L ast month, my ninth and youngest child got married. We accompanied her to the chuppah, where her chassan — a fine man, a mensch — waited, and something inside me burst open.

I’ve never told my story, but I felt that the time had come.

There’s a reason I never shared before: it was too hard. I had to keep my story shut inside me, tight. Controlled. If I took it out and examined it, if I grieved and was aggrieved, then I was afraid I’d be unable to continue.

But now it’s time. And it’s a sweet triumph for me, that all my children are married, that they are all building Torah homes of their own. It’s a vindication of the years when I kept my feelings locked inside, when I was mevater and strong. The years when I was queen of a stick.

Our fifth child was born when I was 24; I’d been 18 and my husband 19 when we married, and we had to grow up pretty fast.

It was a complicated birth, during which my son was deprived of oxygen. He was handicapped, physically and mentally. I agree that this was a turning point, but I get uptight about it as well. Lest someone blame my Pinny, when it wasn’t him at all. No one else causes another’s inner demons, I’ve learned.

Overwhelmed with caring for my brood, and emotionally off-kilter from my son’s condition, I barely noticed that my husband wasn’t coming home in the evenings.

Ah, so it’s the wife, you think, while clucking your tongue. It’s the wife’s fault for not providing a warm, sheltering cocoon. After all, didn’t she promise, when she circuited him seven times under the chuppah, that she’d be a wall for him? A protecting wall that would be a barrier to the outside world?

I’ve been through these thoughts, this guilt.

And I’ve come to realize that it was his choice. His choice to ask for what he needed — or choose to assuage his pain in the glitter the outside world offers.

As I said, I didn’t even notice. I did notice that wads of cash were floating around: falling out of the pockets of his pants, which I checked before sending to the dry cleaner. I’d see bills peeping out the pocket of his shirt. I wondered about it, but the thought didn’t become a question, because there was always something more pressing to ask.

I got used to going to sleep without him home. I was nursing a newborn; no surprise that I crashed at the end of each day. Until one night I woke up at 3 a.m. and he wasn’t home. I called the police. They laughed at me and told me that if he hadn’t turned up in 24 hours, I should call again.

I didn’t have to. Half an hour later, I heard his key in the front door.

He stumbled up the stairs, wearing clothing I didn’t recognize: a gray T-shirt and tight black chinos.

“Where have you been?” I demanded.

“None of your business,” he said roughly.

I was afraid, but I stood my ground. I picked up the phone. “Unless you tell me where you were, I’m calling the police right now.”

He jeered, but I glared at him. “They already know you’re missing.”

That seemed to knock some sense into him. “I was at a casino.”

Laugh at me if you will, but I didn’t know what a casino was. He must have read the blankness in my eyes, because he continued, “A place where people gamble.”

“And drink,” I muttered.

So that was where the cash was coming from. Beginner’s luck. “How did you end up at a casino?” I asked.

“None of your business.”

Oh, but it was.

And then, just to infuriate me further, he reached into his pocket and took out a packet of cigarettes. He lit one. My husband, the nonsmoker. With our baby in the room, passively breathing in all that poison.

I lost it. I grabbed the cigarette from him and threw it out of the bedroom window.

By this time, the children had woken up from the yelling. There were a series of little knocks on our bedroom door. One by one, I answered, took each child firmly by the hand, and led them back to their bedrooms. I took the baby with me, set up a Pack ’n Play in the kids’ room, and then squeezed into bed with my four-year-old. No matter that she poked and prodded me: I could not have slept if I wanted to.

By the time the sun rose, I decided I must have dreamed the events of the previous night. Either that, or I must have been absorbed in some gritty novel, and had dreamed that I’d fallen into its pages.

Denial was on the breakfast menu, along with fresh orange juice and cinnamon oatmeal.

But there was only so long I could close my eyes. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 544 – Shavuos 2017 Special Edition)