I laughed at the irony of how we had truly become a real family.
By ROCHELLE SINGER
This is the story I thought I had left behind in my past. It is the story of love found, lost as much by denial as by refusal to let differences be, transformed years later into friendship and then lost again forever.
It begins toward the end with a picture that sits on top of my piano:
Lined up in exact progression are my three boys in Scotland many years ago. My ex-husband Amir and I had divorced 12 years before this trip. Some of my friends were astounded when I told them that we were planning a family vacation, others nodded with "yeah, right" smiles as if even Scottish wool were too thin to hide our real intent. But they were all wrong: we had simply become friends. My older son, Yaniv, is 16 in this picture and my younger son, Eran, is 12. Amir was living with someone at the time, who made quite a scene when she heard of his travel plans.
"How did you manage to convince her?" I asked.
"I didn't even try. I just told her, 'It's not up for debate. I'm going, and that's that.'" He paused just long enough to dismiss the edge in his voice. "The kids deserve to have both of us around at the same time. Just like a real family."
I laughed, both at his own unstated desire to become a real family 12 years later, and at the irony of how we had truly become a real, if sometimes, family. We had matured to the point where he joined us for a Friday night meal now and then, sipping wine long after the kids had left the table. We had whittled down our expectations of each other so that we could finally enjoy the qualities that had drawn us together in the first place: his fiery temperament and broad knowledge of music, politics and the land, and my creativity and willingness to try anything once.
"It works for me," I answered.
AS IT turned out, it worked for all of us. I was unattached at the time. Although I really wanted to travel with the kids, I was not daring enough to take them into the heart of Scotland's wilds on my own. Doing the sort of outdoor activities that spelled vacation to us - sleeping in tents, climbing mountain peaks, biking on trails overgrown with blackberry bushes the fruit of which we ate by the fistful, gathering mushrooms the size of basketballs, watching a local train a killer hunting bird, bowling on outdoor greens and seeking out the monster of Loch Ness - was easier and much more fun with Amir.
Amir and I met on a blind date. Looking back, I have no idea why I had agreed to let a complete stranger pick me up at my apartment. But I did. Right from the start, through the peephole before I let myself out, I was startled by his dark, good looks. But in the light of the hallway, I was put at ease by one green and one brown eye. We became a couple almost instantly.
But our coming together was so strong that we overlooked our differences in culture and attitude. I found him spoiled and self-centered; he found me too independent and critical. We began to spin away from each other. Within three months we had split. Three months later we were back together again, this time with a commitment to marry.
But a pattern had been set: The three-month cycles of good and bad continued to plague us until, one newly-built house and two children later, we split for good.
Two years after our vacation in Scotland, we were all together for Yaniv's high school graduation. The camera caught Eran and my ex-husband sitting in the audience. Amir had a red-checkered bandana wrapped around his head and his face was already gaunt, but you would never know anything was amiss by his smile. After months of visiting doctor after doctor with unexplained symptoms, one of them finally hit upon the terrible truth: He had cancer.
Late one night a few months later, a call from his sister jolted me from sleep.
"Sorry to wake you, but I've been trying to reach Amir since early evening and there's no answer. Would you mind driving over and making sure everything's okay?"
SHE LIVED an hour away, and for me it was only a 10-minute drive. I agreed. Yaniv was on his army base and Eran was sound asleep, so I drove there alone. The night was particularly dark, or at least my memory of it is. I knocked on his door, a container-like structure on a moshav, and waited. Amir was again living alone, and I knew that he had difficulty walking so I tried to be patient. But the stillness inside, despite the blazing light, made my heartbeat unbearable. I knocked again after a few seconds, pushing against the door. It opened.
"What are you doing here?" he said. He was sprawled half-sitting, half-laying on the floor near his bed.
"Your sister was concerned, so I just figured I'd pop by," I answered in the best voice I could muster. But a tremor caused it to cave in on itself.
"I tried to get up to lock the door and fell," he said apologetically as I helped him get up. "I'm so glad you're here. And I'm so sorry for the mess," he added in a whisper.
"Don't worry. I'm just relieved you're okay. Let's get you cleaned up," I said, hating myself for using the caretaker's "let's."
The next day, a Filipino man came to live with him. A month later, he moved to a hospice. Yaniv took leave from the army. Day after day for more than a month, he rose early, gathered a few of his father's favorite music CDs and the book by Meir Shalev that they were reading together, took his drawing pad and pencil, and went to keep his father company. I would sometimes visit in the afternoons with Eran. One day Yaniv's commander greeted us on his way out. I introduced myself and Eran.
"I just came to visit to try to offer some support. You have quite a son," he said.
"Yes," I answered for the first time, "these are my three boys."
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