| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 24

Get it over with. You know what you need to do, and the longer you wait the harder it will be


Dassi woke up feeling no less settled than she had been the night before. She’d barely slept; Ari had dropped her off at her parents’ house, and she’d been so disconcerted that her mother had suggested she sleep in her old room, just for a night. And why go back out in that horrible rain anyway?

As she paced her bedroom, she kept seeing Ari demanding her rain jacket and then wrapping his hat in it. All the murky what ifs were pounding in her head. She wasn’t sure what it was about the incident that disturbed her so much, but one question echoed loudly: Could she live with him for the rest of her life?

She’d finally given up pacing and called Shira to hesitantly tell her what happened. Just giving herself permission to tell Shira and ask for her advice again felt like a step in the right direction. “So…” she finished her tale, the stress and worry and confusion all coming through, “what do you think I should do?”

Shira sighed audibly through the phone. “Dass,” she said, “I think you know what needs to be done.”

Dassi’s stomach had squeezed horribly at those words. She did know. And it wasn’t even new, she’d known it for a while, but it didn’t make it any easier.

“Text him,” Shira had advised. “And tell him you need to meet to talk. When you talk to him, don’t leave any room open for negotiation. Be clear and firm. Repress your natural need to avoid confrontation. In this type of situation, you can’t be nice at the expense of being honest.”

“I’m not worried about being nice,” Dassi had said grimly. “I’m worried….” She’d trailed off.

“About how he’ll react?” Shira had prompted, softly.

Didn’t that just sum it all up?


Ari agreed to pick her up to go for a walk even though it wasn’t one of their normal date days. She’d considered waiting until their Thursday night date, but it was Tuesday afternoon, and the thought of pretending everything was normal for two more days made her want to throw up. She waited for him outside, squinting in the late afternoon sun, her heart thudding, her whole body feeling clammy and anxious and horrible.

Ari’s car appeared, and he pulled smoothly into her driveway. Even with the windows up, she could hear the bassline of the upbeat music he was playing. Dassi was shaking, and she hugged her arms tightly to herself to try fruitlessly to calm herself down. She walked to the passenger seat and put her hand on the handle.

Just open the door, she commanded herself, staring at the pear-cut diamond ring glinting on her hand. Get it over with. You know what you need to do, and the longer you wait the harder it will be. She was breathing wildly, her throat closing.

Ari rolled the passenger side window down, his forehead drawn and his eyes annoyed. “Hi,” he said, impatience coloring his tone, “what’s the holdup?”

It was the tone, that superciliousness masked by concern that did it for her. Dassi, if you get in this car you’ll never work up the nerve.

She stepped back, away from the passenger side, and he turned his music down to hear her words, softly spoken but firm.

“Hi,” she said back. “I… I thought we should take a walk, but I don’t think I can.” She took a deep breath. “What happened last night really clarified a lot of what I’ve been struggling with over the last few months. I can’t marry you, Ari.”

Ari turned off his car and climbed out to face her. Dassi thought he’d be enraged, but he laughed instead, his eyes flashing. “Dassi, don’t be ridiculous. You’re allowed to have a bad day, but we both know you won’t find someone better for you than I am. You waited ten years for this! I don’t know what stupidity you’re hung up on, but throwing it all away is just foolish.”

Dassi swallowed, vaguely aware that there might be neighbors outside, but not caring. “No, Ari. This isn’t a bad day. I know what I’m saying. I’ve been uncomfortable with so many things that have happened between us since we started dating. I refuse to marry someone who treats anyone horribly, let alone his future wife.”

Ari scoffed. “Oh, come on. You’ve had doubts since day one? Sure, Dassi. When did you have doubts? When I rented out the best restaurant in the city so we could get to know each other? When I booked a private concert with your favorite singer for you? When I sent you on vacation? Don’t cherry pick some random gut feeling you decided you have and discard three months of the best relationship of your life.”

Dassi’s eyes welled, and she closed them against the pain. She tried to remember what Shira had advised her to do. You don’t need to react; you don’t owe him answers. She opened her eyes, but kept her gaze resolutely locked on the ground. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I need to end this.”

Ari was quiet for a long moment, but she didn’t look up. When he spoke, his voice was softer, pleading. “Dassi.” He cleared his throat. “I think you’re making a mistake. We’ll be great together, and I promise, I can change. I will change. You know I always put you first, and if that means changing who I am, I’ll do it for you. Just don’t throw this away.”

Dassi was crying in earnest now. “I can’t,” she whispered, and turned to walk to her front door. She could hear his footsteps behind her, and as she reached for the handle, she looked over her shoulder and saw him thundering toward her.

“You’re going to regret this dumb move for the rest of your life,” he hissed. She tried to enter the combination with shaky fingers, but the lock turned in her hand, and the door swung open, her stepfather’s usually kind face hard and impassive.

Dassi darted inside, and her stepfather took in the scene, Dassi’s tear-stained cheeks and Ari’s face twisted in anger. Without saying a word, her stepfather began to swing the door closed, but Ari was face to face with him now, and he stuck one soft black loafer into the doorway, stopping the door from closing.

“Dassi!” he barked through the opening. “We didn’t finish talking! Act like an adult instead of running away.”

Dassi’s stepfather held the door steady. “You need to leave right now,” he said, his voice quiet and grave. Dassi had never heard him like that, and the sheer overwhelming relief to have him backing her up made her feel like weeping even more.

For a long, tense moment, Ari’s foot didn’t move, but he must have finally stepped back, because all of a sudden Dassi’s stepfather was slamming the door. He locked both locks quickly, then darted to the side door to lock that one, too.

Through a thick wall of tears, Dassi went up to her room, but when she was on the stairs she heard Ari bellowing outside. “DASSI, YOU CAN’T DO THIS!” She ran to her room and slammed the door, but she could still hear him. “YOU’RE MAKING A MISTAKE! THIS ISN’T HAPPENING!”

Dassi sank down onto her childhood bed and let herself cry.


There was a soft knock on Dassi’s bedroom door, and Shira peeked in. “Hi, Dass,” she whispered, and it took everything in Dassi not to burst into tears all over again. Although, at this point, really, what were a few more tears going to hurt?

Shira hugged her, tight and fierce, then sat down on the bed. “I’m so proud of you. This must be so draining, I can’t even imagine,” she said.

Dassi shrugged. “It was horrible, but I’m so relieved it’s over.” She buried her face in her hands.

“If that’s not stark clarity, I don’t know what is,” Shira said.

Dassi laughed humorlessly.

“Are you kidding? I thought him demanding my raincoat to protect his hat was bad, but then he managed to tell me I’m an idiot for breaking things off, beg me not to, and try to force his way into my house to yell at me some more, all in the span of, like, five minutes. I’m pretty sure I have absolutely nothing but clarity at this point. No chassan, no wedding, no future, but plenty of clarity.”

“You have yourself, who is strong and capable and smart enough to not let this get any further,” said Shira gently.

Dassi rolled her eyes. “Smart? I feel like anything but right now. It’s like someone woke me up out of some horrible dream, and I can’t even believe I was the person making those decisions…. I’m mortified it even got this far. I was acting so dumb for so long.”

Shira frowned. “Dassi, cut yourself some slack here. You’re looking down on this from thirty thousand feet, so of course all the pieces are clicking in and making sense. He’s not a healthy person, so of course all those behaviors and red flags and issues fit into that framework, and it’s easy to have clarity from a bird’s-eye view. When you’re in it on the ground level, you’re judging him as a regular person. And healthy people do sometimes do things that we need to justify, and it doesn’t mean they’re bad. You can’t let this undermine your sense of judgment and your trust in yourself.”

Dassi sighed. “I’m just really disappointed with myself that I wanted to get married so badly, I was willing to excuse so much behavior that was objectively inexcusable. And with what happened last night and today… right now, it’s so, so clear to me that I would rather be on my own forever than feel like I’m being manipulated and controlled for another minute.” She smiled sadly at Shira. “The worst part is, I was finally on the other side of things — I got a ring on my finger and all of a sudden I wasn’t treated like an incapable lemmele anymore. I got out of the weird purgatory we’ve all been in for the last decade. I was finally seen as a normal adult. And I’m so relieved to get away from him, but it hurts so much to give that up.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 846)

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