The Brides Room
An eight year-old boy confronts God, in the Brides Room of the synogogue.
THE BRIDES ROOM
by Gina Douglas
I was alone in my Unitarian Universalist church. It was Sunday, a couple hours after services. It had been my week to clean up after the snacks and coffee hour that follows the service. I had been doing some volunteer work, happened to befriend the incoming President of the Executive Board, and been drawn into helping out in other areas. Served on this committee, helped at that event; and had gained a level of trust to the point that, when I couldn’t finish clean-up before I had to take my girlfriend to work; they had given me the code to get into the locked church.
I felt kinda honored at this level of trust. As I was waiting for the dishwasher to run through the last load, I went to the Ladies Room. It reminded me of forty-two years ago, something I had forgotten. When I had been a little boy, eight years old, almost alone in the synagogue.
It was my first year of Hebrew School. There was a deal where, if you had good attendance; you got stamps. With enough stamps, you could plant a tree in Israel, in honor of somebody. My great-grandfather, Abraham Zwerling, had died; and I wanted to plant a tree for him.
You could buy extra stamps, or you could get extra stamps for going to service at synagogue on Shabbat. My ancestors were Amme ha aretz, unlettered ones, unlearned Jews, orphans of the pogrom era. We didn’t go to synagogue or study Torah. But my grandfather’s Detroit union job had sent my uncle to Hebrew School and college.
Now I was on that same path, but had only been to synagogue one time, for my uncle’s wedding. Oddly, there was a small shul half a block from my grandparents’ house; but we had never gone there or talked about it. I sometimes went there and looked through the locked glass doors. On Wednesday nights, there was a men-only service there; and sometimes I went in to ask the Rabbi a question about something from the bible stories I was reading on my own.
The synagogue affiliated with the Hebrew School was bigger than the little shul, and only about as far away as my elementary school. My parents slept late on Saturday mornings, they weren’t gonna go to synagogue at 9:30. But if I could walk to school by myself at 7:30 every weekday, I could certainly walk to shul by myself at 8:30 on Saturday. So they let me go.
There was a children’s service down in the basement, with the main, adult service held on the main floor. There were stairs in-between. When I showed up for services the first time, and was wandering around finding a yarmulke and a tallis to wear – people directed me to join the downstairs service.
Most of the children, their parents were at the adult service upstairs. When the children’s services ended, the youth pastor wanted to close the basement, and get all the children upstairs. Those other children would join their parents in the main service. If there were any other children who were there alone, I didn’t know it. I had my stamps, I could just go home. But there was food after the service: bagels, donuts, juice. Stuff we wouldn’t have at home. My parents would still be asleep anyway, no breakfast there.
So, I wanted to stay. But the adult service was sooo boring. And it could go on and on and on forever. In Hebrew.
So one week, when the children’s service was over, I was quick out of my chair, and the first one up the stairs; and innocently right upstairs, and upstairs again to the second floor. It was mostly dark, with alot of locked doors. At the far end of the hallway, there was a janitor closet, and a Mens Room, and a Brides Room.
I had an idea what a Brides Room would be, because of my uncle’s wedding. He had a bride. I knew her, I had been there. She had got all dolled-up, in this beautiful dress. With alot of makeup, more than usual. Was prettier than ever. She was really pretty all the time, but she was even prettier then.
I knew that I was boy. But I wanted to be a girl. I had thought I was a girl when I was a toddler, until they told me that I was a boy. I didn’t know that there was any way to change gender, in 1968. You didn’t read about it in children’s books, see it on TV, or learn about it in elementary school.
I thought, that if I went into the Brides Room, in synagogue; God would know I really wanted to be a girl. Maybe He would change me into a girl.
I was afraid to go into the Brides Room too. I knew, from the men’s service at the little shul near my grandparents’ house, that one of the things men prayed about, was they thanked God that God had not made them a woman. So wanting to be a woman was against God, and maybe if I went into the Bride’s Room, God would punish me, by making me a woman.
I went into the Men’s Room, and I took a leak at the urinal; and pondered these things. As the weeks wore on, I went upstairs every week. I walked down that shadowy hallway deciding which restroom to use, every week. Eventually, I became sure that I wanted to be a girl more than I was afraid, and I went into the Brides Room.
It was beautiful in there. Crystal clean, with a chandelier, a gigantic lighted mirror, and couches and chairs. In the back was another door, which went to a restroom without urinals. I went in there, and sat down to pee.
I didn’t stay in there long, the first week. But I went there every week, and stayed longer and longer. Until I had more than enough stamps to plant a tree in Israel.
I imagined that I was a bride, putting on the dress and the makeup, surrounded by sisters and girlfriends. I imagined how my life would be different if I was a girl: going to school, shopping, Halloween…. Sometimes with the lights on, sometimes with them off. I imagined that God would see me in the synagogue and that He would know what was my fondest prayer, and He would grant it.
But He didn’t. I was always a boy when I came out into the light of day. I thought God had not answered my prayer. But here I was, 42 years later; once again alone in the Ladies Room of a holy place. It hadn’t been easy, and it had taken a really, really long time – but my prayer had come true.