Talking to the Dead and the Living

There are two kinds of death. One gives you closure, but it usually prolongs the suffering of the dying party. The other snatches him or her out of their mortal existence, stripping you of your soul and leaving a void in its place.

Like Arthur Rook in Kate Racculia’s This Must Be the Place, you’ll follow any clues as to what the dead’s will could have been — if they failed to leave behind any official directive. Or in my case, you’ll go on a quest to find answers where there seem to be none.

Candace was like a second mother and a guardian angel to me. She was always there to console me, to uplift my spirits. She loved me to pieces even when I screwed up.

I couldn’t imagine life without her.

We talked every week for a long time. Then she said she had some back pain and would be away for a couple weeks until she recovered.

Two weeks later, I received an email from her accountant. “Candace passed away in peace a couple of days ago in a hospice. Her cancer returned and was spreading throughout her body.”

Other than her back pain, I didn’t even know she was ill.

At that moment, I, Lilac Shoshani, shaman in the making, who claimed to see those who cross to the other side, was blinded by the shock of Candace’s passing, and nothing and no one could console me.

“I want to reach out to her daughter,” I wrote to her accountant (the executioner of her will).

“Her daughter was killed in an accident last year,” was her response.

I was guilt-ridden. I asked Candace often how her daughter was doing, being the only living relative she had.

“She is doing well, honey,” Candace always replied. I think she really believed her daughter was doing well wherever she was.

Still, I couldn’t find peace. Why was Candace taken from me? Why didn’t she tell me about her daughter’s accident? Why didn’t she tell me she was so ill? And why didn’t she say goodbye?

Then I ran into a mutual acquaintance, who said, “We [Orthodox Jews] believe that if you keep asking why, God will take you to the other side to show you.”

I don’t appreciate using religion to scare people, but I stopped asking why immediately and instead decided to be more loving, kind, and spiritual, as Candace was.

In her memory.

But that didn’t prepare me for the news I was going to receive on an especially humid day in August 2015. Having a short vacation, I powered my cell phone only in the evening. That’s when I saw numerous messages saying, It’s urgent. Call me. Sarah’s husband.

Sarah was my best friend. I met her in my search for enlightenment right after my mandatory and prisonlike two years in the army. We bonded immediately. She was older than me and a single mom. She got married later on.

I loved her teenage daughter.

“Finally,” Sarah’s husband said when I called. “Why didn’t you call until now?”

As I was giving him a detailed answer, I suddenly stopped. “Wait,” I said. “You said in your messages it was urgent. What happened?”

“Your friend is gone,” he said.

“What?”

“She is dead. It was her heart. We just came back from her funeral.”

“Noooo…” My heart was shattered, and I felt terrible I wasn’t there for Sarah’s daughter at the funeral.

Two weeks ago, Nechama (meaning comfort), my and Sarah’s best friend, passed away abruptly.

Nechama suffered from a mental illness and helped many psychiatric patients rehabilitate. The memoir she’d written was published under an alias: her family was ashamed of her illness. 🙁

Sarah’s daughter was devastated. Nechama was like a second mother to her. We went to Nechama’s funeral together, holding hands like sisters.

Ruti, Necahma’s sister, was so moved when she saw us, she burst into tears.

“May I read the eulogy I wrote?” I asked.

“I’d love that,” Ruti replied.

Nechama deserved to have a huge funeral with many words of praise spoken in her memory.

She was a star.

And so was Sarah.

And so was Candace.

But there were very few people at Nechama’s funeral, and only Ruti and I spoke up.

I told those in attendance Nechama literally lit up the entire world. Then I thanked her for helping me and asked her forgiveness for not being there as I should have toward the end—not knowing it was the end.

Then I quoted Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” And I said I hoped we’d find a way to turn the wound, which was created by her abrupt passing, into light.

In her memory.

A couple days later, I called Ruti. “From now on, I belong to you,” I announced.

Ruti is a very rational person, but anyway, I said (hoping I seemed down to earth enough to pull this off), “I always say I get a glimpse of those who cross to the other side. Yesterday, I saw Sarah and Nechama, carefree and ecstatically happy together.”

Ruti laughed, so I continued. “Of course, I gave them a piece of my mind. While they are having the time of their afterlives/between lives over there, we are going through hell over here.” Ruti laughed again.

And it was her laughter that made the distance between the two worlds disappear.

***

If you want to fall in love with life again, read Kate Racculia’s absolutely delightful and brilliantly written novel This Must Be the Place: https://www.amazon.com/This-Must-Be-Place-Novel/dp/0312571666

The Creep

On Janet Reid’s recommendation, I recently read Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone. The result was a promise to myself I’d NEVER have the chutzpah to write again. Did I mention Lou Berney is a three-time Edgar-nominated author? Breaking my own word was hard, and I had to push myself to get any writing done. So make no promises, but if you haven’t read this book yet, order it now; thank me later. The creep will wait. https://www.amazon.com/Long-Faraway-Gone-Novel/dp/0062292439

The starring café staff:

Forest (eighteen!) – the bartender. His father is an Israeli poet, his mother is a Japanese healer, and he is an angel.

Paz – the server; an actress in the making. Sweet, brave, and opinionated, she always sits with me at the end of her shifts.

Mickey – the night-shift manager; a great problem solver. He is working on a project that will benefit many and is keeping me in the loop.

Thursday, midnight at the café:

I was sitting outdoors, struggling to write (after that promise). When I finished my coffee, I took the empty cup inside. I always put my dishes away. It makes Forest and Paz laugh, and they remind me it’s not my job.

The guy who was sitting behind me (thirty-something) with his friend, was gawking at me when I got back, just as he did when I left my seat.

He finally spoke up when I was seated again. “May I ask what you are writing?”

I turned around. He blushed. I told him.

Then Noam, the gawker, shared his interest in philosophy. Noam’s friend, Saul, a bald guy with soft green eyes (or empty? It was hard to tell), moved his chair closer. He asked Noam if he had ever run into me in the neighborhood gym (we all live in the same neighborhood).

“No,” Noam replied. “And I’d never forget her face if I saw her.” Then he blushed again.

We were the only customers left when a woman I knew from work ran toward me out of nowhere—or so it seemed—and hugged me.

“OMG, Lilac,” she cried out. “I spotted you from my date’s car. We were just passing by the café. I told him it was you and asked him to stop and wait for me.” She pointed in his direction. “I take seeing you as a good sign about this date.”

I wanted to tell her the only good sign was if her date behaved. But she’d already hurried back to him, leaving behind a gleaming trail of romantic promise.

Then the guys left, too.

As I walked home, the street was dark and empty. Suddenly, someone was riding his bike straight at me. I panicked, then realized it was Saul.

He stopped just before bumping into me and asked, “Did I scare you?”

“Yes, you did,” I replied.

He didn’t apologize, but rode right next to me. I stopped at the 24/7 supermarket, and he went on his way.

Friday, 09:00 p.m. at the café:

I was sitting indoors (it was raining), getting ready for a big writing night. Saul arrived with a new friend. They sat at a table right next to mine, talking to me as if it were a planned meeting.

I started to worry I’d never be able to write there again and shared my concerns with the staff.

Paz said Saul was never polite to her.

Forest listened in Forest’s way, making me feel nothing was as bad as it seemed because angels do exist.

Mickey said, “Use earphones when you write. If you see someone you know, take out only one earphone and say a polite, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Then put the earphone back in your ear immediately.”

I hate blocking my ears, but I bought earphones anyway (then forgot to use them).

Sunday, midnight at the café:

I was sitting outdoors when I spotted someone lurking in the shadows nearby and shooting strange glances at me. Then he walked back and forth by the café’s entrance, and then… he came straight at me and sat at my table.

Saul.

I closed my laptop. “I was just about to leave,” I said.

He shrugged.

I asked for the check. He asked for coffee and started to talk. He reminded me of Lana (only he was less of an endless talker and more of a creepy stalker).

I had to do something. But women are taught to be polite at all costs. Even when people are rude to us. (And even when they hurt us.)

I stood up and said, “I have to go now.”

Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. at the café:

When I spotted Saul coming toward me again, I said abrasively, “I’m writing.” Then I hugged my laptop protectively.

Mickey, who was standing nearby with his back turned to Saul, clapped his hands silently and mouthed, “Good for you.”

Saul left, and I didn’t see him again.

But I did see Noam, the gawker, the blushing one. The one who had said he’d never forget my face.

He completely ignored me.

What do you think Saul told him?

The Party

Previously on Writing & Interacting: I was invited to a New Year’s Eve party at Movieing, my favorite café in Tel Aviv. Some friends of mine were going to be the DJs. There was also another reason why I looked forward to this party…

New Year’s Eve parties are my only shot at glam in this country. And when I say “glam,” I don’t mean fancy dresses and ball gowns. My kind of glam is more along the lines of torn jeans, glittery or shining top, high-heeled boots (just a reminder: historically, men wore high heels first) and a flamboyant jacket.

But… on New Year’s Eve, I got caught up in work stuff and had to make some important phone calls – it was Saturday, and Sunday is no weekend here.

When I checked the time again, it wasn’t 8:00 pm or 9:00 pm as I had expected.

It was 11:45 pm.

At that point, my preparation for the party sucked. I had only managed to take a shower earlier on and to put on some clean and comfy…pajamas.

It was too early for glam then (I can’t believe I just said that… 🙂 ).

Plus, I still had to go to the neighborhood park before the party because I wanted to make wishes there for everyone–you included–just before the old turned into the new.

If I ran, it would take me three minutes to get there.

I speedily drew on crooked eyeliner, put tons of glitter on my eyelids and applied red lipstick (on my lips, in case you’re wondering). Then I hid my pajamas under a huge coat and put on my park boots. It was raining, hence probably muddy out there.

A quick glance at the mirror by the front door horrified me.

What I saw wasn’t glam: I saw a clown.

I grabbed a makeup wipe and removed most of the glitter and the red lipstick, quickly. I only left the crooked eyeliner on – I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

Then I ran to the park with my umbrella and a plastic bag so I could sit on a bench under a tree near the river close to the stars and make wishes.

When I checked the time again, it was already 12:30 am on January 1, 2017 — I had had many wishes to make. The world is in a terrible state.

I could still go home and change my clothes and get another shot at the red lipstick. But I didn’t have time to spare: I still had work awaiting me for Sunday.

I resolved to go to Movieing café in my pajamas (under my coat) with my muddy park boots and the crooked eyeliner. It would be dark. Nobody would notice me. I’d be there for five minutes tops, just to hear my DJ friends. Then I’d go home.

I guess I’m a pretty poor excuse for an extrovert. I like crowds only if there is a stage and I am standing on it. But when I arrived at the cafe, it wasn’t as crowded as I had thought it would be — probably because people work on Sundays. And…everyone seemed to have noticed me. They also seemed to be happy to see me, and they said they were glad I hadn’t brought my laptop along.

At least that’s what I thought that they said. Though wonderful, the music was loud.

“I never bring my laptop to parties,” I said defensively.

(I did bring a book to a glitzy party in LA once. It proved to be a guy-magnet, but that is another story.)

I ended up dancing with everyone at the café. I hadn’t danced so freely since I was in junior high, and Laura told me that I danced like a s***. That was before I owned my s***ness. And I don’t say it cynically. I mean it.

I feel like Stephen King’s protagonist in 11/22/63 when I go back in time like that. (Unlike his protagonist, I can’t physically go back to a time before I lived–but if it were for the sake of saving the world, time travel would be right up my alley.)

One of the staff members at the café gave me a chaser. I rarely drink, and I had hardly eaten all day. I was drunk in no time, but I still didn’t feel like going home.

Only there was something else I had to do that was much more important than work: I wanted to wish a Happy New Year to Janet Reid and her community.

I pulled myself together and left the café.

Back at home, I drank some water and fixed something light to eat.

It helped a little but not enough–unless I wanted to leave Janet a comment in a language I haven’t master. As for getting any work done, it was out of the question — I’d ruin everything.

I had to tell myself the usual before calling it a night: tomorrow is another day.

***

I know  this is not an easy day for my American friends. I stand by you and send you love and blessings. <3 <3 <3

Like Angels

It’s after midnight, and I’m at Movieing, my favorite café in Tel Aviv. I’m sitting outdoors next to the heater and writing. All the other customers have left, and the staff is getting ready for the New Year’s Eve party at the café tomorrow night. Two staff members whom I consider friends are going to be the party’s DJs  — I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

They are setting up the equipment and doing a sound check, playing great music. I put my laptop in its case and join them inside. Two women in their early twenties come in and start to dance  — I’m dancing too. They are laughing and giggling and smiling at me. Then they pose and take pictures, together and separately. Their laughter still lingers after they have gone.

I go to the neighborhood supermarket: it’s open late. There I run into Ethan.

I’m not sure if he remembers exactly what happened last summer and my role in it — he was too drunk then. But he says to the cashier, “Be nice to Lilac. She is my talisman.” So maybe he does remember.

I know Ethan from the neighborhood park. I go there to meditate every night, and he likes to be in nature. He has always seemed like a well-balanced man.

Except for last summer.

When I saw him then, he was very drunk. He was holding a translucent bag with a few beer bottles inside. Walking in an unstable way, he was heading to the park just as I was leaving. And he looked like a third of himself. He hadn’t looked like that when I’d seen him last, only a few weeks before.

“Are you OK, Ethan?”

“I haven’t been eating for three weeks since the accident,” he replied. “Only drinking beer.”

“What accident?”

“I fell on my head.”

I immediately thought to myself, “I must help him.” But how? For starters, I said, “I’ll go bring you some hummus.” We have the best hummus in my neighborhood.

“Thanks.” I was sure he’d decline.

He sat down on a bench, and I rushed over to the hummus place. But when I got back, he wasn’t there, and the park looked deserted. I felt stupid. He didn’t want the food. I shouldn’t have left him alone. I took a walk in the park. Maybe he had just moved to another bench. But I only saw a homeless man lying on the ground. I left the food next to him, and he jumped to his feet.

It was Ethan.

“You brought me food.” He said. “You are wonderful.”

Then he sat down again, lit a cigarette, and opened a can of beer.

I sat down next to him. “Forget the beer. Now you eat.”

“Nobody would do that for me, come back with food. Thank you.”

He ate very little, and then he said, “I want to die.”

“I know.”

“I have nothing to live for. I’m divorced, my kids are grownup. I left a beautiful apartment to my ex.”

“I’m older than your kids, and I still need my dad.”

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome,” he sang, slurring.

“We are going to the hospital now.”

“I don’t want to go. I want to sleep on the grass and never wake up.”

“It’s not going to happen. Not as long as I’m here, and I’m not leaving. You are not well. It’s not a good idea to make a major life decision when you are in distress.”

“I am in distress.”

“I know. Let’s call your ex-wife. Maybe she can take us to the hospital.” He was still seeing her and the kids daily.

“Why call her?”

“Because she knows your medical history.”

He gave me his phone.

“You can’t imagine how many times I came over to take him to the hospital,” she said after I awkwardly explained to her who I was, “and he changed his mind in the last minute. He is a grownup. He needs to decide first that he needs help.”

She hung up.

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome,” he was singing again.

“We’re going to leave now, Ethan.”

“I don’t have energy.”

“So lean on me.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You can’t do this to your kids. But you can’t do this to me, either. Rejections are not good for my ego.” I winked at him. He laughed. “So do it for your kids, but also for me.”

He agreed to lean on me then.

“Let’s call my ex. She’ll take us there.”

“But don’t pull the I-changed-my-mind shtick on me, OK?”

He laughed. “OK.” Then he called her.

Shortly after that, the three of us were walking to her car.

“You know that he needs a psychiatric hospital, Lilac,” she said.

“I know.”

“Why is Lilac not coming with us?” he asked as they got into her car. She didn’t reply, but she asked me not to go, which I thought was wise.

He was smiling and waving at me as they drove away.

***

Ethan has regained all of his lost weight, and he looks good. He also has stopped drinking.

Sometimes it is so easy to make a huge difference in someone’s life. We only need to care. Like angels.