I try to breathe through my mouth as we ride to the second floor, but I can still smell it: antiseptic, lemon, and sickness. I hate hospitals. Hate them.
I used to cry when Daddy would take me to visit Mommy after she had a baby. I got over that, but this isn’t the nursery, this is inpatient rehab and it’s sad and depressing. I catch a glimpse of myself in the elevator mirror. My ribbed, rust-colored sweater is totally on point, and practically singing “autumn,” and my hair looks thick and full, but honestly, I’d rather have it pulled into a bun on top of my head, and be working on my cabrioles. Shayna told me I had the technique down pat, now I just needed to add some grace to it. I grimace at the memory.
“What?” Chemia asks, startled. I blink, I’d forgotten where I am. We get out of the elevator and start walking toward Babby’s room.
“Nothing,” I say, smiling at my little brother. At 12, Chemia is the brother I’m closest in age with, and we’re pretty tight. Aharon is three years older, at 17 he’s annoying and a know-it-all, but between me and my ballet shoes, he happens to be brilliant. Shimshon slips his pudgy hand into mine and I grin down at him. His curls are incredible, thick and golden, and it’s hard to believe that in just one week they’re coming right off.
We make a right, and there it is, Room 303. Aharon lifts his hand to knock when the door suddenly opens and Mommy appears. “Come in, come in quickly,” she whispers, flapping her hand. We scurry in, confused by the cloak-and-dagger attitude.
“Sorry,” she giggles, “but the maximum amount of visitors is three, not um, all of you.”
I look around. With Mommy, Aharon, me, Chemia, Zev, and Shimshon, we are double the maximum. I snicker and then I hear Babby saying, “Bella, is that you, bubbele?”
I swallow, I’m really, really bad at this. I peek around the pink flowered curtains, and there she is. Babby, tall, beautiful, high cheekbones, and a big smile in her favorite shade of Rouge Wine lipstick. And a cast. A very big, very large cast holding her hip in place.
I blink back sudden tears and with a strength I didn’t know I have, I approach the bed and take her soft, veined hand.
“How are you feeling, Babby?” I ask, kissing her cheek.
She strokes my hair with her other hand. “Better now that you’re here, sweetheart. And you’ve brought the men!”
No matter their ages, Babby has always insisted on calling Mommy’s seven-boy crew “the men.”
Shimshon runs forward, Aharon perches on the edge of the bed, and Chemia examines the machinery on the side. I roll my eyes but smile reluctantly. My grandmother is in the hospital, I’m not going to Eretz Yisrael, and I’m missing my ballet class, but my family is nuts in the best way.
My family is driving me crazy. If one more person comes into my room without knocking, I am going to scream. Loudly. And then I am going to forbid the culprit from ever crossing the threshold of my sanctuary again.
I flop back down onto the carpet and try to read the math homework for the sixth time. I bite my lip, squint, tie my hair up… no. No no no. I have no idea what it says, what it’s talking about, and frankly, I couldn’t care less. Explain to me why a dancer would ever need to know geometry. Seriously, it’s a waste of headspace. I just wish Mrs. Yanai would see it that way. The woman does not like me at all.
I flip onto my back and watch the wooden blades of the ceiling fan go round and round and round. It reminds me of how I feel when I’m doing a pirouette, and I can’t help grinning goofily at it until I fall asleep.
Shoots. I cannot believe I fell asleep when I have seven math problems to solve! I sit up groggily, grab my textbook, and shuffle grumpily down the stairs. It’s already a quarter to eleven. Aharon should be home from night seder, maybe he can help me. In a daze, I make my way to the kitchen for an apple. I’m just sitting down to eat it when Mommy rushes in. “Ahar—? Oh, it’s you. Hi sweetie, have you heard from Aharon?”
I bite into my apple and yawn. “Nope, was hoping he could help me with math. Shouldn’t he be home by now?”
Mommy glares at me. “Yes, that’s why I’m worried.”
“Right,” I say, feeling sluggish. “Sorry, just waking up.”
“Oh, sweetie, did you fall asleep?”
“Yes,” I moan. “This math, it makes zero sense, I’m telling you, I bet it doesn’t even have answers.”
Mommy laughs. “That would be a rather pointless trick to play on you girls. What is it?”
I slide the textbook over to her.
Mommy squints at the page. “Mmm, geometry. Not a big fan, but I know a thing or two.” She sits down next to me and reaches for one of the millions of pairs of reading glasses she has lying around the house. She slips them on — thick, leopard print frames — and peers at the first example.
“Angles A and B are complementary, and the measure of angle A is twice the measure of angle B. Find the measures of angles A and B.
“Oy vey,” she finishes.
We both stare at each other blankly and then we both start laughing. It feels so good to laugh with her, that I don’t stop. And that’s when Aharon walks in.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 781)