I am not here for long. I know it; Bernice told me when I was young. Every thing about me is impermanent, especially my reflection. That was her favorite topic: how ugly I will be before too long. She would talk at length about it when I could not escape her presence and had no choice but to hear her go on and on talking to herself, really, because I would never reply. I had learned quickly that the slightest movement of my lips, the faintest blush on my cheeks encouraged her to thrust the knife in deeper.
It was Bernice, my oldest sister, who took the lead in arranging my marriage to Gaius. She put on a show for anyone who would listen about how she was honoring our father by helping her poor sister, who was jilted by her betrothed.The truth was that I would continue to rely on her and her husband until I was married, but she also took delight in the fact that I was repulsed by Gaius. It’s too bad that things didn’t work out with the first fellow. He was too sensible for my father’s hypocritical scheme. My father had wanted his daughters to marry Roman citizens, pagans even, so long as they “converted.” His was a dream of assimilation. He carefully cultivated relationships with the right men and seeing that I was unusually beautiful, he arranged for my marriage to one of them when I was still a child. And yet there was the complicating requirement that he take on the appearance of Jewish faith, demonstrated by circumcision.
That one requirement which was meaningless to me, my father had held in highest importance. The contradiction was painfully obvious to me as my family had a history of disloyalty to our Jewish brothers. And that was the very reason why this one gesture was so important to our credibility. Once jilted, I was in an intolerable state of total dependence to Bernice until someone desperate enough to do this stepped forward.
Gaius, far past his prime, was willing, and dutifully, I accepted his offer to meaninglessly mutilate himself for my hand. This was highly amusing to Bernice, who made sure to remind me on my wedding day that in his pain he surely regretted the sight of me. We could not consummate our marriage for weeks. Never mind that she had worked around this same requirement by marrying our brother. I thought after I was out of her house, my sister would let me be, but her jealousy was unrelenting.
Not long hence, the conniving Felix came into my life through an acquaintance, Simon of Cyprus. I remember being greatly intrigued by Simon. He was charming and handsome, and I thought so must Felix also be, or at least he was clever enough to send the right person to convince me to come to him. I thought this would be the final revenge: I could upend Bernice’s plot to keep me miserable and perhaps find some happiness in life. For all our wealth and social standing, real happiness was always in short supply in my family.
Looking back, though, I don’t remember thinking Felix could really make me happy. I just remember knowing that if I stayed where I was, I would certainly die unfulfilled. And Felix’s courts have been amusing. He was not a Jew of course, but he was a kind of friend to them and knew how their beliefs and those of the major sects worked. I remember he was especially intrigued with one man, an outspoken proponent of The Way. A most irritating person! Felix kept him in custody for a couple of years once he was turned over by the Jews. Felix kept saying he was sure his friends would pay a bribe for his release, but I know he seriously considered the teachings of this man. Later, even my brother was mesmerized by his oratory, though I can’t think why, as his main message was about an executed criminal, self-control and other dreary topics. But it was an intriguing situation since he was a Roman as well as a Jew. I believe he eventually made his case to Caesar himself or died trying.
So all in all, Felix has been a suitable companion for me. We’re fond of the same vices and have a similar opinion of Bernice’s sanctimonious attitude toward our union. We have one son and heir who regularly accompanies me on extended stays at our villa in Pompeii. Even so, I see by now that my sister was right: that my beauty has faded. And I feel the impermanence of my footsteps on the hard stones of the roads of Pompeii. The longing that drove me to Felix is still with me, unquenched by marriage or motherhood. And that is no one’s fault. I have no one at which to be angry, no object of wrath. I remember the teachings from my childhood. There was one which went “All are from dust, and to dust all return.” Sometimes I feel very close to this dust and long to feel the warm embrace of the earth swirling around me, filling my lungs. Who knows how long I have? I only feel that my time is short. And there is nothing to be done for me now.
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There is never a “point of not return” with the God who raises the dead. There is always a way out. Share you redemption story. Come share your thoughts on our blog. Leave a Reply ~ Joni