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Portrait of a Family: Chapter 2

A new school, she thought. As if a new family wasn’t enough?


 Tamar sat on her bed, face buried in her pillow, wishing she could cry. The tears were there, lodged in her throat, building up somewhere behind her eyes, but she just couldn’t get them to come. They were fighting to be released, and the pressure was causing her head to pound. But Tamar was spent. She just could not cry.

Her long brown hair fell in waves along her pillow as she tried valiantly to pull herself together.

A new school, she thought. As if a new family wasn’t enough?

As if taking my siblings away from me wasn’t enough?

As if starting a new school as the kid from the dysfunctional home is even possible. Not in eleventh grade, it’s not. And it’s not even the beginning of eleventh grade. It’s NOVEMBER.

But she knew there was no one to hear her. The powers that be had shackled her to their wrists and dragged her behind them, twisting through narrow alleys, banging her against the walls without caring that she was getting bruised.

She had better pull herself together, because the rest of the family was due to arrive home any minute and a new wave of introductions would begin. Tamar rolled over and surveyed her new room. The walls were cream with the faintest hint of pink. Her linen, too, was a sophisticated pattern of pale pink and cream, and she fingered the trim on the pillowcase absentmindedly. It was actually a really nice room if you didn’t count that she was here because she had nowhere else to go. Soon she would put up her own decor and mark it as her own. If the Weisses let, of course.

The quiet around her was peaceful and calming to her tumultuous emotions, and she watched the clock slowly ticking on the wall. 4:05. Hadn’t Mrs. Weiss said her younger children came home at 4:00? They would probably be down here soon, expecting an introduction.

Sure enough, a moment later, there was a soft tapping at the door.

“Tamar?” Mrs. Weiss called softly through the door. “Yanky, Shaindy and Mendy are home from school, if you feel up to meeting them.”

Something inside Tamar instantly felt warmer. She was being asked. She could say no. Someone cared about what she wanted, and would listen to her.

“I’ll come upstairs,” she said, rolling off the bed and gathering her hair into a pony. “Just a sec.” She straightened her skirt and pulled open the door.

“They’re really excited to meet you,” Mrs. Weiss said amiably as they made their way up the stairs.

When they entered the kitchen, three small faces stared at them over their cups of chocolate milk. Or, really, stared at her.

“Okay, kids,” Mrs. Weiss said, “this is Tamar. Tamar, that’s Yanky, he’s ten, Shaindy, who’s seven, and Mendy.”

“Um, hi.” Tamar waved. “Nice to meet you guys.”

Yanky found his voice first. “What was wrong with your—” He stopped suddenly at a sharp look from his mother. Tamar was glad. Someone had obviously prepped the kids not to pry, and Tamar definitely wasn’t about to share with this pipsqueak.

“Tamar.” Mrs. Weiss turned to her. “If you want a snack or something, you’re welcome to take. There are cookies and fruit on the table. I would imagine you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten since you came.

“We’ll be eating dinner at around 5:30, when my older daughter, Devorah, comes home,” Mrs. Weiss finished. “I’m going to do some laundry downstairs, Tamar, so don’t be surprised if you hear noise when you come down.” With that, she turned to go, leaving Tamar at the table with the three miniature Weisses.


Dinner was a noisy affair, with everyone from Mr. Weiss down to little Mendy sitting around the table. Questions and discussions about the day flew from all sides of the table as everyone ate their meatballs and spaghetti. Tamar sat silently at the corner, cutting her spaghetti into tiny pieces so that she didn’t need to slurp it up as she ate. She kept eying Devorah, the Weiss’s fourteen-year-old daughter, who had come home from high school only moments before.

“Tamar.” Mr. Weiss addressed her, causing her to jump. “After dinner, if you could go upstairs with Devorah to her room, she’ll give you some uniforms to try on. Tomorrow in school, she’ll go to the school gemach and pick out some in your size.”

Tamar felt her heart sink. Gemach uniforms? She eyed Devorah’s. Nope. Devorah’s were definitely new. It was only November, the fresh pleat of a new uniform skirt was still glaringly obvious. But of course, who’d buy new uniforms for a foster kid? Yeah, a foster kid was just the kind of person the gemach was for.

How many kids in eleventh grade have new uniforms anyway? Tamar tried to reason with herself. And besides, we don’t know how long I’ll be using them. But it didn’t change the way she felt. Here was a tangible sign, written all over her uniform – you don’t belong here. As if she needed another reminder.

All too soon, Tamar found herself in a Devorah’s room.

“Here,” Devorah said, pulling two shirts and two skirts out of her closet. “You look about my size, so try on this one first.” She waved one of the skirts in the air. “They’re all sort of a standard length, but if it fits you, I’ll bring it to school to measure against the other skirts and make sure it’s good. The school will let me take a few extra just in case, and we can return them on Wednesday.”

Tamar took the skirt from her hand. “Thanks,” she tried to say, but it seemed her vocal cords weren’t working.

“So,” Devorah continued, as Tamar tried on the navy skirts and blue and white striped blouses. “How do you like it here? I mean,” she continued, oblivious to the fact that Tamar didn’t want to share, “something must have been really wrong with your family, so do you, like, love it here?”

Don’t react. Don’t scream, Tamar thought, trying to get her emotions under control.

Nothing was wrong with my family! Why would I love coming to some stranger’s house? Even if my family situation was the absolute worst – which it wasn’t!

Calm down, Tamar.


She’s just being dumb, Tamar.

But this dumb Tamar couldn’t forgive. How could Devorah be so senseless?

“There was nothing wrong with my family,” Tamar snapped, unable to stop herself, “and it’s really none of your business. I’ll thank you for keeping your thoughts to yourself – now, and in school. This one fits, by the way,” she finished, throwing the uniform skirt onto the bed and escaping to her room. Although she wanted to slam Devorah’s door and stomp down the steps, she knew she couldn’t. Not in someone else’s house. Though after that outburst, she wasn’t sure how long she would even be here. They’d probably be calling child services and have her taken away tomorrow.

Tamar sat down on her bed, trying to calm her storming heart. Pulling out the pictures she had printed only last week, she lay back on her pillow to look through them. There was Danny, all five feet of him, one arm slung around Sam’s shoulder, holding a homemade Happy Birthday sign. Her sixteenth birthday, only three weeks ago. The rage inside her chest had abated somewhat, but it was now replaced with longing. Why, oh why, couldn’t they all be placed together? How long would it be before a home for all three of them could be found? And would she even get to visit her brothers before then?


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 835)

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