Now that all is booked, and I’m almost ready to go (minus 24 essays to grade and a conference talk to write, a book club to host, a couple of holiday parties and a Chanukah concert to attend–details, details), I find myself reminiscing on my formative years.
This begins as a sob story: I despised my first year of university. I was bored in my classes, and I carried around an obnoxious superiority complex, thinking I was smarter than all my classmates and probably most of my professors. This attitude led me, of course, to do terribly in my courses since I stopped showing up to classes and wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t handing in assignments that were due.
In addition to the lousy academic side of my so-called “college experience” (did such a thing exist for me? I lived at home with my parents, and didn’t make a single new friend, hanging out, as I was, with all my high school friends, who also lived at home with their parents), I was romantically wretched. I was in a warped not-relationship with a hirsute, hateful, rage-driven, confidence-killing, misogynistic, homophobic, Kill-the-Arabs man that a friend of mine affectionately referred to as “ha’Shatiach” (the carpet).
On one of his better days, he told me: “Every time you smile, I remember how ugly you are.” On another occasion, he borrowed a lip balm from a friend of mine who mentioned–who knows why–that a gay friend of hers regularly borrowed it as well, and ha’Shatiach scrubbed at his lips until they bled (he later told me his father said he should have dumped his plate of spaghetti in my friend’s lap–so we know where he got his loving personality from).
To add to this rather unpleasant foreground, the university I attended was and is one of the least architecturally attractive institutions out there–a mishmash of bad styles, most of them dating from the concrete- and industrial-art-loving 60s. All I wanted to be was anywhere but there.
And by my second year, that’s where I was.
Suddenly, school was cool. Surrounded by Jerusalem stone and the gleam of the Dome of the rock; conversing with people who were smart and cosmopolitan, and who went to famous, fabulous schools like Oxford and Harvard; partying at the “Orient Express,” a nightclub at the Hyatt that catered to stupid drunken tourists like me; high on the handshake between Rabin and Arafat (a clipping from the Jerusalem Post featuring that triptych of peace–Rabin, Clinton, and Arafat in camaraderie, Clinton with an arm almost but not quite around each of the Middle Eastern men–hung on my wall); I found, in Israel, two loves–one professional, and one romantic.
I was 19.
One wouldn’t imagine that what happened that year would affect me so profoundly. But I guess it did. One day that year, visiting Tzfat, a beautiful, mystical city where the artists reign, I told my hosts (beneficent strangers who took me in for a Shabbos dinner), as though in a trance, that when I “grew up” I was going to be an English professor. It was the first time such a thought had ever entered my head, and it flew out of my mouth just as soon as it did.
Two days later, I returned to Jerusalem, and I told my boyfriend of the time of my plan.
That was 19 years ago–half a lifetime ago. This was me and my boyfriend:
My plan was extensive. I was going to go back to my home university. I would not be miserable because I would go visit my boyfriend whenever I could. And he would visit me. I would do incredibly well in all my classes. I would get into a good graduate program. And then I would get my PhD and become an English professor. And maybe–this part was hazier–marry the boyfriend.
There was one more thing: I didn’t just say I was going to be an English professor. I said I was going to be an English professor in Israel. So much had happened to me there, so many important life changes, I could only imagine that Israel would be a fundamental part of my life forever. I could only imagine that I would live there full-time. Or maybe part-time. But there was no way another year of my life would go by without my spending time in Israel.
But I was wrong. Israel wasn’t a big part of my life after that–not in any kind of physical, tangible way. 19 years went by–the same number of years of my life that led up to my year in Israel. 19 years went by and I didn’t go back to Israel once. I changed. Everyone changed. Even ha’Shatiach, I hear, changed. He found drugs, and through drugs found yoga, and through yoga found peace–and now he’s a peace-loving yogi/naturopath who lives happily in a Muslim country.
And as for me? Well, you all know where I am –
And, after half a lifetime, guess where I’m finally GOING?
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be a PROFESSOR there or anything . . . but I am finally going back.