ZeeZee realized, dimly, that she wasn’t running towards something; she was running away
“Thanks for making time to speak.” Tammy twisted her hands as she sat down opposite Rikki in her Yad b’Yad office. “This whole year’s been one big fiasco, and I can’t figure out why.”
Rikki nodded sympathetically. “Let’s try to unpack this. Start from the beginning, and tell me everything that’s happened.”
Tammy giggled. “How much time d’you have?”
Rikki tapped her watch. “Forty-nine more minutes, and you’ll receive the bill from my secretary.” She smiled. “Kidding. I’m off duty today, I’m in the office to catch up on paperwork. So take your time, really.”
“You’re the best.” Tammy briefly closed her eyes and then launched into the whole saga. Becoming the popular eim bayit. Cookie Thursday. Having girls over for Shabbos meals every week, until Yehuda asked her to tone it down. Shani’s attachment. Getting in trouble over Shani sleeping at her house. Shani’s downward spiral, her hospitalization, being sent home. Being put under Mrs. Edelman’s supervision. Discovering ZeeZee at Yad b’Yad. And now the campaign, and the terrible turn it had taken.
Rikki listened, occasionally asking a question.
When Tammy finished, she looked at her friend. “So, doc, what’s your diagnosis?”
Rikki tapped her pen on the desk. “You’re not going to like it,” she said at last.
Tammy cringed, but said lightly, “The boundary issue again?”
Rikki leaned forward. “Tam, you have an amazing talent for drawing people to you and you’re a natural giver. There’s so much good you can do.” She sighed. “But if you keep running up against this issue, you’ll just get yourself into more and more trouble.”
“I see.” Tammy coughed. Trying to mask her mortification, she made an attempt at humor. “So how do I become tough and mean like you?”
Rikki didn’t even smile. “You go for therapy.”
“She obviously quit ’cuz she’s helping her daughter.”
“Maybe she’s going to the US to collect.”
“I heard her daughter was arrested with drugs in her suitcase, and Mrs. Edelman’s flying to be with her.”
The lunchroom was abuzz; ZeeZee felt her stomach tighten as she heard one wild rumor after another.
Rusi nodded at ZeeZee’s untouched tray. “Don’t tell me you’re not hungry?”
ZeeZee halfheartedly stirred her soup, but the knot in her stomach was too big. Rusi lowered her voice.
“Don’t blame yourself.”
Mrs. Hurwitz’s face rose in ZeeZee’s mind. “Why should I blame myself?” she asked coldly.
Rusi blinked. “No reason,” she said quickly.
“Hi, guys!” Miriam slid into the chair next to Rusi. “Insane about Mrs. Edelman, huh? I heard she’s gotten so wealthy from this fundraiser she decided she doesn’t need to work anymore.”
“That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard all day,” ZeeZee snarled.
Miriam reddened. “I didn’t say I believed it, I just heard—”
“The campaign was to pay her daughter’s debts, not to finance Mrs. E.’s retirement.” ZeeZee clenched her fist. “That’s even dumber than saying her daughter’s in jail.” She didn’t know why she was arguing, except that it felt good to shout.
Miriam held up her hands. “Okay, I won’t say it again. Chill.”
ZeeZee stood up. “Don’t you tell me to chill. I’m not the one coming up with conspiracy theories.”
“How’s this a conspiracy theory?” Rusi asked.
ZeeZee glared at her. “Oh, so you’re in this, too?”
“Now that’s a—”
“Forget it!” ZeeZee stomped out of the cafeteria, ignoring the startled looks.
The wind slapped her cheeks as she raced out of the building. She had no coat, but she didn’t care; her face was so hot that she welcomed the bite of the cold. You need to chill, ZeeZee. Hah!
Her ponytail swayed from side as she ran down the street, images flashing in her head. Devoiry. Mrs. Hurwitz. Rabbi Freund. Mrs. Edelman. Mrs. Edelman.
She kept running blindly, and ZeeZee realized, dimly, that she wasn’t running toward something; she was running away. Away from the terrible, frightening thought: Maybe this was her fault?
ZeeZee tried to gulp them back, but the tears began streaming. Now her face was cold, and she shivered. She needed a tissue, a coat… someone to talk to.
She sat down on a park bench and swiped the icy tears off her cheek. Who?
Definitely none of her Shvilei friends. Her mother? One of her sisters? She snorted. Her mother would cluck and say “poor ZeeZee” and miss the point. Her sisters would be even worse; they’d sigh and say, “so typical.”
ZeeZee rubbed her palms against her arms. Then she stood up. If she needed someone who understood her, the only place she’d find that was at Yad b’Yad.
Ilana smirked when she saw her. “You’re here for therapy, too?”
ZeeZee wrinkled her brow. How did Ilana know? “Not sure what you’re talking about,” she said breezily as she settled down on the couch. “And what’re you doing here, anyway? Don’t you have, like, a job?”
“Devoiry told me to take a few days off. I think she’s trying to figure out what to do with the store.”
Dafna looked up from her phone. “I still can’t believe they called off the campaign when it was so massively successful.”
“Yeah, well, that’s my seminary for you.” ZeeZee scowled.
“Like, it makes zero sense. What kind of mother wouldn’t be able to deal with some humiliation if it meant her daughter could get her debt totally paid off?”
“Mine,” Ilana said promptly. “My mom doesn’t do humiliation very well.” She grinned, tapping her nose ring. “But you’re talking about someone functional.”
ZeeZee sighed. Last night, she would’ve agreed with Dafna. But now… “Mrs. Edelman quit today. It’s all over school.”
Dafna’s jaw dropped and Ilana whistled.
ZeeZee twisted her ring around her finger. “I’m feeling guilty.”
“Why?” Ilana’s eyes narrowed. “They’re blaming her quitting on you?”
“No one said that,” ZeeZee mumbled. “But, y’know, I’m the one who sent out the campaign to all the alumni. And now Mrs. E.’s leaving. It’s kinda obvious.”
“It’s not your fault!” Dafna cried.
Ilana drawled, “Let’s get this straight. You want to help Mrs. E.’s daughter, who’s in a massive mess, so you go to your eim bayit and ask her what to do. And she gives you permission to run a campaign and tells you how. This is your fault?”
ZeeZee considered. “Riiight.” She frowned. “Still, I’m the one who got the alumni list from the secretary and contacted them. Mrs. Hurwitz was legit upset when she heard about that.”
“Well, then, she should’ve been more involved!” Ilana’s eyes flashed. “We were all there in her house when she spoke to us about running the campaign. She asked who’d be making the phone calls, and told us to get the eating disorder girl in on the action. But she never asked who we were calling. Now she gets mad?”
“Well, it wasn’t her, really, it was Rabbi Freund,” ZeeZee said fairly. “I bet he, like, threatened to fire her or something.”
Dafna glanced at Ilana. “No wonder she was so upset.”
“What d’you mean?” ZeeZee asked.
“Tammy’s been speaking to Rikki Klein in her office for, like, the past few hours,” Dafna said.
“Interesting.” ZeeZee stood up and stretched. “Anyway, thanks, guys, for trying to make me feel better.”
Ilana eyed her shrewdly. “Didn’t work?”
Ilana leaned her head back on the couch. “You’re funny. You seem so cool and untouchable — but you’re not.”
“Hey, watch who ya’ callin’ uncool, sistah.” ZeeZee waved and left.
As she headed for the front door, the lift she’d gotten from her friends dissipated. She’d thought all she’d needed was their blunt but loyal understanding, but apparently that hadn’t been it. She needed to speak to someone older. A mentor.
Her eyes flickered to Rikki Klein’s room down the hall. Was Mrs. Hurwitz still in there? Lots of girls liked speaking with Mrs. H. She was sweet and non-judgmental, and made you feel like the most important person in the world.
But, somehow, the thought of pouring out her heart to Mrs. Hurwitz wasn’t drawing her. Not just because she was still angry with her for throwing their campaign under the bus. More because something about her seemed so… vulnerable. And ZeeZee respected strength. Conviction.
ZeeZee looked again at the office door. Rikki Klein? She was cool. And confident. But she wasn’t a… well… a teacher.
ZeeZee nearly laughed aloud. What a seminary girl you’ve become.
And as she walked outside, it hit her together with the cold blast of air — who it was she wanted to speak to, who she trusted to help her sort out her feelings and figure out who she was and who she wanted to become.
But, of course, she was the last person in the world she could speak to right now.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 775)
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