Hindy and Lena are near emotional collapse over Max’s condition. Miriam arrives to say Tehillim in the room with them, but remains cold to her mother.
* * *
Lena straightened involuntarily in response to her husband’s request; surprised that the first person he called for was Hindy. The pinprick of hurt was tiny, barely perceptible, but she understood. While they hadn’t spoken of it out loud together, as Max had remained stalwart and supportive throughout this whole ordeal while Lena had held up the emotional and weepy end, she knew he had been devastated by Hindy’s freefall into self-destruction.
She stepped back and looked over at Hindy and Miriam, standing on opposite ends of the room like two strangers instead of the mother and daughter they were. Lena couldn’t imagine such distance: She and Max, while constantly maintaining a close and unbreakable bond, had together combined their formidable strengths and resources and poured them into their children. The results had been far greater than the sum of their parts … until now. Until Hindy.
“He’s calling your name,” said Lena, moving away from the bed.
Hindy hurried over to her father’s bed and leaned over as closely as she could to be able to hear her father’s every word. Miriam began to move closer but was held back by her grandmother’s firm hand on her shoulder.
“Hindy,” said Max. “You know you are the light of my life — all you children are — and you know I would do anything for you. Anything.”
“I know! You’ve always been there for us.” In perfect complement to his wife, Max had communicated everything he had to say on any subject in the sweetest, kindest way. The Shaeffer children had never heard a harsh word from their father, and the end result of that was their constantly wanting to please him. He was lavish with his praise, and his children grew hungry to receive it.
“But Hindy, my zeesa zeesa kind, you have broken my heart into a thousand pieces. I never dreamed that a daughter of mine, raised with such love and mesirus nefesh, would willingly and knowingly endanger her life just because she was in a little pain.”
“No, no,” Hindy replied. “It wasn’t a little pain; it was a lot of pain. Excruciating pain.”
Max looked at her with wise and tired eyes. His voice was soft and tired, as though he was running out of strength to continue the conversation. “You are talking to the man who took you to the hospital when you broke your foot in three places, and you were cracking jokes the whole way there. Your pain had nothing to do with your back.”
Hindy was so shocked at her father’s rebuke that she started to hyperventilate. Rather than stop or express concern, he simply waited patiently for her to recuperate.
“How can you say such things to me Tatty?” she sobbed.
“Because no one else will. How can it be that a Yiddishe tochter raised by a mother like yours loses her faith in the Eibershter and turns to narishkeit to solve her problems?”
“It’s not narishkeit,” said Hindy. “It’s a disease. It’s addiction.”
“No,” he said. “It’s a chisaron in emunah. I’m ashamed for you, and I’m deeply disappointed.”
“For that you take to your bed? For that you stop getting up?” said Hindy, wounded to her core.
Although she wasn’t actively listening, Lena was so in tune with her husband that she could feel the barb.
“Hindy Schaeffer Fishman! I will show you the door, daughter or not, if you speak to your father that way one more time!”
Hindy felt like she was taking part in a nightmare, where all the people who she loved and is loved by turn on her all at once.
“It’s a fair question,” said Max. “The answer is that I too am only human. Each person is created with only a certain amount of weight they are able to bear. Most people underestimate how much of a load they can carry, but I do not. I know when I am broken, and I know to stop myself and recharge. Better to spend time like this, as unpleasant as it is, then push myself and break down permanently.”
Hindy’s tears had passed and she sat stubbornly now, arms crossed tightly out in front of her as though to ward off the feather-tipped arrows her father, for the first time ever, was firing her way.
“What should I do then?” she asked. “I can’t turn the clock back. I can’t erase the damage that’s been done.”
“No, you can’t take it all away, but you can do teshuvah.”
She was looking at her father like he was a stranger. The words coming out didn’t seem to belong to him. His voice, soft to begin with, was barely audible. His eyes no longer looked familiar. The dim light from the bedside lamp cast shadows on his face that rendered him nearly unrecognizable.
“What can I do? How can I fix this?” Hindy asked. She was aware of her mother and Miriam in the room, listening and not listening at the same time.
“You can do what I will do, right now.” He tried to sit up, but settled for leaning uncomfortably on his elbows. He looked her in the eyes, and this time he was Tatty again. He reached over and took her two hands between his, holding them tightly between his roughened palms. “I forgive you.”