The number on my phone was staring at me.
It’s the wrong time. It’s after shabbos by my kids.
My heart started racing. Nothing good can come of a phone call after shabbos. Were they hurt? Had something happened? My irrational mother fears swept me up into missing the call. It rang again.
“C, it’s Larry. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news we can’t try to sort before Monday.”
Are the children okay?
“The children are fine. Please don’t worry. I’m sorry to be calling right before shabbat.”
The tuf was a piercing staccato which lingered. Larry is Jewish, but his Judaism is limited to an awkward satin yarmulke at the latest colleague’s over the top birthday party for their spotty, entitled thirteen year old. Resisting the urge to put shabbos back into the conversation, I listened.
“S called his lawyer right before the time to let us know the children wouldn’t be speaking to you on Sunday as arranged. They are also preparing to appeal the parts of the arrangement which deal with custody and visitation. I’m sorry I don’t have good news. Do you have any questions?”
The questions were swirling in my head. Why now? Why the mind games? Why does he still get to torture me after all of these years? I paid the price. I’m paying the price.
Nausea bubbled up in my throat. No questions. Just pain, like my heart was beating too fast for my chest cavity. I pulled over the car.
“Shabbat Shalom, C.”
I hung up. How could it be a peaceful shabbos? A good shabbos? I looked at flights. If I made it to the airport in time, I could get on a flight and be there before they woke up. I could grab them. I’d never let them go.
“Mama! Is the car broken?”
I snapped back to reality, put the car in drive and merged back onto the road. I don’t remember driving to my parents’ house, but I knew I had to drop off the sweater my sister had left at my house when it was too warm to wear three layers during July. I had put the uniform on. It would be a shame to waste all the preparation because of my ex-husband’s repetitive torture.
Sweater and daughter in hand, I walked up the path and gingerly knocked on the door before letting myself in. My daughter was tugging on my skirt.
“Kush the mezuzah, Mommy!”
She didn’t say it to get me in trouble – it was more of a reminder should anyone be on the other side of the door and witness the transgression of leaving a mezuzah unkushed.
Shabbos smells overwhelmed me. The childhood anticipation briefly sat fondly in my heart before crashing down to my stomach when my judgemental sister walked towards the door, wooden spoon in hand and stained tea towel over her shoulder, to see who had opened it without permission. There was no greeting, no sisterly affection. She called for my mother, who appeared from the kitchen into the hall looking equally harried.
“C, you’re well?”
She saw my tear-stained cheeks and motioned for us to go in the living room. I still had the sweater, which I awkwardly shoved towards my other sister who appeared magically at the bottom of the stairs.
We sat, talking about my choices as a parent and how she could see why the outcome of the call was warranted by my ex-husband. How could I expect him to treat me with any level of respect if I was blatantly flaunting myself.
I tugged at the black jacket with white piping and scratched my head aimlessly where my real hair should have been. Flaunting myself indeed.
The sun turned orange, the reflection on the glass of the coffee table reminding me of the time. I needed to go. I didn’t want to take up any more time.
Then I was magically sat at my parents’ shabbos tish. Zmiros flooded my head as I picked at the golden rimmed plate my mother used for family shabbosim.
25 and a half hours of berating. 25 and a half hours lost forever to seeing my kids. And the hour today I do speak to my children is lost forever too.
Flaunting his power. Flaunting his control. Flaunting his chassidishe superiority.
Will it ever end?
I’m not sure I can take much more.