The smell of nightly drool dried on my face is the first sensation I will have on that fall morning. About two months from now. It happens exactly like that whenever I take a Xanax to be able to sleep. And on that fall night I will certainly have to take one. Because that’s going to be the big day, and I can take no chances the night before: I will have to get a good night’s sleep.
I will open my eyes and look around that morning. Judit will be asleep next to me. In the living room at my mother’s. On the pull-out couch. Just as it has happened almost every night for the past two years. Since we have been living at my mother’s. Since we went broke. Very few people know it. Even here in Budapest. Not to mention in Israel. I don’t advertise it. It would sound as if we were fcking losers.
Judit and I can’t get loud with each other – that’s going to be the hardest part of getting ready. I grew up not hearing my parents getting loud with each other, ever. Their marriage ended in silence, too. My father, while working in a different city, silently moved in with another woman.
My mother is still not a fan of loud voicings of opinion. She doesn’t do well if thoughts and feelings differ. She likes harmony. Yet, if it comes to arguments she resorts to silent treatment. In her apartment the only loud voice can be that of mirth. Even if you feel like breaking a chair.
I started to learn how to be loud after I had moved in with Judit fourteen years ago. We don’t like being loud. We simply like knowing what the other thinks or wants. Even if the things one of us wants or thinks are not the same things that the other wants or thinks. And if we need to shout to make those clear, than shouting it will be. It makes us whole. Silent treatment kills us. Every time we argue in whispers behind closed doors our superpowers are taken from us.
When Judit argues with me in whispers on that fall morning the only consolation will be that it’s the last time she does that. We will be at the airport in a couple of hours.
The Romany family having a constant, turbulent picnic on the sidewalk will turn toward the taxicab as one person when it stops. The driver won’t get out. He will watch the Romanies disgustedly from his car. They will stare back at him with a lack of interest. They will be sitting in armchairs and on stools on the sidewalk. Men, women, grown-ups and children alike. Smoking, drinking schnapps and shouting. That’s how they live between May and October.
When I emerge on the street with our first two suitcases they throw me only a fleeting glance. They know me. They know I am neither threat nor prey. When we finally push suitcase number twelve into the trunk of the cab a quarrel flares up among the Romany.
’Die, die, die,’ shrieks one woman to one of the men. But she doesn’t mean it. I know. I know them.
Downtown we will drive past a political protest. Right wing extremists trash the right-wing populist government. They are convinced that the Hungarian government is the slave of Israel. And America. The taxi driver is finally at ease and starts telling about the how the protesters are right. He passionately declares how everything that is wrong in Hungary is the fault of the Jews. Obviously we don’t agree with him but we don’t say a word. Leló’s finger will be drumming on my shoulder. He will lean to my ear.
’This is a Nazi,’ he will shout in a whisper.
The taxi driver is so fond of his own voice that he won’t hear the unfavourable opinion of a 9-year-old Jew.
As we turn on the airport highway we leave behind parts of the city I really know. Parts of the world I really know. We will leave them behind forever. Because even if we return here time and again I will never be a part of the city as I have been the past thirty years.
I don’t mind. I have been struggling with anxiety since my parents moved us all to Budapest when I was eleven. I have felt is if I’m living someone else’s life since then. Though I’m grateful to this city. Not least of all, for my wife and my children. But apart from my old elementary school and our synagogue, I have never felt at home in it.
’Red code’ says Frédi softly. My eleven-year-old son is also in the back seat.
What comes next on that fall day, I don’t even have a guess about. By the time we arrive at the airport, Frédi will be white as a sheet. He gets car-sick. “Red code” means it is not a yammer anymore. That he really is not well. And if we don’t stop right now, he will throw up.
Frédi has amazing self-control. Judit and I often think this self-control perhaps is a bit too amazing. So, “red code” or not, he won’t throw up. He won’t, because we told him what is waiting for us that day. And he knows he can’t allow himself throwing up right at the beginning of a day like this.
We have never flown together on a plane as a family. Frédi and Leló have never flown at all. We don’t have an established set of rules for the family when we travel by air.
I expect the first breakdown will happen during takeoff. We will be so far out of our comfort zone by then that bullshitting of any kind becomes impossible. Frédi will throw up. Leló will raise a racket demanding bigger space for himself. He won’t pretend to care that I, with my 220 pounds and 6’ 5’’ height have to fit in the same space as his 66-pound ballet dancer body.
As we rise above the clouds, we will leave our right minds behind us forever. We will be flying towards a country where none of us has ever been before.
I don’t know why, but I picture reaching Tel Aviv at night. We will wake the kids up and show them the city lights. I simply can’t imagine what will be going on in their minds. What will they be feeling in their hearts. I’d like to believe that Frédi will see his new homeland as cool from up there. Leló will be deliberating over the chances of his Israeli food truck business. But it is more probable that they will be flooded by a mixture of excitement, fear and anger.
I simply can’t imagine what I will tell my two little boys when I look at them and Tel Aviv through my tears. Judit may. She may calm them down and give them a little push. Because then and there the day will not end.
English and Hebrew words. Soldiers and guns. Funny smells. Bureaucrats, passports and ID cards.
We are in a car again. I sit next to the driver, Judit sits in the middle in the back seat. Frédi is on her left. Leló is on her right. I will turn back to see if Frédi feels sick again. Seeing his face breaks my heart. He is even too tired to throw up. He lays his head in Judit’s lap. So does Leló. They are not asleep. But they are not awake either. I have a lump in my throat.
I can feel Judit’s fingers on my shoulder. I reach up. We hold each other’s hands. We are together. We are together.
I will stare out of the window. We will be driving on a strange road in the night of a strange country.
I don’t know why, but I picture arriving at the kibbutz late at night. In the dark nothing will appear dark as it did on the photos. Mostly worse. A couple things — better.
When we drag the twelfth suitcase inside we will wish laila tov to the woman who hands us the keys to the house.
Then we will be alone. Frédi lies down on the floor first, then Leló follows. I don’t know in what succession events will come after one another. The only thing I know is that in five minutes all four of us will be lying on the floor. Crying. Hugging each other.
We will be crying loudly. As loudly as we haven’t cried for two years. I will cry as loudly as I haven’t cried since I was eleven. I won’t take a Xanax. And that fall night the last thing I feel will be the taste of my tears.