| Teen Serial |

Portrait of a Family: Chapter 1 

“You must be Tamar, ” the woman said, her smile so huge and fake Tamar wanted to scrape it off her face


​She looked up at the sound of her name. Oh, she’d known they had arrived when the motor had stopped purring. Throughout the ride she had heard every squeak of the brake, felt the car speed up and slow down. But she hadn’t looked. She couldn’t. So she just kept zipping and unzipping the zipper on her wallet for the entire half-hour drive.

“What are you expecting?” Yael Baum had asked from the seat next to her. “Do you want to hear a bit about them?”

Tamar didn’t. She didn’t want to hear about these people or about anything else for that matter. She wanted to open the door in the middle of the highway and run and run and run until she was back in her mother’s embrace. She wanted her friends. Her house. The ability to choose what would happen to her, for goodness’ sake. Anything but to be in this car. So they sat in silence. Until the engine stopped. And with it, so did her heart.

​“Are you ready?”

​Would she ever be? But she knew Yael for all of two hours, ten minutes, and fifteen seconds, and she was not about to spill her heart out to a stranger. So Tamar followed.

​They crossed the street and walked to a house that looked much like all the others on the block. Tamar sized it up. Three floors. Maybe a finished basement. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Through the fog in her brain Tamar watched Yael ring the doorbell. Please let no one answer. But the door was already opening.

​“You must be Tamar, ” the woman said, her smile so huge and fake Tamar wanted to scrape it off her face. “And you are…?”

​“Yael Baum.” The social worker nodded curtly, sticking her hand out and giving the other woman’s a firm shake. “You are Mrs. Weiss, I presume.”

​“That’s me,” Mrs. Weiss answered, with a real smile this time. “Why don’t you come in?” She stepped away from the door to admit them.

​Yael walked forward. Grabbing the handle of her duffle bag, Tamar followed. “Alright. I’ll leave you to it,” Yael said as soon as Tamar was inside. “Tamar, I’ll see you Wednesday.” And with that, she turned back to her car, leaving Tamar behind.

Not much of a social worker, Tamar thought, if she can just leave like that.


Mrs. Weiss was staring at her now. Tamar shook herself out of her thoughts.

“Tamar, we’re so glad to have you,” Mrs. Weiss began, “We… well, why don’t I show you your room, and you can get yourself unpacked a little. My husband will be home in a bit, and we’ll tell you what to expect and all that.” She stopped abruptly, waiting for a response.

“Yeah,” Tamar muttered. It seemed that was all Mrs. Weiss needed. She started off across the foyer into a hallway with a staircase toward the right leading upstairs. Surprisingly, though, Mrs. Weiss turned toward the left to a heavy white wooden door.

“You’ll be sleeping in the basement,” Mrs. Weiss said to her confused expression. “There’s a really nice room down there, and this way you’ll have a little privacy. My kids are great but, you know, kids…” She laughed.

Tamar allowed herself a small smile. Privacy. That was all she wanted right now. No more strangers intruding in her business, trying to run her life. The narrow basement staircase was dimly lit by one small bulb. Tamar swallowed. Was she gonna be the “foster kid in the cellar”?

Well, who cares. This is temporary. I’ll probably be out of here in a week, she thought. But who was she fooling? No one. That’s who. No one. Because no one in this whole world really cares anyway. Her mind was screaming. Kicking. Urging her to leave her bag and just run away.

But she followed Mrs. Weiss.

“Here we are,” Mrs. Weiss said, flicking on the light downstairs. Tamar blinked in the sudden brightness, her racing heart slowing down just a bit, for she found herself in a large pleasant room with a high ceiling. Three doors led off the room.

“That’s the laundry room,” Mrs. Weiss said, following her gaze. “And over there,” she pointed to the room on the left, “is your room. The third door is the bathroom.”

Tamar nodded. She couldn’t put on this show anymore. Please go, she pleaded with her eyes. Leave me alone.

Mrs. Weiss sensed what Tamar was feeling. “My husband will be home in half an hour. I’ll leave you to unpack,” she finished, and with a reassuring smile, turned and climbed up the steps, closing the basement door behind her.

The big room in the basement was painted a pale shade of lilac, with framed sketches of flowers adorning the walls. Tamar drew closer. Whoever sketched these was a real master of the trade. As her fingers traced the letters on the bottom, Tamar dared to hope that somewhere in this house she’d find a kindred spirit in the person behind these sketches. Tearing herself away, Tamar turned the knob of the door to her new bedroom. The door opened with a whisper, and Tamar eased herself inside.

Fifteen minutes was all it took for Tamar to get unpacked. She eyed her things wearily. A couple pairs of socks, tights, a few shirts and skirts, two pairs of pajamas. With a sigh, she collapsed onto the bed, her heart crumbling into a million pieces at her feet. Mom… Danny… Sam. How could they take them all away from me? How could they take me away from them? she screamed silently. Even if Mom hadn’t been really there for her for the last two years, they were a family. Hers. Her place. And now? It was all gone, dissolved in the air like a puff of smoke. Nowhere for her in the whole, cold world. Yeah, Child Protection Services had found her the Weisses, they hadn’t kicked her out in the street. But how could she thank them when they were the ones who destroyed her home to begin with?

Tamar could hear the creak of footsteps on the stairs. She straightened, trying to conceal the emotions that were crashing like a tsunami over her.

“Tamar?” Mrs. Weiss knocked at her door. “My husband is home, and we’d like to talk to you. Would you be able to come upstairs?”

They made their way into the kitchen silently, Mrs. Weiss a few steps ahead.

“Dovid?” she called into the other room, when they were seated. “Tamar came up. We’re waiting for you.”

A tall man with a trim beard entered the room and sat down at the table. “Here,” he said, motioning to Tamar to sit down. “Help yourself,” he added gesturing to a plate of cookies Tamar hadn’t noticed before. Tamar sat, but ignored the plate of cookies, her stomach churning too much to digest anything.

“So,” Mr. Weiss continued, “it’s really quite basic. You’re free to do what you want in your room, within reason. In front of our kids, though, we ask you to try to be careful with what you say and do. If you want to do something we don’t allow our kids to do, no problem. In your room. Just don’t mention it in front of the rest of the family. If you have any questions, you can always ask us. Since we don’t know how long you’re going to be here, we’ve registered you in the local Bais Yaakov, where our daughters go to school. You’ll be starting the day after tomorrow.”

A new school. It was as if someone had just taken a sledgehammer and smashed the last intact piece of Tamar’s heart.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 834)

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