, just the three of us, and Ethan, bring whoever you want to, you thought it sounded like a great idea. Rebecca and Guy had just moved, and you knew you’d need an unwind edition after your mother and Rita’s annual rambunctious first night Seder, twenty of their dearest friends around their dining room table. Weeks ago, you were still seeing Leila, and things were at that critical juncture—post-casual and possibly pre-serious. It was the end of March, everything getting legitimately springy—temperature teasing the sixties, breeze threaded through with honeysuckle—when you began the process of revealing to Leila that, for an Orthodox family, your family was pretty unorthodox. This was a line you gave yourself permission to use only once on every woman you dated, and Leila seemed intrigued enough to joke about the prospect of being your Seder date. She said she’d have to whip you with her bundle of leeks, in accordance with her Persian Jewish family’s tradition. I’d be okay with that, you’d said, trying to seem casual. Bringing someone home to Seder in your family was as good as broadcasting you guys, this is the one I’m going to marry, but this part, you didn’t tell Leila.

When Leila broke up with you two weeks later—I’m not looking for something so serious, she’d said, and you wondered whether she meant someone so serious—you called Guy to say you’d be coming to Seder alone. Guy tried to cheer you up, promising they’d invite someone else so you wouldn’t be a third wheel. You hadn’t expected that the someone would be Sharon Yarden. Last you’d heard—and, honestly, you tried not to pay too much attention—Sharon was living in New York and was involved in founding some niche startup of which you only vaguely understood the contours.

Motzi Matzo (bread)

The process of baking matzo is one not of grace, but of sheer speed. The total time elapsed, from the moment you start kneading until the moment you slide the matzo into the oven, should be exactly eighteen minutes. The ancient Jews didn’t have eighteen minutes to wait around, so they ate unleavened bread as they fled the Pharaoh’s armies. Bread of simplicity, bread of affliction, bread of the earth, bread of barest minimum. At the Seder, everyone is a minimalist.

Over the course of the evening, you have learned the bare following about current Sharon Yarden: he is a vegetarian; he lifts weights, has since his time in the army; he is only in town briefly, and for business; and he doesn’t have any friends in Boston, so he was extremely grateful to get Rebecca and Guy’s invitation. He and Guy became friendly when Guy was in Israel those years ago. Sharon grins a lot, seems less afraid of keeping his lips shut. His manner is unhurried. He sips, he doesn’t talk while chewing. He says thank you like someone who has plenty. Like someone who’s run out of apology.

Maror (bitter herbs)

The teachers eventually came to understand that you and Sharon were a matched set, so they paired you up for everything that required pairing. You didn’t mind—the other boys’ judgments slid off you. Sharon, though, still cowered in the hallways. He needed you more than you needed him, and besides, admittedly, you’d become somewhat attached to his quiet manner, his loyalty, how big and toothy his smile got when he got excited.

Last day of seventh grade everyone got clean-up tasks, and you and Sharon got paired up to shelve the dusty boxes of old prayer books gathered from each classroom.

Here, you said, pointing Sharon to a box of the burgundy ones, yellowy pages so hair-thin, they might disintegrate. Work on these. Sometimes, you felt like you had to give Sharon explicit instructions. You wished he could self-direct a little bit more, to use one of Rita’s favorite phrases. Rita was a social worker. Her other favorite was self-soothe.

I can’t reach, said Sharon, and you turned to find him standing on his toes, one pilly sneaker untied, reaching for the highest shelf. You came up behind him. Here, you said, taking the heavy pair of books from him and depositing them on the top shelf. You weren’t used to being so close to Sharon—your mouth inches from the back of his neck. His black curls were oil-slick and he smelled like Johnson’s baby shampoo and sweat. Right then, Sharon reached back and grabbed your hand. What, you said, your whole body tightening. His hand was small, sticky and a bit chalky from touching all those old books. He held tight without letting go. You stood there for some blurry period of time, prayer books in stacks around your feet, his fingers braiding through yours. He turned to face you then, still holding. His eyes narrowed with focus, lashes downward, skin so quiet it almost faded into the light behind it. Everything about Sharon was soft, too soft. Your lips felt chapped and the room was stuffy and you didn’t know how to move, didn’t exactly want to, until you could finally get your dry mouth to say okay and unthreaded your fingers from his. Okay, he said, resigned to something, a wet enunciation of both syllables.

In the carpool line for the year’s final pick-up, the rowdier boys high-fived each other gleefully as they slid into waiting cars. You waited for Rita and, just feet away from you, Sharon Yarden stood pigeon-toed, his left sneaker still untied. Etan, he said, which is how he insisted on saying your name, the modern Hebrew way. What? You were uncommonly nervous, eager for Rita to pull up so you could get home. I’ll see you next year, said Sharon. He seemed to find this very funny, and giggled, a giggle so songlike, it might sooner come out of the mouth of a bird. I’ll see you next year, you repeated, surprised by the feeling you wanted to hug him, and weakly waving instead.

In the car home, Rita talked a lot, like she did. About ice cream, about summer plans, about who to invite for Shabbos dinner. In the passenger seat, you were quiet. Nothing happened, you reminded yourself. But there is a kind of nothing that changes everything. Maybe there’s a different name for it, but you didn’t know it then. You still don’t.

Korech (sandwich)

Everyone is getting progressively tipsier. Guy is pontificating about the Hillel sandwich, as he heaps romaine leaves and horseradish root on a piece of matzo already spread with charoset.

“Really, you guys,” he says. “Why is this sandwich good? The ingredients are objectively gross, and yet somehow, it’s delicious.”

“Ah!” you say, wine-emboldened and pounding on the table, rabbinically, like your father used to. “The real Pesach question!” You glance over at Sharon. He is smiling as he makes his sandwich, and your chest loosens.

“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say delicious,” Sharon says. His ritual matzo sandwich is neatly made somehow, perfectly proportioned. “But it’s oddly not terrible.”

“Delicious or not,” says Rebecca, spooning extra charoset onto her sandwich, “I’m a lifelong advocate for the fine art of the sandwich, so I’m always pretty gratified that sandwich-making is a ritual requirement for our people.”

Sharon bites into his sandwich first, a small, contained bite. You marvel at this. It’s impossible to eat a matzo sandwich neatly, but you’re realizing that everything Sharon does seems airbrushed. Guy bites into his, and the matzo crumbs explode so aggressively that some of them land on you, all the way across the table. A glob of charoset dives directly from the inside of his sandwich to the middle of his white shirt. Everyone loses it, Rebecca’s head thrown back, Guy grinning and pink-faced, and for a second, you’re looking at Sharon and he’s looking back at you. His eyelashes, still. You’re both laughing, and wine blossoms up through your neck. You are suddenly seized by the thought I missed you, though that’s not exactly true; Sharon was never quite yours to miss.

At your mother and Rita’s the night before, when you got to the Hillel sandwich section of the Seder, the conversation turned to the meaning of middles. The sandwich, of course, is all about what’s in the middle, said someone. But also, the middle has just been broken, said someone else. The middle is full, the middle is broken, which is it? Everyone shrugged merrily and clinked glasses. The Seder, a procession of contradictions.

Middles feel tricky. Your memory always sags somewhere in there. Or fractures. Hard to tell which analogy is better: the light coming in or the light having zero chance of making it through all those fixings. For you, the beginning feels strong, and the end fairly clear, but something in the middle does feel akin to broken. Maybe you’re a rabbi now, too, you think.

“It’s so time to eat,” says Rebecca.

“Thank God,” you say, and you mean it.

Shulchan Orech (meal)

The summer after seventh grade, you went to Camp Ohel, a very religious all-boys’ sleep-away camp. It was even more traditional than your school was, so your mother and Rita weren’t crazy about it. You won’t fit in, your mother said. It’s so old-world. None of those boys will have ever met a gay person. Maybe you could do a county sports camp? You insisted. You knew you might not fit in at Camp Ohel, but you weren’t that concerned. You were used to being the one with the gay moms and the controversial opinions. You didn’t need people to agree with you; you just wanted to be a part of things. You were brazen for an Orthodox seventh grader; a blazing integrity you didn’t yet understand. But you’d throw yourself into a brick wall if it meant you could be in the game. You were game, is what. You just didn’t want the game happening without you.

Opening day at Camp Ohel, you strolled onto the big field where all the boys were gathered to meet for the first time. You leaned into your practiced saunter, buoyant on the soles of new gray hi-tops. You stood inside a crowd of new boy energy, all talking and pushing and elbows. You rotated slowly, scanning the new faces, trying to figure out who you wanted to talk to first. And then your eyes flashed to one corner of the field. There, in a light blue polo shirt and khaki pants instead of shorts, stood Sharon Yarden, shielding his eyes from the sun.

It would be too simple to pinpoint this moment as the moment your fearlessness began to devolve into something far more common. But the inside of your mouth felt prickly and dry, same as when Sharon took your hand in the beis midrash two weeks prior. Briefly, your eyes fell directly on him—his eager face, the coiled hair whose slightly soapy smell you’d by now memorized—and, without time for deliberation, your body decided. You continued to rotate, looking through Sharon, past Sharon, turning around and around until you noticed a group of boys huddled together, most of them wearing velvet yarmulkes, showing off their sneakers. Hey, you said, jogging up like they were already your best friends. Hey, nice Vans, said one of them. Easy.

Behind you, you could feel Sharon still standing at the edge of the field, no doubt still waiting for you to turn to face him. You leaned into this new cluster of boys, smells of rubber and sweat and grass and hot dust rising up from the middle of the circle, everyone shouting about which sports they’d signed up for and which bunks they were in. Silently, you prayed Sharon wasn’t in your bunk. You waited a long time before turning around, long enough that you thought Sharon would have to have walked off, tired of waiting.

Somewhere between your stomach and your chest, a feeling you didn’t recognize.

It was a challenge to pretend someone didn’t exist for an entire summer, but once you’d started—once you’d looked through Sharon instead of directly at, let him fade into the afternoon light and made a ghost of him—you had to stick to your story: you didn’t know Sharon Yarden; never had. You tumbled through the summer with the group of velvet-yarmulked boys who’d invited you into their circle on that first day, wrestling and swimming and shooting hoops between Torah study sessions. They didn’t seem to mind that you wore a knit yarmulke, or that sometimes, when it fell off during particularly aggressive games, you didn’t even bother putting it back on.

It took choreography. You chose the most athletic activities, knowing Sharon wouldn’t. You stayed close to your crew at camp-wide assemblies, focused on the front of the room to avoid risk of accidental eye contact. You timed your arrival at meals so that you walked in after Sharon did and could seat yourself across the room from him. You tried to focus on the new, to pretend that your steadfast seventh-grade companion simply no longer existed, but every once in a while, you snuck a look. One time, you saw Sharon sitting with another boy at the end of a table. They were poring over the same book, neither of them wearing a yarmulke at all, and you wondered how Sharon—whose family was quite secular—ended up at this camp at all. How he ended up at your yeshiva to begin with, actually. The next time you noticed Sharon, he was with the same boy—a wiry redhead in blue plastic glasses. Serial monogamist, you thought—another Rita phrase. As you understood it, this meant you were intensely interested in one person at a time, and then you moved on to another. Never mind that you were the only one who had done any moving.

For a few days after that first one, there were times you could feel Sharon’s eyes on you. At a certain point, though, something shifted. You knew, somehow, that Sharon had given up and stopped looking. Stopped trying to make you see him as a prospect of any kind, and then stopped trying to make you see him at all.

Tzafun (hide)

Guy proposes that everyone find the afikomen together.

“But I hid it,” says Rebecca.

“True,” says Guy. “We’ll look and you can tell us if we’re hot or cold.”

“Cold,” says Rebecca, as we move toward the kitchen.

“Warm,” says Rebecca, as we move back toward the dining the room, into the living room. “Hot, hotter,” she says. You lift one of the couch cushions. Guy scours the bookshelf. You follow Sharon to a large plant on a plant stand. He puts one hand on top and one hand on the bottom of the pot, slowly tipping it.

“You need help with that, big guy?” Guy is tipsy, jovial.

Rebecca comes up behind him. “Scalding!”

Sharon tips the planter, and, right underneath it, you see the edge of the napkin that contains the large piece of middle matzo you broke off earlier. You reach around Sharon, careful not to touch, and slide the matzo out. You hold it up like a football as everyone joyously overreacts. You feel like you’ve found something, but you know you haven’t really found anything. Or, maybe you have, but it wasn’t yours to find.

Barech (bless)

For dessert, Rebecca has made a plum upside-down cake out of almond flour, and she serves it with vanilla ice cream. It is outrageously good, and Sharon says as much. A gracious guest.

You get up to help clear the table, but Rebecca shoos you back to your seat. “Stop it,” she says. “You and Sharon are the guests. You guys relax, finish dessert, catch up on old times.”

You and Sharon stay. He’s made good work of his cake and ice cream, but you’re still working on yours, and are suddenly very aware of the act of chewing. What do you want to have happen now, anyway? Small talk? Absolution? Something in the middle?

You wonder whether Sharon even remembers. Sometimes, you fantasize that your actions that summer were so bold and willful that they created an alternate reality where you never came to Sharon’s defense in that hallway; where Sharon never grabbed your hand by the siddurim; where you never actually went to the same strange and uptight summer camp; where Sharon didn’t transfer schools the following year for reasons no one was clear about; where you were, in fact, able to bounce back from the exhausting guilt of such a needlessly cruel charade, and didn’t spend your eighth grade year getting acquainted with fear, shyness, and intimidation at the hands of tougher boys—things that had never touched you before; and where you didn’t also finally transfer schools yourself, begging your mother and Rita to get you out of that place without being able to explain your hurry.

The new school was more progressive—there were girls, even—but there, you felt translucent, and the formerly-confident bounce of your hi-tops would mostly only carry you from one class to another. You walked around that year feeling full of something knuckly and unwelcome: nervous and guilty, some worried mix of the two.

You got good grades, though, mostly moved through this murky transformation with an inexplicable sense of focus. Had you acted cruelly? Did you even know what was true anymore? It didn’t matter, you told yourself. You would focus on world geography, on English. Your mother and Rita planned a family trip to Cape Cod for the first week of the summer, and you began counting down the days. You got mostly A’s, one B.

“So,” you say, hardly able to remember yourself back into an impossible present where you and Sharon Yarden are eating dessert together, “what else is new?” Trying to sound cool, never your strong suit. Under the table, your fingers meet one another, each hand trying to pull something useful out of the other. You are trying to channel the person you were back when you knew Sharon. Intrepid. Unafraid.

“Well,” says Sharon, scooping up the end of his ice cream. “I live in Brooklyn now—Williamsburg, if you know it. I moved around the East Coast a bit after college but I love living in the city, and now, I really can’t imagine leaving. I manage the company I started. We make eco-friendly fitness gear and running clothes.”

“Wow,” you say, genuinely impressed. “You own a company.” You are currently waffling about your own work, uninspired by your day job at a public transit non-profit where you write and edit grants, and are considering going back to school, though you aren’t quite sure for what. You don’t say any of this. “When did you start the business?”

“About six years ago,” says Sharon. “My husband is a long-distance runner, so it was his idea.” He laughs a little. “He’s a good influence on me. But I have the business brain, so I handle that end of things.”

Husband. Between your ribs, something tightens, scrambling for the right words, and lands somewhere close to the opposite of I told you so.

“That makes sense,” you say uselessly. “Your parents are doing well?” Wrong question, you think immediately. Too weirdly adult, too familiar—you never even met Sharon’s parents.

Something on Sharon’s face says he sees through it. He fixes his eyes on you, smiling, teasing a little bit. “My parents are fine, Etan.” He doesn’t bother to reciprocate with a polite and yours, for which you are grateful.

And there, like that, your name, the way only Sharon ever said it.

Hallel (praise)

“Fourth cup time,” Rebecca says. Everyone groans. “This time around, let’s pour for one another. It’s something to make us feel like kings and queens. Because now we’re free.”

“I don’t know if we need to feel like kings to be free, though,” says Sharon, and everyone looks at him. “Let’s do away with kings. Let’s be…”

“Wind,” you say, and it just comes out of your tipsy mouth before you know what it means. “We can pour each other wine like we’re the wind.” Your guard momentarily dropped, you worry you sound like an unhinged hippie. Something giggles up from your throat.

“Yes,” says Sharon. “The wind isn’t bound by physical space. It’s just…”

“Elemental,” you say, enjoying finishing Sharon’s sentences under the sugary haze of too much kosher wine after midnight. It’s shockingly intimate. You remember petite Sharon, standing in the playground, terrified by your gay mothers and your critiques of the Israeli government. And here he is, anti-imperialist of this year’s Seder, uncorking the final bottle, lifting it directly over your cup.

“May I?” Sharon starts pouring before you can answer. “Tell me when.”

You let him pour and let him keep pouring, let the cup fill to almost the tension point. “When,” you say, which has always felt like a funny way to say stop, because when is a question.

Nirtzah (sing)

Your newer rabbis—the ones who strum guitars during their Friday night services and reference meditation podcasts in their sermons—offer new interpretations of the song “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim.” We sing ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ but Jerusalem isn’t just a city in the Middle East, they say. Where do you want to be in the coming year, spiritually? But often, for them, it’s an exercise in interpretation or poetry—nothing more politically significant.

For you, though, the stakes feel higher. Next year in Jerusalem needs to mean something different: something about justice, something about collective spiritual survival. It needs to mean something diasporic, something boundless. Forget homeland. You want to change the narrative. For home to mean something else entirely. You don’t know what yet, but you’ve always been willing to stick around for the trying to figure it out. At the drowsy end of your childhood Seders, your father pounded his fist on the table to start the song, the one that so famously kicks off the last section of the ritual. When Moshiach comes, we’ll all be in Jersualem together, he’d say, closing his eyes and smiling so hard you thought maybe a part of him was there already, dancing with the Messiah.

Rebecca asks that everyone go around and say what Jerusalem means for them. Where do they want to be next year?

“Next year? For me? I want to be having Seder with my baby son,” says Guy, pink-cheeked and without hesitation.

Rebecca jumps in quickly, shooting Guy the kind of look that is reserved for people who have been very close for a very long time. “This is not an announcement,” she says to us, rolling her eyes but smiling still.

“For me,” she says. “I want a more just world. One where we’re not destroying the planet and one another. Also, for our garden to have tripled in size.” She lifts her near-empty glass. “Honestly, we should make this a tradition. It’s been so nice. Sharon, will you come back to Boston next year? And bring Ben next time, too?”

Sharon lifts his glass, too—empty, and Guy dutifully tops him off, because bad luck—and nods. “Of course,” he says, smiling. “Next year again, right here.”

Guy looks at Rebecca, drunk and doe-eyed. “I promise I would only make the baby drink three of the four cups.” Rebecca exaggerates a glare. You think about your own parents, how you never understood how they connected across all of that difference, much less got married, even for a brief period of time. Guy and Rebecca have something. You’re just not sure what something is.

Rebecca turns to you, passing the implied question. You feel Sharon’s eyes on you and you want to say I’m sorry or ask me anything or when did you know.

“Well first,” you say, breathing in, knowing you’re pushing it in this household. “L’chayim to the end of the Israeli occupation. To a next year that means liberation for everyone, not just for some.” Daring yourself, you raise your glass. You look around. Rebecca raises her glass immediately. Guy, to your surprise, lifts his glass slightly off the table, though he is giving you a look while he does it. You look at Sharon. Sharon looks back at you, lifts his glass high. “L’chayim to that,” he says, and you will yourself to mask your surprise. You breathe out. Against all your impulses, you clink your glass to his, and then to Rebecca’s, and then to Guy’s, feeling, if even for a giddy hopeful second, like you’re on the inside of a promise.

Sharon looks around the small table. “For me,” he says. “Every year it’s gotten better.” He is looking not at you but over your head as he speaks. “I am always more myself, and always surprised. Here’s to more of that next year. Surprising ourselves, again and again.” He lifts his glass again. “Like this little gathering, right? So lovely, and nothing if not surprising.” He downs the rest of his wine.

By the time Guy and Rebecca open the door and usher you and Sharon back out into the night, it’s after one in the morning. You, bleary and wine-warm; Sharon, in a spring jacket, taking out his car keys. For the first time that evening, he looks a little uncertain.

I’m so sorry, you think again, but in this moment, you don’t even know which part you’d be sorry for, so, still, even now, you don’t say it. Are you sorry? You pocket the unaskable question.

“It’s funny to see you,” you say, hoping it doesn’t come out unkind.

“Yes,” Sharon says, the syllable slow and formal through his teeth, just like you remember. “It’s something.”

A shift in his expression then, and he’s looking at you differently than he has all night. You’re both standing alone on the front step, Guy and Rebecca’s silhouettes inside, moving from the dining room to the kitchen, cleaning up.

“Sharon,” you say, and it feels odd to say his name out loud. The muscle memory of it in your mouth, emphasis on that second syllable, for all of the Avi Fishers of the world. Saying his name feels too familiar, a privilege you’ve long lost. Wait, you think. Wait.

He looks at you. He is close, facing you, smell of some warmer citron now—maybe tangerine, or maybe you’re drunk. A light breeze crosses between you and you can see the tips of his teeth as he half smiles. In his eyes, though—a sharp focus, and something resembling concern. Looking at you like you’re the answer to a question that no longer haunts him.

He jangles his keys again, maybe reminding himself he was on his way somewhere. “Etan,” he says again, quietly. His voice from someplace high up, someplace you aren’t quite yet. You surprise yourself by reaching out to embrace him. No back-clapping. You feel the soft hairs on his forearms against yours, and your arms tighten around him, clasping at one another behind his back. Something found. His arms around you, too; he is quiet and warm to the touch, soft and ever softening. How long can you get away with this, you think? Relying on your arms to say what you haven’t been able to?

Sharon backs out of the embrace first, gently. He waits a moment, as the night rinses back over you both, letting you go. “See you next year,” he says quietly, then. His expression a language you don’t speak.

You blink, reset. You look at the person standing in front of you, the person you almost used to know. “See you next year,” you echo, without hesitation. You have no idea if you will, but god it feels good to say it.


An enlarged left ventricle is one of the most serious types of enlarged heart. It can result in organ failure.

We Know How It Ends

Leonie and I were twelve years old when the first girl in our grade had her Adventure.

Excerpt from Zigzags

I got the feeling everyone we knew was partially in love with her. That the two of us were alone and naked under the stars seemed to me like the most fortunate of coincidences.