I was a free woman until Tzvi got home at 2:30. I may as well chap arein my freedom before the baby comes
I smiled at the girls one more time, then stepped aside, as Leeba, the head of the organization, came forward.
“Let’s give a huge thank you to Rebbetzin Schwartzberg!” she bellowed, clapping her hands together. The girls erupted into cheers. I blushed. Too much really, but glad they enjoyed. Crazy that I was really here with the girls on the beach. Even crazier that they’d liked it.
My stuff was in the back and I walked to get it. Blech, my tote bag tipped over. Now half my life was buried in the sand. Leeba was introducing the woman who would lead the kumzitz. I looked up to see who’d be following my act. The woman looked like a classic free spirit, flowing tichel, floral tiered skirt. She wore a guitar on her back and held a drum under her arm. Fun. Kumzitzes weren’t this fancy in my day; we were lucky if we had a mic.
I felt an arm on my shoulder. Leeba.
“Please, stay and enjoy if you can.” She met my eyes. “It’ll mean so much to the girls if they have the opportunity to schmooze with you.”
Yom Tov was behind us, so I had no pressing errands. I was a free woman until Tzvi got home at 2:30. I may as well chap arein my freedom before the baby comes.
“Sure,” I responded. Leeba smiled and gestured for me to find a seat among the girls, who were all sitting on towels. I was going to be a gritty mess. Oh, well. I smiled at a petite girl with a severe bob, and pointed to the empty spot on her towel. She smiled back warmly and patted the spot. I plopped down.
The woman was strumming and singing a heartfelt rendition of a song I didn’t know. I only know the oldies.
“What’s she singing?” I whispered to the girl. She wasn’t singing either. She shrugged.
“No clue, I don’t really follow Jewish music.”
“What’s your name?” I asked, changing the topic.
“Chana Schwarzberg,” I said offering a hand. She smirked and took it.
“My aunt and uncle daven in your shul.” Rina said, scooping up sand and letting it run through her fingers. I watched the sand, mesmerized. It put me in such a great space.
“Yehudis and Menachem Schloss.”
My head twitched violently. So much for zoning out.
“They’re your aunt and uncle? So nice.” I tried keeping my voice neutral. What are the odds? Were they close, will this get back to Yehudis? Is this a good thing or bad?
“Yeah.” Rina shrugged as if she were bored with the topic.
“So tell me honestly, how was my speech?” I asked Rina. So maybe I was fishing, maybe I wanted to know what she might tell Yehudis.
“Not bad.” Rina cocked her head. “I actually listened, which is impressive.”
“I’m flattered.” I winked. “Anything speak to you?”
Rina shrugged. “The part where you imitated teenagers insulting themselves. Gosh, you totally get us.”
I laughed and Rina smiled back at me, then turned to look at the kumzitz woman. I sneaked another look at Rina. You have a funny sense of humor, I told Hashem.
Avrumi picked me up after a Kosher Glatt run. He had the phone on Bluetooth; I recognized the voice of Chaim’s rosh yeshivah.
“So I’ve been speaking with Chaim’s rebbi, the mashgiach, the yungerman who learns with him — they all say the same thing. Chaim is Chaim, he’s status quo. Baruch Hashem, he’s not slipping, but right now, that’s not enough to let him back into the dorms.
“Your wife mentioned that Chaim’s been working on himself and she sees improvement, and I trust a mother’s binah yeseirah about her kids. I’m hoping you can clarify a few points about Chaim’s behavior at home?”
Avrumi jerked his head toward me, eyes flashing, then focused on the conversation.
“Ah,” Arvumi said slowly, trying to stall for time and words. “Yes, Chaim’s behavior at home. You know, I think it would be best if you spoke to my wife. I’m not home most of the time, I only see Chaim late at night. She’s really the best one to talk to.”
“I understand,” Rabbi Pinkowitz said. I pictured his head bobbing in agreement. “Is the Rebbetzin available?”
“Not at the moment,” Avrumi turned and flashed his eyes at me again. “Until what time can she call?”
“Till whenever. If I answer, I answer.”
“Great, she’ll be in touch.”
Avrumi jabbed the disconnect button.
“What did you tell the rosh yeshivah?” His voice was low.
“Nothing, just asked for Chaim to be allowed back into the dorm. I told him that he’s trying to improve.”
Avrumi facepalmed, then shifted, turning to face me.
“Chana, I love Chaim, I love our family, and yes, I’ll agree that for him and for us it would be best for him to go back to the dorm. But Chaim hasn’t changed an iota. You and I both know that, I don’t know what’s bugging him any more than I did a month ago.”
“Yes, but—” I floundered.
Avrumi took over. “Chana, what’s going to happen when you get him back to the dorm? He’s the same kid he always was, and he’ll make more trouble. What do you think will happen then?”
I shrugged and offered up my palms. “Who knows? Who says he’ll make trouble again? It’s a fairly new thing, maybe the timeout was good warning.”
Avrumi pursed his lips. “Chana, if we don’t know a root cause or see any change, why should we expect something different? Also you’re only thinking about us. What about the other boys in the yeshivah? How will Chaim affect them?”
“I’m Chaim’s mother, the other boys are not my concern.”
“They should be.”
I swallowed hard. “If I tell the rosh yeshivah the bald reality, Chaim doesn’t have a chance.”
“Not being straight always comes back to bite you,” Avrumi countered.
I chewed my inner cheek. Avrumi was kinda right, kinda wrong. Yes, it wasn’t the full truth, but didn’t he realize what this would do for Chaim? Yes, there are other boys, but Chaim is mine — who will advocate for him if not me? I remember Abby kvetching about her Daniel who went through a rough patch in school after they’d moved. “Even monsters have mothers who love them,” she said. I’d never call my kid a monster, but she has a point. I should see what Chaim has to say.
I knocked on Chaim’s door. The groceries were put away, I had actually folded and put away the laundry so everyone wouldn’t need to hunt through mountains of clean but unfolded laundry. I had enough headspace for a real conversation.
I brought Chaim’s folded clothes with me as pretense. I knocked again. He was home, wasn’t he? Was he sleeping already? I knocked again, called his name, then entered.
The room was a pigsty, but no worse than that of any other teenage boy. I looked around, Chaim was sprawled on his bed sleeping, fully clothed. Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus. The Hogwarts motto, hundred percent applicable here, never wake a sleeping dragon.
I opened the top drawer of the dresser to put in Chaim’s socks. There were more singles in there than at a speed-dating convention. I was brushing them aside to dump the newly matched pairs when my hands touched a stack of papers. I tried shifting it, but it scattered. I looked down, wads of cash, and order forms… for what? Food stuff? This made no sense.
I looked back at Chaim sleeping, his mouth was ajar, his tchup messy, almost bang-like. He looked so young, so sweet, so innocent. I looked back at the drawer. Scratch innocent. And the mess grew bigger every single day….
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 703)
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