Tentatively, the airports opened and, with several weeks of vacation available, I left the husband, children, clients and dog to be a daughter, sister, aunt and friend.
The trip was grueling but no worse than any of us could have imagined during our paralyzing year of the corona virus pandemic: masks, hand-sanitizing, COVID testing, closed shops, short-tempered air-stewards, cramped seats and fear, like a second skin, no longer noticed but still worn close.
But Mom is 91, frail and resides in a stately senior housing development in Maryland. I was desperate to see her.
The first week was spent in intense family mode with nieces, nephews, siblings and appendage offspring descending onto a modest hi-ranch in the Maryland suburbs. Despite jet lag, I remained even-tempered and invested.
Post mega-family-fest, I drove a borrowed car to the south shore of Long Island. My GPS lost connection several times toward the end of the five-hour drive and, like a cheesy made-for-television movie, choppy travels took me on a retro-tour of my pre-Israel life.
I exited the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn and passed the location of a long-gone ice-cream parlor where Daddy took me before camp each summer. Another mysterious turn revealed the childhood home of a boy I thought I’d one day marry.
Confusion in Queens resulted in traversing a stretch of store-lined boulevard where I’d had my Bat Mitzvah and once stole an eye-brow pencil from a pharmacy. Waze kicked-in again at this quirky stage of the journey, encouraging me to complete the meandering drive via the Rockaways, where I chanced upon a dilapidated Belle Harbour rooming house my maternal grandparents had owned and the looming Arverne housing projects that once employed my beloved Aunt Bea.
I spent the next four days and three nights by myself in the near-empty apartment that my parents had shared for 30 years. The bay window was clouded with crusted salt and grime and the fridge held nothing but ketchup packets and one unopened jar of jellied gefilte fish.
Except for the requisite mani/pedi, I saw no one but, instead, rose with the sun and walked the boardwalk for miles, breathing in the sea and smiling at the cries of gulls.
For four days and three nights I sat on the balcony overlooking the Atlantic and, drinking copious amounts of either coffee or wine, I waited. For tears. For sadness. For dramatic retro-connections which would allow floodgates to open and free me. Exactly what this emancipation was supposed to feel like remained unclear.
I expected either Calliope or Erato to jettison from heart to keyboard and majestically coax the flowing words, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I binged on comfort foods and online crossword puzzles. I watched stand-up comics on YouTube. I washed floors, scrubbed time-stained toilets, and ordered Chinese food delivery.
Each night I donned a giddily forgotten psychedelic-patterned robe of Mom’s and climbed into Daddy’s side of the bed. I yearned to feel something meaty, but merely fell asleep. In the morning, I again walked the beach.
Upon returning to Mom’s cozy Maryland abode, I installed a new virus detection program on her computer and explained rudimentary Netflix navigation. We began a jigsaw puzzle and assessed her wardrobe (ball gowns?) with gales of laughter. I listened to tales of regret and gratitude, easily absorbing Mommy’s memories.
It can never be enough. Some things just are. Because even lovingly crafted intentions cannot be ordered to “meet goal” at the whim of plebeian human will. Like an ocean tide, some rhythms are orchestrated by loftier maestros.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.