Hindy receives a one-day pass to visit her parents. She learns that her father has become so withdrawn that he doesn’t get out of bed except to daven Shacharis.
* * *
The moment Hindy saw her father’s prone body, his normally ruddy face now pale and his eyes listless, the dam finally burst.
“Tatty! Tatty!” Even Lena was surprised at her daughter’s outburst. Hindy pulled a chair as close to her father’s bed as it would go and held his hand in hers. “Tatty, come back! I’m here now. Everything is fine! It was just a scare. There’s no reason to worry about me.”
When Max did not respond, Hindy’s panic ramped up a level. Lena had to leave the room as she could not contain her feelings, but she was afraid to leave Hindy alone so she compromised, standing in the doorway with an open sefer Tehillim in her hands.
Hindy was still beseeching her father. “It’s my fault, I know. I should never have taken all those pills. I don’t know what I was thinking. If I’d known how much it would hurt you, Tatty, I would turn the clock back right now! Please! I can’t stand to see you like this!” Her words dissolved into incoherent sobs, and she placed her head in her hands and cried.
“This isn’t like him!” Hindy said. “What’s happening?”
“Let’s go sit outside,” said Lena, holding out her hand for Hindy to take.
“I don’t want to leave him. I only have one day here!”
“What do you mean?” said Lena.
“I’m not out for good. I got a day pass.”
“You’re going back?” said Lena. “After all this?” She gestured towards her beloved husband, who seemed oblivious to their presence.
“That’s what I said, but they insisted,” said Hindy.
“The doctor, Ma.”
“That’s ridiculous. You need to be home, Hindy. I would never have sent you there if I thought something like this would happen to your father!
“I know! I know!” The two women held on to each other, each a human life raft for the other. They stared down at Max as though their gaze could somehow cure him.
“Has anything like this ever happened to him before?” whispered Hindy.
Lena nodded. “Once. When you all were little.”
Hindy waited for further explanation, but there was none.
“He came out of it then, right?” said Hindy.
“After a year.”
“A year?” She got dizzy, holding on to her head as the room spun around. “I feel like I’m in a bad dream and I’m waiting to wake up.”
Lena nodded in agreement, her face a pool of misery.
“Ribbono shel Olam, make it stop! Wake me up! I can’t see my father like this!”
She grabbed her mother’s hands and the two started to say Tehillim as they never had before. “Tatty!” Hindy would cry between perakim, and it was hard to tell to which Tatty she was speaking.
There was a light tap on the door and Miriam came in. She sat down and took out her Tehillim also, and without a word she started to daven for her grandfather. Hindy’s breath caught. Was this a gift from Hashem inside all of this pain, that Miriam should return to her fold? She didn’t dare say a word to her, afraid to upset the gossamer balance, and Miriam did not look her way.
Hindy tried to look back at where she was now from some time in the future. Would she be proud of what she was seeing? How, she wondered, could all this suffering start with just a few harmless, over-the-counter pain relievers? It didn’t make sense. Dr. Bachman claimed that the addiction was inside of her the whole time, and all the painkillers did was draw it to the surface. If this week’s family therapy session was any indication, she had to admit it might be the truth, and that much of her life was far different from how she perceived it. She couldn’t imagine herself putting on her sheitel and make up and trotting off one fine evening to an NA meeting somewhere in Brooklyn, but what was the alternative?
After all the pain she’d caused, in her misguided effort to relieve her own pain, she couldn’t imagine ever putting another Tylenol in her mouth again. Chazal say you shouldn’t trust yourself until your last day, so how was it that she had been trusting herself for years?
Lena had stepped out and returned with a tray of hot tea and warm cinnamon buns. How her mother had found time and energy to cook and nurture she had no idea. How could she care for them when no one was caring for her?
Then Hindy looked over at her father and suddenly it was all clear: Lena’s strength and courage came from her husband. In his own quiet way, he had infused her with joy and confidence, and Lena had taken it and given it to the world, sprinkling joy and chessed like fairy dust over whomever she came in contact with. Hindy had always thought it was the other way around, that her mother was the emotional support of her father, but she’d been so wrong. She’d been wrong about everything.
“You feeling better Hindy?” asked Lena. “A little calmer now?”
“Why make a federal case over everything?” Miriam muttered.
Lena gave Miriam a sharp glance. Never her place to criticize, but Miriam should know how she felt.
From the bed came sounds of stirring — not Max’s usual sounds, but perhaps these were his new sounds. His voice was cobwebbed from disuse, and he was trying to clear his throat.
“What is it?” said Lena, stepping over to him. “What do you need?”