As You Like It: A Piece of My Heart

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A few years ago my family and I were vacationing in Israel when Hezbollah decided to shoot some katyusha rockets our way. The only endearing quality that katyushas had was that their range was fairly limited. Unfortunately, they’ve improved over the years, both in range and aim. Whereas they used to plague only northern Israel, now their terror can be launched much further.

The day that our vacation turned deadly we were expecting Lisa and Mariel to return from touring the country. Steve and I were leaving the beach when we suddenly heard radios being turned up everywhere. “Something’s happened,” I said to Steve. In Israel, when bus drivers turn up the volume of their radios, it means trouble.

We learned that there had been a skirmish on the Lebanese border. Israeli soldiers had been killed, some taken hostage. The next day the katyushas made their appearance. And so the nightmare began.

Steve and the girls had never been in a war-time situation before. Mom and I tried to reassure them, but I knew that this was different. I had spent years being suspicious of every stray, ownerless package but had never experienced this intense, random bombing. When the first people were killed, the first houses and stores blown up, we realized that the only safe places were bomb shelters.

We stayed glued to our TV sets even though we could hear the bombs and their reverberations in the streets. Still, it felt like it was happening someplace else. The next day we were told that it was safe to go out for a few hours to shop for food. As we walked to the supermarket, Lisa asked me, “Mom, how do they know it’s safe?” I didn’t want to tell her that there was no such thing as safe, so I made up some reassuring lie.

The days were surreal. One afternoon I stood in front of our building and watched the aftermath of an explosion down the street, feeling as if I were watching TV. The tension ebbed a bit during the nights — until a bomb went off in the next street in the middle of the night, causing me to almost hit the ceiling.

At the end of that week I forced Shatz and Lisa to go home. I hoped that once they left I could convince mom to go back to the States with me. Though Mariel and I stayed on, mom refused to budge. She insisted that there was no way that she was going to abandon her country. I cajoled, pleaded, yelled, pulled out my hair, all to no avail. Mom wasn’t going anywhere. Mariel and I had no choice but to take off without her.

We got home on a Friday, and by Sunday we saw pictures of the apartment building next to mom’s sheared off at the corners by a bomb. That finally shook her up. She agreed to come to us. Mom stayed for three weeks, protesting the entire time. She kept telling us that she felt like a traitor, that she should be home when her country was in trouble. We couldn’t understand why she couldn’t simply relax and enjoy the unexpected holiday with her family. “How are you going to help if you’re in Israel?” we would ask her. “Are they going to give you an Uzi and send you to the front lines?” But she was adamant. She wanted to go home.

Fast forward to April 15, 2013. For the first time in years, Steve and I planned a trip for April vacation week visiting Lisa and Matt in California. Mariel had come in for the weekend as well, and it had been wonderful. On Monday we dropped her off at the airport for her return flight and went for a stroll near the ocean. Suddenly my phone buzzed — a text from Mariel telling us that a couple of bombs had exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line. We were stunned. Everyone took out phones to search for news. We stood there in the beautiful sunshine, listening to the ocean, eyes glued to phone screens filled with horror. And that’s when it hit me — I needed to get back home to Boston.

I knew I was being ridiculous. There was nothing I could do; no one was going to put me on any front line of anything. I wasn’t a police officer or a doctor. But the pull was so strong and the feeling wouldn’t leave — I had to get back. I didn’t tell Steve or the kids. It was just too ridiculous. But I did finally understand how mom felt all those years ago when she felt that she had betrayed her country by running away.

All that week, wherever we went, I managed to slip the fact that we were Bostonians into any conversation that we had with strangers. I couldn’t understand why I had this urgent need to make my Boston citizenship known to the world. If I could have worn a t-shirt blazing a neon Boston sign, I would have. Every morning I rushed to hear the news. I felt lost, frightened and proud all at once. I may not be Boston born, but after almost 40 years I am Boston bred. This city now claims a bigger piece of my heart than I ever realized. Boston, you’re my home.

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avatar Posted by on May 9 2013. Filed under As You Like It, Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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