Next I went to Chicago. I had some cousins there and I had the illusion that seeing cousins would fill the hole in my heart. At the highway curved towards the great city of Chicago, this huge shining turquoise body of water came to greet me. I had never seen anything like it. The sun was shining and my heart was flying. I was happy, yes for one moment, I felt something bigger than myself, I had hope. I bought a Frisbee and made my way to the beach. I found a girl and we played Frisbee together. For a moment, all my fantasies came true in my mind. Although, there were a few imaginary moments in my mind, I had way too much anxiety, worry and guilt to be present to this enjoyable exchange. I needed to get somewhere, I didn't know where, but it always had to be out of here.
Then I met my cousins. My cousins mother asked me where my tzitzis were. How foolish of her to think that, that's what I needed to here. How much I needed understanding. No, that's not always what cousins are for. She ended up chasing me down the road with her car as i tried to spend some time with her kids, my cousins. She thought I was being a bad influence. I wish I had known enough then to deserve that prestigious description. I ran back to where I was staying and I've rarely seen her or my cousins again.
Next I went to Iowa. I remember the fresh smells of the fields and thousands of fire flies landing on my windshield. I arrived at the home of a Chabad Rabbi. My luck, the next day was his birthday. He made a party. Many Jews came and I wondered how I had gotten myself into this. One baal teshuva who I met there told me how he was so happy that he had not had sex yet although it would have been so easy to have it in his College years. I wanted sex, I wish it would be easy. I wish I would have been tested as he was, I would surely have the sex and pass up on anything else. That's really all I wanted now, sex. I imagined it to be the solution to all my problems. Actually, I didn't want a solution, I just wanted the luxury to not have to think about them for a couple minutes and I thought sex would be the perfect way to accomplish that.
Next I went to Nebraska, my father had a friend there. I felt lucky. How many people could say they have some place to stay in Nebraska? Well, although, I was glad to have a roof over my head for a night, I was really happy to get out of there in the morning. I had made the mistake of thinking that I might get some compassion and understanding from him, I didn't. He seemed to be made out of a similar fabric as my father, anything that looked strange or different, was under suspicion. He probably understood that I was escaping across the country and he didn't pretend to believe it was a good idea. Thank God, we didn't get to talking about it very much.
Now, all I needed to do was make it to Utah for Shabbos. I was still keeping shabbos and I had to step on the gas if I wanted to make it to Salt Lake before Shabbos. Going through Wyoming, it poured so hard, I had to pull to the side. I slept in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn. I put my suit bag over me, put the seat bag and hoped they wouldn't bother me. The next day I sped to Salt Lake. I was taken aback by the snow capped mountains. I felt like I had just entered a magical land. I had always imagined that beauty and majesty could relax a painful heart. They didn't but I wish they would. I knew, that under different circumstances, these mountains could give me joy and I might find leisure in them, no not now. I knew that I couldn't rest, I needed to press on. I had work to do before I would feel relaxed enough to relate to a moment that was here and now.
I got the key to the Chabad house, I was so tired. I was so happy to have a bed. I got up and the sky was dark. "Oh no!". I didn't realize how tired I was. I had thought that I would get up naturally before Shabbos. I looked at the time and it was late. I had arranged with a family that I would be there for Shabbos dinner. Now I was late and I was embarrassed. When I got there, they were far into their meal. Michael and his wife Sue were converts to Judaism. They were the kind of people I had been looking for. They had a bright and positive view of Judaism and I wondered if we were talking about the same religion. I couldn't fathom how someone could be a Jew and not be in as much pain as I was. I imagined the fear that it entailed. "Don't you realize" I thought to myself "that you need to be very careful". I knew that there were so many laws to keep and so many things to stay away from. I knew that it was scary and one needed to be on guard. I couldn't fathom how a person could be a Jew and be relaxed. I knew that every single moment had to be spent learning Torah. I knew that I would be held to account for every single moment that I had spent not learning Torah. I also knew that even if I was learning, I would still be held to account if the Torah was not studied with the proper intent and the proper intensity. I Knew that the only chance a person had in being a tzadik was to spend all his time in study and prayer. Deep inside I wish I didn't have to. I hoped and wished that somehow it could be ok, to think, to breath, to run and to play, but I accepted my obligation with servility. I knew that this was my mission and I had to do it. I still had not given up on my dream, I still believed with a full heart that one had to spend every waking moment learning and that what I was doing now was wrong and I would surely pay for it. I just knew that I could not learn now. Of course I viewed this as the most cruel of punishments, to be forced to prepare my own hell by being forced not to learn by the dictated of my own mind. Could it get any worse?