Rafi and Yedidye come down with severe food poisoning, and Rena is forced to take care of them, with the help of Savta Asoulin.
While Rafi recovered fairly quickly, it took Yedidye a few more days to regain his strength, and a few more until he stopped wobbling every time he tried to walk. Rafi returned to the hotel, with a strict warning from Rena not to eat in the restaurant, and Savta Asoulin remained by Yedidye’s side constantly. Natalie Asoulin and Maryam kept him company also, reading to him and telling him stories. Rena slept at a neighbor’s house, but she continued to monitor his care until he was on his feet again.
Rena struggled with the crushing realizations she had had the night she remained awake to make sure neither of the patients had convulsions. Suri’s assessment of Yedidye had been so accurate, and Rena’s criteria for a proper marriage partner so misguided, that she almost ended up feeling as ill as Rafi and Yedidye, not from food poisoning but from regret. She realized now that she had not been looking for a husband all this time, not really. In fact, until that moment, she had no idea what a husband truly was, and she didn’t know how other people had been able to figure it out and she hadn’t. A husband was not, by definition, a friend or companion or employee, chosen for his ability to get along with you, and provide shelter and food, although he could also be all of those things. A husband was much more than that – he was a person with whom to serve Hashem, a partner in the greatest enterprise of all: building a Torah home. It sounded corny and false when she told it to herself that way, but her neshamah knew the truth. The search for a true husband required looking beneath the surface. The outer trappings of a person were just that: giftwrap.
Even Suri’s reconciliation with Leib bore this out, and Rena marveled once again at Suri’s courage and selflessness. She had never given Suri enough credit, and she reddened with shame as she thought about it. As the reconciliation progressed, and the more Suri held Leib in high esteem, the better man he became.
It wasn’t take long before Savta Asoulin formally suggested the shidduch between Yedidye and Rena. Over the course of Yedidye’s illness, they had been able to perceive deep characteristics of each other that could never have come to light over Coca-Cola in a hotel lobby or at the home of a relative, and their formal meetings were just to iron out the details. They discovered that a bird and a fish could indeed build a home together as long as they both were a little flexible. Rena would close up her life here and move to Israel after everything was organized, but even before that they would marry in Florida, in a small ceremony, and then celebrate in Israel upon their return.
Rafi was beside himself with delight. His only regret was that he could not stay for the chasunah. He debated flying his wife and child into Florida but decided against it. “It took me ages to get her to Israel. I not bring her back here until she is good and Izraeli!” he exclaimed. Rena laughed, but couldn’t help thinking of her own mother and father, and how their families seemed destined to have their cultures cross again and again. Her mother’s voice on the phone, her English already accented from her reverting to her mother tongue, was a joy to listen to, and she kept saying how she was finally home. Rena still felt hurt and confused when she said that, wondering if her mother regretted the time she had spent in America raising her family, but she came to understand that home is more than a building or a city or even a country. Home is a state of mind, and a person can be at home anywhere they find themselves. She wondered if she would be as happy in Israel as her mother, but she knew that as long as Yedidye was happy, she would be too.
After sharing the good news with her mother and Suri, she phoned her sister Mattel. She remembered calling her to tell her of their father’s petirah such a short time ago, and how much had transpired since that day. Mattel had left Israel right after the shivah, and when she had come to Florida to say good-bye to her mother, she’d only stayed overnight. So when Rena called and told her she was engaged to Yedidye, all she could do was laugh when Mattel replied, “Yedidye? Who’s Yedidye?” It took two hours to tell the entire story, and by the time she finished, tears of laughter were running down both their faces.
“Will you come to the wedding, Mattel?” asked Rena, when their laughter had died down.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Mattel. “What are sisters for? No matter what we go through, it’s a bond that can never be broken. You’re stuck with me, kid, for life!”
“I’ll look forward to that,” said Rena. “With all of my heart.”
To be continued …