The bond of grief

“And THEN Miri said that I can borrow her dress for the party, but then my dad saw it and – ”

The speaker, a loud teenager in a bright pink tank top, stopped talking. I wasn’t the only passenger on the bus to sigh in relief.

The Dress Dilemma Monologue, as I dubbed it to myself fifteen minutes earlier, had went on and on and on and on through the entire ride. Everyone within hearing already knew all there was to know about the loud girl’s date (that guy she had a crush on since tenth grade. Though apparently “he looks​ so much hotter now, and do you think he’s working out because he wants to be a combatant in the army?”), her budget (who knew that babysitting goes through slow times?), and the party she was going to.

Between the loud monologue, the gum-bubbles punctuating every other sentence, and the way the girl’s feet were planted on the seat across from her (right below the “Don’t Place Feet on Seats” sign), I thought I had her all figured out. And when she leaned toward her friend and started talking again, I stifled a groan.

But the words, when they came, weren’t what I expected.

“You see that plaque on the wall over there? This is where the bus exploded when we were in elementary school. I missed it by a second that morning, and I was so upset about it at first… well…until I heard. But my best friend’s brother didn’t miss it.”

The girl’s friend nodded. “Yeah, I remember,” she murmured. “I think my mother went to the funeral.”

After that, the girls just sat there, each staring out of a different window. I sank into a similar silence, remembering all the funerals I attended during the dark years of the Second Intifada. And judging by  the solemn faces of the passengers around me – the same passengers who spent the past thirty minutes glaring at the loud girl, clearing their throats, or rolling their eyes – they were similarly occupied.

I sat there, and thought about that sunny morning back in 2003, when I rode to school in tears. Hours earlier, an explosion tore through the night, far too close for comfort. The morning news identified the victims. Naava Applebaum, a young woman on the eve of her wedding, died with her father that night.

Whatever words of wisdom he meant to share with her when he took her out for coffee died with him. Whatever hopes she harbored as she envisioned her tomorrows were never to come true.

(I didn’t know it back then, but Naava’s ghost was to come and sit with me when my own father was to take me aside for one last pre-wedding father-daughter talk-)

Later that day, we all of us boarded rented buses and rode to the cemetery. I still remember how Naava’s bridegroom tried to speak in the funeral, but couldn’t form the words. He was supposed to marry her that day. He was supposed to cover her young face with a white veil and watch her walking toward him.

Toward their future.

He watched her body lowered into the ground instead. He placed a wedding ring there, with her body.

I thought about the young man whose parents and brother were shot to death back in 2002, when the family was on its way to visit friends before Shabbat. I thought of the way his voice broke when he stood in a Jerusalem street mere days later, surrounded by other mourners and strangers and friends, and promised his parents to watch over his eight surviving siblings. “I will watch over them for you,” he said, and all the children cried.

(I didn’t know it back then, but that broken voice was to echo in my ears when I was to hold my son for the first time. Can I watch over you, I was to whisper. Can anyone ever promise something like that?)

And I thought about our friend, Rabbi Oded Wolansky, who spent a terrible shabbat in the hospital with that young man and his brothers and sisters, supporting them though their darkest hour.

A week later, he buried his own son and daughter in law, who were shot in a similar attack.

We went to that funeral, too.

We went to too many funerals.

And the memories never went away.

There’s a moment – one short moment, right after I hear an ambulance wailing in the distance – when the girl who grew up here during the Intifada, the girl who attended too many funerals and walked off too many buses whenever a suspicious-looking person got on, because crying out would have offended him if he was innocent, and triggered the attack if he was not – there is a moment when that girl stops and waits for a second siren.

Because a second siren means that there is something going on.

“Not a terror attack,” rules that girl within me when the moment passes, and the woman that I am today is free to go about her day.

I blinked and looked at all the somber faces in the bus around me.

We who lived here through those years, I thought, are forever bound to each other, no matter our differences. The loud girl and the woman in the power suit and the elderly man with the white Kippa – we’re all haunted by our memories of grief. We all have younger versions of ourselves within us, who pause and listen when an ambulance drives by.

(And we all can breath only when the second siren doesn’t come-)

The loud girl shook herself and embarked upon her Dress Dilemma Monologue again. but I found that I wasn’t really bothered anymore.

I’m glad that she can worry about dates and dresses.

I’m glad that we left those years behind.

I looked at her. I looked at the sunlight shining on her face. And I smiled.

(Image by Ohayon Avi, via the Government Press Office.)

Rachel Sharansky Danziger

Posted by Rachel Sharansky Danziger

Rachel Sharansky Danziger is a life-long Jerusalemite who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She blogs about life in Israel, Judaism, and parenting for The Times of Israel, Sifriyat Pijama, and Kveller, and you can follow her adventures on Facebook and via her personal blog.

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