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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Open Mic

Last night, New York City Women’s National Book Association (WNBA-NYC) held its annual Open Mic at the charming Cornelia Street CafĂ©. Talented writers read from their novels, non-fiction creative writing, essays, and poetry. Each had seven minutes to present her writing. Lucky to be among them, I read excerpts from Chapter Fifteen of my upcoming memoir NO LAUGHYER IN WINTER, which got its name from my mother’s seasonal depressions, but it tells a great deal more. This is what I read:

…Our farewell was swift and painful. Yigal got in the Jeep that came to pick him up and quickly drove away. I blamed the nausea that came over me on my pregnancy rather than fear. A few hours later the phone rang.
“Hi Zivonet,” Yigal said cheerfully, adding a note of affection to my name, as if to let me know that he was well. “What’s up?”
“All is well, Yigal,” I said.
“And the young one?”
I put my hand on my stomach, as if I could touch the life that was sprouting within me. “We’ll wait for you. What’s going on with you?”
He laughed, trying to turn a blunder into something amusing. “You won’t believe it,” he said. “I forgot my Uzi at home.”
“You’re joking!”
“It’s a fact. I know it sounds silly…”
He asked me to deliver the weapon to a nearby intersection, where his unit would be passing through on its way south.
“I’ll be there,” I promised, sincerely happy to have another chance to see him before he left for the front.
What a sight I must have been: a young, pregnant woman (all-be-it not yet showing), climbing out of a white Studebaker to wait for a military vehicle full of soldiers, holding an Uzi in my hands.
Yigal looked composed and attractive as he jumped out of the military truck wearing his field uniform. Once again we said our good-byes, this time more intensely. While the truck was waiting, we hugged and kissed, glued to one another for a long time, unwilling to separate. He put his hand on my stomach and held it there as if he wanted to protect his unborn child. I was stirred.
“Don’t worry, girl,” he said to me, with his reassuring smile. “Everything will be OK.”
Was he as anxious and frightened as I was, in spite of his calm appearance? Did he feel, as I did, the looming sensation that perhaps his soft touch on my belly would be sealed in our memory as the last sane moment before the earth started to tremble beneath us? I felt that it was not my heart alone that beat louder and faster when he whispered in my ear, “You’ll always be my one and only.”
No one on the truck complained or rushed us, but it was time for him to go.
I stood motionless for a long time, watching the truck become smaller and smaller and finally disappearing in the distance. I felt as if I were shrinking rather than the departing truck, that I was withering while the distance between us was widening. I thought I heard an animal howling in the distance. It was a frightening sound in the middle of a bright sunny day. I still wonder whether what I felt was a premonition or ordinary fear under extraordinary circumstances.
… In the early morning of June 5, 1967, what would come to be called the Six Day War broke out, with an Israeli preemptive air attack that instantly changed the balance of forces that Israel’s Arab neighbors had sought. Suddenly, the siege on Israel ended; the army now focused on its enemies’ ground forces. As soldiers fought soldiers and steel battled steel, the rest of us, worried about our loved ones at the frontlines, fretfully followed every scrap of news from the bloody battlefields.
… As the country rejoiced I waited to hear from Yigal. Like other civilians who were left in the rear, out of contact with their loved ones, I was terrified about his situation. But I was also hopeful: that a Herculean man like Yigal could not be hurt; that our life would resume the way we had planned it; that my pregnancy would develop without complications; that we would raise our child together. For that, Yigal had to return home, whole or wounded. I pictured him missing a limb, or two. But I did not care, as long as he was alive.
When on Friday, the fifth day of the war, I still had not heard from him, I called his brigade headquarters. If I was anxious before the call, the hesitation I detected in the voice of the secretary after she heard my name alarmed me even more.
“Please hold,” she said. “I’ll check where he is.”
I could hardly breathe. Think about the baby, I reminded myself. Breathe, breathe.
“According to the information we have, Captain Yigal Goren is fine,” she said when she returned, after what seemed to me an eternity. But she barely convinced me.
“Are you sure?” I asked her, over and over. The nagging feeling I had had ever since Yigal and I said our second good-bye crept over me again, beginning with the thought that there had to be a reason we had been given that chance to see each other once more. I sensed that even if the war were to end triumphantly, not everyone would rejoice. That one of those excluded would be me. That I would never see Yigal again.
The secretary tried to ease my mind. “You know, it’s not unusual in wartime to be unable to communicate. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll hear from him soon.”
She was right. A few hours after that conversation my Aunt Esther called me. Her husband, Yaakov, my father’s youngest brother, had bumped into Yigal a day earlier in the Sinai Desert. Each promised to call home if they could and send the other’s regards.
My aunt transmitted his message. “Yigal wants you to know that he’s doing well and that you needn’t worry about him. Just take care of yourself. He thinks of you and the baby.”
“You know, Esther,” I said, a bit calmer than I had been before her call. “Till now I had no idea where Yigal’s brigade was situated.”
“Yaki said Yigal looks well,” my aunt continued.
Her call lifted my mood. But by the time I had received it, unbeknownst to my aunt or me, Yigal no longer looked well.

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