| Family Tempo |

The Somnambulist

To the rest of the frum community, he’s a superstar — what a learner, what a boy — but he’ll always be that kid to me. Not to Tehila


don’t remember any of it. Not really. One minute, I’m dozing off, my eyes lidded and the room blurring around me. Then a vague feeling like carpeting beneath my feet, like the walls around me are changing, and I’m lurching forward. The next moment, I’m being shaken awake, still drowsy, and around me: the cluttered entry hall of my apartment. Ahead of me: the front door. Beside me: Tehila, with her eyes wide and her hand gripping my shoulder. “Wake up,” she hisses. “Wake up, Meira, you’re sleepwalking.”

So there’s a benefit to having a roommate. The last time I’d sleepwalked, I’d been seven, and my parents had simply put a little hook and eye on the inside of my bedroom door, too high for me to reach easily. Pretty unsafe, but effective: To get it open, I’d have to unfold the chair beside the door, which had been the loudest, squeakiest chair in the house, and that had been enough to wake up and alert Ma and Ta that I’d been out of bed.

After that, the sleepwalking had waned, a curiosity for my old friend Chaykie Fruchter to tell our bunkmates about at summer camp or for me to laughingly mention on a faltering date. (Current faltering date count: one. Current date count: one.) Once in a while, if I don’t get enough sleep the night before, I’ll stumble halfway across my room in a woozy daze and then awaken. Never more than that.

It’s strange that it’s begun again. Ma suggests a doctor’s visit after Tehila mentions it, and I hurry to decline. “Shidduchim,” I say. “This is just too weird to be a thing.”

I know Tehila is worried, and I almost can’t resent her for spilling the truth to my parents. It’s hard to resent Tehila for anything, really. She’s just too nice. We’d been roommates in seminary, where I’d adored her from the very first day. I spent the rest of the year in a sort of disbelieving fugue, because how could someone like Tehila — popular, brilliant, stylish, gorgeous, perfect — befriend mousy, ordinary me, whose biggest moment in the spotlight had been a solo in 11th grade?

But we’d connected, and I’d thought of her as a sister by the end of the year. I’d jumped to offer my house when Tehila had been looking to board for college, even though I live in an apartment as large as Tehila’s bedroom suite. (I know. I visited once in the summer and nearly swallowed a fly when I saw her house.) And Tehila cares so genuinely about me that I can usually put my pettiest impulses aside when she finishes an A-plus paper in a half hour or has shidduchim suggested daily. Tehila is my friend, and I’m not going to ruin that over jealousy.

Now I shift uncomfortably as I wait for Tehila. Her parents had gotten her a car to use in New York, and she’s been giving me a ride to college most days. We’ve coordinated our class times, even though Tehila is a psych major and I’m focusing on accounting. “My professor mentioned sleepwalking last week,” Tehila says as she pats her glossy, perfect hair. “He said it’s usually just a thing for little kids.”

“It happened way more when I was a kid. I don’t think it ever happened last year. At worst, I’d wake up sitting up in my bed. I hope I didn’t keep you up last night. You have a date tonight,” I remember guiltily.

Tehila brightens. “Yaakov Fruchter.” A little sigh escapes her lips, dreamy and light. “Third date. I haven’t had a third date in weeks.”

“I haven’t had a first date in weeks,” I mumble and then wince at Tehila’s alarmed look. “It’s fine! I promise, it’s fine. We’ve been busy with yuntiff, anyway. No way my parents are checking anyone out this month.” Tehila had gone home for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and I’d gotten a reprieve from watching my parents host someone else’s first dates. But Tehila has a large group presentation scheduled for Chol Hamoed, so she’ll be here for Succos, and I’ll just have to wage war on my envy. “Yaakov Fruchter,” I say, determinedly returning to the topic at hand. “You really like him, don’t you?”

I’d spent enough of my childhood at the Fruchters to remember Yaakov as an eight-year-old in a dragon costume chasing Chaykie and me around the backyard. To the rest of the frum community, he’s a superstar — what a learner, what a boy — but he’ll always be that kid to me. Not to Tehila.

“He’s just so thoughtful,” Tehila says, her eyes taking on a faraway cast. “Like, you could tell he really considered every word he said. And he’s funny, too.” She ducks her head, but it doesn’t hide her smile. “I could have listened to him talk all day.”

I pat her shoulder. “Hopefully tonight will be the same,” I say, and I mean it. Mostly. No one deserves good things as much as Tehila.

Tehila slides into the driver’s seat. “It’s just… we clicked, you know? I didn’t think that ever happened this quickly.”

“Every date I’ve had has been painfully awkward,” I affirm. All… one of them, anyway. I’m not an expert. “It’s definitely a good sign, though.”

“Right.” Tehila is still grinning, and the smile doesn’t leave her face until ten minutes later, when the shadchan’s name unexpectedly pops up on her phone screen.

“I don’t understand.” Tehila paces, wringing her hands. “I don’t understand. Last week was… he said yes. We had a date planned.”

“She canceled it just like that?” It tastes sour on my tongue, this improbable twist. “For tonight? It makes no sense.”

Tehila shrugs. “Apparently his rav said that if it isn’t shayach, then the date isn’t appropriate. I just don’t get how it’s not shayach! It felt shayach to me! He said yes! What kind of explanation is that?” She scrubs at her face with the heels of her hands, and I put an arm around Tehila’s shoulders, alarmed. “I’m sorry,” Tehila says, wiping at her face. “I know I’m not the first girl to have something like this happen.”

I shake my head, stubbornly determined to be supportive. “It doesn’t make it okay.”

There’s a niggling worry in the back of my mind, and I shove it away. There’s no way, I decide firmly and focus on helping Tehila instead.

Helping means finding her a distraction. We go shopping for Yom Tov clothing at boutiques I can’t afford, where I try on clothes only Tehila buys. Ta has finished putting up the succah on our apartment balcony, and so I coax Tehila into helping me staple decorations to the walls and hang fairy lights along the edges of the succah. “You’re the most eligible girl in the whole Tristate area,” I remind Tehila. Never mind that Yaakov Fruchter had been the most eligible boy, a power shidduch like no other. “You’ll find someone better.”

“Right.” Tehila says it wanly, then, uncertainly. “Hey, are you still in touch with his sister?”

My head hurts. “Not really,” I say quickly. “I mean, we’ve talked once or twice since seminary, but we’re not so close anymore.” Chaykie had been my best friend well into high school, but we’d drifted apart after she’d moved away in 11th grade. Her married sister still lives nearby, and Chaykie would come by when she’d visited her for Shabbos, but it had never been the same.

And now my current best friend needs me, and I don’t want to think about Chaykie Fruchter anymore. “I don’t think it’s worth dwelling on him,” I say. “If he’s going to drop you like that, you don’t need him. You’ll find someone who appreciates you.”

Tehila reaches out unexpectedly and wraps her arms around me. I can feel the gratitude in her tight embrace. “Thank you,” she says. “I’m so lucky to have you.”

I swallow through a pit in my throat and hug her back.

That night, I sleepwalk again.

It’s the night before Succos. We do some cursory schoolwork from opposite sides of the room, perched in our beds with computers on our laps, and I don’t comment on the blank look in Tehila’s eyes as her fingers drift from the keys, as her breathing hitches.

Tehila catches me watching, and she looks embarrassed. “Sorry,” she says. “I just… I keep trying to figure out what I did wrong with Yaakov Fruchter. It’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” I say, and I squeeze my hands around my blanket, my heart clenching. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You never do anything wrong.” I’m proud of how I keep the envy out this time.

And so we talk, and I listen to Tehila rehash the date, the conversations with the shadchan, even her résumé. The two of us get ready for bed and lie in the dark, laptops abandoned as we whisper together, and Tehila drifts off first.

I listen to her breathing until my own breath evens out, and then — gray walls, blurry rectangles of doors creaking open in front of me — and I’m here, woozy and dazed and stumbling, in the hallway of my apartment complex with Tehila pinching my arm.

“Augh!” I shriek so loudly I jerk myself out of my haze. I look around, bewildered. I’m standing barefoot in a nightgown in the middle of the second-floor hallway with no memory of how I’d gotten there. Tehila is bleary-eyed but worried, her brow furrowed.

A door cracks open across from us. Old Mrs. Edelman squints out from behind it, eyeing us suspiciously. “Sorry,” I say quickly. “We were walking.”

“On a walk,” Tehila volunteers.

I nod vigorously. “I saw a…” I say, “…mouse,” at the exact same moment as Tehila says, “…roach!”

“A mouse and a roach. A bunch of them, actually.” I point in a vague direction. Mrs. Edelman stares suspiciously at me. “I think they were having a turf war.”

Tehila bobs her head. “Nature is amazing,” she says earnestly.

Mrs. Edelman lets out a little scoff of noise. “Well, make sure you report it,” she says. “I won’t have roaches near my apartment. At least crickets are kosher.” She shuts her door again, leaving us to look at each other with building dread.

Tehila clears her throat. “She was joking. Right?”

“I’ve never seen a hint that Mrs. Edelman has a sense of humor.”

Tehila winces. “Okay, let’s just… pretend that never happened. Except the sleepwalking. Again.” She peers around the hallway. “This time, you made it out here before I found you. What can we do to make it stop? What happens if you try the stairs?”

I don’t know.

I find out the next evening after the meal. It’s the first night of Succos. We’d had guests for the meal and it had gotten late, far enough into the night that I’d sent Ma to bed and Tehila and I had taken over the cleanup. We’d swept the little succah to the melodic sound of someone learning in the succah balcony opposite ours. Then we’d gone to bed, exhausted and sated from a good meal, and….

It’s not Tehila this time, to my horror. No, I’m standing in the middle of the sidewalk, wearing the nightgown and thick socks I’d had the presence of mind to put on last night just in case. Just in case I was going to find myself in the hallway again. Just in case I happened to make my way out to the balcony to the succah.

I hadn’t imagined, in a million years, that I’d be found outside of my apartment complex by Chaykie Fruchter’s brother, brother-in-law, and sister, the latter saying my name. “Meira Kagan?” Chaykie’s sister says again, tilting her head. She lives across town — why is she here? Now? “I haven’t seen you in ages. Are you okay?”

“I’m… I just went out for a walk,” I say, partially truthful. “It’s such nice weather for it.” I smile, my teeth chattering just a little. Next time, I’m going to sleep in a winter coat.

Chaykie’s sister exchanges a glance with her husband. “Meira, are you sure everything’s okay?”

I’m saved from responding by the sound of my name, again, Tehila hurtling out of the apartment complex with her eyes wide and afraid as she calls out my name. “Tehila,” I call back, earning an irritable grumble from one of the succahs on a front porch on the third floor. “Over here.” I turn back to the Fruchters, shrugging as though it’s totally normal for me to be wandering the streets in my nightgown. “See? There’s the friend I’m walking with.”

Tehila sees me first. She’d pulled a Shabbos robe on over own pajamas, and she breathes a sigh of relief before her face freezes. I dart one glance at the boy standing beside Chaykie’s sister and reach for Tehila’s hand without a second thought. Yaakov Fruchter stares at Tehila, his gaze shadowed, and Tehila turns deliberately to me, ignoring him. If not for the quiver of her hand in my grip, I would have thought she didn’t care at all.

Chaykie’s sister looks between us, her eyes sharp, and she says, “Meira, you don’t still sleepwalk, do you?” It effectively pulls everyone’s attention from Tehila to me.

I laugh weakly. “That would be so crazy,” I say. I look at Tehila for backup, but Tehila is sneaking another glance at Yaakov, who’s staring at the ground.

WE don’t talk about it until the next afternoon, when we’re out on the lawn that stretches behind the apartment complex. There are two large apartment buildings on this square block, each one shaped like a U, back-to-back with an expanse of grass between them. Today, they’re dotted with little succahs on various porches across the complexes.

I sit on the grass, staring up at the blue sky above me. The clouds are large and fluffy today, adding an idyllic cast to the conversation that doesn’t quite take. “It’s not a big deal,” I say, closing my eyes and tilting my head back to feel the sun against my face. “Not worth mentioning to my parents again.”

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Tehila counters. “You’re sleepwalking every night now. Something is obviously wrong.” She shakes her head, disbelieving. “I could write my thesis on you.”

I open one eye. “You’re writing a thesis in your first semester of college?” If anyone could do it, it’d be Tehila, but I think I’d have heard about it by now.

Tehila flips her hair over her shoulder. “I bet if I did, they’d publish it in journals. I’d be famous.” At my raised eyebrows, she clarifies, “In… whatever circles care about mysterious sleepwalking. Somnambulism.”

“There’s no way that’s a real word.”

“Meira.” Tehila waits until I open my eyes fully, wary. “When something like this happens, it’s because there’s something wrong. Your unconscious mind knows it, even if you don’t. Your brain is trying to tell you something.”

I scoff. “Too many psych classes,” I decide. “My brain is trying to tell me I’m not sleeping enough. That’s all. And this is embarrassing, but it doesn’t matter. I just need to stop myself from getting out. Maybe we can move your bed in front of the door to block me—”

“I am so getting stepped on.” Tehila leans forward. “Meira, there’s got to be something. Some… trauma eating away at you. Some reason why this started again.”

I laugh, but I suddenly feel a little nauseous. “The most traumatic thing that happened the day it started again was that we ran out of Greek yogurts. Maybe I’m just trying to get to the supermarket,” I say, brightening. “And I keep waking up before I get there.”

“Meira.” Tehila looks stern for a moment. She grows thoughtful, sitting back against her palms on the green lawn. “But that’s a good point,” she says slowly. “Where are you going when you sleepwalk?”

WE don’t get the answer the next night. Tehila has pushed her bed against the door, as planned, and I wind up smacking my head against the door as I topple down onto her bed.

“See? It works,” I inform Tehila later in the day, when we’re awake enough to talk. This time, we’re sitting in the succah. My parents have gone out for the afternoon, and we’re reading at the table together. Well, Tehila is learning mussar. I’m reading a book. Between Tehila and the sounds of learning from the succah opposite their porch, I’m beginning to feel guilty about it. “We just need to stop me from getting out.”

“So I just need to lie in front of the door for the rest of your life?” Tehila says dubiously. “That’s your big solution?”

“I mean, I can try to find a new roommate once you move out,” I offer. “I’ll put it on the WhatsApp post. Should be neat, not an early riser, willing to act as a human shield.” I laugh, but Tehila still looks worried. I sigh, biting at my lip. “Look, I know it’s weird. I know there’s something wrong. But I just… I don’t want it to become a thing.”

“Because of shidduchim?”

“Yeah.” It’s not just shidduchim, though I struggle to express what it is that’s stopping me. It’s almost as though there is a little locked box somewhere deep in my mind, and if I prod at it too hard, it might snap open. I don’t want to review the past to find all the things that might have set me off. Who knows what’s lurking there?

Tehila sets down her sefer. “And if you don’t get help for this, then what? It gets worse and worse and becomes more of an issue than it already was,” she says sensibly. Her fingers twist together. “I don’t think seeing a sleep specialist or even a psychologist would hurt your shidduch chances. Your bashert is out there, and he won’t care about any of that, anyway.” She says it with the certainty of someone who has had everything in her life fall into her lap.

I scoff. “And if I never meet him because his mother finds out about my sleepwalking and thinks I’m too unhinged for her precious son?”

Tehila raises her shoulders in a shrug. “Not your bashert, then. Sometimes we think someone is perfect for us, but they have other ideas, and—” Her voice catches, and my stomach twists. “And that just means they’re not right for us, after all.”

I can’t talk about this right now, can’t dwell on Tehila’s heartbreak without it awakening something sharp and painful in my own chest. I shoot up, desperate to change the subject. “We definitely need food for this. I think Ma picked up chocolate-covered almonds from the store for Succos—” I make a beeline for the little snack cabinet in the corner of the succah. In my haste, my foot snags on a metal chair, and I come crashing down to the ground with it, the clanging noise ringing out blaring-loud on the quiet afternoon. “Ow!”

Tehila jumps up to help me. The man learning in the succah across from us actually stops for a moment to inquire in a vaguely familiar voice, “Excuse me — are you all right?”

I lie back on the ground, humiliated. Tehila calls back, her tone strained and her brow furrowed, “She’s fine.”

Silence. Phew.

I sit up, and Tehila says in a lower tone, “You’re exhausted, Meira. You’re not getting a reasonable amount of sleep if you spend part of it wandering the neighborhood. I’m not getting a reasonable amount of sleep,” she adds, rueful. “I don’t think I’ve been this tired since we did that overnight in Eilat in seminary. And I have to present my project in two days.”

And that’s just enough guilt for me that I finally concede. “What do you want from me?”

Tehila leans back, satisfied and successful as she always is, ultimately. “How about we start with figuring out what you’re trying to do when you sleepwalk? You were right yesterday. You’re clearly going somewhere. If we can figure that out, we might get an idea of why it’s happening.”

I squint at her. “You’re really going to write a paper about me, aren’t you?”

Tehila just tilts her head back and laughs.

The plan we develop after Havdalah is simple. We don’t have college the next day, so Tehila can stay up all night, camped out on the floor with her phone in hand and her eyes on me as I sleep, fully clothed and with shoes still on. “Kind of creepy,” I grouse, but I still drift off quickly. Maybe I’m as exhausted as Tehila insists.

I don’t remember much after I fall asleep. There is a hazy kind of awareness, maybe, like a dream that isn’t quite formed. I feel the sensation of movement, of blurry gray shifting past me, and of vibrations like movement beneath my feet. Mostly, though, I just feel purpose, as though I’m going exactly where I need to be. There is no hesitation, no second-guessing, not that I’d even be capable of it in this woozy, surreal state. There is only the ground beneath my feet and the breeze against my face, and I don’t notice I’m not dreaming until there is a hand tapping my arm, over and over, and I jerk awake.

Tehila stands in front of me, her blue eyes beacons in the dark night, and I can only stare groggily at her. “You stopped here,” Tehila says breathlessly. “You’ve just been standing here for a full few minutes, right at the driveway to this house.”

And I remember, slowly, what we’re supposed to be doing tonight. I yawn, blink, struggle to take in the house in front of me, looming behind Tehila. “Who lives here?” Tehila asks in a whisper. “Do you know?”

It’s a large house, the biggest on the block, with a circular driveway and a tastefully arranged garden in front. I’d spent hours of my childhood balancing on the narrow stones that arch around the garden. The swooping sensation I’d get, perched atop the stones, is nothing compared to what is going on in my stomach right now. “I have no idea who lives here,” I say.

It’s not a lie. It’s not a lie, just like nothing I’d said before had been a lie, but it’s an omission, careful and meant to protect me. Meant to avoid what matters, the box that has popped open in my mind so suddenly I can’t protect myself from the glare that scorches me, from the painful, horrible reality of what I’ve done. I haven’t lied, but I’ve done something so much worse.

It’s been haunting my dreams like the constant patter of my bare feet against the ground, taptaptap like a heartbeat that won’t leave me, like the wind rustling the plants in the garden in front of me. “I know who used to live here,” I say, and the confession feels like sealing my fate.

Tehila watches me, still with earnest concern on her face, still so good. I hate myself for what I’m about to tell her. “This was the Fruchters’ house.” The words come swiftly, spilling out like I’m sitting on the defendant’s stand, Tehila my judge and jury and executioner. “Chaykie called me Motzaei Yom Kippur. I’d texted her before Rosh Hashanah and she was calling me back. And I guess her brother mentioned that you were staying by us, and she asked me about you—”

I don’t know what I’d said, exactly. I hadn’t lied, hadn’t said anything that would have doomed the shidduch. Tehila had come home a few nights before and been so excited, so happy about the second date. She’d been shining with that future-kallah glow already, so different from her usual upbeat optimism, and I’d known immediately.

Tehila was going to marry Yaakov Fruchter. Three months since seminary, and Tehila has already found the perfect match, has stepped into the next stage of life with all the ease that everything has always come to her. Tehila never struggles, never experiences any real setbacks. Everyone gets their own package when it comes to nisyonos, our seminary teachers had reminded us, and I’d always wondered why Tehila’s seems so small and mine so much bigger.

Because: I hadn’t gotten into the honors program at college. I’m still dressing myself up and driving out to Lakewood to meet new shadchanim who will add my résumé to a pile of nondescript, ordinary girls. I don’t have chashuv rabbanim in my yichus or enough money to buy anything that I might want. I room with a perfect girl who is living a perfect life, and there Chaykie had been, passing Tehila’s perfect future into my hands.

I hadn’t lied. But I hadn’t been enthusiastic, either, had let sentences trail off and had amended them with quick well, actually, ah, never minds. I hadn’t said a single concrete thing, but had left enough pauses to Chaykie’s always-active imagination space to grow.

Yaakov really liked her. She seems so perfect on paper, Chaykie had said.

Doesn’t she? I’d responded.

It had been five minutes in a long conversation I’d filed away and forgotten almost as swiftly as it had happened. Five minutes from someone Chaykie trusted who would have known Tehila better than anyone. Five minutes from someone Tehila had trusted, and it must have ended the shidduch.

And I’d shrugged off the conversation, had dismissed it and left it behind. Except — in my dreams.

Tehila flies back home after her presentation for Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. It’s a last-minute change of plans, though it doesn’t surprise me. We’ve barely spoken since the last night that I’d sleepwalked. And I’d heard Tehila calling different leads, looking for an apartment to rent in the neighborhood.

She’d never needed to board. Her family has enough money to pay for her to live anywhere, but Tehila had wanted to stay with a friend. She doesn’t want that anymore, and I can’t blame her.

Our friendship has been shattered, riven in two by my own selfish decisions. I doubt Tehila will ever forgive me. So it’s not that I’ve done anything to you, Tehila had said that night, when she’d listened to my halting story with hard, unreadable eyes. It’s just that I’ve been happy when you weren’t.

 There’s no tearful story of Tehila’s losses and struggles that follows. This isn’t a children’s book where everyone has the same lot in life deep down, and I just don’t know the depth of Tehila’s imperfections. Tehila has been fortunate in ways I’ve resented, and I’d sabotaged her out of sheer pettiness. I’m the villain here, there will be no easy reconciliation, no hug in front of shul on Simchas Torah to make it all right. Tehila is gone, and I can send her apology voice notes until my throat is sore, but the damage is done.

“I know you’ll never trust me again,” I say into my phone on the day after Yom Tov. “I know there’s no justification for what I did. I just miss you.” I hesitate, and then add, “And I wanted to thank you. For helping me figure out my sleepwalking and for the rides to school and just… you were always a really good friend to me.” If nothing else, I can reassure Tehila that it has only been me who’d erred. Tehila remains, in all things, perfect.

I don’t see Tehila again for days, until long after the succah has been taken down and the stretch of time before Chanukah begins. It’s just a glimpse in a college hallway — Tehila walking past me with a friend beside her, and she spares me a curt nod before she moves on. “It was good to see you today,” I say in a voice note. “I hope you found somewhere great to live. Better than a cot in a tiny apartment where your roommate keeps wandering out at night.” The voice note turns blue, an indication it’s been heard, but there is no response.

I go on a date a few days later. He’s nice enough, and there’s no reason to turn down a second date, but I decide to, anyway. I leave a voice note for Tehila about it, yet another message I don’t expect returned. “I don’t know,” I sigh. “Maybe I figured it’s time to sabotage myself instead.”

This time, I get an answer, a brief text message. You should say yes. It has no explanations, no emotion behind it, but I still cry a little on the porch, clutching my phone to me. I say no to the second date, because it still feels wrong, even with Tehila’s encouragement.

The succah on the porch opposite mine is still up. It’s been weeks since Succos, and Ta thinks it’s hilarious. “See? You think five days is too long to wait, and the neighbors are going to keep it up year-round.”

But it does finally show some movement on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, and I wander outside, vaguely curious about the people who live there. I sit outside with a textbook, doing homework on the porch and keeping an eye on the canvas that wraps around the metal bars of the succah. It’s unzipped with a loud noise, and I can see the woman behind it.

And it’s… Chaykie’s sister? Last I’d heard, she lived across town — but she’d been in front of my apartment one night of Succos, too, as though she’d lived nearby. I think back to the sound of a young man learning in the succah, the vaguely familiar voice that had asked us if we were all right and the way Tehila’s face had gotten stiff when she’d heard it. Yaakov Fruchter had been just one succah over the whole time, staying with his sister and learning just a dozen feet from where Tehila had been doing the same.

It’s a certain kind of poetry, a certain kind of Hashgachah, and it stings at me like a call to action.

Chaykie’s sister spots me and waves. “Didn’t realize you lived so close by,” she calls. “We moved in right before Rosh Hashanah.”

“Basically last week,” I say teasingly, gesturing at the succah.

Chaykie’s sister rolls her eyes. “I told my husband if he didn’t get it done by now, I’d do it myself. Guess what he said.” She wrenches apart the metal bars with a good-natured yank.

I laugh, but it sticks in my throat. Chaykie’s sister works briskly, pulling apart the rest of the bars and folding the canvas, and the opportunity lingers, floating just in reach. This is a chance to undo the harm I’d caused, to give Tehila the opportunity I’d taken from her. “Hey,” I say suddenly. “Um. I don’t know if you remember, but about two months ago, your brother Yaakov went out with my roommate from seminary. Tehila Mandel?”

Chaykie’s sister laughs. “How could I forget?” she says. “We got that horrible information about her just before he was about to go on the third date. The father emotionally abusive, the family dysfunctional, the girls with such a reputation in their neighborhood….”

I stare at her, bewildered. Tehila’s family is…?

Wait. Horrible information.

Not my call with Chaykie at all?

Chaykie’s sister shakes her head. “Then, on Simchas Torah, my husband was talking to someone from her community and discovered there were two Mandel families locally. Yaakov was so thrilled. We were all relieved. He’d been a nightmare all Succos.” She lowers her voice. “You probably know this already, but the vort’s going to be Sunday.” She raises the poles of the succah into her arms with a grunt and heads inside with a cheery, “See you there!”

My textbook slips out of my hands and falls to the floor of the porch.

It hadn’t been my call with Chaykie that had disrupted the shidduch — disrupted it, not stopped it, because they’re getting engaged soon. I’ve been removed from the narrative, forgotten — and for good reason, I know — but it had all turned out perfectly all right without me.

And it hurts a little that I don’t know any of this anymore, that I’d have heard about the engagement on a simchahs email thread like most of our seminary classmates, that I’ve been removed from the equation that is the perfect life Tehila deserves — but I find it’s easier than ever to be happy for her, to find that selfless love I’d never quite felt for Tehila before.

Tehila has gotten her dream. Good, I think, and I mean it. Good.

I don’t leave another voice note, another rambling explanation of what I’ve discovered. Tehila knows it all already. Maybe someday, she’ll even be able to forgive me.

Instead, I send a text. Just spoke to one of the Fruchters. I can’t wait to dance at your wedding someday soon. Or even sleepwalk there. Beggars can’t be choosers, I add, self-deprecating.

The response is kind, generous, so fundamentally Tehila.

Stay awake. You’ll be there.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 862)

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