Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to the Rat Race

June 12, 2002

Dear Everyone,

Today, in the latest installment of my “Lives of Poor, Sad, Heroic Victims of Terror ®” series, I will present the following topic: “Mating habits of Victims of Terror”. Okay, okay I am exaggerating. I am not actually mating (and if I were, I really do have enough class not to talk about it in a public email). However, that primal urge to find a mate has raised its head again, and so I have found myself back in the dating game. To tell you the truth, I am not so happy about all this. I wish I did not want to date. When I was in the hospital, I was utterly suffused with the belief that if I never dated again and if I never met anyone it would be perfectly okay. I cannot describe how happy this made me—to think that I was done with being stressed about my love life! What an incredible feeling; it was almost worth going through the bombing just for that. My social worker and my shrink both warned me that 1) this was euphoria, 2) I felt it because I had had a near-death experience and 3) it would pass. Unfortunately for me, they were right on all counts, and here I am, a mere two months after the bombing, looking for men to date.

This is far more difficult than it sounds. To put it mildly, I am not looking my best right now. My face has been healing up very nicely, but my arms, legs and chest are taking their own sweet time and still look really dreadful. I suppose it would help me if I were to wear clothes that cover all of this unsightly stuff up but I refuse and stick to my sleeveless and slightly short sundresses. It is summer, the dresses are comfortable, and quite frankly, aside from the scarring, I look better in them than I have in years. The Machane Yehuda diet plan did wonders for my figure. As for people staring, I have adopted the attitude that if someone is disturbed by the scars that is their problem, and I can and will wear what I please. (It is times like this that my mother’s exhortations to stand up straight and hold my head high really have meaning—I would never be able to pull this off otherwise). Unfortunately, such bravado doesn’t really go over so well with members of the opposite sex, who tend to prefer that skin either be unblemished, and if not that, tastefully hidden. So, in my case, at least, men are not about to ask me out on the basis of physical appeal. If I could knock ‘em dead with my charm that might help, but after a couple of months of extremely elevated stress levels...suffice it to say that charm is in short supply as well. No, the key for me to getting dates is for the guy to neither see nor speak to me until the moment we meet.

Fortunately, there is a solution for people like me: Jdate. Invest a piddling amount of time to set up a profile and voila!—you too can have access to the wide range of fish in the J-date sea I am pleased to report that I have succeeded in snagging a few of them. In the process, however, I have discovered significant differences between the rules of the dating game for Gila the Poor, Sad, Heroic Victim of Terror ® versus those I played by back when I was a normal person. If the dating game was tough to win before, these new rules make it nearly impossible.

So what do I mean by new rules? Well, first of all, I can no longer sit like a normal person. If I did, I would not hear a word the guy says. So, instead of displaying a relaxed, confident yet approachable posture and maintaining direct eye contact, I sit with one elbow propped up on the table and my head angled so that my left ear, which is better, is thrust up and out half way across the table in the guy's direction. This is in the vain hope that this will help me hear whatever it is that he is saying. Then, in order to achieve eye contact, I have to roll my eyeballs in his direction until I am staring at him from the corners of my eyes. This is not a particularly alluring pose. Second, despite the fact that I am not religious and rarely date religious guys, I now dress like a religious person on dates. Even I admit that scars on dates are bad. Where I used to tailor my outfit for the occasion, the guy, or the weather, my primary consideration nowadays is whether all the fleshy bits are hidden. I wear pants or a long skirt and a long sleeved shirt. Sometimes I will be wild, crazy and daring and wear ¾ sleeves. I gave some thought to wearing one of those full face and body outfits that devout Muslim women wear. But that would result in excessive police investigations and I would never make it to the date on time, so I scrapped that idea.

The third and most important change is in what I talk about on dates. On my dates, we talk about one topic: the Bombing. Bombingbombingbombingbombing. This is due in part because I tell the guys before they meet me that I was injured, and so they arrive with a raging curiosity that must be satisfied. (I would not be surprised if some of them agree to meet me because then they can say that they once went out with a Victim of Terror). That being said, I cannot put the blame solely on the man. For the last two months I have been a full-time bombing victim and have spent a good percentage of my waking hours bouncing from doctor to doctor to social worker to speaking engagement to yet another doctor. What else do I have to talk about?

So here's the drill. I go out, I meet the guy, we go through the usual pleasantries, he interviews me about the bombing, we say our goodbyes and I go home. No doubt he sees my enveloping clothes and imagines the wreckage hiding beneath. There are no second dates. At least, that was the pattern until the last guy I was supposed to meet. We had arranged to meet at a local coffee shop. I arrived first and grabbed a table. I had decided on ¾ sleeves, exposing some small ones on my forearms. The guy arrived, walked over to the table and sat down. He looked down at my arms.

“Are these from the bombing?”

“Yes.”

He looked at the scars thoughtfully. “Ummm, you know, I really think that zeh lo zeh (this isn’t it)”. How can you argue with that? We stood up, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways.

Damn it. Didn't even get a coffee out of that one….
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The usual caveats apply:

1) This is from six years ago.
2) My hearing is better.
3) My scars have faded; I can now dress like a whore of Babylon with confidence.
4) Now, the guys do not ask me out because I am a victim of terror. Now they ask me out because I dress like a whore of Babylon! Just kidding! I mean, I could, but this is Tel Aviv. No one would notice….
5) I no longer talk about The Bombing on dates, unless I want to scare someone off. Which does happen from time to time.
6) I talk about accounting instead. It is hard to say what scares them off faster.
7) Jdate still sucks. I still have a membership. Which makes me the worlds biggest freier.

Monday, April 21, 2008

מועדים לשמחה

As promised, something Pesach related. I wrote the following piece a few years ago. It is based on some of the midrashim (oral history) surrounding the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus from Egypt.
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My husband is working in the far fields now. I see him only rarely and when I do see him, our relations are strained. He is broken by the labor and broken by Pharaoh’s edict. He arrives, he bathes, he sits at the table. I feed him the food I have worked laboriously to collect and even more laboriously to prepare. He eats it as though it were dust. I have dressed carefully for him, but he does not notice that either. I tell him “you took me back as your wife. You are supposed to be my husband again.” His response is always the same, that Amram can say what he wants, but Amran's words do not change Pharaoh’s decree. Why bring a child into the world just to kill it? It does me no good to bring up Miriam’s argument, that perhaps we will have a daughter we can keep. Him: So we will die out in the next generation, a nation of barren old women? So the conversation goes, week after week, for months. He comes and he leaves and each week he is further and further away from me. He will not touch me.

Goshen is full of women like me. I can see it in the faces of the women when their husbands are arriving, and even more after they leave. I can feel it in the tension between us. We argue over little things. This one grabbed the largest watermelon even though the other had a hand on it first. That one’s child cries too loudly at night. A brood of bickering, cackling hens is what we have become. There is a woman who specializes in spells and potions and she has done a brisk business. I went to see her more than once myself. But that is falling off now. We all realize that no potion will break this spell. So the ill will and the fever grows.

Today he is back in the far fields. He left yesterday, this visit no different from the previous ones. I am hot with anger and frustration as I go about my work today and when I arrive at the Nile with my water jar it comes to my mind to step in. Maybe the waters will ease my temper. The water swishes cool and soothing around the skin of my feet and calves. And then, what is this? Beneath the surface of the water I see glowing swarms of sleek fish. The river is so full of them that they look like a sheet of molten silver under a clear glass layer of water. Have they always been there? They could not have been; I have never noticed them before. But here they are now, and they tease and play, nibbling gently on this toe and gliding seductively across the skin of my ankle. They give me ideas. Without leaving the river, I kneel down and lower my jug into the water. The fishes jump through the mouth of the jug joyfully, as though beckoned. I stand up and raise the pitcher to my shoulder and as I walk home I hear the water sloshing in the jug and imagine the fish dancing in the water, twisting and spinning in their play. When I arrive at the house, I can hardly believe the quantity of fish I have collected. In the end, I have to refill my jug three times; otherwise I will not have enough water for the day.

Now I have a plan and a purpose. Half of the fish I take to the market. Even dead in the basket the fish somehow retain their fresh, lively appearance and within minutes my basket is empty. With the coins I have received in exchange I buy a jug of wine. I do not buy the the largest jug, but rather one of good quality, the type that makes one joyous as it goes down. Then to my home, where I clean the rest of the fish. I spend hours in labor and all the while I am praying….a mindless, heartfelt please G-d, please. I am not even sure what I am asking for, really.

At last I am done. The pot of cooked fish is gently loaded into one basket, and the jug into another. I am at the door and ready to go, but wait! Back when we were first wed, long before the edict, my husband used to tease me. I would be arranging my hair in the mirror and he would grab it from me. “Oh no, I am far more beautiful than you!” he would cry, leering into the mirror. I would snatch it back. “You? No, I am the most beautiful”. Thus we would banter until he would stop and say “Yes, you are the most beautiful”. And I would respond, “No, it is you”. And then…well, it does not help to think about it now…. Or maybe it does? I slip the mirror into my pocket and with the baskets in my hands, set off to find my husband. Perhaps, perhaps, there is hope for us yet. Who knows what futures one can see in a sheet of glowing silver.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Place

This post will come across as a lot less whiney and pathetic if read in context. I recommend reading this and possibly also this or this before you read this.
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Last Friday, I went to an al ha'aish (barbeque) with my team from work. With the exception of myself and one other guy, everyone was there with his or her spouse or significant other. One couple brought along their two year old son. With the exception of our hosts, who are in their 60's, I was the oldest one there. I was also, incidentally, the worst dressed.

Clearly, this was a recipe for the dinner from hell with a nightcap of serious depression. However, to my great surprise, it was perfectly fine. I had a lovely time chatting with my co-workers. The food was excellent. The music was kept at level friendly to the hearing impaired. And somehow, by some freakish miracle, none of the couples were prone to excessive PDA's (the presence of our boss may have had something to do with that). I really enjoyed myself. Shocking!

My favorite part of the meal was the location My boss's parents live out in the country, and they invited us to hold our dinner in the garden of their home. As a result, in addition to being able to enjoy perfect weather and exquisite surroundings, we were treated to a particularly Israeli phenomenon. Unlike the States, where work events are work events, in Israel the lines get blurred. Accordingly, every so often the dinner party would swell to include this or that sibling, friend or neighbor who had heard that my boss was in for the evening and had decided to take advantage of the opportunity to pop over to say hello. The entire scene was so quintessentially Israeli that it took my breath away. I watched as these random people came and went and I thought to myself: this is the Israel I wanted.

This is the Israel I wanted. The small Israel—where families stay close because you really cannot move that far away. The small Israel—where the friends you have at 60 are the ones you had in elementary school or the army. The small, close, deep rooted Israel. Where people know who they are, and where they belong. The Israel where everyone knows each other, and where everyone is connected.

I have yet to really find this Israel. I am not connected. I flit. I exist on the surface and on the edges. I am not pinned down by anyone or anything.

This is the life I wanted: to be pinned down. To never have to seriously consider what I am doing for Pesach or the Hagim. To be in a position where I can finally say that, after seventeen years during which every single Pesach Seder has been celebrated at a different location and often with strangers—that all future Seders would be mine, in my place.

Of course, when I tell people this, they simply do not understand. "Well then, have your own Seder!" "Build a community with other singles!" I seriously wonder if people who make those types of comments have actually ever thought about what the hell they are saying. I mean, how, exactly, does one build a community out of people who are all desperately trying to leave it? Out of people who see it as a place to hang out until the day the Mr. or Ms. Right arrives and real life begins? That is not a community. That is a halfway house.

That is not what I am looking for. I want a home.

This year, after years of threatening to do so, I finally said: enough. I am not attending a Seder. My house will be cleaned in the traditionally fanatical and insane manner. As tradition demands, I will throw away all of my hametz and quite a few things that are actually not hametz, on the suspicion that they might have, at some point, been in the close proximity of hametz, and absorbed hametz vibes. My cabinets will be taped closed and every surface in my kitchen will be covered with aluminum foil. For a week I will live on matzah, eggs, salad and tuna. Pesach will be in full effect. It will just be Seder-free.

This is not a request for an invitation. I do not want yet another person's Seder. I want my own Seder, with my own people, people who will be there with me next year. And if G-d does not like it, well, Saturday was my bombing anniversary. He can always strike me down.

Or perhaps, for once, finally, it could be my turn, and He could lift me up…and put me in my place.
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Okay, the next post will be something a bit different (and far less introspective) in honor of Pesach, and then we will return to the regularly scheduled bombing. I will try to focus on funny stuff for a bit….



Monday, April 14, 2008

Family Function

Many years ago, when I was eight or nine or thereabouts, I had a nightmare. I was in a tent in the middle of the Sahara, alone and crying. I did not cry from hunger or thirst. Nor was I afraid for my life. Rather, I sobbed because I had been abandoned far out in the desert and was completely alone.

Now, it goes without saying that my family would never have left me out in the desert, as much as that may have seemed an attractive option from time to time. That being said, it is the case that we are unusually independent of one another, to the extent that when I was debating whether to make aliyah, the distance from my family was simply not a factor in the decision-making equation. Nor was distance was the reason for my family’s lack of enthusiasm about the move. Had I chosen to move to a less embattled but far more distant zone like Australia, no one would have had a problem. (If anything, my sister would have very pleased, as Australia is a place she likes to visit and Israel is not.) This is not because we do not love each other. We do. We just have an extreme laissez faire attitude toward familial love. We love each other better without too many strings and at a physical and emotional distance. We do not talk on the phone all the time, we do not require up-to-the-minute updates on each others’ lives and we often have only the foggiest of ideas of what the other members of the family are doing or in what state or country they are doing it.

I state this as a descriptive fact, and not as a complaint. This is who we are. I do not know how I would manage if we were any other way. I am independent and I like to be independent and to do and to come and to go as I please. I take great pride in what I have accomplished and I take particular pride in the fact that I have done most of it alone. My family is dysfunctional? Perhaps…but then, what other type of family would I suit?

From time to time, however, the isolation I felt as in that long-ago dream engulfs me again and I find myself aching for a sense of connection and envying those who have it. My friend Kayla receives a weekly call from home…and I find myself asking why my parents do not call me; why I always have to call them. Gayle's brother came for a week to visit her…and I know that the chances that my siblings will visit me are slim. On these days, my glorious independence feels like a burden, a punishment, and a curse, and the inner drive to marry just so that I will be fully connected to someone, anyone, nearly overwhelms me. But then there are other days where I find myself wondering if I am wired for marriage at all. How can I give up my freedom, after years of living with no limitations at all?

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I know that this is the point where I am supposed to tell you how this is how it used to be, but that all of this changed with the bombing. You want to read about how my family and I were shocked into learning the errors of our ways and became warm, loving and close. You want me to tell you how my siblings and I now talk on the phone on a weekly basis, and share the most minute details of our lives and how my sister is now my best friend.

Yeah, well....sorry. Learn to live with disappointment.

I can tell you that there have been changes, and the changes have been good. My father came to be with me when I was injured. For the first time in my adult life, he saw me on my turf, with my friends. He saw me as an adult, and not the hysterical, somewhat loopy young woman I had been the last time we had lived under one roof. Before I left the States, I used to dread going home to visit because, although I loved and respected him, we just had nothing to say to each other. And then, all of a sudden, we were forced to spend a week together. It was grand. It was the nicest time I had had with him in years. My relationship with my siblings also underwent a revitalization made up of the realization of how easily our relationships could have been ended combined with more time spent speaking to each other than any of us had spent in years.

So there is no question that the bombing has made a positive impact. And yet I know that the end result is likely to disappoint. Yes, my family is closer, but we are closer in our own, distant, hands- off way. There was an initial surge in communication for the first few months after I was injured. That died down. At this point, I communicate via phone or email with the various family members about once every one to two months. I suppose you could say that we still do not speak much, but thanks to the bombing, we like each other a lot more when we do speak.

So it is better, but it is not ideal—or perhaps it is? Many times when isolation comes, I tell myself that not only am I wishing for something that will simply never be mine; I am wishing for something I might not want to be mine. If I could speak to that child in the desert today, I would ask her if she were crying for something she really needs, or for something she thinks that everyone else has. Why do my parents, my siblings and I not talk to each other every day? Because we do not need to. In fact, that much communication would probably drive us crazy. We love each other, but we love each other for who and what we are: independent, self-sufficient, and somewhat distant—the type of family who will be there if you really, truly, desperately need them, and will not get in the way the rest of the time.

But if that child could speak to me, she would probably ask why it is so important to me that I need nothing? Why is it so important to me to feel I have gotten a happy ending? Why is it so important to me to be able to say: 'this is how we have ended up, and therefore this must be best, this must be fine'? Why is it so wrong to cry and say, 'This is bad. I want something else. I want something that I do not have'?

To her I can only answer: “I cannot turn back the clock”. I am not trying to force out a happy ending. Rather I am acknowledging that this is the ending. We are both the creators and the creations of our families. After years of building and being built by a family that seems uniquely designed to pop out separate, self-sufficient units, how can I be anything less than separate and self-sufficient? Does that make me or us dysfunctional? Perhaps, or perhaps my family is crafted to function for us and us alone, and I have been crafted to function within it.

Who would I be if I weren’t me? Who else can I be but me?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Security

July 2002

Today, at long last, I visited Rivka, my audiologist to receive my hearing aid. Did you know that hearing aids are actually programmed to match an individual’s hearing loss? It was news to me as well. Anyway, this takes a few minutes, and requires concentration, so I sat quietly in her office as she worked. As I waited, I found my attention drawn by a poster put out by one of the companies that manufactures hearing aids. The poster was comprised of pictures of happy people of all ages, engaged in a variety of activities, interspersed with pictures of hearing aids. Do not ask me how I knew, but I could tell that all of the people were American. It is hard to explain; there was just something so clean and wholesome about the people and the photo backgrounds that it was really self-evident.

For the first time, I found myself a bit homesick and longing for the good ol’ US of A. To be in a big country, far from enemies. I could live in the middle of the States, in Chicago, far from all borders, and not have that feeling that someone was going to attack me. If the US were invaded, it would take the invaders some time to get to Chicago, and the US would surely defeat them before they got too far. The only one with half a chance to get close would be Canada, and while they hold us in some disdain, I do not perceive them as being too much of an actual threat. I could go to the mall without anyone checking my bag and ride public transportation without checking every face (even those of the children) for a suspicious look. Just to relax, just a little. It would be so easy.

I sat in her office, and looked at all those nice faces, those happy, smiling, open faces of people who doubtless all lived in nice houses in the suburbs or perhaps even in small, friendly towns out in the Midwest…and I missed the security. I missed the feeling of feeling safe. Even after September 11th, you surely cannot know what it is like to live here. There I sat, a young-ish woman getting a hearing aid because my eardrums are shot to hell and my teeth hurt because my nerves are regenerating and my right eye gets tired and cuts out at about 9:30 every night and my body is covered with ugly scars and I am trying to get back to work but it is tough with all of the appointments and the paperwork and I want to find a job at a bigger firm and move up a bit and develop an actual career here but maybe I should stay put until the economy improves and who knows when that will be and the exchange rate has gone to hell in a hand basket and so my rent has gone up a couple hundred shekels already and after missing so much work because of the bombing who knows when I will be up for a raise again and I hope I can find another job in January and move to Tel Aviv but hey, man makes plans and God laughs and maybe I will be bombed again and so it really is not a good thing to plan too much.

I am stressed and I am tired and for the first time in my life, I really have a bit of a clue as to what foreigners perceive when they look at America and Americans. Here I am already so tired and dreaming of security and idealizing life in the United States…and I have only just started living in Israel. I am still two weeks shy of a year here.

Rivka finished programming the hearing aid. “Okay, let me show you how to use it”. I tore my eyes away from the poster, listened carefully to the instructions, booked a follow-up appointment and stuck the hearing aid in my bag and went to my home, in Jerusalem, in Israel.

I chose this home, with all that it entails. I do not regret it, but sometimes I wish that it, or I, could just all go away for a while.

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First, a caveat…. This piece is historical; it was written in July 2002. As of today:
1) My hearing is better, but still not great. I also look completely normal. I see my scars, but you would not.
2) I have a good job at one of the big accounting firms
3) The job comes complete with a very respectable salary
4) The economy is (tfu tfu tfu) doing well
5) I live in Tel Aviv

Of course, each step to this point was laced with panic…but that is another story, or at least a separate post.

Second, this seems to be a good point to give a public thank-you to my bosses of that time, Zvi Marsh and Shea Klein, who not only held my job for me, but who continued to give me raises on schedule, without any consideration to the fact that I was barely in the office for four months. May G-d be as kind to you as you were kind to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lack of actual posts recently; I realize that not posting regularly is one of bloggings cardinal sins. I have been going through some "sturm und drang" here (various causes-none of them particularly earth-shattering or interesting) and have not been in a writing mode. Instead, I have been in an "eat lots of chocolate and pout in front of the TV" mode. But I promise to return shortly; please do not forget me.

On a more positive note, thanks to CK of Jewlicious who helped me to set up domain names and redirect them to here. Now, if you go to http://www.myshrapnel.com/ or http://www.myshrapnel.net/, you will end up here.

Domain names! All mine! I feel so very hip and high-tech. If only I could figure out how to download a normal ring-tone to my cellphone. Or for that matter, how to use the damn thing. They upgraded our phones at work to the 3rd generation ones. I really am not making this up--it took me a HALF HOUR to figure out how to make a call from it.

Walla—CK, next time I am in Jerusalem, you can give me a cell-phone tutorial, yes?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Another non-sequitor--fun links

Did a bit of web-surfing this morning and collected some funky new links for my blogroll, which I am now presenting for your reading pleasure.

I also corrected the Washington Gardener link. The blog is the internet incarnation of the Washington Gardener magazine, which was dreamed up and is produced by my friend Kathy Jentz. I have known Kathy since high school; she was one of the few people who could find something to like in me even in those days when I had no social skills to speak of. (I was a bit of a pill in high school, to put it mildly). A couple years back she decided to find a job she could be passionate about, and the Washington Gardener was born. If you are in DC, and into gardening, well, 'tis the season. Check her out!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hearing-update

Thanks from some gentle prodding (read "haranguing") from my Dutch correspondent, the hearing aid is actually getting some play today. In addition, yesterday I finally called National Insurance to find out the status on my request for a new hearing aid. I should have a response in a week.

I honestly do not know why I do not wear my hearing aid. I am not embarrassed by it. Nor is it terribly uncomfortable. I just do not put it on in the morning. I wear my glasses every day; I cannot see without them. But the hearing aid I just leave to the side. Every so often I will resolve to start wearing it and will go to put it on only to discover that the little plastic connecting tube has dried out and I cannot wear the aid until the tube is replaced. This task, of course, is then put off for months or a year. (No, I am not exaggerating). The only reason that the aid is functional now is because I had to bring it with me when I went to the hearing aid shop to get the price quote for the new hearing aid. They took care of the fix for me.

The stupid thing is that I actually worked in the same building as a hearing-aid shop for a year and a half…and it still took me months to get it fixed. If my glasses broke, on the other hand, I would take care of that immediately.

I should point out that my hearing is not that bad; my situation is nothing like it was six years ago, in the months immediately after the bombing. However the loss does continue to impact my day-to-day life. Here is a sample: yesterday I…

… ate lunch with a bunch of co-workers in the company lunch room. I could not hear much because there was too much noise. So I sat quietly and did not participate in the conversation. A hearing aid would not have helped. Hearing aids, at least my current model, amplify all sounds, and not only the ones you want to hear.

…participated on a conference call where I had to guess what was being said based on the context of the 70% I did hear. The call was in Hebrew, which makes it more difficult; I can fudge it better in English. A hearing aid would have helped.

...had various encounters where someone said something to me (cab drivers, co-workers, friends, random people) and because I did not hear them, I just smiled and nodded and made a pleasant, non-committal reply.

….went to a friend's housewarming party. Ladeene is one of those super-considerate types, and purposely had no music playing. Even so, I had to focus intensely to hear, and could only participate in conversations in my immediate vicinity, and where the speaker was to my left (good ear). A hearing aid would not have helped.

…had various "I'm sorry, could you repeat that " moments. A hearing aid may or may not have helped; it depends on the level of background noise.

…spoke on a cell-phone with varying levels of success, including one conversation where my friend put me on speaker. I am not sure why, but it is harder for me to hear on a cell-phone than on a land-line. A hearing aid would not have helped; I use the cell phone on my good ear, and I still have problems.

The point of all this is that, for me, all of this is me, and this is normal. I AM now quieter. I AM the type of person who does not go to parties or large social gatherings, and who does not enjoy any sort of function in a crowded hall, be it an oneg Shabbat, a wedding, a work function, or anything else that combines large numbers of people with large quantities of sound. I AM the type of person who has to have the television or radio on high volume and cannot participate in conversations from the back seat of a car. This IS me. This IS normal.

I know this, intellectually. And even so, six years after the bombing, I have neither completely accepted nor internalized this new being. I am still embarrassed by it. I still apologize for it. I still feel like a stupid hypochondriac. I still tell myself "Nu, Gila, you are exaggerating. You are imagining things. You are just being lazy". I am still ashamed to go to any Bekol events (Israeli organization for the deaf and hard of hearing)…. I go, and I see the people with the real problems, who have serious hearing losses…and I am sure that they look down on me as a stupid, hysterical whiner. What do I know about hearing losses? Mind you, I have asked the people at Bekol, and they have expressed the exact opposite sentiment, and they are all really lovely and helpful—this is my insanity.

I still differentiate between "Gila" and "hearing loss".

I read or heard somewhere that it takes seven years to really adjust to a disability and to see it as part of who you are. I have another year to go.

Right now, my hearing aid is in. I can hear myself typing. It makes a lovely click-clack sound. I really love the sound of typing….

(To the person who inspired this post—and you know who you are—thank you. I promise I will keep your story in mind. For whatever it is worth, I will try to make some good out of it).

Shout out to Professor Bernstein

It is high-time for another random non-sequitor as a break from the heavy stuff. This time--a shout out to one of the professors at the University of Delaware (my alma mater).

If anyone knows Dr. Bernstein of the UD history department, please tell him that:

1) Ten years after writing my last paper for him, I still do not use contractions in my writing (he forbade it).

2) I still remember some of his quips.

3) The A- I got from him on my term paper is one of the proudest accomplishments of my college career. (Trust me--you sweated blood for those grades.... It was like trying to get an A on one of Dr. Peretta's accounting exams. Did that too, of course. :p)

4) I am aware that he would greatly disapprove of his name appearing in the same article as the expression "shout-out".

:)

I was thinking about him just now. I was writing, and ruthlessly breaking out all contractions and he just sprang into my mind.

Oh-he probably will not remember me, but just in case, back then I went by my English name, Jennifer.

Okay--off to cook some pancakes and muffins! Tonight is bombing anniversary paaaahty time!

(Dr. Bernstein would no doubt disapprove of the term "paaaahty" as well. Trust me Dr. Bernstein, the pancakes and muffins will make it worth the bad English).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hearing

Today, I am going to jump back in time again, to an article I wrote in June 2002. And also again, I am going to start with an update, just so no one feels compelled to sob over my plight.

The holes in my eardrums are now closed. In the end, only one ear required surgery. Today, the hearing in my left ear is considered to be largely within the normal range, with only a mild hearing loss. My right ear was less fortunate. It did require surgery, and what is more, the surgery made my hearing worse and not better. The loss in my right ear is considered moderate to severe. I own a hearing aid for my right ear, and I should use it but I do not. (Do not ask me why—I really do not know). Anyway, I am in the process of looking into getting a new hearing aid—a small one that fits right in the ear. I am hoping that something small, sophisticated and comfortable might be able to breach this inexplicable mental block. In the meantime, with some minor adjustments for the disability, I function quite well sans machinery, though I suspect that my friends and co-workers would be quite happy if I start to use a hearing aid and stop asking them to repeat themselves. (Though as a reminder to any lurking friends—I still will not be able to hear you at restaurants or weddings. Hearing aids not helpful at noisy events….)

One more thing: there is no recovery process here. The recovery process is over. My hearing is not going to get better. It just is.

On the bright side, I have gotten smarter about what I tell people. Now, when someone asks me why my hearing is lousy, I adopt a surprised look, as though this seems like such a weird questions to ask, shrug my shoulders and reply: "oh, it has been that way for years". Which is true. Can I help it if they assume that I was born with a hearing loss?
______________________________________________________________
June 2002

I can hear the telephone. It goes “ring ring ring”.

The toaster also makes a ringing sound when the toast is done toasting.

Birds say “tweet tweet” and cats say “meow”. A bird is singing outside my window right now. I can hear it. The world is full of wonderful, interesting sounds, and I can hear them all.

Yes, I finally got my hearing aids.

I have what is called sub-total perforations in both of my eardrums from the bombing. I have a mild to moderate hearing loss in my left ear, and moderate to moderate/severe hearing loss in the right. My doctors say the holes and the loss are correctable, although that will require two surgeries over the course of a year. The hearing aids are to get me through in the meantime. The surgeries are considered to be routine, as surgeries go, and the loss is not considered severe. All in all, this is a relatively minor injury. However, this “minor” injury has had a profound, and even shocking, effect on my personality.

To understand the changes, it helps to understand what it means to have a “hearing loss”, and I will give credit to my audiologist, Rivka,, for explaining this to me. Eardrums perform two major functions. One, the eardrums amplify sounds as they come into your ears. Secondly, our eardrums allow us to filter incoming sounds. Your eardrums are the tools that allow you to sit at a table and simultaneously engage in conversation with A while half-listening to a conversation between B and C and blocking out the conversation between D and E.

Put it all together, and a hole in one’s eardrum means you cannot hear half of what is going on, and what you can hear, you cannot understand.

What has this meant for me? To start with the basics, if I am speaking one-on-one with a person, I generally have to ask them to speak up and to speak very clearly. The existence of any background noise, (i.e. music, traffic or another conversation) makes it very difficult for me to hear because I no longer have the ability to filter out unwanted sounds. Even the sound of my own chewing is disruptive and I have to avoid crunchy foods when having conversations. I find that I hear best when speaking with one or a few individuals, face to face, without background noise, and without people talking over one another. It is almost impossible to have a conversation with a person if they leave the room-even if they are speaking loudly. Rivka told me that this is because I am probably doing far more subconscious lip reading than I realize. Actually, once she said this, I realized that this is why my ability to hear has picked up with the improvement in my vision. For that matter, it explains why my ability to hear English is less impaired than my ability to hear Hebrew. I have 25 more years experience in English than in Hebrew.

But if the physical aspects of hearing loss are challenging, the mental and emotional impact has been devastating. I am isolated. The heart of the social scene in Jerusalem is the Shabbat meal, and the heart of the Shabbat meal is the conversation. I cannot participate in these conversations anymore because I cannot hear well enough to follow. Even if I try to speak only with the person next to me, the conversation tends to be somewhat stilted as the buzz of the surrounding conversations impedes my ability to hear the person I am speaking with. The same limitation applies to virtually every social situation involving group conversations, be it chatting with people after services when everyone gathers outside the synagogue to shmooze, going out with friends to a café or even just having a simple get-together in someone's living room. Sure I can participate, so long as no one minds if I interrupt the flow of the conversation every 5 seconds to ask “What? What?” And that is assuming that the language being spoken is English. If the conversation is in Hebrew…well, forget about it.

There is really nothing I can do about the situation, and so more and more, I find myself sitting quietly and saying nothing. What is the point? I do not even sing anymore. For those of you unfamiliar with Shabbat meals, it is the tradition to sing songs during the meal. However, when I sing now, I cannot hear the other singers, making it impossible for me to sing with them. Sometimes I mouth the words. More often, I do not bother.

As a result, those who have met me at group events since the bombing would probably describe me as quiet and shy. And indeed, I have become shy. I no longer feel comfortable engaging new people in conversations. Admittedly, even before the bombing I lacked self-confidence with Israelis, but now I feel that way with everyone. I feel stupid, awkward, tongue-tied and boring. The fact that I am self-conscious about my looks does not help, of course. So now, when I go to group events, I no longer try to meet new people. Instead, I hang out with the people I know. If I do not know anyone, I find a corner and sit there quietly with a vague and hopefully pleasant expression on my face, catching conversations as I can, and waiting for the time that I can escape and go home.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a Shabbat meal hosted by an retired couple that makes a habit of inviting singles to join them for meals. The guests included a married couple, myself and four other singles my age, —two women and two men—and like me English speaking immigrants. The two women were well dressed, well spoken, attractive, and exuded intelligence and confidence. Then there was me: scars on my face which I have yet to figure out how to cover, bad hair, a stupid looking headband, glasses, and of course, half deaf. The other guests were soon engaged in an animated conversation. I could not follow. What was I supposed to do? Stand up and scream that I may look like shit and be deaf as a doorknob, but hey, behind it all is intelligent, interesting, witty person? Hell, I do not know that I believe that myself. I did try. I made an attempt to talk to the guy next to me, but I could think of nothing to say aside from “oh, you are from Toronto? What a beautiful city”.

Oh yeah! That is some witty and intelligent conversation there! My, I must be the world's biggest dolt.

Maybe I am imagining things? Maybe I was always this boring, this retreating, this shy, this tongue-tied? Why do I feel like I was been transformed into someone else? I know I used to be too aggressive, and too argumentative, but I toned that down a bit and learned to be nicer. I know I used to feel stupid with Israelis, but I thought that was just with Israelis, and that it was because of the language barrier. Was I always like this? I couldn’t have been. There is no way I could have as involved as I was in D.C., had as many friends as I did in D.C., if I were really like this. I keep trying to remind myself of that.

But now I have hearing aids. They don’t help me filter sounds, but they do amplify sounds so that conversations are easier to follow. I wore them last night when I was at dinner with my cousins. So long as the background noise isn’t too bad, I can even follow multi-sided conversations. Okay-so I have a tool to bring back my hearing. All I need now is a tool to bring back me.