She's my oldest friend, since age three. We first met at Bella's preschool, which we both went to, and our friendship was immediate. Rachel hated bananas, especially ones that had started to turn brown, while I, who believed my mother when she said that the brownish part was actually honey, would eat the bananas for her. This was done in secret and under the table, of course, for otherwise Bella would have made Rachel sit on the bench by the table, with the blue bib tied around her neck, as she tried to press into her puckered mouth "airplane" spoonfuls of mashed bananas, no matter how long it took.
Once Bella caught us red-handed in the midst of a banana transfer, and as punishment she locked us in the bathroom. When we started to get bored, and after we had smeared each other with Bella's orange lipstick, we turned on the faucets in the sink and the shower and bathtub, and flooded the preschool. Bella got very mad, but that was the last time she locked any kids in the bathroom.
Rachel continued to hate food. Beneath the window of her parents' third-floor apartment in Neveh Sha'anan, over the years, there grew a substantial mound of meatballs, schnitzels and lots of boiled vegetables, which Rachel and her brother used to toss out the window the moment their mother, Batya, left the kitchen. I, of course, was adored by Batya. A little girl who's so easygoing about food, who's always eager for seconds.
"You'll be weak and sickly and your teeth will rot," Matatya the nurse threatened Rachel during "Hygiene Week" in second grade. Two years later, our teacher Kochava used Rachel's slim figure to illustrate the words of a poem. "Rachel is like 'spoiled Mili Mali who almost stopped eating,' while all his friends kept on eating and kept on growing," she said. She warned Rachel about sharing Mili Mali's bitter fate, putting special emphasis on the line: "at night without a light / the dwarf's nowhere in sight." And I, who already by then could be easily spotted from a distance, was chosen to recite the poem in front of the class.
But Kochava's predictions proved wrong. What happened to Rachel is the same thing that happened to lots of girls before and after her, who stubbornly refused to eat: As a teenager she became the hottest girl in the class and even today, though she is exactly my age, she still has a perfect body that most women two decades younger could only dream about - even though she never did a lot of sports - and also became an excellent cook herself and began to love food, including bananas.
She became a mother 10 years before me, and now she's already a grandmother. Three years ago she married for the second time (she has an amazing capacity for loving people) and is also currently caring for her two frail parents. She's a perfect daughter, mother and wife, a brilliant housekeeper and an architect with a demanding career. And on top of all that, she always looks terrific, always fresh and put-together.
There are periods when we speak every week, and other times when we don't see each other for as much as six months, as happened recently - "because of the stress," as Rachel said. In order to explain to me what kind of stress she's under, she offered the following story. "I just switched all the clothes in the closet from summer to winter," she said, "and when you do that twice a year, you can't help but do a real soul-searching, too. Forgive me if I make it sound too melodramatic. Anyway, I suddenly noticed that an entire summer had gone by without my wearing the incredible shoes I bought at the annual exhibition in Milan, and that I also hadn't worn my old high heels even once, because the noise they make wakes my new grandson and also bothers the other patients in my father's geriatric ward. And the fantastic clothes I bought a year ago at the end-of-the-year sales in Paris still had the tags on, because aside from going to hospitals, or to the clinic with my mother or to babysitting, the only place I go is to work, and at construction sites there's no point in wearing anything but jeans. And it suddenly hit me that for the last half a year, my life has consisted of nothing but work, looking after others, cooking and sleep."
That only goes to prove my old argument (which I've mentioned here before). I told Rachel that we don't buy clothes for who we really are, but rather for the woman we want to be or are planning to be. Later on, inspired by her, I decided to go through my closet, too. I gleefully got rid of a fortune's worth of "slimming" winter clothes that I bought a year or two ago and to my delight were now quite big on me. I happily tried on winter clothes that I hadn't been able to squeeze into for the past three years and were now my size again. I also found a good amount of clothes that had never been worn, because the woman staring back at me from the mirror when I got home for some reason looked totally different from the woman for whom the clothes had been purchased just a few hours earlier.
The answer to this mystery is complex: Based on the nature of the findings in my closet, I am everything on the spectrum from the little shepherdess (a skirt from Tovale's) to a wealthy Afro-American pimp (a red leather coat with a black-fur collar, courtesy of my friend M.), but the vast majority of the never-worn clothes were purchased for a neatly groomed woman who keeps to a carefully timed schedule and knows how to iron (and also owns an iron), who can wear a white blouse more than once before staining it with something that will never come out, and who has special outfits for festive events.
Excited by a sudden flash of insight, I called Rachel: "I think I bought most of the clothes I never wear because I wanted to be you."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now