Mother is going back to America, for a long time. But first, we need to talk. In Sinai. Four days of sea and sun and sand, mother and daughter.
The bomb was dropped from the air. "I've been very emotional lately," Mother declared, while I was looking down from the Arkia plane at Tel Aviv, cars like colorful river stones streaming down the highway. The plane was on the way to Eilat, the destination was Sinai. Sinai with Mother.
"It will end in tears," the editor warned.
"I once traveled with my mother to New York for 10 days, and at a certain point we simply yelled at one another in the street," the producer said.
"It's actually cool to go on vacation with parents. I was in Moscow recently with mine," the researcher said consolingly.
Mother likes to travel light, very light. She arrived at Sde Dov Airport with only a bag from the health-food store, containing fabric and thread for embroidery, underpants, three dresses - one with a print of small green apples, the second with orange fish, the third with enigmatic letters - and a swimsuit. "You haven't seen my swimsuit yet. It's not every day that one sees such a swimsuit. You'll die when you see me," she said.
"Show me," I asked.
"No, it's a surprise."
I brought most of the rest. A computer, a camera, small bags of Bamba snacks for Mother, plums, Brazil nuts - three a day, to take with two iron capsules in the morning for the selenium, on the instructions of the alternative healer.
The plane wobbled. She got scared. Mother is claustrophobic. Unless you were stuck in an elevator with her, forever, when you were nine, you cannot understand what I'm talking about. She asked why the plane was wobbling, and I told her it was because it was small, and it's like the Number 5 shuttle bus in Tel Aviv. She calmed down quickly. Mother has been working on herself recently.
We landed in Eilat. Thunderous applause. The taxi driver on the way to the border informed us that within a year Eilat will be finished. Mother said she's crazy about Sinai and the driver's friend said he's crazy about Sinai, too, and that he lost all his money at the Taba Hilton.
"It's a disease," Mother said.
"It's a disease," he admitted.
"You could have had a yacht already from everything you lost there," the driver told him.
We crossed to the other side. Ramadan, the Bedouin taxi driver sent from the hotel, also opened up to Mother. She asked him how many wives he had and he replied that at present there is one and there are children and there are problems but that his father has three and the last one is really young and they all get along very well together. He said he lives in a beach hut, but Mother missed that. She asked how the hotel is and he said that it's pretty, and she replied that she likes the beach but that she sleeps only in the hotel and doesn't like huts. "He said he lives in a hut," I whispered, elbowing her.
"Oy," Mother said.
Twice "ala kefak" ("Really great"). We were 20 minutes from the border and Mother had already said ala kefak twice. There's nothing like Sinai. Sinai is ala kefak. I want to tell her to stop. We mustn't fight. It's too early. We have another four days together.
After this she'll be going to America again, for a long time, and now it's our time. In the news they promised there'd be a little action. Only the day before Egypt was in first place, heading the list of countries for which the counter-terrorism bureau had issued travel warnings to Israelis, with an emphasis on the Sinai Peninsula. But nothing happens in Sinai, nothing visible at least. The taxi travels along the turquoise coast, colonies of deserted beach huts, the skeletons of huge, colorful, hollow hotels Ali-Baba style and abandoned in mid-construction.
Mother asked the driver how the female dolphin was doing. She had never met her, but still. The driver said the woman dolphin was no longer among the living. The dolphin under discussion was actually two dolphins, a husband and wife, and then they had a baby, and then the husband died and the baby died and the dolphin wife swam out to sea.
"We're almost there," the driver announced. To the left was a dense field of antennas. My heart beat rapidly. I only hope Mother likes the hotel and that there is no buffet breakfast. Drive on, Ramadan, I prayed, and then we came to a small, pretty hotel, Casa Del Mare. He heard me.
"I didn't bring sunscreen. Did you?" Mother asked. Of course.
"Are you ready for a surprise?" she called out from the bathroom. The show began. She burst in, wrapped in a swimsuit. Orange, consisting of dark-orange shorts and an attached top in a lighter rusty orange, with a small Nike logo. She looked like a Hungarian gymnast from the Cold War. There was a stick with an orange butterfly in her hair and she wore black sandals. A breathtaking bathing suit. "Where did you find it?"
"In a vintage shop in New York. It's vintage Nike, from the first year they made bathing suits."
"When is it from?"
"They said the 1940s. But they probably lied to me in the store because they know I love the Forties."
We went to the beach. A Bedouin wearing a galabiya and carrying a pancake approached. "You want something good to smoke?" he asked Mother.
"Something to smoke, something lethal."
"Ah, no thanks," she replied.
I brought reading material: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak (marvelous) and the August Vogue, the annual age issue with the idol Winona Ryder on the cover, wearing a Marc Jacobs dress of aqua velvet with a huge bow. Mother also has a book in her health-store bag, but she attacked the magazine.
I opened the book. On the back cover it says that it's a story about: A girl. An accordionist. Several fanatic Germans. A Jewish boxer. And quite a number of thefts. The narrator is Death. Not only that. It turns out that Death understands German, too, because in the book he gives definitions from the Oxford-Duden dictionary. I decided to use the vacation to learn the language a little.
"Chapter One: Death and chocolate
Here is a small fact.
You will die.
A calming message
Be calm, please, in spite of the previous threat.
I'm only making waves
I'm not violent. I'm not wicked.
I'm a result."
The magazine is chock full of good things: What to wear from 19 to 91, how to conquer your first wrinkle at 29 and of course, where has Winona Ryder disappeared to? She was one of the hottest actresses, the beautiful face of Gen X, and then about five years ago she was caught stealing clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, was tried and punished, and disappeared. Now, at 35, she is planning a comeback and is talking. Mother drank in every word.
"You know, you remind me of Winona," she said suddenly. For a moment I put Death aside. I was flattered. Not for long.
"For example, when it comes to stealing," she continued.
"I haven't stolen for a long time, that was in elementary school," I protested. Except for an attractive spoon from the tea corner after a recent third-eye massage. It's been years since first grade, when she found the collection of junk I had stolen from people's homes and forced me to return everything to everyone. But the urge exists. Mother knows.
"Don't do that."
"I'm not a big psychologist," she said, and yet: "This urge comes out of a need for attention. You're searching for excitement and a sense of victory. You've gone through something difficult, and you're searching for something to fill you."
I returned to the book thief.
"A few more small facts
Sometimes I arrive too early.
I'm in a rush,
And there are people who hold on to life
Longer than expected."
"I also thought about you on the issue of Winona and the pills," added Mother. She was getting caught up in the analogy. It turns out that her doctors prescribed a lot of pills for Winona, and she continued to pop them. All that also connects to stealing. Winona writes: "Two months prior to that, I broke my arm in two places, and the doctor... was giving me a lot of stuff and I was taking it at first to get through the pain. And then there was this weird point when you don't know if you are in pain but you're taking it. Have you ever taken painkillers? It isn't a reckless [state], like you're out of your head. It's just confusion." Winona wonders whether she would have done things differently had she not been taking painkillers, and says she'll never know. But she remembers being terribly confused.
"Sometimes you can get through things without that," Mother said. "Sometimes a person only gets himself into more trouble with pills. You become dependent on psychiatrists. You become dependent on them and you get into even more trouble. There are cases when you have to take care of that. I'm not like that crazy Scientologist who jumps on sofas. But I definitely think it's poison."
I packed in the morning. Inside a cashmere sock I put the glass bottle with the herbal detox tonic - 30 drops, 3 times a day. The powder, which gets dissolved in water, for a similar purpose, I put into a small bag. I chose the most innocent-looking bottle from my personal capsule collection, Vitamin C Complex 1000 mg. with rose hips, and I filled it with 6 of those, 3 of these and 3 of the red ones. A deceptive collection, lots of colors, shapes, promises. An opportunity.
A possibility for advancement or achievement.
A chance, a breakthrough, the right moment."
Each time, a second before I popped one into my mouth, Mother turned up and asked: "What are you taking?" She even nearly drank the glass of water with the tinture in it. I managed to stop her and to give her ordinary water.
And there's the one she hates the most. She recalls an ad that she saw. An ad for a pill. If there's anything that Mother hates more than a buffet in America it's ads for drugs in America. She described it.
"You see a beautiful woman in profile, her hair neatly pulled back into a charming ponytail, I looked at her because she was dressed nicely, in a little green sweater and a flowered skirt, a little like your Marni skirt, blowing a little in the wind, like on the cover of a romance novel. I liked her. Good taste, everything's fine, and then suddenly: 'Bipolar.'" Mother said that the ad then asked: "Are you bipolar?" and then there was a self-exam. She asked herself the questions. The result: "I turned out borderline. Fifty-fifty. And then I thought of you."
This is the nightmare scenario of therapists I dismissed long ago. They have theories about Mother. Boundaries, Alice Miller, keep your distance. But what does this have to do with her? At night I thought that Mother's ad was convincing. The next morning I cut it in half.
7 A.M. A moderate attack of claustrophobia. Mother woke me up. "The door doesn't open, come open the door for me!" I had briefed her the day before, but how will she understand when she: a) doesn't give a damn and b) insists on staying outside during the briefing for fear of getting locked inside. So for the rest of the vacation I'm in charge of everything related to entering and leaving the room. And at night she insists on sleeping with the door open.
The hotel is almost empty. It's like in "The Shining," only without snow and with sun and orange mountains and turquoise water and without a bad man who is plotting to murder us.
The absence of sound or noise
Serenity, rest, peace."
It's very silent in Sinai. We went to look for treasures on the beach. Mother found five stones with which to play the game Five Stones (like jacks) and then another set of five stones, and asked which was prettier. I pointed. I found the jaw of a UFO alien fish, a dried miniature octopus, a modest starfish, an ashtray shell and a perfect stone that is indescribable, whoever invented it was a genius.
There were five guests in the hotel apart from us. There was Gigi, a beautiful Arab model from Cairo who was there with her second husband. It was her 25th birthday and their first anniversary, and she told me how her first marriage had fallen apart and about the crash, the depression, the pills, and how once she wasn't afraid to ride a bicycle no-hands and now is scared to death of letting go of the handlebars. We shared impressions and prescriptions.
The family was in the next room. A classic family. Father, mother, a sweet little girl with walnut-brown bottle curls that became blonder by the minute. They have beach shoes, hats, snacks, beach equipment, whatever. They rise early, eat breakfast, go to the beach, swim, play, put on sunscreen, acquire a healthy glow but not one shade more, snorkel, eat lunch. A shower, a schlafstunde, a dip and a dive before evening, supper, nighty-night. Both Mother and I got them.
The state of the happy person who has pleasure
Related words: joy, happiness, lucky, prosperous."
The cute girl was enthusiastic about my starfish. She wanted to take it but I didn't give it to her. Instead I gave her a pretty shell with a loud pink soul and we looked for another starfish for her. Mother found her one with three healthy arms and two severed legs. And then we found a huge rock and I told her: "You can't take it home because we've already given this all back to Egypt, and besides, it belongs to the fish." The girl told me that she had seen a scary fish in the morning. "Let's go swimming," she said, dragging me to the cold water.
She crawled onto my back and called me a sea hare and ordered me to give her a ride. We went out to look for the scary fish, then I left her in the shallow water with her parents and went to swim in the deep water. I thought I saw it. When I approached the beach I heard her calling me. Mother told me that she was terrified that I would drown and kept looking for my head in the water and wanted me to come back. I like the attention.
The family went out for an evening walk on the beach. Mother and I looked at them, hypnotized. Look at them, the three of them, father, mother, daughter, walking together like that. Take a picture, take a picture quickly," she said excitedly. I pulled out the camera. Click. They went further away. Zoom, click. And then they were too far away.
Only the two of us and the last rays of sunset were left. I found a miniature sea urchin, and she found a rock with the eyes of a Roswell alien and then she put the sea urchin on it and said that it looked like someone in a wig that we both know, but why mention names.
Mother is sleeping. Another night. Another chapter.
"The diary of Death: 1942
That was a year for generations, like 79, like 1346, to mention only a few. Forget about a scythe, for God's sake, I needed a broom or a squeegee. And I needed a vacation.
A small piece of truth
I don't carry a sickle or a scythe. I wear a black
robe with a hood only as a lie.
And I don't have the skull face
Which you seem to enjoy
Pasting on me from a distance. Do you want
To know how I really look?
I'll help you. Find yourself
A mirror while I continue."
I looked at Mother as she slept, too silent, too quiet. I almost forgot. I approached to see if there was air coming out of her nostrils.
"In effect I feel quite pampered at this moment,
When all I'm telling you is me, me, me.
My journeys, what I saw in '42.
But you are human
You are supposed to understand self-obsession."
The last day in Sinai. I had some dizziness. The detox was kicking in. I thought we had already exhausted the magazine but then Mother came up with another comparison between me and Winona. I won't repeat it. It's all in the August issue of Vogue, NIS 54 at leading bookstores.
I was struck by Schweigen. Mother asked if I had clothes I wanted her to wash by hand. I told her it wasn't necessary. "I don't have a lot of summer clothes. When I get to New York I'll send you all the clothes you left there." My personal summer collection, the bipolar Marni skirt. I told her not to send them. In the end they will be what causes me to break down. "So come shopping on Monday, before I fly out," she suggested. I told her we'd see. It wasn't the time to make more plans with Mother. But probably by Monday I won't be able to wait. One doesn't say no to shopping with someone with a vintage Nike bathing suit like my mother's.
We got into the taxi for the return to the border. Ramadan stopped for gas. "I saw how nervous you became when we passed the antennas the first day. You were worried about whether or not I would like the hotel," she said. "I was afraid you'd cry," I replied.
Because that has happened, more than a few times. Three examples:
Palma de Majorca, Spain. Mother was dreaming of something authentic and got Miami Beach, and after a difficult night we checked out and escaped, until we found an enchanting nudist town and rented a small house next to a stream with blackberry bushes.
Some godforsaken town in Portugal. There, too, it ended with tears in the lobby. We didn't succeed in fleeing from there.
Hershey, Pennsylvania. We drove to a big luxury hotel near the legendary chocolate factory. "From the start I didn't like that hotel," recalled Mother. "There was a cancer treatment center nearby and everyone pretended they didn't see it, but it was there. And it was cold and gray and depressing and I didn't understand why I wasn't like everyone else, going with the flow, okay with all those things. Why am I problematic. I restrained myself. I always try to stop the tears, I'm not a baby. But then it keeps building up, and in the morning the line to the buffet finished me off."
I remember how tears flooded her beautiful green eyes, which I did not inherit. And nevertheless we stayed for the last meal. "I saw everyone standing in line. Whenever I saw a buffet it always made me nervous. It's not personal, and there are always huge quantities of food but nothing really tasty. It's like a department store. I guess I'm a boutique type." And then the checkout, the flight, the search. In the end we found ourselves in a picturesque boutique hotel in a sleepy town. "It was called Brandywine. What a hotel. And then one of you got very sick, with fever and trembling. I don't remember which of you it was.
"But before we left Hershey we still had to do the tour of the factory," she continued. "There was a huge Hershey's kiss in the lobby. Do you know that the couple who founded Hershey didn't have any children? All the children in America are crazy about Hershey's kisses. And then later we saw other chocolates and pipes behind thick glass panes. There was no smell. I recalled how when I used to pass the Elite factory on the edge of Ramat Gan you could smell the chocolate one bus stop away. At Hershey everything was lifeless. The paints in the paintings in a museum that's been standing there for hundreds of years have more of a smell than the chocolate they made a moment ago. That was a continuation of the buffet depression. Could it be that I'm a downer? Because I would like to think I'm not a downer, but maybe I am. From childhood you're used to worrying about my reactions all the time."
Sadness full of yearning,
Disappointment or loss
Related words: self-accusation, regret,
On the plane back I ignored Mother and her claustrophobia. The plane sped over Mini Israel, Mother coped by herself heroically. Before landing we flew above perfect clouds, the kind that when you're little you think you can picnic on until you discover that that will never happen. That happens at about the same time when you discover that one day Mother will die. Then everything gets complicated. Mother picked out Comme Il Faut at the Tel Aviv port below us. She got excited. A soft landing, thunderous applause.
"One more thing from your narrator:
I'm haunted by human beings." W
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