Two months ago, I took one of our 12 suitcases out of storage, dusted it off, opened it up, and crammed in all my clothes, three photo albums, my mom’s journals, a bag — (ok, fine, three bags) — of assorted hair and makeup products that I had collected before leaving Los Angeles, the soft zebra dress M. wore as a baby, and the tiny cotton onesie with the sheep parading up and down the middle that Little Homie wore for the first month after he was born.
And I left the kibbutz.
And while the taxi roared out the big yellow gate and down the winding road lined with fragrant eucalyptus trees, shattering the stillness of the starless night, it occurred to me that I had forgotten something: My family.
B. and I tried, but we couldn’t make it work.
Our marriage was broken. And over the last several months instead of trying to Krazy Glue the fuck out of the pieces, I ground my high heel boots into them.
Dust to dust.
“Where the hell am I going to go?” I asked myself over and over and over during dark nights while I rode around and around and around the kibbutz on my shiny purple bicycle. “What am I going to do?”
I don’t do well when I feel trapped — I get twitchy and edgy, and I lash out like an angry beast. I hiss. I growl. I bite. And ultimately, I knew the only way out, was to get out.
Usually, when a couple splits, they follow the standard protocol: The wife stays in the family house and maintains primary custody of the children, while the husband holes up in a seedy motel until he can find an apartment. The wife has support from her community — her family and the friends who are like family, while the husband has his people who stand behind him.
But what do you do when you’re all alone in a new country, and the only so-called community you have has your husband’s back and not yours?
You build your own community. That’s what you do. In moments large and small, you create a home for yourself, even if you have to start from scratch. And slowly, slowly, slowly, that’s what I’m doing. I have work — a job I love with coworkers who have given me more support than I could ever imagine. I have a few friends scattered around the country — and yes, on the kibbutz as well — who have humbled me with their compassion. And through the internet, I have my family and friends back home, and of course my virtual community at Kveller.
But still, I wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt, my heart pounding, convinced that through the cloying darkness I can hear my babies crying out for me to take them into my bed.
And yet, I know that they’re miles away. The children I nursed through toddlerhood, that I coslept with until just six months ago, are tucked in safe and snug on the kibbutz with their father while I sleep alone in a new city.
“Why can’t you take them with you?” so many have asked.
Because the kibbutz is kind to my children — it’s Gan Eden — a place they’re free to roam and explore, and over the past year, they’ve blossomed like the red poppies that bloom in the springtime. Yanking them by the roots and taking them out of preschool, and away from their father and grandmother and their community, and transplanting them into my life in a shabby apartment in a foreign city would be devastating.
And so, three times a week, I take the train or cadge a ride to my childrens’ home — where they thrive.
And here I thought it was hard being on the kibbutz before I left: You know the pivotal moment in the nature video when the zebras are all chillin’ by the watering hole? It’s all idyllic and peaceful, until out of the shadows, a lion appears. The zebras know what’s up and the get the hell out of dodge.
Well, when I visit the kibbutz, I am the lion. With leprosy.
Even though divorce isn’t a contagious disease, when I take the kids to the small grocery store, or the park, or even the cafe, most of the mothers bolt. A few are brave enough to talk to me. And these are the women I count as friends.
I try to avoid being in public on the kibbutz. I pick the kids up from gan and either take them back to their house, or go to a friends. (See, it’s kinda hard to hold your head high when you’re ashamed that you couldn’t make it work for the sake of your children.)
Anyway, last night was the annual Kibbutz Hanukkah party when all the families gather together in the Hader Ohel for celebration and song. Last year, we stood as a family and wiped the powdered sugared remnants of sufganiyot from each others’ cheeks. But not this year. My desire to be at a public event on the kibbutz ranks right up there along with moldering in a cell in Gitmo or having tea with Sarah Palin. But this is Hanukkah — the first Hanukkah where both M. and Little Homie will be old enough to remember the festivities, and so I sucked it up and we went. And I watched my strong and sturdy children run pell-mell into the fray, shrieking with laughter, while I thought of creative ways to disappear into the darkness.
But M. would have none of it. “Come on, Mama,” she said, grabbing me by the hand. “Dance with me,” and while the loudspeakers played the Hanukkah song “Banu Choshech Legaresh” we twirled in a circle. I couldn’t breathe. I felt about a thousand eyes boring into me while I held my daughter’s hand. What kind of mother leaves her family… Faster and faster and faster we spun, while my daughter sang the words aloud: “Go away darkness black as night. Go away, make way for light.” And while we danced, the rest of the world disappeared, and all I saw in that moment were my daughter’s eyes shining like twin moons in the light of the menorah as we whirled together out of the darkness.