| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 9  

Why did Ima want to move so far from her family, from her friends, her home?


It’s a letter.

That much is clear, even though it’s not addressed to anyone, and it’s not signed, either. I don’t need a signature to know it’s my mother’s teenage handwriting, though; it’s identical to the writing in the diary, down to the bright purple ink. The color is bursting with personality, energy, life.

But the letter… there is nothing lively or playful about it. The words are dark, angry…. Accusing.

You don’t understand me. I’ve tried telling you again and again.

This isn’t working. Why can’t you see it? Why can’t you see ME?

It’s bad enough that THEY don’t understand me. That they don’t want me. (And by the way, don’t think I don’t know about the phone calls. They want me out, and I want out, too! I’m done, done, DONE with the pretending, with the acting, with the crumbling inside every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY!)

The intensity of the letter scares me. Horrifies me. Ima wrote this? Who to? What about? When?

And why?

The paper had fallen from her 1998 diary, so it made sense she’d written it around then. Who to… it must have been written to Bubby and Zeidy. Who else? And why?

Did she ever send it? Did she pen it furiously, only to stuff it into her diary and never actually show it to the recipient? Or was this a rough draft of some kind? Did she feel better after writing it, and it became irrelevant? Or did she give up on even trying to be understood?

And… I’m back to the why again. What had happened? Who was treating Ima so badly that she wrote something like this?

My mind whirls with questions, thoughts, rapid calculations. And 2001… wasn’t that the year Ima went to America? Come to think of it, why had she gone there in the first place? We’d grown up on the story of how Ima went to camp in the States, and the camp director was the mechaneches in a great high school, so Ima switched to a school there, but now that I’m actually stopping to think about it, there are so many holes in that story.

Who switches schools — switches countries!— because their camp director is a teacher in the new school?

Why did Ima want to move so far from her family, from her friends, her home?

Why did she go to an American camp in the first place? Did the aunts go, too?

And if… if she’d been so unhappy at home that she moved so far away, all on her own, why on Earth had she sent me to live here, right where she started?

I feel like all the loneliness, boredom, anxiety I’ve been battling the past few days have shriveled into nothing compared with this newest bombshell.

I read the letter again, and then again, trying to find a hint, something to explain what it’s all about. Something to tell me who my mother was, who she is, what happened to make her so angry (at her parents? At other people? Aunt Chana? Who? What? Why?)

And wondering why this is the first time I’m hearing about experiences that clearly changed the course of my mother’s life — and what it actually means for me.

Why don’t I know this? Why hasn’t she shared it with me? What’s Ima’s secret?

I sit on my bed, just sit there, trying to process. After what feels like an hour but is probably more like several minutes, I get up, stuff the letter in the darkest, most hidden corner of the dresser drawers, and somehow find myself getting ready for bed on autopilot.

Shower. Brush teeth. Say Shema.

Turn off nightlight, roll over, try to sleep.

All the while, my mind roiling with questions, questions, questions.

I wake up in the morning with a pit in my stomach, and for a moment I can’t remember why.

Then it comes back to me. Ima. The letter. The secret.

I’m not in the mood of talking to anyone, so I decide to skip breakfast with my grandparents and just hang out here upstairs until it’s time to leave the house.

My stomach rumbles as I slowly, slowly get into my uniform, prepare my bag, and check my timetable to make sure I have everything I need. (I do. There’s barely any homework due, and my stuff is all in school, anyway.)

I make my bed and straighten a couple of knickknacks on the dresser. Are they Ima’s, too? Were they witness to her stormy teenage years, to the crises she hinted at in the letter? Do they — the little collection of seashells, an empty jewelry box topped with a ballerina, a ceramic teddy bear with a #1 Friend plaque — know more than I do?

Fifteen minutes before I need to leave the house, there’s a soft knock at the bedroom door.


Oh my goodness, seriously? Is Bubby coming to wake me for school? Or find out why I’m not downstairs eating breakfast? Does she want to tell me my toast is ready?

I open the door, reluctantly.

“Ashira, oh, good, you’re ready for school,” she says. The thoughts flash through my mind — Was Bubby like this as a mother? Did Ima get irritated by the hovering, the constant checking in? Was that why she wanted to leave? — but I dismiss them. The letter wasn’t a teenage girl annoyed that her mother kept offering her toast for breakfast.

It was about something more than that.

“I’m just getting ready,” I mumble, making to close the door, but Bubby holds out her hand, and with it, the phone.

“Ashira, it’s your mother, she called to speak to you.”

Ima is on the phone.

I’ve been trying to get hold of her for three days, and now, when she finally, finally, calls, I don’t know how I’m even going to speak to her.

“Ashira! Our phone lines have been terrible the last few days, and I just had to hear your voice. How are you, honey?”

Ima’s words ooze warmth and love. I want to just go back in time, forget the letter I’ve seen and the secrets they hinted at, and just melt into the sound of her voice.

But I can’t.

The questions hang between us, making my words choppy, jerky.

I need answers, and I’m scared to get them.

“Hi, Ima,” I say. My mouth is very, very dry.

“Did I wake you up?” Ima says, laughing. “I figured you’d be getting ready for school now, but we can speak later, after, if you—”

I can’t keep it in any longer.

“Ima,” I interrupt. “There’s something… I need to ask you.”


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 952)

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