We wake up at the crack of dawn, elevator down to the lobby, walk out into the salty, breezy morning still carrying the faint scent of fried food, and smile to the guards and receptionists ending their late-night shifts.
At the convenience store across the street, our daughter, who is a celebrity in our familiar haunts, is greeted with a completely genuine and whole-hearted, “Boker tov! Hamuda! Buba!” We get two cappuccinos, “Big and strong,” from the manager of the store who happens to be behind the counter. He makes them the best.
With my baby in the stroller giggling and shouting, “Dig, dig!” we roll a block to the beach and sing songs while she swings, while she digs in the sand. There isn’t a cloud in the sky which is the norm, but hard geometric lines in pastel, washed out colors, cut into the sky from the White City’s Bauhaus skyline.
The man who drives the tractor on the beach to pick up the trash and the collector who hangs off the side smile and nod. My baby loves shouting, “Boom, boom!” each time our friend throws a bag into the big green dump truck. The sidewalk sweeper waves to us, lights a cigarette and sits down for awhile to listen to the little baby songs we sing each morning. He could probably sing them all by now.
She gets thoroughly covered in sand, throwing it over her head, digging her little hands all the way up to the elbows. We bury her feet and she delights in kicking them free. We don’t bother to rinse her down, she’ll just be covered in sand again after lunch. Besides, our tile floors are covered with it despite daily vacuuming.
It’s Shabbat during Passover so almost everything is closed. She’s shouting “Neigh, neigh!” She wants the fake horse ride at the mall which is sleeping in darkness behind locked glass doors. We go to frozen yogurt instead, and we’re early. They aren’t fully open, but they serve us anyway. There’s a big hammock swing nearby, and another baby sits with her each of them hesitantly reaching out to touch each other’s faces.
She anticipates and points to everything on the walk back-the cat painting on the side of an ‘Irish pub,’ the baby doll dressed in a tuxedo at the suit store, the angel decals on the laundromat windows, the mannequins dressed to the nines with unicorn masks on which she happily accepts in lieu of her horse ride…even a green bucket that collects water from an AC outside a falafel joint. She knows these streets by heart, just as well as I do. She remembers every poster, every store. She knows if we’re going to the grocery, or the beach, the mall, or the fountain, the park or the port.
It would be impossible not to miss a life like this, a place like this. Sure, our walls seem nonexistent at times in this apartment. I close a drawer in another room and the baby is awake. And, everything’s always breaking. The whole place has flooded from above more times than I can count by no fault of our own. I see waterfalls above the elevators in my hallway about once a month, and the carpet slowly getting darker as the water seeps out. There’s a gaping hole in our wall where mold in the drywall had to be cut out. Our landlord hasn’t fixed it yet despite our weekly calls. The wiring’s probably completely unsafe because each time it floods, the fusebox is dripping, our power shorted out, and the only solution offered is a hairdryer to, “dry it out,” as if this is a safe enough.
Construction is a constant. Everyday, always around naptime and bedtime, there’s sure to be a hammer right above our heads or a jackhammer on the building across the street or a crane squeaking and turning. I’ve seen workers welding with no eye protection, a guy was sawing tile with no cover on the saw or gloves the other day. I’m dreading the day I see a dismembered digit or limb with my own eyes. We’ve been walking down the street and a flurry of debris has rained down on us (which is why I always leave the sunshade on the stroller). You learn to adapt.
And sure, sometimes some people can seem a little pushy, a little too honest at first (until you get to know the culture, and it doesn’t seem like that at all anymore which is surely how it must feel for anyone, anywhere in a new place with new people), but these are the kind of skills you need in your back pocket. I don’t let people push me around like I used to; I’ve learned to stick my elbows out in line so people don’t cut me at the grocery store, or airport, or doctor’s office, or restaurant….And yes, it’s complicated. It’s an extremely complex, tangled, emotionally fraught place to live in the world, but I’ve learned more than I ever could from the news seeing it with my own eyes.
What I’ll really miss, though, are the intangible things. The first few weeks, when it was Adam and I fending for ourselves, newly married, learning enough of the language, mapping the city in our heads, quickly learning the hand signal for, “Rega! (Wait, just a second) while driving all across the country. I remember learning to sing the Hebrew alphabet in my hotel room and like a kindergartner being so excited to show Adam when he came home. The first time I found Parmesan cheese at the market after I’d searched for weeks and made homemade Eggplant Parmesan in our toaster oven because that’s the only oven we had.
I remember illustrating my children’s book on a different desk each week in those early days while we switched from hotel room to hotel room until we found our apartment. Then, our first apartment here, a one-bedroom with a tiny, white built-in Ikea desk right next to the windows, and all that time I spent drawing, looking out the window, wondering what my life was going to be like.
So many cloudless days passed waiting for just a hint of rain, even just an overcast day to break up the beautiful monotony, only to be assaulted by hurricane force gales and a monsoonlike downpour out of the blue on the way back from the grocery store all by myself with a hundred bags. Fainting in the Super Sol a few weeks pregnant with heavy morning sickness, and the kind checkout ladies who brought me water and chocolate, bagging my groceries, even offering to walk me home.
The seafood dinners, our first time surfing, the tiny hotel room in the Galilee, or the spread we got at our favorite restaurant that took up two tables, how do I fully describe, contain these moments in a box to remember? There was a dinner after I finished Georgia and I’s book, “Love Like Us,” where Adam and I drank half-priced margaritas, and fell in the sand while walking home, and pet some random dog like it was ours until it ran away.
Now we have so many memories, we’re bursting with them. So many of our daughter’s firsts. How much of this will she remember? Yesterday she ran towards the ocean, couldn’t get far enough in, paddled her little legs and arms, practically jumped in headfirst if I hadn’t stopped her. Will she always yearn for the ocean like me? Will she one day swim out past the breakwaters like her mother, float up and down with the waves looking at the sky and feel so safe, so happy, a part of her subconscious remembering this formative time? Or will she forget it all completely, will the slate be wiped clean? Will she soon fear the water being landlocked for so long? Will she one day hate getting covered in sand, the feeling of grit in her teeth which now she thinks is completely normal?
I can’t put into any sort of adequate form how much I will miss this place. I became a wife here, a mother, but I also became the woman I always wanted to be. Here, I learned to call myself an artist and a writer, without feeling shame in what I’d yet to accomplish as either. Here, I walked miles in the heat and dark, months pregnant to and from a figure drawing class where I knew no one, where I had no skills, where I couldn’t even speak the language, because I’d learned, “If not now, when?” Here, I learned to learn things all by myself.
How do you leave a place like this? How do you say goodbye?
I only hope that when we leave the next place, wherever that is, that I will struggle just as much to leave, and that I will have grown just as much as I have here.