Pain Relief Chapter 39


Dr. Bando warns Asher that his wife has a serious problem and that her life depends on receiving professional treatment in a rehabilitation facility.

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After Sruli had left the hospital, unsure of which way to go, his legs took him home of their own volition. It was a few miles, in drizzly weather, but Sruli could have gone on walking forever.

It took about three hours to get back to the Fishman home. He didn’t have his key, and when he checked the hiding place he discovered it gone. Wondering briefly where it could be — it had been there for as long as he could remember, he used to have to stand on a stool to reach it — he realized there was one other way in — through the basement, but he wondered if he was too big to fit through the window. He kicked at the storm window and sure enough, it came apart under the force. He slipped through the tight space with millimeters to spare.

Once in the basement, he headed for the steps and climbed them up into the kitchen, breathing in the familiar smell of home. Every inch of the room was filled with his mother’s presence: the minefield of notes and pictures stuck on to the fridge, her work calendar, which took up nearly half an entire wall, her pen box, her sewing box, her laptop. They were all there. He opened the cabinets and there she was again: all the cereals everyone liked, every essential food item arranged in neat, abundant order. He tried to remember what she liked to eat, but found that he could not. In fact, he knew very little about his mother’s personal likes and dislikes. She would occasionally comment on things, but they were more superficial things. He had no idea who she really was.

Would he have ever thought about her this way if she hadn’t collapsed? He’d never thought about her role in his life. The night he’d been suspended and sent home, he saw how she’d taken his side, but he’d never mentioned it to her after that.

He wandered around the kitchen, touching all the little tchatchkes and items she had put in their place. Seeing his mother so small and fragile in the hospital had left him very shaken up. For perhaps the first time in his life he saw her more as a flesh-and-blood human being, and not just his mother.

He remembered the day she fell down the stairs — how she had been lying on the floor when he found her, waiting for someone to help her up. He’d been struck then, too, by how vulnerable she’d looked there. She was so much larger than life to him, and when he’d put out his hand to help her up she’d felt so light, not at all like the stone pillar he thought of her as.

Had any of them realized that she was truly in pain after the fall? he wondered. Maybe she’d needed more attention, or to be taken more seriously. Who knew, after all? Mothers were just mothers, and he never examined the subject in any depth.

Sruli sat down in a chair at the table, and as he looked down, he saw his mother’s planner spread out in front of him. This must have been the chair where she was sitting when she fell. He nearly shot out of it, but then held himself still, imagining what it was like to be oblivious, working, drinking coffee, unaware that the rug called “normal” was about to be pulled out from under you.

His phone vibrated in his pocket — he’d agreed to turn it on but hadn’t agreed to answer it. He saw it was from Tzippy and read: MAYDAY! THEY WANT 2 SEND IMA 2 REHAB!!

“What does Abba say?” he wrote back.


If it hadn’t been happening to him, he’d have found the whole topic interesting, but as it was now, it just felt surreal. He remembered the first time, he’d been about seven, he and Tzippy were eating lunch with their mother and she got a phone call. They weren’t really listening, too busy dueling with their forks to pay attention, but when she hung up, Ima put her hand over her mouth and shook her head. “I did an aveirah,” she said. “I spoke lashon hara. I have to do teshuvah.” Tzippy didn’t understand, but Sruli was shocked. How was it possible for an Ima to do an aveirah? It had taken him weeks to recover, too embarrassed to tell anyone how he was feeling but unable to shake off his dismay.

“Hello! Anyone home?”

Asher’s tall frame loomed in the kitchen doorway. “Sruli!” He seemed genuinely surprised to see his son. “How you doing, tzaddik?” Their relationship had been strained since Sruli had been suspended from yeshivah. Sruli had stopped coming home as much, only when he knew his father wouldn’t be there. Now they eyed each other warily, unsure what sort of ground they were standing on.

“I’m good, Abba. How are you?” Sruli nearly groaned as the thought dawned on him, that if Ima was her own person, then Abba was too, but that was too much to take in right now. Instead, he said, “Can I fix you something to eat? You must be hungry.”

To be continued . . .