I’ve watched sunrises and sunsets; over the water, spilling their gold in the streets, riches flooding around my feet. I’ve seen history folded between layers of baklava, and I’ve seen faith and art dripping from each bracelet that hangs from the hooks in the doorways of humble jewelry shops. I’ve seen filth in the garbage that lines the roads, sickness in the cats, too well-fed to die out. I’ve learned the names of my neighbors and shared the stories of locals. Here, in this oasis, peace between religions thrives, so far removed from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Prejudice and fear melt when you taste grilled meat. And here, wisdom crawls into your mind as you age. ______________________________
She sings when she does the laundry; American songs, the ones she grew up on. Some days I regret leaving her and her mother, but then I look at her, so beautiful and creative and resilient, and I wonder had I stayed, would she have turned out differently? Leah only visits in the summer, away at school the rest of the year, and it’s in those few months that I love her the most. Saturdays are slow, a nightcap over the roofs of houses, restfulness in the empty streets. I close my eyes, faking sleep as Leah tiptoes back inside, quietly closing the doors of the balcony behind her. I smile and roll over onto my side. ______________________________
Renata and I divorced when Leah was three. I wanted nothing to do with my ex-wife but would have given the world for my daughter.I traveled where I could, already getting too old to act so young and adventurous. I collected stories, and whenever I returned to Seattle to visit Leah, I shared them over plastic cups of cheap tomato soup from Pike Place. She resented me as a teenager, preferring the company of her friends and a boy named Chris, so I continued on my adventures.Until the accident. Hiking in the dried-paint coast of Masada, I neglected the signs that warned of landslides. Paralyzed for six months from the waist down, one year in painful rehabilitation, and to this day I walk with a limp and a cane. Only fifty-six, but I could be sixty-five, and I never went home to Seattle. ______________________________
“I can make us omelettes again tonight, if you want.” Leah sits at the edge of my bed, a scarf around her hair. Red and blue, the same colors as her soul, the same colors her mother and I carried to create her.
“An omelette sounds nice.” I smile as she stands to leave. I take her hand and meet her eyes before she goes.
“Take me somewhere tonight.” She shakes her head slowly, and I know what she’ll say before she moves her lips. “I’ll be fine, it doesn’t hurt anymore. I haven’t seen the water in days.”
She knows it’s a lie, that my legs bother me every day, but in her is embedded my same venturesome spirit, so she understands the pleading in my eyes.
“After we eat, I can take you out.” She stands to leave, her way of letting me know she’s displeased with my stubbornness. ______________________________
When I was bedridden in Tel Aviv for months, Leah only visited once. Other parents would have been disappointed, but I felt only pride. I cried tears of sadness when I understood I would never again get the adventure I’d craved for so long, but I cried tears of joy when Leah called to tell me she’d been accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago.
She used my pain to create masterpieces, used love and passion to paint with colors I never knew existed. My recovery was slow, like the months before June and those after September. My legs still ache daily, a reminder of my foolish recklessness. A reminder of how I should have been there on Leah’s sixteenth birthday, or how I should have attended her first showcase in a small café whose name neither of us can remember. ______________________________
The water is still and black after the sun sets. In the summer, night doesn’t fall until late, blanketing the worn-out town, its dirty side streets and onion-dome mosques. I ask myself how I encountered such fortune in a world of anger. My desert oasis, the first world I’ve traveled that will continue to hold my heart in its wrinkled, dusty hands. Leah holds my hand as she sits beside me and talks, just talks; about her courses, the pieces she’s creating, how she gets her curls to fall naturally, the boy in her Ancient History class she wants to ask out. And she tells me about Renata. The name doesn’t sting like it used to. I can rest now, at peace with the fact that the masterpiece Leah has become is far better than anything I could have created.
I’ve watched sunrises and sunsets; over these waters, spilling their gold in the streets, riches flooding around my feet, but tonight I sit in shades of black and blue. This inkpot bench, the shadows on my child’s face, and the echoes of quiet music coming from a window up a side street bring me home. ______________________________
Here, wisdom crawls into your mind as you age. I aged quicker than I should have, a curse that plagued me more than I cared to admit. Leah never came to visit after that summer, those few sun-dried months of warmth, and I suppose it’s because all young people learn to live their lives on their own.
Four years later, she graduated art school. Two years after that, she married a man she met in Amsterdam. Renata sent me photos from the wedding, and I cried myself to sleep because I knew why Leah didn’t want me there. Not because I was a nuisance, but because she knew I understood that she had to live her own adventures, without me at her side to guide her.
"I've had an incredible wanderlust from a very young age. My discoveries in Israel this past summer inspired this story." --Julia Multer from Lycée Françaisde Chicago