She wore one of those baby bjorns. Her four month old nestled in it. Secure. And it reminded me of our baby bjorn. The one artifact M. refuses to let go of. And we’ve purged almost everything. Baby clothes. Shoes. Toys. But that spit up stained bjorn is off limits. Even when my good friend P.L. had a baby in Oregon. And I thought about sending it to him. M. said no. It was too dear to her.
It was brown and we bought it in tashlumim, installments. And it seemed like a lot at the time. 700 shekels. Or was it on sale? And it was the only place D. would stop crying. So I would walk around the apartment singing “Elmo’s song” or, if the mood was right, Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”. Because one look at that cute face and every woman I met would smile. Random women on the street. Beautiful women who would never give a shlub like me the time of day.
She stepped into the bedroom, his bedroom, and I made sure to kick aside the Buzz Light Year action figure doll. And the T-Rex with it’s flimsy little plastic arms. It’s impossible to see what’s beneath you with that bjorn on. I know.
And she asked whether we had a boy or a girl. And looking around at this room, for the first time through her eyes, I tried to imagine why the answer wasn’t obvious. There was a wooden sign with his name on it. My mom got it for him at Nachlat Binyamin. It was in Hebrew. And I remember hanging it up on the wall. Even though it’s meant for a door.
Below the sign there’s a wooden frame with his handprints. Which he did in those first few weeks of pre-school. On blue paper. And I smile as I look at those tiny hands. Which I know are still small. But not that small. Nor will they ever be again. But I framed that handprint and M. shed a tear when she saw it. It was a surprise. And I make my wife cry a lot. But this time it was for the right reasons.
And she looked around the room. But I know she couldn’t see the little markings on the wall charting his growth. We had stopped a while ago but those pencil lines were still there. And if you spend as much time on the floor in that room as I have then you’ll know exactly where to look.
And the easel has a drawing that the speech therapist had made in one of her sessions. It’s the three of us. And I remember a time before the easel was there. When I sat in that corner and read the last book I had the energy and mental capacity to read. Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom”. Because my dad had given it to me. And D. would never let me read the newspaper. He would crawl all over it and rip it up. Leaving ink stains on his chubby little fingers and on my forehead.
A little red piano in the corner. From my favorite shop. Imaginarium. Which I bought him on his first birthday. And I thought it made him look like that Peanuts strip character. Schroeder. The one who Lucy adores. The one who loves Mozart.
I learned how to play one song.
“Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I wonder where you are…”
And I would play that and he would stop crying. Or ripping up the newspaper. And he would listen to me sing off key. And every once in a while he would bang down hard on those keys. So loudly that the piano shook.
That’s when I knew it was time to stop playing.
So I put it in the closet. Along with all the stuffed animals he had accumulated. Some had been given to him when he was first born. Others over the coming weeks and months. And I set up a little Jazz café. A piano bar in the closet.
“Are the closets staying?” She asks, putting her delicate fingers gently on her slumbering child’s head.
“Yes.” I responded.
A white dresser. And I still remember when he was too short to open the drawers. And then when he started walking and curiosity set in he would open the drawers and take out all the clothes. And fold them. Or at least try to fold them. Before throwing them on the floor. Or putting them on his head. So I cleared out the drawers. And we had an overstuffed closet of clothes but an empty clothes dresser.
She lingered in that room longer than the rest of the apartment. As if she could sense the immense energy of my invisible attachment to memories.
“Can I ask why you’re moving out?”
And that’s a legitimate question. One that I would ask if I were in her place. And I thought about all the possible answers.
Like: “I was offered a job in the States.” Which I hadn’t been.
Or: “We’re expecting another one so we need more room.” Which we weren’t.
And so I told her the truth.
“We’re moving in with my mother in law.”
And she smiled. “Saving up money to buy a house?” She says.
Why else would anyone move in with their mother in law?
So I lied and said: “Yes.” And the truth is we could live with my mother in law for a decade and still not have enough to afford a down payment on a house in this country.
“When can we move in?”
“March 1st” I reply sheepishly.
And I’ll paint the walls. And cover up all those markings, and crayons and scratches. And remove any physical evidence of the three people who used to live here.
Three people who had spent the happiest three years of their lives between these walls.
28 days later, and our lives will most likely never be the same again.