Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

This is the sound my memory makes

On a warrior woman whose methods inspire the person she is today

I remember how she’d walk. Tall and proud, her steps purposeful as she whipped up and down the stairs of the UCLA running track.

“Your body is precious,” she’d tell us while we huffed and puffed, pink-cheek and glistening behind her. But she’d never break a sweat. Instead, she’d fly past us on the steps, her hair a platinum halo in the late morning sun.

I remember how she talked. In staccato. Syncopation. Rapid fire. Words. Ideas spilling from her lips and onto the chalkboard.

“Onomatopoeia” she’d write on the board with a tap “What does it mean?”

She’d explain it, her voice crackling with the energy of a woman who loves what she does. “Now use it in a sentence. Better yet. Write about in a windchime paragraph.”

We’d take out our number 2 pencils. And lined notebook paper.

She’d point to the silver windchimes dangling by the big window.

“Main idea,” she’d say while gesturing to the roof of the windchime — the solid round part in dense silver. A sliver of an orb, almost otherworldly hanging in mid sentence.

“And supporting ideas,” she’d wave at the dangling chimes. “Three sentences ought to do it.”

(“Use cursive!” she’d say. “You’ll get the ideas out faster!”)

She’d pling the chimes with a red fingernail.

And we’d listen raptly to the sweet pealing: A literalization of our creative metaphor.

From far away, the sound of rain in the distance, muffled.

I remember how she’d tell us to dig deep. Once a year, our school hosted an event where we went from station to station, learning how to express our feelings — even the scary ones that were too big to admit. She was in charge — and we all looked up to her while she’d introduce us to the concept of the event. A warrior woman, was Ava De La Sota in her black leggings and leather jacket — fighting with us, fighting for us — speaking truth to power.

“When you’re angry, what color are you?” she asked me once.

“I’m not a color. I’m just angry.”

She drew a breath — deeply inhaling with purpose. Everything she did had purpose, from the way she walked with her head held high, to the way she spoke in a voice that carried through the classroom and through the years.

“It’s a metaphor” she said. “You either get it, or you don’t.”

So I picked up red.

She seemed to like that.

And this is what I remember, years later — after the news hit that she chose death over life all alone in her dim apartment, leaving the light she left behind for us.

I wonder if she knew who we had become, and how we were changed because of her. I wonder why I never bothered to pick up the phone or send her a letter or find her on Facebook to tell her “thank you. I’m doing what I love because of you.” I wonder if it would have made a difference — if she would have chosen differently. 

I pick up the color grey.

These disjointed word pictures strung together haphazardly from a windchime. Atonal and painfully beautiful. This is the sound my memories make. 

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.