Article in PDF (Download)
Love without Women by Natalie Wood
Love without Women, a story in letter form, has been prompted by a true contemporary tale about a man who wrote to his daughter, rebuking her for disowning her son – his grandson – because he was gay. My version is also modern, but a fantasy based on the biblical accounts of the final days of King Saul and his relationship with Jonathan and David. I intend it to be a chapter in a much longer work.
As is my custom when story-telling, I mix fact and fiction along with real and imaginary people. Here I also weave Jewish and non-Jewish sources with secular scholarship and folklore to give a fresh slant on a story which has forever gripped popular imagination because it studies kingship and its link to holiness, melding them with a glimpse of the paranormal via the much maligned ‘Witch of Endor’.
The reign of King Saul has eternally fascinated writers, musicians and painters, a phenomenon I shall discuss elsewhere.
06 January 2014
As you won’t pick up the phone I’ve decided to write, not something I do often or find easy. So as you read this letter, picture the floor beneath my desk covered in balls of crumpled paper, much like Yonni looked when he slumped on our terrace late last night, whimpering to be let in.
Trembling and incoherent, he barely managed to describe how you threw him out of King’s Villa after he told you that he and David Judah are in love and intend getting married next year.
Yonni came to us seeking refuge, because David’s fled to Ziklag and he felt too fragile to spend even one night in their apartment alone. Yonni said that you yelled, “There are no gays in my family!” and announced that you’d disowned him even as you shoved him through your door.
How is this sound parenting? It looks like oafish bullying to me. By abandoning your eldest son you’ve not only robbed him of his moral birthright and self-esteem but have broken the chord which has bound an Israeli family for hundreds of years. It feels like the very heart of the Benjamins has been pierced and your mother and I are forced to watch and wait while its pulse slows, then finally fades away.
The disgust and shame you displayed on learning that your son is gay is nothing compared to the outrage I feel on discovering that mine is narrow-minded and dogmatic. But your recent behaviour has been increasingly bizarre and this terrible episode is but a symptom, not the cause. Believe me, I’m not the only one to think that you are gravely ill and in desperate need of help.
Let’s examine the facts: First, Yonni and David can no more alter their sexuality than they chose to be born left-handed and auburn-haired. We’re all aware they’ve been inseparable since childhood and I relished watching their mutual affection flower as they grew ever taller and more vital. Perhaps I guessed what was happening ahead of them. Why else, I had to acknowledge, would they prefer their own company to that of the pretty girls who surround them, even now?
Yonni told me they enjoy being with women and both have slept with them. But, he said, it’s never been for love. So our Yonni and his David have somehow developed nothing short of a unique covenantal bond.
During the harrowing hours since he arrived here, Yonni’s tried to explain that their intense physical relationship is almost incidental and that by some circuitous route that my limited, humdrum experience renders baffling, their involvement has become somehow selfless, artless – a thing apart – ‘more wonderful than the love of women’. My own belief is that one must encounter such emotions first-hand even to begin to appreciate them.
But Shaul, while I struggle to plumb the well of Yonni’s grief, you airily dismiss his love for David as corrupt. This leaves me to ask what you are hiding from. What do you seek?
As your father, I don’t believe you begrudge David his outstanding military record. You, too, were a much decorated combatant in ‘73. Nor do I think you’re vexed by his growing reputation as a musician and poet, as you often find solace in his songs. No. What you envy, and in spades, is that David has lured Yonni away from you, and to a secret garden for whose door you’ll never have the key.
This may explain what happened at Caesarea where you were invited to help Cousin Avner coach the local team for the monthly Royal and Ancient Archery Tournament at Gilboa. You had refused to go. So it was fortunate that only Avner had noticed your tailing the party on the road up there and only he knew you were perched in the fortress ruins, glowering at them like a demented hawk through an arrow loop in the ramparts, hour on hour. What was your game, Shaul – stalking – spying on – your adult son?
Perhaps your terrible mood pervaded the atmosphere below. It seems the team was so badly off-form that David and Yonni, much preoccupied with their own concerns, halted their round and threw their gear down in disgust. They then embraced and kissed before David turned and stumbled away without a backward glance. Avner said, “I don’t know how David ever made his way back to his car. I’ve never seen a man cry as passionately as he did that afternoon. It was as if Yonni and he would never meet again. Their pain was so evident that my own eyes watered watching them”.
Later, as the other squad members also packed to leave, you joined the crowd but insisted that Avner travel towards Gilboa with you instead of returning home.
It was too late to find a hotel when you reached Mount Tabor so he suggested visiting his mother, Zephaniah at Ein Dor. She was very hospitable but you abused her kindness, growing unpleasant about her alleged powers as a psychic medium. Then laughing, you pestered her to conduct a séance so you could contact your old mentor, Shmuel Dayan.
Zephie fears no-one but as you grew more agitated she worried that you may become violent, so pretended to enter a trance. Avner heard her intone “abra k’dvarcha – I have created as You have spoken” and saw you mutter into empty space.
God knows – indeed, only the Almighty could confirm – what really happened next. You claimed that Shmuel did appear, but grumbled that you’d disturbed his eternal rest and instructed you not to trouble him again.
This must be a warning from above, Shaul. Pull back from the brink. Do not fall on your own sword. Instead, look inward and look hard. See yourself in Yonni and him in you. This battle of wills – with yourself – is the one you cannot win.
So I close now, but more in dread than love.
Your despairing father