At 24-years-old, I met Reuven on a sunny afternoon on September 14, 2014. I was attending church regularly by bus and on that particular Sunday I felt anointed and free. After the service, I went shopping and was now wearing a backwards tie-dye hat on top of my reddish-brown dreadlocks when I walked onto his bus. Meeting Reuven changed my life. I felt like God understood what I was seeking: knowledge, intellectualism, happiness, fun and joy. While I did experience bliss with Reuven, I learned lessons I never thought I would need to feel safe and loved in my life. I am thankful to now embody and share the wisdom I’ve gained with our daughter.
Lesson#1: Be Prepared. The first time I boarded Reuven’s bus, I did not have my full bus fare on my bus card, which left me open for questioning. He allowed me to pass, but not without first asking where I was from, and “Is that what they do in New Orleans?” He was very charming, so I giggled and stood up there with him while he drove the bus. We discussed me being an English major and wanting to be a teacher at the time, and he informed me that his mother had been a teacher. We also talked about his time in Atlanta, culture and Black history there.
As he drove further the bus became crowded, and I decided to move towards the back. Even though I was no longer talking to him, I was thinking about how great our conversation felt and wondered if I should go back up there and ask for his number. Reuven is twenty years older than me, and the bus was crowded; therefore, I felt shy to do it in front of other people so I did not go. He did not fail to let me know that he was thinking of our conversation though. He would call out “New Orleans!” over the crowds of people, and we would meet eyes in his rearview mirror. I would look down and just smile. When it was time for me to get off the bus, I told him I enjoyed talking to him, and he said, ‘Likewise.’
Lesson#2: Do not live and love blindly. Be aware of red flags and take them seriously. Make wiser decisions. I saw Reuven the second time in late October on a Thursday night. Under a bright street light, I was standing far away from the bus stop in a parking lot reading. I was surprised he could see me, when he called out “New Orleans!” from his bus. I ran to greet him. My twenty-fifth birthday had recently occurred, and my maternal grandma had passed away in early October, so seeing him felt like good news I needed. Right away I asked him, “Are you married or in a relationship?!” He laughed and said no. I asked for his number, but instead he gave me a pamphlet about veganism, wrote his email address on it, along with a website for me to learn about his culture. Reuven is a Hebrew Israelite. Hebrew Israelites believe they are descendants from God, and that Israel is the Holy Land- not heaven. Hebrew Israelites live based on the Tanakh Hebrew Bible: Old Testament and only practice a vegan diet. They live in communities where the men are allowed to have multiple wives, and the women can become sister-wives. They only wear breathable clothing: cotton or linen dress, as expressed in the Old Testament. The men wear kipahs or rounded head coverings, and women may cover their heads too.
As I rode home, I looked at the website on my phone and was somewhat taken aback by the men having multiple wives and me possibly becoming a part of this lifestyle. Though after discussing it with Reuven later, he would state he was not interested in being with anyone else. I was willing to get to know Reuven, even if it meant changing my lifestyle and my own reality. I had never heard of veganism before. It was brand new to me, and I was also on a fitness journey. Being more considerate of animals seemed to make sense, when viewing the vivid and disturbing pictures in the pamphlet of live chickens being placed into boiling hot water. So when I arrived home that night, I emailed Reuven, and he emailed me back with his phone number.
Later, I found out Reuven was married after all. He did not tell me until our daughter was two-years-old, and we were no longer together. He called me one night saying, ‘I’m going to call you back so you can talk to someone and explain to them why you called me earlier.’ I said, ‘Who?’ and he said, ‘My wife. I just told her about Joan. Here she comes. I’ll call you back.’ I was not actually surprised at this point because Reuven kept a lot of stuff to himself.
After I emailed Reuven, I attended Voodoo Fest in New Orleans that weekend with my friends and little sister to celebrate my birthday and was now conscious of trying to eat less animal products. He would text me in Hebrew language: “Boker tov” and “Shalom,” words I had never used before that meant Good morning and Peace. Being introduced to this new world made me feel hesitant, but I continued to respond.
When I returned back home from New Orleans, I talked to Reuven on Monday morning and expressed grief about getting rid of the new shrimp and fish I had bought to continue my health and fitness journey. He said, ‘You will be rewarded with more’ after throwing those foods away, and informed me, ‘Shrimp are really roaches of the sea.’ The first Monday of November 2014, I went vegan and did not eat meat again until the first trimester of my pregnancy in January 2016.
Lessons#3, 4, 5 and 6: Do not seek to find yourself in another soul; be your own person. There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but don’t shape-shift for others. Value your feelings and make decisions based on what you want. Do not make everything your responsibility; Ask for help. I was a student in college and working a full-time job. But after my classes and sometimes before they ended, I would leave school to ride to Reuven’s connecting bus route to spend time with him as he drove the bus. I would bring snacks with me and share them with him. He started calling me “snack girl,” which was funny at first but then I told him to stop it. I would order us vegan pizza, thai food, chinese food and Smoothie King. We would pick it up and eat together while on his lunch break.
One night after class, I was on the phone with Reuven as I was waiting on the bus to go home. I decided to discuss the topic of money, since I was always the one spending mine. He had an idea for us to go to Target for snacks soon, and I asked him, “Am I buying or are you?” He wanted to know why it was a topic at all, and then decided my question was problematic. He later told me that he considered himself to be a frugal person. I continued paying for our experiences because they were bringing me joy.
His way of giving to me was through knowledge. He would recommend books to me, and I would write them down to purchase later; then we would discuss them on the bus. I was like his student, which was exciting for my mind at that time. I was having an adventure. I even rode the bus to ride with him on his routes on the weekend. I started reading the Tanakh Hebrew Bible to learn more about what he believed in, so that I could embody it too. Reuven informed me that veganism was also supported in the book of Genesis. I also did my best to wear only cotton and linen clothing- no synthetic materials. Sometimes after work as I walked to the grocery store and talked to him on the phone, he would tell me what items he wanted me to purchase to create a meal. I would express frustration at him telling me what to do, but he would say, “Just follow directions.”
I decided to do the Master Cleanse diet next, after learning about it from Reuven. We were supposed to do it together but after I started he decided he would do it another time. I was on the diet for six consecutive days, in which I only ingested a concoction of water, grade B maple syrup, cayenne pepper and lemon juice, along with night-time tea. During this cleanse, I lost 10 pounds in 6 days. My mind and my body were being reshaped, and I thought this was great. And truthfully, I looked great. But none of these ideas were of my own mind.
Reuven finally accepted my invitation to visit my apartment after one month of spending time together. I knew he did not support homosexuality. Because I am bisexual, and we had not discussed it yet, I decided to throw away anything that would reveal I was gay inside my apartment. Among the items were: a rainbow-colored foxtail keychain that hung near my front door that I bought from San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade that summer; my L Word season dvds, and one of my favorite movies, “Blue is the Warmest Color” and its graphic novel. I was really sad later when I sought these items after we were no longer together. Funnily, the words “I Heart Vaginas” written around my tall, plastic red cup gave me away. He picked up the cup from the side table and said, “What’s this about?” and smiled. He said he thought I might be gay the first day he met me.
We laughed really hard that night at the jokes he made about the Lord’s Prayer picture above my kitchen table. He asked me why did I have all those white men on my wall. I said it was my grandma’s picture who passed away, and then he went on create jokes for all of the men in the picture. During the entirety of me knowing Reuven, I never once visited where he lived. He told me that he lived with brothers that were a part of his community.
Lesson#7: Ask questions; there is nothing wrong with needing answers. During one of his lunch breaks, I noticed his work name tag name did not reflect the name he told me. I asked, “Who’s that?” He explained Reuven was not his birth name, but his Hebrew name. He also decided he would come up with a Hebrew name for me: Kavah or Havah, which meant “Daughter of Life.” I admitted to him I did not want to be called anything else but my real name. We argued about it. Then he became sad because I was not accepting the full potential of who he felt I could be. He felt I was rejecting him and his culture. By the time I arrived home, I decided I would not make a big deal about it anymore because I was interested in knowing what we could become together, and I accepted him calling me “Kavah.”
I also asked if he had any children. He told me he had only 1 young daughter, but that her mom would not allow him to see her. Because I was naive at this time, I believed him. I did not have any children of my own. I actually felt sad that he did not get a chance to know his daughter more. Later however in October 2016 after our daughter’s 2 month check-up, he came home with us and revealed he had two more older children. One of them is the same age as me.
Lesson#8: Be aware of your surroundings, and look around your person. When I was leaving the train one evening to meet Reuven at the bus station, I realized he could follow me closely without me knowing. As I departed the train with plenty of other passengers, he tapped me on my shoulders. I realized how harmful this moment was to my psyche after we had broken up. I would look around myself more to make sure no one was following me as he displayed he could.
Lessons#9 and 10: Stick to Your Goals. There is nothing wrong with focusing on yourself again. I had been taking driving lessons before I met Reuven, but once we started spending time together, I stopped attending driving school. In October 2015, to help Reuven drive for Uber, I bought a 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid. His car had stopped working. He wouldn’t visit me for days because he did not want to leave it. And to my understanding, he was sleeping in it. So we figured out a way I could help. He did not encourage me to drive the Hybrid because I did not have a driver’s license yet, but he would use it to pick me up and bring me to work. I had never purchased a car before, and rode the bus my entire life up until 26-years-old. I obtained my license at 3 months pregnant.
Purchasing a car for Reuven showed me how much I could love another human being, and it opened my eyes later to how much more I could be doing for myself. I was invested in the relationship, yet I felt overwhelmed. For the second time in my academic career, I decided to take a break from university. I then started to become depressed.
We decided to take a drive to Austin twice that next month in November 2015, and it was my first time visiting. I bought the hotel rooms both times and paid for most of our meals. On our second drive to Austin, I decided I was ready to welcome a baby in my life. I brought up the topic while on the drive. He was not sure though and was concerned about my episodes of depression. Before, he joked about having a baby, but now I was genuinely asking him to consider it. Later on that night, I journaled about it in the hotel room while he was away doing Uber. I realized I wanted to have someone in my life who I could give my all to without feeling bad about it. He decided to grant my wish, and November 22, 2015 became one of the happiest days of my life. On December 9, 2015, it was confirmed we were pregnant.
Lessons#10 and 11: Adventure and bliss are fun and beautiful, until real life happens. Actions matter more than words. Not long after, our relationship ended. In late January 2016 at 1am, Reuven had a car accident in the hybrid. The car was wrecked. He called me to help pay for the tow, and I thought that meant we were going to get through this tumultuous experience together. However, he separated himself from me while I was newly pregnant with our child. That Sunday morning, he decided to visit his mentor/minister, and did not come back until Wednesday, but only to visit and not stay. He said he was going out of town to work on a project. I felt like he was abandoning the relationship because we were not talking about anything he was going through. One Sunday night, I found my pregnant self in the passenger seat of my older sister’s car having her drive me around to look for him. He would call me but never give a location, only cross streets when I asked about his whereabouts. When I finally accepted there was nothing I could do, I went home and believed he would call again eventually. When he did call the next time, he said he was going to Austin to work for the weekend.
From his perspective, I could not understand what he was going through because I was not involved in the car accident; so he needed to take space to reflect and reassess his life. Around this time during my pregnancy, I started to eat meat again to fulfill my cravings. Before the car accident, Reuven understood and encouraged me to do so for the baby’s sake. But after the accident, he believed he should not have encouraged me in this way and believed this was one of his downfalls. While he was away, I told him I was going to spend time with my ex-girlfriend/friend Kelly because she brought joy to my life, which was not a priority to Reuven at the time. He accused me of making plans with her to cheat on him because to him I could not just hang out with someone who knew the landscape of my body. We disagreed on this, and I still made the decision to spend time with her, ignoring his feelings. Deciding to remove Reuven as a priority in my life allowed me to have a beautiful pregnancy and enjoy my friendships again. Trying to heal with him after the relationship was over became very difficult. He would consistently tell me what I remembered was incorrect and would try to reshape my memories. He would also say I am too emotional. It is never okay for someone to try to change what you know to be true, especially when you can describe perfectly what was said and done. I do believe Reuven has his own set of ideals for how things should’ve been, and maybe we let each other down. I understand that he is not perfect, and neither am I.
Today he is not a present father, for his own personal reasons. I don’t believe I ever got a chance to truly know Reuven because he hid a lot of stuff from me. I do fault myself for not taking heed to a lot of the red flags, but I am grateful for the wisdom I’ve gained. I did not learn all of these lessons immediately after leaving him. I made plenty more mistakes in other relationships; yet what became more clear was my lack of discernment. The effects of changing yourself for other people takes a great deal of time to unlearn. Today I am thankful for time alone with my daughter- to grow and to create a home for myself inside my body. I am more grateful for my intuition. I listen to the questions that pop into my head when something feels off, wrong, or hurts me. I am no longer accepting feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness into my life, because I am now aware it’s a sign that something or someone is weighing me down.