|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Yael Dayan
Mosaic PressCopyright © 2016 Yael Dayan
All rights reserved.
At 74, longing for myself as I was. As a young attractive soldier in the Israeli Army? As a best-selling "jet-set" young writer? Daughter of legendary one-eyed General Moshe Dayan? The bride of Colonel Dov Sion who I met in the battlefield of the Six Day War? Mother of two, The Peace activist Knesset Deputy? Longing or accepting the here and now?
You can sense the pitiful gap between what you want and what you are able to do. To achieve, give or receive. You know that this gap is not merely rooted in the self-evident– the biological clock, the betrayal of the body, the weakening eyesight, the weariness in the hips and knees, but rather in something deeper. You rigorously examine the gap for you are alone. You have no one with you to express your self-pity in words or in physical contact.
The purpose of living, the will to carry on as opposed to the readiness to die, the fatigue that accompanies despair. You don't have a witness; a reliable witness to your life, your crises, the gentle fluctuations of feelings of satisfaction and disappointment, There will also be no witness to your desire to go on or to end it. A mirror, like paper, is not a witness. Shatter it if you wish, or change and improve it, shorten, extend. You try not to want what you cannot have, not to think of your outstretched hand that is too short to reach the light, try not to yearn for the witness who is no longer here, the love that has floated to a far-off, unintelligible place.
Longing? You long for yourself as you used to be. The way that you think you were. The way you wanted to be?
The way you were when? At seventeen and a half? In your army uniform? Your skin smooth, perpetually tan, your long hair cascading, a twinkle in your hazel eyes, a flirtatious smile playing on your lips, curious and brave, without commitment, without loyalty, dangerously and recklessly self-confident, aware of your attractiveness, intriguing, a girl-woman who doesn't know what she wants or where she wants to go.
The way you were as a young writer? In the world's drawing rooms and literary salons, in the gossip columns and on the pages of the book reviews. With a good figure, tastefully, expensively dressed. Make-up free, toying with your suitors, skipping across continents, cities, languages, publishers, launches, galas, your first novel, second, third. My curiosity knew no bounds. I felt that there was an entire world waiting for my footsteps, a world beyond Europe and North America. Different cultures, languages, landscapes, flora and colors ripe with secrets and rhythms unknown to me. A world that was not a few hours away by airplane – but would be revealed in a gradual, reassuring journey that prepares one for the transition between continents and cultures and makes the discovery richer and more surprising. I took up a publisher's offer to go to Brazil and another publisher's invitation to Argentina and set out for a continent new to me, traveling, as I loved it, by way of sea.
Your longest and most wonderful sail was from Haifa to Brazil on a ZIM cargo ship. You set off with books and travel guides and a stack of blank paper for your third novel. You were introduced to the power of the isolating ocean that can shift without warning – gently swaying or stormily tossing you about. After close to a week of thrilling and rough sailing, when you crossed the equator to the southern hemisphere, the crew doused you with a pail of water, as is customary for sailors celebrating their "first time" and from then on the North Star disappeared from the sky and was replaced by the Southern Cross.
It was as if the long voyage had cut the umbilical cord and when you reached Brazil, your sense of time was severed from that of home. It was a different way of counting, separating the world into what lies between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn, the habitat you are comfortable with, and what lies beyond them to the north and the south, the balmy regions where the sun is never at its zenith, and onwards to the north and south where the circles gradually narrow into ice and cold.
You travelled far from home but you remained addicted to it. Your frequent, but brief visits home failed to form close friendships, caused your relationship with your family to flatten and become superficial, and threatened the deep roots of your love for your country.
The rift widened between you and your home, your family, country, language– and the new world, the languages you acquired, the knowledge that was accumulating, the curiosity that was being quenched, the soft landings and the easy escapes, the seemingly safe anchors and the true friendships, and you began to ask yourself questions of identity. Jewish, Israeli, cosmopolitan, Middle-Eastern, citizen of the Western world? Questions posed by quick success and a misleading sense of freedom of choice.
Do you long for the way you were as a mother? With the maturity and calm of someone having returned from a long journey, your bag bursting with abundance, from the baby's cradle to the kindergarten lunchbox, the school bag, the son's and daughter's army uniforms, meatballs and schnitzel, mashed potatoes and rice, graduation ceremonies, good health, ripeness.
Curbing the imagination and subjecting it to documentation in the last book you wrote after your father's death. Anxious concern for your children, the expectations you never expressed, your hopes for their futures. At home, overseeing its management and also working from it as long as the children weren't independent and Dov's time was not his own. Full, rich years that manifested everything you thought a home and a family should be.
The way you were as a combatant member of parliament? A revolutionary, ardent feminist trying to change the old, established norms, ruthless in the defense of human rights, clashing with the dogmatic Judaic halacha, occasionally succeeding in opening a new path with like-minded allies, admired, hated, envied, ambitious and intolerant of deception and ignorance, of superficiality, a friend to the needy and downtrodden and less so to colleagues when teamwork was required. Not fully aware of the need to compromise.
What do you miss, what kind of happiness is now out of reach? Is it a longing for the self-satisfaction that came with your public roles? For the focus and determination required for achieving concrete results? To be accessible to the public, the paths to the hearts of voters, the attempt to remove the stumbling blocks of discrimination, ignorance and darkness.
Or perhaps simply the regular day-to-day experience, an occasional touch of passion, an embrace, the attention, interest and desire to do things together. Not to fear honesty, or be afraid of expressing and accepting criticism, not to walk on eggshells, be self-righteous and defensive, not to hide. To love and be loved.
When did the balance between the lust for life and the preoccupation with death shift? When did good health give way to illness and pain, both temporary and chronic, of you and those close to you? When was the confidence in changing the odds, in remedies, in the triumph of the spirit and the struggle, exchanged for the compassion enfolding the end and the belief in your ability to soften it?
Did it happen a decade ago, when Dov's incurable illness took a turn for the worse and the long years of parting from him ended, or did it take place with the twisted life and death of Dahlia? When the cancer in your body was discovered, or with the diagnosis of the disease that has been constricting your lungs? The short life of your father? The wondrous old age of your mother? When did the broad, all-encompassing, forward facing gaze grow dim and give way to a frightened counting of last lines and brief glimpses of the remains?
And perhaps the balance was only recently upset, in the present, when you fell and were injured, fracturing your back, your hip and a fair share of your spirit. You could not restrain the pain and could not remember how you fell and thus you sensed that death too could pay you an unexpected visit. Just as its signs had crept toward Aharona, without warning.
And now the pain tears you apart. Piercing and catching in the pelvis and never subsiding, it flows like an electrical current from your hip down to your thigh and pounds at your kneecap and you don't stifle the cry-shout-scream-moan-wail, and you fall from the realm of thought to the bottom of the pathetic, shameful, wretched barrel. You want to sit down. A small and unattainable desire. To be able to sit without pain. You sat and watched your sister-in-law Aharona flicker out, she had grown tired of her life decades ago but could not go through with the act of ending it, and at the end of her life, when the sentence had already been given and was about to be carried out, she clung to the slow dripping of the wax pooling on the end of the candle.
You did not know her well. Not what was hidden from the eye. A beautiful woman, ten years younger than you. You felt responsibility and tender affection for her children. Your paths crossed in the beauty of a "double wedding," your marriages took place on the same night, you were a radiant bride who had just returned from the wide world to the sand dunes of the Sinai Desert, to war and love, and she was overflowing with youthful beauty as she took her place beside your younger brother, the handsome prince. And the years passed and the two couples grew distant, the courses of their lives separated.
After she divorced your brother, you loved her from afar but were a life- saver in times of crisis, always there to lend a hand before returning to your other, separate path.
You sit with her every day, despite your own pain and hardship, you sit next to her, by the side of her bed and at its head. You bend over the face that framed her former beauty and she opens her eyes– perhaps in recognition – and then closes them again in resignation. And in the intensity, the awkwardness and silence that the proximity of death entails, you imagine your own death. For a moment you want to trade places with her, to be swallowed up by the thick blanket, with only your face and hands showing, examining the soft parting from life, "hovering at a low altitude," toes touching the ground and head floating elsewhere– eyes closed and jaw slack and you become aware of your voice again, open your eyes willingly, reacting, murmuring, giving a smile of surrender.
And so it goes day after day, with the evenings filled with the coming and going of visitors. Discussing her tranquility, her lack of suffering, the way she opened her eyes, or closed them, about her pulse, thirst, dryness and how beautiful and loved she is– the most beautiful and admired woman.
Of all the things that were uttered, you chose what was of most interest to you: to die at home, painlessly and without suffering, fewer people, fewer attempts to revive memories. Without the childish tones. A person who is dying and in the throes of a metastasized brain is no longer a child and will not comprehend baby talk. You wouldn't want to prolong the twilight time and encounter the impatience of those waiting for the inevitable and irrevocable.
The doctor told you that round-the-clock, quality care prolongs life. "By how long?" you asked, a day or two. And two days passed and then another two.
These were the doctor's orders: no oxygen, no drink, no food. But it is impossible to leave a thirsty person without water or a breathless one without oxygen, and the prolongation of the days and the hours that is accompanied by a smile, deceptive as it is, still allows for a sense of confidence in our power over nature and medical prognoses. Perhaps a sudden, quick death is better, you mused as Aharona lay at her deathbed for weeks, as the sharp pain of mourning and the shiva had already taken place every day for the duration of her final days, and her obituary had already been prepared, and everything was known in advance– there would be a final burst of tears when the funeral service finally took place, and the days of the shiva would be shortened and deliveries would arrive from the catering company with food that would be too sweet or too salty.
Evening. Death tarries and her chest rises and falls in the laborious act of breathing, her mouth sucks water from a straw, there is no urine, no food, there is just a fading ember of life and a group of people watching the body in its decline, and no– you don't want a sudden, ugly death– not the crushing of limbs, or the remnants of an accident, not organ failure unconscious in a hospital.
If you could choose a death, why not make it come quicker, choose the timing, be in bed, a beautiful woman with a bright face, opening and closing her eyes and soaking up the words, the eulogies, the list of virtues, smiling with the look of one who is gathering colorful glass beads which have no use, in life or death. And among the cheap glass who would spot a diamond or an emerald. You have to keep the real spark, retain it, nurture it, remember it. That is the mark that you want to leave. You think about the written mark that you want to leave behind. Not a will, but an explanation, because the patience of those close to you is wearing thin.
"What gets left of a man amounts to a part. To his spoken part. To a part of speech."
You wanted to write your spoken part.
And during the final moments you were at her side with her children, her hand in yours, you felt the remainder of life draining out– the pulse weakening and disappearing, the final flutter of the vein in the neck, the cold cheek and the unresponsive hand, the open eyes fixed until her daughter gently closes them, forever. A slight twitch in the corner of the mouth facing me, body fluids leaking, pooling in a wrinkle and you wipe them away.
Silence. A murmur of agreement that this is the end, eyes that do not meet. You let go of the hand and the pulse which your fingers were gripping as if you could squeeze out one more beat, and you left the room.
The threads of love and tenderness that were woven in the days and nights of anticipation began to unravel with the finality of death. The acceptance that preceded death hovered gently like a shroud ready and waiting to wrap and return to the dust, and most of the tears were shed before the hour of death.
To return to dust in a box, a plain wood coffin in a small friendly cemetery with flowers to soften the knock of the wet earth against the coffin, like an elaborate layer cake. The freesias and the anemones, and after them the red earth of the orange groves that once grew there, and then another layer of flowers and a damp mound covered with a fragrant floral carpet and a sign–where the head rests–and in the future a tombstone.
As you expected, the shiva, which had actually begun when it became clear that there was no hope, seemed redundant and was shortened to include the people who had eulogized Aharona while she was alive and her death refused to come. The obituaries, the final arrangements, selling her apartment and dividing the valuables between her children and friends, and the trips that her grieving children took and always seemed hasty– east to Thailand and west to New York. The remains of the stitches that unraveled were left in your hands, webs that asked for comfort and consolation between the memory and nothingness.
How fragile, how fleeting was the familial fabric, the network that salvages from the eternal nature of death or the transience of life, suspended over nothing. How little is left.
Three days after Aharona's funeral, when the mourning, the memory and the questioning had all evaporated like the trail of a jet in the distance, I went in for more surgery and then the East heat wave began. The pain returned, pounding like a sledgehammer, alleviated with frustrating slowness by medication and my stubborn progression with the pain, against the pain, until it finally improved. And when it improved I remained seated, surrounded by emptiness.
I am trying to put a date to the beginning of the fall, my fall, which began absentmindedly. The ground that slipped away under my feet, or perhaps the rock that cracked wide open. When was I disrupted? The question never ceases to plague me.
At first there were the dreams– moving from tranquil to threatening ones, sweat drenched nights when only wide open eyes could ward off the demons. My father and Dov disappeared from my dreams in a flash, as if I had come within burning distance of them and they were pleasant in their warmth– the routine of climbing of a tree, a lover's walk, playing hopscotch as father calls me to come inside, Dov and I in uniform, exchanging words and loving in between lines– it never returned. When did I become depleted, and not with a single blow that severed limbs or layers.
Excerpted from Transitions by Yael Dayan. Copyright © 2016 Yael Dayan. Excerpted by permission of Mosaic Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.