| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 1  

Fifty-three and over. Even that. So presumptuous. What was wrong with 55 and over, like every other development in Lakewood?



In the very first hour of her very first day at 107 Wimbledon Loop, Shaindy Brucker broke a rule. Not a major rule, she would find out, but a rule just the same.

She was informed of the violation via text message, the language polite and aloof. To be clear, residents are assigned two parking spots per unit. All other vehicles should be parked in Parking Lot A near the main entrance. We’re sorry for the inconvenience but Alameda Gardens runs on respect and convenience for ALL residents, and respecting the rules creates a more pleasant experience for all of us. Thank you.

Shaindy grimaced, first at the fact that the text used the word “respect” twice in a single sentence. It also wasn’t fair because she had just moved in and her children were just there to help her unpack, not to move in forever or anything, and calm down people, we’ve only been here for ten minutes.

She showed the text to Chaim, who had to take out his other glasses to read it, which annoyed her because it set expectations higher. He skimmed it and shrugged and finally said, “Nu, nu,” and got back to work admiring the way his entire Shas looked on one shelf, something he’d never been able to do in Brooklyn, where the room had been too narrow for a full-sized seforim shrank.

Brooklyn had rules. Alternate side parking and garbage pickup and such. But Lakewood was supposed to be the land of the free, with space and permits and parking and so, so many eineklach, no?

Maybe not in Alameda Gardens, where they had been “incredibly lucky” to get a house on the last available block. She didn’t know which of her new neighbors could have had her number, though. The text wasn’t signed and it came from an unfamiliar number, so it might have been a well-meaning neighbor or some kind of neighborhood association. She’d given in her phone number, of course, back when they were applying and filling out all the paperwork — so much paperwork it was like trying to get a child into school, so many details, so many trick questions. The sweet, eager sales agent explained it earnestly, how Alameda was meant to be for a certain “type” and it was important to do it right, so maybe there was some kind of head counselor who drove around the development texting rule-breakers. Or maybe it was a drone flying overhead, spotting an infraction and acting instantly.

“The keys?” Chaim asked, and she could tell from his voice that he’d already asked the question at least once.

“Oh, I think it’s not our car that’s offending them, it’s one of the kids’. And they can relax. The neighbors whose spot we’re taking now haven’t even moved in yet, it’s fine.”

Chaim nodded absently. “Everyone’s relaxed, everyone’s relaxed Shaindy, don’t worry,” he said and tried fitting a tall volume of Shulchan Aruch into the bookcase.

“Good,” Shaindy said. “We don’t want to make trouble, chas v’shalom, the day we move in. Because the type is sooo important,”  she modulated her voice perfectly. “Alameda is for well-behaved 53 and overs. We don’t want to rock the boat.”

Chaim grunted and changed glasses again to look into an old notebook. He didn’t even realize what she was doing, imitating the sales agent with his delighted smile and repeated bobs of his head.

Fifty-three and over. Even that. So presumptuous. What was wrong with 55 and over, like every other development in Lakewood? The sales agent explained it as if it were the secret to the entire American economy, explaining that Alameda really wanted a very youthful vibe to the place, even though it was for more mature residents, and the 53 represented that.

The cheery agent confided that the developer had entertained a serious tzad of calling the development “Fifty-Three,” and that was it, but it was too gutsy of a name. “Maybe we should have, takeh, but you don’t want to be too trendy, you know? Sometimes these names catch on, but other times they fall flat. But anyhow, you get it, 53 is a concept, not just a name. We don’t want people who are done, tired, looking to phone it in. We want vibrant,” the sales agent added some energy to his voice as he said this, “alive and excited about the next stage, you know?”

And, perhaps sensing that he had said something she didn’t appreciate, the sales agent got all jokey. “Reb Chaim, your rebbetzin will love it here, Lakewood makes everyone younger, that’s just a fact. The kids all around, the pace of life, and the shopping? Not easy on the credit card, but it’s another dimension. After a week, she’ll feel like she lived here forever.”

Chaim smiled politely. Shaindy could tell that he wasn’t any more excited than she was, but he didn’t expect to be accommodated. Life wasn’t a five-star restaurant, he liked to say. He just went with it, content as long as he could sit and learn. He would miss his chavrusa, Lieber, with whom he’d been learning for 32 years. Shaindy had suggested they continue with Zoom and he had looked at her oddly and said maybe.

He also felt bad about all the Shabbos guests they’d had over the years, but he’d made arrangements for most of them. There were also Chaim’s talmidim, the men who came to his shiur every night. To one of them, Laibish, Chaim had jokingly suggested moving to Lakewood with them, and as soon as he’d said it Shaindy had felt a stab of panic, knowing instantly that Laibish wouldn’t take it as a joke. Chaim never realized how people looked at him, how attached they felt to him, and he didn’t realize it now either. Laibish would give up his mashgiach job at Kosher Kave in a second and follow them to Lakewood and that was all they needed, wasn’t it? It was hard enough when Laibish showed up to their simchahs first and she’d had to introduce him as her husband’s talmid, which Chaim would always correct and say, “not talmid, chavursa,” but to have him here, hanging around the Alameda Gardens shul, would really be too much.

A new start meant a new start. You gave up a lot of good things but you also got to give up a lot of the other kind of baggage, the type that weighs you down. Once they were settled in and life was normal and she wasn’t getting nasty texts from an anonymous do-gooder, she would have this conversation with Chaim. They could both use a bit of freshening up, some tired habits they would drop.

It was for that reason that she had decided to take the year off from teaching. Lakewood had no shortage of schools that would have been thrilled to hire an experienced high school English teacher, but she was adamant that she needed time to reflect. Catch her breath and make sure she was giving the students the teacher they deserved. When she would press restart, she would be fired up and ready to go.

But not yet. Just as she’d built a home as a newlywed 37 years earlier, devoted to creating a space in which her Chaim would fulfill his dreams and hopes, raising five wonderful children and trying to be a supportive partner, now she was back in newlywed mode. That was the point of all these developments, wasn’t it? To give tired people a chance to start from new? She would walk into the classroom again when she felt new.

As for Chaim… for him, she had a different plan.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 879)

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