Authors: Simone Elkeles
In a matter of seconds parents can change the course of your life.
How does a relatively smart sixteen-year-old girl get stuck in a sucky situation she can't get out of? Well, as I sit at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on a Monday afternoon during the one hour and forty-five minute delay, I think about the past twenty-four hours of my now messed-up life.
I was sitting in my room yesterday when my biological father, Ron, called. No, you don't get it...Ron
calls. Well, unless it's my birthday, and that was eight months ago.
You see, after their affair in college, my mom found out she was pregnant. She comes from money, and Ron ...well, he doesn't. Mom, with her parents pushing her
along, told Ron it would be best if he didn't have a big part in our lives. Boy, were they wrong. But the worst part is he gave up without even trying.
I know he puts money into an account for me. He also comes by to take me out to dinner for my birthdays. But so what? I want a father who'll always be there for me.
He used to come around more, but I finally told him to leave me alone so my mom could find me a real dad. I didn't really mean it; I guess I was just trying to test him. He failed miserably.
Well, the guy phones this time and tells my mom he wants to take me to Israel.
You know, that little country in the Middle East that causes so much controversy. You don't have to TiVo the news to know Israel is a hotbed of international hostility.
I know I'm off on a tangent, so let's get back to what happened. My mom hands me the phone without so much as an "it's your dad" or "it's the guy who I had a one-night stand with, but never married" to warn me it was
I still remember what he said. "Hi, Amy. It's Ron."
"Who?" I answer.
I'm not trying to be a smartass, it just doesn't register that the guy who gave me fifty percent of my genes is actually calling me.
"Ron ...Ron Barak," he says a bit louder and slower as if I'm a complete imbecile.
I freeze and end up saying nothing. Believe it or not, sometimes saying nothing actually works in my favor. I've learned this from years of practice. It makes people nervous
and, well, better them than me. I huff loudly to let him know I'm still on the line.
"Um, I just wanted you to know
dat your grand mudder
is sick," he says in his Israeli accent.
A faceless image of a small white-haired old lady who smells like baby powder and mildew, and whose life's goal is baking chocolate chip cookies, briefly races across my mind.
"I didn't know I had a grandmother," I say, emphasizing the 'th' because Ron, like every other Israeli I've ever met, can't say the 'th'--that sound is not in their language.
My mom's mom died shortly after I was born so I was one of those kids without a grandma. A pang of sorrow and self-pity from never knowing I had a grandma and now knowing she's 'sick' makes me feel yucky. But I shove those feelings into the back of my head where they're safe.
Ron clears his throat. "She lives in Israel and, uh, I'm going for the summer. I'd like to take you with me."
"I'm not Jewish," I blurt out.
A little sound, like one of pain, escapes from his mouth before he says, "You don't have to be Jewish to go to Israel, Amy."
And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know Israel is smack dab in the middle of a war zone.
A war zone!
"Thanks for the offer, but I'm going to tennis camp this summer. Tell
I hope she gets over her illness. Bye," I say and hang up.
Wouldn't you know it, not more than four seconds go by before the phone rings again. I know it's Ron. A little ironic he's hardly called twice in a year and here he is calling twice in a matter of seconds.
My mom picks up the phone in the living room. I try to listen through my bedroom door. I can't hear much. Just mumble, mumble, mumble. After about forty long minutes she comes knocking at my door and tells me to pack for Israel.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Amy, you can't avoid him forever. It's not fair."
Not fair? I cross my arms in front of my chest. "Excuse me, what's not fair is that you two didn't even
and live like parents. Don't talk to me about fairness."
I know I'm sixteen and should be over it by now, but I'm not. I never said I was perfect.
"Life isn't simple, you'll realize that when you're older," she says. "We've all made mistakes in the past, but it's time to mend them. You're going. It's already settled."
Panic starts to set in and I decide to take the guilt trip route.
"I'll be killed. Unless that's what you ultimately want--"
"Amy, stop the dramatics. He's promised me he'll keep you safe. It'll be a great experience."
I try for another two hours to get out of it, I really do. I should have known trying to argue with my mom would get me nothing except a sore throat.
I decide to call my best friend, Jessica. Supportive, understanding Jessica. "Hey, Amy, what's up?" a cheery voice answers on the other end of the line. Gotta love caller ID.
"My parents decided to ruin my life," I tell her.
"What do you mean 'parents'? Ron called?"
"Oh, yeah, he called. And somehow he convinced my mom to cancel my summer plans so he could take me to Israel. Could you just die?"
"Um, you don't really want to hear my opinion, Amy. Trust me."
My eyebrows furrow as I slowly realize Jessica, my very dearest friend in the world, isn't going to back me up one hundred and ten percent.
I say it slowly so she gets the full impact.
Is that a laugh I hear on the other end of the line?
"Are you kidding?" Jessica says. "Heck, my mom goes to Tel Aviv every year to go shopping. She says they have the clearest diamonds ever cut. You know the little black dress I
She got it for me there. They have the
European styles and--"
"I need support here, Jess, not some crap about diamonds and clothes," I say, cutting off her 'Israel is all that' speech. Jeez!
"Sorry. You're right," she says.
"Don't you ever watch the news?"
"Sure, Israel has its share of problems. But my parents say a lot of what we see on TV is propaganda. Just don't
hang out at bus stops or go to coffee shops. Ron will keep you safe."
"Ha," I say.
"Are you mad at me?" Jess asks. "I could lie and tell you your life is ruined beyond repair. Would that make you feel better?"
Jessica is the only person who can make fun of me and get away with it. "You're just a laugh a minute, Jess. You know I'd never get mad at you, you're my BFF."
Although what does it say about our friendship when my BFF has no problems sending me into a war zone?
Less than twenty-four hours later I'm sitting in the airport waiting for our El Al Israel Airlines flight to start boarding.
Looking around, I watch a guy in a dark suit as he crouches on the floor and examines the underside of each row of benches. If he finds a bomb, will he know how to disarm it?
I glance at my biological father, the almost non-existent man in my life, who's reading the newspaper. He tried talking to me on the way to the airport. I cut him off by putting on my headphones and listening to my iPod.
As if he knows I'm staring at him, he puts his paper down and turns my way. His hair is short. It's thick and dark, just like mine. I know if he'd grow it out it would be curly, too. As hard as it is, I straighten my curly hair every morning. I hate my hair.
My mom's eyes are green, mine are blue. People say my eyes are such a bright blue they glow. I consider my eyes my best feature.
Unfortunately, the main thing I inherited from Mom is a big chest. Besides changing my hair, I'd like to have smaller boobs. When I play tennis, they get in the way. Have you ever tried a two-handed backhand with mongo boobs? They seriously should have handicaps in tennis for people with big chests.
When I get older maybe I'll get a reduction. But Jessica said during a boob reduction the doctor removes your whole areola ...you know, that pinky part in the middle of your boob, and then after they take out the excess boob they reattach the areola.
I don't think I'd like my pinky parts detached at all.
As I think about detached areolas, I realize Ron is still looking at me. Although from the expression on his face he probably thinks I'm disgusted with
I can't possibly explain I'm thinking of what I'd actually look like with detached pinky parts.
Anyway, I'm still mad at him for bringing me on this stupid trip in the first place. Because of him, I had to drop out of tennis camp this summer. Which means I probably won't make it on the high school team when tryouts start in the fall. I totally want to make the varsity team.
To make matters worse, Mitch, my boyfriend, won't even know I'm gone. He went camping with his dad for a couple weeks on a 'cell phone free' vacation. It's still a new
relationship. If we're not together the rest of the summer, he just might find someone else who will be there for him.
I don't even know why Ron wants me to go with him. He doesn't even like me. Mom probably wanted me out of the house so she could have privacy with her latest guy.
Her current boyfriend, Marc with a 'c', thinks he's
the one. As if.
Doesn't he realize once Mom meets someone bigger or better he's out of the picture?
"I'm going to the bathroom," I say to Ron.
I really don't have to go, but I take my purse and walk down the hallway. When I get out of Ron's line of vision, I take out my trusty cell phone and keep walking. Mom got me the cell "for emergencies only."
I'm definitely feeling an emergency coming on.
Being on an airplane for twelve hours should be outlawed.
I walk farther down the hallway and dial Jessica's number.
"Please be home," I pray as I stop by a window and look out at airplanes parked at their gates.
I usually don't pray; it's not in my nature. But desperate times call for desperate measures and I'm nothing if not flexible. Well, sometimes.
I feel better already hearing her voice.
"Yeah, it's me. My flight is delayed."
"Are you still freaking out?"
"Yes. Tell me again why I shouldn't be worried?"
"Amy, it won't be so bad. If there was anything I could do ..."
It's time to tell Jess of my plan. I just thought of it.
one thing ..."
"What is it?"
"Come get me at the airport. International terminal. I'll be hiding by the, uh, Air Iberia arrivals. Wait for me there."
"Then I'll somehow get to go to tennis camp and ...oh, I don't know. Ron wants me to be a perfect daughter, but he's the crappiest dad ever--"
My cell phone is being snatched out of my hand, cutting my 'crappy dad' speech short. The snatcher, of course, is none other than the crapper himself.
"Hey, give that back!" I say.
"Hello? Who is dis?" Ron barks into my phone like an army commander with a speech impediment.
I can't hear Jessica. I hope she doesn't answer him.
"Jessica, she'll call you when she can," he says, then snaps the cover shut.
He didn't even give me a chance to tell her to call Mitch so he knows I'm gone for the summer.
"Why? Why are you ruining my summer and taking me to Israel?"
"Because I want you to meet your
before it's too late. That's why."
So this has nothing to do with Ron wanting to get to know me and spend time with me.
No from now on I want to be the father I always should have been
I shouldn't be disappointed, but I am.
"Boarding now for El Al flight 001 to Tel Aviv with a connection in Newark," a voice with an Israeli accent blasts through the loudspeaker. "Passengers in rows
to forty-five please have your boarding cards and passports out for the attendants."
"Tell you what," Ron says. "I'll give you back the phone if you'll cooperate and get on that plane. Deal?"
As if I have any other option.
"Fine," I say and hold out my hand. At least I'll have my little connection to sanity and independence.
He hands me the phone and I reluctantly follow him on the plane.
Ron and I are assigned to row sixty, the last row. I'm kind of glad nobody will be sitting behind me so I can rest comfortably on the twelve-hour flight to Tel Aviv.
Unless, of course, a bomb is planted on the plane or terrorists hijack it and we die before we even get to the
As I think about terrorists on the plane, I look over at Ron.
"I heard there are air marshals on all El Al flights," I say as I shove my backpack under the seat in front of me. "Is it true?"
I don't know if I've ever actually started a conversation with Ron before, and he seems stunned. He looks around to see if I'm asking someone else the question before he answers.
"El Al has always had air marshals."
"How many?" Because if there's only one air marshall against five terrorists, the air marshall is toast.
"A lot. Don't worry, El Al's security is second to none."
"Uh huh," I say, not very convinced as I look to my left at a guy with a mono-brow who looks pretty suspicious. Mr. Mono-brow smiles at me. His smile fades as I realize Ron is glaring at him.
After so many years with Ron as a 'birthday only' figure in my life, I feel like he doesn't have any right to say he's my dad. When I was younger and he came to take me for my annual birthday outing, I worshipped the ground he walked on. He was like this superhero who granted my every wish and treated me like a "princess for a day."
But by the time I realized a father should actually be there for you
day, I started resenting him. Last year I actually blew him off. I snuck out of the house, left a note I'd gone out with friends, and came back after dark.
My mom isn't easy. She throws men away for sport. But from what I know of Ron, he was once a commando in the Israeli Defense Forces.
A commando who's too chickenshit to fight for marriage to a woman he impregnated isn't worth much in my book.
I won't be like my mother when I'm older. I won't be like Ron, either.
Before long, we land in Newark to pick up more passengers. I've never eaten sardines, but when people start piling in and filling each and every empty spot on the plane, the disgusting little fishes come to mind. It boggles my mind how many people pack the plane to fly to a place on the warning list for American citizens.
When we lift off, I push that little button to recline my seat because I'm starting to get tired.
Only since we have the back row, I realize pretty quickly the back row
Okay, now this isn't funny. It's not just a short flight to Orlando. This is a whopping twelve-hour flight to a place I don't want to go to in the first place to meet a sick grandmother I didn't know existed in the first place. (That's two first places, I know, but at this point nothing in my life that bugs me is second place ... it
takes first place.)
As I try and force the chair to recline for the fifth time and the person in front of me reclines theirs so far back I hardly have room for my legs, this feeling in the pit of my stomach makes me want to cry. I can't help it. I hate this plane, I hate Mom for making me come on this stupid trip, and I hate Ron for just about everything else.
After a few hours I get up to go to the bathroom, this time for real. Unfortunately, at least one hundred people have already used the facilities and the floor is full of little pieces of unflushed toilet paper shreds. To top it off (in the first place) the floor is full of these little droplets. Are the droplets pee or water? My Dansko clogs are not used to being subjected to this kind of abuse.
I go back to my seat and to my astonishment I'm finally able to get into a comfortable, albeit upright, sleeping position. Sleep right now would be bliss. The captain turns off all the lights and I close my eyes.
Someone yells, and I'm jerked awake from dreamland. Right above me, like practically in my face, is a Hasidic
Jew. You know, one of those guys who wears a black hat and coat and has long, curly sideburns running down his face and neck. Jessica (she's Jewish) told me they're ultra, ultra religious and try to follow all of God's six hundred or so rules. I have enough trouble following my mom's rules, let alone six hundred of God's.
It takes me a minute to realize his eyes are closed and he's praying. But he's not praying in his seat, he's praying right over mine. He's bobbing up and down, his eyes are shut, and his face is in total concentration. In fact, as my eyes focus in the dark, I realize all of the Hasidic Jews have congregated at the back of the plane to pray.
But it doesn't sound like prayers at all, more like some chant mixed with mumbling. They might not even be praying. But then one of the guys, I guess he's the leader, says a couple of words loudly and they all respond and keep on doing their mumbling chant. Yeah, they're praying.
Do they all have to do it at the same time?
And what are those straps on the back of their hands and arms or the box strapped to their forehead?
Now that I watch them more intently, I admire the men for being so devoted to their religion they would pray instead of sleep. Don't get me wrong, I admire it, but I wouldn't do it.
I look over at Ron, sound asleep. He's a good-looking man, if you like the dark, brooding kind of guy. Which I don't. My mother is pastey white and has blond hair and green eyes. She was probably in her "opposite" stage when she and my dad got together that fateful night.
I wonder if Ron wishes I wasn't born. If he'd chosen to stay at his cousin's dorm room at the University of Illinois, instead of following my mom to her sorority house seventeen years ago, then he wouldn't be stuck with a kid who resented him.
His eyes suddenly open and I sit back in my chair, pretending to watch the television screen in front of me without the headphones on my ears. I have one good thing to say about El Al Israel Airline--it has personal television screens embedded into the backs of every single seat. A miracle in its own right.
"I think you'll like it there," Ron says. "Even though I've lived in America for seventeen years, Israel will always be apart of me."
"And ...?" I say.
He shifts in his seat and looks at me straight on. "And your
will want it to be a part of you, too. Don't disappoint her."
I blink and give him my famous sneer, the one where my top lip curls up just the right amount. "You've got to be kidding. Don't disappoint
. I didn't know she existed before yesterday. What about her disappointing
If you haven't forgotten, she hasn't been the doting grandma."
Believe me, I know people who have doting grandmas. Jessica's Grandma Pearl spent four years knitting her a blanket.
And she's got arthritis. I wonder what Grandma Pearl would think if she knew Jessica lost her virginity to Michael Greenberg under the blanket she spent four years knitting with her crooked fingers.
Ron sighs and turns his attention to his little personal television screen. I note he's not wearing the headphones, either.
I sit back. There's a long silence, so long I think if I look at him I'll find him sleeping again.
"What do I call her?" I ask, still staring at the screen in front of me.
"She'll like it if you call her
It means grandma in Hebrew."
I say quietly to myself, trying out how the word sounds coming out of my mouth. Glancing over at the Sperm Donor, I notice he's nodding. His chin is raised and he's giving me a little smile like he's proud. Ugh!
Looking forward, I turn my personal TV to the channel showing how much longer until we land in Israel. Four hours and fifty-five minutes.
By this time the Hasidic Jews have gone back to their seats. I close my eyes again, thankfully drifting off to sleep.
Before I know it, the flight attendant says something in Hebrew. I wait until the information is repeated in English.
"We're starting our descent into Tel Aviv, please put your seats in the upright position ..."
News flash--my seat has been in the upright position for the whole twelve-hour flight!