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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Under the Lemon Tree

My sister closed on her house on Wednesday. And her birthday was Thursday. All this goes to prove, of course, that she is, basically, the center of the universe, and events as we know them sort of just happen... around her.

My parents are taking her out to dinner tonight.

My eldest sister is taking her out to dinner on Sunday.

At some point in the coming week, it will be my turn. Indian food. It's like Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee-- the ceremony just goes on and on and on. A veritable orgy of festive adulation.

Today is my father's birthday. There will not be much festive adulation to be had on his account.

On my way home from work yesterday, I picked up the phone to call him.

"I know you don't really give a shit about this," I said, "but I wanted to wish you a happy early birthday."

"Oh, Mummy," he said, laughing, "that is not... it is not even on my radar. What the fuck do I care about my birthday?"

"Well, I don't know, but I care about it, and it's on my radar. I just hope that you have a good year, that's all."

There was an uncustomary pause.

"Me, too, Mummy. Me, too."

The man's had it rough of late, but he's brought most of it on himself. Still, it doesn't change the fact that a year of chasing around a young baby, and chasing around after that baby's incompetent parents has aged him immeasurably. His attention wanders. He doesn't hear. His eyes sometimes appear vacant. This heretofore indestructable sabra, this Israeli desert warrior, with scars of battle on his shoulder and on his chest, seems to be fading.

Fading from importance.

Fading from view.

Well, from my view, anyway. I hardly ever see the guy anymore, and I live literally 5/10ths of a mile from his front door. Going over to that house fills me with immense sadness, so, generally, I avoid it. Interacting with him brings on depression, frustration, agitation and angst-- and so I avoid that, too.

All he wants to do is talk to me about my sister. And the house she bought, that sits four doors away from ours. It sits, waiting, inertly, unknowingly, waiting for the incomparably incestuous, meddlesome mess that is my family to begin. Well, not begin-- metastasize. It's been this way for a long time-- it's just spreading like a cancer through this formerly taciturn neighborhood. My family is a virus.

Save yourselves. Save the cheerleader.

I never really understood my father, and I suppose that's just as well, because he never understood me either. I can remember being an intrepid, precocious eleven-year-old, banging out obscure scripts in the playroom upstairs, on a tan electric typewriter with dark brown keys. I loved the thrum and the warmth of the electricity surging through the typewriter as I created elaborate interactions between primarily middle-aged male characters who behaved in a farcical way. I would eagerly present them to my father, who began to learn English as a youth in Israel by watching John Wayne movies, and he would read these things with a look of utter consternation.

That man didn't know what the fuck I was about. And I couldn't help but reciprocate.

I couldn't fathom the things that were important to him-- a business selling girdles and other undergarments for fat ladies and athletes. Business trips to Virginia and out west. I didn't get it. I didn't understand why he was so fixated on me learning math. And when we would do math homework together and he would take out his old Texas Instruments Galaxy 40x calculator (which he kept in its original vinyl slide case) two thoughts immediately leapt to my mind:

1.) I was definitely in for it.

2.) I was most likely adopted.

I mean-- why did a person who was related to me even own something that looked like that?

A couple of weeks ago, a nurse at work loaned me a book called "The Lemon Tree," a story about an Arab family and a Jewish family, and, on a larger scale, the founding of Israel and the grave complications that arose from the creation of a Jewish state. When I finished reading the book, I felt that I had learned more about my father than I had in thirty years of knowing him. I felt like I had finally tasted the dust and the milk and honey and the cordite and the cactus water and the olive juice and the lemon juice of that life he'd left behind.

And, while he'll never stop driving me absolutely crazy, probably even after he's dead, today is his day-- whether gives a fuck about it or not. That man-- oh, God, that man-- he's always on my radar, as I know I'm always on his.


  1. The Lemon Tree is one of my favorite books. I tend to throw out that recommendation like it's going out of style.
    i get what you're feeling. I have a sibling who is also full of the familial drama and demands center stage. Instead of being a whiny woman he's a middle aged wannabe rockstar, with several kids he pays little attention to, or denies their existence completely. it's hard to believe we share any of the same genes.

  2. I forgot how much I enjoy your writing, especially when it's frank and from the heart. (Sorry if that sounds cheesy, but it's true).


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