S. is 21.
Last week, she told me she is quitting. She is tired of being an acronym. We sat in the neighborhood coffee and talked about life. S. told me she wanted to travel, to take the ordinary track of those who wish to be extraordinary: Starting from New Zealand, moving to India, then visiting Cambodia and Laos for a while.
I told her that all is not Laost, but she had enough and did not laugh. "This is my last chance," she said. "After that, life starts. You go to university, marry, have kids, and you cannot do that."
I got a bit stuck there. What can you tell a girl who just described your life as some archeological relic? How can you tell her that there is no such thing as "last chance"?
Once upon a time
Many years ago, I met a girl. She had a scooter, long legs, and short hair. She was a photographer for Bamahane (IDF magazine), I came to write a story, and she made me laugh. A year later, we already loved on a regular basis and even rented a very small apartment on Shenkin Street, Tel Aviv.
At the time, there were far less leftists and more schnitzels there. We had a good time, but we both knew it would not last because she was going to study art in New York. Her parents already took a loan to pay her tuition, and she had a friend with a place she could crash in for the first month, and the house filled with books of English courses with long names.
A month before she left, I took her out to a restaurant, that no longer exists, on Brenner Street. I ordered a bottle of wine I could not afford, but it did not work because there was already something between us that we could not put into words. We sipped our wine in silence, and when the main course came, I said I wanted to say something. She looked at me, and I said, "What about me?"
"What do you mean? What about you?" she asked
Look, I told her, let's not fool ourselves. You are going across the ocean for three years and I will stay here. At first, we will write long letters and spend hours on the phone. Then the letters will grow shorter and we will remember that transatlantic calls are expensive.
And I will visit you once and you'll be glad I did, but you will be at school and I will spend lonely days in cold New York and feel like an idiot. In the end, I will meet someone here and you will meet someone there. I will feel I missed my chance with you, and you will tell your friends that if you met me five years later, I would surely be the love of your life.
Well, the truth is that we are here now, and you are the love of my life, and I want to tell you one last time, don’t go. There are plenty of universities, but love is very rare.
The L word
For me, it was a relatively long speech, so I shut up. Truth is I was a bit ashamed; first because I said the L word twice - which is something I normally say every other year and only to women I impregnate. Second because, as a proud feminist, I believe that women should find fulfillment, study, be ambitious and strong, and succeed.
And whoever said that she must stay here for us to be together? Why can't I follow her and work for Moishe Movers? Alas, we both knew this will not happen because, though I was only 25, I already had a child here and real men always look after their children.
She was silent too. It must have been only for five minutes, but I felt like she took a week's Vipasana retreat. Then she said she needed time to think about this.
Happily ever after
This, my dear S., happened 18 years ago. That woman - to whom I sometimes refer to as "my spouse, may she live long" - did not go. A year later, we were married, and we have two children, and we made the life that you now want to escape from and go as far as Cambodia.
Her hair is longer now, and I made her sell the scooter because I am a coward, but she still is the most beautiful woman I ever saw and my best friend. It seems that I made the longest journey of my life staying put.
I have not been 21 for quite a long time, but there is one thing I still remember: Everyone is different at 21 (it is very tempting to say that everyone is different at 43, but it is not true; we are all just as boring).
It is perfectly fine to feel like flying across the Himalayas, but no one can convince me that everyone feels like that. I cannot believe that all who reach this age simply must try acid mushrooms in India and then sell cheap pictures on the streets of Japan.
I cannot accept that everyone feels the very same need to vanish for a year for a touch of Goa. It is statistically improbable that there is not one person aged 21 who says, "The truth is that I want to study nano-technology and I can't wait to see why these things are so tiny."
At 21, people are supposed to be suspicious. They are supposed to be original. They should search for their own path, even if this path stretches between two mattresses in a rented apartment. Find God, go mad, write a script, settle in a Galilee outpost, and become so special that instead of traveling to India, you will go to Paris to see why Renoir was so fond of lilies.
I once wrote in a song for Rita, "every time you live, you miss out on different lives." Are you sure that you are making your own choice here, or are you taking everyone's path?
She thought about this for a moment and said she was going anyway. Why? I asked. She said, "To find that kind of love."