Love and Circumcision

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Three love stories in New York from 2001 to 2006.

Submitted: August 06, 2013

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Submitted: August 06, 2013



Alevtina Ivanova-Poliak

Translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz






I arrived in New York fifteen years ago. What struck me in the very beginning was how much people in this country talk about sex and how little they know about it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that approximately 80 percent of male babies are circumcised, the majority in the maternity hospital, and not for religious reasons by any means but for to me mysterious hygienic ones. Tons of foreskins are thrown out every year as being something completely unnecessary and even harmful, and no one gives a second thought to why this foreskin is needed during the sex they talk so much about. "I'm so glad," I thought," that this has nothing to do with me." When suddenly my boyfriend, a perfectly grownup man, announced he wanted to be circumcised.

Here are three strange love stories, about Mark, Alex, and Chandra, the last of them about circumcision. This is not fiction. It is a report, practically a diary, about what happened to me in New York between 2001 and 2006.



A short memoir 


Why is it always the same story with me? I've never heard of anything like this happening to anyone else. Why, in the middle of a perfectly happy and ordinary romance, do I suddenly see a picture from my partner's future? It's perfectly clear what does and doesn't need to be done for that future to happen or not. So I tell him. He doesn't understand why all of a sudden he's supposed to do something, or not do something, so he gets angry and takes offense, but I persist. And our relationship is ruined.


That's how it was with Mark four years ago. We met over the Internet. At first everything's fine, we go to the movies and restaurants, we go for walks in the park. Well, we do have our spats, but then we kiss and make up, like everyone else. And suddenly I see a picture from his future. It’s not exactly a picture, it's more like a film clip or a photograph in which the characters move, like in Harry Potter.  I see Mark sitting in a wheelchair, a nurse standing next to him, and money drifting down behind his back. He's trying to grab it, but he's not doing very well, though some does fall into his arms. He looks at his pitiful catch and says angrily to the nurse, "Tell my father, tell my father. . . ." The picture's meaning is absolutely clear. It appeared right when Mark was talking about his trip to Massachusetts, where his niece was getting married.  I knew Mark's mother was somewhere in that area, in an old folks home. She’d been there for years.  I ask Mark what is from my point of view a perfectly natural question. "You must have visited your mother. How is she?" To which he unexpectedly replies, "What do you care? She was a very bad mother." Meanwhile I know that after his mother's death Mark is expecting an inheritance—$200,000—not bad money from his point of view, money that would quickly set his lamentable financial affairs aright. Mark is so convinced that the money is nearly his that he's even talked his analyst into letting him run a tab for his sessions, during which she and Mark dredge up from his subconscious his childhood relationship with his father and analyze it. The moment Mark explains why he doesn't visit his mother, I see a shiny dotted line drawn from his words to the picture where I see him in the wheelchair.

"Mark," I say, "visit your mother immediately and stop your analysis."

"Why?" he asks, surprised.

"Because otherwise you won't get that money and you'll end up in an old folks home."

"Where'd you come up with that?"

"I just saw a picture from your future, and money was drifting down behind your back and you were in a wheelchair. You can change that future if you visit your mother."

"Well, maybe," Mark reluctantly agrees, a little spooked.  "I'll do it on Thanksgiving."

"No, that will be too late," I say. "Do it now, as soon as possible."

Mark discussed what I had said with his therapist. She told him, "Under no circumstances should you interrupt your psychoanalysis. Of course you can visit your mother, there's no harm in that."

Mark's mother passed away two days before Thanksgiving. He never did visit her. I split up with him after that conversation. I had no desire whatsoever to walk hand in hand with him toward his sad future, which had now become his present. Mark never did get the money. The will had a proviso he hadn't known about. His sister was named executor of the estate, and the money was to be given to Mark only in the event of extreme necessity. Mark and his sister had sharply divergent views concerning "extreme necessity".


A Story from My Childhood

My childhood was very happy in Moscow. I never saw any pictures from the future, but as I now realize I had two unusual abilities. I often knew what might happen in the near future, and sometimes I could change that future at my discretion. At the time I thought everyone was just like me. I always got excellent grades in school, but not because I was that smart or conscientious. I always knew when I didn't have to do the homework because the teacher was going to be sick the next day or wasn't going to come to school. When I needed to work my way through twenty-five books for a literature exam, I only read two of them closely and the essay topic was drawn from one of those two books. I didn't understand why people so often complained of life's difficulties. For me, life was always easy. All I had to do was wish for something—tickets, books, an art teacher, a trip, an apartment—and a few days later someone would call and offer me exactly what I wanted. Once at the institute where I worked a rare book was being raffled off. I knew I couldn't win the raffle, but I very much wanted that book. Then I went over to a colleague and asked him, "Alexander Mikhailovich, do you need this book?"

"No," he answered.

"Please," I asked, "win this book for me."

"Fine," Alexander Mikhailovich answered readily, and he won the raffle and brought me the book.

I could even influence the weather if I wanted to for silly reasons of my own. Once my friends and I were vacationing in a village in the Crimea, on the Black Sea. It was time to leave. According to our plans we were supposed to take a ship to Odessa. But I didn't feel like leaving because I wanted to go out on one more date with a good-looking local boy. But no one had any intention of changing plans for such a frivolous reason. I realized that only a natural disaster could help me. The next day rain started coming down in such a downpour that it washed out all the roads, the busses weren't running, and we couldn't get to the ship, so we stayed in that village another week.

As a child I simply could not understand why people did things that could lead to unpleasant consequences. Of course, sometimes even I landed in a tough spot requiring all my talents and resources. Once, after a party at school, a girl I knew asked my brother to walk her home because she didn't want to go with her ex-boyfriend. I immediately knew we were in danger, but we couldn't refuse the girl. As we were walking down a deserted street, three guys suddenly appeared and started beating up my brother. I tried to protect him, but they ignored me. That's when I looked up and said distinctly and passionately, "I need a big strong man, right now, here, this very minute." And he showed up out of nowhere. It was the gym teacher from our school. He immediately took things in hand and my brother was safe.

When my papa died, my mama decided to sell the plot of land they'd owned. She loved that little garden, but she didn't have the strength to work it alone. I begged her not to do it. For some reason I was certain this would lead to nothing good. I told my mama, "Give this land to our young neighbors. They have a car, and you can keep a small piece of the land and they'll drive you there in their car."

"I'm not that rich that I can be making such expensive gifts," my practical mama replied. She sold the garden and put the money in the bank, one of the new ones that promised high interest. Two years later the bank went under and mama lost all her money.


Somehow I always knew which actions could have favorable consequences and which undesirable. I started guessing that other people didn't have that sense or intuition; they were blind and groping around in the dark.

When I was about thirty, I started seeing pictures from other people's lives. It was always unexpected, as if a movie or radio had suddenly been turned on. My first picture wasn't a picture at all but a voice. A loud and distinct voice said my neighbor was going to lose a child. I didn’t know what to do. Two weeks later I heard that my neighbor's son had died in a car wreck in Israel. I didn't even know that he had a seventeen-year-old son in Israel. I heard the voice the day that distant son bought his car.

I really didn't want to hear voices or see pictures from someone else's life. But there was nothing I could do about it. It always happened against my will. I started asking myself why I saw these pictures. Was I supposed to inform those whom this information concerned or not?


Once I fell in love at first sight. Alex and I clicked immediately. I liked to toss him new topics and watch his thoughts unfold, first lazily, as if feeling out the subject, and then suddenly popping up like a tight spring. Our stormy romance had been going on for four months when suddenly, on a fine Saturday, with the Moon in Aquarius, I saw three pictures from the future. A presentiment of something strange and wonderful had visited me that morning.

 I was in a good mood, knowing that Alex and I would be spending that day together. Alex’ presence seemed to provoke my strange gifts. We met at the Seaport and decided to go for a boat ride. I was standing on the deck looking up. A helicopter was whirling in the sky. All of a sudden, I felt as if I had been split in two. I was still standing on deck and I was simultaneously sitting in the helicopter looking at New York from above. "It's started," I thought. But this time Alex didn't sense my mood or appreciate the moment's importance. He said he needed to go to Boston to help his ex-wife deal with their troubled teenage son. "You have to stay," I said. "Together we can go higher and see more. Something utterly new and unique is happening." But Alex left on the four o'clock bus. I took the subway home, upset, but already feeling swept away by the airstreams and racing into the unknown.

An exquisite sensation of flight gripped me.  I could slip through the airstreams as if they were waves. But in a certain way I was guiding this flight. The dimension where I had landed had no distances, and time flowed differently somehow.  I could see anything I wanted. All I had to do was think of something and instantly I would be in the right place. I saw shining streams and rivers of electricity flowing from the stock exchange and weaving into complex, ever-changing patterns. But I didn't understand what this meant. If Alex had been with me he would have understood everything. As soon as I thought of Alex I saw him clearly. He was standing in a shining circle from which two major roads diverged and he was choosing which one to take. "Go higher up and look where the roads lead," I shouted to him, but he didn't hear me. I thought this picture meant that Alex was choosing a career, but later it turned out it wasn't about his profession at all. Right then, though, I was snatched up by an airstream and saw a second picture. Alex was with another woman. She was prettier and younger than I was. She did not look very happy. His fourteen-year-old son was there, too.  He had been in some kind of trouble and he was trying to catch a moment to talk to his father. Both the woman and his son were greedy for his attention, and he seemed to be torn between them and couldn't actually give either one of them enough. They were in some room. The windows were open and a fresh wind was ruffling the curtains. I think they were getting ready to go to the beach. His son was holding a ball.

A third picture followed on the heels of the second. Alex and I were walking toward some pyramid that had been lost in the jungle.  It had a large geometric drawing around its perimeter; it was very old and not very tall.  Never before had I seen pyramids like that, and I had no idea what time or culture they belonged to. Later I saw Mayan pyramids like that at Chichen Itza, in Mexico. In the picture I was impatient and excited, running ahead and then slowing down. My broad-brimmed hat blew off and flapped behind me on my back. I knew we were going to uncover some secret knowledge in the pyramid. With us were our hired guides, who were hacking our way through with a machete. Alex was walking behind, dressed in white, the sweat pouring down his face, and he was fanning himself with his hat. He was walking with measured steps, gravely, as if he never hurried anywhere and wasn't at all excited, though he was clearly in charge of the expedition. He was the one who had arranged and organized it all, figuring out our route, buying tickets, hiring guides. And here we were, nearly at our goal. Alex' eyes were shining in anticipation of a discovery, and the contented smile of the victor shone on his face.

Two months later Alex told me he was having an affair with someone else. At first I was still hoping I could somehow outlast it and the pyramid would still await us, but later I realized that the picture with the pyramid was from an alternative future that would never happen. His new affair ended quickly, and events definitely did not unfold in the pyramid direction. Alex lost his job, then found another, and moved to Boston. Every so often we corresponded.

My memories of our abortive future with the mysterious pyramid evoked bitter regrets and gave me no rest. We were so happy in that picture, successful and rich enough to allow ourselves to outfit an expedition to the pyramid. I was angry at myself for not realizing that the pictures were from two different futures; at first I'd thought, out of inertia, that I was being shown them in chronological order. The picture wasn't about choosing a profession; it was about choosing a woman. When I realized there wasn't going to be a pyramid, I took deadly offense at Alex for choosing some idiotic romance instead of the spirit of the thrilling expedition to the mysterious pyramid. But was it really his fault?

At the time of our romance Alex was living in Brooklyn and I in Queens. We liked to meet in the winter garden at the Financial Center and then go for a walk in Battery Park. We parted soon after September 11.  The fall of the Twin Towers and the end of my romance are linked forever in my memory as a single whole.

The story of the foolish affair and abortive pyramid distressed me so much that I came down with bronchitis. As always in these cases, I first visited Natasha and asked her what was wrong with me. Natasha is a healer and psychic and sees through the patient, literally. She looked at me and said, "I don't know why you're seeing pictures from another life, but those pictures are not being sent to you; you're just the transmitter. Give the information to whoever it's meant for, but try not to react emotionally; the main thing is not to try to influence decisions. Every person has to make his own decisions. If you're distressed or try to influence someone in a certain direction, you'll get sick." After that I tried, more or less successfully, to follow Natasha's advice—until I met Chandra.



No matter what he did, he did it with passion. Chandra had the gift of being able to take maximum pleasure from every moment of life, be it the touch of the wind on his cheek or the splash of waves rushing to shore. The moon and airplanes in the sky were perceived as a personal gift and reason to celebrate.  Walks in the woods or along the shore were transformed into an exciting adventure; he would notice a barely audible rustle or suddenly see a deer frozen stock-still far off in the trees. His eyes and ears were always open to new impressions. I was beguiled. All my friends fell in love with Chandra. Even my Moscow friend Eugenia, who is very hard when it comes to men, said, "This is the only man I could imagine by your side."

He was full of surprises. He might call at midnight and ask whether I wanted to go for a walk in the park. Naturally, I couldn't pass up that chance. I'd lived in New York for fifteen years and had never once gone for a walk in the park at night. What woman would ever go for a walk alone in a deserted park at night in New York without a gun in her pocket? Or he might call unexpectedly in the middle of the day and say, "Come downstairs for a minute, I'm driving past and I have something for you." And it was sugar cane juice, because the day before I'd mentioned I'd never tried sugar cane juice. In the middle of winter, Chandra could suddenly take me for a two or three hour drive in order to climb a mountain to see beautiful Lake Minniwaska at the top of a mountain north of the city. The lake truly did make an indelible impression on me. No one was there but the two of us. It would never have occurred to anyone else to climb a mountain in the middle of winter to look at a lake. There was the fullest silence punctuated occasionally by the sound of cracking ice.

One day he met Eugenia and me at the airport when we were coming back from Florida. He wasn't very friendly and he sternly asked us whether we'd tried the milk of a coconut. "No," we answered timidly and started making excuses. Chandra scowled. "That's bad, very bad," he said. "To be in Florida and not try coconut milk?" We fell silent. Chandra stopped the car, opened the trunk, and, returning to the driver’s seat, started throwing these hard objects in our laps. They were coconuts.

He didn't take me out to restaurants or give me flowers. He invited me on walks that might last forty minutes or several hours, when we went up the mountain, sometimes along a path and sometimes blazing a new trail through bushes and trees. Chandra had been a hunter in the past and was an indefatigable hiker; he never got tired in the forest.  He had a slim, elegant body and the strong legs of a hunter used to walking in the forest for hours seeking out prey. Recently he'd converted to Judaism, started wearing a yarmulke, and taken the name Joshua. Chandra was fifty-two. He was an engineer by profession. Two years before he'd lost his wife. His children were grown and lived independently. Chandra felt orphaned. His choice of religion surprised me a little. Maybe the Jewish community had taken the place of family for him. Actually, the religious details didn't bother me very much at that time.

Chandra-Joshua had unusual eyes, big dark eyes that held the spark of ancient mystery and otherworldly wisdom. That, in my opinion, is how the ancient prophets should have looked. Once I told him, "You look like a man with a mission. What is your mission?" "I don't know," he answered.  I consulted his horoscope. There were very few sins from past lives. His horoscope said that in the past he'd been some kind of bureaucrat and followed the rules to the letter. In this life he was supposed to forget all the rules and learn to help people by listening to his own heart. His heart held divine knowledge and supreme wisdom. In his horoscope there was a figure called the "finger of God," which was pointing to his mission. A horoscope is a fairly abstract model and usually does not give details. All I could figure out was that the mission was connected somehow to religion. In an effort to guess his secret, I turned to Natasha.

Natasha does see the details and can read the Akashic record. I asked Natasha to look at his photograph and if possible to answer three questions:

1. Why did we meet? (I don't believe in chance encounters.)

2.  Did we meet in a past life?

3. What health problems does he have?

Here's the surprising answer I got:

"This person possesses unusual spiritual power. He has some health problems, but they aren't very serious and will vanish without a trace when he finds his road in life. I don't really understand why he still hasn't started down this road. I don't really understand what he is searching for in Judaism. (Natasha herself is Jewish.) "He has tremendous knowledge lying in his head" Natasha said, and it is different from any religion that now exists on earth. He was born to be a teacher and to initiate a new religious movement.  He does not have the right to keep this knowledge back; he has to share it with people."

I took another close look at his horoscope. The theme "Don't be a captive to established religious and social rules, but follow the dictates of your heart" was repeated several times through various aspects and combinations. Then I asked Chandra how he planned to link his karma of "don't follow rules" and his new religion, which has more than 400 rules.

"I understand," he replied reflectively. "Instead of forgetting old rules, I'm planning to learn more new ones. Don't worry about me. I'm interested in the spirit, not the letter."

I had major doubts about how someone could be a member of the Orthodox Jewish community and not follow its rules. From my point of view, he had chosen a religion incompatible with his karma and mission. But he looked okay those happy days. As if he wasn't following anyone's rules.


September: I See a Picture

We met in April. Our fairytale lasted five months. Chandra warned me his grace period would be over soon; he wouldn't be using the phone or driving a car on the Sabbath anymore, and he'd be getting circumcised.

At the word "circumcised" I felt bewilderment and alarm. Why spoil such a perfect creation and cut something off? But I reassured myself by saying that there were so many circumcised men in the world and no one suffered over it unduly. Maybe it would be all right. After all, for Chandra sex was a poetic celebration of the soul and body, an extravaganza, a religious rite perfect in its composition and dynamics, accompanied by the music of words amazingly appropriate for the moment in their rhythm and meaning. But why risk spoiling the instrument of love? To me it seemed tantamount to a musician deciding to cut the skin off his fingers or a singer suddenly wanting to operate on his vocal cords. Or an athlete suddenly deciding to chop off his hands or feet.

In September I suddenly saw a picture, or rather, two pictures simultaneously. In the first picture there was an enormous and amazing iridescent, vibrating, multicolored sphere. I think this was Chandra's soul. Never before had I seen what a "soul" looked like. No one had. Artists don't depict the soul; they draw a body through which the soul sometimes shines. All of a sudden something happened, quick and abrupt, like a bolt of lightning, and in an instant Chandra's gentle, capacious, and multicolored soul was transformed into a two-dimensional plane where there were just two gloomy colors, a red and a dark blue. The picture emitted a dark horror. It seemed to me that there could be nothing more frightening than a two-dimensional soul. It was almost not alive; it neither pulsed nor vibrated. There were just these intense colors, just two—without any nuance at all. I saw this picture twice, something that had never happened to me before. I was sure the vision concerned Chandra’s forthcoming circumcision. I begged him not to get circumcised. He was unpleasantly shocked that I was trying to interfere in his plans. I tried to explain that I'd seen a picture that meant his soul was in danger, that something terrible and irrevocable was going to happen to him. If I saw the picture, that meant he was standing at a crossroads and was planning to start down a path that would be ruinous for him. It was in his power to change direction. This was not even an intuition, I told him.. It was a warning sent to him from somewhere higher. I was only the messenger, I had this strange gift, this had happened to me many times.

He didn't believe me.  In his place, who would have?


The Snake Ahead

I tried to find arguments he would understand. I recalled a story Chandra once told me. I wrote to him because it had become too difficult to talk, I was upset, and he was irritated. I reminded him of his story.

"Once you told me about the time you were taking a boat in the jungle with a group of people. There was a young woman in the boat, a researcher from some American university. The boat put in to shore and the woman had already slung her leg over in order to step ashore. Surprising yourself, you shouted “Don't move.” A moment later you saw a poisonous snake coiled in the sand. Why did you shout? At that moment you didn't see the snake. But you sensed the danger, the explanation came afterward, and your instincts or intuition went into play, not your rational mind. I'm just like that. Instincts are quicker than thoughts. When I saw these pictures, I immediately had the sense that you were in danger. Up ahead is a snake we can't see yet.  I can't explain it, but I'm experiencing horror and fear, I feel the way I did once when I heard a voice informing me that my neighbor's child was going to die."

In fact, even I didn't understand why I'd felt such horror at seeing those pictures. I couldn't understand why circumcision could cripple the soul. Is a man's soul really held in his foreskin? Is the foreskin such an important organ of the soul? I wanted to find some explanation and understand what species of snake lay ahead. I started reading everything I could find about the consequences of circumcision in adult men.


A Little Bit of Medicine and Statistics from the Internet

(The reader interested only in how the events in this story unfold can skip everything printed in smaller font.)

There may be complications but it's not a death sentence. The tender tip, deprived of protection, becomes coarse and the man loses his capacity for subtle sensations, but he retains his ability to have an erection. The main problem is dryness during sex, but for some reason hardly anyone ascribes any importance to that. A circumcised penis loses its ability to discharge moisture. Apparently this doesn't cause the man any physical discomfort, though I don't know for certain. But dry sex does not give a woman pleasure. It's painful and often the vagina gets irritated. For some reason most sexually active adults think it's the woman's responsibility to discharge lubricant. What is amazing is that women think so, too. They think it's their fault if there's not enough moisture. Sexually educated circumcised men use artificial lubricants, which helps, but men like that are few. Strange though it may be, people ascribe great significance to sex but know very little about it.

An experiment unprecedented in scale was performed in the United States.  In the 1960s and 1970s, eighty percent of male infants were circumcised, most of them not for religious reasons at all but because in those days circumcision was considered a hygienic procedure. In the 1980s the fashion ebbed and sixty percent of males were circumcised. The circumcised babies grew up and turned into grown men and dryness during sex became a national problem, a huge amount of psychotherapeutic literature appeared on the subject, and an entire industry of artificial lubricants arose. In France, Italy, and Russia, no such problem arose; they didn't even know about it.

In the last few years, American doctors have changed their attitude toward circumcision. Circumcision is not necessary for achieving hygienic purposes; washing with ordinary water is quite sufficient. In the last fifteen to twenty years sufficient statistics have been collected on circumcised adult males to shed light on the question of what functions the foreskin actually performs and what complications arise after circumcision. The psychological and physiological consequences turn out to be so serious and irrevocable that doctors have come to the conclusion that this operation should be recommended only in the case of extreme medical necessity.


How Dare You Fix God's Creation?

This is the question I asked Joshua. "Because Abraham did it." I was at a loss for an answer, but I got to thinking. Evidently Abraham had important reasons.  It's interesting that Maimonides, the famous Jewish philosopher, rabbi, and physician who lived in the twelfth century, asked the same question.

Maimonides set out to find a rational explanation for Jewish rituals and traditions. And he did. Among other things, he asked why we perform circumcision. He asked himself whether our body could be imperfect by nature and in need of correction. We know how useful the foreskin is; nonetheless we circumcise it and thereby weaken the organ and reduce the very ability to take pleasure in sexual activity. He conjectured that this was done not to perfect physical nature but to improve morality. Young people think about sex too much, whereas the weakening of the organ, and sexual pleasure with it, is good for them. Circumcision is needed to improve morality, not the body. From the modern point of view, his answer isn't very convincing. Youth passes, and what are people no longer young or those who by their nature don't have strong potency to do? Should they be in a rush to weaken their ability to take pleasure? By the way, Maimonides emphasized how important it was to perform the circumcision before the eighth day, while the body is "soft, as in the womb" and the hard connections in the organism have not yet formed. He believed that performing circumcision when a child was a year old was too late. He was categorically opposed to circumcising grown men because no one knew what connections and systems in the organism could be harmed by such a crude intervention.

Now the point of view that there were no moral reasons for circumcision has become widespread.  The reasons were purely physical, perfectly appropriate to their time and circumstances. Circumcision was and remains a brilliant hygienic measure for people who lack sufficient water. It does not affect the ability to reproduce. But the Jews lived in the desert. Survival and reproduction were more important than sexual satisfaction. Today circumcision is only a tradition. Kryon expressed this thought best of all. For him “ eighth-day-from-birth circumcision is just an ancient ritual. All circumcision was based on commonsense health issues of the day, which manifested themselves in religion-based teaching. Our notions of hygiene and healthy food depend on the conditions in which we live and our knowledge. Over the course of time living conditions change and our knowledge of the world expands, and with it our notions of a healthy life change. Circumcision is no more religious today than trimming your fingernails.” 


"Dear one," I told Chandra, "look how beautiful you are. It is written in your religious books that you were created in the Divine likeness and image. Is there really something extraneous in your body?  Look at the strong muscles on your long legs. How easy it is to walk through forests and mountains on those sturdy legs. Look how elegant your delicately curved fingers are. These fingers make it easy to do anything—hammer nails, caress a lover, play the guitar. How beautiful your face is with its precisely etched lips and dark eyes that shine with otherworldly mystery. What broad and sensitive nostrils you have, allowing you to catch the faintest scents; only a deer surpasses you. Your ears, like two seashells, allow you to hear the softest lover's whisper and the cautious rustle of a beast hidden by foliage. Every single part of your body, be it your eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, nostrils, or hair, is not only beautiful but fills certain useful functions. And together they all work like a beautifully tuned instrument. Why do you think the foreskin is useless? That's where the moisture-producing glands are that make sex so pleasant. The foreskin covers the tender skin on the head of the penis. It's not even skin; doctors call it a membrane. It's similar to the tender sensitive skin on the inside of the eyelids. This is where the many nerves are that allow you to take pleasure in the process. Is reproduction really all sex is good for? God had a reason for investing in the man this irresistible urge to unite with a woman and equipped him with everything he needed for that." 

I was trying to make him argue.

"You taught me to value intimacy and to create and recreate this invisible connection between the man and woman. And this amazing ability to translate sensations into words. Remember how you asked ‘Why are people so beguiled by intimacy?' Really, why is it?  You yourself answered, 'Because we're only allowed to admire certain intimate parts of our body when two people are alone and no one else is there.' Now you want to display your intimate part for public viewing and allow another man to play bloody games with your penis. I always thought the penis was an instrument of love, not a religious object. Your karma says you must open your heart to God. Instead, you're ready to open your pants."

These arguments had no effect on Joshua. He said, "I heard out all your arguments and consulted with the rabbi. He said this is all foolishness." I lost heart. What can a rabbi know about sex with an intact penis or the consequences of circumcision for a grown man? He was circumcised when he was eight days old. Men circumcised in childhood don't know what they've lost and so feel entirely confident. Only men circumcised at an adult age can know what they've lost.

Chandra was deaf and blind. He was already heading straight for his goal. In October he started turning off the phone on Saturdays and wouldn't drive. I didn't see him for five weeks. Later he started showing up again, but something in him had changed. It was and wasn't he. He didn't laugh or smile anymore. He didn't sing little songs anymore in his soft muffled voice, which used to pierce my heart in the old days. No electric current ran through his body when I touched him. Sex no longer afforded the same satisfaction and it wasn't a flight into the unknown, but was always accomplished in the dark and was more like physical exercise. It had ceased to be a religious rite whose goal was the merging of soul and body, and gradually had lost all meaning. Instead of the exciting words, "Look in my eyes," or "Give me your lips," he occasionally uttered the odd, "I must use my imagination." Why did he have to use his imagination if he had a live woman next to him? Did that mean that he didn't feel anything? And that he was trying to remember what he was supposed to feel and sense? The intact penis is a wondrous device with moving parts. The circumcised penis is just a stick, and all you can do is squeeze it. There is nothing left to play with.

There were still the walks in the moonlight. But Joshua walked silently and measuredly, like a soldier in training. He wasn't excited anymore by the gentle touch of the cool air or a splash of water, the fishermen with their rods were just the stage set, and the mysterious fish flickering in the depths were no cause for excitement. He reminded me of a robot. Life's iridescent colors and the nuances of impressions had vanished, as if he'd had not just his foreskin cut off, but all the receptors that bring sensation to and feed the soul. He had begun to look like the picture I'd seen in September—flat and dichromatic. I looked at him and couldn't figure out what had happened to his soul. If the soul is immortal and immaterial, how can it change because a piece of skin has been cut off? What had happened to his soul? Had it shriveled up?  Hidden away?  Died? Having lost its connection to the physical world, was it now unable to function fully in this world and was it now dwelling somewhere else? Very strange thoughts were assailing me: maybe he was possessed by demons. I'd never seen such a thing, but I'd heard of it happening. Sometimes Joshua fell into a furious rage for no particular reason, shouting and cursing loudly, something that had never happened with Chandra.

I missed Joshua, or rather, Chandra. I wanted to see him, hear him, touch him. But every time Joshua showed up, it hurt to look at and listen to him; this impoverished and oversimplified Chandra was Chandra's antipode. Eventually it started to seem as though Chandra no longer existed. He'd died, disappeared, dissolved, melted away. Somehow Joshua had stolen his body. He looked like Chandra and reminded me of Chandra in his habits and movements, but this was not Chandra.

Because I usually would return to New York on a Friday or Saturday, no one met me anymore at the airport. No one threw coconuts at me, angrily lecturing me, "How can you be in Florida and not try coconuts?" Once I arranged especially to return on a Thursday. But Joshua didn't meet me or answer his phone. I got scared that something had happened to him and fell into a cruel unease. But it turned out to be the second day of Succoth, and real Jews, as Joshua explained to me, don't get behind the wheel or touch the telephone during holidays. The Jewish holidays, which I had loved so much before, were now an unbearable torture. And there were a lot of holidays.

Joshua treated me decently in general, and he thought he was doing me favors, but that, of course, offended and even insulted me. He didn’t seem to understand.  This wasn't like Chandra either. Chandra possessed an irreproachable moral compass and accurately sensed which words and acts might inflict pain on someone else or sow the seeds of discord. Joshua didn't have that moral compass; it had been replaced by rules. He called me every Friday and said, "You're the last person I'm talking to before I turn off the telephone and the first person I'll call after the Sabbath. I won't be answering the phone during the Sabbath, but you can call me in the event of an emergency; after the Sabbath I always listen to my messages." Joshua didn't even understand how clumsily ridiculous his words sounded. What point was there in calling someone who doesn't pick up the phone in the event of an emergency? Chandra couldn't have said that. Chandra said, "Call me any time if you need help, day or night, and I'll be there in thirty minutes." And he meant it. I remembered once I called him and said, half-joking, "I need you. I want to kiss you right now, immediately." Thirty-five minutes later his car pulled up near my house. He was here, ready to be kissed.

I didn't feel flattered at all. I felt unhappy and offended, as if I were a little girl who was being punished and made to stand in the corner, but I didn't know what I'd done. Feeling vengeful, I wanted to say "You won’t see or talk to me on Friday and Saturday, so why don’t you go on living that way on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday." But I never uttered those words. I reminded Joshua what Chandra had usually said on Friday. "Today is Friday, a magical night, when all Jewish men and women are getting ready for sex." These words engendered a sense of the approaching holiday. Once he added, "Soon I'm going to start observing all the rules, and I won't be driving a car or using the telephone, but don't worry, I'll find a way to see you on Friday. Maybe I'll buy a bicycle or come on foot or buy a house close to the synagogue." I have no doubt that Chandra would have thought of something. Not only that, but he was a man of his word and always did what he promised. But Joshua didn't remember what Chandra had said. He spent the night with friends near the synagogue, since his home was too far to walk to. Chandra would never have slept in a stranger's home; Chandra would have come to mine. But for Joshua the thirty-minute walk was an insurmountable obstacle. He didn't come even on my birthday. Joshua was often tired. Chandra hadn't known the meaning of tired. He could lie down for thirty minutes and wake up fresh and cheerful.

And something was very wrong with his sense of touch. Chandra had been a magician and wizard of touch. Accidental contact instantly transformed the world and created an atmosphere of thrilling intimacy. "Sex," Chandra said, "isn't just sex itself. I look into your eyes and that's sex. I touch your hand—like this—and that's sex." Joshua never touched me. Even the friendly hug disappeared from his lexicon. True, he did allow a kiss.  But if I ran my palm gently over his handsome swarthy arm, I got the feeling I was touching a piece of insensate wood. If I happened to touch him, he shuddered, like from an electric shock. But this was not an unexpected pleasure, as in the old days. Contact now was a painful sensation. I couldn't understand that. Never had I read about these kinds of consequences of circumcision. Evidently Maimonides was right.  Nervous connections can be harmed or distorted as a result of the operation.



Joshua suddenly started coming over more often and spending more and more time at my house, but he carefully avoided any intimacy under various pretexts. He would sit at the computer for hours and then suddenly, without warning, stand up and leave quickly, saying he had an urgent job or it was time to feed his cat. I asked myself what all this meant and what I should do. Maybe Joshua was looking for an Orthodox wife for himself and I was an encumbrance he didn't know what to do with. In that case I should leave him in peace and disappear from his life. But maybe his soul was lost and could be resurrected again. In that case I should be patient and wait. Could there be something wrong after the operation? But what man would admit he had sexual problems? More than likely the man would pretend to be very busy or would blame the woman for everything. But that's how ordinary men behave, and Chandra wasn't one of those.

After four months of this bizarre life I couldn't stand it anymore and I asked Joshua what it all meant. The answer I heard was utterly unexpected. "We will have no more sex. Sex is harmful for you. You get attached and cry. I never wanted attachment. I just wanted a hiking partner." An idea that absurd would never have occurred to Chandra. What is sex without attachment or feelings? I remembered how once Chandra got angry when I told him we could not get together the next weekend because I had a lot of work. He shouted angrily into the phone, "You don't know what passion is about." And he threatened to break off with me for good.

I was filled with sorrow. I looked into Joshua's eyes and did not see Chandra there at all. Chandra had disappeared, melted away without a trace. Joshua's murky eyes held emptiness and exhaustion. Where are you Chandra?

I greeted spring at the wildlife refuge alone. I looked at the fresh little leaves and the new grass and the birds without Chandra, and teardrops fell from my eyes. I asked the trees, "Where are you Chandra?" I asked the grass, the stream, and the birds, "Where are you Chandra?" The wind brought me the answer: "Chandra, Chandra, Chandra. . . ."


The End

September 2006

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