The Pit is Empty
Growing up, Dina would escape the tension in the apartment where her family lived by going over to Malka’s house. On Sundays, when school let out early, the “twins” would sneak down to the laundry room, and squeeze into the space under the stairs. There, through a crack in the wall, they could eavesdrop on the clients who came to unburden themselves to Malka’s mother in her basement office.
The girls would crouch and whisper to each other for hours, awed at the crying, complaining women who paraded through.
To Dina, it was just confirmation for what she already knew. The System was rotten. But Malka had another take.
“It pays for the summer camp!” she would parrot her mother.
Actually, that wasn’t quite true. Malka’s grandmother, who worked in real estate, covered the cost of sleep-away summer camp for Malka and her siblings. But the point of the saying was valid — the tears and kvetches of the clients translated into big bucks to pay the bills.
Fast forward now to the present. Dina was in her morning English Studies class when the teacher gave her a note to report to the school counselor’s office.
Dina was glad for any excuse to get out of class. She dawdled on the way to the office, trying to stretch out the time. A drink from the water fountain. Gazing out the window in the hall. Untying her shoes and re-tying them. The two minute walk to the office became twenty. She gently knocked on the door. And when Malka’s mother, the School Counselor, called out, “It’s open!” Dina turned the knob so slowly that someone could be excused if they thought it was moving counter-clockwise.
Finally, she pushed the door open, leaning into it with her shoulder as if it were a massive granite block.
“Sit down, Dina,” said Mrs. Draught perfunctorily. It was no longer ‘Malka’s Mommy’ in Dina’s mind. This was a “business” meeting. Still, Dina was wholly at home. She had been in the office numerous times over the years to set up her schedule of classes each semester.
Counselor Draught also took her time. She continued shuffling some papers on her desk and put through a brief phone call. Dina couldn’t have been more delighted. The clock on the walled ticked off the seconds like honey dripping from the comb.
Finally, Mrs. Draught gave Dina her full attention.
“Dina,” said Mrs. Draught. Dina sat up straight and focused on the counselor. Why was Mrs. Draught looking at her with such sorrow? An awkward moment passed.
“Yes…?” said Dina. She was trying to draw out from Mrs. Draught the bad news. Did Dina’s failing grades mean she’d have to go to summer school again?
“Dina, I got a call from your mother,” began Mrs. Draught.
Dina heaved a sigh of relief. She hated summer school even more than the regular year!
Mrs. Draught continued. “And your mother told me she had ‘the talk’ with you. About how you are to prepare for the next part of your life. Going to seminary after graduation next year, and then being introduced to a young man.”
Dina nodded, lips pursed.
“And your mother told me you began bawling and ran to your room.”
Dina was so happy to have an opportunity to talk to someone about her feelings. Again she shook her head, vigorously acknowledging the circumstances.
“Why, Dina,” implored Mrs. Draught gently. “Why did you do that?”
Dina opened up her heart. “To be honest, I was practicing.”
“Practicing for what?” asked Mrs. Draught, aghast.
“Practicing to be a Kolel wife,” Dina said smugly.
Mrs. Draught’s voice rose. Not the volume. The tone. Almost to a repressed squeak. She forced out the words. “What ever do you mean?” she inquired phonily.
As if she doesn’t know, thought Dina sarcastically.
“Practicing to be miserable,” Dina spelled out. Dina was mystified. Why do we have to play games?
Mrs. Draught tried a different tack. “Dina, you know that your family, school and community have prepared you to be a Yungleit wife. Isn’t it what you want more than anything else??”
Dina made snoring sounds. Mrs. Draught became flustered.
“Dina that’s not respectful!” she shouted.
“You always say we can express whatever we want within the walls of this office,” Dina spit back.
“Since when do you listen to anything anyone says,” yelled Mrs. Draught flustered, her face inflamed, and biting off each word to give it maximum sting. She immediately regretted being cynical. She quickly composed herself and resumed her saccharine composure.
“Dina, I understand you are having an episode,” she said sweetly. “Do you want to explore it?”
Dina was angry now. “I sure do want to explore it,” she exploded.
“Go right ahead, dear,” said Mrs. Draught, laying the trap like she’d done before for so many girls and women. “What kind of life do you envision for yourself?”
“I don’t know,” Dina said wistfully. She wrinkled her forehead. “Why can’t I live like the Avos, the simple life in tents, without tuitions and begging for scholarships…sort of like — like….”
Dina was struggling for the right word. I couldn’t resist whispering in her ear: “‘Nomads’”.
“…nomads,” Dina concluded dreamily.
Mrs. Draught sat up straight in her chair as if she’d received an electric shock. This was a severe setback. She was not expecting that response.
“Thank you, Dina,” she cut off Dina’s musings, her voice quavering in terror. “That will be all!!”
Dina dragged herself back to class, reluctant to say goodbye to the welcome break from the tedium of school. Meandering, she briefly stepped outside, reveling in the sunlight under a clear sky. Across the street was a garden of white roses. She stopped at the bulletin board by the office reflecting on a picture of Sophie Scholl. Dina timed her return perfectly, just as the class was going to recess.