Saturday, June 2, 2012

Poem on the wall

The last thing left in our Jerusalem apartment, and last photo I took in Jerusalem: Poem on the wall.

I am on the moving walkway at Ben Gurion airport in a knit sweater, a leather jacket, and high heels. It is 37 degrees Celsius out and I am leaving little pieces of myself behind in Israel in the form of nostalgia-filled droplets of sweat.

It is the oldest trick in the travel book: Everything that will weigh down a suitcase must be worn. If sentimentality had gotten the better of me, I would also be wearing the wooden desk that previously sat in the corner of our bedroom and the vanilla chai mix we had to leave behind.

"You will not feel like we are truly leaving until the internet is gone," Elijah joked. He was right. I took it upon myself to navigate the infamous Israeli bureaucracy to cancel our connection, in the hope that a potential negative experience on the eve of our departure would perhaps lighten the heavy heart boarding the plane.

"Hello! I would like to cancel our internet connection because we are leaving the country."
My tone is approximately seven times too chirpy for the customer service employees of an internet company just about anywhere in the world.
I am put on hold again and again and again until an employee who speaks English picks up.
"Oh, are you coming back? Maybe in a year or two?", she asks.
"I hope so. Maybe in a year or two!," I say unsuspectingly.
"In that case, would you like to purchase our reduced-price-paused-service plan for when you come back and keep your connection?"

Lesson learned. I was transferred to a new manager a subsequent fourteen times and I knew to say that "we are leaving forever."
"Forever? Who leaves forever?!", one of them ventured indignantly. I'd be lying if I did not admit I empathized.
Another transfer, another "Hello, I would like to cancel our internet connection because we are leaving the country FOREVER."
The last manager I speak to gives in. "Fine, I will cancel your internet, but do not say 'forever'. Promise you will come back. I know you will come back. I will cancel your internet, but I hope you come back."

She hoped for both of us.

At the airport, after I had removed my eight sweaters and incongruous high heels, security employees were searching my bags, as a reminder of the country I was leaving and the life in conflict and post-conflict work I am temporarily leaving behind too. One remarked on the Dead Sea bath salts I was carrying with me. "Best gifts in Israel. Women love that stuff," he said. I save the feminist commentary on the generalization of women's preferences. I also save the remark that Elijah loves "that stuff" too. Another said she does not often search luggage in which the books outweigh the shoes. Guilty as charged: Wedded as I may be to lightness, I am grounded by books well-loved and they travel with me. This was the 84th plane ride in 3 years for Mary Oliver's poetry.

The last thing that left the Jerusalem apartment was a poem on the wall. It also marked the last photograph I took in this chapter of life. A white sheet of paper, a Greek Garamond font providing the white-washed walls with their only specks of darkness, and Odysseas Elytis' words from The Monogram. "Επειδή σ'αγαπώ και στην αγάπη ξέρω να μπαίνω σαν πανσέληνος..." "Because I love you, and in love I know how to enter like a full moon..."

I will remember Jerusalem for the moons of love. We may have lived with one another prior to this apartment, but Elijah and I both consider this the first home we made. As we climbed up and down the stairs with bags of donations, trash and, eventually, the bags that contained our lives, we lingered a little to look at the afternoon light on the floor tiles. When the apartment was empty, with only a poem on the wall left, we made one last trek up into the living room. With no furniture left, with no light buzz from electrical appliances, we stood in each other's arms in the middle of the empty room, as though we both silently acknowledged that the last memory made in this space had to be one of love.

Hours later, I found myself on the moving walkway to the departure gates, bearing witness to my last dawn here. I fought the urge to drag my suitcase and walk, dug my heels onto the belt, and let the sunrise flood everything. I had said goodbye to a place and a person I loved on the same day and the light made the vacuums all too apparent. I will remember Jerusalem for the blessed light.

There was little that could shield me from the heartbreak of leaving while you are still in love with a place and a slice of life, but I left with a full heart. Fullness lends even the heaviest of hearts some buoyancy.

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