She closed her eyes tight and couldn’t keep the joy in her chest from bursting into a smile. Tears pooled at the corners of her eyes.
“I’m getting engaged!”
Her roommates were gone, and she had just gotten off the phone with Asher. They had talked about it last night on their date, and they had talked about it just now on the phone. They were going to pick a day to visit her parents in Ramat Beit Shemesh before the end of the week, and then she would be engaged. She couldn’t wait to tell Elisheva.
Devorah laid down on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, drawing lazy circles in the air above her head. When she had first started dating, she had heard a million different pieces of advice — never say no to a date, always be positive about a date, improve your middos, and daven if nothing is working out, never be jealous of someone else — but she had said no to dates, and she had been negative, and she had fallen asleep instead of saying Tehillim, and she had been jealous of girls who made it seem so easy. She had nearly given up on ever finding someone. And then her Rebbetzin’s sister had called her with a shidduch. A young man in learning, she had said. Asher Rabinowitz.
There was a knock at the door, and Devorah sat straight up on the couch.
“Who is it?” She asked. It was getting late, and she wasn’t expecting visitors.
Devorah swung towards the door and flung it open. She grabbed Elisheva and hugged her as tight as she could.
“Shevy,” she began, dragging her into the apartment. She didn’t know why she was here, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect. She wanted Elisheva to be the first to know. “Shevy —you won’t believe–” Devorah closed her mouth, and the smile slowly slipped from her face. Elisheva’s face was red, and she was wiping tears from her eyes. Her sheitel was askew, and Devorah leaned over to tug it into place.
“Shevy?” She asked.
Elisheva sat down on the couch and stared at the carpet, not uttering a word. Devorah sat next to her and pulled Elisheva’s head onto her shoulder. Tears began to soak the front of her shirt. Devorah felt her stomach tighten, a thousand horrible scenarios beginning to play out in her mind. Elisheva was many things, but she was not a crier, and she did not panic. Devorah had known Elisheva her whole life. Their parents had moved to Israel together when she and Elisheva were still in high school. They had done everything together, until Elisheva had gotten married this past spring. She had never seen her cry like this. All thoughts of her engagement were silenced.
After a long while, Elisheva lifted her head. The tears had left red tracks down her cheeks, and her eyes were bloodshot.
“What’s going on?” Devorah asked. She kept Elisheva’s hand in hers.
“I’m getting divorced,” Elisheva whispered. The sounds of the city outside the window reached deafening levels. Devorah slowly released Elisheva’s hand. Her heart felt like it was beating from below her stomach. She couldn’t bring herself to form a single word. Instead, they stared at each other, Elisheva with her eyelashes stuck together by tears, and Devorah, with horror filling her chest to the brim.
“You’re– you’re–” Devorah swallowed. Her words were being choked out by an overwhelming sensation of disbelief. She had just been with Elisheva as a kallah. She had just been at her sheva brachos. That had only been six months ago. And she, Devorah, had just been about to get engaged.
“What happened?” Devorah finally said. “Are you okay?”
Elisheva shook her head, and pressed her face back into Devorah’s shoulder.
Her best friend’s sobs filled her ears, and Devorah couldn’t help but imagine Asher’s face last night, when they had stood underneath the stars and talked about getting engaged. She remembered when Elisheva had gotten engaged to Aharon. She remembered the vort, the parties, buying the dress. Elisheva had been overjoyed that entire time. More happy than Devorah had been five minutes ago, imagining her own engagement. What changed?
“Shevy?” She asked.
“I’m going to stay by my sister tonight,” Elisheva said. “I can’t go home. I’ve already asked him for a get.”
A pang hit Devorah’s chest. I’ve already asked him for a get. She had just stood by Elisheva’s side and watched her eyes brimming with tears as Aharon came to badek her. She hadn’t mistaken that bliss. She had never thought that she would be sitting here with Elisheva now, hearing these words.
“I’m so sorry.” Devorah said. She kissed the top of Elisheva’s head. “I’m so sorry, Shevy.”
Ÿ Ÿ Ÿ
It was nearly four in the morning before Devorah was able to fall asleep. Elisheva had left around one, after all Devorah’s roommates came home and Elisheva’s sister had come to pick her up. Devorah had gotten into her bed and tried to ignore the sounds of her roommate’s snoring. She had stared into the darkness for hours. She felt numb. Her chest felt like it had been hollowed out and replaced with bricks. She couldn’t comprehend everything that had just happened. All she could think to herself was Shevy had been so happy. The words didn’t stop repeating themselves in her mind until they finally morphed and twisted and haunted her as she drifted into sleep.
The next morning, Devorah awoke in a panic, not being able to remember her dream but her breath still coming in short bursts. She immediately rushed to her phone and called Elisheva, but there was no answer. She sighed, sat down on her bed, and began to run her fingers through her hair. She had no idea what to do now. Elisheva had not been the first of their friends to get married, but she was the first one to get divorced.
Devorah shuddered at the idea. Her phone began to buzz, and she pulled it towards her ear.
“Shevy? I want to come talk to you—”
“Devorah?” A man’s voice answered back.
Devorah’s heart nearly stopped. She let out a long breath but was unable to force her lips to form words, not quite sure she knew why. There was a short silence on the other line.
“Are you all right?”
Devorah closed her eyes as tight as possible. She willed her throat to work.
“Are–are you still available to meet me? Tonight?”
She had never heard his voice sound so small. She couldn’t escape the memory of Elisheva’s tears soaking into her shoulder.
“Sure” she said. She hung up, and her phone fell onto the bed. Her hands were shaking. She brought trembling fingers to wipe tears from the corners of her eyes. There was a terrible, pounding pain in her chest, and she couldn’t shake it, not even when she stood, dressed, and started making breakfast for all of her roommates. It was a beautiful morning in Jerusalem, with the sun just peaking over the edges of the white-stone outside her window, casting a pink and gold shadow over the clouds. But she felt like something in her had died.
“You cooking eggs or burning eggs?”
Devorah nearly jumped, and then turned over her shoulder while flipping the eggs with a spatula.
“I got distracted,” she said. “But they’re fine!” She poked one with the edge of her spatula to make her point.
Shaindy laughed and patted her on the back. “Just kidding. It smells great in here.”
“Thanks.” Devorah said.
“What are you up to today?” Shaindy began washing dishes and placing them on the drying rack.
“Oh–” Devorah swallowed against a sudden, painful lump in her throat. “Nothing. I’m visiting Mrs. Potash this afternoon.”
Shaindy nodded, and leaned in to scrub a particularly stubborn piece of grease out of a pan. Devorah could nearly hear her next question hanging in the air. Everyone in the apartment knew she had been dating someone, and that it had been going well. She had never had a reason to keep it secret.
“Are you going out again tonight?”
“Yes,” she said, letting out a sigh she hadn’t realized she had kept in. She quickly flipped the eggs onto a plate and brought them into the dining room, where she set out five plates and forks. She stood with her hands on her hips, staring at the table. She wasn’t hungry at all, and she had no desire to sit with everyone and risk more questions. Instead, she grabbed her bag and said goodbye to Shaindy so quickly that she hardly had time to lift her head from the dishes.
Devorah didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she had to walk. The autumn air was cool on her face, but the sun beat down on the back of her neck. She flipped her ponytail onto her back and sat down at the closest bus stop, with no thought to actually catch a bus. She sometimes liked just sitting there, watching the people who walk back and forth. Most of the time she saw seminary girls, sometimes in denim skirts and blouses, and sometimes in pleated black skirts and button-downs. Most of the time they came in clusters, huddling together and whispering, sometimes laughing out loud. Sometimes Devorah saw couples with strollers, women with crying babies, women with sleeping children. Sometimes she saw groups of yeshivah bachurs, clustered together just as tightly as the seminary girls had been. This morning, it pained her every time she saw a man pass in a white shirt and black pants. She watched a stray cat chase a bird into the middle of the busy intersection. An Egged bus filled her vision until all she saw was green and black.
Devorah visited Mrs. Potash for a majority of the afternoon, and they talked about her seminary and Mrs. Potash’s grandchildren. When Devorah got home, she marched into the kitchen and began soaking dishes. She found it hard to focus. She scrubbed pots, dried pans, and stacked cups in the cupboard. She swept the floor and dusted around bookcases, firmly keeping all semi-formed thoughts out of her mind. There was too much to think about. She was worried that she hadn’t heard from Elisheva since last night. She had called multiple times since this morning and left several messages, but had no response. Devorah sat down on the couch to catch her breath from cleaning. On a whim, she took out her phone and dialed Elisheva again, expecting to leave another message.
Elisheva answered on the fourth ring. She sounded breathless.
“You’re there,” Devorah said, half-surprised.
“I missed your calls,” Elisheva said. Devorah made her way for a seat in the back so she had more room.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
Elisheva paused. “I’m with my sister,” she said.
Devorah sighed, and pressed her fingers into her eyes. “Do you want me to come over?”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
• • •
Elisheva’s sister Ruchie answered the door. “Come in,” she said. She was five months pregnant, and looked quite pale. Her voice was scratchy. “She’s in the living room,” Devorah thanked her and then made her way towards the cornered-off living room. Elisheva was sitting on the couch, reading.
“Hey,” Devorah said. She sat next to her and put a hand at the top of Elisheva’s head.
“Thanks for coming,” Elisheva said.
“Always.” Devorah said.
They sat in silence for a while.
“How are you doing?” Devorah asked.
Elisheva shrugged. Her head fell onto Devorah’s shoulder, and she put her arms around Elisheva’s shoulders.
“Has it been all right, staying here?” Devorah asked.
“Ruchie’s been okay with it,” Elisheva said. Devorah knew that Ruchie had rough pregnancies. She couldn’t imagine how she and her husband felt about what was happening.
“Have you spoken with your parents yet?”
Elisheva made a small noise and then curled her legs up underneath her and let out a sigh.
Devorah tightened her hug. “Do you want to go get—”
“There were so many signs,” Elisheva said.
Devorah bent her head down to see the side of Elisheva’s face pressed into her sleeve. Elisheva was staring at the carpet with a fixed, intense expression.
“Signs?” She said.
“There were so many signs,” Elisheva said. “I missed them all.”
Devorah’s heart began to pound. She didn’t want to ask what happened while she was still clearly reeling from it, but couldn’t help herself.
“I missed them all,” Elisheva said again.
“Shevy?” Devorah whispered.
“He never told me.”
The room was half-lit by a single lamp in the corner, and the window curtains were illuminated with a soft yellow by the lights from the street. The fan spun quietly, and there was a faint sound of a child’s voice coming from a different room. The clock ticked above them.
“What happened, Shevy?”
“He had a problem for years.” Elisheva lifted her head. There were unshed tears standing in her eyes. “He never told me.”
Devorah locked eyes with her best friend.
“Alcohol,” Elisheva said. A tear fell down her cheek and she brushed it away.
Devorah swallowed the lump in her throat. She tried to remember everything she had ever heard and seen about Aharon. A drinking problem had never even been whispered about.
“I first noticed it on Purim,” Elisheva said. “But I thought he was just fulfilling the mitzvah. Then, my cousin got married–Shuly, do you remember her? and–and he was hardly able to walk when we got home. But I thought he was just being mesame’ach chosson v’kallah.”
Devorah’s phone began to buzz, but she ignored it.
“We went to two other weddings before Pesach. He did it again both times. Both times I had to literally drag him into the apartment before he fell over. I kept thinking it was just for the simchah.”
Elisheva shook her head. “I feel so betrayed.”
Elisheva shook her head again. “He hid it from me. He left the house every morning and told me he was going to seder. What else would I expect? A month ago I got a call from his chavrusa. Where was Aharon? Did I know? He hadn’t been to seder in months.”
Devorah’s phone buzzed again, and she made a quick gesture for Elisheva to continue while she began to dig through her bag for the phone.
“I didn’t know who he was, Devorah. He began to come home later and later. He was a different person.”
Devorah pulled her phone out, and saw Asher’s number on the screen. Her stomach dropped. She hadn’t realized how much time had passed.
“I didn’t feel safe there,” Elisheva whispered.
Devorah’s phone buzzed once more, and she looked deep into her friend’s eyes. “He was a different person.”
“I have to go.” The words fell out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Elisheva blinked several times at her, and Devorah put a hand to her mouth.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean–”
“It’s fine,” Elisheva said. She wiped the tears from her face and stood up. “I’ll walk you out.”
“Shevy, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that at all. I just forgot I agreed to meet someone, and I really can’t keep them waiting.”
“It’s fine. I know you have other things to do than listen to me.”
“It’s fine,” Elisheva said again. She was holding the door to the apartment open.
Devorah struggled to hold back her own tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can come back after the meeting. It won’t be very long.”
Elisheva shrugged, but Devorah could tell that she wanted her to come back. She threw a quick kiss on Elisheva’s cheek and then rushed down the stairs towards the street. She hailed a cab to the Rova, and nearly tripped over her skirt running towards the coffee shop where they had decided to meet the night before.
When she flung the door open, wisps of her hair flying in her face and stuck to her lips, Asher was standing next to a small table, his phone in his hand. Their eyes met, and he dropped his phone into his pocket and his face broke out into a wide smile. Devorah recognized that smile. It was the same one she had had last night, before she had seen Elisheva. Asher gestured for her to sit at the table. She hesitated only for a second at the threshold.
“I was worried about you,” Asher said. “I hadn’t heard from you all day.”
Devorah nodded. She didn’t know where to look. She had to look somewhere other than his face.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Baruch Hashem,” Devorah said automatically. She could feel his eyes boring into her face. She dropped her gaze to the menu, which she had snatched from a table beside them and was now staring at intently.
“What would you like to get?” She asked.
There was a pause.
“Maybe we can get bagels,” Devorah said. “Or maybe we should go somewhere else and get ice cream. Maybe you want something different? Why are we here, we could just get falafel and pita—”
“What’s wrong?” Asher said.
Devorah folded the menu in front of her, still staring at the front. She couldn’t meet his eyes. She didn’t know what she would find there. Last night she had seen him, and her heart had been fluttering. Tonight, she was shaking so badly she had to sit on her hands.
“I’m sorry, I just had a hard day,” Devorah said. She stretched out each of her arms. “Can we go for a walk maybe?”
“Sure.” Asher was already on his feet and holding the door open for her. She muttered a thank you and took a deep breath of the evening air. Her feet immediately directed her down the small slope towards the stairs that led down to the Kotel. Asher followed beside her.
“I learned very well today,” he said.
Devorah hardly heard. She had no idea what was wrong with her. All day she had felt queasy about this date. This date with Asher, the man she had planned to get engaged to twenty-four hours prior. She couldn’t get a hold on her feelings, and her thoughts were running wild through her head. Devorah shook a curl of hair out of her face.
Asher was talking about something his Rav had said to him. Devorah tried to focus. This is Asher, she said to herself. This is your chosson.
She slid her eyes towards his profile as they walked. The word chosson repeated itself in her mind. He was kind, and gentle, and gracious and he was — everything she had always thought she wanted. He looked towards her, and for a moment her heart burst with warmth.
I feel so betrayed. Devorah quickly looked away and shook her head to rid herself of the image of Elisheva crying on the couch.
“It’s nice outside tonight,” she said. Maybe if she talked it would clear her thoughts.
“It is,” Asher said. They had reached the ledge overlooking the Kotel plaza. Devorah closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to ground herself.
“I’m excited to go to see your parents,” Asher said. Devorah looked at him. She allowed herself to fully look at him, to look into his eyes. This is my chosson, she thought again. She remembered, for a split second, every date they had gone on, every beautiful moment they had spent together, every conversation they had had that made her feel so close to him, made her feel that he was the best, most honest person she had ever known.
“Are you excited to become a kallah?” Asher asked. “Devorah?”
A tingling sensation began at the tips of her fingers, and her breath started to come in shorter, faster bursts. She pressed her hands into her face and tried to stop her brain from repeating Elisheva’s words in an endless beat—I didn’t know who he was. He was a different person.
He was a different person. He was a different person.
Devorah sucked in a huge breath. “I can’t,” she whispered.
She looked into his eyes this time, but tears had begun to blur her vision. “I can’t–go–to Ramat Beit Shemesh. I can’t go.”
“You–you have an obligation? At the seminary?”
“No–” Devorah’s heart hurt with every beat. His eyes were so hopeful. “No. I can’t go, to get engaged.”
Asher stared at her. In a split second she saw every kind and gracious tendril of his personality pull away from her. He stood a little straighter, and took a step back.
“What–” He paused and straightened his hat, although it hadn’t been tilted. He ran his fingers along the edges of the brim. “What is it that changed?”
Devorah shook her head, and tears flowing. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
Asher brought a hand to the knot of his tie, and he tugged at it until it was in the center of his collar.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
Devorah wanted to say a million things, but nothing came out. The thoughts that had been running through her mind like wildfire had silenced, and there was nothing but fog.
“I’m sorry,” she said. And then she turned, and she walked away as quickly as possible, her fists clenched stiffly at her side. She sniffled one last time, drew her hand across her eyes, and then set her gaze far ahead of her at the top of the roof of the Churva Synagogue. Elisheva needed her. That’s what she focused on. Elisheva needed her.
to be continued….