It was late Friday afternoon when I heard the news. Shots had been fired into a crowded pub in the heart of Tel Aviv, and the shooter was still at large. I immediately picked up the phone, contacting friends and relatives in the affected area to make sure they were okay. They were. My son, in Ramat Aviv, was studying for an exam; my cousin, on Bar Kochba Street, was waking up from a nap.
“All quiet here,” my cousin wrote in a text. “What pub??”
This was par for the course: the fact that he, living in Tel Aviv, was getting the news from me, living in Jerusalem.
“Pub on Dizengoff,” I quickly rattled off. “Shooter not been caught.”
“I was planning to go to the gym,” he wrote. “Guess I’d better listen to the news. Or just go to the gym.”
I contacted the few other people I knew who lived in Tel Aviv. Before long, everyone in my little world was accounted for. Or almost everyone.
I mulled. Should I call her? Should I text her? And if so, what should I say?
“Are you okay?”
“I hope that you and all your loved ones are safe.”
“Please don’t leave your house until they’ve found the killer.”
“If they haven’t found him by Monday, will you still be working?”
I didn’t call. I didn’t text. I knew I would feel better about myself if I handled things on my own. And anyway, if something happened to her, wouldn’t someone contact me? A colleague? Her husband? Surely there was a greater likelihood of her getting hit by one of those electric bicycles while walking down Ibn Gabirol than of her being shot in a pub on a Friday afternoon.
At least that’s what I told myself.
But I was worried, and adding to the difficulty of my worry was the fact that I didn’t think I had a right to it, felt ashamed of it. Ronit was neither a relative nor a friend. What was she to me? Both much more, and much less. I got to wondering who else was out there in the world, worrying about someone they had to pretend they weren’t worried about, someone they had to worry about in secret.
Shabbat began. Despite the fact that there was a killer on the loose, I still put out the wine and the challah for Friday night dinner. I still served the cauliflower-dill soup, the roast chicken, the brown rice, the green salad. I still put out the box of rugelach from Ne’eman for dessert. The next morning I still woke up and had my coffee, read the weekend paper, set the table for lunch. And then, at sundown, the post-Shabbat reactivation of all things electronic revealed that the killer had not been caught yet. It also revealed that the previous day’s shootings had resulted in two fatalities – males in their 30s – and the wounding of an additional five people.
“Still on lockdown?” I texted my son.
“Yeah but going out later,” he texted back.
“That’s not lockdown. Be careful.”
I got the thumbs-up icon in return.
A few minutes later I sent him another text: “I’m watching the news. They mention a strong police presence in Ramat Aviv and Givatayim. Stay safe.”
An hour later I sent another one: “I see a posting on Facebook that the shooter’s cell phone was found on a street not far from you. Are your doors locked?”
“Hold on, I’ll check,” he texted back.
Really? Okay, so he was making fun of me.
Sunday morning I made myself turn off the news, which now confirmed an additional fatality: a Bedouin taxi driver who had picked up the shooter post-shooting. But I couldn’t dwell on this; I had to get back to work, editing a sociological study of posttraumatic stress in Israel. Yes, another one. Apparently, if PTSD wasn’t caused by living on the northern border, it was caused by living on the southern border. If it wasn’t caused by the evacuation from Gush Katif, it was caused by Operation Pillar of Defense, or Operation Protective Edge, or Operation Cast Lead. And now, a whole other sector of the population was traumatized, having witnessed the murders at the Simta Bar on Dizengoff.
On Monday morning, speculation was rife.
He’s holding an elderly person hostage in Ramat Aviv.
He’s being hidden by an Arab sympathizer.
He’s foisted his way into one of the homes where he used to deliver organic vegetables.
I registered these rumors and then did what I had to do – namely, prepare a cup of Turkish coffee for Ibrahim, the Arab man who on Monday mornings cleaned the lobby of our apartment building – and then hurried to get my stuff together: reading material, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, iPod shuffle. Yes, I was heading to Tel Aviv.
“Be careful,” texted my son, in a nice bit of role reversal. I hadn’t intended to make a public announcement of my whereabouts, but as I alighted from the bus at the Arlozorov station, I heard the sound of a text coming in.
“Guess where I am?” he had written on our family’s “what’s app” group. And that’s when I remembered: on Mondays, as part of his studies, he spent the day in Jerusalem. So I revealed my location as well. The ensuing texts went something like this.
Me: I hear the killer’s not in this area anymore.
Son: Where’d ya hear that?
Me: On the bus. On the eight a.m. news broadcast.
Son: So either he’s in the area, or he’s not in the area.
Me: Are you making fun of my Hebrew? I’m sure they said the alert was lowered.
Husband: Gotta love that you’re not missing your appointment, even with a crazed killer out there.
Me: What’s a crazed killer compared to my mental health.
Daughter (suddenly checking in): I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the same.
The humor was nice and light and a perfect antidote to the fear and heaviness I felt inside as I made my way to Ronit’s office. Would she be there? Would she be intact? Might she have been one of the people who was wounded in the shooting? Might one of her kids have been? I hated how emotionally dependent I was on her, still, and could only hope that if I let my dependence run its course, I would one day come out stronger for it. Independence via dependence, I said to myself. Independence via dependence.
I arrived at her building and said good morning to the doorman. He said it back to me, and nothing else, which I took as a good sign. If Ronit were lying in a hospital bed somewhere, he probably would have mentioned it.
I ran up the flight of stairs and rang the bell. She opened the door. She smiled.
“You’re alive,” I said.