Flipside: Upward mobility

"What in God's name did I need this for?" Ela wails into the receiver, pacing through a maze of half-packed cartons and rolled-up rugs.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
February 16, 2006 14:47
4 minute read.

 
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"What in God's name did I need this for?" Ela wails into the receiver, pacing through a maze of half-packed cartons and rolled-up rugs. "Whatever possessed me to go through with this ridiculous move?" Orit stifles a laugh with the aid of the mute button on her phone. Making light of a friend's distress, she knows, is unkind. Insensitive. Not becoming in a bosom buddy. But she can't help being amused at Ela's invoking God in this particular context. One of complaint. "Correct me if I'm wrong," she says, tiptoeing carefully through what she knows is a potentially explosive minefield. "But aren't you the one who has been explaining in great detail for weeks why, 'in God's name,' this move is necessary?" "Dammit!" Ela screeches, more in response to having stubbed her toe than to Orit's comment, which she wasn't really listening to anyway. "I must have come down with a severe case of temporary insanity." Orit smiles at Ela's simultaneous self-awareness and lack thereof. Though indeed exhibiting behavior that Orit agrees is indicative of "insanity," Ela so often engages in it as to render the word "temporary" inapplicable. "It'll be fine," Orit says, imagining that this is what she herself likes to hear when in the midst of a crisis. "Moving is always stressful." Ela is not consoled by this. She is staring at the dingy walls, dotted with holes where nails used to be, reminded of all the work she has ahead of her before returning the key to her current landlord. "Why didn't you stop me?" Ela asks, but it comes out like an accusation. Orit sighs, as she makes herself comfortable on the sofa and puts her feet up on the coffee table. This, she can tell, is going to be one of those marathon conversations. The kind that always continue well into the wee hours. The kind that involve Orit's reciting - or rather regurgitating - previous discussions the two women have had during their decades of discourse. "Well, I did tell you to weigh the consequences," Orit says gently, almost stammering, the dynamics of their codependence intact. "Of course you did," Ela reproaches, cradling the phone in the crook of her neck while she wraps a wine glass in a sheet of newspaper and places it in a box labelled 'kitchen.'"Because you're still living under the illusion that you can control your destiny." Orit smirks - something she would not dare do without the phone as a shield, since it would necessitate a rebuttal. And no good would come of her pointing out to her dearest friend that pots oughtn't call kettles black. Particularly not while simmering atop a mound of hot coals. The more serious reason for Orit's reticence at showing her "true face" in this case is that she would rather die than reveal - in any shape or form of body language - that she envies Ela. Which she does. Whatever eccentricities Ela may possess, she's got flair. And wanderlust. And she has always lived considerably beyond her means - a feat Orit can no more understand than imitate. Moving to yet another fabulous apartment for the sixth (or is it seventh?) time since her divorce is but one example of Ela's drive and spirit. Not to mention endless energy. But there are other, less visible, ways in which Ela manages to... what? Well, forge ahead, Orit thinks with admiration. Though she can't put her finger on what that means exactly. She does know with absolute clarity, however, that whenever some of Ela's magic rubs off on her, she feels at peace somehow. Better able to cope with her life. Her job. Her kids. Even her ex-husband, whose second wife is 15 years her junior, and whose taste for trips abroad interferes with his child-support payments. This magic is Ela's genuine belief that God pulls her upward internally by placing external obstacles in her path. "The more you succumb and accept life's hurdles as blessings," Ela likes to repeat, "the less the suffering and the shorter the 'trial period.'" The trouble with this tenet, as far as Orit is concerned, is that Ela tends to preach it when she's bought a new dress or met a new man; and promptly forgets it when the dress doesn't fit due to weight-gain, or the man doesn't call after sex. Or - like today - when in the midst of an anxiety attack about acting on a whim. IT IS during such episodes that Ela relies more on Orit's down-to-earth approach than on God's lofty one. Ironically, it is during such episodes that Orit genuinely grasps the significance of Ela's "hurdles" theory. As a result, it is during such episodes that the tables turn. "Look," Orit says, sitting up to light a large candle for atmosphere. "I couldn't have stopped you from moving even if I'd wanted to." "You're right," Ela says, her tone softening. "And if you're doing it already, then you might as well succumb to and accept it," Orit continues. For the first time today, Ela smiles. But she argues anyway. "Why couldn't I just 'succumb to and accept' the place I'm in now?" she challenges. "You tell me," Orit says, resisting the urge to get up and straighten a crooked picture. "I don't know," Ela considers, leaning against a box labelled "bathroom" - her first pause in the last hour. "Maybe there weren't enough real obstacles in my path, so I had to create some." "Which caused you to fall in love with the apartment you're moving into?" Orit asks. "Well, yeah, that," Ela says, resuming her busywork. "And the amazing view, and the high ceilings, and the sunken livingroom." "In other words, this is an upward move," Orit says. "Not a bout of insanity." "Thank God one of us has been listening to me," Ela says with relief. Orit laughs, this time without hiding it. Each now at peace with herself, the friends are finally able to hang up the phone. ruthie@jpost.com

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