The band-aid comes off again.
The girlfriends of fallen soldiers, we text each other: Where are you? How do you feel? Hold tight.
“I’m ok” says one of the girlfriends. “I’m over it, I’m fine.”
Some are rushing to the ceremony of their fallen soldier, others give interviews.
We send lots of kisses, we speak to one another in the most gentle tone we can muster. We share in our private social media groups. We reach out to one another.
We wait for the siren.
That siren. It sends chills through my bones every year, and that’s when the rip of the band aid is felt and my heart tightens again. It’s just right there you see, right under the band-aid. It doesn’t feel so raw on most days, the wound, but it’s always there. It’s not so far. That siren, little tears start to gather on the corners of my eyes and as i close them, my jaw clenches and then i slowly swallow and breath and before the siren ends, the pain runs into every corner of my body leaving my body trembling as the wound is exposed and the pain comes back, the devastation. One day a year, this entire country comes to a standstill and we all hold our arms out, and we reach for one another and we stand together, holding each other.
My first Yom Hazikaron siren was only weeks after Tsiki died in 2005. I was with his father and friends Asaf, Elad, and Oz. We took an army van down to Beer Sheva to pack up Tsiki’s room and the daytime Yom Hazikkaron siren went off before we got there. We pulled over on the side of the road at the Kanot junction and I stood there awkwardly, still numb and in shock from my grief. It was all a bad dream, I wasn’t sure anything was real. We arrived at the apartment he shared with Asaf while they studied at Ben-Gurion University, to pack what remained of his life into boxes and to deliver them back to his parents house. We did it so quietly I remember. So quickly. His smell was still in his room, his cologne, the same scent his father wore. We took apart his bed, his desk. We packed it into the army van. Just like that. I crawled back into the van, staring blankly through the window, the Negev desert running past my window. It was just really quiet. That’s all I remember.
I was living in Thailand when I met Tsiki. Enjoying my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. We met one weekend night in Chiang Mai and then he found me the next night in the same spot. “I knew you’d be here.” He gleamed. I didn’t think as much of our evening together until an email popped up from him a week later when I was bed-ridden with a stomach bug. “I want to see you again, can I come visit you in your village?” He boldly asked me. That’s all it took.
12 years ago, I left that village upon hearing the news of my father’s death. I went back to America to help my mom and brother. In those weeks, Tsiki was so worried about me. ” I am so sorry he would tell me, I can’t even imagine what it’s like, I am so sorry.” He couldn’t find the words. And when I returned to Bangkok for a Peace Corps conference less than a month later, the minute i got off the plane he called my cell phone to check in. “I’m fine I’m fine, stop worrying so much” I impatiently told him, i could never have imagined that it was possible to lose him too, how could something like that be possible?
The next day I got a text from him. “I am only dust without you, I love you.” Then I heard nothing. And then I got the news that Tsiki was killed and found myself on a plane to Israel, to experience the devastation of losing someone so loved by many, so loved by me. It has been 12 years and last December, I was able to return to my village in Thailand to hug those I left behind.
Maechen, Thailand didn’t change very much in those 12 years, and neither did the small group of 3 Thai women I spent almost every evening with. When we first saw each other, we sat and talked about what happened. We remembered Tsiki together and we hugged one another tightly, for so long. And while tears fell from this reunion, they were tears of pure joy to see these women again, to have the opportunity to reconnect again so show them that I am ok, that I am still here. I spent the last 12 years in fear of returning to my old village. I thought it would bring back so much pain from my past. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
But it didn’t bring back the kind of sadness i imagined it would bring, that i feared for so long which caused me anxiety every time i thought about it. It brought back a lot of love. I learned something really big from my trip back to Thailand with my best girlfriend Channah: the pain of loss cannot take away my memories of love. And my year in that quiet Thai village was full of love, with these women and with Tsiki.
Tsiki was killed on the third day of Passover. As my children get older, they are allowed to join me on his Jahrzeit at the cemetery and now, for Yom Hazikkaron. I let them decide if they want to join me in Mazkeret Batya at Tsiki’s grave or if they want to go to the ceremony at their school. I have always tried to be gentle but honest with them, and it would be impossible to hide my story.
My eldest, Ziggy, is finally at an age where he is putting the story together in a very real way, he is asking so many questions. I knew this time would come but I wasn’t sure the best way to explain my story to my children. They can hardly handle a Disney movie, how can they digest such a painful story? I also know that my story is Dave’s story. And it’s our children’s story. It’s our family story.
After Tsiki’s Jahrzeit before Pesach this year, Ziggy was eating his dinner at the table quietly. “Mama” Ziggy started to ask me, “We call Sabba Moshe and Safta Tirtze Sabba and Safta.” He states as a matter of fact. “But they aren’t our Sabba and Safta. I know Tsiki was your friend, but why are they all so close to us, why do they seem more than friends to us?”
“Because Tsiki wasn’t just my friend Ziggy. We wanted to marry each other.” I explained.
Ziggy’s eyes grew wide in a eureka moment. He couldn’t believe this information. And then I watched him process it and I waited.
“But Mama, if you married Tsiki, you would still have me and Ella and Rafa right??”
“No i wouldn’t have you guys. without Tsiki, we all wouldn’t have each other.” I explained.
Tsiki Eyal and my love for him caused me my greatest grief and also my greatest happiness: the life and family i now have in Israel. I live with that realization every day.
He will always be missed and loved.
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