Chava and Mo happily marry at a shul in Miami Beach the afternoon of July 2nd.
The next week, impossibly squeezed with their luggage into a toy-sized hotel room in Paris, still dressed in the street clothes they’d changed into before leaving the last sheva brachos, Chava stands with her back against the wall across the bed’s width from Mo, hangs up the phone on the end table, and says, “You should know this. You should know that you only have me as long as they are alive. Because when my parents –“
She holds up her hand.
“You won’t have me anymore,” she says. “You’ll have to put me away. Because I’ll finally break. I’m just telling you the truth. That’s when I’ll be gone. I’ll be done. I’ll be broken and gone and done. I will be a broken shell. You should know this.”
Mo thinks, Then let’s make the best of this time. Starting now.
But he doesn’t say it.
Mo says nothing. What can he say?
They sit up in bed holding hands all night.
The next day the sun lasts forever and it’s as if that brief exchange of words never happened. They walk everywhere. Paris is a circus of colors and smells and downright prissiness. Mo wants to believe it was a passing episode, as those times in the past. Mo wants to skip. She lets go of his hand and says, “So skip.”
“No. You go ahead.”
He holds her hand and walks with her instead. Later, they eat cheese sandwiches in the room and finish a bottle of wine. They are running out of kosher supplies. The next day they find a store. Families shopping together. Despite their garb – his large knit, rasta-style kippa and long tzitzit and her long, gypsy skirt – Chava and Mo’s colorfully tattooed forearms draw stares, inspire whispers and giggles.
But their practiced smiles can disarm an army of weaponized elephants.
Looking over the pastries, she says, “I wish you would have skipped, you know. When you pity me it makes me feel bad. I’d rather you have fun embarrassing yourself than pity me.”
“I’m still learning.”
“I know. Me too,” she says. “I’m still learning, too.”
Back in the room, eating rugelach in bed, Mo reminds Chava that they’re leaving for Nice in the morning.
“I already packed for both of us,” she says.
In Nice they breakfast on the deck of the rooftop pool.
Chava moves in slow motion. She is tired, so tired. Again.
Mo says, “Let’s get lost like we did in Portland last year. We can pack a lunch and stroll to the sea.”
She looks out toward the horizon. “No. You go ahead.”
Mo wants to urge. He wants to tell her she’ll feel better getting exercise and seeing the sights. He wants to tell her to fight.
But he knows she’s fighting already. Fighting not to scream just to feel. Fighting not to cry because she can’t be the person she thinks he wants her to be right now. And he wants to hold her.
“I can’t do this, right now,” she says. She won’t look at him. “I’ll feel better later. I promise.”
Mo gets lost between buildings painted alternately in shades of mango, papaya, banana, and avocado. He passes busy cafes and restaurants serving paella, pasta, or flat pizzas. Fountains applaud laughter, strollers manage cobble stones. He is one of throngs of tourists.
He turns into a shadowed alleyway, follows the sun. From around the corner suddenly crashes a bass guitar and drums in a beautiful crusty grunge stomp. Mo skips a few steps around a bend and finds himself at the back of a crowd of dancing teens, the oldest maybe ten years younger than him. They’re a small sea of denim and flannel and guttural accents and sweat. Against his very nature, Mo hangs in the back for a few bars and then turns away, back the way he’d come.
There was a time he would have jumped in. There was a time she would have as well. They didn’t know each other at those times.
And now that they do, and more than know each other, he wonders if ever they’ll be so careless and free together.
Chava tries everything.
One rebbetzin tells her Judaism doesn’t believe depression is real. She advises her to read tehillim to grow her consciousness of Gd’s gifts and that really she had no reason to feel sad.
“It’s not sad,” Chava said. “It’s not anything.”
Mo suggests they find another rebbetzin. Only after Chava sees a therapist.
There are good days and nights of eating too much and strolling on Washington Avenue motzei Shabbos.
Chava tries to be the feel good hit of the summer no matter the season. And sometimes she puts on a good show. But the façade is weak.
Late one afternoon, Mo comes home, opens the door, and is stunned with his bike in the doorway. Fighting fear, he turns away. Behind him, the sun sinks in a mass of purple and orange. He can smell the dirty dishes from the kitchen. On the stereo he can hear Johnny Hartman.
Chava is sitting on the red futon holding baby Eli to her chest. Both of them are crying.
Mo takes a deep breath and asks, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing. I’m fine. Come in, already.”
“You’re not fine.”
Mo brings the bike in and leans it against the front jalousies.
“What’s going on? What happened?”
“Can you take Eli?”
She holds him up as Mo comes, takes him, and brings him to his shoulder. He coos and kisses him, calms him.
She blows her nose and asks, “How did it go today? How many hit songs did you produce today?”
Mo shakes his head. “At least he doesn’t mind my stench,” he says with a smile.
She looks at the stacks of records. Wipes her nose with another tissue from the end table.
She says, “I was afraid of throwing him. Of dropping him.”
Mo rocks Eli.
He says, “We’ll go see the doctor tomorrow. Staying off the meds isn’t working. We need help. Enough is enough. No more martyrdom.”
She nods, wipes her eyes. “Are you afraid of me?”
Mo sits on the couch, puts Eli in his mother’s lap.
“We’ll get help. We’ll get past this,” he says.
Pamelor, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Lithium, Lomectil, Welbutrin, Adderall, and back to Zoloft.
Anxiety, zombie brain, flatline.
Too much, too little, too much, too little.
Bi-polar, bi-polar 2, mania, no mania. OCD, panic, sleep.
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Oh, please Gd, give me sleep.
Go away. Don’t leave me. Help me. I can do it. I need to come home. I can’t come home. Oh, Gd please help me.
Mo is there. Always.
“Why?” she asks.
“I’m your knight in dented armor,” he says.
“You always say that,” she says.
“That’s our story,” he says.
“But I’m no damsel in distress,” she says. “I’m hard. I can kick your tuches.”
“You’ll punch my armor back into shape, then,” he says.
“You’re such a geek.”
“I love you.”
“To the freakin stars and beyond,” she says.
She finds a new rebbetzin who recommends a therapist. Chava meets with the rebbetzin as often as she meets with the therapist.
After bean bags and buckets of coffee and crates of tissues and finally a working cocktail of meds and strategies, Chava begins to feel and hope again. She takes up reading tehillim. She walks with Eli on Lincoln Road. She paints the apartment walls while listening to Bob Marley. The bedroom is winter green. The living room is morning sky blue. The kitchen is canary yellow.
She goes to a Tuesday night women’s halacha class and remembers wanting to be a lawyer. She becomes fond of dreams of eternal flames and singing mountains and clapping trees. Dreams of crumbling teeth she tries to forget. She starts training in Krav Maga with Mo. The family that kicks together, sticks together, they say.
One day Chava laughs at a dog smiling from a window of a passing car. At the next red light, Mo reaches for her hand.
“You haven’t laughed in weeks,” he says.
She says, “I used to tell my friends: He’s a wonderful boy whose biggest mistake has been to fall in love with me.”
“Our life together keeps proving that wrong.”
She looks at him — and she breathes.
He says, “I found us a small house on the bay.”
The backyard is a quarter acre of stiff grass full of stickers. Two scraggly, unkempt midget trees stick their branches akimbo on the right. On the left, tall palms heavy with coconuts. The sea wall has just been refurbished. Atop squats a short wall of coral rock put together by the previous owner with an opening to a small deck, where they now stand. The azure bay smells of salt life and claps under their feet.
Chava picks the burs from the hem of her skirt.
Mo holds Eli on his hip, points out the seagulls, distant boats motoring and making wakes.
“Those are sharp, babe.”
“Thanks for the timely report, my knight.”
“How are you feeling today?” he asks.
She looks up at him. He has stuck with her. He’ll never leave her. She knows it.
“Like this house can really be ours,” she says, “but these stickers really suck.”
“Burweed,” Mo says. “With patience, we can bring this grass back to life.”
“I want to do it,” Chava says. “I’ll do that.”
A month later, the air outside is November crisp and Chava is shopping for different grass treatments and fertilizers online. She looks up from her screen to see a blue heron standing on the deck. The indifference of the bird’s expression irks her.
Mo comes in from the backyard. He pauses to pick burs from his laces. “Ouch!”
“Those are sharp, babe,” she says.
He goes to the sink and washes.
“I think I’m getting a hive,” he says. “It’s itchy.”
“We’ll be rid of them. It takes time.”
“No doubt,” Mo says. “In the meantime, try these.”
Mo puts a handful of small, orange, strongly citrus smelling ovals on the table in front of her.
She crinkles her nose, asks, “What are these?”
In his hand he shows her a little green sticker. “Burweed we get rid of. But we keep the trees.”
“Why? They’re so ugly.”
“They grow these beauties.”
Squaring his shoulders triumphantly, he says, “Kumquats. Don’t peel it. I already washed them. Just bite into one and feel.”
Chava holds the small fruit up to her eyes, squints. “It’s like a little drop of sunlight.”
“They’re extremely tart,” he tells her.
“Exactly. Eat one.”
She bites. In her mouth is the exquisite ecstasy of pregnancy without the pain. The glands in her jaws explode in her mouth like fireworks of harsh sweetness. A feeling she will perennially return to. A feeling she will never forget.
Even at times when she doesn’t feel a thing, she considers the kumquat and knows she could again chew on and swallow a piece of the sun. It doesn’t make her feel better. It just reminds her that, yes, she will feel life fully again. Soon.
But first sleep.
Before she knows it, Mo kisses her forehead, says, “Eli and I will be fishing for dinner. We’ll wake you when it’s ready.”
She nods. She just wants to sleep for now.
As she closes her eyes, Mo leaves a handful of kumquats on the end table.
Image from Flickr.