As I walked north on Fifth Avenue, after leaving my office for the day, I began chuckling at the notion of Rosenbaum’s investiture as a Chevalier du Tastevin. The snow was starting to fall harder, when I saw a female figure wearing a long, blue woolen overcoat and a gray shawl racing towards me.
“Ist es ein Traum?” A petite girl in her late teens with long chestnut hair well past her shoulders stood before me in the moonlight. She had twinkling doe eyes and a face that belonged in another time. She wiped the melting snow off her face and asked: “Vus machst du hier, Rebbe?”
I couldn’t understand a word she was saying and asked if she spoke English. All the while I couldn’t stop looking at her face, which seemed to grow more beautiful the longer I stared at it.
“Ikh ken nisht farshtayn,” she said. “Red Yiddish, Rebbe.” The girl grabbed hold of my hands and squeezed them.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I don’t know what you’re saying. Do you need help? Can I help you?”
“Helfn? Helfn!” Her voice was tinged with annoyance and she stared up at the night sky with a simmering fury. “Hast gehert? Fur eine ganze Yoor, du hast gezugt…”
She abruptly stopped speaking and snapped her head to one side, like an animal sensing danger nearby. She released my hands and dashed across the street into the park. I watched her disappear, yet another of the city’s urban cripples.,
“Tell me about your dream, Barbara.”
She kneaded her forehead with her fingertips, as if this might help summon up the memory. Then she spoke: “We’re walking down a cobbled street. It is steep and winding. Like in Europe somewhere. It is dark out. And we come to a carved door—really thick wood and an old-fashioned brass knocker. We unlock the door and climb the stairs.”
“You keep saying ‘we.’ Are you with Elise?”
“Elise? Why would I be with Elise? No! It’s this guy. I don’t know who he is. But he’s young, good-looking, buff. He’s got a full beard. He takes my hand and we climb the stairs, wooden ones that lead to a darkened attic room. I hear chanting. I’m scared. Reminds me of The Exorcist. I don’t want to climb anymore but he keeps pulling me up those stairs. They creak. We finally reach the room at the top. There are candles lit everywhere, and old men in prayer shawls. They are squeezed in tight under the roof, rocking and chanting on benches. I’m dressed funny. Like, you know, peasant clothes. My hair is long and braided. The men see me, and their faces get all twisted with anger. They try shooing me away, as if they’re doing something illegal or forbidden. But the young guy keeps insisting it’s all right.”
Suddenly Barbara began swaying as she spoke. I thought she was about to faint and reached out a hand to steady her but hastily withdrew it. I was afraid if I touched her, she might stop speaking.
“There’s a man seated in a chair at the front of the room. He is gesturing for me to approach him. I don’t want to. The chanting grows louder and louder. I’m scared. He’s wearing a big hat and has a black beard, but I can’t see his eyes. He’s holding his hands outstretched to me. What does he want from me? I shake my head no, no. Leave me alone. But the young guy pushes me gently towards him. I’m walking on tiptoe, little short steps like a child. Floorboards creak underneath me. I reach my hands out to the bearded man, who takes hold of them and squeezes them gently. Then he lifts his head up and smiles at me.
“He looks like you.”
A strange transformation had taken place: the girl was no longer my patient, and I was clearly her slave—completely in her power. How had this happened?
Some laughing kids in brightly colored parkas whizzed past us on a toboggan. Suddenly I felt an irresistible urge to recapture that happy memory from my childhood in Evanston, the one on the sled with Donna Schuman’s cousin from Syracuse, whose name I still could not remember. I asked the oldest kid if my girlfriend and I could borrow his toboggan for one quick ride. In exchange for the rest of our hot chocolate, he agreed.
Hand in hand, we pulled the toboggan behind us up the steep hill. We still hadn’t exchanged a word, but my heart pounded with excitement, both innocent and timeless. I sat at the front of the toboggan to steer, and Barbara sat behind me clutching my waist. Seconds later we were barreling down the hill with the snow spraying in our faces. I was twelve years old again, sailing towards the uncharted shores of that New World called Love. How pure and cleansing it felt, so devoid of cynicism and irony. I could hear Barbara squealing behind me with delight and smell the hot chocolate on her breath. How I wanted that moment to last forever. Then Barbara cried out in alarm. We had hit a large rock buried under the snow and been thrown off the toboggan.
We lay sprawled atop each other in the snow, holding each other’s hands tightly and laughing uncontrollably. By some miracle, we had not sprained or broken anything. The young boy came running over to claim his toboggan, cursing me for almost wrecking it. I helped Barbara to her feet and handed the kid a five-dollar bill for his trouble.
Her scarf and overcoat were caked in snow, and I made a futile attempt to clean it off of her. Instead she clung to me; it took all my will power to keep from kissing her deeply, passionately, and gratefully. Barbara had given me back a lost part of my youth that afternoon. Had I died at that moment, it would have been in a state of bliss.
Then reality reared its unpleasant head. What would I say to her the next morning at our session? How could I reconcile my vow never to socialize with my patients with this romp in the snow, like some love-struck adolescent?
As if reading my mind, Barbara stared warmly into my eyes and whispered: “Don’t worry.” Those were the only words she had spoken all afternoon. She kissed me on the cheek, said good-bye, and hurried away across the park.