| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 19

In his dreams, Shlomo Bass had envisioned a rebbi figure who would step in and save him


he light blue mug on the table was sitting in a little pool of dry coffee and it was getting Shlomo Bass edgy. He had to control himself from reaching out and lifting the Rosh Yeshivah’s cup in order to clean up the mess.

Rabbi Wasser was sitting next to Shlomo, on the same side of the table, leaning back in a cheap fake-leather office chair, his legs crossed and the skin on his right leg showing over his sock. Shlomo Bass wanted to feel disdain, to water the seeds of scorn within him, so that he could write off Rabbi Wasser like he’d written off so many others.

But there was something stopping him.

Shlomo Bass had known people like the Rosh Yeshivah. His old neighbor Peretz (and now Shlomo felt a twinge of pain, as he did whenever he remembered childhood friends, people who’d filled his life before the divorce — all day long, little twinges in his heart, so painful and so constant he didn’t even pay attention anymore) was that sort of kid: You asked if he liked your new suit and he would tell you the truth, earnestly suggesting that maybe a darker color would look better. But the honesty came with something else, a feeling of being taken seriously.

The Rosh Yeshivah had questions, and he had no problem asking them. But it was clear to Shlomo that the Rosh Yeshivah also wanted answers, that he cared. It wasn’t the “How did that make you feel?” of a million therapists over the years, but the “How can we help you pull it together so you can come out stronger?”

In his dreams, Shlomo Bass had envisioned a rebbi figure who would step in and save him. Once, after the Chaunkah party at Rabbi Panzer’s house in eighth grade, Shlomo had dreamed that the rebbi adopted him and kept him. In the dream Shlomo had slid right into the family, taken his place in the playroom with the keyboard and drums and two guitars, and had simply existed there.

But the rebbi-savior never materialized. By tenth grade he realized that something about him scared rebbeim off, even the good ones, and there wasn’t much he could do about it. He could try to be like the other boys (the word “American” would rise in his mind when he had this thought, and he would hear it in his father’s voice and accent) and “love” the rebbi, find the rebbi jokes funny and rhapsodize that the rebbi was really a chiller, that he got it, that he was the bomb.

But he didn’t think it. He didn’t find that they got him, that they really understood the loneliness, the sense of being imprisoned by his own personality and upbringing, the obstacle course in his soul that made it impossible to just accept things, the voice in his head that was always, always derisive, writing off the steak in every restaurant as overcooked, the decor in every home as tacky, and the style of every speaker as amateur.

Rabbi Wasser wasn’t even trying to play psychologist: He was as wide-eyed as a child at a campfire, listening to the story.

“Wait,” he turned and lifted the mug, taking a long sip before placing it back in the offensive little puddle. “Wait, you’re okay with the stepfather even though you can’t connect with him, because he makes your mother happy? Is that what you’re saying, Shlomo?”

Rabbi Wasser broke it down, like he was taking apart an old radio and trying to put it back together, everything so black and white.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Shlomo shrugged. “She hasn’t had it easy and she deserves to be happy.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 802)

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