Blast From the Past: The Liar Who Loved Me

A well-developed sense of nostalgia is a dangerous thing.

I loved her from the first time I saw her, with her outsize glasses, blue youth-movement blouse, and big guitar. I was 12. A neighbor in the municipality workers section of the city decided to embark on an impresario’s career and organized a show by this young singer − “the wonder girl from the Haifa suburbs” he called her − in the Amami movie theater, next to our housing project.

The Amami was the major cultural institution in Haifa’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood. My parents had regular seats for the second showing on Saturday evenings, because my dad needed a place where he could stretch his long legs. Every Tuesday I went to the matinee, crying bitterly through the movie and consoling myself with an ice-cream sandwich from the kiosk during the intermission.

My brother, who before becoming a man’s man was a boy’s boy, once broke both shoulders when he tried to sneak into an adults-only movie through a side window. The local public library was located on the second floor, presided over by a terrifying librarian with a mole.

Underscoring the institution’s importance, next to the library was the office of Ben Zion Reifer, the secretary of the Neve Sha’anan workers council, a crucially important job in a neighborhood in which everyone − with the exception of four people (whose names are known to Haaretz) − voted for Mapai, Labor’s forerunner.

The year-end shows of Tel Hai School, under my mother’s direction, took place on the roof of the movie theater. I had the role of prompter, hiding myself in a box on the stage. But never until then, and not for many years afterward, did an artist appear in the movie theater itself.

The concert organized by our neighbor starred a singer named Chava Alberstein. She sang popular songs − she didn’t yet have a repertoire of her own − and I fell in love with her. For a whole week I did not object to wearing my glasses and considered joining the youth movement. That love only grew stronger over the years, because she always chose songs I could identify with.

One of them, which I am especially fond of, is “The Book of Memories” (with lyrics by the poet Tirza Atar). It’s about a “fat balding man in a yellow sweater” with whom she fell in love years earlier when she sprained her ankle during a cross-Israel trip and he carried her on his shoulders. But he loved Yael. Now she meets him with Yael, who is also plump, and their clothes are dripping with tehina.

Ben Zion Reifer passed away years ago; the public library in the Amami movie theater − which is now called Cinema Cafe Amami − is long since gone (though I still have a book I forgot to return, “The Stars Look Down”). But for me − as everyone who reads me knows − nostalgia has remained just as it used to be. “In certain cases this is a hindrance for you,” my beloved psychologist told me, as he gazed at me with his blue eyes from on high one day last week, nodding his head in empathy-laden sorrow.

In common with all nostalgias, my nostalgia too is devoid of all the negative elements. Though people claim that, in my present life, my critical sense is actually overdeveloped, when it comes to the past I have a distinct tendency to forget exactly what ought to be remembered. This is nowhere truer than in regard to people who were meaningful in my life − even more so if they were a partner of mine.

At first I hate them wholeheartedly, boring my friends for days and months with descriptions of the unbelievable things they did to me. But before long I swerve to the other extreme, trying to convince everyone that I had misunderstood; that I was actually to blame for everything; that cheating abroad doesn’t count; that he lied all the time only to avoid hurting me; that it’s not true what my psychologist said about him − that he’s like Wolfgang Lotz, “the Champagne spy,” who was able to pass polygraph tests even when he lied; and that the fact that, since we broke up, he’s made a point of starting up only with women I know and telling them intimate details of my life, only proves his love for me.

Naturally, none of my smart friends is persuaded. On the contrary, they keep reminding me about details I had somehow forgotten, horrible events. The truth is that if I heard about a man who behaved like that to another woman, I would shoot her just for mentioning his name. But I remember only the trips abroad and the meals together, and the hopes that were going to be realized if only he were not such a wretched liar. My false nostalgia is coupled to a sense of missed opportunity.

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” Simone Signoret wrote, and showed in her book how a critical approach to the past can be far more beneficial than just missing something that was supposed to happen but didn’t. However, I don’t have a knack for abstract thinking. I have to be burned time and again, until finally nostalgia becomes what it’s supposed to be for me.

Just over a week ago, I met him again. He’s not fat, he’s not balding, and he threw out the yellow sweater years ago. He looks perfectly fine, excellent even, for his age − but now his age is obvious. Even though it had been at least two years since our last chance meeting, the conversation flowed.

He always was intelligent. But this time there was a hitch in his mechanisms and it didn’t take 20 minutes before I caught him out with his first lie. I wanted to tell him that it’s a disaster for a pathological liar to forget his previous lies − like me getting cancer of the tongue − but I didn’t. “That wouldn’t have happened to Wolfgang Lotz,” I said to myself.

I felt a bit sorry for him because, without his lies, he is really nothing, and my nostalgia for him will no longer be what it used to be.