I was distraught. I knew Esti, and I knew Simi. How could two quality girls have this kind of unresolved history?
Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer
They were sitting in a lounge, ice cubes slowly melting in their drinks — the classic shidduch scenario. It was a comfortable lounge and the conversation was comfortable too, it was already their fourth date. But something was wrong.
Avi couldn’t figure it out. Esti was distracted and withdrawn. What had happened?
He decided to ask her directly. “Is everything okay?”
“What?” Esti looked back at him, trying to focus. “Sorry,” she stammered. But then she averted her gaze again.
Avi stood up. “Should we go for a walk?”
Outside, Esti seemed to relax. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I just saw someone I know.”
“Oh, that’s awkward.”
Esti shook her head. “It’s worse than awkward. It…” She searched for the words. “There’s a lot of history there,” she said finally. “I don’t want to think about it right now.”
She needed space, and Avi gave it to her (he really was a great guy — she ended up marrying him), turning the conversation to lighter topics. But that night Esti’s mother called me.
“Esti met someone she knew tonight,” she said without introduction. “Simi Shapiro, do you know her?”
“Sure,” I said. I hadn’t realized they knew each other. “Great girl.”
“We know the Shapiros well,” Esti’s mother said. “Actually, we’re neighbors.”
“Oh, that’s so…” I was about to say cute, but something in her tone told me that would be the wrong word.
Esti’s mother sighed.
“It’s a long story,” she said. “Esti and Simi are the same age. They were in the same class and were best friends. They’re similar in many ways — both bright, popular, and talented. Even after school hours, they spent a lot of time together. Wherever one was, you saw the other, you know?”
“Go on,” I said.
“The summer after seventh grade they decided to make a day camp together. It could be the whole thing was just too much for them at their age. Maybe we mothers should have been more actively involved. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” She sighed again. “They were struggling, and they blamed each other. They couldn’t quit the camp mid-summer, and they started fighting a lot.
“There were some crises too — one of the kids fell and broke an arm. The emergency was overwhelming, and they didn’t know how to handle the communication with the parents afterward. They each thought the other could have prevented it from happening. Then some money went missing. Esti thought Simi had been careless, and Simi accused Esti of… of actually stealing it.”
“There’s more to the story,” Esti’s mother continued relentlessly. “The whole neighborhood got involved and took sides. And when that horrible summer was finally over, the feud spilled over into school. Their lives had been so intertwined that the separation was excruciating. They had clothes in each other’s closets, they had systems for who took notes in which class. Now they were on their own.
“They had to find a new identity in the class, and they became extremely competitive. You were either Simi’s friend or Esti’s friend. It wasn’t pretty.”
“Didn’t the school try to intervene?”
Esti mother gave a short, humorless laugh. “They tried. They failed.”
“In the end, we sent Esti out of town for high school.”
“Because of this?”
“It was literally the only solution we could find. We could have put them in separate classes, but they’d still have been in the same school. And we were neighbors. Esti suffered so much in eighth grade. We couldn’t do it for even one more day.” There was deep pain in her voice.
“It wasn’t a perfect solution. Esti hated boarding, and she resented Simi for ‘forcing’ her into it. Especially since Simi ‘got to stay home.’ And that,” Esti’s mother concluded, “was who Esti met on her date and why she couldn’t collect herself.”
I was distraught. I knew Esti, and I knew Simi. How could two quality girls have this kind of unresolved history? Did they think the darkness would just fade away as they moved forward with their lives?
I had to do something.
I reached out to the girls’ principal. She remembered the story well. “It was one of the most tangled, complicated social relationships I’ve ever had to deal with,” she told me honestly. “They both thought they were the victims.”
She concurred with my sentiment. “The worst part was watching the two of them destroy themselves over this. They were both so extraordinary and gifted, but they were reduced to their worst versions of themselves.”
I called Simi. I explained to her that I had no interest in placing blame or even rehashing old events. I wasn’t here to revise history; my concern was the present and future of both girls. I asked Simi if she would consider meeting with Esti so they could talk it through as adults and finally put the matter to rest. I had already spoken to Esti and knew that she was willing.
Simi refused. “I don’t know what Esti told you,” she said, “but you don’t know my side of the story!”
“I’m aware that it’s a very complicated situation, and I’m sure mistakes were made on both ends,” I said. “I’m not here to decide who’s at fault or who’s the victim. You both suffered, you both are suffering. I just want you to talk it out, so you can move on without this hanging over your heads.”
Nothing I said could convince her.
Esti got engaged a couple weeks later to Avi, the sensitive and intuitive boy she’d been seeing on that fateful date. I still felt a little apprehensive about the unresolved issue with Simi, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that Esti had a beautiful baby boy a year later. With time, the incident receded into the background.
Esti called me out of the blue when her oldest was turning three. We schmoozed a little — where do you live these days, what do you do, upsheren plans — and then Esti got to the point of her call. “Mrs. Leiman,” she said seriously, “I remember how much you invested in trying to help me with the whole thing with Simi.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Things don’t always work out the way we hope for.”
“But I’m calling to tell you that it wasn’t for nothing. Simi called me last week.”
“She asked if we could meet. I was so nervous, even after all these years. But we talked about it, and she apologized. I apologized too. It’s over now, finally. I wanted you to know.”
I was stunned. And very impressed. It must have taken extraordinary courage for Simi to face her demons, to acknowledge to herself that she may have been wrong, and reach out to Esti after so many years and so much pain.
Doing the right thing can be so hard. And so liberating.
to be continued…
Shani Leiman is a teacher, shadchan, and dating coach. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 710)
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