The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz
wanted for lunch at Manny’s Deli let alone who they would marry, so the fact that Stuie was willing to spend
his life with a girl he’d known since infancy separated him from the others, at least a little.
Once we got to high school my feelings for him cooled quite a bit, and by eleventh grade I was aware of the
fact I didn’t love him the way I assumed I was supposed to. But it never occurred to me to do anything about it.
He was Stuie, the only boyfriend I’d ever had, the first and only boy who wanted to marry me, and at Walnut
Gardens, that was a big deal. My mother had always stressed the importance of marrying within the faith and
within the neighborhood. She wanted me to marry a person with whom we were well acquainted so there’d be
no unwelcome surprises later on. Like the other parents on the block she stayed out of her daughter’s business
but every now and then she had something important to say, like who I was supposed to spend my life with, and
she expected me to listen.
Stuie went along with the whole thing and never questioned our engagement, either, behaving right from the
beginning as if I belonged to him. Even in the fourth grade he enjoyed putting his hands all over my body,
groping me beneath my undershirt. He was understandably thrilled when I graduated to a training bra at age
twelve and he was even more excited when I moved into my first B cup three years later. Stuie loved fumbling
with the triple hooks on my bra and the buttons on my blouse, but he hated kissing. He’d shut his mouth as tight
as he could, screw up his face and hold his breath until it was over, as if I were his bearded grandfather or
worse, his bearded grandmother. Stuie was so repulsed by the act of kissing that we avoided it altogether,
turning our faces away from each other’s during our intimate moments, thus never having to pretend we were
enjoying it when the truth is, I would have preferred doing just about anything more than kissing Stuie, even
playing bingo with the women on the block.
On our block, bingo was the highlight of the week, the night when the women piled into my mother’s brown
Chevy Biscayne and made their pilgrimage to the temple. Sadie Hochberger, Gertie Bernstein, and my own
particular favorite, Millie, were usually in their best housecoats from EJ Korvettes, often in their bedroom
slippers, always with plastic curlers beneath their kerchiefs. My mother prepared for the game several days in
“Don’t forget we’re having scrambled egg sandwiches on Thursday.”
“I won’t, ma.”
“Don’t forget I’m leaving early for bingo.”
“I won’t, ma.”
She talked about the game for days afterward, and I was amazed by her memory. “I can’t believe he called
B9. I was one away from winning the Round Robin.” Bingo was a sacred word in our apartment, spoken with
reverence, almost a prayer, and when I turned sixteen the women deemed me worthy to sit beside my mother as
she spread her cards across the long wooden table. I was only too eager to tag along, Thursday night being the
only real time my mother and I spent together, since she was the cashier down at the hospital and spent every
waking minute at the job she loved. The caller, Morty, would shout, “G54” and my mother would spring into
action, stamping like a crazy person with her bingo-player’s broad stamping pen, repeating G54, G54 with
every card she scanned, trying to avoid a potentially humiliating mistake. If Morty called the same number
twice in one evening, Gertie, never the shy one, would yell out, “Hey Morty, shake your balls” and everyone
would whistle and cheer their approval.
I learned a lot about reverence at the Temple, not during the High Holy Day services, but on bingo night.
Morty, the ersatz Rabbi who by day worked at the Kosher butcher shop, would take his seat on the stage. The
room would fall instantly into a hush, with no more laughter, no more chatter. Just the sound of his
commanding voice bellowing “O68” or “N36” and the dull thumping of the ink pens and occasionally the crow
of a lucky winner shouting “here!”, her fleshy arm flapping above her hairnet. The voices in the room would
rise in unison, an angry chorus from the sanctuary.
“...I needed N35.”
“...He should’ve called N37, the putz.”
“...He called N36 last game. Hey Morty, you got a problem tonight or what?”
I watched the players, part of the sisterhood now, and I wondered, if Sadie wears her curlers on the biggest
night of the week, for what event does she actually show off her hair? Then came the defining moment that set
my life on a different path. Millie slathered mustard on her Kosher dog and leaned across my mother with that