Monique’s revenge

Ten years after a terrorist attack almost killed her, Monique Buzhish is married, expecting her second child, and living life with a vengeance.

By LEORA EREN FRUCHT
March 16, 2011 23:34
Monique Buzhish

Monique Buzhish. (photo credit: Leora Eren Frucht)

 
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Monique Buzhish sits on a black leather sofa holding her chubby-faced daughter on her lap. She nuzzles her face in the little girl’s nape. “Who gives mommy strength?” she coos.

Buzhish, 29, is married, four months pregnant, has just finished her university degree in social sciences, and is enjoying a typical afternoon frolicking at home with three-year-old Shai-lee in her spacious newly-built Ashkelon apartment.

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It looks like a scene from an ordinary life.

In fact, it is.

And that is Monique’s revenge.

Exactly 10 years ago, Monique Buzhish – whose maiden name was Goldwasser – was hovering on the brink of death with a severed leg artery, crushed pelvis, ruptured intestine and numerous gashes and broken bones, as doctors tried desperately to stem a torrent of internal bleeding. Her face was smashed and there was fear of brain damage.

She was a 19-year-old soldier, and an aspiring professional dancer, on her way back to her army base after a visit home in Ashkelon.



It was Valentine’s Day.

Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulba, a father of five from Gaza, did not have love on his mind that day. It was the height of the intifada and, as relatives would later say, he was upset by the number of Palestinians killed by the IDF. When Abu Ulba, a bus driver, spotted a group of soldiers at the crowded bus stop at the Azor junction near Holon, he plowed his Egged bus straight into them. Seven soldiers and a civilian were killed and more than 20 injured, among them Monique Goldwasser, who was brought to Sheba Medical Center in critical condition.

After 25 blood transfusions and futile efforts to stop the internal bleeding, doctors asked Monique’s mother for permission to try an experimental clotting drug, “What if we don’t?” Sharon Evans recalls asking. Then she’ll die, they said. The drug worked, and Goldwasser began a slow recovery back from the brink.

“I call it Monique’s miracle,” the South-African-born Evans says, recalling the poor odds of survival that doctors had given her daughter.

Ten years later. February 14. Valentine’s Day.

Monique Buzhish (pronounced Boozish) is seated on her sofa, sipping iced tea, her long, dark hair pulled back in a pony tail.

“What is this day for me?” she asks. A small smile forms on her lips. “It’s my 10th birthday,” she says. “My new lease on life.”

BUZHISH HAS no memory of the terror attack, and only blurred recollections of the first few months in the hospital; she was sedated much of the time. “When I woke up, I did not realize how close I had been to death. There is a particular moment, an action that changed my whole life around. I live with the consequences of that moment every day, yet I can’t recall the moment itself. There is a complete disconnect for me.”

She spent six months in the hospital, underwent at least 10 operations (“I stopped counting after that”) and two years of rehabilitation. “I was too busy to consider whether I would ever walk again. There were people around me 24/7 so I hardly had time to think. There were moments when I asked myself: ‘Why am I in a wheelchair? Why me? Why am I suffering?’ You have your days. But I was lucky to have a great network of friends and family around me who didn’t let me get into that too deeply.”

She has soft features, wispy hair, a delicate face, but speaks directly, succinctly, projecting a pragmatic no-nonsense attitude.

“Don’t look back. Don’t dwell on it” seems to be her guiding principle. “I don’t want to be known as a terror victim.

I don’t like the label. I am not a person to be pitied. I like being known for what I am now.”

During her rehab, on a weekend visit home, she met Eyal, a cousin of a friend, and married him two years later.

“Now I just try to live a quiet, normal life, at home, with my family and friends.”

On the face of it, Buzhish has managed to do just that. She drives her daughter home from kindergarten, tidies up the apartment, has a short nap, inserts a DVD of Yuval the Clown on the plasma TV for Shai-lee to watch. She is doing a course in events planning, having recently completed her BA at the Ashkelon campus of Bar-Ilan University. She is pregnant with her second child. She is cheerful. Most of her neighbors and casual acquaintances have no idea what she has been through.

But the scars are there.

Her left thigh is paralyzed, and she has no movement in her left foot. She walks with a barely perceptible limp. She is supposed to wear a leg brace. But the former dancer refuses.

“I don’t like being tagged as disabled, having people look at me as though I’m different.” Walking without a brace is difficult. “I have to lift my foot up using my hip, which throws me off balance and makes me walk crookedly.”

She admits that it’s painful and tiring and, at times, limiting. She can’t take long walks or run after her daughter in the park.

She sometimes resorts to strong painkillers, though now that she is pregnant she can have only mild ones. She tends to lie down more often.

“Pick me up, mommy. Pick me up,” beseeches Shai-lee as they are about to enter the elevator in her building.

“You know mommy doesn’t have the strength to do that,” she says.

Although Buzhish’s pelvis was broken, she was able to give birth with a C-section; this pregnancy is a little harder. She has put on more weight and feels the strain.

She drives everywhere. “I don’t go on buses. I don’t go near bus stops. I don’t remember the injury, but something inside me that I can’t explain stops me from going anywhere near a bus.”

Ditto, crowded places. “I can’t go to a public place with lots of people. It gives me knots in my stomach.”

During Operation Cast Lead, a rocket exploded in front of her Ashkelon apartment building in the suburban, heavily Anglo neighborhood of Barnea. She packed up and went to stay with her mother in the center of the country for the duration of the war. “I avoid danger zones.”

“Ordinarily it’s very quiet here,” she says of the town where she has lived since her family made aliya from Durban in 1989 when she was seven. After her parents divorced, her father returned to South Africa. Monique and her two brothers and sister were raised by their mother. Sharon Evans was export manager at a textile firm, barely making ends meet, when the attack occurred. An articulate and passionate speaker, she became involved in generating support to help families of terror victims, visiting the US numerous times on speaking and fund-raising tours. Today she is a full-time fund-raiser, has remarried and is living in Hod Hasharon. Occasionally Monique would join her mother on the tours. But over the years she bowed out, preferring to carve out her own new life, one characterized by privacy and quiet.

FROM THE balcony of her high-rise apartment one can see a sliver of the seashore. “I love the beach,” she says dreamily. “I find it so calming.”

Nowadays she wades only in shallow water. “I don’t swim. I have no feeling in my leg and therefore no control if a large wave comes...”

Driving home from her daughter’s kindergarten, it’s clear she savors life’s simple pleasures.

She stops to exchange light-hearted banter with a relative she meets on the street. She talks enthusiastically about helping friends plan parties. She looks forward to an afternoon nap with Shailee (“my gift”). Her face lights up as she watches her climbing all over the furniture. She grabs her, hugs her, nibbles her neck.

Sometimes Shai-lee asks about the scars on her mother’s abdomen. “I call them ‘my holes,’” Buzhish offers with a half smile. “She asks me, ‘Who did that to you?’ For now I tell her it was the bus.”

Several of Buzhish’s friends died in the terror attack. Four of the soldiers killed were also from Ashkelon. She finds it hard to visit their parents. “I feel guilty,” she says. “I lived.”

As for the man who did it, Buzhish says she “feels nothing. No anger, no bitterness, no connection at all.” No thoughts of vengeance.

He is serving eight life terms. His name was included on a list of prisoners slated for possible release in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

Buzhish has no objection to Abu Ulba’s release. “If it could bring Gilad home, that’s worth more than him sitting in jail. If this happened to my son, I would want the army to do anything to bring him back.”

And if the terrorist were to kill and maim again? “‘If’ is a big question.” She has no clear answer.

Buzhish is not religiously observant, but says she believes in God, and thinks he has a plan.

“Everyone gets the portion they can deal with. I don’t know why I got what I did, but I am strong enough to cope with just about anything,” she says, adding quickly, “thanks to the people around me who love me and push me forward.”

She waves away talk of the past, doesn’t indulge in excessive introspection. Her revenge is living a normal life. Here and now. On her “10th birthday.”

There is a moment, really only a fraction of a moment that a tiny crack becomes visible in Buzhish’s unflappable self. She is talking about the line of work she hopes to pursue: She’d like to be an events planner. Before “it” happened she was sure she would become a professional dancer, having taken lessons in every form of dance since she was three. It was her life’s dream. Today she can’t dance. At all.

“That was one of the hardest things,” she says quietly. “It left a bitter taste.” There is silence for a moment.

“But,” she says, bouncing back, “that’s life. So you take a different lane, choose a different dream.”

She nuzzles Shai-lee yet again.

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