She stopped, a bit embarrassed at her outburst. Chaim just continued speaking as if she had said nothing at all
haim had come home from Shacharis perturbed about something. He got busy with his coffee and Shaindy asked if she could prepare breakfast for him. He looked distracted, and she repeated the question.
“Heshy took the car?” he asked.
“Yes, the baby still has fever and he went with Gitty to Dr. Glauer, no one speaks Hebrew or Yiddish there, I guess. She couldn’t do it alone.”
“Ah, good, listen,” Chaim sat down suddenly at the table, slamming his coffee down on the table so that it sloshed. That was unlike him.
Shaindy read the cues and sat down across from him, even though she really wanted an egg with her coffee. Eishes chayil, she thought.
In his second uncharacteristic move of the morning, Chaim launched into his speech, with no introductions or small talk.
“Shaindy, you know, I don’t have a lot of zachen, I try to live and let be, or whatever the expression is. I like to sit and learn, and baruch Hashem, this is a dream to be able to sit and learn like a mensch for a few hours at a time, in Lakewood no less, with so many talmidei chachamim to speak to.”
Shaindy held back from saying anything. He still did two hours a day of kashrus consulting for one of the large organizations and she didn’t like it, even though the money was helpful, because she wanted to be able to say, “Chaim finally has his dream of sitting and learning all day,” and this little detail sort of ruined it.
She was proud of herself for showing this restraint, because he kept on talking.
“When Heshy wanted to come, you know, I didn’t have a hard time with it. Maybe I should have thought it through, but he’s our child, you know, and he didn’t have it easy there, we knew that, so why not? HaKadosh Baruch Hu put us here just in time for him, I thought. I didn’t think much about the future.”
Here, Shaindy couldn’t restrain herself anymore. Once had been a lot, she thought. “Maybe you didn’t, Chaim, but if you remember, I told you then I had a weird feeling, how was a setup like this meant to end up? Like, what was the plan? But there no plan, no plan at all, when has Heshy ever had a plan besides let’s do this and let’s do that and life is so nice when we all just do whatever we want, let’s all clap and sing.”
She stopped, a bit embarrassed at her outburst. Chaim just continued speaking as if she had said nothing at all.
“But now, it’s all become a big headache.”
This was a strong word for Chaim Brucker.
“Like, I can’t tell you I really chap what’s going on,” he went on. “But I know that there’s some sort of commotion in shul about him, like he has some chassidim, maybe? People he spends a lot of time with. But I feel like some of the other guys maybe don’t appreciate it as much? I don’t really chap the whole parshah, but I know it’s shterring my menuchas hanefesh and I can’t even learn normally in shul anymore, which is the reason we came here. I don’t know what to do.”
Shaindy was quiet, and it got awkward, with no one knowing what to say.
“Let me make you an egg, Chaim, you’re probably starved,” she finally said.
Over the years, Chaim would smile genially if the men in shul made jokes about wives being impossible to read, but he didn’t really get it. He would sit at sheva brachos and laugh along when speakers made exaggerated expressions as they described attempts to communicate, but he felt like he was blessed. Shaindy said what she meant, and he never had trouble knowing if she was in a good mood or the opposite.
Today, after so many years, he was finally baffled.
He was the one in a frustrated mood, and she appeared to be empathizing with him, understanding and agreeing with every word he was saying, but he felt like there was something he was missing and it was giving him a headache.
Their neighbors in Kensington, the Garbers, had children the same age as Chaim and Shaindy, and Shaindy and Chaya Rochel Garber spent many afternoons watching their broods run back and forth on the cracked Brooklyn sidewalk.
They had started out in the same place, but over the years, Shaindy began to develop an uncomfortable sense that the families evolved differently. The Garbers were like a clan, every child connected to each other. They didn’t only look the same — all a bit short and stocky, with light coloring and huge eyes — they were also sort of connected, as if there were invisible lines pulling them together. The big girl, Tzippy, knew when her three-year-old brother Feivy needed a cold drink even though he hadn’t said anything, and the baby would reach out and take his big brother Moishy’s hand without even asking. They all fit together like pieces of Lego.
The Bruckers, on the other hand… She tried not to let herself think these thoughts, but to her, it was obvious.
All of her kids were polite and nice, but they each seemed to be in their own world, wandering by one another, lost in thought. One day it would all work out, she told herself, her children would develop this crazy connection and be there for each other — and she thought she would even be okay if they talked about her.
But that day hadn’t come and at some point, she accepted the fact that her children, by and large, were Bruckers, with their father’s cerebral, detached personality, amiable and kind — and completely out to lunch. She had never articulated this to anyone else, of course, keeping it to herself, but it hurt her to watch them gathered around a table, chatting and laughing, but more like high school classmates reconnecting than siblings.
She’d read a lot over the years about emotional intelligence, and she understood that it wasn’t that they didn’t love each others, but that they spoke a different language than she did.
But then there was Heshy. Heshy was alive, emotionally. As a child, he would say, “Mommy, you look like you were crying, are you okay? Tell me.”
One day, he would out-Garber the Garbers, she knew, and then she would have it all — the talmidei chachamim and also the family unit, gathered around her so tightly that other people would sense the ripples and stand back in awe.
And now it was happening. What was it that Chaim had said, something about Heshy having all these chassidim? Come to think of it, she could see that Heshy had been developing a following of sorts in Alameda Gardens. Being his mother, she wasn’t surprised. She could have even predicted it. She had always known that Heshy had this unusual emotional depth, and now the world was about to see it.
So of course she listened to Chaim’s frustration and she did her best to placate him, going overboard with the omelet, cutting up vegetables all around the side of the plate like the fancy restaurants did, but she wasn’t ready to discuss a plan to gently move Heshy out.
Not just yet. Not the fun when was just starting.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 908)
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