It was an early summer evening, around six-thirty, when the three paramedics pushed the narrow stretcher into the ambulance. Inquisitive people pressed close to see what was happening. There was no telling how bad the situation was—would the person survive?
The red lights of the ambulance blended with the colors of the sky. The gates of Heaven appeared to Leigh in a dramatic picture. It was a mixture of Heaven and Hell. Unique colors of the sunset dipped into the horizon—reds, blacks, golds, and pinks, changing their shades rapidly. A beauty that was distorted by the siren of the ambulance leaving.
Leigh drifted back into the past, reliving the day when she’d discovered that the man who had raised her was not her biological father—the day she’d turned eighteen—when she’d opened her birthday card.
Best wishes on your eighteenth birthday. It is time for me to unveil the lie I live, and for you to face the truth. I wrapped up long pages from my life for you.
Leigh was uncomfortable. She looked at the large gift box and didn’t want to think that her mother’s journal was inside. Would my mother really give me her journal for my birthday? Did she really believe that this was the gift I wanted?
She ripped off the wrapping paper, thinking how the festive paper didn’t suit the content. Leigh wondered what was buried in the box. Does my mother really keep her secrets in here? What secrets can she have? Do I really want to know?
But apparently, it was important to her mother that she read this. Her mother’s words from her card played through her mind. It’s time for you to face the truth. Leigh pulled the first page from the box. It looked new, not like the many timeworn, somewhat wrinkled, yellowish papers in the notebooks that were still in the box. She could smell the mustiness that the years had left behind.
Leigh recognized her mother’s handwriting. With a black pen on white paper, her mother had written what she would not say.
My beloved daughter,
The first chapter of my life was relatively ordinary. Then, I entered colorful times. I was older, but probably not mature enough. It was, and still is, a beautiful part of my life—I was overloaded with excitement. Still, my happiness was diluted with loneliness and distress. My heart ached more often than it rejoiced and there were days when I couldn’t distinguish between stupidity and courage.
What happened then turned into memories, some I buried deep inside me, and some I still live every day. Back then I had to keep it to myself, away from nosey people who craved gossip. I was faithful to my beliefs and to the man I loved. No doubt, some of this material gave the city something to talk about while the rest is still besieged within my heart and in my journal.
From the moment you were conceived, and throughout the past nineteen years, it never crossed my mind that my secret would be the evidence of who you are. I never thought that my lie could be your truth.
The pages you’re about to read are my life, but more importantly they are YOU! Please be patient, read them all before you make up your mind.
Following my last entry is the third part of my life—the part that I will never regret.
I have to believe that you are old enough to understand how babies come into the world. I doubt you will argue about how easy and fun it is to make them. Yet, I question if you know how difficult it is to preserve them and how harsh it would be to lose them. I suspect that the thought of how you got into my world has never crossed your mind—certainly you never asked.
I’m wondering if the world I’ve provided for you compensated for the part I held away from you.
Leigh was stunned. This was the last thing she expected to happen on her birthday. Reading her mother’s journal? Facing the truth? What could she possibly find out?
She was overwhelmed—fear, anger, disappointment, and frustration mixed with curiosity—it was all there, churning inside her like a melting pot. The unknown scared her. She slipped off her shoes and dropped back onto her bed. She stared at the ceiling, holding her mother’s letter close, before scooting up and nestling into her pillows to make herself comfortable. She read the letter one more time, trying to read between the lines. She loved the emotion and sensitivity. She admired her mother’s attention to details and loved her sense of humor. While earlier Leigh was unsure whether she wanted to read about her mom’s life, now she wondered what this journal could contain. Would it be about Leigh or would it be about her mother’s life before her—Leigh’s pre-life? Her hesitation didn’t last long.
That night, on her eighteenth birthday and into the next day, her mother’s voice played through her mind as she read those endless pages, learning about her mother, looking for answers, raising more questions and discovering who she was.
Her mother’s journal was simply written in her elegant script. It revealed how back in November 1990, on a cold Friday night, on her way to work at a local religious Jewish hospital, she had no reason to think that her life was about to turn upside down.
Religious people? How bad can her secret be? Leigh thought and sank back into the journal.
Kol Israel Achim, the journal read, was a brand new facility built specifically to serve the Jewish religious community. It was a spacious building with endless corridors—finished with thousands of white marble slabs—located in a district where only the extreme religious Jews, the Hasidic, lived.
I was born a kosher and a graceful Jewish girl in Israel. Still, I was not one of them. I belonged to the other Jews—the secular ones. I had no interest in a religious life and sidestepped the radical Jews—especially those who wrapped themselves with a black capote and put on a Shtreimel, that beaver hat worn by a married Hasidic man.
As was my usual habit, I didn’t use the goy shel Sabbath services. Instead, I drove myself to work. I parked within walking distance of the hospital but outside of the religious city’s boundary. Only a busy highway separated the two distinctively different lives. Moving from one world to another was just a matter of using a flyover bridge above that highway. It was a bridge that allowed me to walk from my chaotic, secular world straight into the calm, religious one.
I walked through the religious silence that was disturbed only by the sound of prayers from countless local synagogues. In this holy atmosphere, I had to walk as many as ten to fifteen minutes to make it to the hospital on time.
The cold Friday night drew its holy atmosphere into the hospital. What should have been my comfort zone became disturbing. I felt like an outsider. Nothing could dim my non-religious attributes. I definitely stood out. I worried that my lifestyle, which was common and acceptable among single seculars, would seem cheap to those radicals around me. But when I read some detailed, intoxicating, erotic scenes written by several best-selling Orthodox writers, I worried that my own sex life was quite dull by comparison.
I tried to respect the owners of the building and those it served. I wanted to respect their lifestyle and customs, even to understand them. But their lifestyle was bizarre—way beyond my understanding. I dedicated myself to my job—but still, was astonished by some rules, many of which were strange to me—I was oblivious to some of the Jewish law, mostly to the allowable and forbidden.
I reached the labor and delivery lobby and stopped for a brief moment. I took a deep breath, making the effort to replace negative energies with positive ones. I entered my code into the keypad and stepped between the double doors as they swung open. Seconds before my night shift, moments before taking full responsibility for this hospital, I looked around, trying to gauge the atmosphere, figuring out who was about to go home and who would spend the night there with me. It looked calm. I expected a straightforward shift—nothing overwhelming.
Although my greeting was quiet and modest, everybody noticed me. They all stopped their work and acknowledged me with looks and words. Was it my appearance or my perfume? Was it my tone or my voice? Was it the authority or my personality? Were they happy or intimidated?—I never knew.
I continued on my way. And just then, right when I was about to step into the lounge, I noticed Dr. Katz—a senior member of the medical staff, another secular who had settled into the religious system for the benefit of heavenly pay. His presence that late in the evening was likely for a private delivery or an emergency requiring a senior member’s skills on site.
“Hey, Sharon.” I heard Dr. Katz’s voice across the room.
I turned to find him and saw him with a stranger, making their way toward me.
“Hey,” he repeated as soon as he got closer. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. And yourself?” I answered with a smile.
“Same. I’m glad you’re here tonight!”
“Why, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, this is Dr. Sloan.” He gestured to the stranger. “He will cover some in-house calls,” he said and turned to me to continue the introduction. “This is Sharon Lapidot, the house nurse supervisor. You couldn’t ask for better on your first night here. She really knows the hospital and its politics.”
I heard his voice but didn’t register the words. I looked at him but could no longer see him. My mind was occupied with that stranger who suddenly had a name and a job. It was the physical part of me that reacted. I struggled to stay calm. I focused on my breathing, trying to maintain enough oxygen in my blood, making sure I would not hyperventilate. I couldn’t remember when a man caused my heart to skip three consecutive beats—definitely not the man I was currently dating. My legs grew heavy and my knees shook. I stood there in front of that gorgeous new physician—an unusual and amazing creature—and struggled to find something to say. I was speechless and couldn’t remember what I was doing just a moment ago. I saw nothing but a six foot tall, well-built male, a pair of green-brown eyes, tanned olive skin, and silver highlighted hair that had possibly been brown at one time but had given in to the years. He looked to be in his late thirties.
I learned and memorized his intoxicating smell that enveloped me and captured my senses as if I was on the edge of addiction.
As we shook hands my body tingled with excitement, making it impossible to do anything more than just stand there. I don’t remember how I greeted him or if I greeted him at all.
Dr. Katz continued, adding more speech to the air and still our hands could not separate. I couldn’t tell if Dr. Sloan heard Dr. Katz or not. He seemed just as caught up in me. His eyes pierced mine, stirring something inside me. He perused every inch of me, like he could see through my modest scrubs. My heart quickened, extending both my jugular veins—did he notice? My reaction to him completely floored me. And thinking of it now, Joel, my boyfriend, never crossed my mind. Was I turned on or just fascinated by Dr. Sloan? I had to recover from the situation. I needed a diplomatic way out.
I reassured Dr. Katz that everything would be fine and that I would take good care of the new physician. I disengaged myself from the situation and walked toward the break room to meet with the evening nurse supervisor.
Her report was relatively short and light. I anticipated a painless night. “There is a new physician, Dr. Sloan. He seems to be okay. Did you see him? I think he’s out there with Dr. Katz.”
“I think I did.” I avoided the subject.
“Anyway, here is the pager.” She handed it to me. “I need to go.” She collected her things and departed.
I was left to start my rounds in the hospital. Unlike other supervisors, my rounds were not structured—I didn’t have a routine. I made my rounds based on the needs of the moment. I took action based on the problems that popped up during my shift. My priority list was dynamic, changing at a moment’s notice, depending on what emergency might arise. However, I always managed to make at least two full rounds during my shift, each lasting around two hours.
But that night was different. I was systematic and determined not to let my interaction with the new physician affect me. I took the elevator to the upper floor and started my rounds there, making my way down, using the stairs and stopping on each subsequent floor. I completed the first round in one hour and ten minutes and found myself on my way back to L&D, as if there was a magnet pulling me back to the scene of a crime.
I obtained a verbal report from the charge nurse and completed a walkthrough of the unit with her. Nothing was unusual. I followed the same protocol as I would on any other shift and on any other floor. None of the staff members could see or tell that something had shifted in my mind and in my soul. They could not differentiate that night from any other. No one even knew that I had already finished with my first round.
While still in L&D, I received a personal phone call from Joel—my steady boyfriend—a career officer in one of the top-secret units of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces. His occupation alone made him a good catch. He was educated, knowledgeable and well-mannered, with a clean background. God had blessed him with an impressive appearance—blue eyes, tanned skin, light brown hair, and a deep voice. Personality wise, he was an outgoing individual with a rich and colorful vocabulary. Bottom line, amazing features and qualities twisted into a five-foot-eight-inch man. In the culture where I lived, that was enough to make him a keeper. And still, he annoyed me.
I parked myself at the nurses’ station, striving to be nice and respectful to the guy I was dating. I was painfully aware that this was not how I should feel when I sat down to talk to him.
“Hey sweetie,” he said.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I answered, trying not to let my emotions show in my voice.
“I’m fine, and you? Is everything okay?”
“Nothing, just asking. Busy night?”
“Not particularly,” I said.
The momentary silence grew awkward. I was struck by the fact that after three months of dating we hadn’t had sex. I was disturbed. Do I really care about this guy? Am I wasting my time? I asked myself and then returned to the conversation. “When will you be leaving?”
“Well, I’m not sure. There’s a lot going on at the moment.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Different things—you know I can’t go into the details.”
“I understand—I hope it won’t keep you there too late.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will. I bet I’ll spend the rest of the night here.” He sounded cocky, which again reminded me what type of a person he was—someone who needed to impress others. Joel lived by tags and a detailed checklist. This behavior made it difficult to get to know him. He wasted endless energy to appear important. He made sure that everybody knew how high his security clearance was. He was obsessed with confidential information—he was all about security and secrecy. Many of our conversations ended before they began—everything seemed to be a top-secret matter that should not be discussed with anyone. So when he said that he couldn’t talk about it, I respected him and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
But now, while on the phone with him, I grew tired of it. “I’m sorry.” I lied—I really couldn’t care less. All I cared about at that moment was my reaction toward the new physician on board.
“That’s okay. Let me go. I have a lot to do. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow.” He tried hard to sound important.
“Sounds good,” I said without thinking.
“Bye.” I let the receiver hang on my shoulder. I was struck by how boring our conversation had been—it was quite pathetic. And for a fraction of a second I had to admit that this conversation resembled our overall relationship.
“In love?” The masculine voice of a stranger cut into my thoughts.
I looked up and saw Dr. Sloan. He was leaning on the counter at the nurses’ station. There was less than two feet of laminated wood between us. His eyes locked on mine. We were so close I could see my reflection in his green-brown eyes. And beyond that I saw and sensed only temptation. I pulled my gaze away and placed the receiver back in its place. It took me a moment to remember that he’d asked me a question.
“That’s what some people say.” I didn’t want to lie, but couldn’t unveil the whole truth either. Let him think what he wished.
I collected my paperwork and was ready to continue my work, leaving the other nurses there to circle like sharks—they wouldn’t let it go.
“Are you kidding?” one of the nurses said.
“Being in her shoes—it’s impossible not to be in love,” a different nurse said in a malicious voice.
“If you only knew who she’s dating, you would understand,” added another nurse, while passing Dr. Sloan.
I wanted to tell them a little bit about Joel, their hero—to share with them that he was basically good for nothing, that we’d yet to have sex. But how could I—and why should I? Instead, I made eye contact with Dr. Sloan and looked deep into his eyes—I could see the smile hidden there. Does he sense mine? I wondered.
That herd of horny women amused me. They really didn’t care about me, or my love life—they were busy fighting for their own recognition, trying to seize Dr. Sloan’s attention. I felt their jealousy. Their voices had a poisoned pitch. I was amazed at how important I was in their minds, at how much power they gave me, and the endless wasted energy they spent on me.
I focused on Sloan, debating how much attention, if any, he would offer them. But he didn’t, he just asked who was available to assist him with stitching an episiotomy on a post partum woman. They all volunteered except one—“Why don’t you ask the in-house supervisor,” she suggested.
“Why wouldn’t I?” he said with a smirk and turned to me. “Will you?”
My physical imbalance was no longer a brief crisis—I was attracted to him. “I guess I can,” I said with a winning smile, as I stood and clipped the pager to my pocket. Sloan guided me to the delivery suite and kept his lips sealed.
As I stepped into the room, I saw an exhausted young woman in a gynecological position. Her lower extremities were stretched into cold stirrups—one to the right and one to the left. Her thighs shivered as her muscles grew weak. A green, sterile towel lay over her pubic area down to her perineum, like someone had made an effort to cover her privacy. It was hard to tell if the one who covered her intended to protect the patient from infection or embarrassment. My blood pressure went through the roof.
I was offended by the way the patient had been left. I felt humiliated for her. I assumed that Dr. Sloan was ultimately responsible for that crime and for that I was willing to strangle him. In exchange, I was willing to place him nude in the same position and let him live to tell the tale.
I looked at Dr. Sloan for a split second and started gathering the supplies he needed for the stitching. By the time I passed by him I managed to work up enough anger to almost forget how gorgeous he was. Still, I had to avoid inhaling deeply so that I would not get dizzy from his inviting scent.
“How would you feel to be in her shoes?” I whispered loud enough so he could recognize the mean tone in my voice. I did not pause nor did I wait on his response. I didn’t look at him again until I passed him the second time. “It’s no wonder men cannot understand women and their feelings.” And while passing him for the third time, I did my job and counseled him. “Next time, you should reposition the patient, not leave them in stirrups. I’m sure you know better.”
He walked to the mayo stand, gowned and gloved himself. I tied his gown at the back and then carefully pulled the edge of the sterile cardboard that was attached to the waistline sterile string. While I was holding the cardboard, he circled around, letting the string wrap around his waist. He reached to the far end of the sterile string and pulled it back toward him, leaving me with the cardboard. He was well trained and in seconds tied himself without compromising the sterile field.
He stepped toward the patient and stopped in front of her pelvic area, waiting on me to bring the stool and immobilize it with my foot so that he wouldn’t fall. It was not a gesture—it was part of my job. Finally, he sat, looking like a reprimanded child and didn’t say a word—not to me nor to the patient. He had good skills and completed the stitching quickly. I couldn’t fault him for that part.
After the last stitch, he stood up, stripped his gown and gloves, thanked me, and was ready to leave the room. I looked between him and the patient, hoping he would get the hint. When he didn’t I asked, “Are you deaf or blind?”
He stepped back toward the bed and helped me remove the patient’s legs from the stirrups and extended the bed, allowing her to rest her legs. Then he looked at the patient, reassured her with a smile, and left the room.
“Here is the call button,” I said to the patient. “If you need anything, push it.” I tied the cord to the bedside rail. “Try to get some rest.”
I finished up my work, dimmed the lights, and exited the room.
Dr. Sloan was at the nurses’ station, chatting with some of the nurses. My feet directed me to the lounge, but my ears were listening to their conversation. Clearly he had shared our incident with the nurses.
“She is tough,” one of them said.
“But she’s good,” another nurse interrupted.
“And fair,” someone chimed in.
Dr. Sloan did not argue. He didn’t say much, though his eyes followed my steps. Disappointment fought relief. Obviously I wouldn’t become one of his favorites. And maybe that was for the best.
It wasn’t until I reached the lounge that I wondered whether I really needed a coffee break or whether I just hoped to end up in a cozy spot with Dr. Sloan.
The lounge was empty, leaving me to think in peace for a moment. But I couldn’t expect it to stay empty for long. After all, the place served fifteen other individuals. It was only a matter of time before another staff member would walk in and interrupt my quiet. For whatever reason, it was Dr. Sloan who decided to take a break right at that moment. He stepped hesitantly into the lounge and lazed in one of the chairs, keeping his eyes away from mine.
“Are you making coffee?” he asked.
I couldn’t tell if he was asking if I’d make him coffee, or just trying to start a conversation. However, since I resented the routine of nurses making coffee for physicians, secretaries for bosses, and female soldiers for commanders, I let sarcasm sharpen my words. “For you or for me?” And in seconds I continued, “How do you take your coffee?”
“Instant, two Sweet N Lows and milk.” A winning smile stretched across his face.
“Just like me—hum—interesting,” I said. “Well, why don’t you make one for me?”
Sloan didn’t respond. He probably wasn’t impressed with my immature and grouchy attitude—who would be?
He looked at me intensely, as though he was seeing right through me. I felt naked under his gaze. After his short silence, he shook his head and stepped toward the beverage counter. “Why not?” he said.
My ego was boosted. I felt as if I’d won. Won? Who in the world am I fighting with? I tried to understand where I was going with this. Why am I aggravating this man? What’s the big deal if I make him a cup of coffee? I did serve coffee to some other physicians. I’d really taken this too far. But, by then it was too late. I could not take back my words or my aggression. My pride wouldn’t allow it. I had to stand my ground. But I filed away the thought that I could tone it down next time.
I scanned the room and noticed the door was partially closed. I walked over and made a point of opening it wide. “I hope you don’t mind, but we have to keep this door open—you don’t want us to commit yichud—seclusion—you know what I mean, right?” He gave me a puzzled look so I continued, “Seclusion of a man and a woman is forbidden—unless you’re married,” I said and quickly added, “to each other, I mean—otherwise it’s prohibited to be in a closed room together.” I shared my newfound knowledge of all the intricacies of Jewish law.
He looked at me like I was out of my mind, and I couldn’t blame him. It did sound like a ridiculous rule in this day and age. Or maybe what I said made him wonder if he was flirting with the right person—a secular Jew or a religious one. Honestly, I hadn’t given him a fair shot—I had gone from being friendly to reprimanding to refusing to make his coffee. And now, I was lecturing him about seclusion. He probably thought I was trying to make him look foolish. Still, he had to know the rules. “Seriously, I’m not kidding. Don’t look at me like that. Trust me, it’s different here—a world of religious fanatics. Everything here has a sexual implication—you can lose your job for that.”
Sloan had a blank expression on his face. Was he rethinking his decision to accept the job here?
“Don’t worry. You’ll get use to it—like the rest of us.” I tried to soften it up a little bit.
“You know,” he said, “my wife’s name is also Sharon.”
Where did this come from? What is he trying to say? Who cares if his wife and I have the same name? Besides, I bet he calls her Sharoni and not Sharon or maybe he even calls her baby or honey or darling—who knows? And what exactly was I supposed to say to that?
Honestly, I had no interest discussing his married life. Luckily, I didn’t get a chance to say anything before he spoke again. “I heard you are getting married soon.”
Was he looking for conversation topics? Maybe he sensed that I had no interest in discussing his marriage. But my personal life was not up for discussion either. True, my life wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought. They all thought I’d be crazy not to marry Joel. Well, they could have him. I was sick of everyone else deciding what was best for me. Besides, what would this stranger think about me if he knew that I was in a sexless relationship?
“I’m glad you’re advising me,” I said, putting all the scorn that I felt for everyone into my voice—the other nurses, Joel, and even this new physician who made me feel things I had no business feeling. “Thank God everybody is managing my life, otherwise I would get lost.”
“I didn’t mean it that way—you’re probably right, it’s really none of my business.”
Well, I thought, a man who knows how to admit his faults—incredible. Maybe I should give him some credit for that—even a second chance.
“Any children?” I asked and cringed. Why am I doing this? Didn’t I just say I had no interest talking about his married life?
“Two,” he answered.
“Where do you live?” I continued so that I could determine if he met my criteria.
“Between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, and you?” He countered as if we were playing Ping-Pong.
“I’ll be more specific than you—Ramat’sharon.” I contracted my hometown’s name as only those who originated there would do—just so that he would have proof that I was born there. His eyes opened wide as if it was the first time he came across a real Ramat’sharoni, the residential community of the known military and political figures.
“So, your boyfriend, what does he do?”
“I really don’t know,” I said and laughed. “It’s secret, hush-hush.”
“Career military or Shu-Shu?” He used the slang version for the Israeli Mossad.
“Look at you—on the ball, aren’t you?” I said sarcastically. Hell, I thought, why am I so hard on him? He doesn’t seem to be looking for a fight. Why can’t I simply be nice? Maybe even feel flattered? Why am I so aggressive?
Our high-speed exchange of personal data seemed suspicious. It made me think that Dr. Sloan was just another womanizer, rambling in town free without a leash. The truth was that he had the looks, the charm, and a sense of comfort with himself to be one of those. However, I did not play prohibited games with married men who were desperate for quickies. They weren’t worth the trouble. Although now when I’m in a sexless relationship, it might taste different, but who needs the headache? I thought. Was he interested in having an affair with me or did I want him to be interested in me? The way he looked at me made me think he was.
The temptation was so strong—right there, in front of me. I was concerned that I would not be able to hold back against the attraction. I saw it, smelled it, and understood it. I wanted to be brave enough and ask him not to test me—to tell him that there was no place in my life for this.
Luckily, thanks to my good judgment, I left the room before I made a complete fool of myself. “Thanks for the coffee,” I said. “I have to get going.”
“Wait a second, I need to go to the GYN floor,” he said.