DAILY PROMPT: NO SAFE PLACE?

JerusalemOldCitySepia-3French Hill was a suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, clothing, markets, everything.

French Hill is at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. Atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turn the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which had air-conditioning. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits on the top of a mountain, a mile above sea level. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. Fight? Uh, no, I don’t think so. Flight? I was lost. Go where? I stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. No idea what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I didn’t lock the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as smash the windows.  Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You mustn’t go into dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem quite the thing to do.

I never felt endangered, though probably I had been. It was the end of the times when Arabs and Jews could talk to each other, even be friends. I am sad when I think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger to have an Israeli in their house. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are not just two sides to this conflict; there are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had some answers, that I knew something. By 1987 , I knew there were no answers and I knew nothing.

THREE TIMES REALITY

In a science fiction universe, a three-way choice creates three parallel realities. One is the what I really chose — this reality in which I live. But two parallel universes exist based on the choices I didn’t make. I can’t help but wonder what became of the other two-of-me.

Our road is full of side trips and detours. We make choices, but rarely between a less or more traveled road. It’s more often picking the path which will take us where we want to go. And there’s a small matter of figuring out where we want to go.

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At 16, I started college and was required to choose a major. Clueless, I chose music because I loved playing the piano. I thought maybe I should pick something more practical too. In an elegant compromise, I became a music major with a comparative religion minor. Religion, the practical career alternative.

Except, I was really majoring in hanging out at the college radio station. Music was okay, but I wasn’t sufficiently dedicated — or talented — to make it my career. Religion was a dead-end. I already knew I was going to be a writer. Hanging out at the radio station gave me a chance to write and led to real writing jobs. Not to mention I met two out of three husbands to be. Not bad. None of my other courses were that productive.

Dodging and weaving through the first two years of school, there came an unavoidable day of reckoning. Even a dedicated procrastinator ultimately gets gored by the horns of a dilemma. The summer between my junior and senior year, I wound up at a three-way crossroads.

My old boyfriend — with whom I couldn’t have a civil conversation, but with whom I had exceptional sex — sent me a train ticket to join him at his summer stock theater on Cape May. A sexy summer by the sea was an attractive offer. Not a career maker, but it had perks, especially at 18. Meanwhile, back at the radio station, the guy I’d been dating asked me to marry him. I liked him. Smart. Educated. Employed. Good-looking in a waspy way. I could do worse.

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And then there was Boston. Almost on a whim, I’d applied to Boston University’s Communications program. In 1965, Boston was as cool a town as a kid could want, short of San Francisco. Joan Baez sang at Harvard Square and the comedy clubs featured future kings of late night. Against all odds, Boston accepted me into the program. Nothing could have surprised me more.

I had a lot of deciding to do.

I married Jeff. Garry’s best friend. Four years later, there was my son, Owen Garry, because Garry is not only Owen’s step-father but also his godfather. Don’t over-think it.

The old boyfriend refused to stay gone. Like the proverbial bad penny, he would keep turning up for 15 more years. He would follow me to Israel when I dumped everything and emigrated there in 1978. Another story for another day.

Marrying Jeff gave me a son, a career, a chance to finish my B.A. and find my feet in a reasonably secure environment. I made friends, got a career going and figured out what I wanted to do. Not too shabby.

But somewhere there are two other universes. In one, Marilyn went to Boston. In the other, she went to Cape May. If I happen to bump into either of them, I’ll have to ask how it went. I bet all of us married Garry. Destiny is unavoidable.

Roads converge. Detours don’t change destiny. They merely delay it.

MORNING TOO SOON

Girls in morning light

I would much prefer to wake up later, especially considering how late I get to bed. I think this same thought pretty much every morning. After that, I think about how I shouldn’t stay up so late, how I should make an effort to get more sleep.

I get into bed most nights around one. Not bad. If I went to sleep when I went to bed, I’d get a reasonable amount of sleep. But I don’t go to sleep. I read, listen to the audiobook I’m in the middle of. I have to see how my blog looks — I post just after midnight. I have to check my email, answer those messages.

By the time I look at the clock, it’s three or four. Where did the time go? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I go to sleep?

Finally I drift off, but the moment the sun slips in the blinds, I’m awake. As soon as I open my eyes, I  begin to think and that’s not good. Because when my brains drops into gear, sleep dissipates. I want coffee. It’s too soon, but it’s morning again.

Mr. Coffee brewing