People can spend weeks maintaining a polite, respectful distance, and in a span of a moment, are suddenly sharing their deepest secrets
"That was nice,” Faigy Korman said brightly. “It must feel good to see an investment pay off that quickly.”
She realized her husband was feeling down, but she misunderstood why.
“Mrs. Wasser is a doll,” she continued. “Do you know she runs a busy office, Hirsch from the medical billing, and she still goes in to Brooklyn sometimes? She’s the gantze macher of the business and they won’t let her leave, they don’t care that she moved to Modena. I can’t imagine, she has little kids and also helps with the yeshivah, she prepared the seudah for them Erev Yom Kippur. Really very special. And the spread she put out? It was elegant and the boys enjoyed too, Dovi didn’t touch my supper tonight and he couldn’t get enough of her sesame chicken. Incredible couple, the Wassers.
“Avi,” she said as she turned to face her husband, “you really found a star, you have great instincts. I don’t know how you sensed it, but you did.”
She beamed at him, and even though he smiled back, he looked tired. Something was bothering him, but she couldn’t imagine what. The pouring rain had done a job on his Shabbos hat, but he wasn’t the type to get bent out of shape about something like that. The Simchas Beis Hashoeivah of his yeshivah — his yeshivah, the one he had brought into being, funded, and hired a rosh yeshivah for — had been beautiful and festive. Faigy had thought the rosh yeshivah’s speech was very nice, the part that she was able to follow, something about zeman simchaseinu. The boys singing and playing were heavenly, better than the kumzitz choirs at chasunahs, she had told Penina Wasser. Each of the boys had come over to thank not just Avi, but her, and best of all, her Dovi had looked so comfortable and happy with his friends.
She wanted to ask what was wrong, but then Avi would say, “Who says something is wrong?” or else, “Why does something always have to be wrong?”
He was sitting on the couch, his face concealed by a magazine that he would normally never even pick up, ostensibly reading an article about “Six Affordable Ways to Transform your Living Room.” She got it. He didn’t want to talk.
Okay. Marriage, she had heard in a shiur, meant not only communicating, but also knowing when silence sends a stronger message.
She could do this. He would speak when he was ready.
Shlomo Bass wasn’t sure why sitting around in pajamas in his basement felt different from every single night in the dormitory, but here they were, talking at two thirty in the morning: The voices were the same, the language was the same, but there was something free and honest in this conversation that he’d never heard in yeshivah.
Lorb’s aunt had been divorced too, he said, and now she remarried. They liked the new guy okay but she always looked a bit distracted, like making it work took all her energy.
Shlomo Bass wasn’t able to easily slide into the conversation and share his perspectives on divorce, but he appreciated what Lorb was doing. He’d gone to enough therapists to understand what being validated felt like, but somehow, it felt nicer from Chesky Lorb in his too-tight Detroit Tigers Forever T-shirt and sparse Chol Hamoed beard than it did from Dr. Berstow with his round rimless glasses and perpetually nodding face.
“Yeah, I get that. You know,” Shlomo adjusted his legs, not sure how the whole sitting on the floor thing worked, “my mother and Zalman never really argue, they get along well. My father and her argued a lot. It’s very peaceful now, but l’maiseh, it’s not the same and it never will be.”
His voice cracked, and he stopped talking. He wanted to give an example, but whatever example he could think of felt like it would be sharing too much. He couldn’t tell these boys he didn’t even really know that his father used to do low harmony on the high part of the London Boys “Ki Yikorei Kan Tzippor Lefanecha” together with his mother all the time, or the way they jokingly called the gardener “Churchill” and laughed uproariously. Shlomo didn’t even know what Churchill looked like, but that joke had always created a good mood in the house. The heavyset gardener would park his blue pick-up truck by the road and already spirits would rise. “And here’s the old bulldog,” Abba would say and scrunch up his face, and Mommy would start to giggle.
His mother and Zalman didn’t have those kind of jokes, but he couldn’t explain this right now. Instead, he said, “It’s interesting what comes out of my mouth here when I could never say anything like this to a therapist who literally got paid to encourage me to talk.”
It was quiet, and then Wagner did a fake therapist voice. “Tell us what you’re feeling, it’s important to share.”
Shlomo looked up at him in surprise.
“Ha.” Wagner coughed out a laugh. “Who hasn’t taken a turn. I once beat up my little brother, maybe a bit rougher than was necessary, and my parents hauled me off to therapy the next day. Anger management, aggression, rage, abuser, blah blah blah.” He grimaced. “Lorb knows my brother and knows that whatever I did was letting him off easy.”
They laughed. There was more, Shlomo could see, secrets flowing in this room that weren’t within reach. Maybe they would never be.
Emboldened, he said, “Nu, Lorb, no therapy for you?”
“Nah.” Lorb sighed expansively. “I was never zoicheh. Once, in summer camp some guy came around to talk about trauma but nothing more exciting than that.”
The room was messier than it had ever been, Shlomo noticed. Pillows scattered everywhere. A near invisible trail of e-cig vapor dancing around the empty pretzel bags and soda cans and a huge stack of Zalman’s precious old Popular Photography magazines that looked like it was about to topple over.
He would deal with the mess in the morning, before anyone would see.
He sat there marveling at the fact that people can spend weeks maintaining a polite, respectful distance from one another, and in a span of a moment, they can suddenly be sharing their deepest secrets.
Where else would they go? He wanted desperately to keep the conversation going but wasn’t sure what else he could say. Did they care that he used to have migraines? Should he talk about his old yeshivah?
“Bass, that isn’t simple, to be an only child of divorced parents, respect, man.” Wagner punched a pillow. “Lesser problems have sent guys into all sorts of trouble, and look at you… you’re really a choshuve guy….” For a moment, Shlomo thought he was being mocked, but he could see that Wagner was serious.
“What’s the secret, Bass?”
“You really want to know?” Shlomo asked.
Surprised by the tone in his voice, both boys looked up sharply. “Yeah, sure,” Wagner said.
Shlomo stood up, brushing the crumbs off his sweatpants and stretching. They looked uncertain, and then stood up as well. He walked across the basement, past the treadmill and Zalman’s photography room, and opened the heavy wooden door as they followed him.
“This,” he said, “this is my place.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 813)
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