She appreciated her husband’s spirit, but couldn’t there be a balance? An unassuming desk job, with some side passion as an outlet?
“Okay, guys! If you look out the window now, you’ll see land coming into view.”
Yochi’s voice was smooth and polished, with an odd Southern inflection. Pessie smiled at the rapt expressions on her girls’ faces.
“The land you’re seeing is a special territory, originally settled by Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English explorers. And if you look really close, just along the coast, you’ll see the special landmark we’re all so excited to visit.”
The girls crowded around the window. Pessie winked at Yochi as he tipped an imaginary hat.
“And that place,” he sang, “is called Home!”
Zissi giggled and Hindy groaned.
A service trolley came clanking down the aisle, and a flight attendant approached their seats to collect their breakfast trays. As Pessie passed along the trash, her gaze swept over Yochi.
His face shone. There was a fire in his eyes, a vitality that made him look young and invincible. He was filled with the headiness of another successful tour, and he was raring to go, to do it again, to take off into the great big world.
“I don’t know how you do it, Yoch,” she told him wearily as the trolley rolled away. “You have so much energy. It’s unbelievable.”
“Enough energy to power hundreds of tax returns, huh?”
Something pinched Pessie’s heart. Did it have to be that way? She appreciated her husband’s spirit, but couldn’t there be a balance? An unassuming desk job, with some side passion as an outlet?
But when she looked at Yochi and saw the twinkle in his eyes, the pinch dissolved and she allowed herself to chuckle.
“I guess not enough energy for that.”
Yochi put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his seat.
“Honestly?” he said. “Right now I’m looking forward to visiting that special landmark. It’s a great place. And sometimes, you need to be away for a while to truly appreciate its value.” He gestured at his family and adopted his tour guide voice again. “I think you guys are going to have a great time.”
There could be balance, she knew. If she shifted her own outlook, let go a bit, allowed herself to take pleasure in the perks of being a tour director’s wife.
She sat up and saluted solemnly, “You got it, sir.” Then she gave a little giggle, slouched back in her airplane seat and said, “Can’t wait!”
It had been an endlessly long flight, and it took several minutes for Deena’s brain to clear.
“Let’s find our luggage and then we’ll take an Uber home,” she told her girls.
They gathered their luggage quickly. As Deena compared prices between Uber and Lyft, a hand came down on her shoulder.
“Ma!” Deena spluttered.
Zev’s mother grinned broadly, opening her arms to embrace her two grandkids. Behind her, Mr. Lizman nodded and smiled.
“Hello, hello, welcome back,” he said politely.
“Wow, it’s so special of you to come,” Deena said. “You… I really didn’t expect it. Wow.”
She’d declined her mother’s offer to pick them up — “It’s really unnecessary, why should you take time off from work when there’s Uber?” — but it hadn’t occurred to her that the Lizmans would come.
“We missed our cutie-pies!” Mrs. Lizman exclaimed. “We couldn’t not come.”
Even as Deena smiled in appreciation, the thoughts filled her mind. Had Zev been with us, would you also have come? Are you here because you missed us — or because you feel like you have to maintain Zev’s role in this family? To parent his kids, because I obviously can’t do it alone?
She forced the thought away quickly. The Lizmans had come to greet her; it was an act of kindness.
And if she stopped the unfair train of thought, she had to admit that it felt good. It made her feel like she belonged.
Zev’s father stepped forward to take over the luggage. “Should we head out to the car?”
At the sight of Mr. Lizman’s Tesla, Deena’s mind took off once again. How many times had this car rolled into her driveway and swallowed her children up, taking them away from her, leading them into the Lizman world? How many lonely weekends had she spent at home, refusing to join that world, stewing over a relationship that had gone wrong?
She’d thought it was hurt that held her back. But it wasn’t, she’d learned. It was shame. And regret. It was a feeling of crushing failure, mourning a relationship that had never been given a chance.
Mr. Lizman stowed their luggage in the trunk. Deena sank into the fine leather seat and watched the falcon doors drape closed over them.
From the front seat, Zev’s mother turned around to chat with Deena.
“Your show was amazing,” she said. “I was so proud to see you up there! Such a smart idea, to livestream it.”
The leather seating suddenly felt hot and sticky. “Uh…”
“I missed part of it. I don’t know what happened, must have been a connection error or something. I think the timing jumped back, I’m not sure, but I think I watched most of it.”
The leather eased up. At least her mother-in-law hadn’t caught on. But what about everyone else? And her explanation speech — had Zev’s mother missed that part?
“Thanks,” Deena said. “It was… a great opportunity.”
As the words left her mouth, she felt Miri shifting closer to her. Her daughter slipped her hand into Deena’s and gave it a squeeze.
Deena held the little hand tightly.
It had been a great opportunity. There were so many opportunities, waiting for her to give them a real chance.
The Tesla eased onto the highway. Clasped around Miri’s hand, the diamonds on Deena’s finger glinted.
The laundry would have to wait. There wasn’t a morsel of food in the house after their trip, and her girls hadn’t been too happy about taking pretzels for snack that morning.
In the supermarket, a pit rested in Deena’s stomach as she filled up her shopping cart. Basic, ordinary potato-and-onion items, a grocery order just like anyone else’s. There were no exotic ingredients to explore because there were no new recipes to develop. Who should she develop recipes for? The followers she never wanted to face again?
Her phone was like a dead weight in her pocket. A history book. An era that once was, that people would look back at and say, “Lol, nebach, remember that show?”
She added two dozens of eggs to her wagon.
No new recipes meant no social media activity. What did that mean? Was her career over? How would she pay for her grocery order next week?
Fear snaked through her limbs. The pit in her stomach grew large and heavy.
“Hey! Deena? From Nuts & Basil?”
Deena turned around to face an unfamiliar woman. Twenty-five-ish, heavily rooted blonde sheitel with front bangs, colorless lipstick.
“You just did that show in Italy, right? Me and my friends watched it.”
You did? And?
And nothing. A sparkly grin, and the woman turned her attention to the yogurts on display.
Which was probably better than the So cute! comment she’d gotten from a random follower.
Cute? What exactly was cute about her show? A swan-painted kid hurling her mother’s rings at the audience?
Kids were cute, arts-and-crafts were cute. What did cute mean in the context of a professional’s work? Cute was a meaningless word that left her wondering if she was supposed to feel smug or insulted.
She was loading her groceries into her trunk when her phone rang.
Hmm, what could he want? Oh, payment arrangements, probably. Okay, at least that.
But Yochi Hersko wasn’t calling about payment.
“Will you be available one day this week?” he asked. “Binick and I would like to meet you in our office, together with Gedalya Berkowitz. We want to talk about future tours, our catering plans.” He gave a little chuckle. “I know this last-minute arrangement with his catering worked out, but that’s not how we usually do things.”
Deena slowly brought down the trunk door.
Future tours. Catering plans.
A sense of foolishness washed over her. Sweetie, there’s a G-d in This World, He provides, did you really think it was your clients and your thousands of followers who paid your bills? Did you really think one fiasco meant Hashem would take away your parnassah forever?
“Uh, yes,” she answered. “I’m available. Tell me a time, I’ll make it work.”
Back home, she left the bags of groceries on the floor and sank into a chair with her phone. For the first time since her return from Italy, she opened Instagram and checked her feed.
Her number of followers had jumped. She was pushing 40K, it was a matter of months, maybe even weeks.
Unless her account went a little idle. What would happen? To her? To the world? There would be nobody following her. She would simply… follow her heart. Lead her own life, whatever it took.
She scrolled through her feed, pride and regret fighting for space in her heart.
Was this goodbye? It didn’t have to be, right?
She opened a blank note and started typing.
Hey, guys. I’m back. It’s been one awesome journey, and lol, yeah, we’ve had some turbulence along the way. I’ve made some incredible new friends in Italy — hi, Pessie, waving to you, even though I can’t tag you and you probably don’t even know what an Instagram handle is. Anyway, here’s a glimpse at some of my special moments with Touring Together. It’s been wonderful — and I look forward to more fantastic food and fun on future tours.
She reread the draft, cringed at the lol, yeah part. Perfect life. Vulnerabilities that sounded like fun adventures.
She hesitated for a moment.
A strange thought rose in her mind. She couldn’t tag Pessie — but she could talk to her.
If there was anyone actually interested in hashing over tour memories, it would be Pessie. She wasn’t a follower — but she was open to a real friendship.
An unfamiliar calm settled over Deena. She deleted the draft, returned to her home screen, and scrolled through her contacts. She found Pessie’s name and tapped out a quick text: Hi Pessie. Recovered from jet lag? What’s your schedule like this week? I’d love to connect.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)
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