Please Don’t Shield Me From Bad News

By Nechama Rubin

I was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for my flu shot, when the door creaked open and a familiar looking woman strode in. She scrawled her name on the sign-in sheet and lowered herself into the chair directly opposite mine. I try not to be rude, and often find myself exercising great restraint not to gaze with open curiosity at the people sitting around me (which is my natural inclination), but something niggled at my mind, preventing me from lowering my eyes politely to the magazine in my hand. She looks so familiar! I thought. Who is she? I tried scanning the computer files locked inside my head, but I couldn’t summon up the right document. The computer, like me, is rusty.

I knew that I knew her, but from where? This was not a mere tantalizing puzzle teasing me, but quickly morphing into a tormenting one. I had to figure this out! Finally, reaching down, down into the dark recesses of my mind, I grasped at a faint clue stirring in my brain. Rivky! It was Rivky Gordon*, whom I hadn’t seen for… literally… decades! In the early years of my marriage, her husband and mine had been chavrusas, and we often shared Shabbos meals together. Then my husband and Rivky’s somehow drifted apart…and consequently so did we. Despite the intervening years, I became extremely excited when I realized that yes, it was Rivky Gordon—after all these years—sitting opposite me, and I was overjoyed to see her. I had only had the most positive and fondest memories of our times together, and I assumed she felt the same.

I rose quickly from my seat and approached her with exuberance. “Rivky?” I asked tentatively. “Is that really you?”

She looked up from her Tehillim, with a puzzled expression on her face, clearly struggling to place me just as I had previously tried to place her.

“It’s Nechama!” I practically frothed with enthusiasm. I bent down and engulfed her in a huge hug, followed by a flurry of kisses. My elation, however, did not seem to be reciprocated. At all. I had always experienced Rivky as a caring and warm individual, but she sat frozen, utterly motionless, staring at me in unfeigned shock.

My buoyancy started to deflate the second I realized that horror was registering on her face, not the joy that exuded from mine.

“Oh, I didn’t recognize you,” she said, ever so faintly.

I couldn’t understand it; we had always been on the best of terms. What was going on?

“How are you?” I gave her arm an affectionate squeeze.

She looked at me as if I were out of my mind.

To read more, subscribe to Ami