August 23, 2013 by Katia
If you would like to hear about my trip stay here.
When I left my home country I never imagined a scenario where I would not return there at least once a year. And here I am now, 12 + months of fertility treatments, three pregnancies, two kids and two Canadian jobs later and I land in Israel for the first time in 3.5 years. I’m accompanied by 4 Year Old. I’ve imagined this so often and in so many different versions that the realness of this makes it feel unreal, as though THIS and not the countless dreams and daydreams I’ve been having is a figment of my imagination. At the same time there are no angels singing, no Oprah going “AHA!” or “TADA!” or whatever it is you’re supposed to say when life gets bigger than life. I’m walking down a beautiful airport hall laid with white stone tiles we call “Jerusalem stone” and expect to be flooded with emotion any minute now except I’m not. So I open my eyes and ears a little wider to absorb every bit of sensory information confirming my belonging, waiting to feel that familiar lump forming in my throat, yet I am still perfectly composed, so I retreat into my head after a while, start analyzing and the experience turns really meta.
When on the way from the airport we drive down the familiar highway and on to streets that I know like the back of my hand I am still numb. How come I’m feeling so little when I was getting so increasingly nostalgic lately, that whenever my brain went idle the screen saver that would pop would always be a Tel-Aviv street I would catch myself pacing, turning a familiar corner and being flooded with that warmness quickly followed by a sharp pang, and now that I’m here ON one of these streets – nothing? An emotional desert in the middle of a historical one?
I am here mainly to see her because she used to look like this:
And now she looks like this.
She is my auntie. Grandma’s sister. I expected to cry when I meet her. Was so scared that I would, but nothing. Instead I’m punched in the throat by the newness of such a familiar face. A face that is part of my own identity. The sunken cheeks, the skeletal fingers, the whiteness of the hair, the new teeth and the changed jaw line – all of them more shocking than the wheelchair holding back this tornado of a person and the relentless shaking of the hand.
I am not feeling like myself. There was once a me who belonged here. That me relocated and evolved into a new one who was beginning to belong in Toronto and now that new me is here in Tel-Aviv again and it seems like all it should take to feel like Tel-Aviv me is to peel off the top layer, lose the Toronto winter coat, but I can’t.
The difference between my two realities is striking. The contour of the city and the content filling it could not be more contrasting. Palm trees and apartment buildings instead of houses and oaks, peeling paint, bright sky, clothes lines, street cats, history, green parrot like birds I’ve never seen before. Tel-Aviv speaks in a different voice. The sounds of the city are louder, more raw, more id less super ego, different birds chirp here, cars are honking, buses running underneath my bedroom window, loud voices rocking me to sleep, the clanking of the heels of the neighbour upstairs waking me up the next morning. No isolation, everything intermingled. Everything so familiar but interlaced with new or forgotten. What does that make me? Who am I when I come here?
My head tells me that I don’t feel because nostalgia is not toward this street or that one, it’s toward that warm sense of familiarity and the lack of effort that is its byproduct, the sense of belonging. My head is right. I step out of a taxi and hold back tears I did not see coming. I asked the mature taxi driver driving me down my childhood street if the Jachnun* stand was still there and he started reassuringly telling me it was there indeed, sharing his own Iraqui parents’ disapproval of that dish and his eyes were sparkling with laughter and kindness and we were talking in the same codes and I knew exactly what he meant so I had to get out of there as quickly as I could.
I’m walking a childhood friend I’ve lost touch with to the bus station. I’ve walked up and down this street for years when I would take the bus to the university. My friend travelled from another city to meet me on my last day. We stop in front of the pharmacy my mom would take me to as a child and we’re saying goodbye. “You know,” she tells me “it seems like that geographical disconnect is a great opportunity for connecting with yourself.” Pang followed by that painful warmness when she asks me what I like to eat because she’s already contemplating the practicalities of inviting me and my family for a meal on our next visit which is not even in discussion. And now there’s another layer added to the archaeology of that street.
I meet childhood friends who in my mind are twelve except they bring their kids. I meet other ten-year-olds who are forty. They are them but also not and I am me but not really.
Back in the late nineties when there was just one me, I was browsing CD’s at the record store in my favourite mall looking for a specific single. When I couldn’t find it I asked the sales associate for help. Towering above me was Israel’s number one basketball player, because it’s a small place like that. When he heard my request he handed me the CD and mumbled “there you go”. That budding “relationship” became a constant joke between my future husband and I. I heard that song the other day during my visit to Israel. It is now playing in my head as I walk up the street to buy Jachnun. I stare at the writing on the wall proclaiming “We are all strangers here”. The song is playing in my head “You’re a little late, I’m already torn”. The song is Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn.
- Jachnun – Yemenite Jewish pastry served on Shabat (Saturday) morning.
This has been a Finish The Sentence Friday Post on the topic “I didn’t feel like myself when…”. Please visit our wonderful hosts:
Stephanie at Mommy, For Real
Kristi, woohoo! at Finding Ninee
Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic