Sometimes a journey can last a lifetime. Our journey to Jerusalem did. And it also lasted a year. And also six weeks. And also ten days. And also 24 hours.
We had been talking for years about moving here. On and off, we kept wondering why most of our friends are here, and we aren’t. Why we insist on inflicting the harsh Eastern European climate on ourselves. Why we live in a city where A. has nothing to entice and challenge him. Why we keep visiting here, but never stay.
A year ago exactly, at the end of January 2011, as we were riding the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem having just crossed the Egyptian border, with the intention of grabbing our things from a friend’s house and running to the airport to go home, we suddenly made a pact we would put an end to this. A year from now, we vowed, we would move here for good. We started telling everyone we knew, to make it impossible to go back on the decision. We started our preparations… no, that we didn’t do. This we put off. Instead, we traveled. Just talking about the move was enough, just prefacing most of our future tense sentences with “when we move,” or “while we’re still here”. We had a chance to secure visas here in August, then in November, but neither worked out.
Six weeks ago A. had to go to Russia. Things had become critical there, and his presence was needed. There were also the visa troubles to attend to, and that, too, pushed him to the country he was trying, almost, to denounce. It transpired that he had to stay there for an entire month. I went out there for the latter half of it to share this time, and together amid the snow, we said our thorough goodbyes to our friends, which did not bring as much pain as it could have. Soon, thought we, we would never have to see snow again. And soon enough our loved ones would come visit.
Ten days ago we were finally in Vilnius again. There was a daunting task ahead of us: we hadn’t begun our packing, and nothing was to be left in the apartment we were leasing out. Not to mention that we still had no visa. The anticipated frantic scramble led me to escalating hysteria before even the first carton was opened to pile books inside. The house I had accustomed myself to seeing as my refuge, my shelter, was now at a late stage of a decaying disease which was robbing it of its personality, its ourness. Our pictures were removed, and empty frames gaped at me from the walls with embarrassing woodenness. Every meeting with every friend or relative reeked of finality. I had my goodbye roda at capoeira class and did not tear up, though I had fully expected to. This was it. It was snowing non-stop, and I felt as if my heart’s city was cleansing itself of me, covering itself up after our prolonged amorous encounter. We took a train to freezing Minsk and after a measured amount of humiliation returned the same day with passports bearing Israeli visas.
On Wednesday, our physical journey began. We loaded all of our possessions into a minivan. The cat was trembling in his plastic confinement, driven into shock by the tribulations he sensed were ahead. A good eight hours later, we were in a dingy room on the outskirts of Minsk. I dealt with the unreal reality by immersing myself in work. After four hours of sleep we continued on the next leg of the trip, which was the scariest flight I’d ever experienced because it was obviously the scariest thing the cat had ever experienced. On the plane, I read John Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. By landing-time, the cat was screaming and foaming at the mouth, he had soiled himself and left a deep gash in my hand in his attempt to flee, and I was suddenly crying, either because of the book, his suffering, or the realization that only then began to dawn, that we had left home for good.
Ironically, Welcome Home was the motto of the afternoon. Having cleaned up the poor beast, we were carted to an old and homemade-looking absorption center, where we were cooed over, given coffee, and handed our first papers and some cash. Then followed a cab ride with fellow new Jerusalemites, one of them a slightly jaded-sounding American poet, another – a red-cheeked turtle. Finally, the journey was over. All of them were. It was suddenly clear that the journey, for me, was an end in itself. All of the emotional, physical, and financial investment had led to this point in time, and nothing else. It came as a surprise that after moving here, we also had to live here.
I am sipping hot water now, wrapped in someone’s warm poncho, wearing untied shoes, in a red armchair in the corner of a friend’s house. I spent the morning working on stylist interviews and Turkish Jewish music, while A. was out and people were playing vaguely French tunes on an accordion and the battered organ downstairs. There is work to do and our own apartment to find. There are places to go and people to meet. The cat is fine. Winter’s bleak sunshine is filling the yard. It is exceptionally cold. It is shabbat.
The bathroom is a memory vortex. More things are forgotten there than anywhere else in the house. More things are invented there than anywhere, too. The bathroom is a zone of improved brain function, its door the threshold of the mundane world where clear thinking is not my forte. The only place to hang my socks when I take them off in the bathroom so I don’t forget them on the way out is on the door handle. The only way to remember that ingenious idea that struck me as I was showering or hanging laundry—to keep repeating it aloud to myself until I walk out of the zone. That only works in about six cases out of ten though, and even if I do remember the essence, with the breach of the zone the thought loses all of its fantasy embellishments and becomes bleak, blah, yawn-inducing.
There are rules of behavior in the bathroom. Slippers must be placed before the shower cabin ready to step into before showering. Brush teeth, rinse and floss before washing face. Laundry must be folded before being carried into the closet. See, it must all be taken there at once, so there’s no dreaded second trip. The folding, therefore, proceeds at a strict hierarchy which is based on size and convenience of carrying: bed linens and towels first, then A.’s shirts, his underpants (why are boys’ underpants always such large and cumbersome things?) and socks (he doesn’t like them balled up, so they just go neatly next to each other), then my shirts and pajamas, underwear and balled-up socks on top. This way, when the tower of laundry and I get to the closet, things can just come off the top and nothing will scatter.
The cat (still just the one, we’re still hoping) is attracted to the bathroom as if it were a treasure trove. Its attractions are many: the shower cabin is a castle, the toilet its moat, the sink is a majestic throne, and the laundry is a take-all-you-can toy display. Obviously, there are rules here as well. For us: always close the door, the shower door, and the toilet lid. Stomp loudly before exiting, that might scare him off. Pick up by the belly to remove. For him: wait right by the door for the slightest crack. Scream bloody murder when someone goes in and locks the door. Run straight under the laundry rack to avoid being caught. Check everywhere: the treasure may have been moved. Try and try again.
Surely, there can’t be another five sq. m. of space as tightly packed with meanings, thoughts, and objects of feline desire as the bathroom of our house. One can only wish for such vibrant a life for the rest of the place.
If anyone’s still wondering, the cat hasn’t come back yet.
Why would he? There’s plenty of food outside, and it’s only, what, eleven degrees below zero.
Why would he want to come back home when he can spend quality time in a warm, musty basement somewhere, in the company of lovely female cats (with whom, incidentally, he is physiologically incapable of starting a family)?
Why would he miss us, if all we ever did to him was force-cuddle, shower him with toys, and stuff him with the best possible food and countless treats?
Why would he miss his brother? Who wants hours of playtime interspersed with naps curled together on the sofa?
Why, if he came back, we’d think less of him. His brother certainly would, what with all the spoiling and the treats he’s been getting as he has regained his Only Kitty position.
Our cat Oscar ran away last night. A.’s been out looking for him five times today, and we both went another three times. At this point we’re just hoping he’ll come back and giving many hugs to our remaining cat (who seems unfazed by the events, but we might just not get his signs).
1) Dog is very large. She was brought home as a small puppy, and we hoped she would not grow much. She surpassed all our expectations and is now quite horse-like.
Cat is tiny. She has very long, luxurious fur, which compensates for the fact that she is a puny midget. She used to be skinny, but now has a belly. Ratlike, if anything.
2) Dog is a pack animal. She needs everyone to be home, and if anyone leaves (happens often, what with a 6-strong household), she wails and howls pitifully, and then sits by the window, looking out gloomily, waiting for them to return. She only goes to bed when everyone has.
Cat is a lone wolf. That is to say, she walks around glaring at everyone and is very likely rabid.
3) Dog is very friendly. She greets people with wild jumps, yelling, and licking, and won’t calm down until kissed repeatedly. She likes sleeping with us.
Cat is hostile. She lurks behind corners and takes wild swipes at people as they pass. She has adopted Grandma and bites her hand whenever she talks on the phone. She wants as much attention as she deserves, and she is sure she deserves all of it. She will hardly ever be picked up.
4) Dog thinks we are her superiors. She obeys commands, albeit in the reluctant way of a silly large dog who has too little exercise. She asks for her water, her treats, and her walk. She guards our home by barking and growling at everyone unfamiliar. She knows that taking our belongings is wrong and only does it very rarely.
Cat is sure she owns us. She bosses Grandma around, doesn’t mind using everyone as ladders for a more comfortable reach onto a shelf, and takes everything she deems worth playing with. She will only snuggle when she’s in the mood, and as soon as she’s out of it, she leaves, leaving deep scratches in her wake.
5) Dog is very very silly.
Cat is very very smart.
6) Dog is a neurotic creature and she smells. However, she is very cute and loved by all.
So is Cat. Go figure.