“Oh my goodness!” Chava exclaimed when she chanced upon Eva in the supermarket aisle, their overloaded carts bumping into each other between the cereals and cornflake crumbs. “How have you been?”
“What's it been?” asked Eva, conveying her delight in meeting Chava. “Nine years since I graduated high school?”
“More like forever!” joked Chava.
“Where have been at all these years?” Eva asked.
“Just moved back from Israel,” Chava confessed. “We started off there after we got married and then kind of got stuck. My husband was learning, and then when I had my fourth kid and I couldn't work so many hours anymore, he tried a few things, but nothing panned out, so here we are. In the family business. But my husband is happy there, I love the American supermarkets, and my kids are doing pretty okay in their schools.”
“Where do you live?” Eva asked.
“Chestnut Hill,” said Chava. “My parents bought us a little house, and it's right near my sister. So I am really happy to be back.” Chava suddenly realized she was talking too much about herself. It was as if she was falling straight back into the high school self she thought she had long abandoned. She caught herself quickly and said, “And you? What are you up to?”
Chava thought she detected a darkness that flitted through Eva's expression, but her voice rang out cheery and confident. “We are over on Walnut Grove. Just a mile out of where you are. It's a little bit out of the neighborhood but it was what we could afford. But we are happy there and the buses pick up my kids from the corner so I can't complain.”
“We must get together,” Chava said exuberantly. “It will be so much fun to reminisce!”
“Yes,” said Eva, again the undercurrent of a somberness that belied the lighthearted mood they projected, “we must.”
And they exchanged numbers, programming and branding their relationship that very moment into their phones.
Years later, when Chava looked back upon the chancy meeting with Eva, upon her rash invitation, she wondered if she could have prevented—or avoided—the horrible years that followed. Or, if the seeds had been planted in high school, and would have sprouted in any case once she was replanted in the USA. She wondered if her resistance to moving back to American had been a subconscious knowledge of the agony she had held at bay, and the fear of triggering the emotional holocaust that simmered beneath the golden facade of her handsome husband and beautiful children that became the foundations of her new life in Israel.
She would never know. But she had many painful days with which to think and countless sleepless nights filled with regret.
Eva was an eleventh grader when Chaya entered ninth grade.
Hers was an ordinary life.
She knew, absolutely knew, that it did not matter that her mother was really her step-mother, that the woman she called mother had married her father when she was only six months old, three months after her biological mother had died from an aneurysm in her brain.
It wasn't something she shared with her friends, it wasn't something she thought about. And if she sometimes felt a strange sensation, like something akin to the pain of phantom limb, she ignored it.
Chaya was considered a popular girl. She knew that. Head of this. Head of that. Teacher's pet. She was driven. Towards what she had no idea. But sometimes she envied those girls who could just be. “An active verb,” her teacher once teased her, “not a passive one.” Not even a verb of being. To be was something she didn't know how to be.
Maybe she would have just coasted along, not thinking, in her frenzied school years if her sister would not have decided to grace the house with her presence just then. After Chavie's queening presence for fifteen years, the sole female to her mother, there was something unsettling about a new sister. Although then, in tenth grade, she was thrilled about the new baby, thrilled she had a sister.
So although Chava was not quite content, she did not feel not-content either. And she was flattered when Eva began to take an interest in her sometime in tenth grade, when the house was still reeling from all the pink that suddenly invaded the house.
Eva was one of those girls who everyone wanted to be with. She had a magnetic pull that even drew teachers to her. Something like Chavie. So when they found themselves both eating pizza and coke during a mid-year melave malka, meeting and shmoozing while sitting down to catch their breath during the dancing, it seemed like they belonged together.
“Chav,” said Eva, “wanna come with me to King's Mall on Sunday after school?”
Chava rolled around the nickname Chav on her tongue and decided she liked it. “Sure,” she said.
It was the thing that year to have an older friend. Lots of girls in her grade were creating twosomes with twelfth graders. It was cute. Like just cute.
And then it was as if all the air was sucked out of her, as she fell into a whirlwind relationship with Eva. Eva slept at her house at least once a week and they spent hours talking until the sun rose up and then they staggered, drunk with the euphoria of their new friendship, into school the next day, the exhilaration of shared secrets and the wondrous intensity of their interest in each other excluding the world.
They shopped together, spent hours each night on the phone.
Play practice was going on simultaneously so half the girls were always out of class anyway, and walking around dizzy with lack of sleep and wired excitement because of the play. The two of them seemed no different than everyone else at the time.
They whispered through play practice (Eva was head of dance and Chava had a pretty good part in Act Two), and Eva slept at her house after each late practice. Somehow, she never thought about the oddness that Eva never invited her to her home, not even once.
After a few weeks of this, as Pesach vacation was nearing, it was her mother who suggested that maybe she should call her old friends as she seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with Eva. And dutifully, she did. Maybe a little relieved that her mother noticed and took charge. Maybe. But finals rolled on top of her, and although they still spent time together, the Pesach break and finals managed to create a little distance. And then, because their friendship had only begun mid-year, and their summer plans had been long finalized, the added two month separation of summer made them strangers again in September. She was barely a letter writer and even though she received letters from Eva, they quickly dwindled until she was immersed in her camp experience and when Eva informed her of her sudden plans to leave to an out-of-town seminary, she felt a pang of regret, but nothing more.
Eva sought her out when she cam home for mid-winter break, sometimes, but some sense of unease permeated their relationship now, and she withdrew to her safe friends, and the next thing she heard was that Eva was inseparable with Gittel, a very popular girl in the adjacent class. But it didn't matter anymore and until she didn't meet Eva in supermarket aisle, she had forgotten the spark and electricity that flowed off of her, and thus her spontaneous invitation to reconnect, an unconscious yearning for the those magical days when she mattered so much to the golden girl of her grade, unencumbered by adult responsibilities.
“Eva!” Chava said, a warmth at hearing her cherished nickname again. “How are you?”
“Just wanted to know if you were available to take the kids out to the park,” Eva said. “I prepared some arts and crafts for them, and some lunch.”
Chava hesitated. She had so many errands to do, especially with two children in tow, but it seemed ungracious to refuse once Eva had made lunch and obviously put in so much effort. “I guess,” she said. And then not wanting to seem churlish in face of Eva's generosity, she offered to bring drinks and some snack. Chava surveyed her kitchen, and then, with a sigh, took some of the homemade cupcakes she had made for Sholom's birthday party the next day, and put then in her bag. “I will make some more tonight,” she consoled herself.
They had a lot of fun together and Chava realized how much she enjoyed Eva's company.
“Are you available tonight to go out to a shiur?” asked Eva later when they were packing up to go home.
“Oh, I don't think so!” Chava said. “My husband is going out with his chavrusa every night, and I don't want to leave the children with a babysitter.”
Eva asked, “Don't you get bored at home? Like, only your husband gets to escape at night?”
Chava laughed, refusing to hear the thinly veiled accusation that Chava almost thought was her imagination. “I love my nights at home,” she said honestly. “I read to the kids, sometimes bake with them, and anyway, I want my husband going to learn. Even if he works by day, I still support his learning.”
Eva laughed easily. “You are such a wonderful person,” and Chava wasn't sure if there was a layer of sarcasm or admiration in her compliment.
But something was happening to Chava.
She was being swept away by the sheer force of Eva's personality. By the most wonderful feeling of being the center of it all again. It was the hours of phone calls at night, that began the second her husband walked out the door to learn with his chavrusa, and often continued late after her husband already returned.
Eva was a drug. Chava felt alive and excited in her presence, and even by the sound of her voice. She waited for the phone to ring at 7 pm each night with both exhilarated excitement and the deep and thrilling conversations they shared, and dread that nothing of importance would get done that night. Whatever could be accomplished with a phone hooked onto her ear, like laundry and dishes, was accomplished; the mothering of books and baking and games of Candyland somehow fell by the wayside.
“Chava,” asked her husband one day, “what happened to the bank statement?”
Chava looked at him blankly. “Bank statement?”
“Yes,” Meshulam reminded her. “You were supposed to take care of the paperwork at the bank for our mortgage. Isn't it due today?”
Chava felt a panic stab at her. The bank statement!
In the weeks since meeting Eva, it was as if her responsibilities had ceased to exist in the rapture of Eva's friendship and she had neglected to take care of it.
She willed the panic to a deep dark hole in her body and smiled at her husband, fighting her fear that she had created an irreparable mess. “I will do it today,” she said lightly. “It's on my list.”
“Okay,” he said agreeably. “Don't forget because my parents are taking us to the mortgage broker later tonight and we need that document.”
When he left, unsuspecting to work, she lowered herself onto the kitchen chair and waited for the panic to pass.
The phone rang.
She glanced at it despairingly and ignored it. It was Eva, but she needed to get to the bank!
It rang and rang incessantly.
She nursed the baby, bathed and dressed the toddler, and ran for the door with her double carriage waiting outside her front door, locked onto the railing. She threw the door open, panting from her exertions, and sprang outside.
“Oh!” she said. Eva was outside, her own child wrapped in the carriage blanket.
“You didn't answer the phone, Chav,” Eva said.
“I know,” Chava said, a slight irritation sprouting at the diminutive Chav. “I needed to run to the bank for an important errand.” She wondered why she felt apologetic. And annoyed. And a little irritated and angry as well. Really Eva had done nothing wrong and it was her fault, totally her fault that she had neglected this errand for so long. Not Eva's fault at all.
“Here,” said Eva, suddenly taking charge. “Take my car. I will watch the kids. If it's important, I can wait in your house with them, and you run and do what you need to.”
Chava was disarmed by Eva's generosity. And felt guilty at her treacherous thoughts of only moments earlier.
“No,” she said. “We can go together. It's easier to walk.”
And she fell straight under Eva's spell for the rest of the day, in which she accomplished nothing more than her single errand to the bank to the relief of her husband.
The insidious strands of the relationship began to insinuate themselves into her life.
She was exhausted each morning after long hours of conversation at night. The children began to be clingy, and she felt her irritation with them grow even as she tried to mask it, refusing to acknowledge how she was not the mother she had been just a few short months ago. Her husband began to comment on her absorption with Eva and expressed first his concern, then his resentment, and finally began to openly criticize the friendship. “Something is weird,” he insisted. “It's like you have no other life except for Eva!”
Chava knew it was true but she felt powerless to stop it.
Chava felt paradoxically whole and fragmented when she was in Eva's circle of influence.
Eva was magnetic, and the force field around her was so compelling, she felt helpless to resist.
“You are addicted!” her husband accused her one night, when she finally put down the phone after midnight, to find him pacing in the kitchen, waiting for her to finish her phone call after begging her for over two hours with hand gestures and facial grimaces.
Chava was stunned.
She was addicted to Eva!
The euphoria when she spoke to her, the withdrawal and despair she encountered from Friday afternoon until after Shabbos was over if Eva, or herself, ever was away for the weekend and contact was impossible (did she even entertain the horrific thought of texting to her on Shabbos? G-d forbid! But how she wished it!), the overwhelming relief and adrenalin rush when the phone rang Motzai Shabbos and she knew Eva's presence was near.
Chava lay in her bed, her body rigid, her mind in chaos as she sought to assimilate her husband's words. Addicted. Addiction. Addict.
She remembered their high school years and how Eva and herself had drifted apart, despite the magnetism that had taken its hold on her even then.
She woke up early. Before the children were up. But she kept her eyes tightly closed, her breath shallow and quiet until her husband silently dressed and left the house. It seemed that all too lately, these silences grew bigger and bigger as Eva loomed larger and larger.
There was only one person she could trust to call.
Only one person who would be up this early.
“Mommy?” she whispered into the phone.
“Chava!” the alarm in her mother's voice shocked her. Jolted her out of her misery. “Is everything okay?”
And then the dam burst.
“No!” she said, and between sobbing and hiccups, she spilled out the story of Eva.
Her mother was silent throughout.
“Honey,” she finally said. “It wasn't a coincidence that Eva's letters stopped in camp. I had the camp director intercept them.”
“What's wrong with her?” Chava asked, her chest tight with fear and wretchedness. “What's wrong with me?”
“I don't know. These things happen, I guess, in high school. The principal didn't seem to think it unusual and she actually thought I was overreacting but something seemed so off about the relationship that I knew instinctively I needed to put a stop to it.”
Then Chava bursts out crying again. “She's ruining my life! I 'm consumed with her!”
“Well, then,” said her mother matter-of-factly, “You know what you need to do.”
“I can't stop it now!” Chava wailed, her grief welling up from some deep well inside of her she hadn't realized existed. “I will die if I can't see her or speak to her!
“And don't tell me I need therapy!” She sniffled into the phone.
“Then what are actions are you willing to take to salvage your life on your own?” her mother asked her gently.
“Nothing,” she wanted to tell her mother. “Nothing.”
That is when the children woke up.
Her mother remained on the line as she began weeping.
And when her children began to investigate the sounds of crying and found their mother on the floor, the phone glued to her ear, and her cell phone pressed against her chest as if holding on for dear life, they too began to cry.
“Chava?” her mother's voice called to her. “Chava?”
But Chava was beyond hearing. She keened with grief and loss at what she was being asked to sacrifice and she did not feel up to the task.
“I'm crazy,” she continued crying,
She found a good therapist.
It was a long and arduous journey to disentangle herself from Eva.
She ignored the messages on her phone.
She learned about mothers and daughters and holes that sometimes cannot be filled, even with new mothers. And she learned that maybe Eva had a mother that was not a mother. Not good-enough. That this feeling of overwhelming need for a mother figure could happen when there was any type of rupture in the mother-baby bond. That all the years of yearning for the teacher's attention, for all those older friends that dotted the landscape of her teen years, even those funny feelings she felt for her boss years ago, all of those were connected. But she also learned that she could live with this reality, with this knowledge, with that bit of sorrow, and she made a scrapbook of the mother she never knew.
But sometimes, even as she was surrounded with the love of her family, and felt grateful for the children and grandchildren whom she loved, she would sometimes let the knitting fall from her hands, and with her eyes closed, she remembered Eva.
NOTE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH MAGAZINE; A FICTION STORY
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