A few years ago, I was looking at psychotherapy memes on Instagram when Hannah popped up in my follow requests. We had both changed names and looks. Forced to wear wigs (as an ultra-Orthodox Jewess), I thought I could go blonde to change from my boring chestnut. She wore an assemblage of wigs and other creative headgear.
We first sent each other “hearts” in response to posts, not daring to break the silence with words. “She looks happy, I said to myself, by swiping my finger on his photo feed. Do not do anything.”
However, I couldn’t help but see her young, a teenager, with her braces, her tousled bun, without make-up, or wrinkles in her expression, putting her backpack next to me on the day of the return to second year, at Borough Park High School in Brooklyn. As our classmates scribbled equations on graph paper, she took a neon pen and wrote “Hannah” on his forearm. I rolled up the sleeve of my checkered shirt, took my ballpoint pen and wrote on my pale skin: “Malka”.
She had sketched a smile. And I wanted to know everything about her.
feel perfectly fine
She came from another town where there was no high school for Orthodox Jews.
“I don’t understand this place”, she told me.
“I will tell you everything you need to know”, I had answered.
She raised an eyebrow and let out a laugh.
In the evening, in the solitude of my house, I worried about her. My parents had separated, my mother lived locked behind her bedroom door while my father had almost taken up residence in his warehouse. Hannah was staying with a Jewish family in the neighborhood for the year. She had no relatives in this town. It seemed normal to invite him to share a dinner prepared by my mother. It seemed obvious to me that she had to stay asleep. Those nights, despite the alarms ringing in my head, I felt perfectly fine, our two bodies curled up against each other.
We circled around under the neon lights of the classrooms. The other girls had noticed and whispered that we looked alike like sisters, trying to put words to what neither of us could express. We were preparing to graduate as the new millennium entered, to meet yeshiva students, and to fulfill our destiny by getting married and having children.
Torments of the soul
When the silence at home became too stifling, I decided to move to Toronto with cousins for the last two years of high school. I was relieved that I was no longer subject to temptation.
I followed the example of the wise and fasted on weekdays until I felt my hip bones