At an ungodly hour this morning, I dropped my twins off at the bus depot as they head down south for another week on their army base. This time around, though, they’ve been told to pack for a month. As COVID-19 numbers continue to climb again, the army deliberates a return to its policy of keeping solders on base long-term instead of sending them home.
I hope they come back next Thursday.
I pray they don’t.
I see crowds of soldiers jostling around the entrance to the buses, social distance warnings flapping in the wind like the masks around their necks. I don’t blame them. Their only objective is to get a spot on the bus so that they can cram their bags in the belly of the vehicle and get back to sleep for a couple more hours.
But from my seat behind the wheel, all I see are coronavirus droplets spurting in every direction, making their way up noses, inside open mouths, through every bodily cavity on every single solder — those droplets invisible-to-everyone-but-hysterical-mothers. I lump myself in the same club of mothers who see terrorists lurking in the bushes or army jeeps overturning, lo aleynu — even when others don’t see them, even when there’s nothing to see. You may not wear your membership badge proudly on your sleeve, but you know who are.
This corona business has pushed me over the edge. I want them to come home on Thursday. Hell, I even want to do their laundry.
But I don’t want them travelling home, week after week, on buses and shuttles. Crammed together with other kids yelling and jostling and spluttering and spreading their droplets…
I don’t want them to bring it all home to me and my asthmatic husband, to grandparents and immunocompromised neighbors. I want them bundled up on their bases. Safe from the world; safe to the world.
Recently, the kids came into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient on one of their trips to the base.
They were sent home to remain in quarantine for a week and I was in awe of their resilience. It’s not easy being locked up in your room, treated like a pariah, having to spray tons of disinfectant every time you leave the bathroom. There’s just so much Netflix you can watch in the space of 168 hours.
To keep themselves entertained, they sat on the floor of their respective bedrooms, back to the wall, talking to each other through the open doors. When they were a year old, they’d babble away to each other in a language only they understood. This time around, they did the same, yakking away in Armish, a language that Only Those Who Have Served truly understand. (Who knew you could pack an entire paragraph into five acronyms??)
On her way back home on Thursday, Soldier 1 stopped off in Modiin to pay a shiva call. The mother of one of her fellow soldiers passed away and a group of them went to comfort their friend. How do you comfort during a pandemic? I asked. Of course, I hugged her, she replied, we all hugged her. I saw those virus droplets again, mingling with their tears and hugs and quiet chatting.
I bit my lip, wanting to beg her to keep safe – to keep all of us safe – and keep two meters away from every single person that crosses her path.
But I can’t. And I won’t. If they’re old enough to carry guns, they’re old enough to decide who to comfort.
I have to put my foot on the pedal and drive away from that bus depot fast, just to avoid screaming out the window for all to hear: “Put your bloody masks on! Stay away from that big group! Open the windows on the bus!”
But I know that my kids would disown me if I did.
It’s a strange thing to mother soldiers in the time of corona. The traditional enemies suddenly pale in comparison to a very real one that can’t be seen. Sometimes we just have to put our faith in the hands of the one above and imagine those droplets away.