The sea at Kibbutz Caesaria at dusk and we’re far away from our own kibbutz home. From the top of the tall electric towers, three white lights flicker. Water runs parallel to my feet. Seagulls land in a puddle. They squawk to the sound of my feet splashing in the sand. In a few minutes, the strawberry sunset swirls into orange and cracks open into a golden yellow.
I thump, thump my feet against the ridges of a fresh pool of water and smoosh the sand with my feet. The French clip still holds my brown salty seaweed hair as it has for the last twelve hours.
“Ivry’s tired. Let’s go home,” Haim my husband says.
The swoosh of the waves.
I don’t want to go back to Pardes Hana, back to the overcrowded room, dark streets, …the news. I want to curl up in a sleeping bag with my son and listen to the lullaby of the waves. Every day for a week now we’ve been spending long days at the beach and yet, only here feels like home.
“Are you coming?” my husband asked. He rests a hand on my shoulder. Our year and a half old son has fallen asleep in his arms.
“Are you going to bring his toys?” my husband asks. He points to the sea.
“I’m not going to get them now. Plus, they’re not really ours and the water’s too cold.”
I gather the plastic Sushi trays and brush the sand from my sandals.
They can’t possibly aim their missiles so far away. No way.
We walk to our car, strap the baby and travel along the dark road to Pardes Hana to where Tamar, our friend, lives.
I’m unfamiliar with the roads so I let other drivers overtake me. I leave the sunglasses on and turn up the radio. Another news interruption breaks the monotony of an American pop band I have never heard before. Beep, beep, beep.
I don’t want to hear about any more casualties so I flick the news off.
Still on the beach. I want to go somewhere. Anywhere. Where I don’t need to hear constant news. Where I can be free. I get on the train from Binyamina to Tel-Aviv. It’s the sixteenth day of the war. Summer 2006. I open up a newspaper. There’s a picture of you. My student. Sergeant Haran Lev, 19, killed in ground operations on Saturday, the 32nd day of fighting in Lebanon. My throat wants to bleed.
I sit holding the newspaper in complete disbelief. I don’t know if I should cry. I don’t know what to do. Everyone around me on that train is caught up in the same whirlwind, but no-one speaks. One grey-haired man enters the front side of the car. Another passenger gets up to go to the back. The train car opens. The loudspeaker. The hazy grey of a day. The tumultuous Hebrew that falls in my lap. But you. Haran Lev. It’s my first time being caught up with death. Face to face. You were the first student I ever taught who had died. Good god.
And the first question I have is… why?
Six long years later and I am still struggling to figure out the memory of you. Haran Lev. August 2012. I am leaning out of my mom’s window at her Manhattan’s West Village apartment. In front of me are unoccupied million dollar townhouses. Haran Lev. Your face emerges in and out with the NYC rainstorm. The rain goes on and on. I allow myself to go even further back.
Wait a second…are you still that scrawny ninth grader I taught in seventh, eighth and ninth grades? Are you that same Haran Lev? Maybe that’s why I had to google your name. I just needed to remember. I needed to see your face. You’re sitting in the back of the class, jeering at all the other students who saunter into the classroom after the bell that no-one can even hear. You’re getting up, moving around, making my life hell. You’re also laughing at some joke your friend Yakir made. You and Yakir. Yakir and You. I had to constantly raise my voice to get your attention. Both of you. And whenever I did, you would just turn around and say, “Ma?” What?” You didn’t care. You never cared about English. You were dyslexic. I never properly figured out how to reach you and help you. I think now you needed much more than a teacher who could teach English. You needed a buddy. A mentor. Now, as a mother, I understand.
Besides of the memory of you, there’s still one deep desire I still have. To break the silence I have carried for the past six years since I’ve been living in the States. I thought about writing to your mom (if she is still there on Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch… I may still need to get a telephone book of the kibbutzim in the Galilee to find out your parents’ names) and tell her how I dealt with you as your teacher. I want to give voice to those memories of the years I worked as an English teacher. Come out. If I were to, you know, break the six year silence, it would be easier than just hiding. I am still figuring out that piece, too.
And there are a few questions I really need to know like…How did you become such a leader that you were? Why made you want to be in combat? What was it like? Did you ever look back at Emek Hahula? Did you ever look back from the days of that scrawny looking kid to the robust soldier that you were and still are?
I come back from Tel-Aviv later at around six in the evening, charged, exhausted and sunburnt. Smelly and in a hopeless state fit for crying. But my eyes are dry. My husband doesn’t know about Haran.
I fumble with the car keys and open the door.
“Do you remember the way?” Haim asks.
I zoom past the unlit paths through the roundabout. Yes, turn right and go straight. We park in what we have claimed as our parking space, fumble with the gate and walk gingerly up the steps.
I can still hear the waves in my ears.
Mountaneous heaps of dirt, sand and clothes greet me when we enter Tamar’s bedroom, an unknown space we have claimed our own. I fumble to the bathroom. There’s no light bulb in our bedroom just the smell of incense and baby powder and sheets that don’t quite fit. I’m careful not to brush against the bookshelves so as to upset Tamar’s healing crystals and blue stones.
Haim flicks on a flashlight. “Don’t worry, Motek, sweetheart. I’ve got it.”
I give up groping in the dark. I force myself to sleep on sticky sheets. The fan doesn’t seem to help.
Early next morning before the sun even has a chance to show the protruding thick line of dirt on the plastic green table, I ask, “when can we go home?”
“Not tomorrow,” Haim says.
“When do you think we can go home?”
“I don’t know.
“But I want to go home.”
“Is our house okay?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Haim says.
“But I’m really worried.”
I want to wash my sandals in OUR bathtub. Dry myself with OUR towels. Water the flowers in OUR garden.
“When can we go back? This is going on forever.”
“It will be over soon.”
I want to scream, kick, yell, run but words stay bubbled in my throat.
“Another attack happened last night.”
“On our kibbutz?”
I imagine a home (Whose home? Does it matter?) with a gaping hole right through the ceiling and a ray of sun streaming in revealing wire and cement that resemble a robot’s intestines. This is real.
“Yael and Hanouch,” He raises the kettle. “More tea?”
“How long will we stay here?” I ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Nothing’s going to be the same now.” I drink and sip.
“It’s better here.” Is it better to stay here and far away with no blasts, walls rumbling, and babies crying? Is it possible to not remember and think?
“You know how it is.” Haim says. “We could be here for a while. A person can’t sit on two chairs. Be in two places, I mean.”
Haim gathers the tea things. I write in my journal. Words don’t come but I continue to sit and watch and wait.
NYC 2012. I’m safe, but still figuring out the memory of you, Haran. When I get it figured out, I’ll let you know.