| Fiction |

All the Things Fall

There were so many rules and regulations that came along with shidduch dating, it was simply impossible to follow everything

“So next time we’re supposed to do something fun.”

Sally realized Josh’s blunder before he did, but she managed to keep her smile to herself.

There were so many rules and regulations that came along with shidduch dating, it was simply impossible to follow everything. And it was silly — clearly, she was having a nice time; in fact, she liked pretty much everything she’d seen about Josh. So what if he mentioned a third date while still on the second without going through the shadchan?

“I mean, assuming there is a next time.” Josh finished awkwardly.

“I like fun!” Sally tried to push the conversation back to steady ground.

“Oh, good. Same.”

“I mean — not all fun.” Sally corrected herself. ‘‘It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how. I don’t love chaos. I much prefer Monopoly, staining doll house furniture, Rainbow Loom, architecture tours, high-end window shopping, and when I’m feeling really crazy, I’ll whip out some Perler beads. You know, the sort of fun where nothing gets broken and no one gets hurt and there’s no mess at the end.”

Josh’s eyes widened. “Okay. Good to know. You’ll have to explain what a Perler bead is one of these days.”

Sally laughed. The couple walked toward the doors of the hotel lobby and peered through the glass.

“We should be able to get a cab right here,” Josh said.

Nice manners, self-assured, holds himself well. Sally pasted his positive attributes onto her brain so she’d be able to repeat them to Rebbetzin Fish when she got home.

Josh walked through the electric door but Sally stayed back for a moment, quickly scanning the area. The coast seemed clear, but she’d learned the hard way that one could never be too certain; at any given time some cat could suddenly slither out of nowhere, scaring the daylights out of her. She walked outside gingerly and stood next to Josh on the curb.

“Ah.” Josh inhaled. “There’s nothing like the air of Jerusalem.”

Sally nodded. “It is a lovely night. Not too hot, not too cold—”

“But every night is beautiful here, don’t you think? I mean, even when it’s pouring rain and freezing, there’s something special in the air.” Josh looked up at the sky. “My parents took us everywhere as kids. We went on road trips, exotic vacations, cruises — the works. I’ve seen it all, but there’s no place like home.”

A little worm of fear niggled its way through Sally’s stomach. She shifted her handbag from one arm to the other, trying to stay calm. “You mean there’s no place like home like… like Denver home?”

“No, I mean home here. In Jerusalem. I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else,” Josh said.

Oh.

Sally blinked hard. Ohhh.

Sally went straight to Rebbetzin Fish’s apartment, knocked gently on the old door and waited. Rebbetzin Fish had told her to come right over after the date, but Sally would never just barge into someone’s house. The very thought of it made her shudder. Doors are there for a reason. Doors are sacred barriers. Sally thought there was nothing quite as bad as breaching a door unannounced.

“Sally! How was the date? Come into the kitchen, I’m working on a triple-layer chocolate cake.”

Only a year before, Sally had been backpacking through Europe when she decided to make a quick trip to Israel. While wandering through the Old City she found a flyer advertising a Torah class for beginners. Sally had never even seen a rabbi before, but the sign — Up, Up, Up! With the Fish — had intrigued her.

The classes were fascinating and once she met the amazing Rebbetzin, she was hooked; she enrolled in a kiruv seminary the next week. The Rebbetzin had become her guiding light — a voice of reason amid the chaos, a moral compass in a confusing world.

“The date was good. Everything went really smoothly, but there’s something… well just one thing that doesn’t really match up. But I don’t know if it’s a deal breaker.”

The Rebbetzin tsked sympathetically. Then she stared down at her baking tray and said, “Sometimes we need to clean out the pan before pouring in batter.”

Sally sat quietly, pondering the words. Goodness, the woman was a genius.

“So you’re saying that something in my past is blocking me from moving forward?”

The Rebbetzin blinked.

“It is.” Sally squeaked. “Wow, you legit know everything.”

As much as Sally wanted to, she knew she couldn’t tell the Rebbetzin what the issue was. She’d have to tell her the whole story and that wasn’t an option.

“I think there’s enough here for another round,” the Rebbetzin said, looking at the batter in the mixing bowl.

Sally felt a boulder roll off her chest and crash to the floor. Who else could give such brilliant advice?

“Thank you, Rebbetzin. I’m so happy you think we should go out again. That’s what I thought too, but I wasn’t sure. I don’t know what I’d do without you!”

 

T

he day dawned gloomy and dark, but Sally lit up when she saw Josh waiting for her at the entrance to the zoo.

“I thought paintballing would be more fun, but you said you don’t like mess or getting hurt. So the zoo it is.” Josh shrugged.

They wandered through the tree-lined pathways, talking and laughing. Soon a light rain began to fall, and just as Sally started to worry about her thin hair frizzing into a birds’ nest, Josh whipped out two umbrellas from the bag in his hand.

She took one gratefully. “Thank you.”

“I can’t understand people who let weather stop them from living life,” Josh said. “In my book it’s never too wet to go out or too cold to play ball. Guys who sit in the house all day doing nothing at all are just missing out. Put on a coat, people, this is why outerwear was invented.”

Sally nodded vigorously. “So true. Nothing good comes from sitting in the house, even on a cold, cold, wet day.”

The two of them locked eyes for a minute, a spark of connection flowing between them. He really is perfect, Sally thought.

Josh looked down at the map. “Should we head over to the lions?”

Sally swallowed hard. Now would be a good time to bring up her distaste for cats. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t figure out where to begin.

“Or we can go back to the bears?” Josh asked slowly, sensing her hesitation.

Sally took a deep breath. “I’m um… not so into cats. I mean, they’re fine of course! Hashem’s creations! I guess I’m just… more partial to the uh… marine variety of animals.”

“What like, fish?” Josh asked. “You should have told me! We could have gone to the aquarium.”

“No, it’s fine! I mean this…” Sally gestured toward the elephants. “This is great. Beautiful, really. I just, like… don’t love cats. Especially big cats.”

Josh raised an eyebrow, sensing there was more to the story. “Okay, got it. Not into cats.”

They walked slowly, making their way toward the exit. As they approached the concession stand, Sally spotted a stray trotting out from behind the squat building. Josh saw it too, saw the way Sally stopped short and stared, her face draining of color.

The cat didn’t come near them, but Sally hurried toward the exit. Once the cat was out of sight, Sally looked at Josh. Josh looked at Sally. Neither of them said anything for a moment, but Sally could tell that Josh understood the implications of her phobia.

“Lots of cats in Israel,” Josh said at last, a hint of sadness in his voice.

Sally nodded morosely. “Lots and lots of cats in Israel.”

The ride back to Har Nof was very quiet. When the cab pulled up to her building, Sally waved wistfully to Josh. “Thank you. I had a very nice time.” She closed the car door and began walking away.

“Wait, Sally…” Josh opened the window. “My whole world is here. I became frum here, my rabbis are here. I don’t know if I have enough support to live in the States at this point. The thought of it scares me.”

“If it’s your dream to live here, then you should,” Sally said. “I just don’t think I can.”

Josh looked a little frantic. “But they started putting in below-ground garbage dumpsters, thereby cutting off the cats’ food source so eventually the cat population will die out! And the new electric buses hitting the roads are literally silent! The cats won’t hear them coming! There will be lots of feline causalities! I’m telling you, Sally, the numbers will dwindle….”

“Nu! Tisgor et hachalon, ani lo yechol lashevet po kol hayom!”

The cab zoomed off. Sally stood rooted to the spot, wondering if she’d ever see him again.

 

S

ally stood outside Rebbetzin Fish’s door that evening, her hand poised to knock. Then she lowered it miserably. Rebbetzin Fish can’t help me. Not unless I tell her the full story and there’s no way I’m doing that. There’s only one person in the world I can talk to about this and he’s all the way across the world.

Sally looked down at her watch: 12:30 p.m. in D.C. now. Maybe he’s on lunch break? She left the building and found a quiet bench on the street, quickly dialing her brother’s number.

“Well, if it isn’t my favorite religious fanatic.”

Sally smiled. Her brother’s voice never failed to calm her down. Growing up, it was just the two of them and they’d always been close.

“I’m dating someone,” Sally blurted out. “Well, I was dating someone. I don’t know if I still am.”

“Whoa.” He let out a long whistle. “Is that how it works over there? You’re not sure if you’re in a relationship until someone sticks a veil on your head and pushes you down the aisle?”

“Ha, ha. SO funny.” Sally rolled her eyes. “I like him. A lot.” She picked up a Bamba wrapper and threw it in a nearby bin. Clean. Neat. Tidy. That’s the way she liked things.

“Well, liking him is a good place to start, right?”

“But he wants to live in Jerusalem. And I love learning here but I don’t think I can live here long term.”

“Why not?”

Sally wavered for a minute, then plunged forward. “You came here on Birthright, don’t you remember?”

“That trip is kinda hazy. I remember The Wall and a big concert.”

Sally fixed her eyes on the dumpster at the end of the parking lot across the street. Scanning. Scanning. Always scanning.

“The cats. So many cats.” She mumbled quickly, then pulled the phone away from her ear in preparation for the inevitable storm.

“No. NO,” her brother said loudly into the phone.

“Please, I—”

“I’ve said it a million times, Sally. Speak to a licensed therapist, you know I hate talking about this.”

“And I’ve told you a million times that I’d be put away!” Sally lowered her voice, imitating an old psychology professor from her college days. “ ‘Good morning, Sally, what seems to be troubling you?’

“ ‘Oh nothing much, Doc, just kinda harping on the fact that a six-foot, hat-wearing cat invaded my home when I was five years old. For some strange reason, I seem to be experiencing side effects from that trauma—’ ”

“I’m not listening to this, Sally.”

“For goodness’ sake, he walked in with this crazy, beguiling smile, wearing a red silk bow tie and a top hat as if he was some sort of earl—” Sally’s voice rose to high pitch. A group of schoolkids stopped for a minute to stare at her.

“Top hat? You’re generous. That thing was way too floppy to be considered—”

“A bow tie and top hat!” Sally covered her mouth and hissed into the phone! “Do you realize how weird that is?”

“Look, you hate cats? Don’t live in Israel. Okay? We good? I have to go—”

“But Josh is perfect in every other way,” Sally whined. “And I’m going to have to give it all up.”

“Sally. It was 18 years ago. Maybe it’s time to get over it.”

“Oh. Yeah. Totally. Just get over it. A gigantic Cat broke in and subsequently destroyed our home, and you think I should just ‘get over it’?!” Sally tried to keep her voice down, but her blood was boiling.

“He cleaned up!”

“Why is that always your answer! How is that even relevant?”

“Sally—”

“Who cares if he cleaned up? That mess! I have nightmares about that mess. So big and so tall. Just looking at it thinking, We can’t clean this, there’s no way at all… the cake and the rake and the gown and the milk and the strings and the books and the dish—”

“Sally—”

“And those rotten, crazy Things One and Two! My roommate has a red purse and sometimes she takes off her blue pom-pom hat and puts the two of them on her nightstand before bed and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and look over and think, OMG, they’re back, they found me! Do you know what that feels like? The terror?”

“Sally! Stop for a second. Just listen to me, okay?”

“Okay. But I’m just so angry. After all these years The Cat is still ruining my life. Here I am, dating this guy I really like, but now I need to end it because of him! It’s all his fault!”

“No. It’s not.”

Sally stopped pacing. “What do you mean ‘it’s not’?”

“It’s not The Cat’s fault.”

“I was only seven, Sally. We probably shouldn’t have… I mean, it might have been prudent if…” He stopped, composed himself, then continued in a strong confident voice. “A goldfish isn’t a qualified babysitter,” he said at last.

“Oh.” Sally breathed. “Ohhh. I guess… I never thought of it that way. “So Mother…”

“…Left us alone for the day. If you’re looking to place blame, or demonize someone. I mean, not that this helps the situation….”

“No, it doesn’t. Like, not at all. Now on top of my crippling fear of cats I’m really angry at Mother. Thanks!”

They both went silent for a minute, the strength of their bond stitching together the distance between them.

“Should we have told her?” Sally asked finally. “I go back and forth in my head all the time — maybe it would have been better if we’d told her.”

“I don’t know, Sal. A part of me thinks she saw him leaving. She literally came in right after he left. And while he cleaned up, a few things were misplaced. That cake wasn’t salvageable. She must have seen the remains in the garbage.”

Sally thought for a minute. “I wish I could talk to Rebbetzin Fish about this.” She sighed.

“Fish?”

“Yes, she’s my guiding light and moral compass. Wise beyond her 25 years.”

“Sally. Sally, Sally. You gotta get over this obsession. Fish cannot serve as mentors. They may look wise but they aren’t. They’re on this earth to provide gentle entertainment in lobbies of old-age homes.”

“No, not that kind of—”

“Look, I’m running into a meeting, but Sally, The Cat wasn’t the bad guy. We were bored, it was too wet to go out, too cold to play ball. The Cat was just trying to help.”

Sally thought about that for a minute. “I guess. But it’s still creepy as anything.”

“One last thing. If you ever need help catching your roommate’s purse and hat in the middle of the night, just call me. I’ll bring my net.”

 

"W

hat’s wrong, Sally?”

Sally was back at Rebbetzin Fish’s kitchen table two days later, watching her prepare blueberry bars.

Sally blinked. “Oh nothing,okay some thing,but nothing major,just something little.”

Rebbetzin Fish smiled. “Just a little sugar, flour, eggs, and oil, and you have a cake.”

“You’re right. Obviously. I don’t know how you come up with all your brilliant verbiage. It’s next level, Rebbetzin Fish.” Sally shook her head in wonder, then got right down to it. “Basically, I’m having a hard time coming to terms with something that happened a long time ago. I think it was kind of my mother’s fault, and I know I should just forgive her and move on, but it’s hard.”

The Rebbetzin handed Sally the tray then passed her the topping to crumble on top. “Don’t cover all the blueberry jam, okay? It’s better when it’s not hidden.”

Sally blinked back tears. “You’re right. Things are better when they aren’t hidden. So you think I should speak to my mother and tell her everything? How do you know so much?”

The Rebbetzin sat down. “Honestly, Sally? I don’t. I just like to bake. You know who gives you the best advice?”

Sally shook her head.

“You do. You chose this amazing path, you got yourself to this point. You’re a smart girl, you just need to learn to trust your own inner voice.”

 

I

’m just gonna call her. Just gonna dial her number and tell her that she accidentally scarred me for life. And maybe that will make everything better. The Cat won’t be the bad guy anymore and I’ll get over my phobia and Josh and I will be able to live in Eretz Hakodesh happily ever after. It’s the only way.

Sally dialed her mother’s number. It went straight to voice mail. She tried again. And again. And again.

Classic mother. Always unavailable. Wait — maybe it’s a pattern? Maybe my mother has never been there for me when I needed her. Maybe I’m far more damaged than I realized! Oh, my! Sally was nearly hysterical by the time she reached the steps to her dorm building. She scanned the area for furriness, only to see a tall figure sitting on the steps.

“Sally?”

Sally shrieked and stared at the looming figure in disbelief. “Mother?!” She was shocked. Her mother had never stepped foot in Israel and had no plans of visiting.

“I’m sorry to startle you like this. I had to come, Sally. Your brother called a couple days ago. He, well… he told me everything. I booked the next available flight.”

Sally exhaled. Her heart was still racing and she felt shaky. She sat on the low ledge surrounding the building. Her mother sat next to her. “I’m so sorry, Sally. Your brother said it was bad.”

“It was bad, Mother.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?! How did I not know about this? I mean, when I got home, I must have asked you what you did that day? Didn’t I?”

Sally shrugged. “I guess we were just speechless. The Cat left only seconds before you came home! We were shell-shocked, and I suppose… well… what would you do if your mother asked you?” Sally asked.

“I would have told her.”

Sally blinked. “We took a different approach.”

“And how’d that work out for you?” Mother bristled.

“Fine.”

“Glad to hear.”

They sat together, staring up at the darkening sky until Sally said quietly. “Aside from the nightmares.”

Her mother reached over and patted her back.

“And, of course, the cat phobia. And a deep aversion to tricks of any kind. Someone says, “Hey, wanna see a trick?” And my brain screams, Run for your life! And things that go bump make me jump. I’m scared of large red boxes with hooks, not a big fan of kites. And Shira’s red purse that reminds me of the Things—”

“Things?”

“He didn’t tell you about the Things?” Sally asked. “No, he wouldn’t. Well, you should know he was very brave, catching them with his net and all.”

“Net? Whatever are you talking about?”

“Wait.” Sally turned to her mother. “What, exactly, did he tell you?”

“He told me a cat got into the house and wreaked some havoc.”

Sally stared at her mother for a long time. “That is just about the grossest understatement of all time.”

Sally’s mother looked down at her hands. “My darling, I regret a lot of things from that time period. Do you remember that polka dotted dress I wore to your kindergarten graduation? Hideous with a capital H.”

“Oh, yes, the Things did a number on that dress.”

Mother’s eyes widened for a moment before she continued. “But the fact that I was working long hours and didn’t have enough time for you two is my biggest regret. I don’t know what happened that morning with the cat. I don’t know why I didn’t get a sitter or how long I was gone and I’m sorry your imagination ran away—”

“Didn’t imagine it. Nope. Did not. It actually happened.”

“Right, right. Okay.” Mother let out a long sigh and took Sally’s hand in her own. “I’m sorry you experienced that trauma, Sally. I’m really so sorry. And I’ll gladly pay for any therapy you might need.”

Sally’s phone rang. Rebbetzin Fish’s number flashed across the screen.

“Hello?”

“Sally, Josh is here. He really needs to speak to you. Can you come over?”

 

R

ebbetzin Fish ushered her into the house. Sally quickly introduced the Rebbetzin to her mother, then went into the study.

“Josh?”

“Hi.” He stood up. “I’m so sorry for all this. I felt terrible about the way things ended with the cab just pulling away like that and I want to tell you that I can understand where you’re coming from. With the cats. I don’t think you’re crazy. Animals can get out of control….”

Sally nodded. “They’re unpredictable.”

“They can suddenly turn on you.”

“And sometimes speak in rhyme,” Sally mumbled. “Look, my phobia is really deep, Josh. You can’t understand, it’s not something I’m just going to ‘get over’ so quickly.”

Josh walked over to the window, staring out at the sparkling hills of Jerusalem against the night sky. “I want to share something with you. It’s not easy for me to talk about it. In fact, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who I wanted to share this with.”

“Okay.”

“I was six years old and it was the first day of school. You know how it is in public school, the first day of elementary school everyone’s trying to find their classroom and kids are all nervous and whatever. My mom dropped me off, gave me a hug. The teacher welcomed us. Most of the kids were already in the classroom, just staring at each other awkwardly.

“The teacher left for a second, no one really remembers why, maybe she needed some chalk from the office or something. Suddenly this man comes in dressed like a weirdo, holding hands with…”

Sally saw a flicker of pain shoot across Josh’s face.

“A monkey. Like, legit a monkey. And he plops him down in an empty chair and calls out in a singsong voice “Goodbye, George! Have a wonderful day! And remember — don’t get into trouble!”

“Oh, my.” Sally gasped.

“Yeah. Like, just like that. Acting like the monkey was his kid or something. Then the dude just walks out and leaves us with this monkey. Well, of course the monkey starts going berserk. Jumping from desk to desk like any monkey would. Grabbing things, reaching for bananas in kids’ schoolbags. The teacher comes in and passes out. We start screaming. Someone comes in, sees what’s going on, calls 911, pest control, US Fish and Wildlife Service — some genius from one of the departments thinks the best idea is to shoot the monkey with a tranquilizer dart.

“Then the dude with the weirdo pointy yellow hat comes back in, screaming like a lunatic, threatening to sue the school, citing the Animal Welfare Act. The cops evacuate the school, but all of us in the classroom had to go straight to the ER to get tetanus and rabies shots and we had to stay in the hospital under observation for a night for insurance purposes.

“Suffice it to say, I don’t like monkeys. Or yellow hats.”

“Oh, Josh, I’m so sorry. That sounds awful,” Sally said sincerely. “The truth is, I’m not such a fan of odd hats myself.”

“Really? How come?”

“Well, I guess I should start at the beginning. You should probably sit down for this.” Sally took a deep breath and began. “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day….”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 681)

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