Gown-hunting, that should be fun. And hairstyles and makeup appointments... hey, I could enjoy that part. If I could forget what all the fuss was actually about
There was an enormous flower arrangement balancing precariously on the sofa. I blinked.
“Ma? Why are there flowers on the sofa?”
Ma came out from the other room, phone tucked between shoulder and ear. She was scribbling furiously in a notebook and saying something about a band, three-piece or five-piece, and a violinist for the chuppah, that’s very important to the other side.
“Never mind,” I said, waving a hand. I wandered into the dining room, ahh, that was why the flowers had no home. There were leftover cakes and a pile of gifts and three suits in dry-cleaner wrapping, all draped across the dining room table. Figures.
“Is Shaya home for Shabbos?” Rivky asked, coming up behind me. I shrugged. Shaya had been home more than he’d been in yeshivah lately, what with dating, then the engagement, first the l’chayim and then last night’s vort. Usually, I loved having my older brother around. Now… well, even when he was around, he wasn’t.
“He’s probably for sure gonna stay this week, right? I bet he will. He’ll probably eat by Tova’s family for one meal, hey, that’s so funny, he’s going to have in-laws!” Rivky chattered on. I bit my lip.
“Yeah, probably,” I said.
“I wonder what Tova will decide about the color scheme,” Rivky continued. “I hope it’s a nice color. Ma said we could go look for gowns next week, did she tell you?”
“Yeah,” I said again, but this time the corners of my mouth lifted a little. Gown-hunting, that should be fun. And hairstyles and makeup appointments... hey, I could enjoy that part. If I could forget what all the fuss was actually about.
Rivky hugged herself and danced a little jig. “Aaaaaahh, I can’t wait for the chasunah!” She twirled out of the room, humming “Od Yishama.”
I stared after her. Something large and hard rose in my throat. “I can,” I muttered.
I hadn’t done my homework.
“We’ll let it go just this once,” Mrs. Heiman said, smiling. “After all, you’ve just had a very exciting simchah at home….”
I had to admit that was useful. But as soon as the teacher turned away to ask Mashi Silver where her assignment was, my thoughts were off again — in not such a happy direction.
Why? Why did everyone think it was so exciting — except me? Was I the only one who spent half the l’chayim fighting back tears when I looked at my brother and his kallah? When Tova gave me a sweet smile and then turned away to greet a dozen other well-wishers? When for the past two weeks, no one in the house seemed to have any time for me, for anything other than The Shidduch, then The Dates, then The Engagement…
“Michal, please open your Chumash.” Mrs. Heiman cut into my thoughts. Her voice was a little impatient, like she’d said this once already. I startled a little, and quickly found the place.
“Someone’s looking up in the clouds,” my friend Etty said, sidling over to me when the class was over. “I tried calling you last night about the assignment, but I couldn’t get through.”
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, my mother was on the phone literally all night.” I just about held back a frown. I’d wanted to speak to Ma about camp applications, following her around half the evening and then giving up on it.
“Don’t worry,” Etty said, winking. “I know what it’s like when your first sibling gets engaged. Things are hectic. Your house must be totally flying, right?”
I stretched my lips into a smile. “Yeah. Flying is the word.” I hesitated; Etty had a lot of married siblings. Would she understand?
Before I could add anything, though, Etty interrupted. “I’m just so excited for you! Siblings’ weddings are the best! You’re going to have the time of your life for the next few months!”
The time of my life. Scenes flashed through my mind: My mother on the phone, Shaya ignoring all of us as he floated around the house, the mess in the living room, everything upside down…
I flashed Etty a tight, fake smile. “Totally,” I said.
Shaya was home for Shabbos, but Rivky was right: He spent the Friday night meal by his kallah’s family, and only came home around midnight. The rest of the family had long since retired for the night, but I was still on the sofa (yeah, the flowers had been moved, thank goodness), flipping through a magazine without really reading it. Usually, when Shaya was home from yeshivah, he’d be hanging around as well. We were the night owls of the family.
“Hi,” I called softly when I heard the front door close.
Shaya popped his head into the living room. “Who’s there? Oh, you, Michal.” He slipped his jacket off and headed back to the foyer to hang it up. “Good Shabbos. Why don’t you get some sleep?”
He didn’t wait around for an answer. I heard him rummage in the hallway closet for a hanger, then walk to the kitchen. The hum of the refrigerator, clatter of a glass, sound of juice being poured.
Maybe he would come back in here with his drink. Maybe he would sprawl across the armchair, legs dangling over the armrest, kick off his shoes, and ask me what was up. Maybe we would actually have a few minutes to talk. That’s what we used to do, late at night, the two of us, sometimes Bentzi too when he was home, Rivky hanging around to catch snippets of the “adult” conversation.
Maybe he would remember that, too? It wasn’t that long ago, just a few weeks, but it was another era — one before Tova Muller had exploded onto the scene in a swirl of confetti and mazel tov wishes. Before everything had changed.
The refrigerator door slammed shut. A moment later, footsteps sounded up the stairs, muffled by the carpet.
So those late Friday-night talks were a thing of the past.
I stayed downstairs for another hour — or so the clock claimed. But I didn’t read another word.
Did anyone see my phone?” Ma was rummaging frantically through the fleishig silverware drawer. “I just had it… I was just talking on it….”
I opened the fridge to scrounge for something to eat. “Hey, Ma, your phone!” It was stuck between a random assortment of foil containers.
Ma wiped her forehead. “In the fridge? I’m telling you, Michal, I think I must be losing it. Thanks, sweetheart.”
I watched Ma as I bit into an apple. Ugh, mushy, I hate mushy apples. No one’s done the grocery shopping round here, another pre-wedding symptom, apparently. I tossed the apple in the trash after one bite and scowled.
Ma was scrolling through her phone. “Call the florist, send something to the kallah for Shabbos, confirm with hair stylist…” she mumbled to herself. She looked up and half-smiled. “Michal? Could you do me a favor and run and pick up some pizza and fries? I can’t believe how late it is.”
“We had pizza, like, every night last week,” I blurted. I mean, I like pizza as much as the next girl, but puh-leeze. “Why does the whole world have to stop just because of Shaya and his stupid chasunah?!”
The kitchen was quiet. Too quiet.
Ma put down her phone. “Michal? What was that?”
I bit my lip. Ouch, what did I say? “Never mind. Nothing. I’ll get the pizza.”
It was pizza for supper for the next two weeks, too. As Pesach drew closer — the chasunah was scheduled for Lag B’omer — I kind of thought the pre-wedding frenzy would calm down a little. After all, we had a house to clean, and Yom Tov to prepare.
Ha. It only got worse.
“Michal, I’m going to ask you to take care of the kids’ bedrooms over the next few days,” Ma said, a worried look on her face. “I can’t believe it’s only a week and a half until Seder night, and we haven’t done a thing. Rivky, you’ll do the playroom and the living room, and the boys are cleaning out the garage.”
The bedrooms, ugh. I made a face. Everything was so stressful this year. What happened to our usual good times, the blaring music and fun banter as we scrubbed and sorted and sang together? Last year, Shaya and I had worked on the kitchen cabinets together for five hours straight, and I hadn’t looked at my watch once.
Oh. Right. Shaya.
“What’s Shaya gonna do?” I asked Ma, trying to sound casual.
Rivky giggled. “Miiiiichal, where have you been? Shaya’s going out with Tova this morning! No Pesach cleaning for the chassan!”
I glared at her. Like it was funny.
“Yes, we’re not going to be relying on Shaya’s help this year,” Ma said, winking. “We’ve got to get used to our new team. Next year he’ll have his own apartment to clean.”
My heart lurched. So that was it, then. No more good times kidding around as we sprayed every kind of cleaning product imaginable into the depths of the empty pantry. No more friendly competitions who could clean out a cabinet faster. No more tussling over a long-forgotten Encore bar buried under a haphazard pile of paper goods.
Was I the only one who cared?
We were eating supper — Chinese takeout tonight, with only two weeks to go until the chasunah, things were as hectic as ever — when Rivky made her announcement. “My grade won.”
I picked at my stir-fry. I’m not crazy over Chinese, but no one asked my opinion.
“What did you win?” Ma put down a bowl of sweet-and-sour soup.
“The history competition. That one we were studying for all month?”
It looked like Ma was struggling to remember. I decided to help her out. “Yeah, sure we remember, you had Ahuva and Dini over for like a week straight.”
Ma looked relieved. “Yes, of course. Wow! Well done! Your grade gets a prize for that?”
“Yeah.” Rivky frowned. “It’s a trip to some nature reserve. But it’s being scheduled for the week of the chasunah. If it’s on Wednesday, I won’t be able to go.”
Ma set down the ladle. “That’s a shame. You must be disappointed.”
Rivky shrugged. “But we have the wedding. That’s more fun, right?”
“Of course it’s fun, but it’s still disappointing to miss out,” Ma leaned back against the counter. I noticed that for once, she was ignoring her phone. “A chasunah is exciting, and fun, and special, and no one’s denying that. But it’s also a lot of work, and can be a stressful time for the family, and even for the chassan and kallah. There’s lots to do, lots to arrange, lots of emotions running high…” Ma’s phone beeped again, and then started buzzing. She sighed, and reached for her phone, but before she answered, she gave a half smile. “Back to the grind, girls….”
I looked at my half-finished plate. Ma hadn’t had time to eat anything at all. Maybe I wasn’t the only one finding things hard?
“The Finkels cancelled.” Ma was talking to Ta, looking harassed. “Tante Shevy and her whole family are arriving tomorrow to be here for the aufruf and chasunah, and they have nowhere to stay. I can’t believe it. I’ve already asked all the neighbors, and we need to find somewhere with room for seven people. Who can I even ask at the last minute like this?”
One week to C-day. I felt bad for Ma. The table was a mess of gift bags, individually wrapped chocolates, and monogrammed water bottles. For hostess packages, probably. And now she had seven guests arriving from Israel with nowhere to go.
“Don’t the Lerners have a finished basement? Maybe they’ll have space….”
Ma startled. “Oh, hi, Michal. I didn’t realize you were here. Good idea about the Lerners.” She took a closer look. “Are you okay, Meech? You’ve been… quiet recently.”
I thought of Rivky and her class trip, Ma and her lists, the stress of seating and hosting arrangements… and I also thought of Ma’s beaming smile at the l’chayim, Rivky’s excitement over her gown, the way Shaya and Tova looked so happy together. Of course I wanted my brother to get married. So why was I taking this so hard?
“I’m — it’s going to be so different now,” I blurted. “With Shaya. He’s not around like he used to be. He’s — it’s just not going to be the same anymore.”
I wasn’t sure if I was making sense, but Ma was nodding along. “Right. It’s going to be strange and maybe a bit hard for all of us, we’ll miss having Shaya to ourselves.”
Ma reached out and touched my hand. “Michal, you’re allowed to have mixed feelings about things. We can be happy and nervous, excited and a little bit disappointed, or even stressed-out and incredibly grateful. It’s okay to feel lots of different things, even about something as happy as a wedding.”
“Like you told Rivky,” I murmured. Something was shifting inside me. So I was normal, I was okay, I wasn’t obnoxious and awful for getting upset when everyone else was so happy….
We went quiet for a minute. I heard Ma taking deep, calming breaths as she surveyed her to-do lists.
“I love my gown,” I said suddenly. It really was gorgeous, and I was excited to wear it. And Tova’s sisters were so much fun, and hey, it was going to be cool to have a sister-in-law. Sure, it might take time to adjust to a new situation, but wasn’t that what life was all about?
The room looked brighter. Happier. Maybe all I needed to do was accept the bad feelings, and then I could make room for the other feelings too?
“You’re going to look beautiful,” Ma proclaimed. “And whatever you feel is okay. Just remember that.”
“Absolutely,” I said, starting to smile. “But for now, how about I take over making the welcome packages?”
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 854)
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