Ahuva didn’t have a problem with her mother. She was the problem. She had a handicap. She didn’t know how to handle people
went cold. Until that moment, I’d been under the impression that Ahuva was in a good place now. She didn’t have to be afraid of her mother’s reactions to her friendships anymore.
Really, it wasn’t such a big deal that she was telling me this. I’d heard plenty about her complicated relationship with her mother. Why was I reacting so strangely this time? And why was I having such a hard time responding to her revelation?
I realized that I didn’t know what she was expecting me to say. Did she want me to ask her to explain? Probably, or else why would she mention it to me? But I didn’t want to hear about it. Whatever was going on, I certainly couldn’t help her. She had her husband to discuss these things with now. I wasn’t a therapist. For goodness’ sake, I was two years younger than her.
But on the other hand, if I didn’t listen to what she wanted to share, would she feel betrayed? She wouldn’t turn to a teacher or rebbetzin figure — although she probably should. But that just wasn’t Ahuva’s type.
Ahuva took my silence as an invitation to elaborate. To my discomfort, she started explaining what was bothering her. I didn’t know what to do. Listening felt intrusive. But to tune her out would be highly insensitive. What kind of person didn’t lend an ear when her friend unloaded to her?
So I did something in between. I sort of listened, but didn’t push the conversation forward. From whatever Ahuva shared, I was able to calm down, gleaning that there was no serious situation going on. A little challenging, maybe, but nothing out of the ordinary. Time and maturity would straighten it all out, I was pretty sure of that.
Understandably, I couldn’t tell this to Ahuva. When a person feels like their world is cloaked in shadows, you can’t deny their worries and pain. I did my best to validate her feelings, offering humble advice on how — or rather how not to — react, and tried changing the subject.
As Ahuva shared her struggles with me, a realization dawned. Ahuva didn’t have a problem with her mother. She was the problem. She had a handicap. She didn’t know how to handle people.
This realization opened my eyes and I started to understand the entire complexity that was Ahuva. She wasn’t a bad person. She had a relationship disorder. I wasn’t a mental health practitioner, but from knowing Ahuva for several months, I saw a pattern. Ahuva’s heart created emotional associations with every person whose path she crossed, leading her to harbor very strong feelings, for better or for worse. With me, she’d become enmeshed. With her mother, she’d built a wall of bitterness, leading to her becoming withdrawn, which made her mother anxious and lead her to try whatever she could think of to repair the relationship.
It was powerful knowledge, but it didn’t help me figure out how to deal with the reality. By sharing her struggles with me, Ahuva had woven another thread in the ties of our friendship. Sharing struggles does that between people.
I didn’t realize this was happening until one day, Ahuva called me up and said a word, catching me off guard.
“Hallway,” she blurted, before I had a chance to say hello.
Hallway had been a code word between Ahuva and me before she’d gotten married. It meant we were scheduling an all-night talking session on the phone. Back in those days, when Ahuva said hallway, I’d made sure to charge my cell phone fully, and then, while the world slept, we schmoozed through the night.
Of course, we’d dropped this activity when Ahuva got married. I never admitted to her what a tremendous relief it was for me. Finally, I was back on a normal schedule. I’d been so sleep deprived the months before her wedding, I literally couldn’t function. Now, getting adequate shut-eye again, my whole day improved. I was enthusiastic about my teaching; I could focus on my tasks and goals.
In the past, I’d never, no matter how utterly exhausted I’d been, denied Ahuva when she’d said hallway. I’d have felt treacherous for even considering it. What kind of person says no when her friend needs to talk to her?
But now the dynamic was different and staying up to talk to a friend until the wee hours was wrong on every level. No matter how enmeshed I was in our friendship, I was aware that this was 100 percent, completely, totally, unequivocally wrong.
Besides, I had no intention of giving up a night’s sleep.
Swallowing in dread, I answered Ahuva in just one word. “No.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 767)
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