| First of All |

First of All: Chapter 15

I might be out of a job soon, but yes, sisters, I’m fine


I am driving a truck. Yup, this is what things have come to. Mike is fast asleep, head lolling to the side in what looks like a supremely uncomfortable position, and I am driving a Budget truck from Lakewood to Monsey. In other words, we both might not make it back in one piece.

And in less important news, I haven’t looked in a mirror in like 25 hours and honestly, I’m scared to. Like, for real.

“Oh, Hashem!” I say for the 9,000th time, as cars seem to press way too close on either side. I’ve already been beeped, brighted, and cursed at, but I refuse to speed up. Mainly because of the precious cargo in the back, but also because I have no idea how to drive a truck and “slowly” seems to be the best option.

I try not to glance at Waze too often, it doesn’t do much for my developing ulcer, but now I sneak a quick peek. It’s 1:30 a.m. One and a half hours of driving left. That leaves us three hours of rest in normal beds, and then if we can be at the showroom by 7 a.m., we may, may, may just have a chance of having everything set up and installed before Lara and the marketing team show up. Either that, or we’ll just be there nice and punctual for Lara to fire me once and for all.

I pull into a rest stop, and turn off the engine with shaking hands. I hate this truck. I hate truckers. I hate strikes. From now on, I am ordering local only. I rummage through the bag by Mike’s feet and pull out a chocolate bar. He doesn’t stir. Time for some sugar and then back on the road.

It’s quiet while I chew, and I don’t like it. I think about waking Mike up for company but the poor guy is exhausted. Instead, I take my phone off of the dashboard and click on my silent sisters-chat. Seventy-eight new messages. I almost cry as I begin to scroll through, and then I start to laugh, quietly, to myself. They’re too much, these big sisters of mine. They’re overwhelming and interfering and let’s just say it, a bit meddlesome. But they’ve been there for me since before I can remember, and I know they’re not going anywhere.

I also know, though, that I have my own family now, and contrary to apparently popular belief, Mike and I can figure things out on our own. But it’s nice to know that the girls will be there for me if I need.



Omigosh, she’s lost in Delaware.

Should we call the police?

Should we tell Ma?

Has anyone spoken to Ma or Ta today?

No, but I need her zucchini soup recipe.

Oooh, me too.

So Bayla’s fine?

I look at Mike snoring lightly in the seat next to me and smile. I might be out of a job soon, but yes, sisters, I’m fine.


I barely remember pulling into our driveway and waking up Mike, or falling into bed still in my gross trucker clothing, or setting the alarm for 6 a.m. I do remember checking the lock on the truck three times though.

My eyes feel like they’re full of sand when I open them, and a hot shower barely helps. And then we’re back in the horrible truck, driving to the showroom, Mike whistling like we’re going to tea.

After so many months of trying not to focus on her youngest’s new marriage, Toby finds it unsettling to be so worried about Bayla. She reviews the brief messages she’s received — got the stuff! On the way back! — and tries to breathe.

That Mike is a piece of work; never where you think he’ll be, and then showing up to save the day, with a truck of all things. But he makes Bayla so happy. And they’ll grow closer from this, she’s sure about that.

She herself is happy too, Toby has to admit. Well, not at the moment, right now she’s a bundle of nerves. But in general, this whole third-act thing, much as it’s completely off-script, is turning out surprisingly well. Who knew that after 40 years of marriage, she’d learn some new tricks, like communicating what she can and can’t handle with her husband.

It’s hard not to look back and think what if I’d learned this all sooner, but these years are about looking forward. Embracing the future. And trying not to overthink her children’s sometimes rather interesting life choices.

Aryeh comes in from the garden.

“You have magic hands, Mrs. Berger,” he says admiringly. “Those veggies are sprouting practically overnight.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Berger. You can tell me more about how impressive you find my skills when we go out for dinner tonight.”

He looks startled and then relaxes. “Date night? Looking forward.” He picks up his phone and sits down with a groan. “Just going to rearrange some meetings then.”

She smiles. “You do that.”

I think I broke something. As in a bone, not one of the cabinets, baruch Hashem. I look around the kitchen, nursing my hand. Mike is sprawled on the floor with a flashlight in his mouth, screwing something in. His chavrusa is gluing down the backsplash, and Mimi is furiously screwing handles onto cabinetry. The whole crew is here, and I’m still not sure we’re going to make it.

But what I do know, first and foremost, is that I’m a very lucky girl.

The kitchen is mopped, polished, and sparkling. The cavalry has been banished to their homes with my undying thanks. The cabinets are assembled, all appliances are assembled, although not installed, and I even had time to set up the knickknacks I’ve been hoarding for weeks, like fruit bowls, planters, runners, and cushions.

The whole thing is a miracle, although I know Lara’s discerning eye is going to find at least a few things that could be better. But I’ll smooth those out, if not before the marketing team gets here, then before opening day. I straighten a sign that says Farmer’s Market in sprawling cursive and fluff a woven pillow. I think I might pass out before Lara even arrives.

I look around for Mike. I have so much to say to him. He’s standing on a chair, meticulously cleaning the large French window over the farmhouse sink. Going to be the cleanest window in Monsey…

“Mike! Hey, Michoel, come sit with me a minute.” I pat a leather barstool.

I’m actually obsessed with how this kitchen turned out; I’m not sure I’m going to ever be able to let go.

He pretends to slip off the chair, and I can’t help laughing. He’s a total nut, but he’s the most loyal and caring person I’ve ever met. Covered in paint and grease and dust and who knows what else. I waited long enough to find him, but I never imagined how cared for he’d make me feel.

He plops onto a bar stool and I slide next to him. There’s four minutes until the team arrives, and all I want to do is sit here, with Mike, catching my breath.

I know I probably look as messy as Mike, if not worse, but right now, I couldn’t care less. At least I slapped on some makeup.

“Look what we did,” I say softly.

He looks around obligingly. “You’re amazing,” he says. “This is the most inviting kitchen I’ve ever seen.”

We sit and schmooze quietly until my phone pings. Coming in.

I stand up and smooth down my skirt. Lara has never seen me in a tichel, or, you know, covered in sawdust, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Mike tucks in his shirt, slaps a dust bunny off his yarmulke, and we stand there awkwardly until the front door opens.

Lara strides in, looking like a magazine cover, followed by three overeager photographers.

“Lara,” I say coolly, giving her a confident air kiss. “I’m so excited to show you around. But first of all, this is my husband, Mike.”



(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 793)

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