After all these years of dating, I’ve arrived at my Cinderella ending: my daughter and I are moving in with the boyfriend.
I’ll be the first to admit that we might be rushing things a bit. We’ve only been dating for nine months, but Yossi has spent the past six glorious months at my place while he renovated his house. I can’t remember a time when I’ve laughed and shined as much as I have this past half-year. Of course, life is only going to get better, right?
Yossi and I will have our own bedroom on the second floor, which he designed in typical kibbutznik-style: without walls. I love how open and spacious the room is, like a yoga studio. One floor up, six-year-old Mae has her own room, too. And get this: after four years of typing away in the middle of the living room — which also served as my bedroom in my old apartment — I now get my own office. It’s like I’ve bitten into the sweetest strawberry in the field. I want to twirl around in circles on the shiny wood floor.
Two weeks after we carry my boxes into our new home front, however, the war is escalating in Israel — again. Two Israeli soldiers have been kidnapped, as Hezbollah fires Katyusha rockets and mortars at Israeli villages. The fighting is centered in Lebanon — and northern Israel, where Yossi’s 83-year-old mother spends her days climbing in and out of the bomb shelter on the kibbutz.
On Sunday, Yossi’s phone rings: it’s Amit, one of his best friends from his kibbutz calling to say that he wants to come to America. Amit is a jeweler and no one is interested in gems when there’s a war. He and Yossi have known each other since birth, during the days that kids grew up together with their peers on the kibbutz — not with their parents at home. They’re practically brothers. A few months after we started dating, Yossi, who’s an infrequent gift-bearer, even surprised me with an exquisite silver necklace, bracelet and earrings made by Amit.
“Amit is coming here for a couple of weeks,” Yossi tells me. “Is that okay?” he adds.
“Sure.” I tell myself to be understanding. This is Yossi’s generosity at its best, these guys have known each other for 45 years. Sure, I’ve just moved every single morsel of my life into his house. But there’s a war going on.
I have no right to be selfish. But I am. I want some time to settle into our new home. I want Yossi all to myself for just a bit, dammit.
“He’ll stay in your office,” Yossi says.
Well, there goes my room of my own. I make a face.
“The sofa bed is in there,” Yossi says. “Remember that we agreed this is where guests would stay?”
This is when I start to question how his definition of “home” might vary from mine. Home to me is a sanctuary, a cavern where you and your loved ones lie down to sleep. And maybe get some hanky-panky on the side.
“He won’t be here for long,” Yossi says.
He won’t be here for long.
Amit is a quiet, reserved small gray-haired man with big hazel eyes. He thinks deeply before speaking. He’s a good cook and cleans up after himself, much more than Yossi does. He also happens to be engaged to Yossi’s cousin in Israel (yes, Yossi is responsible for the match-making.) It’s all in the family, yeah?
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do well with open-ended plans. I like to look at my calendar and know what lies ahead. But these Israeli kibbutzniks are a laid-back breed. The days are spinning by; what happened to Amit’s travel plans? He’s here all day, chatting on the phone with his girlfriend and emailing possible jewelry buyers.
When I point out to Yossi that 15 days have passed, he asks, “What’s the rush, honey? It’s nice having him around, isn’t it?”
Sure, Amit is a considerate house guest — he sure cooks a tasty pasta sauce — but because of the way the house is laid out, we have no space to ourselves.
Every night after putting Mae to bed, I plod downstairs and sit with the Israelis and the dog on the sofa. I’d had visions of sitting in Yossi’s lap in the dark, feeding him bits of melon. This was supposed to be our honeymoon, our chance to make out in every corner of the house to bless it. But these guys are glued to CNN. I stare at them as they chatter away in Hebrew, and make insistent hand motions.
Maybe it’s time for me to take a Hebrew immersion course. Instead, I’m resentful. The kibbutznik is such a different breed that I can’t understand it. Privacy doesn’t appear to be part of their vocabulary. Neither does any apparent need for solitude.
I’m not the only one having a hard time with this transition. Mae stomps into the kitchen: “Why can’t we move back into our old house, and Yossi will visit like he used to?”
Is this too much for her, too?
In the meantime, my editor at the Jewish newspaper in San Francisco calls to invite me on a free seven-day trip sponsored by El-Al Airlines to visit Israel with 30 other Jewish-American journalists. It’s probably some publicity gig, so we’ll all write optimistic articles about how safe it is to travel there. I haven’t been to Israel in almost two decades, and they’ll put me up in the fanciest hotels. But bombs are still falling. I can’t risk it. So, I stay on the home front and unpack more boxes. Amit gently asks me to help him write his resume. I do.
But I miss my little estrogen chamber, with just my girl and me. Like Mae, right now I want to go back to how it used to be. I do what I always do whenever I’m disappointed: I call my single mom friend Siobhan.
“You have every right to be pissed,” she tells me. “What do they think this is, a kibbutz?”
She’s right: this isn’t what I bargained for. I asked to start a new relationship under a new roof with one man — not two. I asked for a family, not a commune. Two weeks pass, and then three. Amit has been here for almost a month. His theoretical plans to travel to L.A. and New York City seem to have vanished.
After Mae goes to bed, Yossi and I bicker in hushed voices.
Me: “You said he’d only be here for a couple of weeks.”
Him: “I can’t just kick him out, he has nowhere to go.”
Me: “Why can’t he find a roommate?”
Him: “Why are you making this into such a big deal?”
Me: “I just want some time alone with you.”
Him: “Come and be with both of us, it will be fun.”
Me: “That’s not quite what I mean.”
Mae starts first grade. I pick her up one afternoon and overhear her telling one of her classmates that we moved: “Now we live with my mom’s boyfriend and another man who has gray hair, too.”
Welcome to reality. I didn’t expect such a dip so early in the game. Although I consider smothering Amit in his sleep, I don’t. Instead, I take a deep breath and tell Yossi that I can’t take it anymore. I want him back. I want us back.
He crosses his arms over his chest and huffs. But the next morning, he explains to Amit that he needs to find another place to live. I put the word out and within an hour, one of my single mom friends calls about a room to rent. I pack Amit a bag of sheets and blankets, along with silverware and plates, and send him on his way.
As the door shuts, I know that my vision of a castle-in-the-sky relationship is a sham. A surprise houseguest who stays longer than anticipated is just the first of many unexpected bolts that will strike this new, tender relationship of ours. I fall onto the sofa, in between Yossi and the dog. Mae climbs into my lap. Maybe it’s time for me to wake up and realize that our life is going to be filled with bombshells like this one.