Pain Relief Chapter 29


Dr. Newman meets with Hindy and Asher, and shows them that test results show Hindy has serious liver damage. Dr. Newman puts her on a strict treatment plan.

*   *   *

They felt like clandestine spies whenever they met in the bookstore, but it was practically deserted at that time of day. Sruli looked a little different each time, like one of those games where you had to spot the minute differences between very similar pictures. Was she imagining that his kippah was smaller than it had been last time? He was always there first, leaving Tzippy to worry that he hadn’t been to yeshivah seder at all. Nobody was calling the house to complain, as far as she knew, so things couldn’t be that bad, but his eyes told the whole story. They always had.

“How are you, mein shwester?” he said, teasing her as he had when they were young. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a candy bar, laying it out on the bench between them. “This is for you.”

“Thank you!” Tzippy was touched, but she had to hold herself back from checking the hechsher, and that almost made her cry. “How’s things going, Sruli? Any better?”

He shook his head once, to the left, indicating absolute negativity.

“Did you speak to the mashgiach?” she asked.

“You know I can’t do that,” he said. “I’ll get tossed. How will you ever get married?” He was joking, but she recalled, with shame, the similar comment she’d made when he was caught smoking.

She said, “Your happiness is more important,” and the two of them looked up at the same time.

“Really?” he said. “You really feel that way?”

“I guess I do,” said Tzippy, more surprised at her remark than he was. “I said so, didn’t I?”

“Wow. It was worth getting into trouble just for that.”

“Sruli, this is serious. Listen, I didn’t say your name or anything, I promise, but I called one of those helplines, just out of curiosity.”

“Oh come on,” said Sruli. “Don’t tell me that.”

“It was interesting. I said I was calling for my brother, but I think he suspected I was covering up and speaking about myself, which was funny. I told him, more or less, everything you told me, and he said something very interesting.”

“Really.” Sruli looked so angry, glaring past Tzippy’s face, but she knew he was listening.

“This was just one of a lot of things we talked about — he really knew a lot — but it stuck in my head. He said that one of the reasons this type of thing happens, when you start acting differently and you don’t know why, is because you, I mean me, I mean you, never had the chance to really get to know yourself.”

Sruli smiled bitterly. “Can you hear how ridiculous that sounds?”

“No, wait. Listen. He said that since we’re little, we learn in school or cheder, and at that age we are mostly absorbing information, memorizing things and dealing with basic limud, and it’s all cut and paste. Learn something, write it out on a test, on to the next thing, and repeat. We’re not always given the chance to process what we learn, to really understand it, and sometimes, the way he put it, the cart falls over the horse. I’m not sure what he meant by that, exactly, but maybe he’s saying that you have to take time out and listen to yourself and figure out what you think, not what somebody else is telling you to think. It’s all mixed up inside and you have to sort out what’s them and what’s really you.”

“What if I think I don’t want to go to yeshivah anymore?” said Sruli.

Tzippy smiled. “I don’t think that was what he meant! But here, he recommended a sefer to me, really you, as a start. Hold on a second.” She walked over to the counter and gave the man there the title, and he returned with a small green sefer. She paid and as she was walking back, she stuck a small note inside.

“It has a lot of parts, but this is the one he mentioned. He said I could call any time.” She looked shy for a moment. “I wrote it down. It’s on page 45.”

Sruli took the book and held it in his hand. “You don’t even have to read it,” she said. “Just keep it on the nightstand next to your bed so you can see it.”

“Thank you. I mean that. Hey, what’s happening at home? Anything new?”

Tzippy’s eyes widened. “Oh that’s right. You missed it! Big drama!”

Nu, fill me in.”

“Well… oh, wait. Wait a second.” She whipped out her cellphone and dialed her mother’s number. “Ima? Hi. I’m just… I was just wondering, can I tell Sruli what’s been happening? He’s out of the loop, and you know how he hates that. Okay, thank you Ima. I love you too.”

“What was that all about?” Sruli looked amused.

“I’m trying to be better, Sruli. I’m trying to grow. I didn’t want to speak lashon hara.”

“I’m impressed,” he said, sincerely.

They sat a half hour longer, while Tzippy filled him in on the latest developments. Sruli did not look surprised.

“Huh,” he said. “I guess it finally caught up to her.”

Tzippy was taking tiny bites of the chocolate bar (it was okay; she’d checked) and really enjoying it. “What are you talking about?”

“You don’t know?” he asked.

“How do you know something I don’t know when you’re practically never home?” said Tzippy.

He stared hard at her, mock seriously. “Because I’ve taken the time to examine my thoughts,” he intoned.

“I hate when you do that! Don’t tease me!”

“Sorry. Hey, I gotta go. It’s getting late. Thanks for the book!” He was up and gone before she could even swallow the piece of chocolate in her mouth. It was delicious, and so distracting that it whisked Sruli’s cryptic comment right out of her mind.


To be continued . . .