Hindy’s children and her husband come to a family therapy session at the rehab center.
* * *
Five pairs of eyes turned to Hindy, incredulous. Dr. Bachman was trying to contain a smile. It was for these moments of recognition, acceptance and willingness that he did this work. He had to play down its significance so that the patient wouldn’t get ahead of herself, but it inspired him every time it happened. Once the patient reached this point, the real work could begin.
Aharon held up his hands up in front of him as though he were being arrested. “We got the point Ima, but I still don’t understand what you want us to do.”
“I don’t know either. Something triggered this crazy thing inside me, and I have no idea what it is!”
“It wasn’t me,” said Aharon.
“Don’t excuse yourself so quickly,” said Asher.
“What? What did I do?” Aharon countered, defensively.
“Aharon, you’re right. Of course I’m not blaming my addiction on you. But since we are talking about the family, I need you to know about something that has bothered me — us — for a long time.” Aharon frowned and threw a glance at his parents. He looked more like a hurt child than a grown father of four.
“It’s not a tangible thing,” continued Hindy. “It’s an attitude. You come for Shabbos and your family is hefker. You don’t come by unless you need something … It would be painful, but I could accept it if you didn’t want to come to us. Meanwhile, when you do come, you act like a teenager again. And that is even more painful.”
Aharon sat back, rubbing his temples. When he spoke, his words were carefully measured — this was not the place or the time to discuss his family’s internal problems, nor would it do any good.
“I’m sorry, Ima, Abba. You’re right. I’ll have to think what to do about it.”
Dr. Bachman could tell that he was dismissing the matter; Asher and Hindy, however, nurtured the hope, based on his apology, that something might change.
“Thank you Aharon,” said Dr. Bachman, carefully. “There is more to talk about. Please understand if I let everyone have their say today, though. Miriam, I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
“About what? I have nothing to say,” Miriam replied, stubbornly. Her intractable expression had driven Hindy mad ever since Miriam was a toddler.
Dr. Bachman did not push. He was concerned, though, that Miriam’s obvious resentment could set back the family’s recovery.
“Hello,” he said uncertainly.
“You found your mother after she fell.”
“Yeah. At first I thought it was funny.”
“How do you feel about that now?” asked Dr. Bachman. He knew, from his sessions with Hindy and the evidence right before him, that Sruli was the most fragile Fishman.
“I feel … bad. Sorry. I didn’t know how much it hurt, and what it was going to do to Ima. I’d been having a bad year. Maybe Ima was distracted by my problems and wasn’t looking where she was going.” Tears welled up in eyes.
Tzippy sat up and nodded at Sruli, finally locating the final piece to the mystery puzzle that was her brother.
Once he started talking, he couldn’t stop. “I feel like I don’t really belong in the family, actually. Aharon and Miriam are so much older, Tzippy is the baby… I don’t have a place.”
Hindy and Asher each looked as if they’d been struck, because what Sruli was saying was true. There was no point in denying it.
“I’m sorry,” said Hindy. “I didn’t know you felt that way. I admit that I didn’t always give you the special attention you needed — what every kid needs — and the pain of that was always in the back of my mind. I knew I was failing you and I couldn’t stop myself.”
“We can discuss ways that you can build on and improve your relationship,” said Dr. Bachman. “Thank you, Sruli, for your honesty.”
“Why, is my turn finished?” he asked.
“This session is mostly an introduction, Sruli,” Dr. Bachman said, turning to Tzippy.
“Welcome, Tzippy,” he said to the youngest Fishman. “Thank you for coming.”
Tzippy nodded, uncharacteristically shy.
“Is there anything you’d like to say to your mother?” Dr. Bachman asked.
“Yes.” Her voice was trembling, and Hindy was filled with foreboding. “First of all, I’m sorry. I was the one who spent the most time with you, and I saw that something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what it was! You kept asking me for Tylenol, and I kept giving it to you, but I didn’t make the connection. I mean, who overdoses on Tylenol?” There was nervous laughter all around. “I let you down. I didn’t know how to help you until it was almost too late. I was really scared. Do you forgive me?”
“Tzippy! Of course. You couldn’t have known, and even if you did, it wasn’t your responsibility. No child should have to solve their parents’ problems. It was my fault for putting you on the spot and making you my accomplice. I’m ashamed of that,” Hindy said.
Out of the corner of her eye, Hindy could seesaw that Miriam was glaring at her. She turned to Dr. Bachman, seeking his assistance in defusing her anger.
“Do you have something you want to say?” he asked. “You seem angry and upset.”
“I sure do. Now everyone is being so lovey-dovey with each other, so forgiving and ‘honest.’ It’s just an act, doctor. My mother is a phony. You may all have your petty little complaints, but I’m the one that Ima hurt the most.”