Today is Tsiki’s five year jahrzeit. Instead of my usual reflections, I’ve worked on writing a piece trying to remember the time I went to Hebron to see where he died. This day was a jumbled mess of memories and although this piece is short, it took me time to remember what I thought of it all.
A week after the Shivah, the male half of Tsiki’s family and myself were picked up in an army issued van and taken to a checkpoint in the highway 60 intersection. This intersection is the checkpoint before entering a highway into the West Bank, a concrete path that passes through small Arab villages and Jewish settlements like Kiryat Arba. When we exited the van, an 80-seat bulletproof bus and a small IDF unit with big guns were waiting for us. The head of the unit welcomed us with a somber face and motioned us with her hand to the large bus parked on the side lane.
This was the first time I ever found myself in such a vehicle. It was an old make, with the windows replaced with dense ballistic glass. The frame of the 8-wheeler was reinforced with opaque armor comprised of high-hardened ballistic steel. Inside, it still smells like any other bus I’ve entered in my 25 years of life. The lonely seats are at attention, their backs worn and faded from the generations of passengers that sank into them. Tsiki’s father and brother in law take the first seats upon entering, his brother Oren takes a few steps more and slips into a seat, his glasses reflecting the outside light and covering his mood. The student instinct in me finds a place towards the back away from the other passengers. I step slowly down the aisle, placing my hands on each row I walk past. I fall into a window seat and automatically prop my knees up into the back of the seat in front of me, my hands securely folded between my legs. I’m wearing the same pants I arrived in the week before; they have become dusty from the spring desert air and are recklessly falling off my thinning body. I borrowed a belt to look presentable for this journey that I wish I could repudiate.
The windows hold a certain glare that shines into my face on this day. Instead of inviting the vitamin D into my skin, I feel the ray like thick , warm sludge over me. It forces me to duck and squint into the outside world. The forests outside are smudges of dried green and browns, the marks on the highway fly by my peripheral vision. “It seems so normal out there” I think to myself. Realizing that the world is still turning and people are still waking up to go to work. Sitting in cafes and talking about pop culture. I however, am sitting in this encased bus, waiting to visit the scene where Tsiki took his last breath. I am bewildered, and I am lonely. Last week, the world ended and now it’s opening back up to me, telling me the history of my life one tragedy at a time.
The bus slips into another gear as it continues its trip through Israel’s territory. This legal path through disputed territory makes a 40 minute bus ride almost two hours long. When it reaches its final destination, the machine let’s out a high pitch squeak of the tires and I awaken to my own sordid reality. Even though my skin is glowing from the middle eastern sun, I feel I am turning into a spiritual grape. As every moment passes, another essence of me is being sucked and dried, left hanging for the wild animals of life to eat.
It’s been less than 10 days since he died and I am already itchy in my own skin. The unreal u-turn my life has made has left me hardened and frazzled at the same time. Like the Shivah, I am defiant and angry, waiting until everyone is asleep to let out any tears in my dehydrated body. Sometimes, late at night, I would open the bag of his army clothes, I then slowly choose a piece of his clothing and hold it up to my nose like a drug. His smell would make my body shake and give in to my confusion. I would use the cloth to stifle my tears. At that time of night, the house is so quiet you could hear the electricity buzz in the plastered walls.
We are briefed in the army barracks. They remind me of the pre-fabricated buildings in grade school, temporary shelters that house bathrooms and beds, offices and coffee machines. A sergeant offers us biscuits as he explains the lay of the land, with thin lines in patterns I do not understand. I keep interrupting their language for an explanation in my language but I’m not really listening, instead, I’m staring at anything that keeps me grounded in this world: the dandelions on the patches of grass, the stray dog running through the paths outside, looking for scraps.
After an hour, we are escorted back onto the bus, on my way to the parking lot, I see one of Tsiki’s army friends. “The same trousers Susi all week?” he says with some comic relief in mind”, I lightly smile for his sake “yeah, I’ve got no fashion in the desert.”
As I step off the bus I am greeted by another small unit, decorated with M16’s and green helmets. I am handed a bulletproof vest that I wear like a 20 pound night blouse. The helmet they place on my head makes me feel like a ninja with no turtle power. Another soldier guides us to towards the bridge.
The bridge. I’ve read about Hebron in books, at one time as one of the most dangerous places on earth. To Israeli soldiers on reserve, it’s just another checkpoint, just another tower they have to sit in 24 hours at a time, keeping watch until they can go back to their normal lives, to their mothers and girlfriends, to their university exams and after school jobs.
We are standing here, on this bridge in the middle of the desert, where Tsiki took his last breath, I am staring at the exact spot where he fell a week ago while the same sergeant is explaining the scenario, the words are falling on my still ears. My vision becomes tunneled onto this spot and it’s so unreal to me. This is not how it ends, his life and mine, it doesn’t fall onto this one piece of concrete in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the universe. Tsiki is not here to me and Tsiki is not in the ground buried back in his home town of Maskeret Batya, I breath and turn around. I take a few steps before my mind becomes dizzy, I begin to cry but but there is nothing left. I am dried out.
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