One Call Away was conceived in Fort Lauderdale Beach, a year ago last January. It was actually my daughter's idea. and I dedicated the book to her, although she doesn't know it yet. I know many of you have heard it before, but this truly is the book of my heart. I grew up not as religious as Oren yet not as non-religious as Noah. There are now gay and lesbian rabbis ordained in the Reform and Conservative sects, and in 2014 the first Orthodox synagogue opened on the Upper West Side of Manhattan:
Or Chayim https://orchayim.org/
There are also help lines available to answer questions from religious (also known as Frum) Jewish people:
The important thing to realize is that you may not be as alone as you think. And that's what Oren needed to learn.
You can purchase One Call Away here:
Amazon: getBook.at/One CallAway
I'm giving you an exclusive excerpt from One Call Away. I hope you enjoy:
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“I want to apologize for hanging up on you.”
“Don’t apologize. Please.” Strangely, that same warm tone Oren heard in the doctor’s voice earlier settled his thumping heart. Like a stranger on foreign soil, Oren found himself caught in a world he couldn’t figure out. Thoughts and emotions he’d suppressed as a teenager now swirled through his mind; sometimes the freedom given to be who you were could be scarier than living the life. Oren had no idea how to take that first baby step toward independence.
“I know it was wrong for me to hang up, and…”
“But you called back. That’s the first thing. And I’m so glad you did. It shows real strength and courage on your part.”
“I’m not strong or courageous,” said Oren, admitting to himself he enjoyed this conversation with Noah more than any he’d had the entire night with the guys from work. “It’s easier to speak when you’re not face-to-face with a person.”
“That’s true,” said Noah. “Easier, but many times more honest, don’t you think? You find yourself able to admit things to that person without fearing the judgment in their eyes.”
“Maybe.” Oren hesitated. “But what if you said things that later you were sorry for, but don’t know how to take back. Or…” He took a deep breath then let it out and plunged ahead. “What if what you’ve done can never be forgiven and you don’t know how to recover from it?” What was his truth? The life he lived daily or the one he lived inside his head, afraid to put into words?
“Aside from murder, I’ve found there are few things that can’t be forgiven with an honest discussion about why it happened in the first place and what made the person fearful to reveal it.”
Oren digested Noah’s words. He’d had no choice in making that phone call; drunk as he was, Harlan had basically threatened his position at the firm if he didn’t do it. And Oren knew Harlan would have found a way to have him fired simply because he didn’t get his way and had the power to do so. Spoiled, cruel, and selfish, Harlan DeWitt made sure Oren never forgot his place at the firm: under the thumb of the great-grandson who took whoring around at night more seriously than the practice of law during the day.
“Maybe,” conceded Oren. “But I guess only if you’ve proved yourself first as a friend to be trusted.”
“Well, you sound like you need a friend. Do you?”
Did he? Oren wondered. After he made the decision to be less religious, his childhood friends drifted away. It was as much his fault as it was theirs; he let them go without a struggle. Fear could do that to a person. Fear of discovery and fear of judgment.
Many had not only gone on to law school or other professional schools but also followed tradition by marrying and starting families. Oren had nothing in common with them any longer. While they busily talked nursery schools and birthday parties, he met women in bars and had pointless conversations.
From an early age, Oren sensed he might be different from the other boys he went to school with but didn’t understand why. As a teenager, knowing he had no one he could talk to about his confusing thoughts, he read books and, in secret, went to the big library on 42nd St. and found books about men attracted to other men. Instead of helping him, they’d make him feel even guiltier, and he’d slam the books shut. After that, he ignored his body’s reactions and made a point of trying to date as many girls as he could. He didn’t want to be like that. It wasn’t right.
“Maybe. I don’t have many friends left from before college, and with my crazy work schedule…” The words trailed off, and Oren laughed self-consciously. “Yeah. I guess maybe it would be nice.”
“I’ll volunteer. Feel free to call me. I’ll always be there to take your call.”
“Do I sound that pitiful?” Oren wasn’t angry; he felt curious and strangely drained.
“Asking for help makes you strong. Why do men think they’re not supposed to feel or show emotion without being tagged as weak? It’s time to break through those barriers and behave as we want, not as others say we should.”
Oren listened carefully to Noah’s words, thinking the man might be nice but totally naive in his thinking. He couldn’t imagine being so free; he was taught to live by a strict set of rules without any deviation allowed, and even though he hadn’t been religious in years, it still held sway over him in so many aspects of his life.
“How did your parents take it when you told them you were gay? Did they get angry at you or disappointed?” Then, realizing how invasive a question that was to a virtual stranger, he winced. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry. That was way too personal.”
“Nah. It’s fine. My parents were very cool with my sexuality; they’re pretty liberal and support all us kids as long as we don’t do anything illegal or completely embarrassing.” Noah chuckled, and Oren smiled into the phone, liking the sound of Noah’s laugh. Where earlier the icy-cold had seeped into his bones, now warmth suffused him. Oren had never felt so at ease with someone, especially a person he’d never met.
What would it be like to walk through life not worrying about people’s opinions or how your personal choices would affect others? He’d never know. From the moment Oren turned his back on his family’s way of life, his parents and sisters had been subjected to neighborhood gossip and snubs. If he confessed to them what he’d hidden all these years, as he did to Noah, he couldn’t be sure of their reactions. Every day he struggled with mounting fear and shame. His chest constricted.
“You’re lucky. I love my family, but they don’t understand me.”
“That’s rough. But you still see them?” The question hung in the air.
“Yeah, not as much as I’d like, though. Work keeps me so busy, and with them keeping Friday night and Saturday Sabbath, it’s doubly hard.”
“I’m sure they’d bend the rules to make sure to see you.”
But Oren knew they wouldn’t—they couldn’t. Their religion was as much a part of them as their blood, and they wouldn’t, they couldn’t change for him or anyone else. If Oren wanted to see his family, the responsibility rested on him.
“No. It’s not that easy.”
“I’m sure it isn’t, but let me help you ease your burden somewhat,” said Noah, his voice softly urgent. It curled around his spine, sending tingles of awareness through him, and Oren shivered. “Take my number. Anytime you want to talk, or need someone to dump on…or even just to say hi, call me. I’m serious. Anytime.”
Oren stared stupidly at his phone. The night that had started out so much worse than he imagined, with joke-calling the radio show, now ended with what sounded to Oren suspiciously like an offer of friendship. It ignited a long-dormant yearning inside to get close to someone. Someone who understood everything he’d never been able to figure out about himself. Maybe it could be Noah, who seemed to have an uncanny ability to calm him and help him understand who he was, no matter that they’d never met in person.
“Yeah?” Oren licked his lips nervously as the cab continued to bounce along the rutted streets, jostling his already scrambled insides. “I—I don’t know. Why would you do this? I’m a stranger.”
“Maybe this means you shouldn’t be. I’m a great believer in fate, Oren. Maybe you were meant to call me tonight, and we’re supposed to be friends, and this is the way we were destined to meet.”
There went that low, almost musical laughter again. Oren’s breath caught in his throat, and he gripped the phone tighter in his sweaty hand.
“Okay. I guess.” And before Oren had the chance to think too hard, Noah gave him his number, and Oren entered it into his phone. Then, at Noah’s urging, he agreed to text him so Noah would have his as well. They hung up with Noah reiterating his offer to call him anytime, and as requested, Oren texted him, receiving a thumbs-up emoji symbol in return.
The cab passed through an unfamiliar neighborhood, and Oren gazed out the window. He didn’t want to go home to his cramped little studio apartment to stare at blank, unyielding walls that mocked him for his cowardice.
“Excuse me.” He tapped on the divider to get the cabbie’s attention. “Can you drop me off at the light?”
“Whatever.” The cab jerked to a halt, and Oren swiped his credit card and didn’t bother with a receipt. He bolted out of the car and found himself in an area of Brooklyn not far from the river. He stood shivering for a moment then caught sight of a bar’s neon lights blinking from down the block. He hurried toward its anticipated warmth and pushed open the door, inhaling the stale beery smell, but ignored it, savoring the heat.
A typical neighborhood dive. Oren’s shoes clung to a floor sticky with the remnants of various spilled liquids and foods; the dark varnished wood of the bar and tables bore the dullness of a gloss long since vanished, and a multitude of beer signs hung askew on the pitted, paneled walls. All this brought back memories of drunken college nights when he believed the world might be his for the taking.
The darkness enveloped him and for the next hour, Oren sat in the grungy little bar that smelled of disappointment and lost dreams and wondered when he’d decided to hide his life away.