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The blues aren't the worst of it, though Alma definitely has been down in the dumps lately. Nor is the burden of self-sufficiency at the root of her malaise, though she's certainly overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar ground she must now grapple with. Loneliness, for example. And learning how to pay the bills.
No, the real culprit is far more cunning and elusive than that. And it came as a complete surprise. Side-swiped her like a steamroller while she was busy half-brooding, half-brewing over life's newfound possibilities: The endless options for taking different directions at her disposal, and at her diamond-studded fingertips.
Or so Eyal's lawyer put it in less-than-tactful terms, particularly considering the clients in question - a man who traded in his wife and booming business in Tel Aviv for a yeshiva in Jerusalem; and a woman who wears T-shirts cut raggedly short so as to reveal a silver navel-ring and lower-pelvic tattoo symbolizing some deity or other. Though not God, of course. Or, at least, not the one her estranged husband began praying to three times a day after his father died last year.
Estranged husband. The legal lingo sounded eerily appropriate to Alma, though "strange" would have been her own choice of word. If she'd had any choice in any of this whole bizarre turn of events, that is. Which she claimed she didn't. But the lawyer was too busy reading aloud clauses of a document - signed by Eyal-the-estranged - to listen to what she had to say.
The document guaranteed a steady, steep income to Alma (what envious friends would come to coin "guilt money"), on condition that she would neither contest a divorce if and when the time came, nor contact him.
"Do I have a choice?" Alma asked, while signing on the dotted line.
"There's always a choice," the lawyer answered, shrugging.
Whether Alma at that moment registered the irony of her hearing such a statement in this particular setting - as opposed to its being uttered by a spiritual adviser on a bamboo mat - is not clear. What is clear is that her response to becoming independently wealthy and rid of the man who, for the past several months, wouldn't eat, sleep or converse with her - was not in keeping with her philosophy of her central place in the universe.
In short, Alma exited the lawyer's office feeling angry, betrayed and above all, victimized - emotions she'd been trying to overcome, if not deny, since her father-in-law's funeral.
What she hadn't banked on, aside from the cash, was the internal turmoil she was inviting. When it hit her, however, she did suspect that its source had something to do with her belief-system's being attacked by its own antibodies.
Indeed, Alma was in a serious bind. On the one hand, she had been convinced by her cultural climate that she was the sole creator of her condition. On the other, circumstances were leading her to conclude that she was no more than a pathetic lump of putty molded by fate or other forces. The dichotomy was dizzying.
At first, when Eyal began to show signs of slipping away, Alma was still able to cling to her old mantras. "He is paving his own path... as am I," she would tell herself, in between morning mediation sessions, afternoon yoga classes and evening soaks in a scented bath. "Whatever happens will be a blessing, because each of us chose this route for his own purposes."
But when his mourning period turned into an extended plunge into Torah study and a slow-but-sure transformation from secularism to strict adherence to every religious ritual he had once ridiculed, Alma found herself doing a lot of crying into her pillow.
Not only that. To her own horror no less than Eyal's, she even went so far as to nag him about neglecting his work - the very work she used to try and persuade him to "let up on a little," so that he could emulate her example by putting his mind to pursuing inner peace.
Not that he would have had the time to do so, even if he had had the inclination. Which he hadn't. His own energy - he used to point out when pestered about his sore lack of connection to the "core" of his being - was invested in the business of making money. The commodity, he reminded her, without which she wouldn't have the luxury of "communing with The Cosmos" instead of getting a job.
But that's all ancient history, as far as Alma is concerned. The guy who wouldn't even taste a vegan dish, let alone adopt it as a dietary regimen, now only dines on glatt kosher meals. The guy who wouldn't cover his head to keep from getting sun stroke wears a black hat over a kippa. The guy who used to shave compulsively now has a bushy beard.
ALMA WAS relieved to discover that the finality of Eyal's move - with her official stamp of acceptance, if not approval - had a soothing effect. She chalked it up to closure - the perfect prerequisite for starting a new chapter. It was one, she decided (with the encouragement of a medium who read her halo) that she would throw herself into with passion. Unfettered by the framework of marriage; unhindered by a skeptical mate.
But what would it entail? Where should she begin?
"Anything and anywhere you choose," the medium advised, pocketing Alma's check and giving her a business card, rather than a receipt, in return.
"Right," Alma answered, nodding without conviction. Looking around the room of this person claiming to have supernatural powers - in a dilapidated building in a poor neighborhood in Jaffa - Alma suddenly felt an urge to make a sarcastic remark. The kind Eyal would have made if he had been here. The kind that used to make everybody laugh, including even her, on occasion.
NO, IT is neither the blues nor the burdens that are making Alma unable to embrace her boundless freedom and embark on her next journey. It is neither the fear of tackling uncharted territory nor even of going it alone for a while.
It is the intolerable boredom.
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