| First of All |

First of All: Chapter 12

Soon my small shanah rishonah apartment is going to be filled with nosy curious family members all eager to see how the new couple is doing



ryeh is rushing around like he has a plane to catch and frankly, he’s getting on Toby’s nerves.

“Aryeh,” she says, tugging a chenille throw over herself, cozying up against the chaise. He launches into the kitchen, runs back out holding a thermos, turns around to grab the phone he’s left on the counter, then flies over to the closet for his briefcase and hat.

“Aryeh,” she says again, louder this time.

He looks at her and skids to a halt. “What?! Sorry, what?” he says, modulating his tone.

She calmly rearranges the throw again and waits a beat before answering him. She’d learned long ago that matching his energy just leaves both of them feeling panicked.

“What’s going on?” she asks, smiling with a serenity she doesn’t feel.

He takes a deep breath and presses a palm to his forehead. “Big, big meeting. A potential client, I’m taking the lead on the whole thing, and honestly, I feel like I’m not ready for this step. It’s too big, too soon.”

So quit, she says silently. Just tell them it’s too much for you, you have high blood pressure, you want to enjoy life, not race around for someone else like a marionette puppet.

“Oh, please,” she says aloud, waving an airy hand. “You’re going to be just fine, Aryeh Berger. I’ve seen you talk a rainstorm into buying an umbrella.”

He laughs at that, calmer already.

Too lazy to stand up, she tells him about the lunch she packed. He takes it from the counter gratefully, waves, and is gone.

Toby hears the door slam behind him, and checks her emotional pulse. The supportive steady wife… it’s what she does best. But she’s relieved, and a little surprised, to see that this time she doesn’t feel resentful. She did what was needed, and it took nothing out of her that she couldn’t give.

She ponders this, and feels a sudden surge of energy. She gets to her feet, stretches, and heads to the garage to look for her long-abandoned gardening gear. There are vegetables just waiting to be coaxed into existence, and no meeting with imposing potential clients is going to get in the way of that. Not today.


Indoor barbecues are my new favorite thing. Fill the oven with pans of franks, burgers, wings, and steaks, and you’re good to go. Especially if you got some amazing sauces from Trader Joe’s earlier this week. Something about that store makes me feel very domestic; too bad it’s not close by. Though considering what the bill was, maybe it’s a very good thing it’s not close by.

I set the table, admire my tablescape — white tablecloths, red runners, woven chargers, white place settings and red gingham napkins in wooden napkin rings — and go to the kitchen to arrange my centerpieces. Uneven wooden vases with gold rims from Amazon, bursting white flowers and greenery, spread in a line down each runner. See, this I’m good at. Shabbos cooking, on the other hand…

Mike wanders into the kitchen where I’m pruning some of the flowers, mumbling to himself. I smile to myself; he’s been practicing his devar Torah like a nervous 13-year-old before his pshetel.

I offer him the pan of onion rings; he makes a brachah and helps himself to a few, scooping several more onto a plastic plate.

“Did I buy enough whiskey?” he asks suddenly.

I look at him. “I have no idea, did you?”

He relaxes. “Yeah, yeah, I did.”

“Did you invite my brothers?” he pipes up again.

I hold back my grin. “Yup, whole Leiber family will be attending.”

Talk about pressure. But I got this. Time to show the in-laws what I’m made of. Not to mention the whole “ishto k’gufo thing,” how Mike’s first siyum as a married man is my celebration too, etc. Which I’m still wrapping my brain around. I’ve never been the super-spiritual type, but I suddenly feel very emotional.

I look at the clock. “Okay, two hours till showtime! I need to get ready, do you want to lie down a bit? I’ll wake you up in an hour.”

He nods. “Good idea,” he says, and hurries off, still clutching the plate of onion rings.

It’s cute to see calm, happy-go-lucky Mike Leiber nervous about something. Usually that’s my role. But a siyum is a big deal, and I love how seriously he takes it.

When I peek into our bedroom a half hour later, he’s wide awake, hunched over his travel shtender. Oh, well.

My phone pings as I’m brushing out my Shabbos sheitel.

It’s a message from Lara. Showroom set up is in just three days! Can’t wait to see what you’ve pulled together.

I look at the clock, decide there’s no time for a nervous breakdown, and take a deep calming breath instead.

You’ve got this, I tell my reflection. Lara wouldn’t have assigned you such a huge project if she wasn’t confident in your abilities. Or didn’t love your style.

The girl in the mirror doesn’t look very reassured. But time is flying, and soon my small shanah rishonah apartment is going to be filled with nosy curious family members all eager to see how the new couple is doing, and I need to be cool, calm, and collected. Or at least do a good job pretending.


It’s a great siyum. Ta couldn’t come, which is really disappointing, but I know he’s proud of Mike, and Ma is there, snapping pics for him. The food’s delicious — thank you, Trader Joe’s — everyone can’t stop gushing over the tables, and Mike’s speech totally made me cry. He was just so filled with gratitude to me. It was a potent reminder that marriage is so much bigger than its parts, more than just a chassan, a kallah, and grocery lists. It’s something huge, a receptacle of potential for so many more moments of greatness. I have to run off and fix my mascara, and when I get back, Ma pulls me in for a hug.

I hug Ma back. Are those tears in her eyes?

I lean away to look at her, but she blinks and fumbles for her phone. Hmmm, what’s going on there?

But the fries need to be refilled and Mike’s looking for more plastic shot glasses, so I hurry off to play hostess. Concerned daughter will have to wait for later.

I hear my phone ping in the relative quiet of the kitchen. I reach for it absentmindedly and click on the new message, thinking about whether we need more water, and if I should run to the garage.

And suddenly I can’t breathe.

I read the message again, trying to make sense of it through the cloud of panic that has enveloped me.

Some deliveries may be delayed due to a week-long protest by truck drivers demanding lower fuel prices and better working conditions. — Appliances Plus.

No. No way. No.

And then my phone pings again.

Some deliveries may be delayed due to a week-long protest by truck drivers demanding lower fuel prices and better working conditions. — Tiles & Hardware

By the next ping, I don’t even click on the message.

I am so fired.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 790)

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