My first girlfriend was Shoshanah Rabinowitz. We started going out in the fall of junior year in high school, even though she was Jewish and I’m not. Her parents weren’t thrilled, although they were ok about it for a while. But by the time senior year started and we were still serious about each other, the Rabinowitzes started trying to break us up.
That’s where Jacob Bernstein came in.
Jacob Bernstein was the same age as me and Shoshanah, and lived in Knoxville. The Rabinowitzes knew the Bernsteins from temple…and they made it real obvious that they thought Jacob would make a more “suitable” boyfriend for Shoshanah than me.
First thing you need to know about Jacob Bernstein: he was an asshole. The Bernsteins moved down to Knoxville at the end of the summer before senior year from New York City. Jacob thought that made him better than us – and acted like we all were a bunch of illiterate rednecks. That’s not a way to make friends in a high school in Tennessee.
I first heard about Jacob the Jerkoff from Shoshanah after the two families got together for dinner and tried to get something going between their kids. There were a lot of dinners and shit like that, even though it was clear that Shoshanah wasn’t interested in Jacob, not as a boyfriend (she had me) and certainly not as a friend (since he was a jerkoff.) We did come up with a name for him, though. Since we were Romeo and Juliet, he was County Paris.
I didn’t meet him until Shoshanah’s troublemaker brother’s bar mitzvah in January 2011. I was invited because Shoshanah threatened not to go if I wasn’t, but so was Jacob, and we were seated on either side of her.
County Paris made it super clear that he didn’t like me from the git go. I was polite like I was bought up to be, even if I could tell he was an asshole. The one thing I definitely wasn’t was jealous: Shoshanah was my Juliet, and no County Paris (even a Jewish one) was going to come between us.
Besides, when was I going to see him again anyway?
Answer: three weeks later at a party Shoshanah was giving at her house. I don’t want to start sounding all paranoid and shit and say there was a whole conspiracy going on, but I’ve always wondered whether the Bernsteins and/or the Rabinowitzes told Jacob to try and start something with me. But that’s what he did. Every chance he got, he was a complete asshole to me and kept saying shit to piss me off. He put me down for being a southerner and a jock (shit like saying he had to talk to me in one syllable words), and then he started throwing my not being Jewish in my face…saying that Shoshanah should be going out with a Jewish guy. I tried walking away the first few times, but then I did start getting pissed off, and told him to get and stay the fuck away from me.
That’s when he crossed the line. He said something…I reckon you can say it was filthy…about Shoshanah. It’s not something I’m going to repeat, even more than 8 years later. But it was one of the filthiest things I’ve ever heard anyone say in my life.
It was so bad that I felt I had to do something about it. I told him to come say it again outside and around the side of the house.
So I kicked his ass.
Ok, the first thing y’all need to know is that Jacob Bernstein wasn’t this little nerdy Jewish kid with thick glasses. He was actually a little bigger than me. So it was a fair fight.
And when I say I kicked his ass, I don’t mean that I gave him an enforcer-style beating like Keaton can deal out. I didn’t even hit him all that many times, just enough for him to know not get up again.
That would have been okay, except I did hit him once where he most deserved it – in his filthyass mouth – and I fucked him up worse than I meant to. I gave him a really bad split lip, and it was bleeding a lot. Word always gets out when there’s a fight going on, and the guests at the party started coming out to see what was going on. By the time Shoshanah’s parents got there, Jacob was on the ground and bleeding.
Maybe y’all can guess what came next. The Rabinowitzes took Jacob’s side. The real bad part was that so did Shoshanah. She felt sorry for the motherfucker…but she didn’t know what he said about her. She just saw him on the ground and bleeding, and looked at me like it was all my fault. I reckon I could have told her what he said about her and then she’d have sided with me. But I wasn’t going to repeat it. Especially to her.
So I got told to leave, while Shoshanah and her parents took Jacob to the ER. You’d think he was going to need open heart surgery the way they all were carrying on. Ok, it’s true that a split lip like that bleeds like a motherfucker…but then you get your stitches and you shut up about it.
I got home pretty pissed off. Dad was still up, so I told him the story, since I knew the Rabinowitzes were going to call him to try and get me in trouble. They didn’t know that Dad was always cool if I got into a fight to stand up for myself, my family or my friends. That certainly included my girlfriend. There’s only one person to who I’ve ever repeated what Jacob said, and that was Dad. He told me I did the right thing: anyone who talks about a woman that way deserves to be taught a lesson.
On the other hand, Dad also said that I was going to regret beating Jacob up.
He was right.
I don’t think that Jacob Bernstein was smart (or evil) enough to have had the whole thing planned out in advance, but he took advantage of the situation once he was in it. Probably on the way to the ER already, he was making me out as this total redneck savage who liked starting fights and beating up helpless northern boys. Jacob obviously didn’t tell them what provoked the fight: what Shoshanah told me the next day was that he said I started it because I was jealous of him.
That was total bullshit.
The problem is Shoshanah believed him. I was defending her honor…but I wasn’t going to repeat Jacob’s filth…so I was coming out as the bad guy. I’ve told y’all that I got in a lot of fights growing up. Shoshanah didn’t like me fighting, so I dialed it down when she became my girlfriend. Getting into that fight with that asshole didn’t make me look too good in her eyes.
Turns out that was all it took. I’m sure they all worked on Shoshanah until, three weeks later, she broke up with me. Her “reason” was that she decided her parents were right, and she shouldn’t be going out with a non-Jew.
This from the girl who was Juliet to my Romeo.
That was bullshit too.
But it fuckin broke my heart. I was 18, and she was my first love. Y’all should think back to your own first loves and breakups to get an idea of how bad I felt after Shoshanah broke up with me. Dad always told me that men shouldn’t cry, but there were a few times when I couldn’t help it. That’s how bad and hurt I felt. Lucky I had Meemaw, who didn’t judge me for crying and was always there whenever I needed to talk to her. It was Meemaw who got me through it; I don’t know what I would have done without her. It took hours and hours of her listening before I was able to talk about it even with Turner and Gardner.
They were my best buddies and helped by getting my mind back on baseball and off my broken heart. They got me involved in a complicated and time-consuming THuG project…and drove with me three times a week to the batting cages in Knoxville. If Meemaw helped me through the worst of it, it was baseball that got me through the next phase. I don’t think I really was myself again until baseball season started.
I was still talking to Meemaw a lot about how I felt. And she knew exactly how long to wait before telling me that I should go find myself another girlfriend.
Y’all know I respect Meemaw’s advice…and usually follow it. But I didn’t when it came to getting a new girlfriend. I didn’t want to go through what I went through with Shoshanah again. On the other hand, I was a good-looking red-blooded 18 year old Southern boy…and the day came when my broken heart mended enough for me to start thinking about sex again.
So I did something about it. In the last 3 months of high school, I had sex with pretty much every cheerleader at Maryville High. Even some of the ones who had boyfriends. (That got me in more than one other fight…but that’s another story lol.)
In case y’all are wondering about that asshole Jacob Bernstein, he and Shoshanah did go out for a short time, but nothing really happened between them. Yeah, I was glad.
So, if y’all were thinking of me as some jock who ain’t got no feelings, now you know that I got some and that ballplayers can get broken hearts just like everybody else. I’ve been in relationships since Shoshanah, but none of them were anything like as intense as our Romeo and Juliet thing in high school. Meemaw told me a million times that no breakup ever hurts like the first one. Based on my experience, I reckon she’s right.