Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Crumbs of home

It was about a year ago that he came home with that lamp. The bed was my domain at the time in the home that was never really home. I woke up every day, willing my ribs to heal from the accident, willing for some beautiful light to surprise me through the window. I spent most of my time in that home resisting permanence, fearing that if I exhaled, unpacked and owned anything, I would be tied to that life, the pain of recovery, and the desperate stagnation of immobility. I frowned when he brought the lamp, resenting it and its little blue hat for anchoring me.

A year later. The body is healed and longing for permanence. There is a home -- home home. Glorious light filters in through the gauze curtains every morning. "Oh my gosh, would you look at this light!" he says in his best imitation-of-Roxanne voice, but I know he is in awe of it too. We have bought plates - 18 of them. We barely have 18 friends here, or the ability to cook a three-course-meal for six people on two slow-as-molasses electric burners, so we use our 18 plates to egg each other on by seeing how many we can pile in the sink at any one time. We have bought a coffee-maker, a little moka pot whose purchase I did not resist because it was tiny enough to travel and home enough to long for. Clearly, that was before we came to own 18 plates.

My life still fits in two suitcases, with the most important components of it being too outsized and too unpackable. You cannot pack love; I have tried. I cannot pack couches either. He has never met anyone who loves sitting on the floor as much as I do. We each have our corner. He is in a chair that is so orange I am convinced it was born to offend my taste; I on the floor cushions, back against the wall, little blue lamp next to me. He likes the window seat too. It's where he does all his browsing. When I pull him away from his TED talks and vertical farming campaigns to go for a walk, he whines: "Fine, I won't learn today. It's OK. I can interrupt my learning time" -- but we both know he loves learning outside, holding hands.

We live in a home with a loud door. For someone with my harpaxophobia (that's a real thing, I swear), that is a blessing. I hear the steel whining against the Jerusalem stone, and that is the sound of home now. The steps that lead to the door are treacherous and I always look like a penguin descending them. He has an ease in floating in and out of this apartment. Right outside, there is always a man who sits at the bench. "Tell me a story," he prompts us sometimes and I feel the universe winking.

When the time came to buy a space heater, I balked again. Like love, it is unpackable. Two weeks of shivering in our hats and coats in the living room catapulted us to the Old City. In a tiny store cluttered with hair straighteners and blenders, we found a space heater that would have failed every security regulation in the United States. It looks more like a grill than a heater and the first two weeks of owning it left me interacting with it like a child with its first pet: shyly, from a distance, afraid it would bite. The heater was clearly meant to be the Ugly Chair's cousin, as it emits warm, orange light. When I squint at it, especially this season, it feels a little like Christmas.

A week after we succumbed to the space heater, we discovered The Fruit Crumble at the Jerusalem Cinematheque restaurant. We have succumbed to the cranberries and apples and crumble topped with vanilla ice cream week after week. We had the first one on the day of the first rain. The next one when I submitted my applications to graduate school. The next one when "I just want a fruit crumble!" was the only way to make his day better. The one after that when we watched the kind of traumatic and jarring documentary that makes me feel that my love for this place is irreconcilable with my helpless outrage at the injustices that unfold a mere 3 kilometers from the site of The Fruit Crumble. The crumble has become a no-special-occasion treat, one of the few ones we will allow ourselves, one of the ones that make us feel at home.

At the exact same time every day, a woman stands outside and bellows for Roni. The first time it happened, Elijah and I wondered if Roni is a wandering child or a husband who took too long to come home. The second time, I remembered the scene from La vita e bella in which Roberto Begnini notices a man yells "Maria! The key!" every day. "Roooooooni!" is the Maria-the-key of our lives here. By now, 67 days in, we have established Roni is a dog.

On Christmas Day, on the fifth day of Hanukkah, too few sleeps away from now, I am off again. The lamp and the space heater and the winter coats are deliberately staying behind, as though my return is accountable to them. He is staying here as well, and he has promised to mind The Fruit Crumble. For the next month, I will be in East Africa, doing what I love, getting bitten by the mosquitoes that love me, filling the harpaxophobia container that has been running delightfully empty. I will be back for the coats and the crumble and the love, the unpackable, outsized love, although part of me is terrified of what will happen if one of "those really bad things" that conflict professionals talk about vaguely and in a cavalier way stands in the way of my reunion with the blue lamp and noisy door.

When I think about packing life up again, my heart misses the Roni it has never seen. 

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