End of the Road

wings tattoo
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Dina L. Relles

The beat-up Volvo station wagon hummed softly. It idled in the vacant parking lot of the sports stadium at the far corner of campus. My hands lay in my lap, my legs folded underneath me against the tan leather interior. We weren’t touching; I could feel his familiar look of desperation from across the console. Even in the half-light, I glimpsed that endearing gap between his two front teeth.

The clear New England night tapped at the windows, but the air that hung between us was stagnant. Heavy with the weight of our weekend away, it held the closeness of two people who’d traveled together. I fiddled with the fraying fringe at the bottom of my jeans as he spoke.

“Which is more likely?” His voice cracked. “That your parents would get over you marrying a non-Jew or that you would get over me?”

There it was: our impasse. It was just like him to cut to the heart of the matter.


There is a framed picture on my parents’ mantel of my father holding my face in his hands. We’re both crying, though he is not a man of tears. He was whispering the traditional blessing parents give to their children every Friday night—and there was something else too, words I can’t quite recall. But what remains in the sieve of memory is the sound of relief mixed with hope.

Moments later, I walked down the aisle to someone I’d long known but waited until adulthood to love. We shared a common past, a summer camp, and now a cup of wine under the huppah, the Jewish wedding canopy. The room rejoiced. It was just as I’d always pictured it.


A phone rang in my freshman dorm room in early October. He’d sat three rows in front of me in the massive lecture hall with his perfectly tattered baseball cap and freshly pressed prep school charm. I’d noticed him instantly, and every day thereafter.

An innocent request to borrow a course packet was quickly followed by an invitation to meet for coffee one evening. Easy, endless conversation flowed over my grande house blend and his hot chocolate with whipped cream that stuck to his top lip. First kisses on a dimly lit dorm porch led to nighttime snowball fights in Roger Williams Park and private flights in the campus Cessna.

One February night, my right arm dangled off the edge of the top bunk in his dorm room. A thin white undershirt separated his skin from mine as we exchanged pre-dawn confidences. He told of the time he sang to a dying pigeon as a child. Then, propped up on one arm, he looked down with aching eyes that ripped right through me. “I hope this doesn’t scare you,” he said, “but I think I’m falling in love with you.”

He sailed in regattas, sang a cappella, piloted planes. He was the captain of the squash team and several numbers punctuated his last name. His parents were Republicans.

He was Episcopalian. I was the rabbi’s daughter.

We had nothing in common.

We fell in love.

I shouldn’t act so surprised. It was, in a way, inevitable.


Something about winter stirs up memory. Tiny reminders drift down like snowflakes, settling just long enough to make me shift with unease.

It was winter when I first stepped foot in a church. On a family trip to London, I’d insisted we visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. Religion had become academic for me; I was endlessly curious, inevitably skeptical.

St. Paul’s was dark, quiet, ornate. Candles cut through the black and cast strange shadows on the coarse granite stones underfoot. It was silent, save for shuffling feet and serene hymnal music. It felt thrilling, almost scandalous somehow, to be there, and with my family. As we stood in its echoing, cavernous belly, I was struck, above all, by how familiar it felt.


I’d long stayed the course—years at Jewish day schools bled into summers at Jewish camp. Synagogues were second homes where I’d spend Saturdays sneaking around back hallways and swelling with pride at my father perched on the pulpit, masterfully holding court.

But even the most charmed childhood is no match for coming of age. My small, unconventional high school encouraged critical thinking about religion in a way the Orthodox schools of my youth had not. Long after class let out, I spent late nights sprawled on my gray carpet, a telephone cord tangled in my fingers, debating and dissecting faith with provocative friends. Questions led to more questions with answers that all ultimately led to God. It felt cyclical and unsatisfying, and I hungered for proof that wouldn’t come.

The quest itself became a kind of creed, and if I believed anything at all, it was that we were all connected in our shared uncertainty. I felt suffocated by the singularity of perspective, the smallness of my world. I still followed, more out of familiarity than faith, but it grew harder for me to reconcile religious practice with my steady skepticism. Doubt became my dogma, and I set out for college drunk with desire for diversity and distance.

Even in the earliest weeks away, I’d stopped observing the Sabbath and avoided eager solicitations from the Jewish groups on campus. I drafted term papers disputing the divine and touting the relativity of morality and truth. I rolled the word agnostic around on my tongue.

Now my safe, inner explorations had propelled me into the arms of another. Now they lived outside of me—in pleading eyes that reflected back my deepest doubts.


I hear a knock on the bedroom door and I throw on a damp towel, droplets from my hair tickling my arms. My middle son stands on the other side, gripping a glass perilously filled with electric green smoothie.

“Daddy made this for you.”

Ours is a different love, no doubt. No two people love the same. Not even the same two people over time.

Ours is no forbidden affair and our first kisses have long since faded. We share a mature love of burden and responsibility, of bearing other people who fill our hearts and hours.

Ours is a love not of questioning, but constancy and comfort, of leftovers and lights left on. It’s routine and real, not sexy, but sturdy and sure. It is as it should be.


I was the one who subconsciously sabotaged our secrecy over winter break. He’d given me a single iris on the night before we left campus. I’d brought it home, openly clutching it so as not to crush it in my carry-all. Never one to lie outright, when my parents asked its origin, I uttered his Anglican name. On a sleepless night, through streaming tears that distorted the once familiar fixtures of my high school bedroom, I sat opposite my mother and father as they drew their line in the sand—and I was too close to home, in age and at heart, to cross it.

We returned to campus that winter with renewed resolve to plot our relationship’s untimely death. Our lips locked, but our hands were tied. Come summer, we vowed, we’d end it. In the meantime, we busied ourselves with letting our love linger longer than it should.


One October afternoon, my high heels click-clack on the uneven Philadelphia pavement as they carry me home from work. I clutch my cell phone with my free hand, catching up with my mother en route.

Our conversation is casual as we chat about my husband’s sister and her strong interfaith family. But then, with a carelessness more misguided than malevolent, my mother flippantly remarks that perhaps she could have made peace with me ending up with a non-Jew.

My reaction is not my standard-issue irritability, but a searing blood boil that turns me inside out until words form at my lips.

“You’re not allowed to say that.” I choke out. “It will never be okay.” And it isn’t. I hang up and hurry home, holding back tears until I cross the threshold of that cozy first marital apartment on 24th Street.


By late spring, under the pretense of a squash tournament in the neighboring state, we set out on a secret road trip to Concord, Massachusetts. I’d shifted uncomfortably on plastic bleachers as I watched his lithe, lean body flit back and forth across the court. I impatiently awaited our evening reunions, our no-frills dinner fare. We wandered Walden Pond in late afternoon light and spent nights on dorm room floors of dear friends. We’d driven ourselves deeper into the heart of the thing.

Upon return, unwilling and unready to reenter campus life, we hid out in his old station wagon at what felt like the edge of the world. In this makeshift refuge, we talked of our incompatible faith and future. We imagined a world where our love could live, where it could defeat difference.

“I believe in the god that brought us together,” he whispered into the darkness. As if that settled everything.


It’s nearing bedtime on a visit to my parents’ home, and eight o’clock finds my mother and me jockeying for access to toothpaste, sink space, and my two older sons’ mouths. The boys are wound up, and I steel myself for the inevitable resistance to lights out.

My well-worn “time for bed” speech is met with their most fervent protests until the volume in the little bathroom reaches a fever pitch. My mother, a panacea always at the ready, offers up the Shema—the daily prayer—if the boys get in their beds. They dutifully file out of the bathroom and climb under covers, my mother trailing behind.

Instead of turning right, with them, I duck left into my old bedroom so they wouldn’t see the tears forming.

I could hear my mother’s soft voice sending the ancient words of the Shema into the night—Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord Is One.

An innocent profession of belief and devotion. But also, unavoidably, a pronouncement, a tribal rallying call, ushering my children off to sleep as it once did me.


I leaned against the car seat, exhaling deeply. My mind wandered back to the open road, to that stretch of New England highway that rose and fell while Fields of Gold played in the background. Where we could quietly consider a different life.

Just the day before, we’d slipped into a diner on the side of the road, flushed with the promise of two more hours together. We sat across from each other, laughing and coloring on the backs of our menus with kid crayons. We were stealing time. Eventually, our casual conversation stuttered, giving way to the familiar desperation that followed us everywhere. To the outside, we must have looked so normal, I thought. Like a regular couple.

I stared straight ahead. There we sat. Steeped in the thick, black night. The station wagon. Our impossibly idealistic love.

“Which is more likely? That your parents would get over you marrying a non-Jew or that you would get over me?”

His words hung there. I didn’t answer. I didn’t know.


Winter again, and I’m sitting on the scratchy den carpeting surrounded by the smiling, soft-skinned loves of my life. They watch kid TV while I sip afternoon coffee. A silly bit flashes across the screen featuring cartoons introducing the Chanukah holiday to their wide-eyed audience. A character turns to the camera and simply says, “Chanukah celebrates the miracle of light.”

Yes. I look out the back deck door and up to the gray afternoon light of a quiet December day. For a moment, I let out the breath that it feels I’m perpetually holding and my shoulders slacken. Maybe I could do this, I think. Extract morsels of meaning and weave a tradition that could draw me back in, make me whole.

It’s true—it remains where I am most at home.

In the smell of freshly baked challot on Friday afternoon. At an evening prayer service overlooking the lake at my summer camp, where I now return to work. Familiar melodies float up in the open air; I mouth the words without intention but through force of habit.

And yet. If I let myself think, I no longer belong. Familiarity, even love, cannot foster faith.

I tiptoe through the hallways of my childhood home. I sit with secretive silence and summon a smile. I’m an outsider looking in, faithful to a faith in which I only have doubt, belonging to a life that accepts only almost all of me.

I will forever be stuck in the stagnant air of that station wagon, staring into the darkness, searching for answers.


We stayed late on campus, a week past semester’s end—he to sing a cappella, me to be with him. Both of us to savor and suffer a relationship that felt far from over. Our months had become minutes, but we kept our vow. We left for summer separate and single, admitting—only to each other—that the love lingered on. Of course it did.

Still, we ended it. A choice made when there was none: a promise to a faith I no longer had and an inability to imagine traveling the unpaved road that lay ahead.


I collapse on the bed one night after tucking in my boys. I can hear my husband clanking around in the kitchen below, fielding a few last phone calls as he readies his evening tea.

New impossible questions follow me: “Maybe God is like the wind?” asks my oldest after lights out. “Invisible and everywhere.” I hum a non-response, then softly step into the baby’s room to stare with longing at his simple sleep.

In this season of life, the day’s demands leave little room for worry or wonder. I welcome intrusions—endless child chatter, babies stirring in the night. I’m uncertain, yet content. Winter’s restless reminders, the grounding weight of home, the not knowing—it’s who I am now. It’s what’s left.

He finishes his work, climbs the stairs, and settles at the edge of the bed. I wedge my feet under his legs for warmth and finally drift off to sleep.


DINA L. RELLES is a lawyer, writer, and mother of three young sons. Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. She is a blog editor at Literary Mama and writes regularly on her own site, Commonplace. You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

Pin It

64 thoughts on “End of the Road

  1. Religion, family, and love are endlessly complicated. This essay leaves you with more questions than answers, at least that’s the feeling I get when reading. That’s life. Immensely enjoyable to read this author’s story.

    1. Thank you so much, Kerry. That’s exactly what I was hoping the reader would be left with–a sense of the endless, inevitable questioning that underlies all of our lives. Your comment was the first I read in the wee hours of the morn and gave me such comfort and contentment as these words made their way into the world.

  2. The chasm between where we come from and where our heart takes us isn’t something that is spoken aloud very often. It doesn’t seem like we’re honest about the ache for all involved to use everything you’ve been taught as a springboard to a life you make for yourself, sometimes mirroring childhood, other times moving to an entirely new place.

    Your words and musings are exquisite and startling. I see the light and hope in all of you and wish that it were easy for them to come together. I hope that you can piece something together, plucking bits of wisdom carried in the wind to fashion a wrap that keeps your family whole.

    Love to you for these words.

    1. [This is actually from Dina–something went wonky with the replying dohickey, so I’m posting on her behalf]

      Oh this comment brought tears…real, true, honest tears. Yes…where we come from and where we’re going don’t often match up nicely. But it’s in the space between, the struggle, where we find our own way. It makes life interesting, true enough, but also hard, painful…and beautiful. “…the ache for all involved…” indeed. Thank you for this, Amanda. Love to you.

  3. Oh, Dina. I’m so glad this essay found a worthy home. It’s even more lovely than the first time I read it. I love the insight into your present-day life. Beautifully written.

    1. Thank you, Meghan! I love that you saw the seedling of this essay at its inception and now came back to read it in its fullest form. I’m touched by your kind words.

  4. I am the child of an interfaith marriage. I don’t believe either of my grandmothers ever made peace with their children’s union. And I’m not sure my parents made peace with each other and what they did either. Your essay conjures so many thoughts and emotions. I love the shifting time and place. And the steadiness, the constancy of your emotions.

    1. So fascinating. I don’t think there’s any easy, perfectly comfortable way out of an interfaith love story. Just different paths we take, full of uncertainty and hope. Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

    1. Thanks so much, Rae! Lovely to have met you in person and honored that you came to read my words here, on the site that brought us together.

  5. WOW! WOW! WOW! Bravo, Dina! This is such a brave, honest, inspiring essay. Your words are gorgeous, your expression of your feelings beyond honest. Congrats on this amazing piece! xoxo

  6. Dina, what a magnificently written story about love lost and found. Religion, youth, motherhood, relationship so exquisitely woven together. Life is complicated, and I am so filled with gratitude to you for writing about yours. Thank you, my friend.

    1. Thank you, dear friend. Grateful to you, always, for reading, for hearing, for appreciating the complexities right alongside me.

  7. Dina this is an amazing story so beautifully told. I feel so many of the same things (as you know) and love how you dove into it all here.

    1. Thank you so much, Tricia. I *do* know. And I’m always, always so grateful that you’re out there reading.

  8. Dina, I love the open-endedness of this gorgeous essay and the back and forth in time and perspective. At this point in our lives — married with kids, working or staying at home — we really do come back around to the questions we’re founded on. The ones in your piece of love and religion, sacrifice and wondering about decisions made are so relevant and haunting.

    1. The questions never really do go away, do they? We just come at them from different ages and angles. Life would be far more boring, if simpler, without them. I think we need to keep raising them–these questions of faith and love and family–and I humbly hope my journey somehow helps others think through theirs. Thank you so much for reading, Lisa, and for these incredibly kind words.

  9. Oh, Dina, this is just breathtaking. My favorite piece of yours to date. My friend, I have loved watching you evolve as a writer in the short time that I’ve “known” you. You have a true gift. Your words, your imagery, the shifting of time, the sweeping current of questions left provocatively unanswered, though not unsatisfactorily. Just all of it. Masterfully done. I hope you’ll be revisiting this subject.

    1. Thank you, thank you, dearest Lara. You get me and my writing in a way few do, and you endlessly inspire me in turn. Beyond grateful for you–thank you for being out there, and for always reading. xo

  10. What a beautiful essay. I felt your confusion, your emotions, your searching for answers throughout the span of your life. I have shared many of the same concerns, having married my college love – a man of a different faith. It has been only a mild issue over the years, primarily in regard to instilling faith in our sons, but I have missed not having a soul mate to share in that part of my life. I’m not sure it would have been any different had I married a Catholic, however,since we all go through our own journeys of doubt and uncertainty.

    1. “…we all go through our own journeys of doubt and uncertainty” – such truth, so beautifully put. There is always the path not taken, but it’s so interesting to consider how our idiosyncratic journeys to find truth and belief might persist, even if the characters in our stories were to change. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing these thoughts here, Patty.

  11. This is a masterful and beautiful essay, Dina. Gripping from beginning to end, and in a very different way, I understand so well that sense of two paths, one here and real and beloved, one there and imagined and missed, running alongside each other forever. You paint it so well.

    1. “that sense of two paths, one here and real and beloved, one there and imagined and missed, running alongside each other forever” — this is pretty much perfect. If I ever pen a memoir, I want you to write a blurb. Thank you so much, Mandy, for reading, for getting it…I absolutely loved this comment.

  12. Dina- I am speechless. I am sitting in a Starbucks and it took me a few minutes to come “back” to my reality. So many emotions- the young girl in me is outraged and wants you to fight, while the mother and wife and daughter in me acknowledges the hard questions and hard choices, and recognizes the beauty in sturdy and right, in knowing your place. Brave and beautiful. xoxo

    1. I love how you capture all the conflicting selves in this brief, knowing paragraph. Your comments are always revelatory. Thank you so much, Alisa. It means the world that you’re out there reading.

  13. I have been sitting in front of my computer this morning, trying to string together the dots of a story into a complete whole, and I feel like I’ve been lurching and punching to get even a single sentence out of me. So I decided to come here and read, as the quality of prose at Full Grown People dazzles me–so I thought I might find inspiration that would help me move forward with my own story.

    And I landed here, on your essay. You did it: your lyrical writing coupled with intelligence and heart, have inspired me. Back to my piece now.

    1. Oh wow. I am touched and thankful and utterly speechless. Sending you good writing vibes through the ether…!

  14. “I’m uncertain, yet content. Winter’s restless reminders, the grounding weight of home, the not knowing—it’s who I am now. It’s what’s left.” What a lovely summation of maturity. I mean, truly lovely. It says so much in so few words. And, in the course of all the preceding gorgeous, profound and painful words you weave themes using a structure that is beyond compelling. Thank you so much for this gift.

    1. Thank *you* for this beautiful comment. You reflect back exactly what I wished to do with this piece–you are a dream reader. I’m so glad my words spoke to you. xo

  15. This is plump with truth and beautifully articulated. Simply gorgeous and so relatable. I am proud to be a fellow writer and have had the honor to read a portion of this piece at our retreat. Love! xo

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle! The honor is all mine–it was a privilege to write with you, and I hope our paths cross again soon. Sending love. xo

  16. Dina, I’d commented the other day, but it appears to have eaten my comment! Anyway… I had said something to the effect of: I had to read this twice through, hoping (even the second time!) that the outcome would be different. As someone who often second-guesses a relationship decision I made, this sentence, in particular really spoke to me: ” I felt suffocated by the singularity of perspective, the smallness of my world.”

  17. Wow, just wow, Dina. You have captured the the low grade, ever present push-pull I feel among all the pieces of my life. Pieces from the past, pieces from dreams unfulfilled, pieces from roads not taken, pieces of who I am today. Brokering a peace agreement among these disparate splinters of self is not easy and I’m not sure we ever do achieve complete harmony and integration, but maybe we reach an acceptable equilibrium that allows us to carry on. I am much older than you, and I can tell you the biggest shock of adulthood I’ve had was when I realized not how many ways my heart could be broken, but how many ways it could be divided. You are a truly gifted writer and thank for being brave enough to share this bit of your soul.

  18. Yes, that ever-present conflict can be felt running through so many aspects of our lives. A ‘divided heart’ – what a troublingly beautiful concept. Thank you so much, Lee, for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts here.

  19. Dina,
    It’s really an unending loop of conflict, question, resolve for a time and then again conflict….it’s not neccesarily more conflict but rather different conflict. The questions are a bit different as are the resolutions.
    It goes on and on. It seems that you have both grown into it well and it has grown well into you.
    And you write about both with pain and with ease….kind of like that ever ending circle.
    Thanks for sharing so well. It’s a glimpse into your incredible depth….going way back.

Comments are closed.