Light Years Away: Chapter 66| May 10, 2022
I can hardly believe it. “You mean I have two ears?!”
It hurts, and I’m not even awake yet.
I can’t believe how much it hurts and burns and pulls on the whole left side of my face.
I’m in a fog, but I try to cry through the fog. It works. Abba rushes over to me. Dudi calls quickly for the nurse. Abba asks them to give me a painkiller, Dudi translates. The nurse injects something into my IV bag.
I sink gratefully into another fog.
When I open my eyes again, the pain wakes up, too. It hurts deep inside my head, in a place I can’t reach. I need to rub or massage the place — I bring my hand to the big bandage wrapped around my head — but Abba quickly takes my hand away.
“Owwww,” I wail.
Dudi calls for the nurse. She seems a bit harried, but I don’t care. She adds more painkiller to the IV bag, and soon I’m floating in lovely pink clouds.
“What… they?” I ask.
“What?” Abba bends closer.
“What… give me?” I say.
I can’t put a sentence together. I’m trying to ask what they’re giving me. Abba answers, but I can’t understand him.
“She’s totally out of it,” Dudi says, laughing. “Forget it, Gedalya, let her float in outer space for a while.”
I really am out of it. Ima’s cousin comes to visit, carrying bags filled with food. I look at the juice she brought. It’s not in a can. It’s not in a bottle. It’s something papery, but thicker than paper… what’s it called? I can’t remember. I’m forgetting everyday words — what’s wrong with me? Maybe when they were doing the surgery, they accidentally damaged something in my brain?
Abba feeds me like a baby. The food is like baby food, too — applesauce and mashed potatoes. He’s answering phone calls, but I don’t understand what he’s saying. La la la, it’s like I’m sailing in the ocean now, a big ocean full of colorful shapes.
In the morning, my head starts hurting again. The nurse comes again. This time I can see her clearly. It hurts very much and I see her very clearly, and I hear Abba and Dudi.
“Tell them to give her more morphine,” Abba says to Dudi. He sounds scared.
“What’s morphine?” I ask.
“It’s a strong medicine that stops pain,” Abba explains. “They gave it to you when you woke up from surgery and you were in a lot of pain. Now you’ll get another dose.”
“And it makes you feel like you’re in a cloud, floating in the ocean?”
“It makes you feel drugged, yes,” says Dudi.
“Then I don’t want it,” I say firmly.
“But you’re in pain!” Abba and Dudi say it at the same time, protesting in the same voice.
“The influence of the medication wears off after a while,” Abba says. “You won’t stay in a fog forever, don’t worry. It’s only for now, so you won’t be in too much pain.”
But I won’t back down. I need to be awake and aware. Dudi argues a little bit with the nurse. She wants to give me Tylenol and he doesn’t think it’s enough. They compromise on something in between. She injects a clear liquid into my IV cocktail, smiles, wishes us a good day and leaves.
“Any better?” Abba asks.
He looks so anxious. And so tired. Could it be that he and Dudi were at my side all night? Oh wait, it’s a lot longer than one night — they’ve been here since yesterday morning.
“Is the pain better?” Abba asks again.
“A bit,” I say. My whole left side feels like it was stretched and then drilled and then sewn up. Which is actually what happened, pretty much.
Then I finally remember to ask, “The surgery! Was it a success?”
“Yes, tzadeikes,” Abba says, stroking my right cheek.
I can hardly believe it. “You mean I have two ears?!”
This is it — the moment I’ve dreamed of for so long. I didn’t think it would really happen, and not like this, in a hospital room in Los Angeles, with the walls painted a pretty light blue and a picture of the ocean on the wall.
“Yes, you have two ears,” Abba says, his voice sounding strangely choked. “And the blood flow into the new ear is very good, baruch Hashem. Dr. Barclay was here earlier, remember? She explained how to take care of the implant until the stitches are absorbed.”
I don’t remember a thing.
“And she explained about taking care of the eardrum. It’s very sensitive to infection at the beginning, until everything heals.”
I don’t remember. I sneeze. Ow! I never knew a sneeze could hurt so much!
Abba’s worried. “Maybe we should ask the nurse for some morphine after all,” he says.
“No, Abba. I really don’t want morphine. I want to be awake now, and fully alive.” My mind feels clearer now, and I like it. I ask Abba for the phone and call Ima.
“Tovi, my Tovi! It’s so good to hear your voice! So tell me, did they play the song you asked for when you woke up after the surgery?” Ima wants to make sure.
“No,” I say, trying to think back to the moment I first woke up.
“Of course we played it!” Dudi protests. “It was playing on a loop, over and over!”
“Please tell everybody I said thank you,” I say to Ima.
“Everybody who davened for you?” she asks.
“Yes. And everyone who gave money, too.”
Now I can say it out loud, it doesn’t upset me. They gave money to pay for my surgery. I was the recipient. When I grow up, I’ll find a way to return the favor. Maybe even now, while I’m still a kid, I can be that person on the giving end. I can give a smile, a friendly word. And I can wish everyone well. All sorts of things.
“I’m considering an offer to move into your old apartment,” Chaya tells Ruti.
Winter is over, and there’s no more chill in the air. The warm sun of Iyar casts its rays on the streets of Zichron Moshe.
“It’s hypothetical,” Ruti replies, looking through her. “And therefore we don’t bring the full array of possibilities into focus. And I say, it’s all good.”
“It’s not hypothetical,” Chaya insists. “It’s a real offer. They’re willing to hand over the keys this week.”
To the apartment you lived in. Where you raised three children. And cooked soup and chicken in the kitchen. And Shabbos meals. And after you came another woman, who raised your children along with hers. She cooked. Bathed the children. Did the laundry. Tidied up and cleaned. And I might be the next occupant. It’s a nice apartment, and really cheap.
“It’s hypothetical,” Ruti intones solemnly. “What and why each component of the universe. The revealed and the concealed. Reality. Fact.”
“My sisters-in-law say there’s no sh’eilah. They say it’s clear that if Moishy wants to move to Neve Tzinobarim, we have to move. And I can cut back my work hours.”
“What?” Ruti asks.
“I’ll be able to spend less time working,” Chaya explains. “Although the truth is, that probably won’t happen, because I’ll want to hold on to my clients.”
“My reality is not your reality,” Ruti informs her.
Fortunately for young Mrs. Shpinder, her sister arrives and scoops her up, putting an end to the pointless conversation.
“What were you two talking about?” Nechami inquires as they direct their steps toward the Davidka light rail stop.
“Nothing much.” Chaya sighs. “I tried to tell her that Moishy’s older sisters claim I have to move, because ‘Ishah kesheirah osah retzon baalah.’ ”
“And what did she answer?”
“Nothing… just a bunch of babbling about hypothetical realities or something. She’s completely detached from reality. It’s terrible, Nechami.”
“I’m used to it by now,” Nechami says softly. “The first time I met her, I literally got sick. I had to go lie down, and I thought I was going insane, and Shua was leaving me…. I was crying hysterically. It was the same day you met Moishy for the first time.”
“She stole your slippers or something, right?”
“I was working in my office and the door to the apartment wasn’t locked properly, and she came into my house, and when I found her there, she started talking about parallel universes. She really scared me.” She was wearing one of my tops, and cooking the rice I’d prepared, and baking the schnitzel I’d prepared for lunch. And she was arguing with me so confidently, so sure she was right, until I ran out of the house screaming.
“And now?” Chaya asks.
“I can deal with her now. I got used to it. You know something? That scares me a little, the fact that I got used to it.”
Some years ago, the town council of Monza, Italy, banned goldfish bowls. From then on, pet owners would be required to keep their fish in proper fish tanks. The ordinance was meant to protect the sanity of the pet fish, which would surely be threatened by the distorted view of reality as seen through the curved wall of the goldfish bowl.
“Maybe I’m like a goldfish in a bowl,” Chaya thinks out loud. “Maybe what I think is reality is just a distortion.”
“No, you’re not like a goldfish in a bowl,” Nechami assures her. “You’re perfectly grounded in reality, take my word.”
“How do you know? Maybe you’re in the goldfish bowl with me.”
They go to the Mamilla Mall. The metal vase they spotted five months ago is still waiting there for them, in the art gallery. Nechami points to it, and it’s taken out of the showcase and wrapped in tissue paper.
“The final touch to your office decor,” says Chaya, stroking the colored metal, the beautifully laser-etched flowers. “Can you believe you’ve finally bought everything on your list?”
“Yes,” says Nechami.
She pays for the vase. Three hundred shekels. They could have done many others things with that money. They could have made a payment on the loan she so detests, donated it to Gedalya, bought something for the house or for the children. Or she could have taken three hours off from work.
But she takes her three hundred shekels and goes out to buy the vase she wants for the shelf in her office. It seems so physical, so much a thing of This World, the vase and the metal, but still, it’s the right thing to do. This is clear to her. Not only to Shua, who said right away, “Of course, go and buy the decoration you’ve been wanting.” But to her, too.
“Do you think I’ll end up in Neve Tzinobarim?” Chaya asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think you’re in a round fishbowl?” Chaya persists.
“I don’t know,” Nechami answers again. And what does it matter? Round or square, she’s happy in her aquarium.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 910)
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