I was comfortable with little, but I needed a job. Desperately
MY parents raised us well. We were blessed with a happy home, and we always had what we needed. We bought shoes when the old ones tore, not when the season and street dictated that we do so, and always on sale. Yet we did chesed and often gave tzedakah to those less fortunate than us, with the full knowledge that it was the mitzvos that counted in life, not the bank account.
I was the luckiest girl in the world, and I knew it. I had turned 18 in December, and had gotten engaged right after Pesach, still in school. I had always been the “mature” one of my friends, and I knew that my parents were getting shidduch suggestions for me throughout the year. The phones had been ringing steadily, and we didn’t take it for granted. In our chassidus, it was acceptable for girls to get engaged young, and those who were still waiting past their 20th birthday were often the exception, not the rule.
Yehuda Katz was the perfect boy from the nicest family. My grandparents knew his grandparents, and I was thrilled with my future in-laws.
My best friend Toby was the second-happiest person at my vort. Good-hearted, dependable Toby had been my dream-come-true friend, storybook style, since kindergarten. We had weathered our share of storms and arguments, but had always emerged stronger and closer than ever.
When I stepped out of the clouds, it was already mid-May, and my friends were talking about summer camp and future jobs. I blinked and realized, with a start, that I really needed to find a job for next year if I planned to pay rent at the beginning of each month. This thought was a lonely one, funny to most of my single friends, but serious for me. They laughed when they said, “Chani Katz,” using my married last name as an easy joke. I swallowed hard and perused the local papers desperately.
My parents were helpful and wonderful, yet as an oldest daughter, they had little experience in the field of careers. I wasn’t going for a degree, and besides, it was too late in the game. Nobody was offering to support my classes or my life, so it was sink or swim. I was never really good in the pool.
I dialed all the numbers advertised, in any newspaper or magazine I could get my hands on, to see what I could find. My mother followed every lead. We spoke to aunts and sisters-in-law. The adage of business being about who you know, not what you know, had never felt truer.
My friend Toby told me about a small boys’ school that didn’t have a résumé process; she had heard that anyone can just walk in there for an interview. I found myself there one morning in June, dressed in my nicest, most mature-looking outfit. Unprepared for the intensity of an interview, I queasily defended my (lack of) higher education and experience, and pleaded for a chance — just a chance. The administrator looked bothered by my presence; he was obviously wasting his time. He did say they’d consider me as a substitute for their regular secretary when she had a baby in October. A six-week job at eight dollars an hour, 20 hours a week, was not exactly going to work for me.
I was lucky to hear about a cousin working in a government-sponsored office. The pay was supposed to be amazing, 15 dollars-an-hour or so. Enough to live off, if I worked 40 or more hours a week. The bad part was that they weren’t hiring.
My graduation was a momentous occasion of sorts, my mother and future mother-in-law both smiling in the audience. I felt loved and cared for, and posed for a million pictures as I waved goodbye to the building that had served as my haven for the past four years.
As Toby and I stood in front of the intersection where we had parted ways every day for years and years, we smiled the confident smile of youth. School might be over, but our friendship would go on. Forever and ever, we believed.
I went down to another place that was looking for a coordinator for a fundraising project, and was happy to hear that although they started with low pay and few hours, there was potential for growth. Three days later, however, they informed me that they had hired someone else: the director’s niece, who was “more qualified.”
Back to the drawing board.
As camp beckoned, green grass and dingy bunkhouses that smelled of mold, but in a good way, I was aware of the clock ticking on my job options. My mother was encouraging me to go away for the summer, since this would be my “last chance” at girlish fun, and she wanted me to make the most of it. I didn’t feel like it was responsible to leave without a job. What if something came up mid-July, and I wouldn’t know about it, far away in the Catskills?
I worried. Where was my emunah? I cried to Hashem, davening intensely. I wanted to know that I was settled with an income. I knew that my friends were mostly in the same boat, besides the few that went to work for their fathers, but it was different for me. I had rent and food to worry about, they were just building their savings.
Toby was the only friend who I really bared my soul to. The other ones weren’t so good at handling my intensely desperate state; Toby was there for me. She listened, reassured, and had me in mind when she davened. She got me, and it felt good to know that there was a friend who was looking out for me. When we hung up the phone in the late hours of the night, I’d fall asleep easily, content that at least I had a strong relationship with a great friend.
The wedding date was finalized for mid-January. My parents and in-laws were generously paying for the wedding and all the other expenses, including furniture, linens, and housewares, and I was grateful to them. I was aware that our financial status was in the “breaking even” category, with my father working long hours and trying his best, but without any significant savings.
I was comfortable with little, but I needed a job. Desperately.
Two weeks before the camp buses departed, my neighbor Rivky, an 11th-grader, shared that her married sister Esty was thinking of quitting her job at a busy medical billing office for the next year; she wanted to do something on her own, sheitels, maybe? I wasn’t concentrating at that point anymore; all I had heard was job-medical-billing, and my mind was racing, hopeful.
She felt bad sharing what may have been private information, but I pressured her into giving me the name of the office. I would do the rest of the research on my own.
Best Medical was a simple enough name, and I quickly found their phone number and found my fingers trembling as I punched in the numbers. The phone call was short; they weren’t hiring.
I waited two days, then called again. Was Esty going to give notice or not? The secretary seemed bored; still no openings, she said.
I plucked up the courage to ask her if I could come down to meet the person in charge of hiring anyway.
“You can, but I don’t think it’s going to change anything.”
I asked my mother what she thought, but she was distracted labeling my brothers’ socks for camp, and said, “If you think it doesn’t look too pushy, then you should.”
Too pushy. I didn’t want to appear too anything, didn’t want to lose this opportunity, so I did the next best thing.
Went to Toby for a second opinion.
“Should I just walk in?” I asked her.
“I don’t think so,” she replied, thoughtfully. “I think you should wait until that girl actually gives notice, it makes more sense. They’ll give you a chance if they know they have an opening. Otherwise,they might regard you as a nuisance and a nudge.”
Two against one. I wasn’t going anywhere.
The days passed, and soon I was in camp, singing and laughing. Davening and worrying. I called my mother every night, and she checked the ads for me. Nothing. No leads, no hopes. Nada.
The second Shabbos, I went home from camp, ready for a break. We had a preliminary gown appointment at a gemach on Sunday morning. Shabbos afternoon found me schmoozing with my neighbor Rivky.
On a whim, I asked her hopefully, “What ever happened with your sister Esty? Did she leave her job?”
Rivky looked at me, surprised.
“Yes, she did. Didn’t you hear? She gave notice about two weeks ago. How could you not know? She said your friend Toby got the job she gave up. Great pay, I think they start at 15 and go up to 18 an hour, great benefits. I was sure you were behind it.”
I was, I guess, behind it.
Toby, dear, cruel, Toby, who slept in the bunk beneath me for the past two weeks. Who hadn’t breathed a word. Who had snatched the job I was dying for, that would pay my rent, from under my nose, advising me not to go in for an interview, so that she could go instead.
I beat myself up for listening to my friend’s advice, and for being friends with her. I cried. I didn’t want to go back to camp. I skipped the gown fitting, we rescheduled for two weeks later. It took my parents two days of convincing and begging to get me out of my depressed state and for me to agree to get onto the bus to the mountains again.
I switched beds and avoided her questions, claiming that “nothing” was the matter. I wasn’t even going to give her the pleasure of a fight; refused to hear her excuses or lies. I was Done, with a capital D, with Toby. Our friendship was so over; it was like it had never even existed.
My mother called me about a promising lead that Friday, and I reached out to a local real estate and management company on Monday, using the camp office phone. The girl who answered was nice; she agreed to wait for me to come in the next week for an interview.
All went well, the boss liked me, and less than 25 minutes after I entered the room, I was hired. The pay was okay; it would cover the basics if I stretched like a yoga instructor. But if I also tutored at night, I could probably survive the first few months.
Toby, on the other hand, made no attempt to reach out to me. Nothing. She didn’t call, didn’t ask, didn’t even try to explain.
The months flew by, and I worked, saved, and shopped. The night before my wedding, I confided in my mother that I was getting married without a best friend. That after I danced with my mother and mother-in-law, I would look around the circle, waiting for one of the girls to have pity and take my hands, instead of reaching toward the shoulders that I had cried on so many times. I missed Toby, and was so pained by all she had done.
My mother just hugged me silently.
All night, I tossed and turned. Could I forgive her, now that I was settled and working, because I knew that Hashem was the One Who had orchestrated it all? Could I extend myself beyond what was expected, do something really big? I knew that if I would, Hashem would extend His kindness to me, as well. I was getting married. I needed all the Divine kindness I could get.
I davened hard on my wedding day, and Toby was in my mind a lot. As I sat on the white chair, before my badeken, I saw her familiar face approaching my chair.
“Mazel tov,” she whispered uncomfortably.
“I forgive you,” I answered, looking her in the eye. “Im Yirtzeh Hashem by you oif simchahs!”
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 913)
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