Stressed Out

What a wonderful morning − if you ignore the car accident and the writing on the wall.

It happened the day after the first episode of the television series was broadcast. At five in the morning I was already wide awake, after three double espressos and half a pack of cigarettes. I sat down in my study, legs shaking, my ears pricked to hear the thud of the newspaper hurled at our doorstep. It was still too early, I knew, but I didn’t have anything better to do.

“What are you doing?” asked my wife, who woke up just as I was about to make my fourth cup of coffee, and scolded me. “Enough with the coffee! You know that’s NIS 2.5 per capsule. What’s gotten into you?”

Sayed Kashua - Amos Biderman - February 17, 2012

“What can I do? It’s stress. Stress,” I answered nervously.

“When are you ever going to stop being so uptight?” she asked just as the newspaper landed on the floor. “Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been telling me you’re stressed.”

I read the review in the newspaper and relaxed for five minutes. “But this is just one newspaper,” I thought to myself, as I put on my coat and headed out of the house to buy the other dailies.

“Now where are you going?” asked my wife when she heard the door opening.

“Just five minutes,” I replied. “I’ll be right back.”

I was sitting at a red light, with a white car behind me, and I turned on the radio. I bet there will be a review on the radio, too, I thought. I can’t miss anything anybody says about the show, I’m thinking as I switch from station to station. And then, suddenly − a big bang, a terrible noise and a flash of pain in my back.

It took me a few seconds to understand that it was an accident. The driver from the car behind me had already gotten out. I saw her in my mirror and I got out, too, feeling pain in my back and legs.

“Nothing happened to your car!” she shouted at me.

“What?” I managed to blurt out, feeling dizzy and horribly nauseous all of a sudden.

“Nothing,” she grumbled. “Just a scratch.”

Her hood was completely crumpled while, actually, my car had just a little dent. “I need your information, please,” I said, trying to gulp some air and overcome the nausea.

“Information?” said the other driver. “For a little thing like that you take information?”

“I’m sorry” − somehow I was the one apologizing here − “but it’s a company car and I must get your details.”

When I sat back down in my car I felt like I was going to pass out. I took a deep breath and thought about calling my wife. But what would she do? Leave the kids sleeping at home by themselves and come save me?
Breathe deeply, I told myself, as I started to drive toward the Terem emergency clinic.

“Where are you?” my wife asked on the phone.

“Everything’s fine,” I answered in an overly friendly and reassuring voice. “The redheaded director called, we got great reviews, I’m going to meet him for a coffee.”

“It’s six in the morning. He wants to meet you now?”

“He didn’t sleep all night either,” I told her, trying to keep my voice from cracking from the pain.

“Fine,” she said. “Go celebrate. You deserve it. It really was a great episode. I’ll take the kids to school.”

“Thank you, I love you.” I hung up and let out a groan.
They ushered me into the clinic right away. A nice nurse sat me down in an examination room, took my temperature and offered me a cup of water, saying, “The doctor will be in to see you shortly.”

A young Arab doctor came in and started examining me. The dizziness was getting worse, and the nausea too.

“Everything’s fine,” the doctor said with a smile. “Your dizziness and pounding heart are because of an anxiety attack. We’ll check your blood pressure in a moment.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling like I had to throw up.

“By the way,” said the doc, “great episode last night.”

I smiled and the anxiety attack instantly vanished. A little flattery and the heart is as good as new. The doctor left the room and in came a nurse, in a long skirt and head-covering, to take my blood pressure.

“I was laughing so hard last night,” she said. “So hard it hurt.”

“Thanks!” I told her, as an involuntary grin spread on my face.

“Your blood pressure is excellent,” she said. “Good for you.”

“So, how do you feel now?” asked the doctor, who had returned to the room.

“Very well,” I told him. “My back still hurts but the dizziness is gone.”
“Yes,” he said. “You received a blow to the back. We’ll do an X-ray to make sure everything’s okay.”

“Hey, is that really you?” asked the cute X-ray technician, and I nodded and tried to straighten up even though it hurt like hell.

“I recognized you from the illustration in the newspaper,” she said − and I wasn’t even insulted. Just the opposite, in fact.

“Lie down on the bed,” she commanded me, “and pull your pants down below the waist.”

As I lay down on the X-ray bed, I was thinking I was not really ready to go to the hospital. How embarrassed I was when the doctor asked me to lift my shirt and saw my flabby stomach. And now the X-ray technician, who apparently reads me every week, must be getting a great view of my big ass on her screen. I can’t let myself get into this kind of situation:

Someone of my stature always has to be at his best, I thought, swearing to myself that by the time of my next hospital stay, I would be a perfect physical specimen.

The X-ray was normal. “It will hurt for a few days,” said the doctor, before sending me home to rest and suggesting a Voltaren injection.

“No, that’s okay,” I said. “I’ll make do with a good ointment.”

“You hear me?” I asked my wife on the phone, as I drove home. “I’ll make it in time to take the kids. I’m on the way.”

“Great,” she said, and then I had to go, because another call was coming in. My parents loved the show. Then the director phoned to talk about the compliments he got, and then the producer, who couldn’t wait to hear about the ratings.

The neighbors I saw in the parking lot were also full of praise, and one also wanted to tell me just how important it was, that work. I drove to the kids’ school, ignoring the back pain, trying to focus on the important thing − which, as I understood it on that wonderful morning − was that it’s possible to live together, just as Amjad says in the show; it’s possible together. It’s all a matter of education. If viewers accept the show with love, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t accept other citizens in the same way.

A big crowd of students, teachers and staff was waiting for me outside the school. I parked the car and strode toward them proudly, trying to hide my limp.

“The important thing, kids,” I said to my children as I held them by the hand, “is to believe in what you’re doing.”

Students, parents and teachers were standing near the entrance in surprising silence.

“Dad,” my son tugged on my hand and pointed to the giant graffiti on the wall of the school − “Death to Arabs” − which everyone was staring at in silence. “What does it say there?”

“Nothing,” my daughter hastened to reply to her younger brother.

“Nothing,” I said, as I pulled him away from there, and a new wave of dizziness and nausea struck me. “Quick, we’re late for class.”

“Dad,” said my son at the door to his classroom.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“I already know how to read.”