HomeDecember 2012Displacement


Again I awakened without grasping the date or where I was.  Admittedly, it only took a nanosecond to recall that I had just moved, that I hadn’t worked in almost two weeks, that my husband (what’s his name?) was babysitting for his grandchildren in another city and that there was no reason to shower because the dust would only cover my skin, hair and enter the little spaces between my teeth within minutes.  Although I’d been changing my underwear pretty regularly, I’d been wearing the same pair of old jeans (pilfered from an adult son) since the morning the moving van had arrived to carry my earthly belongings to the southern part of the city.  A corner of Jerusalem that I’d only heard about, read about, never visited except to choose the new abode and would be calling home for the happily-ever-after I was banking on.
My 83-year-old mother agreed to my request to help me with the dish wrapping and, amazingly, boarded a plane in New York just a few days before the move.  The only thing she asked in return for this favor was the right to leave a day or two before the event so she wouldn’t have to witness what she was certain would be a stressful episode.  Acceding to this wish, we booked a flight for her to South Africa where two of my daughters are living and would most certainly wine, dine, pamper and spoil her in exchange for non-stop Boggle games and bedtime stories read to the kiddies in her unmistakably delightful East Bronx accent.
The renovator I’d hired had promised me the apartment would be finished, washed and sparkling before the van pulled into the driveway.  Although it seemed impossible from the last time I’d visited, who am I to question the timetable of another?  Suspicions should have been raised when, calling him that morning, I told him that the movers were loading the truck.
“How long until they get here?” asked Heshie the Handyman.
“About four hours,” I answered, wondering why he’d asked since he should have been out of there days ago.
“Whew,” he replied.  “That gives me time to finish the job.”
Admittedly, the job had grown, and anyone who has had any renovation work knows that this is standard in the industry.  What began as merely knocking down one wall and opening up a space while knocking down and replacing another wall to change the size of a room, the project had mushroomed into massive electrical work, building two closets, installing an ecologically savvy air-conditioning/heating system, putting a solar water heater and panels on the roof, replacement of all the pipes in anticipation of building a new kitchen in the near future, tile work and cornice décor.  The original estimate of 10,000 shekels morphed into 40,000 shekels without my buying the workers a bottle of Coke or mushroom pizza.  But shouldn’t he have warned me that my new home was still knee-deep in construction on the day of the move?
Heshie apparently didn’t think so.  So when I entered the space a few minutes before the van pulled in for the first act of the two-trip move, I nearly fainted from the chaotic scene that greeted me.  Hammers, drills, wires and paint guns were being wielded at full-throttle, and I had to think of where the cracker-jack moving crew of Ahmed, Farhan, Mohammed and Yossi were to place my seven rooms of belongings in this four-room apartment that didn’t have a square inch of cleared floor space.  I could have screamed; threatened not to pay or chastised in high-volume.   But to what purpose?  So I could demonstrate to the movers that it wasn’t my fault?  To make it clear to the carpenters that I was a woman of substance, someone not to take lightly?  To quote my cousin Deborah, “It is what it is.”
And so the horrific began, and there is little I remember about the day except that I worried about where we’d sleep and whether or not we might have a shower in the foreseeable future.  My teenage daughter had helped with the move but made it clear that she’d be sleeping and showering elsewhere.  I was in such a state that I had forgotten to ask where she’d be; thankfully, Hell’s Angels don’t have a Jerusalem chapter.
Mom was safely in South Africa but still living out of a suitcase.  My husband, daughter and I were safe in Armon HaNatziv but living out of suitcases.  The irony of both the cast of characters and timing was revealed when Hurricane Sandy hit Mom’s beachfront community of Long Beach, New York.  She was wrapping cut-glass crystal and homemade ceramic tureens in my Jerusalem living room while her neighbors and many of our relatives were being evacuated by emergency teams.  My hometown of Oceanside – next to Long Beach – was the hardest hit, and many people I know who had, in the past, worried for my safety here in Israel watched a lifetime of precious possessions and memories wash away in the relentless storm.  At the time of this writing, many are still without electricity, working sewers, heat or access to gasoline for the cars that were not destroyed.  Most of the folks I know from there have gone to relatives’ and friends’ homes and are living out of suitcases.
My daughter finally returned home and has carved out a small space on her bed for sleeping.  Handy Heshie collected his last check from me today and cleared out his gear.  My absentee, babysitting husband is still away babysitting and I have been left alone for a few precious days to try to make a little order in a chaotic setting.  For the first time since having my life dumped into a construction site, I awakened this morning with a gentle sense of belonging and good feeling toward this emerging abode.  The most liberating act of the day was taking clothing out of duffle bags and placing them in drawers, on shelves and on hanging bars.  And in case you’re wondering, I treated myself to a Dustbuster.
Comparing seems foolish because the things that ruffle one person may be taken in stride by another.  My weepy days of disorder will end, but no rosy horizon looms near for those still awaiting relief from the heinous assault of Sandy.  My mother was, ironically, spared the real-time terror that others endured but for an 83-year-old to add another ten days to a trip that was intended to be a mere jaunt because she has, to date, no home to return to is very, very upsetting.  For everyone.
Recent events have stunned almost everyone I know; it is abundantly clear that the things we take for granted like a cup of tea with loved ones, pictures of babies we cherish, a soft and warm bed at the end of a stress-filled work day are the most precious things in the world.
When the fog of displacement finally lifts, many of us will have become irrevocably altered.  And, who knows?  Perhaps awe, humility and gratitude will replace some of what many feel they have lost.

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