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Veiled Plans

Rachael Lavon

“The people…who don’t know. They think I’m being picky,” she said, so softly, Bella nearly missed the fiery ache held in the words.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

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“If I find two people who I think would be well matched, then all I would tell them is that they’re compatible. If things go well, it would be their responsibility to share their personal medical information at the right time.”

With every step she takes, the heaviness slides away.

The mediocrity she regularly wears falls off piece by piece, drops silently to the ground, becomes flattened beneath her heel. The streets are clad in a thin layer of tired leaves peeking timidly from crevices or tumbling mercilessly across the sidewalk. Normally Bella would find the death of summer depressing. She would cringe at the hint of winter weaving its way through the evening breeze. But not tonight. Tonight she grows lighter with every step. Tonight the promise of frigid days and bare spindly trees are but an afterthought, inconsequential against the backdrop of this great evening. By the time Bella spots the hall she is practically feather-like, hovering softly above lowly earth. It is a powerful feeling, this partnership with Heaven. It fills her with a weightlessness that fades over time...until the next shidduch is made, and she drifts upward once again. In the periods between her work she settles into her averageness nicely; 40 years of sitting in the shadows of a great man has made her amenable to quiet, dark spaces. Even now, as she basks in the bright light of tonight’s simchah, she herself will not shine. No one will realize her hand in this. Any acquaintances she might have waiting in the hall won’t question her presence — a perk of being married to The Lawyer. No one will know this is her shidduch.

But she knows. Her heart dances as she clutches the door handle, her grasp stronger than usual, filled with the power of creating a future in a space that held only uncertainty. As she passes the mirrored hallway she stops for a moment, inspecting herself. There is nothing particularly distinctive about Bella. Her outfit is classic, well-tailored, black. The skin around her eyes has begun to sag slightly and the crevices around her mouth have grown deeper. She realizes that she is completely forgettable; a woman whose most distinguishing feature is the man she is married to. But to a handful of people dotting the earth, she is an absolute hero. To them, she has made all the difference. And that fills Bella like nothing else.

She’d taped the invitation to the side of the fridge. Highlighted the date in red marker on her calendar, Greenberg/Markfield Wedding. A smiley face for effect.

The couple had dated for only two weeks. It was clear after the first date that they didn’t really need her. They had both called in with glowing reports, failing to disguise their excitement under layers of practiced cool. After the second date, Bella stepped aside, and the mazel tov phone call came soon after. There wasn't a glitch the whole way through. She’d been in Switzerland at the time of the vort — Shia took off one week a year, so there was no opting out — but she couldn't miss the wedding, as well. Of course Shia couldn't come tonight, but Bella had grown used to attending simchahs on her own. She didn't bother asking him anymore. *

It all began 15 years ago, when Bella approached Dr. Backstein, her longtime next-door neighbor and one of the city’s premier pediatric oncologists. She had an idea, she told him, borne from a deep desire to help a close friend’s daughter who lived with the knowledge that she would probably never have biological children. A 20-year-old girl with a large, empty hole in place of a future. “You must have frum, single patients dealing with infertility due to...” Bella had started nervously. “I can't be having this conversation with you,” he cut her off gently. “Obviously, you understand, discussing my patients’ medical conditions would be a breach of confidentiality.” Bella cleared her throat.

“That’s not what I'm asking of you. All I'm asking is that if you do have a patient who wants to be completely upfront about his condition... I'm sure shidduchim like this aren't simple, but I have an idea that could make it easier.”

Dr. Backstein raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“I want to be a filter. No one wants their child's medical history laid out for all to see, but at the same time, the medical condition needs to be shared to make an appropriate match. If you would vouch for me, then I could be a sieve. I would meet each side and get a detailed medical history. If I find two people who I think would be well matched, then all I would tell them is that they’re compatible. They would go out to see if everything else matches up — if they click, if they enjoy spending time together. If things go well, it would be their responsibility to share their personal medical information at the right time. If it doesn't work out, then they part ways, but without carrying with them the intimate details of the other person’s medical situation.”

Baruch Hashem, the idea took off, and slowly Bella's name grew — but only in very certain circles. Few of her acquaintances knew what Bella did in her spare time. Her children viewed her clandestine shidduch services as a sweet hobby, something to fill the long, empty-nest days. Her three sons were all lawyers like Shia, and her daughter a busy CPA. Go-getters, all of them. Disinclined to meddle in such human trivialities. None of them had time for such activities. (In fact, it seemed the only people in her life with any time at all were the grandkids, sweet wide-eyed children, eager to listen to books on long Shabbos afternoons while their parents slept off the week. Bella relished every moment with them.)

 

She’d met Chavie, tonight’s kallah, through the usual channels; as a teenager she’d been a patient of Dr. Backstein, and after a recent annual checkup, he recommended Chavie set up a meeting with Bella.

Chavie’s eyes were the first thing Bella noticed as she walked through the door. Green flecked with sunshine, intelligence, laughter. Her black hair subtly curled at the ends, her outfit attractive but understated. A sparkling girl.
Bella brought two cups of water into the living room and set them down gently on the coffee table.
Chavie's back was to her, slightly stooped, looking intently at the plethora of family photos sitting on the end table. When seen through her eyes, the endless photos of children and grandchildren made Bella's heart skip a beat. Her blessings took her breath away in the face of this young woman's burden; a heavy load of emptiness, bereft of gurgling newborns, first steps, tiny new teeth. “They are all beautiful,” Chavie said, turning toward Bella with a smile. “Thank you,” Bella answered softly.
Chavie went through her medical history with a professionalism that was both impressive and sobering. Bella nodded, listened attentively.
“The bottom line is I want to marry someone who won’t have any illusions about a future family. I want someone in the same position as me.” She spoke with a fierce resolve. Bella hated to be the one to tumble the towering castle of courage this young woman had so carefully constructed. But she’d always considered herself a beacon of honesty. She believed truth to be the fairy dust of all good things. False hope would be poison in a situation like this.
She took off her glasses, weighing her words carefully before speaking.
“I completely understand and commend your decision to be upfront about your situation. But I need you to realize we aren't working with a large pool here. This is a very specific medical condition…it could be years until the right person comes around. Years.”

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