Pain Relief Chapter 18

Hindy stays at the bagel store, realizing that she is unwilling to return home to her job. instead, she reflects on how she has raised her family; she is sure she has fallen short.


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Tzippy had gotten into the habit of going into the book store on her way home from school. It was one of those mega-stores with gifts and chatchkes and challah boards, where the books were almost an afterthought. There was a nice place to sit there, a little cushioned bench tucked away in the corner that she’d found almost by accident and couldn’t help but wonder why it was never occupied. She’d asked the owner’s permission to read the books without buying them, and they’d struck up a deal that she buy a small item each time she came. She was developing an impressive collection of bookmarks and key chains but she saw it as a fair arrangement.


A few days after Sruli’s suspension from and readmission to yeshivah, she’d wandered into the store as was her habit and after selecting a cookbook to look at (just for the fun of it) she headed towards her spot. She was surprised to find it in use by someone else. He turned to see who was behind him, and if it hadn’t been so worrisome, it would have been comical.


“Sruli!” said Tzippy. “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in yeshivah?”


Sruli pursed his lips like he’d eaten something sour, but she could see he was embarrassed. “Since when are you my mother?” he muttered.


“I can’t be your mother, because your mother has no idea you are spending your afternoon here,” said Tzippy.


“It’s bein hasedarim,” he said.


Tzippy looked at her watch. “It is not, and you know it.”


Sruli turned away, and Tzippy suddenly felt sorry for him. Even though they were close in age, they’d never really understood one another.  Sruli was timid and Tzippy was brave, but over time Sruli had come to view his sister as reckless. Now, though, as he watched himself  slide, seemlingly unable to get a grip on himself, he wondered if they were more alike than he had originally believed.


“Sruli,” said Tzippy, sitting down next to him. She wished she could wear a sign saying “I’m his sister,” so people wouldn’t get the wrong idea, but they looked so much alike that she hoped the truth would be obvious. “What’s going on with you?” she asked. Her voice was low and far from the strident tone she usually took, especially with him.


“Nothing,” he replied automatically. “Nothing. Everything.” He waited for her to say “I knew it!” or some other comment. To his surprise, he saw that her expression was one of concern.


“So it’s not just smoking,” she said, not bothering to ask.


“Smoking is my solution, not my problem. When I don’t let off steam I feel like I’m going to explode.”


She offered Sruli a piece of gum in a feeble attempt to relax him. “Do you know what’s causing it?” she asked. “When did it start?”


“I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it. One day I’m going along like everyone else and the next day I’m getting suspended.” He unwrapped the gum and put it in his mouth with a grimace. “Ugh. How do you chew this stuff all day?”


“You get used to it,” she said. “Tatty got you back in, though. I don’t think he’ll be able to do it twice. If they find out you’re here instead of in shiur, I don’t think they are going to be too happy.”


Sruli nodded his head sadly. “I can’t go back there. I just can’t.”


“I hear,” said Tzippy sympathetically. “And you have no idea what happened?”


“No, that’s the strange part. I feel like there’s some kind of weird time bomb inside of me. When this boy turns 20 this device will detonate and he will no longer be able to attend yeshivah.”


“Sruli, seriously,” Tzippy chided.


“I am serious. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.”


Tzippy looked down at her hands for a moment, silently judging Sruli’s claim, but she was convinced of his sincerity.


“Well,” she said carefully. “Anyone you ask will recommend either therapy or Ritalin. Do either of those options appeal to you?”


“No!” Sruli almost shouted, then immediately lowered his voice. “I’m not crazy and I don’t have ADD. Forget that.”


Disjointed scenes from her childhood started running through Tzippy’s mind as she listened, starring Sruli Fishman. She mentally reviewed the vignettes carefully, straining to see if there was any moment that she could point to as the moment Sruli changed. He’d always been quiet and sort of careless, always leaving his shoes and used cups and apple cores all over the place for someone else to clean up. He never smiled much, but every now and then the sun broke through his clouds and he would do something unabashedly kind and glorious.


She hadn’t seen that boy in a long time


“Tzippy?” said Sruli. “Are you going to tell Abba and Ima you saw me here?”


She raised an eyebrow at him.


“Stop that,” he said. “It makes me crazy when you do that. So, nu? Yes or no?”


“Should I tell them? Do you want me to?”




“Sure about that?” said Tzippy.


“No.” Sruli’s voice was a whisper now.


“So let’s leave it for now, until we come up with a solution. I know we’re just teenagers and eventually we have to bring all our problems to the adults, but let’s see if we can at least do some damage control.”


Sruli looked at her admiringly. “From annoying little sister to wise counselor, just like that.”


“Yeah, Sruli. Just like that.”




To be continued . . . .