If you’ve read my Literary Mama column for the past two years, then you know that my writing led me to love. Thanks to a San Francisco reader who wrote to me in the fall of 2005, I met the man whom I’ve endearingly referred to here as “the Israeli.” I fell hard for this charming building contractor, about whom I recently told a girlfriend, “He’s good with animals and kids — but not women.”
We laughed. But we both knew this wasn’t very funny.
The Israeli and I have not been doing very well, as you also know. This column might be the most difficult one I’ve written. We’re done. Finished. I’m surrounded by moving boxes as I write this, simmering among my books and bed sheets. It feels like I just unpacked my last bag to move in, and here I am, pushing our lives back into cardboard boxes again.
The sadness and loss will come later, I’m sure. I’m raw now. Why did he pursue me so avidly for months, and then give up so easily right after we moved in? Why the hell did he ask us to move in with him in the first place? When I look at him now, all I see is a woman-chaser. Once the hunt is over, so is the fun.
As my book tour came to an end, so did our relationship (although I was too wound up at the time to see this). Yossi flew with Mae and me to New York City; his contracting business was at a standstill so he took a week off to come with us. Part of the trip included visiting our family back east: my cousins, his niece and sister-in-law. During the day, Yossi took care of Mae while I ran off to do radio and newspaper interviews. At night, he came to my readings, where I showed him off to the audience. He gave me a new nickname: “Celebrity.”
But I couldn’t see that beneath his playfulness, he had shut down. He didn’t want to talk anymore; he didn’t want to make love. Although he’d brought up marriage — he even mentioned it to my cousins over dinner one night in Manhattan — the closeness terrified him. The more I moved towards him, longing for connection, the further away he went.
More than one of my girlfriends pointed that maybe this whole book tour was too hard on his ego: after all, his work was at its slowest ever, and here I was in the spotlight. (And perhaps he didn’t like being my subject matter anymore, although he never said so.) At the time, I brushed off their comments. But in hindsight, maybe it was all too much for him.
When it was time for us to fly to Seattle for another reading, we planned to stay with his Israeli friends. But our relationship had become so tense that I decided to go alone. I asked Yossi to take care of Mae for one night during the trip, but he was so down — watching TV all day, not eating — that my friends and family did most of the childcare. It was my first flight ever without my child, and I cried when the plane lifted off the runway.
In Seattle, I stayed with fellow Literary Mama columnist Heidi Raykeil (thanks Heidi!) and told her what my life looked like. Heidi, pregnant with her second baby, glowed and listened as I told her that Mae and I were moving out.
Back at home, nighttime meant coming to the door with Mae and seeing the TV flicker through the glass window. All the lights were off and Yossi was stretched out on the sofa with his eyes shut.
“Hi girls,” he said, without sitting up.
“Hi,” Mae and I said in unison. I felt composed as I walked through the room. The world around me was flat again, crushed. Nothing was spinning.
Mae did not sleep in her room anymore; she stretched out next to me in bed, the bed that Yossi and I once shared. He’d been sleeping on the sofa for weeks.
“You’re always my Number One,” I whispered to her. No matter what, she had to know this and feel this. I kissed the top of her head
I’d talked to Mae about the fact that Yossi and I weren’t getting along. But she’s a smart and perceptive kid; she knew this already.
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “You did nothing wrong.”
But when I finally got up the nerve to announce that we were moving to a new home, she burst into tears. “We have to take Layla! She’s my dog!”
For days, she cried about Layla. I explained that no dogs were allowed in our new apartment, but that we would be getting a kitten. “But I want Layla!” she cried.
I told Mae that after we move, whenever she wants to see Yossi — or his dog — all she has to do is ask.
“I’d still like to see Mae, too” Yossi said to me one night.
“Can you tell her that?” I said.
He nodded his head, but I don’t think he said anything to her. They have their own relationship, apart from mine, and time will tell if she wants to spend time with him.
I’ve found an apartment in another city, three miles from Yossi and just blocks from Mae’s school. In her class journals, she writes about how “icsited” she is to live near her classmates.
Meanwhile, Yossi appears to be sinking further into his gloominess. In my mind, a kitten will replace him, but I wouldn’t dare say this to Mae. I’m hoping that this little furry being, whoever she might be, will help me remember the good.