It seems silly, now that I think about it, but aside from the time that Elie was near Gaza during the war, the single most terrifying thing that has happened was the time when our house phone rang in the middle of the night. It happened twice in a row and I asked my husband to see if the caller ID identified the number.
He told me that it did, and the number calling us was Elie…but Elie didn’t talk as we listened, didn’t respond when we spoke. We hung up the phone and I started dialing his number, but he didn’t answer; I sent him a text message and tried again. In the minutes before he answered, my mind raced through horrifying possibilities – he’s laying somewhere hurt and he can’t talk; a war has started…my husband thought of the possibility of his having been kidnapped. (Night Terrors)
Trying to comfort me, my husband suggested that Elie had fallen asleep. And as his phone rang again, Elie finally answered. His voice was groggy; it was, as my husband suggested, an accidental call as Elie rolled over on his phone. It had been about two months since Israel launched a mission to bomb a building site in Syria – one that later was reported (by the UN and others) to contain nuclear radiation traces. Elie was up north that night; close to the Syrian border.
Later, the world would accept the Syrians were up to no good and Israel had stopped something very sinister. But that night (Just When You Thought It Was Safe), Elie was ordered to the fields with the troops. Their weapons aimed at Syria, ready to fire.
They fully expected Syrian planes to attack; knew there was the chance that war was coming towards them. I was at home, asleep, oblivious, as much of Israel was. After a few hours, Elie and about half the soldiers were told to stand down and get some rest while the second half stayed alert. Not knowing what would happen or if he’d have a chance to call us later to tell us that undoubtedly, plans had changed and he wouldn’t make the 6:00 a.m. bus, he called me at 4:00 a.m.
I woke out of a sound sleep, to hear Elie tell me that he wouldn’t make the bus. I knew something was wrong, but it was a brief conversation. He couldn’t tell me what happened, only that he wouldn’t be on the bus and that it was a country-wide alert.
Only about 12 hours later did the news begin to break that there had been an incident up north, where my son was. All I got from Elie was the strange acknowledgment that it wasn’t what I was hearing on the news, not exactly. It took him another week or so before he was able to get home; nights of worry and the memory of knowing something had happened, but not knowing what.
I thought of all of this and those two night-time calls because last night at 4:43 a.m., my husband’s cell phone rang and woke us up. He answered, but no one was there.
“Who was it?” I asked, knowing that no one had answered.
“Elie,” he answered and went back to sleep.
I stayed there for a few minutes wondering what to do; call him and risk waking him…or worse, interrupting him while he’s on patrol. What was missing this time was the terror. My mind didn’t travel that panicked road of imagination; I didn’t think of him hurt or worse.
I don’t know what this means – perhaps that I’ve grown to accept things more, that I’m more able to wait for horrible news and don’t need to anticipate it. I don’t know. I thought for a few minutes, decided not to call him, and went back to sleep. In the morning, time was short so I rushed to work, taught, had meetings, and finally had time to call Elie on my way home.
“Allo,” he answered.
“Hi, Elie – are you busy?”
“Nope,” he answered.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yup,” he answered. It was one of those conversations…
“So, what were you doing at 4:43 in the morning?”
“Why?” he asked a bit suspiciously.
“Where you asleep?”
“No,” he answered. “Why?”
“Because you called Abba,” I told him.
“Oh, oops,” he said.
I don’t know what he was doing, what patrol he was on, but I know that he’s safe; I know he’s fine. I know he’ll probably be out again tonight. Already as I closed the phone they were calling for him.
But what was perhaps the most satisfying of all, was that I seem to have reached a plateau. My son has gone on operations in Arab villages, found guns and explosives. My son has been to war; been called upon to defend his nation and in so doing, kill our enemy so that they would stop attacking us. My son, my soldier, my Elie.
It isn’t complacency – it isn’t that I am not afraid…it’s just that I guess I have come to realize the call I fear the most, isn’t Elie calling me in the middle of the night. I can handle his accidentally dialing our numbers any time, any place, any moment. I’ve heard explosions while I spoke to him – that was scary. I have had nights were I couldn’t reach him but knew he was out there amid the rockets and fighting – that was terrifying.
Now, I am…calmer and I recognize in myself the mother I have seen in others. I’ll tell this to another soldier’s mother and she will laugh; I’ll write this to a soldier’s father and he’ll understand. Others said I had joined their ranks long ago when Elie entered the army, but I didn’t feel it for myself. I wasn’t there.
They sent their sons to war and managed to function, while I held back and worried. They face each day with bravery and humor, while I hang back and worried. And sometime in the middle of the night, as I decided not to call Elie, I realized that the picture I had painted was all wrong.
They are not nearly as brave or unconcerned as I had imagined; they too walk around with a piece of themselves missing and separate. And I am not nearly as paralyzed as I once thought. I have arrived – after two years, into a family of soldiers’ parents.
Perhaps I shouldn’t write this next part, but I will anyway. There is a law for Murphy and a corollary. There is a truth that falls with time and happenstance. And so I will admit that the calm is fake. Rather, I am once again on the flat area of the roller coaster and allowing myself to believe I can coast to the end of the ride. I don’t know what lies ahead – more uphill travels or sudden falls but the flat place is calm and settling and for now, and somewhere around 4:43 in the morning last night, I decided that I’ll enjoy the ride.