And listen while you read.
This was the song that was playing when my mother kicked me out of the car on Sepulveda Boulevard. With my eyes closed, I was pretending to be speeding down Highway 4 back from a night on a beach in Tel Aviv, with tar still stuck to the soles of my feet, the windows rolled all the way down while the thick summer night slowdanced with cigarette smoke.
God, I wanted to be there so hard – to feel my hair whipping across my face on a hot night chasing the dawn back to the kibbutz where I was volunteering that summer before that last year of high school.
Instead: SAT class every Thursday from 6:00-8:00 pm. The girl who had flown through the night on the bass line of this song, high with every breath of life reduced to sharpening No 2. pencils and bubbling the letters on practice tests and getting rides to and from everywhere with her parents.
I knew every synonym for “Frustration.”
And on that night, as the leavings of that long summer in Israel drained into LA Fall, we listened to this song on the car tape deck, my mother and I.
If you’ve ever lived through that last year of high school, at that breaking point of breaking away, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say that my mother could do nothing right.
Nothing. From tapping her fingers in time with the music, to trying to sing along to words she didn’t know. To trying to understand her wild, willful girl who wore shirts that were way too tight, and eyeliner that was way too dark, who was madly in love with a country ten timezones away.
“Mom, you don’t know Hebrew, so stop trying to sing along.”
She stopped singing, stared at me in a way that shrunk me in half, jerked the steering wheel to the right, and screeched across three lanes of traffic on Sepulveda Boulevard.
She leaned over me and shoved the passenger door open.
I got out, and walked the rest of the way home.
We had dinner that night as usual — spaghetti and meatballs, salad with pieces of avocado on top. Like nothing had happened.
The next time we rode together, she played Bach. Or maybe Beethoven. Like nothing had happened.
And now, ten timezones away from the place where I was stuck and seething, I listen to this song again. I sing along while my kids cut shapes out of paper with matching pink scissors.
“Mama, you shouldn’t try to sing in Hebrew.”
And for those few moments, I remember how it felt that summer with the night wrapped around me, how it felt to feel at home so far from home.
And how I would give ten years of my life just to be back in that car with my mother listening together, just so I could tell her that I didn’t understand the words, either.