Leib and his mother discuss the possibility of continuing his relationship with his sons after Suri returns home.
* * *
“Suri!” said Bubby Weinbach, a bit too brightly. She was still reeling from the talk she and Leib had just had. “How are you, dear?”
“I’m fine Bubby. It’s just that I haven’t spoken to the boys since I left. Are they all right?” Suri’s heart was inexplicably pounding.
“They’re fine. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. I keep calling and I can’t seem to catch them at the right moment,” said Suri. “Are they awake now? Can I talk to them?”
“They’ve gone to sleep, Suri. Do you want me to wake them up so they can talk to you?”
She did want her to wake them up, more than anything, but she was afraid it would make her look bad. One of the things she’d learned from the painful divorce proceedings was that anything and everything could be used against her. “I… I guess not. Just tell me,” Suri said again. “Are they all right?”
“They’re fine, Suri. They’ve stayed with me before.”
The older woman suddenly understood. The children had stayed with her, but never with their father around. “Suri, the boys are fine. They are with me when they come home from school, and then Leib comes in the evening. They are safe.”
“But they hardly know him!” Suri blurted out. “Aren’t they frightened?”
Thinking quickly, Bubby Weinbach realized that if Suri was ever going to permit her son to have ongoing contact with the boys, she was going to have to start setting the stage for it now. In careful detail, she described how yes, the boys were a little nervous at first.
Wisely, she didn’t mention that Suri had neglected to inform the carpool that she was leaving. This prevented the whole conversation from taking on a bit of a sour note. She’d leave that for another time. She explained that they were following the routine, that Leib had gone out and bought books to read to the boys, and that — to her knowledge — so far everything was going smoothly. The boys were eating and sleeping well, and she was preparing the foods Suri had told her they liked. She was being careful with Mordechai’s milk allergies. And Leib was sleeping over so he could see them in the morning. Was there anything else she needed to know?
“Have they asked about me at all?” said Suri.
“They mention you constantly,” said Bubby Weinbach, although the truth was that Leib was keeping them so busy that they hadn’t asked for her much except on the first day.
“When would be a good time to catch them? I’m still discombobulated by the time difference here.”
“How’s your mother, sweetheart? Is she doing all right?” asked Bubby Weinbach.
Suri sighed. “As well as can be expected, I suppose. You know what it’s like.”
“Actually,” began Bubby, “As far as I know, Leib’s father is alive and well. He’s just gone.”
“He took off years ago, when Leib was just a boy. Like father, like son, I guess.” As soon as she said it, she realized she was undermining her own plan for Leib and the boys, but it was too late. The words were already out.
Bubby had long ago accepted the bitter truth, and had moved on as best she could.
“Why did I think Leib’s father was not alive?” said Suri.
“Probably because you didn’t see a man around, so you made assumptions. Didn’t you ever ask Leib about his father?”
“I’m sure I must have. I can’t remember.”
“You probably asked him about it and he didn’t answer you, or he changed the subject. He doesn’t like to talk about it.”
That was an understatement. When Leib’s father had left them, Leib had not realized right away that something was wrong. The senior Weinbach worked long hours; it was rare that he saw his family from Shabbos to Shabbos.
Leib’s mother had tried to push off her son’s questions with a rapidly-dwindling supply of excuses, but finally he’d come out and asked her directly if his father was gone. “I guess he is,” was all his mother could say, and they hadn’t discussed it again.
When she saw Leib’s marriage disintegrate, she realized she might have made a mistake in how she handled the end of her own.
But that was the way things were done back then. Her philosophy, which she still believed, was that kids did not need everything explained to them. Once Leib had asked, she’d answered honestly, assuming he would absorb the truth as she had, and somehow accommodate it. She hadn’t realized he had been so deeply affected by his father’s disappearance until she watched his own marriage fall apart.
“I can imagine. Divorce is so painful.” Suri felt strange having this discussion with Bubby Weinbach. She wondered what her ex-mother-in-law must be thinking, that Leib’s own wife hadn’t even known he’d been abandoned by his father as a child. She felt a little angry at Leib for keeping something so important from her. If she had known about it, might their marriage have turned out differently? She realized she wasn’t listening properly and tried to tune back in to what Bubby Weinbach was saying.
“I’m sorry?” said Suri. “What did you say?”
“I said we never divorced. He just took his tallis and tefillin, said good-bye and left. I never heard from him again.”
To be continued…