“Listen, when the doctor comes, I want you to call me. I want to speak to him or her. Okay, Ma? Don’t forget”
AN ambulance raced by Ayala as she walked out of Bracha’s building, and the siren echoed inside her head as she rapidly dialed her mother.
No need to panic, Zev had said, but Ayala knew that this was exactly what her mother was doing right now. And her brother would be no help; he’d amble into the hospital, hear from some nurse that everything’s fine, ribs heal themselves, and then tell Ma to quit her worrying and just go home and relax. As if it were possible to shut off anxiety like a water tap.
Not that she could blame Zev; he’d been affected just as much as she had by growing up one of two siblings — two onlies, only boy, only girl — to two older parents. They’d just each reacted differently.
“I don’t get it. Would you rather not have been born?” the teenage Ayala would ask, when her little brother would complain yet again about having parents old enough to be grandparents, and why couldn’t they be young and normal instead of having dinner conversations about colonoscopies? “Hashem chose to only give them children in their mid-forties. It’s not their fault!”
Of course, that would shut Zev up because there was no response to such an argument — as Ayala well knew. It was the line she’d repeat to herself, each time she found herself feeling jealous of her friends’ mothers, who knew the right clothing stores to shop in (for their daughters and for themselves), could hum along with the current songs (unlike her parents, who still thought that trendy music meant the Rabbi’s Sons), and were cute and active and fun to talk to.
Maybe it had been the guilt over her own resentment that had made her so quick to nip Zev’s in the bud? Whatever the case, now, from her older and more empathetic vantage point, Ayala could appreciate that she, too, had played a role in shaping Zev’s character, and that she had not been the safe, understanding sounding board he’d needed.
You can’t be everything to everyone, someone’s voice — Naftali’s? Bracha’s? — said inside her head, as her mother’s phone went to voice mail and, biting her lip, she hung up and dialed again.
Pick up, Ma. Pick up.
“Hello? Ayala? Oh, thank goodness! I was so worried Zev wouldn’t reach you!”
As if she was ever hard to reach. But, even after 13 years, her mother still tended to think of Israel as the end of the world. She rolled her eyes.
“It’s okay, Ma, he called me right away. Tell me what happened.”
Ayala turned into the parking lot of her building and began to walk around in circles as her mother spoke in a rapid voice that grew increasingly high-pitched.
“Tatty had just left the house to go to shul this morning. I heard the front door closing, and it occurred to me that he probably hadn’t thought to take a coat. It’s been getting cooler recently, but knowing him, I knew he’d probably only put on his light summer jacket. Or maybe even nothing at all. So I ran to the door to catch him before he’d gotten too far.”
Her mother’s voice became strangled, as if she were fighting tears. “He was already walking down the porch steps, and when I called out, ‘Pinchas!’ I guess he got startled because he turned around and lost his footing and — and—”
For the next few minutes, all Ayala heard were sobs on the other end.
“Shh, Ma, it’s okay. Tatty’s in the hospital — they’ll take good care of him. So, you called Hatzalah right away?”
The cries grew louder. “N-no, I screamed. There he was, just lying on the walkway. It was so frightening. I screamed and screamed until Rachel, that sweet young woman who just moved in across the street, came running out. She called Hatzalah.”
Ayala closed her eyes, picturing the scene. And what if Rachel hadn’t been home? Would her mother have eventually regained her head enough to call the paramedics on her own? For years, she’d been trying to convince her parents to move to Israel, so that she could be nearby to take care of them in exactly such an emergency. But her parents wouldn’t hear of it. They were comfortable in their own community, and Zev was just an hour away if they ever needed anything. Perhaps they were right, but Ayala was still worried about the future, as they aged. She couldn’t help it; she’d been worrying about them since she was a kid.
“What did the Hatzalah workers say when they found Ta? Had he lost consciousness at all?”
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, it was hard to know, everything happened so fast, but by the time I realized he’d fallen, he was already yelling in pain.”
“They examined him? Checked his heart? His breathing? What did they say?”
“I… I think so. They came with all their equipment. And then one of the men told me that he thinks Tatty might have broken some bones, but nothing worse. But they wanted him to undergo more testing at the hospital just to be sure his brain wasn’t affected, since he’d had a knock to the head.”
Ayala took a breath. Her brother hadn’t mentioned anything about a head injury. “Have they brought him in yet for an MRI?”
“No, they haven’t done anything except take his blood pressure, I think. But the nurse said a doctor will be by to examine him shortly. Very sweet, that nurse. She brought me a cup of water.”
Ayala gritted her teeth. A cup of water might win her mother over, but it wasn’t going to get her father faster medical care. Her brother had told her he was on the way to the hospital — but what kind of advocate would he be?
“Listen, when the doctor comes, I want you to call me. I want to speak to him or her. Okay, Ma? Don’t forget.”
From across the ocean, she could hear the tension in her mother’s voice lighten. “Oh, will you? That would be wonderful. I always get so nervous when doctors speak, and then afterward I’m confused and can’t remember what they said and what I was supposed to do.”
“Yeah, I know.” Hadn’t she been accompanying her mother to medical appointments since she was a teenager? “Don’t worry. I’ll talk to the doctor and make sure Tatty’s getting the care that he needs.”
She passed a hand over her eyes, and looked up at the window of her apartment, where her children were waiting for her to start dinner. But the thought of her parents, helpless and terrified in the ER, was like a knife inside her. She needed to care for them, too.
“It’s okay, Ma,” she repeated. “I’ll handle it.”
“Oof, this math is insane!” Chaviva exclaimed, throwing her pencil down on the dining room table. “How does Morah Sari expect us to know how to do something we didn’t even learn?”
Dini looked up from her laptop, where she’d been googling graphic designers. “Huh, what’s that, sweetie?”
The younger kids were already asleep, the dinner dishes washed. She’d even, in a spurt of proud efficiency, made lunches for tomorrow. Now she was just waiting for Shuki to get home, so she could head out to RBS for her meeting with Ayala.
As she’d explained to Shuki when he’d questioned why they couldn’t just speak by phone and let him keep his night plans, some conversations were so monumental they needed to be done in person. And preparing to launch their organization to an entirely new level definitely qualified.
Besides, it wasn’t like she was making him skip a chavrusa; it was Tuesday night basketball that he was bummed about missing.
“Math homework!” Chaviva repeated, glaring into space. “Can you help me?”
Dini blinked. No one in their right mind would want her helping with math homework. Tentatively, she walked over and squinted at Chaviva’s book, but she immediately felt her head swim. Just seeing fractions on the page made her palms sweat, as memories of junior high math tests immediately flashed: Utterly clueless despite hours of tutoring. Anxiously peering at her friend’s test paper just to have something to scribble down. Suspecting that her teacher had noticed her cheating, and also that she’d chosen to ignore it because, well, Reiner.
“Um, math isn’t really my thing. Why don’t you wait ’til Tatty gets home?”
“But he doesn’t get home until late, and I need to do this tonight!”
“No, he’s coming soon. I have to go out tonight to a meeting.”
She loved how professional that sounded, especially when Chaviva immediately asked, “A meeting for Chesed Tzirel?”
“Yeah. Ayala and I have some major things to discuss. We’re planning to seriously grow the organization.”
“Oooh, wow!” It wasn’t easy to impress her preteen daughter, and Dini felt herself glow inside. Even if the “we” wasn’t exactly true in this case; Ayala had not yet been let into the loop about Chesed Tzirel’s impending growth. Dini couldn’t wait to see her reaction when she told her about her meeting with Temima and all the recommendations the fancy NPO consultant had given her. Would Ayala be impressed at Dini’s initiative? Would she finally realize that she had an equal partner in Dini, someone who was ready and capable of taking the reins and bringing Chesed Tzirel to new heights?
Even if she couldn’t help her seventh-grader with math homework.
AN hour later, Dini was knocking on Ayala’s door. Tziri, one of the twins, opened. Her eyes widened when she saw Dini.
“Oh, wow. Mrs. Blumenfeld. You came in all the way from Yerushalayim? Ima! Mrs. Blumenfeld’s here!”
Dini blinked at the surprise on Tziri’s face. Hadn’t Ayala told her girls that she was expecting Dini?
It took a few moments until Ayala came into the living room. When she did, her face was red, and she looked quite harried.
“You’re going to kill me,” she said, “but I completely forgot about this meeting. My father had a medical emergency today, and I’ve been busy for the past few hours dealing with that.”
Dini gasped. “Oh, no! What happened? Is he okay?”
“It looks like it’s just some broken ribs, but they’re still in the middle of testing. It took some pushing, but I was able to get the doctors to get him into an MRI already. Now we’re waiting for the results.”
“Are you going to fly in?” Dini asked.
Ayala shrugged. “I don’t know. My mother keeps asking me to, but, y’know, it’s not easy to leave my family. And I feel like I can be helpful from right here.”
Dini nodded. “Certainly sounds like it.” If this had happened to her father, would anyone from her family be begging Dini to come take care of them all? Would it even occur to them that Dini would have anything to contribute?
She shuffled uncomfortably. “So, about the meeting, then….”
Ayala crinkled her face apologetically. “I feel totally awful for forgetting to cancel and making you come all the way out here. But I don’t think I can—”
As if to complete her sentence, the phone in her hand rang. Looking down, she said, “It’s my brother.” She didn’t answer, but Dini knew that Ayala was anxious to get back to dealing with her family crisis.
She sighed. “Listen, I came to discuss a bunch of important things with you. I’ve been researching stuff for… y’know, the fundraising that we spoke about,” she said delicately, aware that Tziri was still listening. “And before I begin, I need to prepare marketing materials. Logo, brochure, stuff like that. So I met with—”
Ayala’s phone rang again. “It’s my mother now,” she said. “I really need to take this. Dini, do whatever you need with the marketing material, okay? I trust you.”
Dini smiled slowly to herself as she wished Ayala’s father a refuah sheleimah and left. I trust you. Did Ayala realize just how long she’d been waiting to hear such a vote of confidence?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)
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