He hadn’t changed his order, just added hers in as well. Did that mean he wasn’t really considering her opinions?
“Am I responsible for how you feel and are you responsible for how I feel?”
— Kayla Levin “How to Glow” Ep:148
Shira glanced to either side and exhaled, relieved. The tables immediately to her side were empty. Would the quiet last, though? People loved Evita, and dinner hour was just starting.
She looked at Ephraim, who was studying the menu. Eating out had been his idea, and she didn’t know Chicago well enough to suggest another indoor space that was more private. Still, she wanted to kick herself. Why hadn’t she said anything?
It was awkward, pretending to be a normal couple and going out to eat as if the past week hadn’t happened.
“What do you think? Poutine and autumn risotto for apps, or swap the risotto for Spanish riblets?” Ephraim looked up from the menu. It didn’t seem like he had any problem pretending. Shira picked up her menu. Was she usually so spaced out? Or did she usually just let Ephraim lead? She dragged her finger down the list of apps, randomly stopping.
“I want the sweetbreads,” she said.
Ephraim raised an eyebrow.
“You like sweetbreads?”
She knew it was an organ meat, but she could never remember which one. Were they gross? She didn’t care.
Ephraim gave a small shrug. “Okay, we’ll get that, too.”
Was it that easy to speak up? But did this even mean anything? He hadn’t changed his order, just added hers in as well. Did that mean he wasn’t really considering her opinions? She looked back at the menu, focusing on the mains now.
“And I’ll have the Bondiola steak.”
Ephraim nodded and summoned the waiter.
The moment the waiter left, Ephraim’s demeanor changed. He leaned forward, eyes focused but soft.
“Shira, I—” he started, then faltered. He cleared his throat. “Shira, I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I’ve been feeling awful about my total cluelessness. I’ve been so wrapped up in my own worries that I couldn’t look out of a textbook for two seconds to see how miserable you were.”
Shira offered a curt nod of acknowledgement, but said nothing. She wasn’t going to help him along. Ephraim shifted in his seat, then inhaled deeply and rushed on.
“I thought I was being responsible, taking charge. I didn’t want to be relying on our parents for everything in life. I wanted to be able to do something myself, and then have our parents for backup.”
He stopped talking, leaned back in his seat, and went quiet again. Shira watched him.
“You know how people always talk about the Gemara kop that makes law school easier? It’s a lie. Well, not a total lie, it helps, but also there’s the schedule and the classes and the papers and exams… yeshivah’s never like that, not even in high school. I was bombing something I thought I’d crush.”
Shira sighed. She felt bad for him; she hadn’t known or seen any of this; she’d been cloaked in her own misery. But truth was, he still wasn’t getting it. This wasn’t why she was mad. This wasn’t what they needed to talk about.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I—” Ephraim floundered. “I don’t know. Too embarrassed?”
Shira shrugged. That did seem in-line with their whole dynamic.
They both looked up at the sound of footsteps as their waiter arrived with steaming platters. Food. Maybe they could eat and reset. Or maybe she should speak up, but it was harder than she’d thought it would be.
“Want?” She offered Ehpraim some of her sweetbreads. His quick smile as he poked at the dish with his fork told Shira that he was relieved at this gesture of connection. He seemed to be thinking things over, yay, but would she have to tantrum each time?
“I’ve been thinking, too,” she offered.
Ephraim put his fork down. He was listening to her.
“I’ve said yes for too long.”
He gave her a strange look. Was he scared of what she’d say next? Shira held her breath. She’d thought this through; she could do this.
“I’m a yes person. That’s who I am. I want you and everyone to like me. And I’m pretty easygoing, so most things really are okay.”
Ephraim nodded, and took an absentminded bite of his risotto.
“But you took advantage of it. How many times did I ask you questions about our move or our future, and you brushed them aside? Remember when we went to Hilton Head Island? You didn’t hear a word I said.”
Ephraim shook his head.
“And you kept on pushing it. And I was so miserable. I am so miserable. And then you just go and take all my sacrifices and say they’re for nothing? I’m sorry. I broke.”
Shira inhaled deeply and held her breath, then slowly released it like blowing out a candle. She did it, she’d spoken, and he was listening. She looked up, but Ephraim wouldn’t meet her eyes.
After what felt like hours of silence, Ephraim finally met her gaze.
“You’re right. And I’m sorry.” He paused. “But now what do we do?”
Shira tilted her head and smiled.
“We talk about it.”
Ephraim returned the smile.
It was quiet for the next few minutes, and they just poked at their food. Shira was tired, she knew Ephraim had to study, and she thought they both needed a break to think.
“Wanna get out of here?” she offered.
“Yes!” Ephraim jumped at it. He hailed the waiter, paid, and asked him to pack up their leftovers.
Once they were in the car, Ephraim’s phone rang. Mommy. He answered it via Bluetooth.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt. I know you two are out. But I just got off the phone with Miriam, and a renter is leaving Winston Towers. If you want it you need to move fast, ’cuz they can only rent out a limited amount of condos, and they go on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Tell her we want it,” Ephraim said quickly. Shira swallowed hard. “Actually….” He paused. Shira kept her gaze fixed straight in front of her. He seemed to be looking at her, but she wasn’t going to turn her head. “We’re gonna have to sleep on this. Shira and I have to discuss it.”
Shira turned her head to the window so Ephraim wouldn’t see her tears. He’d heard her.
Eva put down her Sleepytime tea when Ephraim entered the kitchen and looked at him meaningfully. He got the message and sat down at the table.
“I don’t mean to pry, but I know Shira’s upset. What’s going on with you guys?”
Eva watched as her oldest son turned back into a child, chewing his cheek, and looking at her as if she held the keys to the world.
He began talking, haltingly. “When I got married, Rabbi Feigenburg half-kibbitzed and asked how my first fight went. I was horrified, and he clarified that fighting was good, disagreement was a normal part of a relationship, you just have to do it in a healthy way. So I went home and waited for our first fight.”
He paused. Eva could guess what happened next; Shira was a doll.
“It never really came,” Ephraim said, his eyes still closed. “I got annoyed plenty, I got frustrated. I picked some stupid arguments, but Shira was good and kind and easygoing, and whatever fight there was fizzled quickly. I thought I might be something terrible compared to her.”
He went quiet again. Eva let him take his time:
“I spoke to my rebbi again. And the way he said it made sense to me. He said some women just want to be cared for. No matter what else is going on in the world, your wife may just need you, and when she has that, everything is fine.”
Eva sighed. That was tricky advice.
“I think I took that and ran with it. If I wanted to go to law school, I could talk to Shira about it, but involve her in the decision? Consider how it would really affect her? I didn’t think I needed to.”
Her son — he was so like her. Maybe he could learn earlier than she had, though.
“So you made a mistake. And you’re realizing it. And you want to work on it.” She took a sip of tea. “You’re doing good.”
Ephraim stared at her.
“But she’s so upset, and she’s so miserable. And it’s mostly my fault.”
Eva nodded. There was so much she wanted to say, but there are some things you can only learn yourself.
“What should I do?” Ephraim whispered.
Eva smiled at her son. “You’re already doing it. Twenty-five years ahead of me.”
Ephraim didn’t seem to get it. Never mind.
“So, listen to Shira more tomorrow?”
“And the next day.”
He nodded, looking past her.
“What’s with Miriam’s apartment?” She shifted focus. “It’s not gonna last, and it’s renovated, close enough to walk here on Shabbos.”
“Shira and I have to talk more, even if we lose the apartment. I can’t take stupid chances. I think we’re gonna look at some houses tomorrow.”
Eva nodded. Made sense. Ephraim and Shira had a lot to sort out.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 820)
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