Prisoner of War| October 6, 2022
She searched for something that resembled the man she’d married, but all she recognized were the long, nimble fingers
Chava remembered rushing to the baby boutique when her older sister Rivka had given birth. The moment they’d received the good news, her mother, the newly minted Bubby, had asked if she wanted to go buy something for the baby. “A new baby comes home in a new outfit,” her mother had said.
She’d looked at her mother wonderingly. For Rivka’s wedding, Chava had worn an outdated brown gown from the local gemach, yet this tiny baby deserved something new when she didn’t even know the difference?
But she’d been too delighted to question her mother then.
She spent a fair amount of time in the boutique, fingering the soft cottons and admiring the delicate knits in shades of blue and mauve and white, caressing the bonnets and knowing that the crumpled bills in her pocket wouldn’t cover it all.
After all these years, she remembered every detail of that outfit she finally chose. The little embroidered bib with the flowers, the matching bonnet and blanket.
Her mother had vintched a hearty “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you,” as she scanned the receipt. Chava hadn’t even been engaged at that point, but she knew one thing: Her baby would have the most beautiful layette ever known to babyhood, and she’d buy it all with her own credit card.
Now, she looked at him, dressed in the hospital’s onesie and swaddled in a faded, pilled hospital blanket printed with geometric shapes. Little wisps of blonde hair peeked out of the striped hat — basically a stocking with a seam — and she wanted to shout and rail at the injustice of it all.
Instead, she asked the nurse, “Uh, do you think I can take this onesie home? I — I don’t have onesies and blankets for him yet.”
The nurse looked at her, eyes wide with pity. At the woman who had given birth alone and hadn’t had a single visitor.
“I’ll bring you a new one,” she said kindly.
Chava’s long-awaited baby was coming home with a brand-new, donated onesie — the sum total of his layette.
Chava gently placed the car seat and bags on the porch and punched in the combination code to let herself in.
The air was stale, as if it hadn’t moved at all over the past two days, and she was hit by the stench of the overripe bananas browning in her fruit bowl, a cloud of fruit flies hovering above it.
Her counters were littered with containers and take-out bags, some empty, some with remnants of food that was now moldy. She was still holding the car seat and the tears were already threatening.
She was also hungry. She dumped the bananas — although she would smell them until she took out the garbage — and opened the fridge. The milk carton was almost empty, not even enough for a coffee, so Chava grabbed a yogurt — sugar- and fat-free. Exactly what she wasn’t in the mood for right now. She sat at the sticky table, peeled off the plastic top, and moodily lifted a spoonful to her mouth.
She’d barely swallowed when her hospital onesie-clad newborn let out a cry.
“Noooo,” Chava groaned. “No, I don’t want to feed you now!” She methodically finished her yogurt as the baby wailed.
Does anything taste as bad as sugar-free yogurt with a baby crying in the background? Chava wondered. Angry tears fell, one after the other, and she swiped at them with the back of her wrist.
She went looking for a place to feed her baby, tears still streaming from her eyes. The glider they had discussed for their bedroom hadn’t materialized. She headed to her bed. The linens weren’t fresh, and random drawers had been left open during her chaotic rush to the hospital. The mess made her cry harder. Chava burrowed under her covers with the baby as she struggled to feed him.
When he was finally settling down, the phone rang.
Whoever was trying to reach her could call their heart out. She wasn’t in the mood for congratulations. Distantly, Chava heard the answering machine beep and an official-sounding voice leaving a message. When she was done with the baby — for the moment at least — she pressed play.
Hi, I’m calling from the Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar. We have an update on Hillel’s condition. Please call us back at… The lady rattled off a phone number and hung up.
Her heart fluttered, fear filling her every cell. She could always burp the baby before returning the call. Chava sat on her bed, palm gently and rhythmically pounding his back, silently thanking the hospital nurse for teaching her how to burp effectively.
Her cellphone rang, an international number.
“Hello?” Chava said.
“Hi, I’m calling from the Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar. Who am I speaking with?”
“Eva Korman,” Chava said.
“Hi, it’s Martha, Captain Korman’s nurse. We have an update on your husband’s condition.”
Chava exhaled. “Meaning?” she asked cautiously.
“He’s waking up slowly,” Martha said. “The doctors lowered his sedation, and he’s responding well.”
“Oh! Oh. That’s good, right?”
“Yes, Mrs. Korman. That’s very good. The doctors are pleased.”
“He’ll… he’ll make it, Martha?”
“It seems so. He’s a real fighter.” Martha chuckled at her own joke.
Chava looked at the baby and her heart filled. Hillel would recover and come home and life would be wonderful again. In no time they’d sit and marvel together at the baby. They’d take walks and show off their long-awaited treasure, accepting well wishes for Hillel and the baby along the way. She’d sit on a glider and rock him peacefully for hours on end.
“Captain Korman will be transferred back to North Carolina to begin rehab as soon as he’s stable enough,” Martha continued.
Rehab. She hadn’t thought of that.
“Uh, Martha, how long do you think it’ll take for him to fully recover?” she asked tentatively.
“It’s hard to tell with these types of injuries,” Martha said slowly, “but it definitely takes time.”
Chava was afraid to ask what she meant by “these injuries.”
“Martha?” She was so glad she had someone to listen to her.
“I gave birth on Monday.”
“Congratulations! Oh, wow! That’s… a lot.”
“Yes. It is.”
It was such a relief to have someone sympathetic on the phone.
“I was alone, Martha. My husband wasn’t here, and I don’t live near family.”
Martha was quiet for a moment. “That must’ve been scary for you. And lonely.”
“It was,” Chava said. “It still is.”
“Yes,” Martha agreed. “But your husband — he’s going to make it, and he’ll come back home to you. So rest up. You’ll need all your strength over the next few months.”
She didn’t know if it was a warning or a blessing.
It had been a warning.
Hillel hadn’t even been transferred yet, and her strength was waning.
On Thursday, her mother had texted asking for the address of the shul and the time of the bris. She’d responded briefly. Chava wanted to share more, to tell her mother how much she’d hoped for a take-me-home outfit for her baby, how she’d longed for a hug and a sincere mazel tov.
But she didn’t. She asked only if they were planning to come.
They were. They’d make the 11-hour drive for her. Her heart swelled. She doubted her father’s clunker could handle such a trip. That meant a rental — and a hole in their monthly budget.
Would they bring any of the kids along or they wouldn’t want to expose them to their runaway sister’s lifestyle?
She hadn’t even told them about Hillel’s injuries. Why should she share it with them? To give them a free show of her dreams blowing up in her face? For them to say I told you so?
And they’d be right. They had told her so.
Her father had talked until he was blue in the face, explaining that there was no glick or guarantee for happiness, and Hashem decides how much suffering a person will experience.
But she’d insisted. She was so done being poor. She didn’t want or need a learning boy. She wanted someone with a plan! Someone who could take care of her. She didn’t want to look like her mother with her scraggly sheitel, juggling a family and a job and never having money for anything.
And where was she now? Alone in Charlotte making a bris for her bechor. With her macho doctor husband sedated across the ocean.
Her mother arrived, exhausted and carsick. She stood awkwardly as Chava’s eyes pooled. She took the baby from Chava’s arms, caressed his little cheeks, and her fatigue seemed to vanish as she expertly fixed his hat and adjusted the bris pillow. At that moment, Chava was tempted to curl up like a baby herself.
“Ma,” she whispered, “Hillel’s not here. He was injured.”
Her mother blanched. “What? How? Where is he?”
“He was hurt. You know… on duty. I don’t know all the details.”
“You mean… you had the baby yourself?”
Chava nodded. Her throat clogged.
The mohel called for the baby and there was no time to finish talking. Her parents served as kvatter and the rav was the sandek.
She named the baby Daniel, after her grandfather. She could only assume that Hillel would approve. Her mother took the screaming infant and calmed him with a bit of the wine.
The bris seudah passed in a dream and a nightmare. The shul was full. Her friends from the JewishMilitaryMoms support group had done an outstanding job filling the space with people and food.
But all the people in the world couldn’t fill the hole in her heart.
“Danny,” Chava cooed to her baby in the backseat, “Daniel, Daddy’s back!” Her foot tapped out a little dance on the pedal.
The transfer had taken so long, with complications at every turn, she’d wondered if it would ever happen.
From the rearview mirror, she saw Daniel searching for her with his wide, wise eyes. So much like his father’s. Fifteen more minutes and they would finally meet.
She pressed on the gas, her body trembling with anticipation. She’d waited so long for this moment. Every day they worked on the transfer had been an eternity, hopes cresting and breaking like waves of the ocean.
She pulled into the rehab center and unbuckled. She had once loved driving in Fort Bragg. The military base was like a little city with its own hospital, its own rules. It had been thrilling to be a part of it when she visited. She never thought she’d have to visit this part of the city, though. Doctors didn’t get injured on duty.
After signing in, Chava was shown to Hillel’s room. The nurse warned her that he was tired and still partially sedated.
“Don’t expect much today. He’ll be better tomorrow.”
But she couldn’t bear to wait until tomorrow. She gripped the car seat handle tighter and entered quietly.
The first thing she saw was Hillel’s face. His right cheek was the color of angry flames, uneven edges extending like jagged teeth.
Nausea overwhelmed her. This man barely resembled Hillel. His eyes were closed, and his uneven hair fell in a sticky mess over his forehead. They had probably shaved parts of it for procedures, and not by a barber. Maybe by an oral surgeon? The irony hit her hard.
His right foot was raised above his body and strapped at an angle. He was casted up to his thigh.
She searched for something that resembled the man she’d married, but all she recognized were the long, nimble fingers, so adept at fixing teeth.
So, this was what a moderately injured man looked like.
Chava took a step into the room. Hillel’s eyes opened.
“Hillel?” she said quietly.
He looked at her uncomprehendingly.
“Hillel,” she repeated.
He tried moving, but his foot held him firmly in place.
“Don’t move. It’s okay,” she said.
There was a chair next to his bed. She should really go sit down. The car seat was growing heavy in her hand. But her feet felt leaden. She couldn’t walk.
He tried speaking, but only a hoarse grunt emerged. She took a step toward him.
“Hillel, here’s our baby,” she said softly.
Hillel’s eyes opened and closed like he was fighting to remain awake. He was falling back asleep, falling back into unknowingness, sinking in a pool of honey.
“Daniel. Our baby,” she said desperately.
“Baby,” Hillel said haltingly. “Baby,” he repeated.
She lifted Daniel and brought him close to Hillel.
His slender fingers jerked. It took too long for him to raise his hand and touch Daniel.
“Baby,” he said again, slowly. His voice was slurred with sleep. His hands moved up and down as he touched the baby’s nose and eyes and cheeks. His eyes closed again, but his fingers kept moving up and down.
This was her husband. Kind and caring and loving. She sat, averting her eyes from his cheek. If she closed them, she could imagine that she was sitting next to the Hillel she knew. But when she opened her eyes again, the blazing fire on his cheek danced.
She had to find the nurse or doctor to ask how long it would take to heal.
Turned out, it had healed already.
On Daniel’s three-month birthday, the doctor called Chava to discuss Hillel’s progress.
“Mrs. Korman,” Dr. Penchik began. “Your husband is recovering well. His scar healed without infection.”
“Healed?” Chava burst out.
“Yes, there were no complications with the wound healing process,” he replied.
“Healed?” Chava asked again. “This is what it’s going to look like forever?”
“It can be. You can see a plastic surgeon to hear your options as soon as your husband is up to it.”
Chava opened her mouth and closed it.
“And he’s regaining his strength. He should be able to go home in another couple of weeks.”
What should she say? That Hillel was really a workaholic who enjoyed working overtime? That being awake for two-hour stretches wasn’t “strength”? That being able to wash his hands by himself was a pathetic accomplishment compared to all the diplomas hanging in their living room?
Instead, she nodded.
“Much of the credit goes to you. And the baby,” he chuckled. “He’s by far the cutest visitor in this place, the youngest therapist.”
Chava’s heart warmed.
“How will we manage in the house?” she asked. Hillel was a long way from walking.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time. But until then, you’ll speak to the care manager here, and she’ll arrange for your house to become handicapped-accessible. They do it quickly. And he won’t need it for long.” The benefits of a military hospital.
Chava shuddered. How proud she’d been of their house, which she and Hillel owned. She’d wanted to tell her parents how right she’d been. A family needed stability. A family shouldn’t live in fear of rent increases and keep flushing money away to fill a landlord’s pocket.
And now her house would be wheelchair accessible.
Her shoulders sagged.
If exhaustion had a color, Chava’s entire body would flame as red as Hillel’s cheek.
Oh, why had she declined having an aide help her out? She’d thought she’d be thrilled to care for Hillel. She hadn’t known it would be this hard.
Hillel’s first night home had been an endless cycle: feed the baby, burp the baby, run downstairs to check on Hillel, give him painkillers, repeat.
Sometime around dawn, she’d woken from a brief nap to bloodcurdling screams from the den. She’d rushed down the stairs to find Hillel thrashing in the hospital bed, his face bathed in sweat.
“Farah! Farah!” he had cried, his voice garbled as his hands jerked wildly in the empty air.
She’d woken him and calmed him as Daniel cried. And he was supposed to help her with the baby.
She’d slept less than two hours before it was time for Daniel’s next feeding.
She bristled as Hillel called for her again. She lay the baby in the crib and headed to the stairs.
At the top step she paused, listening to her husband calling her and her baby crying in the bedroom. She felt so small next to the mountain of needs this family had.
“Yes?” she called, hoping her voice at least sounded patient and supportive.
Let them knock.
Chava headed downstairs. Hillel would become agitated if she didn’t answer the door; his anxiety was getting worse by the day.
A delivery man was holding a package, certified mail addressed to “The Korman Family.” She recognized the APO address right away. It came straight from Hillel’s base.
She quickly signed.
“I’m running up to the baby,” she called to Hillel as she absently placed the parcel on the first shelf in the coat closet. Her head was pounding rhythmically.
“But Chava—” Hillel called.
“Hmmm?” she said tiredly.
“Can you help me with my tefillin?”
No. I can’t!
“Isn’t Mr. Reich coming soon?”
“Not today, he has an appointment.”
NO! I can’t.
“I have to change the baby first. I’ll be down soon.” Or not.
In her state of absolute exhaustion, Chava sometimes wondered what would happen if she would just sleep.
Then the guilt of even thinking such thoughts would fill her. What kind of person even thought of leaving their husband because of circumstances beyond his control?
So she continued. Upstairs. Downstairs. Upstairs. Downstairs. Baby. Hillel. Baby. Hillel. Up and down, she took the stairs. And there was no landing to ease the climb.
While she climbed, he sat.
Argh. Chava stood at the counter preparing yet another meal Hillel wouldn’t eat as she watched her husband hobble from his bed — they had moved it downstairs for now — to the couch, his clumsy steps thudding awkwardly on the wood flooring.
And he just sat. And sat. Who was this man? Would the real Hillel ever make a reappearance?
How long can a person just sit? Get up. Do your exercises. At least talk to me!
All day, every day, she felt like screaming. Her house was a cage she couldn’t leave.
He needed so many things. Water. Tissues. The magazine. She felt like a jack-in-the-box, popping up every minute to tend to his needs.
No, please. No, thank you. Just endless staring into nothingness.
She knew it wasn’t Hillel’s fault. If the dreams and nightmares were any indication, he’d witnessed scenes she could never imagine.
She finished scrambling the egg. “Not in the mood,” he said when she offered it to him.
Daniel was sleeping in the stroller next to him. She needed to escape. Now.
She threw the plate onto the table and was happy to see a piece of egg spritz all the way to the ceiling. Good.
“I’m leaving Daniel here. He should sleep.”
He nodded. “Just get me my scarf. I’m cold.”
A scarf in September. In the Carolina heat.
She went to the coat closet. On the shelf was a parcel — they’d gotten it weeks ago, and she had forgotten about it, never opened it. Who opened coat closets in August? Chava hoped it wasn’t anything important. A scarf… she rummaged through the bins and found Hillel’s scarf.
She tossed it to him. She missed. Let him bend down to pick it up. It was good for him to stretch.
Chava headed upstairs with the package.
She carefully slit it open with a pen. Inside was a leather-bound book. She sat on her bed and cracked open the cover. Hillel’s writing filled the page with his neat, precise print, so unusual for a doctor. A diary. Hillel had written a war diary! They must’ve found it in the wreckage.
A folded paper fell out. She picked it up and read.
As I set out on this adventure, I want you to know that you are the dearest person in my life. Leaving you for such a long time is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than the six weeks of training, harder than all those years of studying. But regardless of where this trip takes me, you will come along with me in my heart.
Part of me is pumped with excitement to serve this great country, while part of me thinks I’m crazy. Like, what was I thinking when I signed up for this. I could never have imagined how hard it would be to leave my family.
I hope you’re safe while I’m gone. I know it will be lonely, but you being the special wife I married, I know you’ll always cherish the fact that you supported me in the path I chose. This whole army thing was a calculated risk — I explained it to you, and we discussed it a lot when I began toying with this idea. I wanted to speed up the residency process, and this also helps pay for schooling so I can open my own practice sooner. But a part of me was also excited to help our country, help the side of good fight. I still feel small next to all these brave men defending our country. I’m not putting my life on the line, but I can do my part as a doctor.
And now I’m off, to the wilderness of Afghanistan for six months.
You keep telling me you’ll be fine, that as long as I’m back for the birth, you’ll manage. But how can I promise you that? I should be back, but army life isn’t always predictable. We’ve waited so long for this child, and now, when it’s almost here, I won’t be there with you?
I want to share my time in Afghanistan with you, so I’m writing this diary, starting with my thoughts on deployment, for us to share when I’m back home with you. Soon, so soon, we’ll be reading this together as you rock our new baby.
And I hope, future child, that you’ll be proud of your father.
The dearest person in my life… the special wife I married…
Chava sat still for a minute, remembering the eggs she’d thrown and the thoughts she had of leaving.
She turned the page.
We leave tomorrow.
After all these years of sitting at the base with my predictable schedule, I’m being sent to Afghanistan.
And to do what, exactly? Extract teeth? Lieutenant Colonel Bronson laughed when I asked this question. Who can blame me? After being an oral surgeon so close to home with regular hours, Afghanistan will be a change.
Theoretically, we knew I could be deployed at any moment, but after so many months of quiet, we assumed my entire army stint would be spent here.
“They need doctors desperately. You’re an oral surgeon. You can do anything from the collarbone up.”
If LTC Bronson wanted to scare me, he did a good job.
1830 20 DEC 03
My life now has a clear divide, a before and after: Before Afghanistan and after Afghanistan.
After two days of grueling travel, with stopovers for refueling and some shuffling between planes in Kuwait, we finally landed. As disciplined as these soldiers are, they’re still young men taut with anxiety, which made for a very loud trip. I did get to meet other newly deployed medics and doctors.
We arrived in Kandahar — a province in Afghanistan — before dawn, and were shown to our barracks. Our barracks are just that: barracks. Rows of beds with itchy blankets that eat your skin like a swarm of mosquitoes. But no one’s complaining, not with the background sounds: Boom… Boom…
Ambulances keep pulling up, sirens screeching without letup. Is there ever a quiet moment here?
It’s easy to tell the difference between a newly deployed soldier and a seasoned vet. The new ones walk around in a daze, their eyes numb, shocked, experiencing a rude awakening to the realities of war. The old-timers’ eyes are hard, deadened. A bottomless pit of unimaginable horrors.
Oh, G-d! Protect us all!
After we unpacked, our motley crew, the new team of army medics and doctors, was directed to the “hospital.” It’s basically a tent with a few raw rooms marked by plywood. There’s an operating room and a CT scanner, a rarity in the region, and little curtains between sections.
The place is a zoo. Scalpels and surgical tape are tangled in a mess because there’s simply no time to clean up between patients. I see why the army is running short on doctors. No posh offices with six-digit salaries in an upscale medical complex in the suburbs. Only grueling work in a gruesome environment.
The endless expanses of land would be beautiful if they weren’t so shrouded in fear and full of blood.
One question remains. How can both countries rotate on the same axis?
0345 07 JAN 04
Is it possible to get used to bad news and awful sights?
It’s been two weeks now, and I’ve seen a lot, but this was something else: a bomb in an apple cart in the marketplace.
The wounded streamed in, they just kept coming. Mostly Afghanis, plus one British soldier who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Brit will make it; he’s all muscle, a strong guy. The Afghanis, I’m not so sure.
We worked so hard on a little boy with a terrible stomach bleed and a head injury, too. By the time we stopped the bleeding, it was too late.
Sixteen people died, dozens more wounded, too many of them children. There was so much blood, we wore boots as we operated. I worked for 20 hours straight.
Instead of falling asleep from sheer exhaustion, the sights of the day keep me awake. Every time I close my eyes, the images are back: the skinny boy who will never grow up, the young father who will never teach his children to enjoy a Turkish tea or smoke a hookah.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack. They had been targeting the Americans who came to build roads and schools for their children.
Our policy is to treat everyone who enters — after all, every human deserves a chance at life — but some of the natives arrive with bones jutting from malnourishment, and their bodies don’t have what it takes to fight.
By the end of the day, my eyes were blurred from endless hours on duty. And the wounded just kept coming.
At one point, the blood bank ran dry. An old Afghani man was brought in, bleeding heavily. Soldiers on base lined up to donate blood. Who had time for blood banks? The nurses stuck one side of the port in the soldiers and the second side into the wounded, and the blood flowed straight from donor to recipient. I just gawked.
But there wasn’t time to watch. A little girl was brought in, long black hair escaping from her headscarf, blood coming out of her nose. I scrubbed up.
Her skull was badly fractured, and we worried about brain damage. It’s too early to tell with all the swelling, but it appears the shrapnel didn’t enter too deeply. Captain Garber, the general surgeon, got to work on the rest of her body. There were no words necessary to coordinate care; at this point, we work without words in a world gone mad.
Something about this little girl was different. Her eyes showed resilience.
I looked at her broken body, and all I could think of was our future child.
1555 12 JAN 04
Thank Hashem for Shabbos.
I’m so grateful for the 27 hours of rest the army allows me. It helps relieve some of the stress and exhaustion from the endless hours of concentration I need when I work.
We had a little meal Friday night with five other Jewish soldiers on base. The chaplain is Catholic, so with my yarmulke and tzitzis, I’m the most Jewish-looking man for miles, and these soldiers look to me as something of a rabbi.
Steven from Rhode Island spent the meal asking many questions. I explained the concept of hashgachah pratis, and of course, I got questions about my strings and skullcap. We sang Ani Maamin and other songs of faith. They loved Ani Maamin.
It’s not the food that brings the Shabbos spirit, I learned. We had a grape juice box drink for Kiddush, followed by some dry rolls for Hamotzi. No expensive cuts of meat or fancy wines, yet it was one of the most uplifting Shabbosim in my life. I hope I can take this elevation with me when life returns to normal.
As soon as Shabbos was over, I hurried to check on the little girl I treated. She’s still sedated, and we think she’ll make it, but her left foot was severely infected. On Wednesday, the orthopedic surgeon amputated from the knee down.
Her father sits at her side and says not a word. He doesn’t know English. He has only four teeth. Yet he sits and strokes her hands. From what I understand, the mother cannot come because of their modesty laws.
The little girl’s name is Farah. It means joy.
1245 30 JAN 04
Eight young lives lost. Eight American soldiers.
The Taliban booby-trapped the storage room in a weapons factory in Ghanzi, a six-hour drive from here.
How does one mourn such unspeakable tragedy? I can’t help thinking that it could’ve been us. The Taliban is ruthless, and they don’t care that eight young men are no longer, their families forever bereft.
I’ve learned that surviving war is less about prowess and more about a Master Plan.
The wounded were airlifted here. I worked around the clock. The blessing of work is that you don’t have time to think. In this place, if you think, you go crazy.
If our baby is a boy, I will never let him serve in the army.
1230 13 FEB 04
I spoke to Chava today. She told me the doctor is worried she might be early. She sits all day with only anxiety for company. The connection wasn’t too good, and I couldn’t offer much comfort.
I wish I could be there.
Chava doesn’t usually complain, she isn’t needy, so this makes me uneasy. I can request early emergency release — it’s been six weeks, and anyway, February and March are usually quieter, since the Taliban don’t like fighting in the cold. It all depends on another oral surgeon to arrive on time and take my place.
I’ve had enough action to last me many lifetimes.
I’m still keeping an eye on Farah. I’m trying to get her a prosthetic. It’s not usually offered to the locals, but I’m investing the effort. Her father is concerned because if an Arabic girl isn’t fit to run the house, she isn’t worth anything. And with only one leg, Farah’s chances are slim.
0220 02 MAR 04
I can’t believe it! I got an early release! I submitted the request so I could make it home before the baby is born. Chava isn’t due until April, but her doctor put her on bed rest. I can’t wait to tell her the good news! Two more weeks, and we’ll be together again.
I can’t wait to see her, and to be there for the birth of our child, may it go well.
Until then, it’s back to the hospital for me. On that end, there’s more good news. Farah’s prosthetic is on the way!
Chava turned the page.
It was bare. Only blood and the smell of death.
She looked back at the date of Hillel’s last entry: Only three weeks before Danny was born. Only one day before the army hospital was blown up.
Only six months and a lifetime ago.
Her hands shook as she closed the diary. A sense of vast relief washed over her.
Hillel wasn’t just the blank-faced invalid downstairs. He was the heroic oral surgeon in an army hospital, frantically saving lives. He was the loving father longing to meet his son. He was the protective husband, desperate to be there for his wife.
Maybe she wasn’t so alone after all.
Chava tiptoed to the landing. The open staircase gave her a full view of the living room. Daniel was on the floor next to Hillel — so he’s taken him out of the stroller — and the baby was on all fours, rocking. She smiled. He had been rocking all week and landing in a belly flop every time he tried to move forward.
She began to descend the stairs, still watching the pair in the living room. Hillel sat, staring at the little baby.
Danny pushed one arm ahead, strained, and lurched forward several inches before collapsing on the carpet. Hillel exclaimed in surprise. Chava turned toward him, but his face was still bent low, riveted on the baby. For the first time in months, she could see his lips stretch into the smile she so missed.
Only the bond between a parent and child could accomplish what months of therapy had not.
Chava left Hillel and Danny helping each other struggle forward and went to call her mother.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 931)
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