Eventually, Devorah climbed back down the stairs. It was very late by now, and she got a cab back towards her apartment. All of her roommates were asleep, and she knew they assumed she had been out on a date. Devorah didn’t want to wake anyone, so she turned off all of the lights in the living room and pulled a blanket onto the couch. In the darkness she willed tears to come, but her eyes were dry. She felt numb. What had she done?
Her roommates woke her up in the morning without asking any questions, and she was so grateful for their sensitivity. She sat up on the couch, her hair a mess, and listened as they prepared breakfast and davened. She immediately reached for her phone and called Elisheva.
“Sorry I missed all your calls again.” Elisheva said. She had picked up right away. “I fell asleep.”
“That’s okay!” Devorah felt a giant weight leave her shoulders. “I thought you were – can I come over now?”
“Sure,” Elisheva said. “But we may have to go out. Ruchie is getting a little antsy.”
“I’ll take you to Ma’afeh Nechama.” Devorah rushed into her room and started picking out clothes for the day.
“Sounds good,” Elisheva said. After they hung up, Devorah davened as quickly as possible and headed for the door.
“You’re going out this early?” Shaindy asked.
Devorah hesitated with her hand over the knob. “I’m just going out for a bit,” she said.
“Don’t forget we have class with Rabbi Stein this afternoon.”
Devorah blinked. In everything that had happened to her in the last two days, she had completely forgotten about class.
Shaindy placed a plate of cut up fruit on the table and looked at her.
“The class with Rabbi Stein,” she said. “for Rosh Hashanah.”
“Right.” Devorah smiled. “Right, I know. What time is that again?”
“Great!” Devorah was out the door before Shaindy could speak again, but she didn’t miss the weird look Shaindy gave her before she closed the door.
Devorah didn’t have time to think about it. Actually, she didn’t let herself think about anything. She just focused on how relieved she was that Elisheva wasn’t angry with her.
When they got to the bakery, Devorah picked up five glistening rugelach and a coffee for each of them. She brought them to the table, and Elisheva thanked her and began to eat.
“I have to meet with Aharon and the Rav this afternoon,” Elisheva said.
“That sounds rough,” Devorah said.
“I just–I want to go back home.”
Devorah nodded. She knew how much work Elisheva had put into her apartment.
“I can’t though,” Elisheva said. She shuddered, and put down her rugelach. “I just don’t feel safe there anymore.”
Devorah swallowed hard, a large gulp of coffee burning her throat.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Can I go with you?”
Elisheva shrugged. “Maybe.”
There was silence for a bit, and Devorah turned her attention to the people passing on the street. She had been here with Asher, once.
“Are you still seeing that guy?”
“What–” Devorah turned back to look at Elisheva. Everything that happened last night came back at her with a rush. “No, no we–” Devorah was shocked at how hard it was to push the words out. “I’m not seeing him anymore.”
“That’s sad, I’m sorry. You sounded like you liked him.”
Devorah swallowed again. She counted to five in her head before she responded. “It happens,” she said. “You can’t always trust people, can you?”
“No,” Elisheva said. “No, you can’t.”
They started to chat about other things. Devorah talked about Mrs. Potash. Elisheva asked after all of their friends who were still madrichot at their seminary. They talked briefly of a friend who had just had a baby in America.
“Maybe I can go back to America,” Elisheva said, finishing the last drops of her coffee.
Devorah’s heart jumped. “You can’t,” she said automatically. “You have to stay here with me.”
Elisheva narrowed her eyes slightly. “I don’t have to do anything. Maybe America would be better for me. Wouldn’t you want that?”
Devorah tried her hardest to keep herself from crying. What was wrong with her? Why was she suddenly walking around Yerushalayim crying in every corner? Why couldn’t she get herself together?
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said after a moment. “I just don’t want to lose you.”
“Maybe I need a change,” Elisheva said. She stood up. “Are you ready to go back?”
Devorah gathered her things and walked Elisheva back to her sister’s apartment. They were silent on the walk there. Devorah couldn’t sort out how she felt. Everything was crazy, like Hashem had flipped her upside down and shook out all the contents of her life onto the floor, breaking and smashing everything she held precious in the meantime. She felt a desperate need to talk, she needed to empty her feelings to someone who would listen. But she was shy, and quiet, and private. The only person she had ever trusted like that was Elisheva.
Rabbi Stein’s Rosh Hashanah shiur ended at five, and the girls all rushed back to their apartment to prepare dinner for their chavrusas. They were having a class and dinner for the girls on Elul and preparing for Rosh Hashanah . They had planned it right after the shiur so they could incorporate some of what they had learned.
It helped Devorah to be busy. She did better when she wasn’t able to sit with her thoughts.
Days passed during which she mechanically went to Mrs. Potash, helped out her roommates, and had meetings with different girls in the seminary, without thinking about anything she was doing. She visited Elisheva twice before Shabbos, and spent a quiet Shabbos at home with her roommates. On Friday night, as she was listening to Kiddush, she had a second where she realized that this was supposed to have been her first Shabbos as a kallah. She didn’t talk much during the meal.
After Shabbos ended, all of the roommates sat down to divide chores before they left for Rosh Hashanah. Devorah signed up for more than her share, and started on them immediately. By Sunday morning, she had finished all of her chores, and even crossed off some of the ones that had been allotted to other girls. She was awake and working anyway, she figured. When she was done packing, she left a note for her roommates and took her suitcase down the stairs, trying not to make too much noise with the wheels. She took out her phone when she hit the street to call Elisheva, who was boarding the bus to Ramat Beit Shemesh with her, but she found that her phone was already ringing. She didn’t recognize the number.
“Devorah,” the voice began. “It’s Mrs. Silver.”
Devorah stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. She had no idea what to say.
“So, I spoke with Asher before Shabbos.”
Devorah took a deep breath. She pushed a stone with her toe. A woman with a baby carriage started down the sidewalk, and Devorah moved out of the way, onto the grass.
“He told me that you decided to stop seeing each other.”
“He also told me how you decided to end things.”
“I don’t think you ended it very well.”
“I’m sorry,” Devorah said. She couldn’t count how many times she had said that in the last week.
“You must have had a hard time,” Mrs. Silver said. “But the past is past. Let’s talk about the future. I think I have someone else who would work for you.”
Out of all of the things the shadchan could have said, Devorah was not expecting that. “I don’t think I’m ready to date again just now,” Devorah said. Another family with a baby carriage passed by her.
“Well.” Mrs. Silver paused. “That’s fine. You’ll take Rosh Hashanah to regroup yourself, and you’ll call me after. Kesivah v’chasimah tovah.”
Devorah muttered a response, shook her head, and then placed her phone back in her bag. She walked towards the bus stop.
So he had called the shadchan and told her what happened. She should have expected that. Of course he did. He was probably shocked, maybe even angry with her. She knew she hadn’t ended it well. She didn’t need the shadchan to tell her that. The idea of starting to date again, of meeting another guy at another hotel, of sharing everything about herself, all over again – sounded awful. She didn’t know when she would ever be ready again.
As she waited for Elisheva to appear, she kept imagining what that conversation with the shadchan must have sounded like. Did he say he was upset? That he hated her? Did he say she was awful? Did he think she had misled him, lied to him?
She imagined picking up the phone, hearing his voice. What would he say to her now? What would she say to him?
“Hey, stranger.” Elisheva poked her elbow into Devorah’s ribs, and Devorah gave her a hug.
“Ready for the trip?” She asked. She was more than grateful to be distracted from her thoughts.
“You know I love the bus,” Elisheva said. They lugged their bags up the stairs and found seats near the back. “I’ll probably just sleep the whole time,” Elisheva said.
Life would come around again, Devorah decided as the bus rumbled along. She had Elisheva, and she was going home to see her parents. It was okay. Everything would be okay.
Rosh Hashanah with her parents passed by quietly, and Devorah soon found herself back on the bus to Yerushalayim with Elisheva. She had not had much time to herself during the holiday. Her two married siblings had come with all of their children, and the house had been filled with delicious apple kugel and brisket, guests, learning, and laughter. She had not seen Elisheva more than once the entire time. She had dropped her off at her house, said hello to Elisheva’s parents, who did not look happy to see her, and then had seen her once in shul on the first day. The bus ride was quiet, and Elisheva slept. From speaking to her parents, Devorah gathered that Elisheva’s parents were taking the news very hard. Devorah tried to wake Elisheva several times during the bus ride but she slept on. Devorah just wanted someone to talk to.
When they arrived back in Yerushalayim, Elisheva left quickly for Ruchie’s house, and Devorah made her way back to the seminary. She was hoping for a good new start with Tishrei, but she felt very empty. She kept looking out of her window, staring down into the street, hoping she’d find the thing she was looking for. She awoke early out of a sense of displaced frustration, and watched the sunrise. She watched sunsets. She davened at the Kotel almost every day of the aseres yemei teshuvah. Yet every time she left, she still felt like something was wrong.
It wasn’t long before Devorah was boarding the bus again to Ramat Beit Shemesh with Elisheva. As soon as they boarded, Devorah leaned towards Elisheva.
“What were you up to all week?” She asked. “I didn’t hear from you.”
“I’ve been going over to the apartment and packing up my stuff,” Elisheva said.
Devorah looked into Elisheva’s eyes. “You’ve been going to the apartment?”
“Yeah. Well I need to clear it out.”
Devorah blinked several times. Her heart sank. “I thought you said – you said you were too nervous to go.”
“I went with Suri,” Elisheva said.
“Suri Klausman? My roommate?”
Devorah looked away, out the window again. She watched the soft green-studded rolling hills stretch out into the horizon.
“I said I would go with you,” she said.
“I didn’t purposely not ask you,” Elisheva said. “I just wanted to get it done.”
Devorah shook her head and took in a deep breath. Yom Kippur was coming and she did not want to hold a grudge. She counted to ten in her head and then let out a sigh.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve just tried really hard to be here for you,” she said. She sighed again. “Shevy, I just want to do what’s best for you. If I’m not doing it right, can you tell me how to do better?”
Devorah watched a small car filled with children pass by them. She looked back at Elisheva.
Elisheva had put earphones in and was resting her head against her hand, her eyes closed. Devorah, too, dropped her head into her hands. It would be the first Yom Kippur she started with a broken heart.
Devorah and several of her roommates, including Shaindy and Suri, had decided to go shopping in Geula. It was a bright, warm day in Yerushalayim, and Sukkos preparations were in the air. All through the city men were carrying lulavim and esrogim, and Devorah and her friends had decided to look for new dresses for the holiday. They had hit up several stores already, and Shaindy had already found two skirts. Devorah wasn’t sure what she was looking for. She wasn’t in the mood to shop, but she hadn’t wanted to be left alone when everyone left to go shopping.
They stopped for lunch at a small shwarma place, and then continued into a store across the street from the esrog shuk. They all filed into the store. Suri immediately found a bunch of dresses to try on. Devorah perused the racks, looking for something that spoke to her.
“This is your color, Devorah.” Said Shaindy, and handed her a black dress with dark blue and purple accents. “This is totally you,” she said again.
Devorah held the dress up in front of her.
Shaindy elbowed her. “Come on, Devorah. You need to do something for yourself already.”
“What do you mean–”
Shaindy had already walked away towards the dressing room, holding two dresses over her arm.
Devorah looked back at the dress Shaindy had picked out, and then went over to the rack where she found it and pulled out three other dresses that caught her eye, and two blouses, one dark green and the other a deep sapphire blue. Why not, she thought. Why not do something for herself?
Devorah moved into the changing room and tried the outfits on. Usually she was fairly conservative with her money, especially since her parents had many other children to support, but today was different. She bought every piece of clothing she tried on, and she felt good about it. Each dress was well-made, and they made her feel beautiful. It was the first positive thought she could remember having in a long time. She was looking forward to the beginning of Sukkos, to celebrating with her friends, to sitting with Hashem in His sukkah.
When they stepped down into the street from the store, multiple bags in hand, the bright sun pinked Devorah’s cheeks. She closed her eyes briefly and smiled, letting the feeling of being with friends, of having gorgeous new dresses, of being warm and happy wash over her.
“That’s Asher Rabinowitz.”
Devorah’s eyes flew open. Suri had turned slightly to the side, covering her mouth with her hand as she spoke quietly to the rest of the group.
“That’s the guy I was telling you about.”
Before Devorah’s eyes, three yeshiva bochurs emerged from the shuk, each with a tall lulav and bright yellow esrog in hand. Asher stood on the right, smiling at one of his friends.
“How–” Devorah swallowed. “How do you know him?”
“Oh you weren’t there, Devorah. I was telling them all a few nights ago about the date my sister went on.”
“Yeah. She got set up with this guy, and she was crazy about him. I forced the name out of her.”
“Him?” Devorah watched him standing on the curb, his face shadowed by the brim of his hat. “That guy?”
“Yeah, I think so. That’s what she said. She pointed him out to me a few days ago when we were in the Rova.”
“She pointed him out to you?” Shaindy asked. “You just saw him walking in the street?”
“Yeah it was the craziest thing. A group of guys walked by us and she just freaked out. She said it was a great date.”
Devorah stopped listening. Blood rushed past her ears and her cheeks flamed. Without thinking, she muttered something to her friends about the next store over and began walking towards the bus stop. She didn’t need to hear about who Asher was or wasn’t dating. She didn’t need to think about it. She didn’t want to.
Devorah stepped into the street and looked both ways before continuing across. A young boy on a bike swerved directly into her path and she nearly fell sideways as they both tried to avoid each other. She tilted one of her bags as she tried to get steady, and a dress fell out onto the sidewalk. She bent to pick it up, brushing off the dust and folding it, trying to remember how happy she had been when she purchased it, before placing it back in the bag.
Devorah stood. She looked down at her bag. She ran her hands down to press out the wrinkles in her skirt. She knew that voice. When she lifted her head, a few people were looking at her, presumably because of the bicycle. Most turned away as soon as she stood. One pair of eyes remained.
If she had ever imagined seeing him or speaking to him again, it would not have been like this. Not in the middle of a crowded street in Geula, with people gliding right past her at lightning speed. It wouldn’t have been in the middle of a boiling hot day. It wouldn’t have been after she found out that he had already moved on.
Devorah looked at him briefly. Her eyes found his. A great cloud of feelings filled her chest. The entire Rosh Hashanah, the entire Yom Kippur, she had managed to block him from her mind. When she’d seen her sister with her new husband, she hadn’t batted an eye. When she’d sat next to her other sister’s newly engaged friend, she hadn’t even thought about that night overlooking the Kotel when she‘d refused to get engaged. When she’d sat in shul and seen her brother wrap himself in his tallis, she hadn’t thought about the tallis she never bought for Asher. She had refused to let the thoughts enter her mind. Now, they rushed towards her like the child on the bike.
The wind blew between them and rocked the top of his lulav into the brim of his hat.
She remembered Suri.
Willing herself to move, Devorah managed to turn one foot in the direction of the bus stop, away from him. He was dating someone else. It made sense, it had been weeks since they had spoken. If that’s what he wanted to do, who was she to stop him?
But it meant he didn’t want her anymore.
He had said he wanted to marry her.
Devorah placed one foot in front of the other.
She had told him she didn’t want to get engaged. It wasn’t his fault.
But he had promised to take care of her for the rest of his life.
She would not turn around. She wouldn’t look back at him. She refused to do so, even as she did it anyway. She refused to see that he was still standing in that same spot, lulav in hand, looking after her as she walked away. She refused to care.
to be continued…