Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stories For Another Day

'RE: Everything is fine' - read the subject line. I'd sent an email to my aunt Francesca a few days ago, in a feeble attempt to make contact with her and ensure everyone is alright in Israel. Feeble because Francesca's letters are always few and far between. She used to joke with me that she wrote them in the bathroom because it was the only place that she could find solace to do so. I was five years old when I met Francesca and she became the woman who set the standard for what I thought a woman should be. She wore torn blue jeans and cowboy boots and she said bad words and called me "buddy". She wore long, dangly necklaces and flashy bracelets and she was louder and more extreme than my mother. I latched on to her. Francesca and my mother worked together at the day school in our cafeteria. I ran to her during lunches to tell her about my day and parents would mistake her for my mother, as my mother reminds me to this day. When she moved to Florida I cried until I couldn't cry anymore. She wasn't just my aunt. She was my friend. I had few friends at day school - and less in jr. high. Francesca would talk to me for hours about anything and everything. What I was reading, writing and drawing. She was the Lorelai Gilmore to my Rory. She'd make coke floats after 10 pm and say at least once during every conversation, "you're going to write a book someday, Jessie, there's a plan for you." As an adult - my relationship with her changed. I pushed her away when she disclosed my depression to my mother from an ocean away in Israel. Letters of desperation that I'd sent to her day after day after day. I couldn't see the me that was in those letters. And she got one every day for weeks. She feared for me. I saw a betrayal of confidence. Another someone in my life who didn't understand. I stopped writing. But she never acted as though she noticed. She just kept in touch. Waited for me to learn my lesson. And I did. Ten years had gone by before I saw her next - at my grandfather's funeral - in the midst of a huge family rift that pit aunts against uncles and brothers against sisters and Francesca against the world. Her stubbornness is her trademark and something I even tried to mimic. Her strength is in her passion. It fuels everything she does, from committing to her husband for better or worse to being a fiercely independent woman and a mother to her children. Her passion went into every inch of her and came out in artwork and writing and illustration. Old black and white pictures of her delighted me. She was on horseback, holding up a broken finger with a triumphant smile, suited up in her Israeli Army uniform... She has never followed any sort of creed but her own. To this day. When I saw her during the funeral she barely spoke to me at first. Cold and withdrawn, it didn't stop me from staying up with her all night. We stole a few moments away from the mourning by visiting Barnes & Noble where we carried stacks of books to the cafe and didn't even bother to look at them because we were too busy catching up on each other's lives. I told her about my guilt over my grandfather's death and my self-doubt and prevalent fear and she told me how she came to peace with destiny and fate and the choices we make. And I was in full blown envy all over again. When I pulled books on Ghandi and India and Peru - she told me it was the start of something. Something big. She was right. Somewhere I'd changed. I went from wanting to write about the world - to wanting to see it for myself. And it feels almost destined. Even now, as selfish as it sounds, it's not the worry over the war that gets me - it's not being there. Her email is a surprise. Never mind the war, how are things going with me, she wonders. I'm so thankful to hear she's alright. "it's weird how human beings can get used to this crazy life," she writes. I want her to tell me more. I want to tell her everything. I want to discuss how critical I can be. How exciting and frightening it is to follow a dream. I want to sit and discuss and laugh and be how we are. But there's a war and an ocean between us. And for now, those are all stories for another day.

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