Hannah and I met as nice young Jewish boys and girls do, at a mixer for the new students on a Hebrew language course, on a kibbutz in Israel. I was conscious of her eyes on me, but together with most of the other boys was dancing to the tune of Sarah, the Canadian girl with the sunny disposition. I felt the tension across the room, but was perhaps drawn to Sarah as much by the competition as by her candle flame.
Then we all went back to our dorm rooms, and started visiting each other. Hannah was in one room, being entertained by Joelle from France, soon followed by Motti the Moroccan. Our eyes met. But Motti’s mouth opened.
Interesting and amusing, a raconteur in a language foreign to him, Motti was everything that I wasn’t. Charming both Joelle and Hannah, I felt my chances slip away, still the boarding school boy who had no experience of the dance between the sexes. Even now at twenty. I knew as little about women as my uncle Joe, a literal monk.
But still the connection. Hannah stared at me across the bed, and Motti’s chatter disappeared into the air between us. We were alone together, words yet unspoken hanging in the air.
And then on to the party in the kibbutz bomb shelter. Flashing lights and Led Zeppelin. We danced and gasped a few words between songs, hungry to share each other.
We left the party together before it ended, or perhaps she left knowing I would follow. Down the hill to the huts where we students were housed, our rooms were side by side. I started to engage my courage, could I end this evening well? Would I kiss her goodnight at her door?
To be led in a daze through that door, as Hannah checked if we would be alone inside, and invited me in with a glance back and an outstretched hand.
Thirty years later, we were divorced. She had fallen out of love with me, and dumped me. In my pitiful state I desperately wanted her to still like me, for us to be friends if we could no longer be partners. She had left me once before, could I avert the severe decree, win her back? But this would have to be on more equal terms.
Shortly after she kicked me out she had a stroke. In hospital and rehab for 5 weeks, I looked after our youngest son in the old apartment. But when she came home she was left partially paralyzed on one side.
Some time later I came over to have dinner with the boys. She asked me for help while she prepared dinner, could I put up a curtain rod to replace one which kept falling down, since she could not?
Of course, I replied, desperate for any sign of approval from her. I picked up the new curtain rod, only to find out that it was unassembled, and had hardware that needed to be found. Both our sons, 23 and 16, had tried and failed to put it up.
I fixed it and climbed up on a step stool, but discovered that the old one was perfectly functional, just needing a few twists to increase the pressure.
To have Hannah fly out of the kitchen to berate me for being too lazy to get the job done, if I couldn’t do it she would find someone who could. As I am on top of a step stool with curtain rods and curtains in my hands.
Like lightning insight struck. This was about control. It had always been about control. This was always the dirty little secret at the core of our relationship, where I was forever and still the suitor seeking her approval.
I put up the new curtain rod, came down, and called our sons for dinner. And enjoyed the facsimile of a family meal.
And went home forever changed.