Edit, add idioms, metaphors and any explanation needed.• The last section of every chapter – elaborate on the idea a bit more to make it clear. Any underline text —> change to italic. it is the thought of the hero, Ella.–> please change to italic accordingly. Any # – remove. (i removed them all, just in case)1
Good Girl
‫ב‬.‫ו‬.‫ט‬. Tet. Vav. Bet.
Good ‫ • טוב‬Favor ‫ • טובה‬Quality ‫ • טיב‬Well ‫היטב‬
Jerusalem, 1984
“Your report card is boring!”
Boring and exactly what they wanted: three numbers, a one followed by two zeroes. One
hundred percent. In their eyes, numbers were all that mattered – ignoring the fact that we were a
people who had been reduced to numbers tattooed on our arms just a few decades earlier.
My parents were amused by this idea and shared it with our family, neighbors, and sometimes in
the gossipy local grocery store.
“How boring!” They walked like peacocks with their colorful, long feathers out. Boring report
card! How they loved to say it! They had a smart, first-born girl and it was definitely thanks to
their genes, their attention, and their upbringing. How Boring!
I was their report card. My hundreds were their excellency award.
In Hebrew, they called me Yalda Tova Yerushalayim, “Good Girl Jerusalem.”
By the end of seventh grade, after I’d written countless books about my fellow bus passengers in
my mind, my school began to test me for high school placement.
The serious-faced evaluators showed up every day in school and sometimes pulled me from class
to be tested. The evaluators did not ask me to braid hair, nor did they time me washing dishes.
They did not ask me about my babysitting skills or check the pots after I washed them. They
didn’t ask me why I don’t have many friends, or what was the name of the bus driver on
Tuesdays. Instead, for over a month I was asked to solve logic riddles, to complete sentences,
and continue shape sequences. At the end of this month of screening, the school counselor, Mrs.
Goldberg, asked to meet my parents in her office.
Both of them.
Together.
Something is wrong, I was sure. Both of my parents? Together? At my school? At the same time?
That day, I tightened my braids more than ever.
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I had no explanation for why Mrs. Goldberg called them. After all, I liked school a lot. Now my
parents had to miss work because of me.
In her private office filled with cabinets, shelves, books, files, folders, and a sepia family picture
in an old gold frame, the counselor explained to my parents the steps in the screening process
and the different models of testing. Mom and Dad still had no idea what was so urgent.
Mrs. Goldberg took out a white blank paper and carefully drew a bell shape. She started drawing
many stick figures in the middle of the bell.
“These are students. The average students,” she explained. My father cleared his throat. His truck
was waiting. Then Mrs. Goldberg drew a few stick figures on the left side to show the “belowaverage students.”
My parents listened intensely, still skeptical of why she called them to this art lesson. Then she
drew one stick figure, all the way on the right side of the bell. This moment would later be retold
to every guest that came to our house.
It was me, alone.
“Your daughter is gifted.” Mrs. Goldberg put the pen on the table, removed her big-framed black
glasses and looked straight at my parents. “Your daughter has been scouted and accepted to a
school for the highly gifted, the most prestigious high school in the country. Boyar, School of
Excellence.”
My dad shed a tear. He always cried when he got overly emotional, and he wiped them quietly
with his fingers, never adding any words. Mom did all the talking.
“I have always known my daughter is gifted!” She started telling Mrs. Goldberg how I sang
“Happy Birthday” to myself when I was just one year old, and how I could say the words
“encyclopedia” and “individually” while the other kids just said “mama,” and that if they would
ask her, her daughter doesn’t need testing and drawing, because she always knew that her
daughter was gifted. She asked if she could get a certificate or even this drawing. Mother already
planned to carry it in her purse so everyone would see how smart her first-born is.
In that one instance, my mom became the mother-of-the-year in our neighborhood. Her braid
training had turned out to be a smashing success.
Jerusalem, 1985
The summer I became a teenager was full of changes. My body matured, my clothes style has
changed, and I let my hair down. My two baby brothers were born and now we were six kids.
We moved again to a new neighborhood. My parents got divorced.
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After fourteen years of being separated and getting back together, renewing their membership in
the chaotic couple club, my parents made their separation official. My dad truly loved my mom
but had grown tired of my mother’s accusations that he was too appreciative of the beauty of
other women. When he left home, he left us, my mother said. Like Peter Pan, he ran after a
younger woman, a 24-year-old new wife (only eight years older than me) to replace my mom. He
left his first wife, his home, four girls, a toddler, and a baby. It was the end of my parents’
madness, and the beginning of my mom’s long misery.
In one summer, everything changed. I was still a beginner at teen life, a ninth grader at a high
school for the gifted. Overnight, I was no longer the eldest sister, but a young mother to my five
siblings. It was a heavy title for a girl like me and no one asked me or interviewed me for this
position. It was thrust upon me.
Mom was a 34-year-old divorcee with six young kids. Sam, my fifth sibling was two and a half
and Sasi, my youngest sibling only three months old.
Sam and Sasi. Round baby faces, big brown smart eyes, two deep dimples on each cheek, and
innocent smiles that capture any heart. Their straight hair hugs their faces. Inseparable, together
they look like twins, yet, as is so often the case with siblings, they are completely different. One
is calm and relaxed; the other is wild and free-spirited. One loves animals and hides stray dogs,
cats, and pigeons in our home, the other loves music and composes tracks for the radio without
even knowing notes. One can watch tennis for hours, the other plays soccer until he is exhausted.
Sam and Sasi, Sasi and Sam.
“Don’t tell Grandpa that Dad is not living with us,” Mother prepared us before our infrequent
visit to our grandparents’. She taught us how to manipulate the truth at a young age, telling halftruths or outright lies to keep others from judging us.
Mother’s divorce was a hush-hush within her family and we, the kids, had to keep it a secret
when visiting my grandfather, our old-fashioned and stern patriarch. The D word, which is freely
thrown in the air today, was not acceptable in his world. A divorced woman had a black stain,
and it was usually the woman’s fault, since she couldn’t keep her husband at home.
This is how I learned to lie, and how I learned to make lies plausible with still more clever lies.
This is how I learned to participate in someone else’s drama. This is how I pretended with my
mom that she was sick with a horrible strain of the flu when she was actually depressed in bed
for days.
Father never paid child support, and mother was left without any financial resources and with
buckets of shame. My fragile mother was completely over her head trying to support our home
and keep herself from slipping into total despair. Three times a week, I met her at one of the few
tall government buildings in our city. We cleaned clerks’ offices together so we could bring more
money home for food. Floor after floor, office after office, room after room, emptying paper
trash bins, wiping the dust off of desks, and rearranging framed pictures of happy families.
I fantasized about my future family, my husband, my kids.
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I will never get divorced, I promised myself. I will fight for my family.
I swore this while turning off the lights in each office I finished, until the corridor was
completely dark and it was time to go home. At home, there was cleaning, laundry, dinner, and,
only after everyone was in bed, homework and studying for upcoming tests.
I will marry a man who will never cheat on me. I will keep my family together. Forever.
I prepared chore charts and made sure they were extra quiet when our mother was crying in bed.
Each one of the girls found her place in trying to deal with – or suppress – the new reality. Sam
and Sasi were our comforts. We dressed them up in girls’ clothes, we sang with them, bathed
them, and read them stories with funny voices of the characters.
I took motherhood fiercely to heart. When they organized their toys, I hugged them. When they
brought home an art project from preschool, I stuck it on the fridge with pride and showed it off
to the family. I taught them how to read their first word, how to brush their teeth every night, and
how to tie their shoelaces. I told them every day they were the best. I showered them with love,
confidence, and courage. I saw the beauty, strength, and uniqueness in each one of them and
watered their self-esteem every day.
I will never leave you, I whispered in my heart when I tucked them into bed at night.
The depression hits our home like a heavy grey cloud. Thirty-four years old and the love of her
life left for another woman. Six kids and a sad, very sad, Mother, grieving the loss of the love of
her life, a tragedy ongoing since she was eighteen. The tragedy just changes face. After burying
herself in bed for weeks, telling us it is a terrible flu, my mom finds a reason to get up: she will
remodel the kitchen. Breaking walls, changing old cabinets, installing new countertops,
demolishing the memories from the past so nothing from the family dinners with “him” will
remain.
Erasing the illusions of a family as it existed for fifteen years, replacing them with a new path,
new doors, and drawers that contain the unknown.
Caleb, the neighbor of my maternal grandma, is my mom’s right-hand man in this
transformational operation. Caleb has known my grandma and our family for years now, and he
generously gives my divorcée mom a special rate and promises her the kitchen of her dreams.
Every day, Caleb arrives with his workers, toolboxes, big hammers, and heavy black boots. He
stands in the kitchen and gives them clear instructions to his workers for the day.
“She needs the kitchen soon!”
“Make sure it is the dream kitchen!”
Caleb rushes his workmen, filling them with a sense of urgency. He leaves and comes back in
the afternoon to check their work and make more comments.
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Caleb has dark brown eyes, dark skin, a strong body, and a full mane of hair. I think he is in his
forties, or so. His wife is in her sixth month of pregnancy and he is going to be a dad for the first
time in just a few months. Any extra work is a godsend that will help with the purchase of a new
crib, stroller, bed, clothes, diapers, and toys for his first-born baby.
Caleb promises my mom they will finish soon and Mother is elated, soon busying herself with
planning, adding details to the tile pattern, considering another faucet, resizing the special shelf
for the cookies and the triangle cabinet designated for her famous baking. She is occupied with
recreating her life – the new life after “he” destroyed the family. Caleb wears a superhero’s cape,
and my mother is grateful with warm black coffee and pastries she saves for whenever he
arrives. She gives him advice on how to raise his child, as she is an expert with six of her own.
Her eldest is gifted, she raves, she is the special one. Nothing can replace my mom’s thrill about
the grand opening of her new kitchen.
My still-young mom, thirty-four years old, can’t carry the entire burden of six kids without the
assistance of child support. The government assigned a social worker who comes to evaluate the
sadness in our home every month. They write a report and recommend sending two of my sisters
away to find joy in faraway beds at boarding school. We are left with fewer meals, fewer books,
less attention to divide, and more space.
My mom and I are a team. Endless laundry, the two babies, market, meals, we divide our chores,
and manage our home. Every Thursday, I deep clean the house while she cooks for Shabbat,
especially every other Shabbat when the sisters come to visit for the weekend. She goes to the
market and I put everything away. We are four hands working together. She takes my brother to
daycare in the morning, and I bring him back as she arrives late from her second or third job
cleaning government offices. If I don’t have loads of homework at school, I join her there.
It is two o’clock in the afternoon, and I am happy to have a new weekly schedule at my high
school. Some days are longer, some days are shorter. But every day is filled with assignments
and tests. After all, it is a school for the gifted and we have a reputation to uphold. I arrive home
and start my project before Lee, my younger sister, returns and before I have to bring my two
baby brothers, Sam and Sasi, home from daycare.
I love this special quiet time in the early afternoons – sacred alone time for me and my books. I
am by myself at home – a moment as rare as the white peacock you can spot only in Australia.
After taking the two long busses home, I climb the one-hundred-and-one stairs of our building to
the third floor. The front door is unlocked, and I presume the workers went to bring something.
Tools and dust are everywhere. I make noises stepping on long brown paper and make a path to
the girls’ bedroom.
I sit at my desk and bury myself in the new English project. Shmuel, our American English
teacher, is giving us creative writing assignments to write stories from our imaginations. I write
about a beautiful, stunning, shy girl in a village whom the handsome smart prince falls in love
with. He is coming to save her. I write it in English and, although it is not my native language,
my words swim easily on the paper. I drift with the princess and her imaginary new castle. He
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whisks her away from her poor family and they live happily ever…
“Hi.” Caleb is standing in the entrance to my room, “how was school today?” he asks.
He doesn’t wait for an answer and enters the room. He stands behind me.
“What are you doing?” he is hovering over me, much too close.
“English,” I whisper. If he cannot hear my words, perhaps he will leave.
“Let me see.” Caleb’s sweaty smell is disgusting. I feel his rough dirty hand on my shoulder. He
puts his hand through my school shirt, he touches my breast. I am frozen.
“Good girl,” he says as he continues to feel me.
My heart pounds. I am numb. I hear his heavy breathing. He reeks of cigarettes and sweat. He
moves his hand around and around my breast. It is only a few moments, but it seems to last
forever.
When he leaves, I sit, glued to my chair for a long time. I cannot bring myself to move.
Fear.
Shame.
Embarrassment.
My mom arrives home in the afternoon, happy about the demolition. I haven’t heard mom
laughing like this for a long time. She makes Caleb sugary black coffee, takes out sweet, fresh
almond cookies. He loudly sips from the tiny coffee cup, and with each bite he boasts about how
she is the best baker in the city and what he accomplished today. Their laughs stab at my skin.
When he leaves, I do what my mother taught me best: I keep it quiet. Her kitchen is her glimpse
of light and there is no room for darkness.
The next day, Caleb comes to my room again after he sends the workers home a little earlier.
When he comes in, I know what to expect. I keep my eyes on my books, I don’t even dare to look
anywhere. I try to numb both my thoughts and my body before he even touches me. I think about
the princess-to-be in my story. She is dancing with her prince, and he might save her.
“Good girl,” he leaves the room. I don’t cry. Good girls don’t cry.
I will forget everything that happened here until the kitchen is done.
The bus ride home the following day is not so smooth. I dread going home. I am afraid, but I
know my mom’s kitchen is more important and I cannot disappoint anyone. It is soon going to be
over.
7
From one bus station to another, all I can smell is Caleb’s salty, revolting scent. Sitting next to
the window, I look up to the sky and whisper a little prayer. Maybe someone up there will help.
Maybe a man with a white bird can see me here. But I am such a tiny little speck in this vast
world.
I think about practical solutions. Maybe I can wear two shirts today so it will be more difficult
for him. No, that will just make him try harder. It will go on even longer. Then, I see a sign
written in red. HOTLINE! It is an ad on one of the bus stops.
“Teenagers, call us if you need help! Anonymously.”
I recite the number, horrified to write it down so no one will see that I might be that teenager. A
bad, bad girl.
Caleb enters my room again that afternoon. I try to recite dates from a history test in my head to
make it go faster.
Later that evening, after Caleb and his workers leave, and my mom is busy chatting with our
next-door neighbor raving about her upcoming kitchen empire, I take the long-tangled corded
phone into my room, making sure no one hears me, and I quietly close the door.
I dial the memorized number. Two rings.
A sweet, loving confident voice answers the other line.
“Will it stay anonymous?” I ask twice after she asks my age.
“Yes,” the sweet women reassured me, “I am here to help you, I am here for you.”
I timidly tell her what happened. I don’t linger or tell her details about his thick fingers, and how
they scratched my skin.
“Next time he shows up at the entrance of your room,” says the angel on the other line, “look at
him directly in his eyes and say, ‘Leave this room now and never, never come in again.'”
She asks me to repeat it with her. I whisper so softly, slowly, swallowing the words.
The angel asks if she can call me the next day, but I am afraid to give her the number.
“You can call me any time,” she promises. “I am here for you.”
“You can do it,” she says when I tell her I need to go. “You are a strong brave girl.”
The next day, I hear Caleb’s heavy steps on the brown construction paper on the floor, making
their way to my bedroom. I’m sure he can hear my heart pounding, my pulse racing faster and
faster the closer he gets.
8
Just as he gets to the door of my room, I turn and look at him with piercing eyes.
I summon all of my courage and bravery – with my angel from the hotline holding my hand –
and say, “Leave this room and never, never come in.”
Caleb looks at me, confused. He stalls next to the doorway.
“Now!” I hear my voice and am surprised by its strength.
He turns and leaves.
I take a deep breath of air and release it slowly. I close my eyes and thank the angel. Caleb
neither enters my room nor tries to touch me, ever again.
This is how I learned to guard my body.
This is how I learned to protect my skin.
This is how I learned to trust only myself.
This is how I learned to never be afraid of anyone.
This is how I learned to fight for myself.
I don’t tell my mom the secret. Even when the kitchen is ready. Even three months later when we
all go to Caleb’s first son’s circumcision.
We are crazy as our secrets.
There are only two prayers. Only two major prayers which I will explain, and they can be
worded in many ways: One is Thank you. The other is Help!
Find that voice in you that can call for HELP without any expectations. That is the true deep
calling for help. It kicks, it screams, it is loud without needing to use any other words. That is the
magic in calling for help. Its power lies in its unconditional need.
“Help” can be asked only from a place of true surrender – that deep moment when you are
powerless, weak, lost, defeated. It’s then that you call for assistance, ready to accept it in almost
any shape and form.
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The help will come, and that’s when you have a choice to make. Instead of feeling sorry for
yourself how stuck you are and how victimized you feel, find trust. Getting help is the first stage,
and it’s vital – but it isn’t the last one. You can’t stay stuck in feeling powerless. That’s the easy
way when we feel pain. You hold tightly to the problem like a shield because this is the only way
you know how to live. Letting go and releasing your projections and assumptions might be the
simplest yet most difficult action you can take. It’s the hardest because no one else can do it for
you.
Ask for help from an invisible power beyond your five senses, beyond what your logic can
explain. Ask to move beyond the story you’ve told yourself for years. Ask to break out of the
cycle. Unclench the white-knuckled fist holding onto the problem. Call for help with an
authentic, pure call. Isn’t this the reason you sometimes fall so far in order to learn what is an
honest, sincere release and trust?
The answers will come when you stop putting conditions on the relief you seek. They may not
come on your timetable. In fact, they almost certainly won’t. The peace you crave will come on
your Higher Power’s timetable, and, though it may seem impossible to imagine, it will be a better
solution than what you had planned.
Needing help is a lot like true love. You know it is true love when there is no need for an
explanation as to why you love. It just is.
Try it! If you need help, yell, beg, plead, scream, shout, ask, and pray for it! It might be
humiliating, it might seem ridiculous, but I promise you that it is also empowering and liberating.
It’s the best way, maybe the only way, to get what you need most.
Breaking Golden Cages
Pei. Resh. Tzadi. ‫צ‬.‫ר‬.‫פ‬.
Erupt ‫ • פרץ‬Break out ‫ • לפרוץ‬Burst into (Tears))‫ • פרץ (בבכי‬Crack ‫פרץ‬
Israel, January 18, 1991
The green neon wall clock shows one a.m. I lie on my very narrow bed, the wool blanket still
underneath me to keep me from the winter cold. I am still wearing my black boots. I am waiting:
one hour, then two. I can hear my heart beating. I can almost hear everyone else’s hearts
throbbing in the nearby dorms.
All at once, the loud, long, echoing siren reverberates. The wail of the siren warns us to take
cover. ‘Get into The Sealed rooms! Get into The Sealed rooms!’ From top to bottom of our small
10
country, the sirens alert every breathing creature in the country to hide. Missiles are coming and
they might be seconds away. They might be conventional missiles or maybe chemical warheads.
Maybe even nuclear. The unknown will be revealed in minutes, but now we have to run. Run to
the sealed room.
What is now called the First Gulf War has begun. The United States and its allies have launched
an attack against Iraq; Saddam Hussein has refused to abide by UN demands to withdraw from
Kuwait. With the start of hostilities, the Iraqi president has promised to launch deadly missiles
on Israel, to wipe us off the map. Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe he’s not.
It is a dark night. The new moon started only three days ago and the only light was shining from
my pocket flashlight. I quickly get up from the hard mattress. As I have practiced with my fellow
soldiers for days now, I hear them in the next dorm, getting up from their beds. Following, they
also lay down with their boots on, without a wink of sleep. One by one, everyone steps out of
their rooms. Within thirty seconds, everyone is out, lining up in predetermined order. Gas masks
are strapped to our belts and EpiPen syringes are in our pockets.
My eighteen-year-old soldiers count off, whispering, “Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty.” I have
twenty soldiers in my unit, and I am only one year older.
We are all here. We hurriedly walk, moving down the path that leads to the shelter in the center
of the base. It is quiet. All we hear is the hushing and shushing of rapid footsteps of our boots
hitting the pathway.
A whisper, “Ella!”
One of my soldiers, who was dealing with a high school heartbreak just a few weeks ago, huffs
from the back of the line.
“Ella, Vivi has fainted!”
I raise my hand. Stop!
I flash my light to the back of the line. I can just make out the pale faces of my girls. I want to
pinch my cheeks so they won’t see that I am probably as white as they are. No time for
overthinking now. I am afraid to admit it: I am scared. I am frightened like a three-year-old child
who was kidnapped in a busy subway. I snap out of it. I walk to the back of the line and see Vivi
leaning on a tree. She is shaking violently and cannot move. In shock, Vivi cannot say a word,
and yet the bombs haven’t even started to drop.
Vivi is my co-commander. Twenty girls stare at me for the next order, and the sirens continue.
Now? You faint now? I want to slap her, make her stand and run with us. I want to murder her.
But I can’t, we are at war now; we might die, all of us, anyway. There is no point in killing her
now.
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I am alone, in direct charge over my troops. No commanders above me. Just me, the girls, and
my semi-conscious co-commander. The sirens are resounding. The heavy night sneaks into our
hearts.
No time to be afraid now, Ella. Fight, flight, or freeze. I fight.
Instinctively, I call the guard, quickly. I inform Bob through the old bulky black walkie-talkie
about Vivi, and, before I finish my sentence, Bob runs towards us. Immediately, he follows the
procedures and checks Vivi’s pulse, then lifts Vivi into his arms, and joins us as we rush toward
the sealed room.
It seems like hours, but I look at my watch. Only a few minutes have passed. We surge as quietly
and quickly as we can, yet we still sound like elephants running on dry leaves.
My family. My baby brothers. Worry over them flashes in my mind. Sam and Sasi are only six
and eight years old.
What are they going through? What is happening there at home? Will Saddam spare Jerusalem? I
want to hug my baby boys and protect them instead of Vivi. I want to engulf them and reassure
them, “I am here, it is ok, we will win!” But they are far and deep down. I am not sure of victory
myself. This is not a toy soldier game for children.
I don’t have time to worry. I push away the intrusive thoughts. We continue into the unknown
while the siren warns of the chemical attack. This is not a scene from a big-budget Hollywood
movie. This is real, and it is happening now.
The siren becomes more frequent, and the unknown freezes every bone in our bodies. I shake
from the inside. I have twenty girls who look up to me for answers and I don’t have any. I hold
my breath and pretend I do.
Don’t feel, Ella. Don’t feel. Fear, get out!
Within a few minutes, we are in the sealed room. It is not a bunker but rather a big hallway
turned into a place that might save us during a chemical attack. The windows are taped crisscross
and along the sides with heavy-duty tape – a precaution if the windows break and shatter. A
bucket of water with baking soda is waiting next to the entryway. The soldier on duty dips towels
in the simple baking soda solution and pastes them over the lower crack of the doorway. In case
of a chemical attack, we were promised that a wet rug and baking soda might save our lives.
We are not the only ones who run to shelters. The sealed rooms have been prepared in every
home and on every military base across Israel. The preparation for the war began a few months
previously, as war with Iraq grew more and more likely. The infomercials flooded every TV
station: where to get your gas mask according to the number on your identity card, what the best
baking soda and tape to use is, and which room in the house is the best to turn into a sealed
room. Within three days, nothing was left on the shelves. The resale market was saturated with
high-priced baking soda and tape. Some vendors wrapped their baking soda in faux-Gucci
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packages and claimed it to be an exclusive life-saving powder. The price matched.
In the shelter, we sit on the floor away from the windows. We don the full-face gas masks, snap
the rubber straps tight, and check for any leaks. I can feel the bulky mask and its heavy filter
below my chin. My vision is limited beneath the visor of the mask.
I breathe in and out, listening to the breathing of every girl in the room.
The siren stops.
Quiet.
Waiting.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
My heart beats like the fastest train in the world, wild and reckless. There is no way to stop it.
The missiles are launched. The rockets fly above us in the air.
The silence is terrifying. We shiver in the cold.
Is it a gas attack?
A nation waits for the radio to announce the latest news. Millions of my fellow citizens. My
family. My three sisters. My two baby brothers. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds.
Dead air.
Israeli intelligence puts every broadcast on thirty-second delays. This is a lifetime in military
time.
Sitting on the floor, the thoughts about my two little brothers, whom I left at home, push their
way through every square inch of my adrenalized heart. Infants cannot possibly put on gas
masks, so each baby in the country has a tiny, crib-like mesh cube with a filter. Sam and Sasi are
not babies, yet they’re not big kids either.
How did they put on their masks? Are they safe? What did they do wrong to be born into such
chaos? Maybe living in the Holy City will shield them?
13
Only two months ago, I celebrated my nineteenth birthday, and now I am here, on the floor,
away from my family, away from my home, away from my bedroom and friends, waiting for the
unknown.
This is all I know after graduating from high school, not yet eighteen years old. After much
physical and cognitive testing, I was selected to serve in the Israeli Intelligence. No, I never
jumped from a helicopter, I never spied on a famous ambassador, I never killed anyone. I was in
a special unit which comprised of carefully chosen soldiers every year. Just twenty girls and two
commanders. The first ten months of my service was spent studying, reviewing, and
memorizing. From six o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night, and sometimes until
midnight. Our brains worked hard. Examinations, drills, and tests. Inserting more information
into our little tiny cortex, engraving the data so it will be embedded for a lifetime. Twice a week,
high prestige professors from an elite university joined the forces to drill more information,
numbers, and facts than we could even perceive.
Four thirty-minute breaks, three for indulging, fattening meals, and one for quick rest time.
Twenty chosen female soldiers. Second year into my service in the Israeli Intelligence. I wasn’t
stationed to do I was trained for. With the completion of the course and receiving the honoree
certificate, two soldiers were chosen to be the commander of the next year’s course. One of them
is me. Another stripe on my rank and I am an eighteen-year-old commander. Here we go. I am
doing the course all over again, but this time from a different angle. My home for two years, the
core center where we study, eat, and sleep is stunning from the outside. It is located on the shore
of the Mediterranean Sea. Romantic views, wide blue sea, and a fresh breeze – if you look at it
from the outside, you would want to run inside. But we wanted to run away. We were not
allowed to walk close to the water or ever dip in the sea. Sleep-deprived and overloaded with
information, we visited home once every other weekend.
We called it the Golden Cage.
I look around the room from the periphery of my visor and feel as if we are in an action or horror
movie, but it is not. It is real and it is happening right now.
I am holding back my tears. If I burst, then no one will be here to lead my twenty girls. Each one
of them is staring at me, but I have no words for them. My worry oscillates between my girls and
my boys.
Tel Aviv, November 10, 1992
It’s my twenty-first birthday. Finally, no more boring, outdated green khaki outfits every single
day. Now I can wake up in the morning and stare aimlessly at my tiny, almost empty closet,
trying to figure out what to wear. I had missed those moments of trying every outfit in my
14
wardrobe – piling shirts, pants, and dresses on the bed, indecisive of how I want to look. Three
years of uniforms, a button-down shirt, high-waisted long trousers, and the rare option of a skirt
had taken a toll. The skirt rule was to never expose the knee, but we, the want-to-be mischievous
soldier girls, cut it a bit above the knee just to tease the military police officers in the central bus
stations every other Friday when we took the three buses home.
The beginning of November, change has settled, and things has started to slow down… Yelloworange auburn colors are everywhere, decorating every street. There’s a sense that we’re in
between seasons and in between decisions. Even elections happen in November – enduring
tradition, enduring transition.It’s the season of packing away summer clothes and the pulling out
those long sleeve shirts from the top shelves. A thin blanket is replaced by a thick duvet. I am
changing too.
In Israel, November is devoid of holidays. It is actually the only month without celebrations,
except in my family. We have three birthdays in November: my birthday and two of my sisters’,
Sharon and Libby. Libby’s birthday is ten days before me, and Sharon’s ten days after me. Every
year, three times that month, we savored a multi-layered, personally decorated cake baked by
Mom, blew out candles, and made wishes. We each got our own cake – Scorpio girls wouldn’t
have it any other way. Three Scorpio sisters.
Most twenty-one-year-olds in the land of opportunity hit that epic birthday night in one of the
local bars with childish heavy drinking, proving they can stay upright through yet another vodka
shot without puking on the sidewalk. Why? Because their driver’s license declares it must be so.
Waking up late to stumble to a college class after a blackout in a dive bar is the celebrated riteof-passage. The success of the celebration lies with the hangover. The more painful the
hangover, the more they forgot about the night, the more they remember how impressive and
glorious their twenty-first birthday was. But I was born in a different place where your special
birthday comes three years earlier. Where I come from, eighteen changes everything.
At eighteen, by law, you are trained to hold what can kill you or another human being. You get
your license to carry a rifle. Dark khaki green becomes your wardrobe for two or three years, and
sleep becomes a luxury. Your thick canvas army belt is marked with little squares colored-in
with blue ink, counting down the months left in your service: twenty-four for women, thirty-six
for men. Count it forwards, backward mark your wall calendar with every weekend you visit
home. Savor those thirty-six hours you are at home – finally home – back in your childhood bed,
clean and comfortable. Homemade food and family dinners, a Saturday to sleep in until noon, if
your family will let you (they get so little time with you as it is). Your mom will cook up food
that can feed an entire brigade. She believes you are a camel and can store the food in your body.
You give two or three years of your life to your country. A time of complaining, of feeling
miserable. Paradoxically, it is also the best time of your life. One day in the future, you realize
that your time in service molded your personality and transformed your life forever.
“How many years did you serve?”
This is the first question curious people ask me. I could count the seconds in every conversation
up to this question. Young men have to serve three years, and young women serve two.
15
Everyone joins the military unless you get special permission because you are too religious, or
you are psychotic, or, for girls only, you are too committed as a wife. Then you are simply
released, set free to live your life. You will miss one of the best, and worst, experiences on earth,
one that will alter your life in the most profound and deep ways you could ever imagine.
I am now the boss of my own time. Waking up when I want, working wherever I want (almost),
eating what I want, and going to the bathroom without asking for permission. It’s my life, my
new life. Kindergarten, elementary school, high school, army: I’ve always gone to sleep and
woken up on someone else’s schedule. Who’s in charge of my alarm clock now?
After three years of giving every day of my life to the Israeli Intelligence Service, I am free.
I am like a kid in a candy store who is allowed to get anything she wants, but who leaves the
store with only one little, yet familiar, candy in her hand. I am afraid to reach out for the
unfamiliar candies on the top shelf. I was just released from Israeli Intelligence and the choices
are overwhelming. I soon miss my narrow, uncomfortable bed and the strict, daily routine. I miss
Jenna, Petra, and Hannah, my best friends with whom I ate, slept next to, and cried with for the
past three years. I miss everything in my life and all that doesn’t exist anymore. Poof, just like
that, in one day, it’s over.
My first birthday without obligations. At least in theory, I am completely uninhibited.
But my twenty-first birthday is much different. I have been a civilian for four months and I am
dating a man named Tony. We have both returned to civilian life in Israel. He returned after five
years of living in New York, and I returned from three years of army service. Let’s begin to live!
Four months ago, before celebrating my twenty-first birthday, two months before I was released
from the service, I had met charming Tony. We met at one of the busy cafeterias. He stood out
among the green patch of uniforms, clad in his chic civilian outfit. He made my cappuccino
behind the counter with much attention, slowly frothing the milk, making sure it was fluffy and
foamy. He snuck another cheeky stare at me with his ocean-blue eyes and know-it-all smile. I
blushed.
“My coffee is the best! I’d like to prepare another one for you one day.”
Macho Tony hands me a blank piece of white paper from the receipt roll and a pen which was
next to the cash register. “Write down your phone number, here.”
Mumbling and embarrassed from his oh-so-direct-and-ballsy approach, I answer softly “I don’t
give my phone number out, but, if you’d like, you can give me yours.”
Uncle Ron taught me, “Be the one who has all the control.” His dating principles were among the
few things that I inherited from him, along with the Tiffany lamp.
While my friends waved me over and called me from the table, he finally handed me a coffee
cup with a little note.
16
“You’re hard to get. If you don’t want to give out your phone number, here’s mine. Call me, or I
will chase you down.”
A few months later, on my pivotal birthday, it hits me: I’ve never rebelled.
This thought seeps into my heart as I look for ways to celebrate this momentous birthday. Tony,
my new cheerleader for all matters of rebellion, is sitting in front of me. He has a brilliant idea of
how we can celebrate my twenty-first birthday. With his five additional laps around the sun over
me, he gains my full attention.
The plan is a tattoo.
I’ve been Good Girl Jerusalem for twenty-one years, and it might be the time to finally break
some rules.
My wannabe-rebellious-self decides, with the help of wannabe-badass Tony, to satisfy a desire
which has been suppressed since my mid-teens.
Not only will my conservative mother be upset, judgmental, and feel ashamed of her failure as a
mom, but I have also been legally forbidden from engraving words and pictures onto my body.
For three years during my time in khaki uniforms, my body didn’t belong to me. It was the
property of the army. If one even tries to commit suicide and fails, they are charged with a felony
for harming army property. You might survive a suicide attempt, but you will go to prison for a
murder attempt.
It is decided. I will get a tattoo. I choose a colorful butterfly tattoo inked onto my left shoulder to
replace my rank insignia. It substitutes responsibility with the illusion of freedom.
“Oww! It’s painful,” I whine like a little girl at the trendy, popular tattoo shop in Tel Aviv. Tony
found this talented artist who is the hottest name in the city. They both tease me as I bite my
tongue from the persistent and agonizing pain.
“C’mon, Ms. Commander, you can do this!” The buzzing needle goes in and slices through my
skin.
Bzzzz.
“This is just a tiny butterfly on your shoulder.”
I sink into the reclining chair, ink all over my shoulder. The needle is puncturing my skin like a
sewing machine. Maybe I should get up and run out. I freeze up. I can vividly see my mom
upset, furious and disappointed that I disrespected my Good Girl Jerusalem, holy body.
“Ella! When you die, you will be buried in the outskirts of the cemetery along with crazy people
and the poor ones who took their lives!” My mother lectures me in my head. And I believe her.
There is a tradition, not always observed, that those with tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish
17
cemetery.
The needle keeps buzzing, bringing to life first one wing, then another – bright blue and
gleaming pink.
Hey, life, I am bursting forth from my cocoon.
I have the illusion that I have been reborn. I don’t feel different today, twenty-one and a day feels
exactly like the day before – except for the sharp pain on my shoulder. Tony and I ended the
night early, as neither of us felt much like partying.
Early the next morning, I go back to studying for the university’s entrance exams. I sit on the
sofa, burying my head in the dauntingly thick books and jammed notebooks. Math, logic
questions, and English. My head spins from trying to remember all the sequences and complex
reasoning.
Tony comes home. I am excited about the excuse for a break. I hear his jingling keys on the
table. “Ella! I have a surprise for you!”
“Surprise? Is it still my birthday?” Tony knows my weakness for surprises.
But it was yesterday, I think quietly. If the guy surprises you, just accept it, I answer back to
myself.
Tony comes into the living room and makes his way through the forest of books and binders. He
gives me a big soft kiss on the lips, accidentally leaning into me harder than I can handle.
“Ouch! My tattoo,” I want my surprise more than the kiss now, “What is it?”
Tony stands up in front of me, looking like nothing so much as a proud young bear. He has the
shiny eyes of a child who cannot hide a secret anymore.
“Yeees?” I ask again.
“OK,” he says. “Are you ready?”
I roll my eyes upwards, impatiently.
Tony slowly lifts his white t-shirt sleeve. He reveals a three-inch-wide white bandage on his
bicep. I am confused. He peels back the tape and reveals a fresh sailor tattoo: a red heart and a
ribbon under it, with the words, “Just you, Ella.”
I stare at him at first, and then my eyes dart back to his arm. I re-read the tattoo: “Just you…” and
then… “Ella.”
Tony is smiling from ear to ear, waiting for me to jump on him with admiration and gratitude for
18
this heroic gesture. I say nothing. My heart sinks to the floor, and all I want to say is, “you’re
crazy!” but my words don’t come out. Even my butterfly wants to go back into its cocoon.
It’s too much. Tony, the books, the exam papers, the tattoo, my name on someone else’s body.
He didn’t even ask me. I stare.
That’s my name on him! I blink.
How many Ellas do I even know? Not many.
I belong to me, not to anyone else. I stand stiff. My thoughts race.
I am not a supermarket barcode. I sigh.
Tony sits in front of me, waiting for my reaction. We live together, in this sweet little apartment
in Tel Aviv we have subleased from a relative. We moved here a few weeks ago, as another
rebellious impulse told me to not return to my Good-Girl-city. It is already furnished with
someone else’s taste – the bed, the sofas, even the plants. It is not my smell, not my feeling, not
me. Three weeks, and I don’t feel connected to my new home. I miss the stiff bed in the army.
That was my home for three years. The little window, the narrow cabinet, and my nightstand. It
was what I knew. What I crave now in this very strange, unfamiliar, eerie apartment in Tel Aviv
is what I know as familiar – the one color, a simple and predictable life. I look at Tony, his blue
eyes begging for validation. I can’t find the words to tell him how I am not flattered. I am
confused, scared, surprised, and upset. He didn’t even ask me.
“Just you, Ella.”
Suddenly, I stand up. I put on my flip flops next to the front door and grab the keys. I wish we
had a dog to walk, I think to myself. That would be the best excuse to leave this show.
Restless and unable to grasp what had just happened, I take a walk through my upscale
neighborhood in Northern Tel Aviv. In Israel, Jerusalem is religious, serious, and conservative;
Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive away, is progressive, secular, and wild. This is the time for Good Girl
Jerusalem to be the last of these before starting studies at Hebrew University in my hometown.
My mind is swimming between the two cities – and the two tattoos. One with wings and one
with chains.
It is a November evening in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, it is already so cold you cannot take a walk
without bundling up, but here I am in a t-shirt and shorts, exposing my body to a city in which
you can do anything.
Anything, including engraving your girlfriend’s name onto your body, without her permission.
I can smell the Mediterranean. It is not familiar. In Jerusalem, we smell the mountains, the cold
19
earthy breeze. I hear dogs and televisions from various apartments in the old buildings along the
streets. Trying to forget what had just happened, I make up stories about other people’s lives, and
I play the game of deciding whose life I want to lead: the woman on the balcony who hangs the
wet laundry on the lines, the cello player on the second floor, the married couple who are
fighting over who will take the dogs for a walk, or the single mom who is feeding her son dinner,
waiting for a few moments to herself.
I collect sounds and connect them to stories of lives, which are foreign to me in the Holy City.
Ouch. The burning sensation on my shoulder.
Aimlessly, I stop by the local kiosk and buy a cold drink, my favorite black licorice candy, and
roasted almonds to numb the pain. I add the daily newspaper, which was next to the cashier, as
well. Maybe, I joke grimly to myself, my tattoo story made it in the news.
I find a bench on my way home. I sit on it, staring into the night. I am not sure if I like this city. I
notice that this neighborhood has no kids. Maybe the local kids are sent to the Holy City before
they sin. I open the paper and read about the government, about someone in prison, and the
weather. I browse the horoscope and try to fill the crossword puzzle in my mind. I turn the pages
over and read even more boring stories about people I don’t want to be like. The prime minister.
A CEO. A renowned scientist. A celebrated lawyer. Page after dull page.
I realize I have missed the front page. I fold over the grey paper and I see a picture. A soldier.
Handsome. Dirty blond hair, sassy eyes, a mischievous smile. I read further, “An IDF soldier
was seriously wounded in an ambush by a Fatah cell in the Gaza Strip.”
“The Terrorist lurked in the dark and severely wounded a
Givati Brigade Soldier. [The Soldier] was sent into The
Gaza Strip, on the outskirts of Khan Younis, on a special
mission. He volunteered to replace his friend who was sick
on that mission. His commanding officer ordered him to
uncover a hidden terrorist tunnel, painted with camouflage
colors on his face and a full outfit to hide each inch of
his body. Close to the end of the mission, a terrorist
lurked and shot [the soldier] in the back. One shot,
straight through his body. He is in critical condition. His
family is with him. [The soldier] is fighting for his life
and being supported by a respirator.”
The words stun me. Here I am, on the Mediterranean Coast sitting on a bench, whining about the
painful punctures on my skin, “wounds” I had volunteered to receive. While I was complaining
about how my new tattoo was burning under the white bandage, trying not to touch the gauze the
artist taped down on my birthday, a helicopter was evacuating this soldier to a hospital. He was
fighting for every breath. While I was getting happy birthday phone calls, his family was getting
the one phone call they dreaded most.
This soldier became a hero in a split millisecond of his life. I wonder to myself, why is it that
20
heroes’ names are never mentioned when the mission is successful? Only when they get hurt or
killed do we read their names in the next day’s paper. We remember, we cry, we cherish, we hold
them in our hearts. They make the headlines, but only until the next hero gets hurt or dies.
I look back at his picture in the newspaper. Under the soldier’s picture is his name, Adam, and
his home city, Jerusalem.
Quit giving other people the status of your Higher Power.
Time seems to be the same on every watch, clock, or smartphone. The day of the week is the
same, so is the month, the year. It might be tomorrow in Bangkok and yesterday in Hawaii, but
those are just artificial ways of organizing time. There is something more real than the clock.
Do you have a one-of-a-kind friend from childhood or your teens? The kind whom you might not
see for 20 years, and then pick up a conversation as if you’d never left? That’s a friendship that
transcends time. What you may not realize is your lifetime is a collection of billions of moments.
Some we remember and can describe like it just happened, and some are quickly forgotten in the
deep mud of illusory time. We demand the painful moments pass more quickly than they do; we
beg that the joyous ones linger. Because we give in to the lie of time, we rarely get either wish
granted. Nonetheless, we treat time like Play-Doh, stretching it to the limit before it breaks, or
rolling it quickly into a thick ball, trying to erase whatever shape it took before.
They say time heals: heals mourning, separation, pain. Separation is like surgery. At first, it
hurts.
“Nurse, nurse!” You scream, needing comfort, needing more meds.
You think the pain will never go away, you will never be able to forget and live your life like
before. It is too much to handle. The next week you are released from the hospital and, though
the pain is not as acute, still you cannot move. Days go by, and then a tiny beige bandage
replaces the thick white dressings. You feel a bit better. Then years go by, and someone notices
your scar. They ask you about it and it’s as if you’ve forgotten.
The Illusion of Time
21
Zain. Mem. Nun. ‫נ‬.‫מ‬.‫ז‬.
Time ‫ • זמן‬Order ‫ •הזמנה‬Available ‫• זמין‬Invite ‫ • הזמין‬Invitation ‫הזמנה‬
Invitation ‫ • הזמנה‬Long time ‫ • מזמן‬Available ‫• זמין‬
Jerusalem, 1995
I broke my promise to Sasi and Sam.
A few of my favorite clothes, only one of my childhood photo albums, my three favorite books,
my credentials, my BA certification, and my working visa to get into the United States, he Land
of Opportunity. I had stuffed two suitcases with what would remind me of the best of the first
twenty-two years of my life. I packed and unpacked, calculating what I could cram in only fifty
pounds. All packed and condensed, waiting to be popped into the new nest in an unknown land.
I was afraid, the day after I land, I will start teaching high schoolers Hebrew. I will be teaching
this foreign, sacred language to twenty-five hormonal teens, 8,000 miles away from home. I
wonder if it would be the same as teaching Arabic to teens in Israel. My love of languages, my
enjoyment of watching how people learn a new way of expressing themselves, is saving me from
the drama.
I didn’t want to live my mom’s life anymore.
The checkered pouch and the white ribbed boy’s tank top. I remembered two more items.
I made room in the suitcase for two more things that I could never leave behind. I still have them
today in my drawers in my bedroom. I take them out from time to time, smell them, touch them,
and know that, even though I broke my promise, I can never break this love.
The first is a square, handmade, red and white checkered pouch with green heart embroidery that
reads “It’s a boy.” When I was in fourth grade, the boys in our school went to carpentry class
while the girls went to sewing class. The teacher gave us the freedom to create whatever we
wanted, as long as we did it all with our hands. After four girls, the anticipation in my family
with my mom’s pregnancy was immense. Everyone tried to guess the new baby’s gender. During
every arts and crafts class, while I was sewing the special gift, I prayed to have a baby brother. If
it were a boy, perhaps my dad would stay with us forever. I stitched two little hearts, on one
embroidering the words “Mom and Dad,” and on the other, “Baby Boy.” I tried to convince the
Universe that four girls and the accompanying feminine chaos were enough in my family. My
wish came true; my mother was pregnant with Sam.
22
In another jammed suitcase, I also packed a tiny, white, ribbed boys’ tank top. This was Sasi’s.
As I was out the door to go to my linguistics class, the landline rang.
Even though I left home to study at the University, my mother still called me when she needed
me, especially help with the boys. When I was in my first year at the university, Sasi was already
in the third grade. “Sasi was suspended from school!” my mom’s frantic voice was on the other
end.
“Suspended?!” I was perplexed. I need to solve it quickly and hang up.
“Yes, for three days!” My mom continued.
Not quite expelled but suspended. Still, what could an eight-year-old boy possibly do to be
suspended from elementary school?
I somehow found my mature, relaxed, responsible voice, and asked my mother to explain to me
what happened. I was mostly trying to calm her down.
Mom’s voice was rushed, upset, and worried. She told me that the teacher called her at work. I
wasn’t sure if she was embarrassed or clueless about what to do with Sasi.
“Sasi’s teacher called me five minutes ago. Sasi broke her glasses!” My mom was furious.
“Broke her glasses?” I still couldn’t believe this nonsense.
Mother continued explaining what happened, and what she thought should have happened. She
was worried about Sasi. He was her baby, the source of so much anxiety, especially with his
ADHD. She would always drop her tone and whisper that diagnosis.
Sasi’s diagnosis added to my mom’s worries and feelings of victimhood. Her life story got more
complicated and compelling with this diagnosis. Unlike today, ADHD was not a common
diagnosis. If today having ADHD and ADD, or any other lettered disorder, will make you
unique, back then it was a black mark, a cloud on your record, and a reason for the teacher to
send you out of class.
One day, after a long day of classes at the Hebrew University, I came back to my little rented
studio apartment in Jerusalem and I saw the red light blinking on the answering machine. Mother
left me a message, “You see, your brother, only trouble! What should I do with him? You have
to help me, I cannot deal with him anymore! I am all by myself since your dad left me.” That
was her mantra when she was upset. She was alone.
Sasi, wearing the label of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, matched his outrage by
stomping dramatically out of the classroom. His third-grade teacher kicked him out of the class
because he was misbehaving. I am not sure who was more furious, the teachers or Sasi. Sasi left
the class, ADHD style, with an immense desire to be unforgettable, he slammed the door behind
23
him. In this exact unfortunate moment, the teacher was standing in the doorway, and the results
were a teacher with broken glasses, a suspended third grader, and a miserable mom. Mom sent
him to me so I would teach him the consequences.
For the next three days, we prepared dinner together, drew fun pictures, and laid down on my
patio grass to talk about our dreams. We laughed and sang. We were in the moment, bonded,
creating secrets just between us.
Flight to LAX, September 5, 1995
“Are you OK?” the kind, immaculate flight attendant asks me for the third time.
My mind returns to the long flight.
“Do you need anything?”
She brings me tissues, a cup of water, and offers me another pillow. Nothing helps. I cannot stop
the muffled cries. I am choking with tears and sadness. I already miss my country, my home, and
especially Sam and Sasi. I cannot put down the two pictures, and they stay in my hands this
entire flight. One photo is of Sam, the other of Sasi. I read and reread their sweet notes on the
back of the photographs, and I burst into tears each time. Pure childish handwriting that ends
with “I already miss you, and I love you, my big sister.” More tears gush out. I feel as if someone
separates me from own kids, and I am not even a mom yet.
The helpless flight attendant comes again.
Eleven hours from TLV to JFK, I sob.
Five hours from JFK to LAX, I cry quietly.
I left them.
I broke my promise. But I found something new. I discovered my life. I broke free from my
mom’s dependency; I broke free from the chains of someone else’s pain. At least just for short
time.
The United States, November 1995
It is the beginning of November. Change has settled, and things has started to slow down…
Yellow-orange auburn colors are everywhere, decorating every street. There’s a sense that we’re
24
in between seasons and in between decisions. Even elections happen in November – enduring
tradition, enduring transition.It’s the season of packing away summer clothes and the pulling out
those long sleeve shirts from the top shelves. A thin blanket is replaced by a thick duvet.
After two months in the land of opportunity, I feel isolated. It costs almost four dollars per
minute to call back home. Everything, except for my dreams, is in English. After so much
disorientation, I am excited to meet two new Israeli friends who had arrived in Los Angeles a
few months before I arrived. These new friends have invited me to Shabbat dinner on a Friday
night.
“It is Adam’s birthday,” Ethan told me on the phone. “Come, celebrate with us.”
Not only am I excited about meeting two new friends from my hometown, but this coming
Friday is my birthday as well. And just like that, I turned my birthday from a lonely Friday night,
sadly missing my family and friends, into an exciting surprise. These are my first two friends in
America.
I volunteer, “I’ll bake the cake.”
I bake an airy, sweet, vanilla cake. I cut it into two equal halves and separate the halves with a
big plate. Lovingly, I spread whipped cream onto one half and spread it with fresh sliced
strawberries. Before I lay down all the strawberries, I carefully drizzle it with brandy. It’s my
mom’s top baking secret. I lay the second half on top of the strawberries, making sure all the
edges are matching and the cake is stable on the white cake plate. I whip the rest of the cream
with vanilla pudding and vanilla extract. The aroma is divine. Lastly, I smother the cake’s surface
with vanilla frosting and decorate it with little flowers I have designed with my pastry bag. I
write in fancy handwriting “Happy Birthday!” and put it in the fridge to cool down.
My hair smells like brandy and vanilla, and my heart is filled with anticipation and excitement.
I’m like a young girl going to her first movie.
It’s Friday night. I put on the most beautiful dress I have – one I had brought with me from Israel.
With a new song in my mind, I drive myself, the birthday cake, and a salad in my old Ford to see
my friends.
I knock on the door and Ethan answers. He invites me into their small bachelor pad.
“Adam is getting ready in the back room,” he tells me. It is a sparse apartment. There is hardly
any furniture, no carpets or rugs, no pictures on the walls. It looks like they just moved in a few
days before. On the other hand, I am excited to see the kitchen is full of life – pots and pans with
bubbling delicacies on the stove, cooking spoons dripping with sauces, spices lined on the
counter, and bunches of colorful vegetables ready to be washed. It may not look like a home, but
it sounds and smells like home.
Ethan makes some space for my ready-to-be-deservedly-complimented cake on his counter.
Ethan is fit, slender, clean-cut, handsome, and has a little dimple. We chat with his back towards
25
me. He takes out a dish from the oven, peels back the tin foil, and puts it back again. The aroma
tingles my nose and knocks at my heart.
Loud noises come from the other room.
“Is the princess here, yet?” Adam, with a dazzling smile, rolls himself out from the other room in
his wheelchair.
He stretches to give me a big warm hug from his chair. He wheels towards the kitchen and parks
himself in the spot where a chair is missing from around the small square table. I then noticed
there are only three chairs around the table. For a second, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and
awkward.
Do I need to feel sorry for him? How do you behave with a handicapped person? I need to watch
my words not to say the wrong thing.
Within a few moments, Adam is making us all laugh. He’s got sparkling green eyes, a big smile,
dirty blond hair – and a dirtier mouth.
“Did you make this cake? May I get the recipe before I eat it, just in case they ask what I
ingested if I get food poisoning?”
We all laugh hysterically at his sarcastic jokes. Adam is sharp, direct, straightforward, and
hilarious. Immediately, his sass and charisma become the center of our dinner.
I completely forget about the three chairs, the two big wheels, and my one lonely heart.
I feel my heart belongs somewhere again. The food, the conversation, the inside jokes among
three expats who miss their Holy City. We talk about high school friends we may all know,
gossip about old teachers, and we laugh about the endless varieties of bread in the US. We eat
Ethan’s delicious food. I am astonished at his cooking skills, and yet Adam teases him about
having added too much pepper. He finds amusement in everything, or maybe this is how he
shows his gratitude.
Adam and Ethan explain why they’ve come to Los Angeles for only six months. They didn’t
come to Beverly Hills for pleasure, or to take pictures next to the Hollywood sign, or read names
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They didn’t come for the enjoyment of Disneyland, Big Bear,
or Six Flags. They didn’t come to The United States to work and save money, or to start studying
in one of the universities. Ethan and Adam have come to America because Adam was shot in his
back in that Gaza tunnel.
A world-renowned doctor has offered Adam an experimental treatment so he might be able to
walk again. His best friend has come to accompany him on what may be a miraculous journey.
In one more month, the experiment, and the budget, will be over. It will be time to return home.
Adam tells me that, for weeks after he was shot, his life hung in the balance. He was sustained by
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machines, fighting every day to survive. Finally, during Chanukah, he was out of danger. By all
accounts, his survival is a miracle.
Adam says he was reborn on the day he was shot, November 10, 1992.
I pause.
Adam. Suddenly, I remember.
The dirty blond soldier on the cover of the newspaper on the brown bench.
I feel goosebumps all over my body. I gently touch my tattoo. I’ve had it for three years. On the
same day, Adam got a hero’s medal and I got my butterfly wings.
Loudly, and with great silliness, we sing happy birthday and cut the strawberry-filled vanilla
cake. I celebrate my birthday and Adam celebrates his rebirth. He compounds it into his new
English word, injury-birthday.
Leaves fall from the trees and the late autumn of California forces us to wear light sweaters,
while in Jerusalem our families are wrapped in thick coats. Adam, Ethan, and I become a family
far from home. For a few weeks, we spend our evenings together. My apartment isn’t set up for
hosting an army hero in a wheelchair, so we spend most of our time at Adam and Ethan’s
apartment. We give each other roles. I am the loving mom, Adam is the stern father, and Ethan is
our child. I call him my son. Like a close family, we enjoy what life has provided for us. We
splurge on pizza delivery. We watch Dumb and Dumber and other comedies.
It is December, and nothing is the same. Adam’s treatments are coming to an end. My family is
leaving, and I desperately want them to stay. I pray for a miracle that might keep us together.
I have been away from everything I had known for three months now. Exotic a cappella carols
about the birth of Jesus play endlessly in stores and pharmacies, along with inexplicable songs
about talking snowmen and flying reindeer. Cheerful jingle bells announce that this is the
merriest time of the year. Fake-bearded men in fat red suits sit in public places, listening to
children on the knee, and promising presents for the good – with threats of black coal for the
naughty. Fir trees, many of which are fake, are stuffed from floor to ceiling into family rooms,
wrapped in ribbons, fancy balls, and blinking multicolored lights. Impossibly large presents are
stacked all around the tree trunks. Houses in neighborhoods, rich and poor, are decorated with
glowing plastic Santas, plastic deer, plastic sleds, plastic elves, and plastic blankets of glistening
snow. Dishes are left out, piled with gooey chocolates and sugary treats, and dazzling Hallmark
cards are proudly displayed around fireplaces and along the mantles. It’s a bewildering welcome
to my first American Christmas.
I grew up only a few miles from where Jesus was born, in what we call Bethlehem. His holy
legacy seems forgotten through the visual overload of countless infomercials and exciting
advertisements. Everything is bright, gaudy, and full of shiny bric-a-brac, as seen in the 99 Cents
Store and discarded after the holidays into the bins at Goodwill. This is not how I remember the
27
Christmas celebrations in Jerusalem. Where did the reverence go?
It will be Chanukah soon, and I stop on my way home to purchase a new Hanukkiah from CVS
so that Ethan, Adam, and I can light the Hanukkiah before they fly back to Israel.
“Your menorah is twenty-one dollars and twelve cents.” Menorah?
In The United States, people do not know that the Menorah has seven branches, for the seven
hills of Jerusalem. A Hanukkiah is different and has nine candle holders, eight for the eight days
of the miracle, and one tall one to light them all.
I park my car in the underground parking lot of my building and take the elevator upstairs,
considering whether I should ask for a miracle from either Santa or the Maccabi. I just don’t want
these boys to leave.
I find Ethan waiting for me next to my door with his motorcycle, helmet in his hand, wearing a
white t-shirt and blue jeans. I wonder what he’s doing there in the middle of the day.
“Oh, my son, you missed mommy?” I joke with Ethan, taking on my now-familiar role to cover
my sadness that my pretend-dad-and-son are leaving soon. I am an expert in covering my
emotions, shoving them down so no one will notice that my heart is breaking.
He hesitates. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“I would do anything for you, my son.”
And this is how Ethan came to live with me for a few weeks.
Adam’s treatments are over, he returns to Israel immediately after Chanukah. Ethan stays behind
in America for a few weeks, looking for work to make a little money. I share my small apartment
with my so-called-son, making him as comfortable as he can be on my blue sofa. Though it is not
the same as when we were all together, Ethan and I are quite the duo. We share stories about
work, our yearning for love, and our homesickness. I feel so grateful for Ethan and the
unexpected joy of our thrilling friendship. I remind myself that great friendships are miracles.
One day, Ethan’s fairytale comes to life. A tall, red-haired gorgeous model from New York City
comes to visit the City of Angels. After the briefest and most spectacular of romances, she
whisks my “son” away to Sin City, and, in Las Vegas, they sell colorful, delicious sweet ice
cream, snow cones, and popsicles from their melodious ice cream truck.
Los Angeles, 1996
My mom was right. English classes were what I really needed. But I still wanted to dance.
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Searching the L.A. Weekly, I finally found it! After years of practicing only in my mind, I was
finally going to take my first real dance class at twenty-five years old. Hip-hop for adults. For
years, my dance moves were kept to Bar Mitzvahs and wedding dance floors, or going out with
friends dancing in dark, crowded, smoky clubs. This is my first ever formal dance class. I
purchased high leggings with a short shirt barely covering my belly. I put on my best tennis
shoes and drive to my first class. Like looking at an art piece for the first time, I enter the studio.
Dozens of other dancers chatting, laughing, stretching on the wood floor. I pretend that I know
how to stretch, placing my water bottle next to the wall, away from the tall wall mirror.
The teacher comes in with a big smile, “Who’s new?” she yells. I don’t raise my hand.
The cheery, energetic, peppy instructor instructs the class with hand motions I don’t understand.
She taps her head once, and everyone starts from the beginning. Lock. Pop. Knee Drop. I am
clueless. I feel as if someone poured concrete over my feet. I try to follow the instructor and her
exact directions and steps, but she is too fast. I’m embarrassed; I know I have it in me, but my
body will not obey. It seems as if the other dancers have been dancing since they were little girls,
going with their moms to dance recitals in lavender leotards or pink tutus. I had only ever danced
in my imagination.
Until the long-awaited concerts.
I saved my pennies to see Madonna every time she came to town. Before every concert, I got
ready for what used to be only in my fantasies. The stage, the performance, the dancers, the
background, the crowd – the entire experience captured my soul, my body, my mind. Expensive
jewelry, gold watches, and luxury brand name purses are far down my priority list, well below
concert tickets. I collect my tickets in a stub jar. At first, one, then two, then another concert. I
soon add another breath-taking artist to my sweet addiction. The jar sits proudly in my living
room, collecting the paper stubs like roses. I water them every season with fresh tickets, curating
my memories.
I let my body flow. After a few formal hip-hop dance classes, I gave in. I experimented with
street salsa, cumbia, samba, house music, and techno moves. I trip and fall and get up and Get
into the Groove, again. This is how I eventually discovered freestyle dancing. There, I could
practice the moves I learned on the bus rides without anyone to correct me. Dancing freely to my
music, letting my body Justify My Love.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Everyone has fear in their lives, though well-hidden at times, it can lash out with mighty
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power. Fear and doubt can beat you to the ground, even when you cannot name your fear. What
is your fear? What is the one thing you would like to do most, the thing that lies on the other side
of the fence, guarded by the demon of doubt and anxiety?
Trust. Trust Yourself. Follow Your inner voice. Follow its advice. It will lead you
somewhere.
When you have nothing to lose, you dare. You wear your shining armor and do precisely
what you believe in without the thought of what others will do, act, or say to inhibit you. You
refuse to be afraid.
Recall the moment when you dared to do something you rarely did. You entirely and blindly
trusted yourself on a subject about which you knew so little. You did not ask for help, advice, or
an opinion. You trusted yourself and my universe one hundred percent.
If you cannot trust yourself, you will be led towards chaos, heartbreak, and pain if you ignore
that inner voice and disregard its advice.
Even though the road may be downright terrifying at times, the final destination is fulfillment,
love, and wholeness.
Secret Thrills
Samech. Vav. Dalet ‫ד‬.‫ס ו‬.
Secret ‫ • סוד‬Secretive ‫ • סודי‬Soda ‫סודה‬
West Hollywood, 1997
The plain, gray 20-inch Zenith Television is placed perfectly on the glass cabinet in the living
room as an art exhibit. The remote control next to it, untouched.
My infatuation with Love Boat was short-lived. After I cracked my fourth-grade social
connections, it lost any real interest. Even today, at twenty-six years old, I am still not watching
much TV, not even my own show. I am starring as a news anchor in a weekly Hebrew-language
cultural program on the infamous, rarely watched channel 18. It is a project sponsored by an
Israeli multi-millionaire to – as I will learn in the future – cover and launder his porn videotaping
operations. Taping the weekly news interests me more than actually watching it. Half an hour of
sitting still in front of the glass tube seems like a monumental waste of time.
My 700-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment is my center of love, my center of wisdom, of
peace, and of creativity. This is the first place I have all to myself. I’m not sharing it with five
younger siblings, or 59 other girls in army training, or another commander in a tent, or
roommates, or a boyfriend, or anyone else. My very own palace. It’s my party, and I’ll paint if I
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want to!
Every room has a wall painted with a declaration of color, its personality calling from the wood,
from the cement. Rolling up my sleeves, I am a secret artist, rushing back and forth to the local
paint store to buy brushes and gallon-size buckets of every exciting color I can imagine. The
walls are a riotous celebration of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol.
Let me guide you into my masterpiece. Close your mind’s eye. Hold my hand. Come with me.
Enjoy your personal VIP tour. There are no stairs, only one step. Follow me. Take a deep breath.
Open yourself to my vision.
The entrance opens into the living room, which is also the sitting room and reading area. The
main wine-red wall and a wisely neglected TV. Look over here! A large window with its ’80s
vertical, wide-blade blinds from floor to ceiling to hide the curiosity of anyone who walks in the
outside walkway. Peep inside. This is my private space. This is for me and you. An old airconditioning unit hums its droning song, making the place cool and comfortable during the
summer months. Books line the walls, expanding my mind as I visit other worlds and times. The
scent is fresh, always crisp like clean linen, sweet as vanilla.
Come, see the dining area, my white galley kitchen. This dining table has many stories to tell,
stories I’ll never quite know. The only piece of furniture I inherited from the previous tenants the
day I moved to L.A. two years ago: a brown, dull old table. But it has a history of its own,
remembering all the dishes and plates and cups and glasses that it held up so faithfully. It
witnessed Thanksgiving dinners and family discussions I will never know. To balance out the
heavy memories of the table, I painted the wall yellow, always following the sun: warmth, light,
love.
Come now, and peek into my office/guest room.
My seven-hundred-dollars rent (a third of my salary) was a splurge that provided me with an
extra room. For this room, I declared, “Green!”
I had searched for its shades and tones, but I had a hard time settling on which green I want most.
The neighbor’s grass, an army uniform, American money, my Green Card? Or the greenery
within me, a fresh soul in this world?
I paint it in a light pastel green to remind me of the softness beneath the concrete of this city,
where the angels hide sometimes, Los Angeles. While I paint this room, a tiny feeling of
homesickness seeps in. I kick it with a brush.
“Move along now. This is my home!” I repeated it aloud, fearing that the missing of my family,
my Holy City, my country would show on the brush strokes on the walls forever.
My office/guest room has a twin bed and a narrow desk. The large gray tower, a monochrome
monitor with a DOS personal computer waits for me to create and connect. It takes up the entire
desk, giving me access to ICQ chat rooms with their cute green and pink flowers, an online and
offline connection to other colorful rooms in the world.
In between the two bedrooms sits my twenties-style bathroom. Charming, elegant, small white
tiles. Soft towels, matching bathroom set, and fragrant cleaners. An always-sparkling mirror to
look deeply into the soul. Charming, elegant, small white tiles.
This bathtub is used only for showers. The faucets need replacing. The pipes are rusty, and the
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idea of a relaxing, luxurious bath always ends up as a fleeting thought, too time-consuming to
indulge in, like a spa brochure in a pile of bills.
Are you ready to enter my sanctuary? Here is my bedroom.
You are in my real world.
Take off your judgmental shoes please. And pause.
Blue.
My favorite color in the world. Not the usual blue. Sapphire blue. The blue that is created in the
sky and the deep ocean in the fleeting moments night changes into day, and day into night. That
blue when you can just still notice the stars.
I didn’t just paint my bedroom. I composed it stroke by stroke with brushes, sponges, towels,
with many shades of blue. Some I made by mixing colors, and some I purchased. I even dared to
slip into my shopping basket one shade of neon blue.
I have a little UV fluorescent light on the floor that illuminates the streaks of neon blue at night.
Every corner of my bedroom becomes a part of this big vast sky-ocean: the wood closets, the
ceiling, all the frames, and the moldings. To be here is to dive, to swim, to fly over the deepest
ocean with the stars, the moon, and the clouds for witnesses. They are all a part of my creation in
a tiny 700-square-foot, two-bedroom castle.
My castle.
This castle sees me through two-and-a-half serious relationships. It sees me falling in love,
heartbreaks, and falling in love again.
This castle watches as I sit up late with thick, consuming books and yellow highlighters through
sleepless nights of graduate school.
This castle welcomes eclectic friends coming in and out, in high heels, with ties, with Indian
baggy pants. They carry flutes and drums, bottles of wine and new CDs. We dance late into the
wild nights.
This castle knows all about the diets, the workouts, the periodic attempts to be a vegetarian.
This castle witnessed three years of people coming in and out like a time-lapse scene in strobe
lighting.
And, one day, a knock on my door. Ben, my landlord, who is younger than me by a few years.
His dad purchased him this six-plex and he lives in one of the apartments. I open the door. Ben,
blond, bright-eyed, muscular, clean-cut, always happy young kid. I am trying to remember if it is
already the first of the month. I’m never late paying my rent.
Ben has never given me a personal visit before.
“I am selling the building,” he tells me, sharing his big secret. I suspect his dad had purchased
him a bigger property.
“Do your homework,” he adds, “and don’t share it with the other neighbors.”
I am the oldest tenant here. When Ben and his dad purchased the building, I was the only tenant
who stayed.
32
“Just be prepared, someone will come in the next few months and talk to you about the eviction.”
Eviction? That’s a little harsh.
Wearing his typical white t-shirt, he explains with his permanent smile, “The structure will need
to come down, making room for a newer, more modern building.”
I close the door and sit alone with the news. Looking around my castle, my heart aches – I do not
want to let anyone stop my party. I feel like I am losing everything I have built up like a defeated
kingdom losing its castle. Not my home! Not my Castle!
I quietly go to the spot I feel safest. I lie on my bed, letting my sky-ocean room cuddle with me. I
let the clouds, the waves, and the endless blue shelter hold me safe.
No one will end my party, not like this. I fall asleep promising my walls that I will be there for
them, that I will find a way to save them.
The next day, I wake up feeling a bit stronger, like Wonder Woman, with indestructible bracelets
and my Lasso of Truth. Determined to find an answer, I drove to the library. I am in graduate
school, but this time it is not for homework. I research all the keywords, “eviction,” “breaking
lease,” “rent control West Hollywood,” “demolishing building,” even “giving up my castle.” I
open huge old books with thin paper and small print in language and terms I don’t quite
understand. More books, more indices, searching, more searching, hour after hour. I am clueless.
I am tired, my body is exhausted from looking for the solution. The lights in the library start to
dim. And there it was, so simple, so clear. I found my answer. Black and white.
If a tenant complains about anything within six months prior to eviction, the landlord must fix
the problem before the eviction date.
Bang! I want to jump up and down on every table and dance on the library desks, twirl on the
shelves, but then the serious librarian approaches me with a serious look.
“Ma’am, we are closing.”
My gloriously rusty pipes, once a thorn in my side, has saved me, saved my walls, saved my
castle.
From that library visit onward, without fail, I write firm, yet polite, messages on every rent
check, “The pipes in the bathroom are rusty, please fix.” Every first of the month, I made sure
my request on the check can be read from any angle.
“The pipes in the bathroom are rusty, please fix.”
This is my castle, and no one will demolish my walls!
Two months later, Ben and two families move out. After a few days of moving tracks in our
small driveway with boxes, beds, and sofas flying in and away, the long-anticipated moment
arrives. The important Broker comes to meet me with a serious speech. He cites rules in real
estate language that few can understand. He declares that I have under a month to leave the place
and that he will grant me the mind-blowing sum of $1,000, just to “ease the aggravation.” The
low amount stuns and amuses me at the same time.
The Broker is arrogant and dismissive, repeatedly looking down at his watch, making sure I
know that I am rudely wasting his precious time. He loses his patience. He takes out a folder
with documents and continues.
33
“Please sign here,” pointing at one of the pages, “so we can hand you the check the day you
move out.” He doesn’t even make eye contact with me.
The mischievous kid inside me becomes excited. I look at him defiantly and say, “Well, the law
requires that you pay two thousand dollars.”
The Broker clears his throat and replies, “We can talk about it later, but first sign this document.
I think we are being very generous with you.”
It is time to drop the bomb. A very rusty bomb.
“What about the pipes? They are rusty and need to be fixed before I move out.” I smile. I know
he’ll know what this means.
The Broker turns pale. He does not let me finish my sentence.
“You see, ma’am, we are demolishing the building. What difference does it make?” He starts to
mutter. I can tell he wants to leave my colorful party. He wants only one thing, my signature.
He’s not going to get it.
He walks away empty-handed. There is no check in the works. Just rusty pipes in my very
colorful castle.
The following weeks are filled with visits from the Broker. Every visit, the Broker brings his
beige folder and promises me a few extra hundred dollars on top of the original thousand.
My answer is always, “Please fix the pipes.”
His reaction swings from frustration to anger to embarrassment and back again. He is getting
bombarded with impatient memos by the new landlord. I am a tiny and aggravating pebble inside
his cheap, tight shoes. My signature might as well be in gold ink.
I am living in this six-plex by my happy lonesome self. All the other tenants are gone, evicted
with some tiny, inadequate payment as consolation. The builders start breaking some of the walls
in the back of the building and taking out the windows. The building is soon naked. They slowly
reveal the innards of the building. It is just me, my bright walls and my brave fortress which are
now under siege.
Summer turns to fall. Halloween is upon us. Half a million superheroes, zombies, and sexy
pirates are about to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood for the annual
carnival, the largest Halloween party in America. Having fun and being crazy is the easy part.
But parking? That’s a lot trickier.
Michele comes to visit my fortress. She sees the crowds and hears the craziness and the car
horns. As she always did, she comes up with a clever, creative, irresistible idea.
“Let’s make money!” she says with her little kid’s eyes.
“We have what is in high demand for that night: parking. Parking spaces which are bare and
empty and neglected by tenants.”
We rent the parking spaces of the doomed building within five minutes. We pocket $300. How
much candy and pumpkins can we now buy?
The next day, another visit. The Broker sits on the staircase next to my apartment door. The
worn-out folder is on his lap. His arrogance and impatience are gone.
34
He speaks softly, almost whispering, “Tell me, what is the amount you’ll be willing to take? I’ll
cut the check now.”
I can tell he is exhausted. He desperately needs my apartment to be empty.
I look at him, half with mercy, half with boredom, and I dare, “$12,000!” I had nothing to lose.
I’m not sure I’m serious. He is. Without batting an eyelash, he pulls out a large binder with
business-size checks.
“I’ll write you a check right now for $10,000. And please, please,” he says, “sign the documents.”
I watch him fill out all four zeroes. I look carefully, not believing my eyes. It is happening. Ten.
Thousand. Dollars. He hands me the check.
I sign the papers.
With that money, I purchased my first condominium. I am just 29 years old. But unlike my
beautiful castle, I will never paint my walls again.
Los Angeles, December 1997
A magical time. I don’t consider the future; my head is all about the moment when I embrace the
early morning. Look at the sunrise with its majestic colors – light blue, pink, and brushes of
white in the wide open, crispy sky. I can take in the birth of each moment and continue to
welcome the next and the minutes that follow, allowing the seconds to tick one at a time, without
diminishing into the hands of the clock.
I am away from my family, far away. Away from their constant needs and my own desire to
please them, satisfy them, and make them proud. Far from performing, excelling, bringing them
the trophies they always wanted. Disciplined, even though they never asked me to be. As a good
girl, I never allowed myself to compromise. I refused to accept anything less than an “A” in each
class. Twice a year, my heart would sing on the long bus ride home, eager to show my parents
the report card with my teacher’s perfect handwriting on it. Eagerly, I would present the perfect
stock paper card, and I would anticipate hearing wonderful words and compliments. This was
going to be my time, if only for an afternoon. But every semester my parents would tell me the
same thing.
It’s Christmas break.
“Let’s celebrate your green card!”
Michele and I decide Sin City — Vegas. I am not a gambler nor a drinker, but I am a freedom
chaser, enchanted by the lights, the endless possibility, the glamor. We are going to celebrate
becoming a legal permanent resident of the United States, which I received through my work.
All by myself just after a couple of years in the land of opportunities.
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I am proud! I leave my university instructor hat at home and pack a small suitcase filled with
outfits that have been hidden in my closet for years now, the ones I had planned to wear ‘one
day.’ It was finally that day. Sequined mini dress, bell-bottom high-rise pants, and a halter shirt,
extra make-up, and two pairs of high heels. I am ready.
Heading down the East 10 Freeway, Michele and I turn off the radio, putting an end to the
overplayed Christmas playlists. We insert electronica CDs one after another. Tiesto, Digweed,
and various Norwegian DJs boosted our excitement and anticipation. We don’t speak much, just
listen to the music, which releases all our inhibitions into the night. We feel like Thelma and
Louise with the unknown ahead of us. Michele drives the car like a fearless Amazonian woman;
her hair is pulled up into a ponytail, fully exposing her blue piercing eyes which pick up every
detail on the road. She is quick and sharp. My Louise laughs freely, I notice, this love child of
hippie parents, a native of Northern California. Her mom and dad didn’t check her report card.
They didn’t search for A’s. Uninhibited wild girl.
Michele teaches me all the secrets they didn’t teach me in school. She is teaching me how to live
in the moment. She shows me how to love freely, how to be who you are and believe in the
beauty in life. She showers me with compliments I craved for years.
She loves me.
She loves me for who I am.
She loves me unconditionally. Like a wild Northern Californian allows you to love.
She doesn’t need numbers, grades, or my teachers’ notes.
And I don’t have to prove this forbidden free love to anyone else.
The music is carrying us to a world of goodness.
However, we are soon stuck in holiday traffic. Our cellphones are not-so-smart phones. Hope is
our only navigation app. We slow down, mile after mile, and soon, no one can move forward.
Drivers are getting out of their cars, looking at the horizon, yelling, asking, talking. Behind us in
the west, the winter December sun sets early. There is no sign of traffic relief.
Three hours later, having replayed all our CDs, yawning and desperate for something to eat, I
come up with a genius idea.
“Let’s forget about Vegas and drive to Palm Springs!” I know enough to know it is close, fun,
and presumably less congested.
Michele looks at me with compassion and amusement, as she always does.
“My silly girl,” she says softly.
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I can tell she is puzzled by my clever idea. I might get hundred percents on my report cards, but
I’m hopeless when it comes to driving. I’m directionally challenged. Noticing Michele’s
perplexed look, I try to bring some logic into my traffic-escape-plan.
“Wait, but it’s not a detour, is it?” I admit, it is the only other place I knew that borders Los
Angeles to the east.
Michele nods and touches my hair, putting me at ease even if I don’t know the right answer. We
both sense a new adventure approaching. The unknown is our magnet. We head on the fifteen
freeway to Palm Springs.
The roads are free. No traffic. No wait time, just an empty highway. We can breathe, letting go
of the tension of inching forward at three miles per hour. We smile. We embrace the moment. It
doesn’t matter what will happen. We are together, fully present.
Two hours later, we arrive in what seems to be a ghost town. There are only a few cars in the
streets; it is Christmas Eve. Families are full of Christmas dinner. Parents are wrapping the last
presents and hiding the leftover wrapping papers. Kids are tucked in bed, trying to fall asleep,
anticipating that once-a-year glorious moment: Santa’s visit.
We have a small December miracle of our own: a great stylish hotel room for half the regular
price, an amazing find on Christmas Eve. It is in a new section of the hotel, and, even at night,
the view from the room is stunning. We watch the looming San Jacinto mountains, a
breathtaking vision for the night and the approaching sunrise. There is no past nor future. We
live in the present tense.
We enter the remodeled room, and, before we put our suitcases down, I quickly remove the
bedspread from the bed which many others shared before us. It is my hotel habit, no matter what
sort of hotel I’m in. No matter how luxurious the property, I always remove the bedspread first.
The germs, the stories, the history. I want none of it. Freshly laundered bedsheets. Fresh stories
of our own.
After a whole day of driving, I am restless. I let myself be what I feel with Michele. She accepts
me wholly with my imperfections.
It’s already ten o’clock at night.
Where is the promised adventure? I ask myself, watching Michele staring at me.
She can just enjoy the moment. Every little detail of life gets attention like it is eternity. She
rarely gets restless smiles. She can read my mind.
37
I’m looking for something, a clue, a hint, an idea for something to do in this one night a year
when everything is closed – my eyes find it on the bedside table. A thick copy of the Yellow
Pages.
“Let’s play!” I say enthusiastically to Michele who is looking at me with her good eyes. “The
first bar I find,” I say with a big smile and my sassiest voice, “that’s the bar we are going to!”
The little girl who was hidden inside me for years loves scavenger hunts. It is a huge phonebook.
There are countless bars in this tourist destination, some listings with ads, some with tiny text. I
wave my finger in the air, make a “here we go…” announcement, close my eyes, and then drop it
onto one entry. My finger falls with a mischievous giggle.
Catch Bar.
Our next adventure.
We are two mischievous girls trapped in a very good oasis of a city. All I want now is to let loose
and enjoy every free second. We have no limits, no responsibilities. Maybe we can even take
Santa on our fun and wild quest before he places his hat on his head to visit the well-behaved
kids in the world and eat the billion cookies left out for him. Santa deserves a surprising
rendezvous, too.
While other girls were falling into the “marriage” and “love” trap, Michele and I were living our
lives like it’s still the Sixties. Joy, freedom, release, loving the moment and totally carefree. We
breathe. We enjoy. Life is a wild movie. If we find someone interesting, they join our movie for
a scene. Or two. Or three. Sometimes they become the main supporting actor, sometimes just an
extra.
We travel, we love, and we dance together. Three people in an exhibit of joyous freedom. But
there is one condition, one solid rule. The minute someone starts to worry about the next scene,
we fire them. Worry is not part of the contract. Worry pushes them out of the plot. Worry results
in our superhero exit, putting on the spandex black outfit, jumping from one building to the next
without ropes or a safety net. We are off to the next adventure. We live fully from moment to
moment.
We feel the moment, we are the moment.
Catch, the promising bar, is roughly twenty miles away outside of Palm Springs, as if we haven’t
driven long enough. But we are not deterred; we are playing the yellow pages game. Without
children to pester us with an endless loop of “are we there yet?” the possibilities are truly
endless.
A few cars are outside the neon storefront. Curiously, we enter the bar. Its familiar loud music,
the smell of liquor, flashing purple, light blue, and yellow lights. I look around collecting details,
they are embedded in my mind. A young bartender is busy tending to two male customers. I look
to my left, to the darker half side of the bar, where a series of small round tables with black
38
armchairs lay. The armchairs are facing a little stage featuring a gorgeous, curvy, scantily
clothed girl twirling up and down on the shiny pole.
“A strip club?” Michele and I turn to each other, stunned.
I stand agape, staring and giggling, admittedly intrigued. A seductive blonde stripper wearing a
shiny pink bikini climbs down the pole. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it is my first time
in a strip club. My blood rushes. I feel the shame, embarrassment, and curiosity all at once.
“Butterfly” by Crazy Town plays in the background. I stare at her touching the pole with
sensuality, confidence, with boldness. She moves her body up and down, walking slowly, then
fast. Then she stops. The dancer with the bombshell body matches every move to the music, a
stripper in full possession of herself. I cannot take my eyes off her. In my fantasy, I fly with the
pole, I move, I dance, I climb the metal pole and flip down slowly. I gaze at the dancers who
follow the first one, their strength, grace, and sensuality mesmerizing me. I want to do it, too!
But that’s insane – I’m Good Girl Jerusalem!
Michele touches my shoulder as if she’s waking me up. She winks and puts a pool stick in my
hand and gestures for me to follow her. Green table, dark corner. The black, red, and blue balls
are hitting each other with a click. Pak! Pak! Balls zoom from one corner to the next, searching
for their escape down the pockets.
As if entering a completely new scene, I see the shadows of two tall, slender guys leaning on the
table, playing pool. Talking. Laughing. One of them makes me stand straighter, fix my outfit,
and play with my hair. Pak! He’s handsome. Tall, with a great body that’s been worked out for
hours in the gym and needs nothing but a white T-shirt. With an easy grin and a warm
handshake, gorgeous introduces himself.
“Hi, I’m Dan.” He flexes his biceps. I pretend I don’t notice. “And this is Bob,” he introduces his
friend, who is even taller.
I can see his shyness, the wisdom in his eyes. Something mysterious is captivating me beyond
this odd place on Christmas Eve where beautiful strippers gyrate. I’m hooked by mystery and
looking at this man, I am thirsty to know his secrets, his angels, his demons. Things that might
either save me or kill me one day.
Pak! Pak! The pool balls mimic my pounding heart. I say nothing; I get shy when I am interested
in a man, and, when I am really curious, I hide it even deeper. But not Michele. Michele is about
to devour Dan, and I let her. Girlfriend’s Code. I know nothing about pool rules, but I’m simply
enjoying the matching man game. I make small talk with Bob. His blue eyes and sweet smile
cover tremendous sadness I can sense beneath. I don’t remember one single word we exchanged.
Small talk has never interested me.
We were on our way to Sin City one way or another, and we let our fingers lead us to the Oasis
before sunrise.
California law closes the place at 1:50 a.m. The bartender is cleaning the counters and we leave
39
the club for the parking lot. Michele inserts the car key and turns on the engine.
“So, did you get his phone number?” I ask her.
She gasped, “No!”
Without any hesitation, I don’t wait for any explanation. I open the car door, zoom over to Dan’s
car, approach his window, and ask with confidence:
“Are you too shy or you simply don’t give out your phone number?”
What’s forbidden is desired.
What’s unavailable is sought after.
What’s hidden is pursued.
What’s forbidden is desired.
What’s unavailable is sought after.
What’s hidden is pursued.
Babies love peekaboo. Teenagers love roller coasters. Women like elaborate proposals. Men love
thrilling car rides. And, generally, people love the word surprise at birthday parties. We’re more
excited to unwrap a gift than to accept it unconcealed. There is a split-second neurological effect
in which the brain is cognitively creating a moment of curiosity. Your emotions are triggered,
some positive like happiness, and some negative like fear or disappointment. And this is the
reason you love those unexpected moments. You take the chance that you will love it… or hate it
forever.
It’s an illusion. What’s meant to be yours will be yours. What is determined to fall into your life
story will be revealed in its own time. You may plan – sometimes to excessive detail – how you
will meet the person, how you will marry the love of your life, or how you will be promoted at
work. And yet the Universe has its own plan f…
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