My mom never really got over leaving Israel. She came to America on a trip, with no intentions to stay. Why would she stay here when there was so much better? Here, the weather was cold, the people were boring and the food had no taste. There, the sun was dazzling, the people warm, and the tomatoes so juicy and flavorful you could eat them like apples.
Nevertheless, here is where she was… living way out in the middle of nowhere with her American husband and three pale faced kids.
“You’re all so white because the sun is watered down in this country. In Israel, the sun is so hot it seeps right down to your bones.”
Her bones were always cold in America. She kept the woodfire broiling in our house and the oven turned to high. During the day, she’d sit by the curtainless windows, her face tilted towards the sun, soaking in whatever warmth she could find to remind her of the desert she’d left behind.
In the evening, she would sing to me. Sometimes it was “You’ve Got A Friend,” sometimes it was “Hey Jude,” but, mostly, mostly it was “I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane,” by John Denver.
Her eyes would grow distant when she sang, her hand on my shoulder lighter. Because, although she was sitting right there beside me, a hot cup of Turkish coffee in her hand, in her heart, she was always on a plane. Leaving, leaving. Trying to get away to there.
It made me angry as a kid. Angry and sad. Why was she always pining for her life in Israel when we were right here? What was so great about her sisters and cousins and nephews and nieces that we were missing? Why, when she referred to my family, it was always them, never us?
Sometimes it felt as though it were a contest. Me vs. Israel.
“Look, Mom, I can play piano and dance and I’m a good kid. Such a good kid. I bet if you had a kid in Israel, they wouldn’t be so good. You know how much ruder Israeli kid can be! Aren’t you glad you stayed here, Mom? Aren’t you?”
The truth is, I never doubted that my mom loved me deeply, that she wouldn’t trade me for anything. But, I also knew that her love for me was an anchor that kept her from being where she really wanted to be. There.
I’m an adult now. I have my own husband and kids. I live in the country of my birth. I have no literal there to pine for.
And, yet… and yet… I often find myself wishing to be somewhere else, with other people, doing other things. As if I inherited her longing of there, along with her almond shaped eyes and love of attention.
To satisfy my longing, I disappear into a book or make deep connections with faraway friends or hop on a bus to NYC.
And, for a while, those things do satisfy that nagging need to be somewhere else. But, it always comes back, stronger than ever.
Recently, my daughter asked me why I go to NYC so often. I told her the truth. I go for work opportunities and to see friends and because being in NYC makes me so gloriously happy.
“But, don’t we make you happy?” she asked.
I stopped for a moment and looked at her. For the first time, instead of my fiery redheaded impish daughter, I saw the shy, insecure little girl that I had once been. I searched for the right words to soothe her hurt.
I assured her that she does make my happy. But, I also explained that there are cool places to see in New York and interesting people to visit and inspirational events to attend.
“But, we have cool stuff here too, Mama. You just rather stay home and read or be on your phone.”
Her words cut right to my heart. The truth is, my daughter is right. There are cool things here too. Things that I often miss because I get lost in other things, other places. And, of course, the coolest, most wondrous things are my children.
That doesn’t mean I’ll stop going to New York or escaping in books or talking to faraway friends. Those things bring me joy. But, it’s a separate kind of joy. A joy that’s not part of my family, that doesn’t bring me closer to my community, that keeps me locked up in this self-made tower I’ve constructed.
So, maybe sometimes… Instead of going to New York, I’ll find a local poetry event; instead of reading a book alone, I’ll read one to my daughter; instead of talking to faraway friends, I’ll work harder on turning some of my local acquaintanceships into real friendships.
Because, the thing is, it’s easy to pretend some other place is better, some other people are more interesting. It’s easy to sit by yourself at neighborhood parties while you text faraway friends about how much cooler it would be if you were there. It’s easy to always to pretend that the reason you’re lonely is because no one here understands you. But, what’s easiest, isn’t always what’s best.
My mom went to Israel recently. She had a wonderful time visiting with her family and enjoying all the culture she’s craving. But, after a few weeks, she was ready to come home. She missed the garden she’s been working on, the grandkids she’s helping raise, the massage business she’s working to build. Although it will never be Israel, in many ways she has finally made a home in America that she loves.
Her visit made me think more about the life that I’m building. Getting away is wonderful from time to time. But, maybe, just maybe… the key to not always wanting to escape is to make my real here more like the there of my dreams.