| Calligraphy |

House of Cards  

Something happened. We need my in-laws, we need them. Goodness knows my parents won’t be of any help when it comes to a crisis

 

Some days I feel like I’m building a house of cards. I align everything so exactly, so perfectly. All 52 cards, they lean and balance and hold each other up like some genius feat of architecture. It’s so breathtaking I can’t even breathe. I can’t breathe in case I ruin it all.

Ezzy is sleeping. He’s so beautiful when he sleeps.

I step back, away from the bed with its padded head board, away from the weighted blanket and the cushioned walls and the floor full of sensory toys worth thousands of dollars, all fair game for destruction in the throes of a meltdown. The walls are shaking. Are they shaking, or is it my hands?

My legs. My heart.

I go to make myself a coffee. It’s so late, but I still need to catch a Maariv. My hands are shaking and the hot water spills on the counter. Coffee, sugar. Everything’s unsteady. Am I tired? I’m not tired, I’m exhausted. Ezzy was up at five.

“Yishai?” Reenie’s whisper floats out from the bedroom door. It’s dark in there. Her eyes are big and anxious. “Is Ezzy okay?”

I abandon the coffee. She’s been waiting for almost two hours, alone and anxious.

“Ezzy’s fine. He’s sleeping. It’s all good.”

She tugs at her snood. “Okay. Good. Thanks,” she says. I hear the helplessness in her voice. When did this even happen? One day she was superwoman, balancing household and job and autistic child with smiles and aplomb, reveling in the glow of our precious secret, and the next thing I know she’s confined to bed with strict orders to remain there. It’s all so happy and hopeful and also so stressful and just plain hard.

“What will we do about Shabbos?” Reenie asks pitifully, and I wonder for the umpteenth time who it’s harder for, she who can’t do anything, or me, who has to do it all.

“Shabbos is fine, it’s all fine,” I say. I can do this, I can do this. Maariv. Shabbos shopping. Cleaning up the house, cook for Shabbos —

“Wait, did you eat yet?”

She tries to smile. “Um, lunch?”

Lunch was hours ago, eons ago, while Ezzy’s speech therapist took care of him in the living room. Before the respite girls took him out for a precious hour, before I fed him supper and gave him a bath, before something (what on earth was it again?!) set off a screaming meltdown that swallowed the early evening hours and sucked the house up in its frenetic, urgent maelstrom.

I pass a hand over my forehead. Supper. Then Maariv, Shabbos shopping, cleaning, cooking, check on Ezzy, maybe eat something myself. The unopened bills on the dining room table, I think they came on Monday. And my father called before, I ignored it, he isn’t going to be happy. This night is going to turn into morning before half of what I need to do gets done.

But first things first, supper. Eggs, toast, spaghetti? Do we even have anything in the house? Reenie’s mother, angel that she is, has sent suppers for us every night so far. What happened today?

“Your mother didn’t come by today?” I ask, even though I know that if she would have, I’d know about it.

Reenie shakes her head. My eyes have adjusted to the dimness, and I see her expression shutter. Something spasms in my cheek.

“What happened?”

She looks away. “Let’s talk later.”

Warning bells. Now what? My head spins. Something happened. We need my in-laws, we need them. Goodness knows my parents won’t be of any help when it comes to a crisis.

 

“Reenie, what happened? Is something wrong at your parents?”

She sighs and the words spill out. She’s been holding back all day. “I wasn’t going to tell you now. There’s too much going on. I wanted to talk tomorrow, when Ezzy’s out. But my parents, they have to fly to Israel, Yocheved’s in the hospital, things don’t look great. They… they’re going right after Shabbos.”

I suck in a breath. My sister-in-law and her endangered twin pregnancy… I feel for her, I really do. But right now there is no space in my mind for any thought beyond what do we do now, what do we do…?

My mother-in-law had been sending suppers every night. She came over to keep Reenie company, help her out, cheer her up. She would be hosting us next week for Rosh Hashanah, take care of Reenie and Ezzy on Yom Kippur, and have us for Succos—

My house of cards shivers on the edge of disaster.

Reenie bites her lip. “My mother said to tell you…”

I breathe. Don’t say it, don’t say it.

“They’re so sorry,” Reenie whispers into the darkness. “They feel so bad. But we can’t be with them for Yom Tov.”

One card. Jerked from the cornerstone of my masterpiece. I watch the cards tumble, scatter, fall. And the house collapses.

  

So what happens now?

I maneuver a cart down the aisle with hands that are taut with tension. Pastas, grains, beans, spices. What do I need?

Shabbos food. It’s Thursday night. Focus, focus. What do we have in the house already?

I make a clumsy U-turn and knock into a shelf. A few boxes of lasagna overbalance. Someone gives a disapproving cluck as I bend to retrieve them.

How will I make Yom Tov? Rosh Hashanah? Succos? Should we just buy takeout? But the money…

My hand hovers over my phone. It would be so simple.

A text beeps — Reenie. Everything calm here. It’s nice of her to update me, but honestly, everything could change in an instant. If Ezzy wakes up now, I’m outta here, Shabbos shopping or no Shabbos shopping. Reenie can’t do anything for him in this state.

The freezer section, that’s the best place to start. Chicken, salmon, meat. I toss in a family pack of schnitzels. If I have to make Yom Tov, I may as well start now.

But we can’t make Yom Tov. When is there time, between Ezzy’s round-the-clock care, between being there for Reenie and taking charge of the housework, I’m already missing kollel more than I’m there, and goodness knows we need the money right now with Reenie not able to work… and now with my in-laws suddenly out of the picture and my parents never having been in it in the first place—

I stop in front of the produce section, totally spent. Who has the strength to count onions, bag them, hunt for a ripe avocado? For goodness’ sake, why do we even need avocado, we can skip the salad, or go simple. I toss a cucumber in the cart instead.

I remember grape juice when I’m already standing in line to pay. Ugh. I give up my place to a woman with two overflowing carts, and head back into the Thursday-night chaos to pick it up. The wait time at the checkout is 20 minutes minimum. Just stay asleep, Ezzy, just stay asleep.

I lean on the cart, try to think logically.

What are our options?

We could stay home and make Yom Tov on our own. On my own.

We could stay home and spend a fortune on getting catered meals and professional succah builders and extra cleaning help.

Or…

The person in front of me begins unloading his cart. Not long now. I shake my head, force myself to complete the thought.

Or — we could ask my parents for help.

  

“Yaakov, hi.” I lean on the wall outside our front yard. I can’t make this call inside, can’t risk Reenie overhearing. My mouth is dry.

“Yishai!” My older brother doesn’t speak, he enthuses. Everything’s gevaldig, all the time, and it gets frustrating. There’s a reason we don’t speak often. “How are things? Life, family, learning? Give us the good word!”

“Um, good, baruch Hashem.” I sound so stilted. I twist my lips into a smile; maybe that will help? “And you? How’s Rivky, the kids, everything?”

“Chasdei Hashem! Couldn’t be better. Nu, Yom Tov is coming, you can feel the freilach in the air, huh?”

“Right.” Talk about the perfect opening. I lick my lips. “So, speaking of Yom Tov… I was just wondering…”

Yaakov is suddenly, ominously quiet.

“Are you going to Tatty and Mommy for Succos?”

“We are,” Yaakov confirms. The geshmak is gone from his voice. It’s cautious. Guarded.

“I — we were supposed to go to Reenie’s parents,” I say, all in a rush. “Thing is, they’ve had to go to Israel… last minute emergency. And Reenie’s on bed rest, she can’t make Succos, and we have Ezzy…. I can’t do it, Yaakov. Do you think… Could you mention it to Tatty? Like, float the idea? And if they sound… positive… I’ll call myself to ask.”

I hate this. I hate begging. I hate wimping out of things. I hate this messed-up situation that I need to ask my brother to feel out whether my parents would host us for Yom Tov. But it’s the only way forward.

Yaakov hmms. I hold my breath. If he agrees, there’s a chance this might work. He’s got Tatty’s ear, more than anyone else, anyway.

“Look, it’s a shver situation,” Yaakov finally says, voice somber. “Tatty and Mommy are dealing with a lot right now, you know.” His voice is reproachful. I blink. I don’t know, actually. What are my parents dealing with? Not money issues. Leah’s shidduchim? She’s only 20, for heaven’s sake. Shmuel? Adina?

Adina. Oh.

“I think you should ask them yourself, it’ll come across better, you know?” Yaakov is hearty again. Figures. And he’s making excuses too, instead of refusing straight out.

“I didn’t ask for an eitzah, Yaakov, I just wanted you to do me this favor. But if it doesn’t work out for you…” I let the words trail. My tongue is cardboard-stiff. If Yaakov won’t help us out, won’t speak up on my behalf, what will we do?

My brother’s voice sharpens. “Don’t tell me you can’t do it, you’re scared of Tatty, please. He doesn’t bite, you have to just speak his language. You’re a big boy, Yishai, it’s time you got over that stuff. Talk to him direct. What do you need a go-between for?” Yaakov pauses significantly. “In fact, I think I’m doing you a favor by saying no. If you don’t figure things out with him now, then when? Im lo achshav and all that.”

So now it’s a mitzvah to turn down your brother, the one who’s struggling alone with an autistic child, wife on bed rest.

“I appreciate the tovah,” I choke out.

Then, because there just isn’t any choice left, I dial Tatty.

  

“So what happened?” Reenie leans back against her pillow. There’s a half-full Styrofoam container on the bedside table, and the greasy smell of Chinese takeout is making me nauseous. I guess she wasn’t keen on it either. Reenie always preferred homemade food.

“It was a complete failure,” I say flatly. I should get rid of the leftovers, clean up a bit, but instead I’m perched on the arm of Reenie’s rocking chair and feeling too drained to move. The phone call had gone wrong from the start.

“It just came out so wrong,” I tell her. “Like first he made some comment about how it’s nice to hear from me, I mean, since when do I call on a random Monday evening? So I’m trying to play it casual, but then I brought up Yom Tov, and he just pounces — like, ah-ha, so that’s why you’re calling!”

Reenie is quiet. I wish she’d say something. But maybe there’s nothing to say.

“Anyway, it’s a no go, they won’t budge from what they said last year,” I continue. They? Maybe that’s a little unfair, it’s him, not them, but then again, I sometimes want to scream at Mommy. Why doesn’t she just say something? It’s her grandson too.

Reenie completes the sentence. “They want Ezzy to go to a respite home for Yom Tov.”

I nod. You and your eishes chayil? We’ll host with pleasure. Just remembering the words makes me cringe. And then the silken excuses, all those meaningless words, it’s all about simchas Yom Tov and the rest of the family, and Mommy can’t handle the noise, having Ezzy comes at the expense of…

“At the expense of their image, that’s all,” I blurt. Reenie’s eyebrows draw together, a question mark.

I think of Mommy’s gleaming dining room with its crystal glassware and fresh flowers. Maria, the live-in, dancing in the wake of the grandchildren to magic away any speck of mess. The living room the size of our entire apartment. There’s enough room in the house, space for us, space for Ezzy. Place in their hearts, that’s another story.

“Never mind,” I say. Reenie knows all this. What’s the point of talking about it?

“So what did you say?” Reenie asks, after a while.

“What do you mean, what did I say? I turned down the offer, of course. Ezzy’s our son, he belongs with us. We come together or we don’t come at all.” Or at least, that’s what I’d tried to say. On the phone, with my father’s angry breath hissing through the line, it had sounded more like a stammered apology for having asked to come in the first place, and a very hasty goodbye. No one says no to Tatty. At least until they simply don’t have a choice anymore.

Reenie chews her lip. Uh-oh. She appears to be taking it all so well, but this is a bad sign. “Is he very upset?” she asks, finally.

“I don’t know,” I lie. “But it’ll be fine. We’ll make Yom Tov, we’ll manage. I’ll see if we can get more respite hours, or maybe the high school will send over some more girls once vacation starts. I’ll cook, we’ll make a succah, it’ll be okay.”

I’m trying to convince myself too. Reenie smiles weakly.

The doorbell shatters the quiet. I’m on my feet in a second. Don’t wake Ezzy, don’t wake Ezzy.

I fling the door open.

It’s my sister, Adina. She’s carrying a small suitcase, and her head is very erect.

“Can I come in?” she asks, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to show up, uninvited, at someone’s doorstep late at night.

I’m too surprised to answer. I just step back and motion her inside.

  

This time, Yaakov calls me. But he won’t suffice with a phone call, he wants to meet, and he even goes to the lengths of driving over to my kollel so we can sit in his car during bein hasedarim and “talk, really talk.”

“So basically, it’s complicated, the matzav,” he tells me, fingers tapping the steering wheel. He’s in his element, Yaakov loves complicated, especially when he’s the one defining it. “L’maiseh, she’s not in a great place, but look, she came to you, that’s a good sign.”

A good sign for what?

“She trusts you, Yishai,” Yaakov explains, adopting a slow and patient tone. “This is an amazing opportunity. You need to get her to open up, we need to build her trust. You know what they say, it’s a song I think, just love them.” He hums a few bars for good measure. “It’s a book, you know, it’s a thing. You gotta give so much positivity, so much love. That’s what teenagers need nowadays, especially kids like Adina.”

I just keep quiet, let him talk, even though I’m not entirely sure what I’m meant to be taking out of this conversation.

“Listen, Yishai, she’s upset right now, Tatty and Mommy are upset, she doesn’t want to go home, and frankly, I don’t think she belongs there until she’s ready to conform. You know how things get. So she’ll stay with you, she can help you make Yom Tov, Tatty says you’re staying home, right?”

I nod once, stiffly. “We’re home, yes.”

“So it’s the perfect solution. And Tatty says he’ll give you something, epes, a bank transfer or whatever. For the extra costs, the food, you know.” Yaakov waves his hand airily. So they’re trying to buy us off now. Figures.

“I would host my sister for Yom Tov without being paid,” I tell him. Then I regret it, we really could do with the extra money right now, and Tatty’s never budged from the monthly stipend he pledged when we were engaged. An autism diagnosis, a wife on bed rest, unexpected costs of making Yom Tov, those don’t factor in in his eyes. But he’ll pay us to babysit Adina.

“I really don’t know why everyone’s making such a big deal about Adina,” I blurt. “She’s a good kid, she’s not doing anything crazy. So she’s trying to fit in, experiment a little, find her place in the world… It’s normal, she’s a teenager. If they would just…” I fall silent. Yaakov might try pass himself off as the family’s psychologist, but he would never understand this. He’s too attached to his theories and analyses, thinks Tatty is all about careful handling, tries to convince me and all of us that this is just a matter of communication.

“Just what?” Yaakov frowns. “Listen, you’re not so involved with the family right now, I get it, you’re busy. But you should know, it’s not so simple. Adina has stuff to work through, nisht a pashute zach, I think we need to get her into therapy. But first, she needs to open up to someone.”

He’s neatly moved the conversation back to where we started. It’s pointless to argue with him.

“So, you’ve got the gist, you see how this is going to work?” Yaakov leans forward, rests an elbow on the steering wheel, and ticks off on his fingers. “Love, positivity, warmth, make her feel wanted, make her feel important. That’s the first. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t bring up Yiddishkeit, don’t make any demands on her, keep the expectations low. Now we just want her to feel ready to open up.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. He makes it sound so clinical, like there’s a recipe called How to Reach Your Struggling Sibling, ingredients and method and expected cooking time.

“And then what?” I ask, half-sarcastically. “So she opens up. What next?”

He doesn’t catch my undertone. “That’s exactly what we want!” Yaakov says, pounding a fist onto the dashboard. “And don’t worry about a thing. If she opens up and you’re not sure what to say — just tell her to come speak to me.”

  

While I skin the chicken, I think about Adina. Last night, she helped me a little with Ezzy’s bedtime routine. She’s been by us nearly a week, hasn’t said very much, hasn’t been around too much either. She’s been quiet, withdrawn. Sad.

I haven’t seen her today. She disappeared into her room after we ate supper last night, a quick omelette on bagels, and I was up most of the night cleaning the day’s wreckage and getting started with the Yom Tov food.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like Yaakov read her all wrong. She just wants her space, and no one at home is going to give it to her. So she came here. That’s all.

No time to mess around with fancy recipes. I just sprinkle some regular spices over the chicken and shove it in the oven. When I set the timer, I register the time and panic a little: Ezzy’s home in less than an hour. Even with the chesed girls putting in overtime, I’m just not handling it all.

Chicken. Next. Side dishes. What can I make already?

Reenie’s texting me ideas from her bed, I tell her to choose the simplest recipes she can think of.

Tzimmes. Dice & sauté onions, peel & slice carrots

I nearly ask her how many of each but forget it, I’ll figure this out.

My phone beeps again. Little salt, more of sugar, add water, cook till soft

The onions are hissing, orange carrot peels keep slipping onto the floor, the clock is moving, Ezzy’s coming.

Need to move faster…

I’ve accomplished too little and have pots on the stove, pans in the oven, and mess all over when Ezzy explodes into the house. The chesed girls follow behind, make a game attempt at taking his coat off.

“Leave him, I’ll take care of it, thanks so much,” I tell them. They nod and say goodbye to Ezzy, waving as they leave. He’s already on the sofa, groping for something just out of reach on a shelf. Oh no, what’s he up to now…

“Ezzy, come, let’s play in your room,” I call, abandoning the cooking and determinedly ignoring the mess. How was this supposed to work, though? I’ve been on my feet all day, used every second that Ezzy was out at his early-intervention program and the extra chesed hours, and still I’m frantically chasing the clock as it ticks far too close to Yom Tov.

My phone beeps, then rings. It must be Reenie. But Ezzy is settled on the floor, fascinated by one of his sensory toys, and I can’t leave him. I switch on the sensory tube, lime-green light morphing into brilliant lavender. Bubbles. Water. Breathe.

I almost relax. Then my phone rings again, insistent, and a burning smell curls up my nostrils like a tendril of smoke. Charred onions. What have I left on the —

“Adina?” I call, far too quietly for her to hear. I stand up, give Ezzy an uncertain look. He’s content now, wrapped in a weighted blanket, playing with something or other. But if I leave, even for a minute…

There’s a shadow in the hallway. I scoot over to the door. “Adina?”

She’s about to close her bedroom door, but she pops her head out, dark curls cascading from a messy bun. She looks like she hasn’t slept in a couple days, which is strange, considering that she hasn’t really left her room in almost 24 hours.

“Yeah?”

I look at her and I think of Yaakov, of lowered expectations and nothing but love and positivity and warmth. Then I think of how we took her in, no questions asked, no demands, no nothing. I think of burning onions and the flames on the stovetop and the chicken in the oven. Reenie. Ezzy. Me.

“Adina, I need your help here,” I say simply.

Surprise blooms across her features. Has no one asked her for help before? What does she think this is, a hotel?

“Sure, I can help,” my sister says, finally. “With, like, with Ezzy?” Her eyes are wide and uncertain. Well, naturally, seeing as my family’s exposure to my son has been approximately zero, except at the occasional simchah with Reenie and me both on hand to take care of him and whisk him away at the earliest sign of disturbance.

I shoo away the thought. It’s not her fault. She’s as much as victim of the Perlman system of perfection as I am. As Ezzy is.

“Well, I can take care of Ezzy if you’ll help with the food,” I say. “Otherwise we might be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our Yom Tov seudos, and this little man won’t be happy,” I ruffle Ezzy’s hair, and Adina smiles.

“Okay, I can do that,” she says, still in that wondering sort of tone. But she doesn’t make a move to go, instead, she shifts from foot to foot and then blurts, “Um, thanks for having me stay, by the way.”

  

Succos is two days of doing everything and saying nothing.

Doing everything means Ezzy and meals and Ezzy and making Kiddush and Ezzy and bringing Reenie food and Ezzy and working alongside Adina and Ezzy and cleanup and Ezzy.

Saying nothing means ignoring Adina’s Yom Tov wardrobe, the songs she hums just a bit too loudly for me to pretend not to hear, the barbed comments about Tatty she throws out when we finally sit down. She’s daring me to say something, but it’s not me, I don’t do confrontations.

It’s Yom Tov and Yaakov’s comfortably ensconced in the lap of luxury, Tatty’s right-hand man, his mouthpiece, his go-between. He doesn’t get me at all, I realize. I don’t think he gets Adina, either.

I watch my sister, sidelong, as the second afternoon of Yom Tov turns to dusky evening. We’re noshing on potato chips and store-bought babka. Ezzy’s on the floor by my feet. Adina slept all afternoon while I ran between Ezzy and the volunteers entertaining him in the playroom, and Reenie, who was feeling down and lonely after spending Yom Tov in bed.

Still, I was grateful we had my sister around. Ever since our short conversation before Yom Tov, Adina had been invaluable in the kitchen, preparing the meals, setting the table, capably filling the gaps while I desperately tried to hold everything together on my own.

“Thanks for all your help the last few days,” I tell her. She looks taken aback, searching my eyes for ulterior motives, but there are none there. I just want to thank her, that’s all.

“Pleasure,” she says, a little awkwardly. I feel a pang. This is my sister, we’re sitting together in the succah after spending two days of Yom Tov together, and we have so little to say.

“Ezzy’s gonna be ready for bed soon,” I say, glancing over at my son. He seems relaxed, but no one knows better than me just how delicate that emotional balance could be. One wrong move…

“I can take him to his room, get him ready for bed,” she offers. I bite back my surprise. It’s the first time she’s offered to take care of him alone.

“Are you sure?” I ask, then I regret sounding like I don’t trust her. “I mean, that’s so nice of you to offer. Want me to come along?”

Her eyes shutter. How am I going to get this balance right? Teenagers, they’re so confusing. At least Reenie and I have some time to go before that stage.

“Whatever you want.” She leans over, pats Ezzy’s shoulder. “Ezzy-boy, come with Adina, let’s go get into pajamas…”

Pats Ezzy on the shoulder. Firmly. From behind.

One wrong move…

No. No no no no.

For one horrifying split second, Ezzy is still and I am helpless. And then he throws himself down, onto the floor, everywhere is noise and heat and ear-splitting shrieks, protesting the unwanted sensory stimulation. The peace shatters.

Adina takes two steps back, hands over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. I see the words form, I can’t hear anything over Ezzy’s cries.

I bend over, try to pick him up. But Ezzy wriggles from my grasp, clutches at the edge of the white tablecloth, brings it down together in a tangle of china dishes and drinking glasses. Cookies and potato chips scatter in all directions. Adina lets out a yelp, skids on a fragment of the salad bowl, and clutches a chair to steady herself. I don’t see what happens but somewhere, somehow, someone knocks into the power outlet. Wires in all directions. The hanging lights, the radiator which provides our outdoor heating. Everything flickers. And then it goes dark.

“Yishai, there’s glass everywhere!” Adina yells. I grab Ezzy, fumbling blindly. My fingers brush against the crumpled tablecloth. I pick up my son, arms flailing and little legs kicking, hot breath and sweat and the high shrieks crushing my eardrums.

“Ezzy, Ezzy, it’s okay…”

My eyes adjust to the dimness and I see, through the twilight filtering between the branches, that Adina is watching me, openmouthed and pale. But I don’t have the strength to focus on her now, my entire being is focused on one thing: the thrashing, helpless burden in my arms.

Right now I’m a father, my son is in agony, and nothing else matters as I will him back from the terror, as I try to find the words to set his world back on its axis.

I collapse onto a chair, tighten my hold on Ezzy. I’m exhausted, the flow of words and noise and soothing and more words is depleted. My throat is on fire. Ezzy’s shrieks escalate and ebb until he tips over the edge of his own exhaustion. One minute, a scream loud enough to pass for a fire bell, the next a heavy clunk on my shoulder, and beautiful, pounding, silence.

The world is still. Adina hasn’t moved either. Now, she scrapes a chair over and sits down. Her voice, when she asks me if I’m okay, is shaky.

“Yeah,” I tell her. What does okay mean?

Darkness steals over the sky. The edge of light seeps away. I sit with Adina, in the cold, in the dark, Ezzy held tightly in my arms. I can’t let go or move in case he wakes up again and panics.

“He must be freezing,” Adina says suddenly. She tosses me her coat. “Here.”

“Thanks.”

I use one hand to drape it over my precious, aching, unreachable child.

We are quiet, breathing with the wind.

“Why?” she asks suddenly. “Why? Why is Ezzy like this?”

The words form a gash through the air, a bleeding question mark. She’s talking, she’s asking, and I’m petrified into silence. I have no idea what to say.

But the faucet is open, and Adina doesn’t seem to notice that I am speechless in response.

“Why can’t he have a regular life? Why does he deserve this pain? Why do you deserve this pain?” She asks it all in one breath, one agonizing question rolling into the next, and I realize she is asking about Ezzy and me and Reenie and herself, all of us and the pain and the world and the darkness.

“Why,” she says again, a statement rather than a question, like that one word explains it all.

Like there is nothing more to say. Like no answers exist.

My chest is constricted. There are answers, I want to say. I think of Yaakov, his logic and data and psychology and books. He would know what to say. This is what he wanted, that she should feel comfortable and open up to us. He would want me to tell her to speak to him. Then I realize that Adina hasn’t asked him, she asked me.

I don’t know why.

But I do know one thing. And that’s when Yaakov’s script no longer matters.

“He loves us,” I whisper. She’s an angry teen, she doesn’t want to hear this, I’m sure I’m ruining everything, but I need to say it. I need to hear it. “We don’t know why, but we see the miracles. Life. Hope. Resilience. All the strength we have inside us.”

I wrap both hands around Ezzy, hug him tight. He might wake up from the movement, but suddenly it doesn’t matter, all I ache for is to feel it, how badly it hurts to love.

“He loves us,” I repeat. Night has fallen, the blackout concealing Adina’s face, her eyes. I can’t see her expression and I am breaking the rules and Yaakov would be furious if he knew. But the words are spilling out and they come from a place too deep to hold back.

“Hashem loves us. We don’t know why, we can’t know why. Love hurts sometimes. But the pain isn’t permanent, This World is a temporary place.” My hands clench and there are hot tears in my throat. I feel an urgent need to speak, to verbalize everything, to Adina, to myself.

“We’re sitting in a succah, Adina, that’s what it’s all about.” I suck in a breath. She’s still. She’s listening. “Two and a half walls, that’s what makes a succah kosher. Two and a half, that’s like a bent arm with a hand at the end. It’s like a hug.”

I think she is crying, because I hear her take a tissue, and something catches in my throat.

“He loves us,” I whisper one more time, and it echoes in the dark, silent succah. My succah, my house of cards. So fragile, still standing. I don’t know how to explain any more, I don’t have the answers. But just at this moment, with my toes turning icy from the cold and my son lying limp and heavy in my arms, I feel everything I need to know.

Ezzy stirs. I sense his lashes flutter. If he’s waking up anyway, I’ll take him inside.

I’ll stand up, uncramp screaming leg muscles. Carry Ezzy to his bed, sing him back to sleep. Use the lights and the music and tight hugs and every piece of equipment and a gallon of prayer to help him relax.

Then I’ll wake Reenie, we’ll make Havdalah, there is so much to clean up, to do, to fix. The electrical circuit. The dishes. The broken glass, the food, all the fallen cards.

But I don’t move, and neither does Adina. For one more minute we just sit there, the darkness wrapping around us, like the tightest embrace. 

(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Issue 830)

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