“I’m leaving tonight,” I tell my mother. “At least, trying to.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going home, mom.”
“Home?” she asks in bewilderment. “Did you eat something?”
There’s a silver lining to dementia after all. She doesn’t remember that I live in the U.S., which means that if I leave tonight, I probably won’t show up in her home tomorrow. No more I’ll miss you so much!, When will you come back? No more final gaze of parting, her eyes are milky with incomprehension. She feels something, she has some sense of loss. But it’s temporary; five minutes later she won’t recall that I said goodbye. It’s almost a relief.
But I still see her one last time even if she doesn’t see me. A quivering bird has nested inside my body but not in hers. Do I let go of that feeling if now it’s just one-way?
An old boyfriend would get angry whenever the name Israel came up in conversation. He looked like a Brooklyn hippy rabbi and loved smoking weed. Weed was sacred to him because a long-ago friend, Brahim, had introduced him to weed as ritual, as ceremony. He grew his own weed (in the back of our trailer) and rolled his own cigarettes. But Brahim, born in America, came from a refugee Palestinian family and my friend wasn’t about to betray Brahim, though he hadn’t seen him in decades.
On and on he’d rant about how sick Zionism made him, how he was ashamed of this Land of the Jews (he didn’t mean Brooklyn), how disgusted he was with those who automatically defended it. One day, when I couldn’t hear it anymore, I said: “You don’t understand how small the country is.”
He snorted. “What’s that got to do with it?”
“Everything is different when it’s small. People stumble and they get in each other’s way. They want space, they want to leave, Arabs and Jews don’t want to look at each other again and again, it’s too close, too personal. Here we have so much space we think we could get away from practically anything. They know better.”
When things get crowded, they get intimate. The streets are jammed, cars honk incessantly over missed green lights and the lack of parking (“Rega! One moment!” my sister yells at the rearview mirror whenever a car beeps her at the intersection), you can listen to your neighbor’s radio stations all day, and just last night we were in the dog park for my last play with Molly, the dog, when a car sped by and somebody screamed “FUCK YOU!” at the tip of their lungs.
I’m supposed to be a safe distance away tomorrow. I bought a new ticket on the only airline still flying here, and so far, it looks like I’m on my way. Tomorrow I’ll pick up a car that’s outstayed its welcome in an off-site parking lot, paying a week of late charges, and drive a long while to get to a house in the middle of woods. There I’ll sit at the computer and contemplate loud headlines about whether the CDC should have lifted its mask mandate or not, what the latest polls show, big letters about small issues, trying to make us believe that all our lives depend on whether there is another commission to study what happened on January 6 in the U.S. Capitol.
Give me a few days, and in that safe distance I’ll feel free to come up with my own self-important stories and indignations.
In one place, life is space; in the other, it’s standing-room-only.
I once gave a good friend of mine a beautiful, heavy, gold-plated necklace for her birthday. She called me the next day. “Eve, I can’t wear it,” she said. “I like jewelry, but this just wears me down.”
It’s how I feel about stories. They can make us beautiful (“Mom, I’m going home.” “Did you eat?”), and they can also wear us down.
I arrived early at an empty airport and looked for a seat by the door.
“You can sit here,” a middle-aged blonde woman yelled in my direction . I sat down and thanked her. She then proceeded to shout into the telephone, a foot from my ear, informing her fifty best friends that she was flying tonight after being delayed a long time. Then she looked at her phone, read the latest bulletin, and quickly pushed a few more buttons.
“Silvia!” she bellowed, “did you talk to Miki? There’s a direct hit on Sderot. Did you hear from her? Okay, I’m hanging up calling her right away call you back when I know bye.”
My eardrum was doing its own rap song by then, so I moved to an adjacent seat.
She turned to me. “WHY DID YOU MOVE AWAY? THERE WAS A DIRECT HIT SO I’M CALLING MY NIECE TO SEE IF SHE’S OKAY SEE? DIDN’T MEAN BADLY BUT I HAVE TO FIND OUT THERE’S NO CHOICE I HAVE TO FIND OUT! YOU SEE THAT YOU SEE THAT!”
Yes, I assured her, I saw that.
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