I landed my first job in the early 1980s working as a research assistant at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. I enjoyed the lab and my coworkers, most of whom like myself were recent college graduates. Our lab director, Jerry, took a fatherly interest in his employees, often taking us out to lunch and hosting informal parties.
One day Jerry asked me to pick up some samples from one of his colleagues at what was then the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute.
“Bob Rosenberg is a leading expert in blood clotting research. His wife Judy works with him. You’ll find them interesting to talk to.”
I walked over to the Institute and up the stairs to the Rosenberg lab on the third floor. I knocked on the door.
“Come in,” responded a woman’s voice.
I pushed open the door and walked in.
A woman in a white lab coat turned and looked at me questioningly but did not rise from her seat.
“My name is Julie; I’m from Jerry’s lab.”
“Yes—well, my husband will be back in a minute.”
She turned back to her lab bench, absorbed in her work. She did not offer me a seat so I took an empty chair.
Her husband appeared—a bear of a man, dark haired and casually dressed.
“Bob, this girl is from Jerry’s lab. She wants the blood samples from the cancer patients.”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Did Jerry tell you about our work? No? Right now we’re studying blood clotting in lung cancer patients. It’s exciting stuff.”
While Dr. Rosenberg talked about his research I studied the couple, so different from each other.
Judy was a redhead with bulging blue eyes and fair skin. Her long hair was pulled back in a fifties style ponytail.
She was of average size, but next to her husband she appeared diminutive, even fragile. She glanced up at him frequently—a seaweed seeking the protection of the rock.
Her demeanor especially, was a striking contrast to that of her husband’s. He was relaxed, friendly, and drew me into the conversation. Judy on the other hand, kept pivoting 180 degree turns in her revolving chair, her arms crossed. Not once did she look me in the eye.
Her husband had no accent, whereas Judy’s speech had a curious intonation. I had traveled extensively and fancied myself able to place people’s nationality based on their accent and appearance. But Judy had me baffled. Her voice, too high pitched at times, rose and fell at unpredictable intervals.
I speculated that she was an English Canadian who happened to be married to an American Jew.
Her age was also a mystery. She seemed in one moment almost a child and in the next instant an old woman. I guessed her be in her late thirties.
I visited the Rosenberg lab twice more in the next few weeks. As Judy became accustomed to me she was more responsive but she continued to shift when seated and never met my gaze. She would dart about the lab as if she were trying to avoid being detected. I became fond of the gauche, childlike researcher, even as I continued to wonder about her origins.
One day I was working on an experiment which could not be interrupted. Jerry asked Clint, one of the other research assistants, to pick up samples from the Rosenberg lab.
When Clint returned he handed Jerry the samples saying, “That Judy Rosenberg sure is strange.”
“You’d be strange too if you spent your childhood in hiding. In Berlin.”
For a moment no one spoke.
“She would have been another Anne Frank,” Jerry continued. “Except that she survived.”
One day after work I walked over to Sidney Farber and went to the east side of the building where the Rosenberg lab was situated.
I looked up at the third floor. In the long shadows of the late afternoon I imagined the modern Institute to be a decaying apartment complex in 1940s Berlin. In my mind’s eye I saw Judy the child, hidden away in a dark room, forbidden to speak except in a whisper, not allowed to run and play in the light of day.
I had brought along a beautiful white and turquoise kite which I now allowed to fly. The wind brought it to Judy’s window.
I thought I saw her wave.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Judith Rosenberg who died in Boston in 1999.
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