The Book of J (Part V of V)

The afternoon of Joel’s impromptu visit, we took a stroll. We left Emmet with Laura and wandered the perimeter of the place. We ended up in the small eucalyptus grove near the cow barn. I remember the dialogue vividly and inexactly, for it has become my own private example of complete miscommunication.

We walked on leaf-laced dirt beneath the trees. Joel was to my left, naturally taller but bouncing shorter with his compressing energy.

I’d already tried to break it off by telling him I wasn’t ready; he said he’d wait. And I’d attempted the non-exclusive, non-possessive argument, even to the point of screwing Ari the young soldier. Joel saw beyond all that and still loved me. Finally I tried cruel mockery.

“If you’ll just give me a little more time,” I petitioned with a whine. I tried to make my tone wheedling, like his sounded to me, as I threw his own words back at him. “I know I’ve been selfish and not completely honest, but I really want to change.” I cut my glance toward him. He paced beside me, gaze downward. I added with what I thought was a sneer: “I need you to be here for me.”

Suddenly he was in front of me. He executed one of his bounce-moves and there was his firm chest blocking my way. He cupped my shoulders with his hands and peered earnestly into my face. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to hear you say that. I love you so much. Of course I’m here for you.”

I was simply flabbergasted. I never imagined he wouldn’t get my sarcasm; I suppose if I dreaded anything it was him lashing out, hurt, to hit me.

I think I became parental then. Firm. “Uh unh, Joel. No.” And while I’m sure he continued to contend, I think he finally started to get it.

He spent the night anyway. It was already dinner time when we finished our walk, and that scooter was unquestionably not roadworthy in the dark. After a quiet meal we went to my room.

When we first arrived at the kibbutz, Mary and Laura and I were assigned to a nice address. The volunteers and soldiers slept in wooden barracks instead of the stucco rooms that housed the residents, but the barracks walls were sound, the windows were screened, and there was cold water available from the sink at the end of each row.

Further up the slope were the shanty-barracks. They weren’t needed so they weren’t kept in repair. Their walls and window screens had holes in them; their plumbing was shut off. But they were the only place to go when Laura and I decided we could no longer live with Mary.

It wasn’t that Mary talked in her sleep, or partied too much, or failed to clean up. In fact it was as far as possible from those. The obnoxious thing about Mary was her quiet, zealous fastidiousness. Incessantly tidying. Making use, somehow sometime, of every little bit. Brushing her teeth after each and every postprandial nibble of a cookie from the tin we kept in the closet – a snacking and brushing that occurred on average six times an evening.

Laura and I would have been happy to live together except there weren’t any decent rooms, and we also knew we’d hurt Mary’s feelings less if we went off separately – as if the problem, really, was our simple need for more space. So like homesteaders we staked out our places in the wild territories. We went up the slope and found rooms we could make acceptable, and then we swept, dusted, patched, and furnished them.

They were never better than barely adequate but they were home. Straw mattresses on iron frames, spool tables and box drawers. The winter cold penetrated the worn slats of the walls. But Laura and I each managed to be cozy enough. That’s where I took Joel.

I’ll never be sure if he was a hero or an agent of mischance that night. I do know nothing was at risk but my row of barracks. My room burned and the fire was started by my heater. Joel woke me and helped me out of the smoke-filled noxiousness. I’ve always assumed it was his jitteriness, an edgy insomnia, that placed him where he could sense the fire and save me. But maybe it was his usual harm-filled karma that allowed the heater to tip. I won’t argue that those kerosene contraptions are safe, but many have slept with them burning, to no calamity.

(Of course you can wear the scalplock. You might want to take care of it, for Joel’s sake, but that was 30 years ago– he’s already made whatever he has of his life).

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