When I turned back to Chesky — saw that faraway gleam in his eyes as he clomped across the warehouse mouthing numbers — I knew exactly what made this venture feel so sickening
I was perched on the top rung of my stepladder, trying to squeeze the Silver Spool bag between a storage container labeled Toddler Boy Summer and the acrylic ice bucket we’d gotten for mishloach manos from the Koenigs a bunch of years ago, when, like a dusty moth ball, the question crept out to tease me.
Will you ever knit that romper-sweater set for Shua if he’s turning eight next week?
The knitting needles jutted from the bag, poking a hole through a vacuum-sealed bag of petticoats, pointing a finger at me and stating the grim truth.
I had no idea how to knit.
I’d never ended up learning how to knit, and for seven-and-a-half years, this bag sat on the shelf, waiting for me to transform the off-white woolen yarn into an adorable baby outfit the Silver Spool lady had patterned for me.
My eyes traveled down to the hallway floor. It was covered in a mess of baskets and hangers and random things — like the humidifier I’d bought when Baila had her coughing attacks — patiently waiting their turn to be squeezed back into the one tiny storage closet our apartment boasted.
I sat down on the ladder, cradled the yarn like it was six-month-old Shua, and made the climactic decision. It was time for it to go.
I called my friend Tzippi for support.
“Mindy, you are my inspiration,” she said solemnly. “Tell me when the garbage bag is outside, I’ll give you a round of applause.”
I giggled. Then I asked her about the humidifier.
“Well, did you use it in the past four years?”
“So dump it. When you need a humidifier again, you’ll buy a new one.”
“But it’s a great machine, I paid sixty-five dollars for it!”
“Sixty-five dollars? Soon you’ll be able to afford a new humidifier every week, Mindy. Or you’ll live in a house so big, you’ll offer to store my humidifier.”
“Yeah, yeah. From your mouth to my pocket.”
Tzippi saw that as an opening for her favorite topic of conversation. Money.
Specifically, my money.
“How’s your investment coming along, by the way?” she asked.
By the way. Sure.
“Nothing yet,” I answered tersely. “These things take time.”
“How long do you think it will take to start turning a profit?”
How long? How much? Send me your bank statement.
I hated this. For the hundredth time, I wanted to kick myself for telling Tzippi about Chesky’s project. I’d mentioned it to stop her nagging about why we’d stopped apartment hunting. “Because all our savings are tied up and we’re in huge debt, that’s why,” I’d blurted out. And then she’d somehow milked all the details out of me — and convinced herself that we were on our way to becoming millionaires.
Whenever I talked to Tzippi, I talked too much.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “we’re not turning a profit so fast.”
“Well, remember me when you’re rich.”
I mumbled something about concentrating on my work and hung up. Then I took out the Toddler Boy Summer container again and started dumping faded T-shirts.
I was starting on the second-to-last shelf when I came across the sign.
It wasn’t a real sign; just a couple of words scribbled on a jagged piece of cardboard. The sign was sandwiched between the wall and a box of seforim that didn’t fit in our seforim shrank, and as I pulled it out, I forgot about the storage closet. I was sucked back in time, to the first day of camp the summer we were TCs.
I’d arrived late, after most girls were finished unpacking. Which didn’t bother me — I wished I didn’t have to be in camp at all. Camp was a place for loud girls who lost their voices cheering wildly their first hour on grounds. Nobody would notice I was there.
I stood at the entrance to our bunkhouse, unsure where to go, wondering if there was still a bed available.
And then I noticed the improvised sign, a piece of cardboard torn off a box. It was taped to the rung of the second bed, top bunk. Whoever put it there had scribbled RESERVED — Mindy Tublin.
Someone had reserved a bed for me.
That someone, I learned, was Tzippi. And over the next few weeks, when the lights were out and everyone slept, we whispered into the night. I had no idea why this random classmate had chosen me as her friend, why she felt comfortable sharing the deep, dark secrets of her life, but it felt… good.
I didn’t hate camp that summer.
A whimper from my bedroom made my TC summer fade away. Efraim was up. My storage closet would have to wait.
I weighed the sign for a moment, glancing at the trash pile. What did I need it for? How many years had it been? Twelve? Fourteen? Our friendship had evolved into a thing since those TC days, part of the fabric of our lives. This sign was… a joke. A cute memory.
But I didn’t throw it out. I took it along to my bedroom and stuck it in the bottom drawer of my dresser, under a broken picture frame I was going to fix one day, and scooped Efraim out of his crib.
The way Chesky sloooowly yanked the chain of the rolling gate — clank, clank, pause, clank — you’d think this was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an upscale strip mall instead of a “tour” of an abandoned warehouse in Yehupitz.
But I hadn’t come to dash my husband’s hopes. I’d come to cheer him on, and as I stepped through the doorway of the dimly lit building, I offered a bright smile and an exuberant, “Wow!”
Chesky stood at the door like a proud mechutan. “A hundred thousand square feet, Mindy,” he reminded me, in case I’d forgotten. “On three acres of land.” He took a laser tape measure out of a bag, rested it against the entrance wall, and beamed it across to the opposite wall.
“Hey, cool!” I said. “Where did you get that from?”
“I borrowed it from Abellis.”
Great, so his chavrusa knew about this purchase. Was Chesky’s investment a public discussion?
“See, it’s 800 this way,” Chesky said. He took Fraidy’s hand and walked across the cavernous room. I followed with the double stroller.
The floor was littered with broken cartons, crumpled packing tape, and smashed soda cans. I wended my way around the rubbish until I reached Chesky.
“By 125,” he announced triumphantly. “There you have it, a perfect 100,000.”
“Wow,” I repeated.
“So we either divide it into a thousand units of 100 square feet each, minus a common area, or we do different size units and vary the pricing.”
I nodded. I didn’t offer my opinion, because I didn’t have one.
It was all a bit dizzying. The loan. The location — Lewistown, Pennsylvania? Will people travel four hours to take something out of storage? The wild idea of converting this rundown space into a sophisticated self-storage operation. Why didn’t he, like, flip the deal, turn a one-time profit, and call it a day?
“We also have the area outside,” Chesky continued. “I had this idea to line up shipping containers, for boats or other oversized stuff. And we can build up one day, I told you the zoning allows it?” He powered the tape measure off. “The potential is endless.”
I stared at the vacant space and visualized Chesky’s dream. Aisle after aisle of neat steel rolling gates — I’ll paint them blue, it’s a relaxing color, I want customers to trust us, Chesky had explained.
I pictured hand trucks clunking over epoxy-coated concrete flooring. I pictured QuickBooks files and a secretary offering rates to potential customers. I pictured Chesky dropping his dead-end tutoring work, maybe returning to kollel full-time, calling his manager during his lunch break to check how things were going.
And I pictured the relief. A steady income, a more-than-comfortable one — maybe we’ll be able to buy a house in a couple of years. I wouldn’t have to blink before buying a new humidifier — or better, ha, I would have all the storage space I wanted so I wouldn’t have to throw a good humidifier out in the first place.
And when the next baby came around, I’d be able to give up my job at All Lanes Trucking and hey, I’d be able to join my mother and Mali for lunch on Tuesdays! My sister always begged me to do lunch with them, but she didn’t realize that a day off would come off my pay. These things didn’t matter to her. Maybe one day they wouldn’t matter to me either?
The fantasy dangled before my eyes.
But there was a pinch in my stomach, something blocking me from sharing Chesky’s joy. It wasn’t my natural pessimism. It wasn’t a fear of failure, even though I did lose sleep worrying about this investment.
It was something else. When I pictured the possibility of success, something inside me felt sick.
My phone rang. I glanced at the screen — Tzippi.
For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. But then I thought it might be important, maybe she had a question about my chicken Marsala recipe.
“Where are you?” Tzippi asked, almost accusingly.
Like, where exactly could I have disappeared to on a random Sunday afternoon when most of my kids were home?
The warehouse fantasy faded. “I just… had to take care of a few things. I’ll be home later. Need anything?”
She didn’t need anything. She’d called to schmooze, like any other day.
Efraim started crying when I hung up the phone. I lifted him out of the stroller.
When I turned back to Chesky — saw that faraway gleam in his eyes as he clomped across the warehouse mouthing numbers — I knew exactly what made this venture feel so sickening.
It wasn’t a fear of failure.
It was a fear of Tzippi.
“Four hours,” I reported to Tzippi in response to her good morning. “Four hours, and believe me, they weren’t retzufos.”
“Three-and-three-quarters,” she replied triumphantly.
Wow, she won. She’d slept less than me.
I craned my neck to gauge the space between two cars. Nope, too tight. “Well, you don’t have to be dressed and out of the house by eight thirty,” I threw back with a vindictive chuckle. “You don’t have to circle all of Brooklyn looking for parking and worry about clocking in late.”
She couldn’t beat that.
But she did. She always managed to. “Would you rather stay home all day and babysit nine babies?” she asked sweetly.
I hated when she did that. I hated when she made me pity her for being a babysitter, stuck at home preparing bottles and changing diapers. She’d chosen this. “If I charge seven dollars an hour, and I take, let’s say, five babies, that’s $35 an hour,” she’d told me hundreds of times before she’d finally done it: gave up her bookkeeping job and spread the word that she was starting to babysit.
I’d encouraged her. I’d told her she was doing the right thing, it was the perfect job at her stage in life. I actually found Tzippi her first “baby” — my coworker’s newborn — and then two neighbors in her building enrolled their babies. (“So convenient, I don’t even have to put on his coat!”)
She’d started with those three babies, and within a month, there were nine strollers lined up in her dining room.
Nine babies meant she was earning $63 an hour. Which was a lot more than I was earning at All Lanes.
But who was I to complain? I didn’t have to deal with howling babies and mashed bananas all day. I returned home to a spic-and-span house after work. I had a perfect life.
I was so lucky. Which granted her exclusive kvetching rights.
But Tzippi didn’t seem to be in a kvetchy mood at all.
“Anyway…” The cheer in her voice defied the three-and-three-quarter hours she claimed to have slept. “You know how I’m always complaining that I have zero closet space, right?”
I stopped short at a red light. “Are you moving?”
“No! I mean, I wish, but we need to win the lottery first.”
I hated the relief that washed over me. Of course, I wanted Tzippi to be able to afford her own house — it was a goal for both of us. But with all our funds tied up in Chesky’s pet warehouse, the dream seemed so far away for me. It would take serious avodas hamiddos for me to be happy for Tzippi if she bought a house now.
Tzippi sounded excited. “So my sister-in-law was telling me about this cool contest. She gets these emails with tips from this home organization expert, Liz Quincy, and she’s starting a challenge now. It’s called Lose to Win. You know those diets where you pay a partner every time they lose a pound? So here you get points for every item in your house you get rid of.”
A parking spot opened right across from All Lanes. I backed in quickly.
“What does the winner get?” I asked.
“A free home organization session with Liz Quincy.”
I locked my car and approached the building. I wasn’t interested in a contest. My mind was still stuck on the nine babies in Tzippi’s house. On her challenging, challenging life. On her new house, which, whenever she did buy it, she’d discuss as if it was the greatest misfortune. It would be too small, too expensive, too far. Too anything, as long as I didn’t chas v’shalom think she had anything going for her in life.
We had our own contest, Tzippi and I. We were competing for the Greatest Struggler Award. The greatest victory was proving you had it harder, your budget was tighter, you’d slept the fewest hours and had the crankiest kids.
If Chesky’s venture failed, I would be devastated.
But if he succeeded, I would lose the suffering game to Tzippi. And that would make me feel strangely defeated.
Lose to Win.
“I just got to work,” I told Tzippi. “But FYI, I threw away the humidifier.”
Liz Quincy’s initiative corresponded perfectly with my Pesach cleaning schedule.
Standing in front of my bedroom closet, I called Mali. “Will I ever wear my beige sheva brachos suit with the crunched-up sleeves again?”
“Not even if it fits you beautifully.”
I caressed the fabric fondly before adding it to the gemach pile.
Then I wrote beige suit on Liz Quincy’s log sheet.
Mali stayed on the line as I logged nineteen more items. Sneakers, sheitel box — why did I even own three of those? — black skirt, black skirt, black skirt, green sweater, black sweater, black sweater, striped shirt, hoodie, hoodie, gray dress, slippers, black shoes, gray shoes, black shoes, white shell, white shell, white shell.
“Good,” Mali said. “Make room in your closet, then I’ll take you shopping.”
Shopping, sure. I was trying to keep our grocery list to a bare minimum, the last thing I’d do was splurge on new clothing.
I tied up the bags quickly, before I became too nostalgic about any of the items. Then I went to make supper.
Chesky called while I was waiting outside for Mattis’s bus.
“I’ll be home late tonight, I’m heading out to Lewistown.”
“Oh. Okay. Where are they up to there?”
“Moving along. Flooring’s done, framing and electric need a few more days, then the HVAC crew will start.”
“Actually, want to hear something really wow?”
My stomach flipped at the excitement in his voice. “Nu?”
“Abellis has this uncle who collects antique Judaica. He’s making plans to rebuild his house and he’s going to need a place to store his collection for a while. We’re still writing up the lease — everything is new to me, I don’t even know how a lease looks — but…”
“But you got your first customer.”
“So it seems.”
My throat suddenly felt tight. “That’s… amazing.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. Pictured myself in the mall with Mali, trying on a gorgeous chiffon dress — think it’s too dressy for Devoiry’s wedding? — and swiping my credit card at checkout.
When Mattis came home, I gave him a snack and returned to my bedroom. I pulled open the bottom dresser drawer.
In no time, I’d added ten more items to Liz Quincy’s chart.
I picked up the broken picture frame — the one that, okay, I’m never going to fix — and added it to my discard pile.
And then I spied the sign again.
Reserved — Mindy Tublin.
Whispered secrets. Deep friendship, the kind I’d always observed with a level of awe and only dreamed of experiencing. The closeness… and the vulnerability.
That summer, that’s when I’d learned just how difficult Tzippi’s life was. How rigid her parents were. How unfair the school system was. How our counselor picked on her and how she had the worst case of acne of all teenagers ever.
When you have a friend with so many challenges, somehow, you feel like you have to share your own challenges in return. That’s what BFFs do.
And when you look around, challenges are everywhere.
I closed the drawer. I had to finish making supper, the rest of the kids would be home any minute.
On my way to the kitchen, I stuck Tzippi’s sign on the top shelf of my coat closet.
Chesky was AWOL the next few weeks, which was not exactly convenient as Pesach inched steadily closer.
“The perk of kollel life,” Tzippi declared. “Bein hazmanim. I’m counting the minutes to Rosh Chodesh. Although if not for kollel life, I’d probably be able to afford full-time cleaning help, huh?”
Did even her blessings have to be curses in disguise?
My fingers tingled. This was such solid I have it hardest proof. No cleaning help — and I knew exactly how little help I could expect from my husband this bein hazmanim.
It took all my restraint to refrain from saying this aloud. I couldn’t tell her how busy Chesky was, because that would invite the investment conversation and reveal the possibility of our success. Winning this Hardest Day battle would mean losing our Hardest Life war.
But Tzippi’s antenna was sharp.
“Is your husband busy with that warehouse?”
So much for my restraint.
“When will it be ready?”
“I’m not sure. It’s a lot of work.”
“And a lot of potential!”
Amazing. Now I didn’t have my husband’s help, plus I’d lost my right to complain about it.
I couldn’t complain to Tzippi, and I definitely couldn’t complain to Chesky, especially when he arrived home at midnight, bombed but beaming, and said, “I think I need to offer Abellis a commission.”
I stood up from the floor where I was going through the contents of my small appliance cabinet. “What do you mean?”
“Remember his collector uncle? Well, turns out he has a number of collector friends who use self-storage all the time. Between all of them, we signed ten leases today.”
A warmth spread in my chest. “Wow, Chesky, baruch Hashem! That’s amazing! I’m so happy!”
“Baruch Hashem,” Chesky echoed.
He opened the fridge and started hunting for food.
“Yikes, you must be starving. Here, I wrapped up your supper, let me warm it up.”
Chesky spoke between bites, something about setting up a website, but I was too dizzy to listen. I turned back to the appliances on the floor.
I hadn’t used my George Foreman since shanah rishonah. Its brilliant convenience had long given way to grill pans and Betty Crockers.
Chesky was still talking. “I know this has a lot of potential, but it’s a lot of work.”
I froze, Tzippi’s chirpy voice filling my ears. A lot of potential!
With sudden fury, I swept the George Foreman off the ground and dropped it in the garbage.
Work was uncharacteristically quiet two weeks before Pesach. I found myself getting antsy, sitting idly when there was so much to do at home.
Nibbling on peanuts, I logged on to Liz Quincy’s site to record my latest “losses.”
My total: 219.
Whoa. I scrolled through my log with a mixture of curiosity and regret. Would I really not miss my rain jacket, even if I hadn’t worn it in five years? Mainly, I marveled: How had I come to own 219 items I could easily live without?
I wished this wasn’t a blind contest. Two hundred and nineteen items, surely I was winning? I couldn’t know. But even if I lost, I loved the space I’d gained in every closet and cabinet. My whole self felt lighter somehow.
I wondered where Tzippi was holding. We avoided sharing our scores, and it drove me a little nuts whenever she mentioned a random item she’d tossed.
Goodness, what was it about this ridiculous contest that made me so anxious? Who cared, seriously?
I logged out and started checking my work emails when my cellphone rang. Chesky.
“I’m outside your office,” he said. “Can you come out for a few minutes?”
I gripped the mouse in my hand, my pulse bursting into a gallop. What happened? What’s Chesky doing here in the middle of the day?
I was outside in sixty seconds, without my umbrella, even though it was pouring. I yanked open the passenger door of Chesky’s car and fell into the seat.
Chesky turned to face me. There was a volcano in his eyes.
“Mindy, I need to tell you something.”
His face was white. I banged the armrest down. “Talk.”
He tugged at his beard. “Twenty miles from my property, there’s a huge self-storage building. Smithson Storage Post. I had no idea.”
A cold dread settled on my skin. This was my fault. I’d been worried about Tzippi, scared of losing our stupid suffering war. Hashem was punishing me for not counting my blessings.
This isn’t what I meant. Please, Hashem, no.
I looked at Chesky. I had to be brave for him, a pillar of support.
But to my surprise, there was a wicked smile on my husband’s face.
“I had no idea. I just found out — because they sold. They’re closing down, a complex of condos is going up in there.”
I blinked. “What does that… I mean…”
“What does it mean for me?” He leaned his seat back. “It means all their customers need to relocate. And since I’m twenty miles away, it means my self-storage units are fully occupied, maxed out, at fifteen percent more per unit than my list price.”
I don’t know how I pulled off Pesach.
I’d taken Chesky’s help for granted all those years. It had been so natural. I worked, he was off, he just did so much. Shopping and organizing, babysitting, even cleaning.
This year, there was no help with shopping, organizing, cleaning, or babysitting. I reserved his help for turning over.
“Tomorrow night, okay?” I reminded him on Motzaei Shabbos as I was scrubbing down the counters.
Chesky looked at me somewhat vacantly.
“Kashering,” I repeated. “Tomorrow.”
“I’m having a meeting with my accountant in the morning. After that, I need to drive to Lewistown to meet with Jeff. We have to act quickly if we want to be ready when Smithson closes down.”
Jeff. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. How had my life been overtaken by some faceless contractor in Pennsylvania?
“Okay.” I kept my voice calm. “I guess we’ll start a little later, whenever you get back.”
He coughed again. “So here’s the thing. The HVAC crew is starting to work Monday at seven. I… need to be there.”
My head started spinning. It’s a four-hour drive each way. Let’s say he davened Shacharis at Chabad, he’d still have to leave the house before three a.m. to make it. After returning Sunday night…
“I… guess you need to sleep over?” I said tonelessly.
“Ah.” I twisted the shmatteh in my hand.
“I feel so bad.”
His feeling bad wasn’t going to turn over our kitchen for Pesach.
I was going to turn over our kitchen for Pesach. On my own. After a full day of work, after making my Pesach grocery order so I could start cooking right away, after cooking and serving supper, after putting everyone to bed.
I couldn’t blame him. I wanted this.
“I feel so bad,” Chesky repeated. “But how’s this to make you feel better?” He pushed his chair back and crossed his legs. “I really didn’t want to tell you before it happened, I’m having a few meetings tomorrow. I set up a makeshift office in the warehouse, a few Smithson customers are coming over. To sign leases — and give deposits.”
Deposits. Actual money, coming in.
I couldn’t help the grin that stretched over my face. “Chesky!” I said.
He grinned back.
The next day, when everything was finally ready and water was boiling in the huge kashering pot on my stove, I felt surprisingly energetic. This time next year, things would be different. Our loan would be repaid, we would be making money, with Hashem’s help. Chesky’s schedule would ease up, and who knew? Maybe we wouldn’t have to kasher at all, maybe we’d be living in our own house, with a brand-new Pesach kitchen.
Okay, it probably wouldn’t happen that fast, but I could picture it already.
Tzippi called as I picked up the kashering stone to place it over the faucet. “I’m collapsing,” she moaned. “I babysat for seven hours today, it was like the babies had a competition who could cry loudest, and you can’t imagine how dirty this place was when I was done.” She yawned. “My husband is starting to turn over, he said he’ll manage without me. I feel like crawling into bed and waking up after Pesach.”
I stared into the pot, watched bubbles rise to the surface, grow and pop. “Let me guess,” Tzippi continued. “You’re all turned over and have two pots of soup bubbling on your stove. Huh?”
The kashering stone suddenly felt unbearably heavy in my hand. A wave of anger rose in my chest.
I was mad at Chesky. All the leases were great and everything, but really, Erev Pesach? So convenient, escaping to Lewistown, leaving me to make Yom Tov on my own.
“I need to hang up,” I told Tzippi.
I got to work with astounding force. I held the stone, balanced the pot, poured. I shrank back as water cascaded over the counters, down to the floor.
I bent to wipe the mess. The anger settled into a simmer, a subdued rage that kept me going as I worked.
Only it wasn’t anger.
It was something else. Something uncomfortable. Something… misplaced. Something that hadn’t been there before Tzippi had called.
I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. But it was a terrible feeling.
Chesky was sleeping over in Lewistown again.
It was my first day back at work after Pesach, and before I left the house, I packed food for Chesky. Breakfast, lunch, supper, snacks. There was no kosher food in Lewistown.
I smiled when I placed the cooler in front of him. “Hatzlachah rabah.”
Then I went to the door. Chesky had his four-hour drive ahead of him, but I couldn’t be late to work.
“With Hashem’s help, in another few months, you’ll bid All Lanes farewell,” Chesky said.
My muscles were tight as I pulled into the street.
And as I answered Tzippi’s call.
“Ahhh…” she breathed, her amplified voice filling my car. “Bein hazmanim was great, but… Thank You, Hashem, for routine.”
“You sound excited to feed baby jars today,” I said glumly.
She laughed. “Who woulda thunk, right? After being home with my kids for so long, babysitting other people’s kids almost feels like a treat.”
I forced a chuckle.
It was all just too much. I crawled into a spot next to a pump and turned the car off.
The steering wheel was cool against my cheek. Routine. Simple, low-key days, work and kids, morning seder in kollel, tutoring boys in the afternoon, hi, how was your day, are you ready to eat?
The weight of potential sat heavily on my shoulders. Yes, potential, but right now, all I saw was my life turned upside-down. So far we were knee-deep in debt and Chesky was spending more time in Lewistown than Brooklyn. I couldn’t take it anymore.
The worst part was that I was ungrateful, getting stuck on the daily minutiae instead of thanking Hashem for the blessing He’d sent and focusing on the financial relief a mere few months away.
Tzippi was quiet. Had she run out of steam? Could we hang up? I didn’t feel like schmoozing.
But after a moment, she cleared her throat. “Mindy…”
“I’m a little insulted.”
“Um, actually, a lot.”
“Sorry. What did I do?”
“You didn’t do, that’s the problem.”
I racked my brain trying to figure out what she was referring to, but I was too worn out to come up with anything.
“My husband met Yitzchok Abellis this morning. He’s our cousin, my father-in-law’s nephew.”
I sat upright.
“Your self-storage business is booming,” Tzippi said slowly, “and you didn’t mention a word.”
Tzippi’s low voice echoed in my ears as I tried to find my bearings at All Lanes after the long Pesach break.
I hadn’t mentioned a word, true. But why not? Tzippi was my closest friend, why wouldn’t I rush to share such great news? Of course she felt betrayed.
Why? I asked myself as I booked loads, calculated costs, updated ETAs.
It should have come naturally. I should have been excited to tell her.
Instead, I’d been afraid. Because if I would’ve told her, I would’ve lost her. I was holding on tight to our friendship, the constant competition, seeking things to complain about, outdoing her with my struggles.
What would happen if I lost her?
The spreadsheet on my screen swam before my eyes.
I pictured a day without Tzippi. Without the pressure, without the “accusations” — Let me guess, you’re all turned over and have two pots of soup bubbling on your stove, huh?
What was this one-upmanship doing to my life? To my marriage? To my self-image, that the idea of success should make me feel like a failure? Why did every conversation with Tzippi make me anxious? What was it about our friendship that it felt like an unbearable load, a pressure that constantly weighed me down?
I moved my mouse over the screen absently. Without thinking, I opened a browser and logged onto Liz Quincy’s site.
A window popped up.
After three months of effort and commitment, the Lose to Win contest is now over.
And the winner is…
Mindy lost a total of 287 items that cluttered her house. Mindy, I hope you’re enjoying your newfound space! I look forward to conducting a home organization session in your house.
To the other contestants — you’re all winners. Every item you got rid of is a victory.
That afternoon, when Tzippi called to congratulate me, I heard the ice in her voice.
“Wow, you won. I’m so proud.”
“You don’t sound too happy about your victory.”
My victory was her loss. And my loss — the loss of our poverty match, of our suffering contest — was her victory.
I could tell Tzippi about Chesky’s crazy schedule. I could tell her how hard my life was; harder, probably, than babysitting nine babies. I could win back my Greatest Sufferer Award.
But she didn’t want to hear it — and I didn’t want to say it. I wasn’t interested.
I hung up on Tzippi and called Mali. “I get a mazel tov,” I told my sister. “I’m officially the Greatest Minimalist.”
Mali whistled. “This calls for celebration.”
“Right,” I said. “I was thinking, if you and Ma are going out for lunch tomorrow, I’ll take the day off and join you?”
“Woo-hoo! Now that’s a mazel tov!”
It was. Hashem was being good to me. He was sending us so much brachah.
Mattis’s bus would be here any minute, I had to go out to wait for him. I went to the coat closet for my umbrella.
I stood in front of the closet for a moment, admiring the beautiful orderliness. It was liberating, this feeling, to have dumped so many things. It made me feel clean and light and right.
But then my eyes traveled up. Next to the bin that held everyone’s scarves and gloves — only the ones we actually used, I’d gotten rid of everything else — was the makeshift sign from camp. Reserved.
I pulled it out, stared at the black letters. Dazedly, I wandered to the kitchen, dropped the sign on the table and sank into a chair.
How many years had it been? What had I gained from this privilege of being Tzippi’s friend?
I’d gained closeness, yes. A heavy closeness, a weariness, a pattern of negativity that pulled me down, blinded me from recognizing all the good in my life. Crippling me with a fear of even hoping for blessings.
I ran my fingers over the corrugated edge of the cardboard, traced the letters of the word RESERVED.
I eyed the poster tensely. Then, mustering all my strength to bear its astonishing weight, I lifted it off the table and dumped it in the garbage.
Total loss: 288.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 907)
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