The sky settles into a uniform royal blue, still illuminated from the just-set sun.
My mind races, thoughts squirming out to the edges of my body and all of a sudden I’m so anxious I could cry.
It’s been six months since the sirens came blasting through the city, and not a day goes by that I don’t suddenly freeze, or get into a panic that I have to talk myself out of. The honk of a car that goes on just a bit too long; a speeding motorcycle; the beginning of a song that starts with a low bass and then has a sudden wailing noise; the neighbors’ kids making human siren noises as a game (?!). And then, there’s the quiet. Oh, the quiet.
Six months. Every day.
I tell myself: It’s ok. There hasn’t been anything for a long time now, for months. You’re ok, and just a few more hours and nothing will happen and then it will be tomorrow. Let go, you’re ok.
But when I was in Beersheba, I finally clawed my way out of all of that fear, and slept through the night for the first time in months, and then all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, a siren shook me awake and I lost my grip and fell deep down into that dark bottomless pit. How do I know that won’t happen again?
Even if it does, the statistics of it landing right on you are pretty slim. Even if there is a siren, you’ll be fine.
I calm myself down, talk to myself in the most soothing of voices, but underneath everything is this constant bubbling anxiety. Give me five minutes alone and it rushes right back to the surface. Me, who used to relish time alone, demand it, grabbing it with both hands, relief flooding me as I closed the door. Now, the moment I’m alone, my thoughts spin into this infinite loop of fear.
I stand in my apartment, with its hundred-year-old marble floors and the gorgeous view of the old city, and the high ceilings, and for the first time, it feels like the place I’m living in is just right. My aunt came and said: it’s like a little jewel box. I think back at the other places I’ve lived in, with the mustard couches pulled in from the curb, with the owner’s junk piled high in a corner of the backyard; that apartment I lived in right above a whorehouse. This place feels like such a haven, so peaceful and serene, up in the trees.
But now, I take a shower and think: what if there was a siren now? And my heart accelerates, and I catch myself, and I say: “No, you’re fine, everything is ok. It’s not happening now”. I lean my head back into the running water, take a deep breath. A moment later: and now?
“Let go,” I say, “everything is fine, you’re fine, think about something else”. So I think about what I’ll make for dinner and I make a mental list of the things I have to do before bed (laundry, dishes, maybe I’ll do my nails); and, what if, now?
Shhh, take a towel, wrap it around your hair. Open the jar of cream, massage it into your face.
I want to let go and trust and be zen and/or hopeful; I want to fall back and be caught by this net, but all it feels like is that I’m falling and instead of a net there’s a void and it’s just down down down.
She sends me a text: “They might move him up north- Syria is starting up with us”. And this arc of heat spreads from one arm to the other- heating up my upper chest, and all of a sudden it’s: Now? Now? Now? in this incessant, obssessive loop- and if I say it out loud people look at me as if I’m crazy. Or, they listen politely for a moment, and then: “Can we talk about something else? Something fun?” I say sure, but the words don’t come because the voice in my head only knows one, and it’s on repeat.
He asks: and would you live elsewhere? What ties you here?
My family and friends are here; my relationships, but otherwise, I’m not tied here; I’m not tied to the land, to its narrative.
I’m whispering. It’s difficult to say this aloud, it feels almost taboo; a betrayal. People come from all over the world, make all kinds of sacrifices to be here; feel closely tied to the land with every drop of blood spilled. But every drop of blood spilled just makes me want to run. And there’s so much blood.
Somehow we’re talking politics, and I say that I don’t feel comfortable voicing my views, I don’t even feel comfortable having views- because I wasn’t born here, haven’t served in the army, don’t know the history enough.
But now, I’ve been here longer than not, what does it mean that I won’t form opinions?
What does it mean that I refuse to engage?
He says: it sounds like you’ve withdrawn from the game.
What does it mean that I don’t feel safe here?
Like I can get on a bus, without being scared that the next time the doors open someone will get on and go on a stabbing spree with a knife; sit in a café without fear that the guy who just walked in is hiding something beneath his bulging coat; cross the street without fear that a car will run me down; pass a construction site without picking up speed, lest that tractor suddenly change its course and ram its fork into me; sit in my house without fear that a siren will sound; get in the car and go to my favorite Pizzeria without looking to the sides to see if someone is standing in the bushes, ready to throw a Molotov cocktail and light the car on fire.
(Because all of these things have happened. Multiple times.)
How can I live like this?
And yet, so many people can; they continue on with their days, and their eyes open wide when I say I’m still scared of the sirens, and they say: what sirens?
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”- Anais Nin
There’s a siren here that sounds at sunset on Fridays, to mark the onset of the Sabbath. It sounds just like the air-raid siren but not quite, and it freaks me out. It rings, and my heart pounds so hard I can feel it in my throat; and no matter how much I know it’s coming, know the exact time, when it comes my hands shake and tears flood my eyes. It’s ok, I say, it’s nothing, it’s not it. Still, the uncanniness of it derails me.
I’m at the construction site and I ask him why the workers aren’t here.
“It’s raining,” he says.
“So?” I say, wondering how that is possibly an answer.
And he explains that to be at the construction site at six in the morning, they have to begin waiting on line to cross the checkpoint at three, and if it’s raining they don’t want to stand on line for three hours.
They have to stand on line for three hours?
I try to wrap my mind around the inequalities and sufferings in their existence and around the fact that they use violence that has direct effects on my life.
I read searching vainly for a solution- but there’s so much else that comes into play in this political game. Everything is veiled in rhetorics of power or sexism or greed.
In university, I minored in Political Science, and we were asked to read the newspapers every morning. I couldn’t. I would read books on ancient philosophy and theories of government, but I couldn’t get into current news. In class, students would argue back and forth with passion, and I would sink into my seat and stay silent.
One day, we were each given articles to present to the class, and one of them was a very abstract theory, and the professor said- this one’s the hardest, who volunteers? The class was silent, so I raised my hand. After my presentation, the professor asked me to step into her office.
“Why have you been so quiet?” She asked.
When the sirens wail and the missiles come shooting at us, at me- I want to scream: Quick! Fight back! Hit them hard! Make it stop!
Anything to make it stop.
But it would mean: losing soldiers on our side, young men with their lives cut off at twenty, families with a huge, gaping wound that would bleed forever.
And it would mean: children, on their side, who have just learned to walk or just learned to call for their parents, or just pressed their fingers into their first slice of cake.
And my heart opens and then breaks into so many shards that it feels like I can never be whole again, like I can never exist here.
What does it mean that he can wrap up his face and get on a bus and take a knife out of his pocket and come tearing towards me, with a hatred in his eyes and his heart so extreme that it’s greater than death?
What does it mean about him?
And how, in this world where we’ve figured out how to have robots clean beneath our beds and communicate in seconds with people in the most remote places across the globe- how have we not figured out how to make peace?
And who does this serve?
From Food52 by Lastnightsdinner
The original recipe has you begin this stew on the stovetop and then cook it in the oven. I was without an oven, so I just continued cooking it on the stovetop- bringing it to a simmer and then leaving it on a low flame for an hour or so, until the chicken was almost falling apart and the sauce was nice, thick, and a deep red.
- 1 chicken, quartered, or an equivalent amount of skin-on parts of your choice
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup boiling water
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound (225 grams) crimini mushrooms
- 2 ounces (4 tbsp) red vermouth (if you don’t have any, red wine is fine)
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 3 cups chopped ripe San Marzano tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of canned peeled Italian plum tomatoes)
- 1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- A pinch of red chile flakes
- 3 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (such as thyme, savory, parsley or cilantro)
- Fresh herbs to garnish
- Preheat your oven to 325F/170C. Arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and pat dry. Season well with salt and set aside.
- Place the porcini in a medium bowl and cover with the boiling water; steep until the mushrooms soften. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop them and set aside. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a coffee filter to remove any grit, and set aside.
- Warm a glug of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a large enameled Dutch oven), and brown the chicken parts in batches, skin-side down, until chicken is golden and the skin cackles. Remove the pieces to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but a thin layer of the rendered fat.
- Trim and quarter the crimini mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook until browned on all sides, then add the chopped porcini and the red vermouth, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the chopped onions to the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, season with salt, and cook until soft and opaque. Stir in the carrot, then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chile flakes, wine and reserved mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.
- Stir in the herbs and mushrooms. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, adding any of the juices that have accumulated. Cover the pot with a parchment lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. (Or, continue to cook on the stovetop on a low flame). Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is almost falling apart and the sauce is thick. Garnish with fresh herbs.