“And He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast them into the depths of the sea” –Tashlich prayer
Dustin had no plans to go to services, but he opted to take Yom Kippur off from work anyway. Facebook had a number of Jewish employees and things were pretty quiet on the High Holidays. Even Mark announced that he wouldn’t be coming in this year, so Dustin took that as tacit endorsement of a free day.
He woke up early out of habit but lounged around in bed for a while just for the luxury of it. When he finally got up to pee and then wandered into the kitchen to make coffee, there was a hard-to-shake twinge of guilt. He managed to squash it down and drank a mugful while skimming through the day’s headlines on his laptop. With the latent rebellion unleashed, he took a lengthy shower and went out onto the porch after he dressed. The porch (technically a veranda, according to his realtor) was the one indulgence he’d allowed himself when buying the house. It wrapped halfway around the second story and was opened onto by French doors in the master bedroom and office. On his first night in the house, when after a lifetime of siblings and roommates the excess of space and quiet felt strangely suffocating, he had dragged his sleeping bag out onto cool ceramic tiling and fallen asleep staring at the inky smudge of the foothills in the distance.
Dustin sank into the cushioning of a padded wicker chair and kicked his feet up onto the matching ottoman (both housewarming gifts from his sister). He grabbed the book off of the side table and idly paged through, trying to find where he’d left off but unable to even remember how long it had been since he’d last read it. He was antsy. There was a prickling, crawling sensation just below the surface of his skin and sitting around the house and enjoying a relaxing day in was proving to be difficult. It had been years since he’d been to synagogue, but it still felt wrong to not do anything to mark the day. Especially this year, what with … well, atoning maybe wouldn’t be such a bad idea this year, that’s all.
His stomach rumbled, and he headed back downstairs to see what food he could find. There was a half a loaf of bread and some cold cuts that passed the mold test. The bread was stale, though, and as it thunked onto the island counter he thought of Tashlich. Every year on Rosh Hashanah when he was growing up, his family would head down to the pond at the park where his father would read from Micah as Dustin and his brother and sister tossed bread crumbs into the shallows. They stopped as the kids got older and schedules got busier, but he remembered those trips with fondness and it seemed like a fitting way to spend his afternoon.
With sundown around 7 pm, he had roughly six hours before this whole business was sealed for the year. Dustin stuffed the loaf of bread and a couple sodas into his backpack, grabbed his bike from the garage, and started out towards the bay. It was a pleasant day and he rode at a leisurely pace. The air was starting to pick up the crisp hint of fall, but the sky was clear except for a few streaks of wispy white clouds. He headed northeast, cutting through Midtown and skirting along Mayfield Slough before continuing out Embarcadero to the Baylands Nature Preserve. There were a few hikers and joggers out along the trails, but it was a weekday and schools were back in session, so he mostly had the place to himself. Stashing the bike near an observation deck, he followed a dirt trail through the marshy ground cover and down to the water.
He pulled the bread from his pack and grabbed a slice. It crumbled easily in his hand, the wind whisking the fine silt from between his fingers as he spread the larger pieces across the water. He settled into a soothing rhythm: grab, tear, toss, repeat. Overhead the airplanes circled, and he watched the complex choreography of takeoffs and holding patterns.
The few ducks and other birds that had been swimming nearby quickly caught on to the arrival of a new food source, and soon there was a minor menagerie gathering around his feet. Dustin had spent an embarrassingly long time as a child terrified of waterfowl because his older brother had convinced him that they were the embodiment of evil, fed by everyone’s cast off sins (that, and a goose had bitten him once). Right now, he rather liked their company.
His thoughts drifted to the past year. To everything that had gone so horribly, twistedly wrong. He pictured Eduardo, sopping wet and furious, and he tossed some crumbs to the madding crowd. He remembered two sets of contracts (toss) and a post-it note in Mark’s scrawled hand telling him which set not to sign (toss). He remembered a night spent staring at a draft of an email, cursor hovering over the send button as the light began slipping in through the curtains and mixing with the glow of the screen until finally he deleted the message and dragged himself to bed (toss, toss, toss). He remembered sitting silent and still as he watched a heart break in front of him.
Eight months ago, Dustin had gotten a little drunk and a lot morose and had made an uncomfortable phone call. In fumbling words he’d tried to convey his guilt and his sadness. Choked on the rising bile of shame as he apologized profusely. Eduardo had been quiet, breathing raggedly, like maybe it was all still too fresh and raw to be hearing this. But he composed himself and said that he’d never blamed Dustin and he understood the position he’d been in and he probably would have done the same thing himself (he wouldn’t have, Dustin knows that with certainty. Eduardo had his flaws, but he was loyal to his friends above all else. Or, at least he had been before he’d seen where that got him. Dustin didn’t know whether it was still the case). They’d made some idle small talk about Harvard and classes and Chris’ new boyfriend, but it soon petered out and Eduardo begged off, citing an early lecture in the morning. Dustin had been absolved, but he’d heard the brokenness that had seeped through the cracks of Eduardo’s coolly constructed exterior, and he knew he’d helped to cause it.
The feeling crept up on him, like a pot brought to a boil over low heat, but he realized with a start that he was angry. He’d been wrong to stay quiet, but he’d also been put in an impossible situation. Eduardo was his friend too, and Mark had made him chose between them, forced Dustin to be complicit in a gross betrayal of trust. Who the hell does that? Just where did Mark get off?
Riding high on this wave of pique, Dustin scrambled for his phone and dialed Mark’s number. It rang and rang, and Dustin was just about to give up as Mark answered.
“What is it, Dustin?”
He heard muffled singing in the background and then the sound of a door thumping closed. “Where are you?”
“I’m at temple,” he sounded impatient, “What’s going on?”
“You went to services?” He tried to picture it: Mark in a white button down and khakis, a kippah perched on his messy curls and his flip-flops for once not seeming out of place with the more formal attire. It struck him as a wholly ridiculous image.
There was silence on the other end of the line, so he continued, “You know that you’re supposed to make amends to people before you can atone to God, right?”
Dustin swore he could hear Mark roll his eyes. “I don’t believe in God.”
“And yet you’re at services.”
He sighed. The righteous indignation that had spurred him to make the call was fading and a familiar bleak sadness was slowly taking its place.
“You know what I realized today? I’m mad at you. I’ve been so busy feeling like shit for what you – we –did to Eduardo that I didn’t stop to think about it, but you fucked me over, too. You had no right to put me in that position.”
“V’hirshanu,” Mark muttered.
“V’hirshanu,” he repeated, “’we have caused others to do evil.’"
“Wow, you’re, like, seriously doing the whole atoning thing.
“Somewhere around the third time through Ashamnu I started counting and I got to at least 13 sins that apply directly. 17 if you’re less literal."
“That … is almost impressively terrible.”
Dustin was seized by a need to ask, to know, “If you could go back, would you do it again?”
“It was a business decision. That’s all it was. I made the right choice for Facebook and I stand by the decision and would make it again,” it sounded flat and practiced, like he was reciting. “But,” he continued, paused, “I think there are parts I would handle differently.”
It was enough. For now, it was enough. “You could always call him, you know.”
Mark was quiet for a long time, and then he said softly, “I don’t think he wants to hear from me.”
“Well, a lot of that might depend on what you had to say.”
“Where would I start?”
“I don’t know, maybe with aleph and then you can work your way down.”
“Maybe,” Mark sounded like he was actually thinking about it, “I need to get back inside. I’ll see you tomorrow. Shana tova”
“Yeah, shana tova.”
Dustin hung up. He tossed his last slice of bread into the water and watched the birds tussle over it, hungrily feasting on his regrets.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and read the text from Mark and his face broke into a grin.
Does he still use the 305 area code number?
Behind him, the birds had finished with the bread. The ducks paddled away, the seagulls hopped down the marsh, and the lone goose took flight as it gave one long, honking blast of sound.
“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed” –the Unetaneh tokef