Not so fragile anymore
Snagged by a myriad of hardships, Maura Silverberg conquers adversity and creates positive opportunities out of misfortune.
By Peyton Witzke| Assistant Web Editor
Maura Silverberg tugs on the elastic waist of a size double-zero pair of Levi long slim-fit jeans. The stiff denim slides over her protruding hip bones. As they scrunch up around her waist, she latches both buttons. The tight fabric attempts to cling to her rattling bones. Within moments, the pile of unworn dark wash denim droops down onto the pristine, newly vacuumed, white carpeted floor.
“The doctor said they could give her a type of growth hormone that could help her grow,” Maura’s mother, Fatemeh Silverberg, said. “We get back to the car after the appointment and Maura looks at me at eight years old, very young and very wise and says, ‘Mom. I am very happy with my height.’ She said it in such a serious way like ‘Mom, why are you worrying about it when I’m not?’ She has always been happy in her own skin.”
“People would say, ‘Is she normal?’ I was obviously very fragile.” — Maura Silverberg
Maura has always been petite. As a 15-year-old freshman at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., she weighed 85 pounds. According to the Mayo Clinic, a range of 105 to 125 is considered healthy for a 15-year-old female. Standing at five-foot-one with 85 pounds on the scale reveals a BMI of 16.1 — “underweight” according to Mayo.
“People would say, ‘Is she normal?’” Maura remembers of her stick-thin childhood. “I was obviously very fragile.”
A lack of pounds and centimeters wasn’t the only obstacle Maura would face in her young life. In 2003, Fatemeh, and her then husband, Sandy Silverberg, picked up an old unexplored dream that had been collecting dust. It had been thrown into the black hole of life, forgotten between working multiple jobs, raising two kids and engaging in the Jewish community. The spark ignited when Sandy lost his job at LodgeNet Entertainment and suggested moving the family, but Fatemeh refused to tear their daughters, Tracy and Maura, away from their born-and-raised roots in Sioux Falls.
Instead, they decided to stay in Sioux Falls and analyzed the possibilities. They recognized a need in the town for a bakery café and bistro — they would later name it Rue41. In 2002, Fatemeh took classes at a baking school in New York City to expand her skills, established and sharpened when she grew up helping her mom in the kitchen in Iran. Although both Sandy and Fatemeh would help in every aspect of the kitchen, Fatemeh was considered the chef and Sandy was the baker. “Rue” was French for street. The other half of the future title, “41,” was attributed to the original plan of building the bistro on 41st street, though it later was built on Louise Avenue for higher traffic from in and out of town.
Once the café opened, the work began before daybreak at 3 a.m. Maura and her older sister Tracy would spend nearly every day at the bistro, helping out. If friends slept over at the Silverberg residence the night before a workday, Fatemeh or Sandy would swing by the family home to pick up their daughters and friends, bringing them to Rue41 for free breakfast pastries. Customers including wine sommeliers and connoisseurs, particular pastry fanatics and passionate homemade tomato basil soup extremists couldn’t get enough.
Until the bills rolled in.
“The worst memory that comes to mind is losing so much money,” Fatemeh said. “I’m not sad that we opened it, but we did lose our entire retirement fund. We lost a lot of money there. It was a huge amount of money.”
Rue 41 was open for five years, closing in 2008 as a result of an extreme financial burden, employees not showing up for work, a copious amount of stress and, according to Fatemeh, Sandy’s disinterest in what once was a two-person dream. This marked the first snag on the wool sweater that encapsulated the Silverbergs.
A green and white First Premiere Bank statement rests on the Corian and granite kitchen countertop. Fatemeh has passed hundreds of these envelopes in her lifetime, ignoring their presence in the never ending mountain of letters, advertisements, magazines and bills. Today was different. A wrenching force begins to burst in Fatemeh’s gut, like a toddler popping a twenty foot roll of bubble wrap. She ruptures the glue-filled seal. Financial jargon filled the page but the numbers were not fabricated. Thousands of dollars had been transferred out of the account. She stuffed the envelope into her back pocket — Maura and Tracy were still too young to worry about such grown-up problems.
“Nobody wants to come home to their parents bickering and fighting. You want to have this vision in your head, ‘oh they love each other, they’ll always be married.’” -Maura Silverberg
Another parcel arrived the next day. The name of the bank unrecognizable. The colors on the package unfamiliar. The words on the pages inside suggesting the new account contained the identical amount of money withdrawn from the old account.
Sandy was preparing for divorce. Sandy did not respond to interview requests for this story.
“Nobody wants to come home to their parents bickering and fighting,” Maura said. “You want to have this vision in your head, ‘oh they love each other, they’ll always be married.’”
A 17-year-old Maura whips her deep Ghirardelli-midnight-chocolate-curly-haired head around while using the bleacher as a spotting point while on releve. Her Bloch eclipse leather nude lyrical half-shoes grab at her toes and heel, her second pair this year. A plethora of connected pirouettes a la seconde. Fondu, tondu, chaine, deep plie, kick, attitude. Calypsos across the floor.
“Dance has always been an outlet,” Maura said. “When I’m having a busy day and have a million things in my head I can go to dance. I can just forget about everything. Dance is my go-to.”
This season marks her 15th year of dance, though she will go on to finish 18 full years. Ages 3 to 15 at BritZa dance studio in Sioux Falls — ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and pointe. Ages 14 to 18 on the Lincoln High School dance team. Ages 18 to 21 at South Dakota State University in Brookings — performance and competitive. Maura’s best friend of four years and fellow SDSU dancer Kara Christopher-Holt describes her as always radiating high energy and displaying a constant smile while dancing.
“Maura’s leadership role on the dance team was as one of our captains,” Christopher-Holt said. “She was also the fundraising chair. She put together all of our fundraisers that helped finance our self-funded team.”
Silverberg learned from her parents early in life that if she was going to set high goals, she would have to work hard to achieve them — nothing would be easy.
When summer after sophomore year at Lincoln High School rolled around, Silverberg was told that Fatemeh was diagnosed with breast cancer — a rampant disease in the genes of the Silverberg family tree. Chemotherapy wasn’t needed, as the cancer was still in stage I, but Fatemeh decided to have a double mastectomy. Like a Russian nesting doll, every problem wrapped itself inside the other — the divorce still wasn’t finalized and she had just lost the house. Silverberg spent every day taking care of her mom while she was recovering.
“There can be a lot of things that get in your way in life and it’s really easy to have a negative attitude about it and that can easily bring you down,” Silverberg said. “I’ve seen my mom go through a lot of things and she’s always had a smile on her face and turned it into something that’s a positive.”
“I was most proud of Maura when she greeted us in Lille, France,” Tracy said. “She had just concluded her study abroad and had a gentle confidence to her as she waved us down at the train station. It was one of those ‘Oh my goodness, this girl is a brilliant brave adult’ moments.”
Silverberg studied abroad in France from May to August of 2015. She studied business and took French classes while overseas, squeezing every last drop of culture into her plastic Vital water bottle. Pizza and gelato became breakfast, lunch and dinner while exploring different countries.
“I love that everywhere you go, there is history,” Silverberg said. “There is just beautiful architecture everywhere. There is a story there.”
At the end of her study abroad trip, Tracy and Fatemeh flew from Minneapolis, Minn. to Lille, France, to meet with Maura and have a last hurrah. When the trip ended in August, Silverberg had visited Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, and flew over Moscow, Russia.
Maura sits on the freshly polished tiger-wood floor in St. Louis Park, Minn. She sports three-day old unwashed dark roast coffee bean curly hair, stroked into a forehead flesh-pulling tight ballerina bun. Cardboard boxes have been unloaded from the U-Haul and now sit around her in clumps, her new life in Minnesota depicting a rebirth, a new lifestyle. Reaching into the box she knows holds her coffeemaker captive, she begins decorating her space.
Waking up the following morning, she instructs her coffeemaker to produce a cup of hazelnut coffee, later adding French vanilla creamer to the steaming hot to-go cup. She then hops on the 17 metro bus at 7:05 a.m. and arrives at SPS Commerce. Customer service has a new and eager face on the front lines of its collaborative network community and computer data technology battlefield. Her new job title is Customer Operations Analyst. Halfway through the work day she will stop at the Caribou Coffee station in the breakroom for her second cup, a sudden volt of energy pumping through her veins.
She boards the 17F home at 5:51 p.m. Tonight she plans on cooking enough Pinterest freezer meals to last a week while the voices of Project Runway blend into the background of the off-white walls. While the newly prepared seven meals collect frost, the screams originating from her calf muscles will be heard from the rooftop of the building down the street while she stretches in preparation for her Timberwolves dance tryouts. Twenty pounds of muscle have been added to the scale since the start of her SDSU dance career.
Sunshine smashes through the glossy windows the next morning as she climbs out from beneath her yellow and white comforter, attempting to get ready for work. Silverberg slips on a size zero pair of dark wash Flying Monkey stretch skinny jeans. One lone button craves to be latched. The tight fabric clings to her steady bones and successfully grasps her waist. The dark wash denim hugs her dancer legs as she grabs her hazelnut coffee and busts out the door, locking it behind her. The light-reflecting, newly Swiffered, tiger-wood floor remains spotless.