Flipside: How important it all used to seem

It was in this seat that her husband used to do his reading and watch the evening news. It was in this chair, too, that he died six months ago.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
December 8, 2005 11:48
Flipside: How important it all used to seem

ruthies 298. (photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)

How important it all used to seem, Esti sighs, easing herself into the recliner that used to be her husband's favorite resting place. It was in this seat that he used to do his reading and watch the evening news. It was in this chair, too, that he died six months ago. It had been such a sudden - what some might call peaceful - exit from the world, that Esti hadn't even realized he was gone until it was too late to call an ambulance. Not that doing so would have made any difference, her children consoled her. The stroke had been too massive, they said. In any case, they assured her, had he survived such a major cerebral trauma, he would have been more like a child than the man they all loved and looked up to. It was, everyone continued to nod solemnly whenever the subject arose, a blessing in disguise. How important it all used to seem, Esti thinks, running an arthritic finger over the carved wood of the arm-rest, smooth with age. She looks at her hand as though it belonged to somebody else. Her grandmother, maybe. Or one of those old people she saw when her son took her to the senior citizens' residence he told her was the best in the city. For those prices it ought to be. She had shrugged at the suggestion she move to an environment more suited to her needs. She hadn't really understood what these "needs" could be. Other than tending to her husband and her home, that is - one of which was no longer relevant, and the other soon to be taken away. But she succumbed. Resigned herself to getting on with the next phase of her life. The last one. HOW IMPORTANT it all used to seem, Esti considers, reaching for the remote control and turning on the TV. A row of nubile girls in matching leotards is exercising to loud music. She presses the channel button. Click. Now there is a children's program with puppets on the screen. Click. Click. Now the last scene of a documentary about the last days of World War II. There was a time she would have been unable to see this footage without giving it her full attention. Reminders of her youth and the events that brought her to Palestine 60 years ago had always been compellingly painful: Like a canker sore at the back of her mouth that her tongue couldn't help searching for and pressing. But now she changes the channel without even pausing to take a peek. Click. Click. Click. She stops surfing at the sight of the map of Netanya. The familiar slide - with a cartoon-like drawing of an explosion - indicating there has been a suicide bombing. She listens to the voice-over reporting on the estimated number of casualties. There was a time when she would have been unable to hear these statistics without shrieking "oy!" and phoning everyone she knew to discuss how terrible the situation had gotten. But now she gets up to make herself a cup of tea. There is no one she feels like calling. Not anyone who is still alive, at any rate. How important it all used to seem, Esti ponders, placing two sugar cubes on the saucer. This is how her husband always drank his tea and coffee - sipping slowly through the chunk he held between his teeth. Esti had ceased drinking hers that way decades ago, when she started limiting her calorie intake. She never really enjoyed hot drinks after that. Nor did she ever lose the 10 kilos that kept her vigilantly weight-conscious. How important it all used to seem, she nods knowingly, treading softly to avoid spilling. Not that it would have mattered if she hadn't taken the extra care. The carpets were removed yesterday, along with the bulk of the furniture and other possessions she gave to her children and grandchildren. The remainder would accompany her next week to her new quarters among the elderly. At first, her family was hesitant about dividing up her belongings. It made them feel like scavengers, pouncing greedily on the carcass of her history. Compounding the trauma of her recent losses. But she was insistent. "What do I need all this for?" she asked by way of argument. "Where will I even have room to put it?" Surprising even herself, she really meant it. Far from arousing any nostalgic wistfulness, the sight of the lifetime of clutter she had accumulated being hauled away piece by piece was a relief. And not because the memories attached to each item were necessarily bad ones. On the contrary. They were, however, laden with worries. With a sense of significance. Of urgency. Of dire consequences. HOW IMPORTANT it all used to seem, Esti mulls, repositioning herself in front of the TV. A camera crew has finally arrived at the scene of the carnage at the Sharon Mall. Sirens screeching. People running. Witnesses recounting. Blood. Body parts. Emergency phone numbers. A wounded, white-haired woman is being wheeled away from the area by a paramedic. Esti tries to imagine being in that woman's place. A woman who undoubtedly spent the previous night planning and fretting over this outing to the shopping center - how she would get there, what she could buy on sale, how she would lug it home - to the point of insomnia. Not that she'd be able to distinguish between sleep and lack thereof anymore. On account of waking up before the sun rises, no matter how late she goes to bed and all. Planning and fretting. What would life have been without them? Happier? Easier? No, Esti acknowledges, that wouldn't have been life. It would have been something else. Something peaceful. Like her husband's farewell. Esti turns off the TV, picks up her cellphone and dials her son's number. "Find out how I can register for that drama class they were carrying on about," she commands, her words slurred by the sugar cube in her teeth. [email protected]



More about:Palestine, Netanya


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