Encounter Without End

By Natan Alterman

Translated by Baila Eisen

 

Because you stormed upon me, I will strum you forever

In vain will I create a wall for you, in vain will I place doors!

My desire is for you and for me is your garden

And as for me my body is dizzy, slipping away from hands!

 

For the books only you are the sin and the judge.

Sudden, forever; my eyes are stricken by you,

Time battles in the streets, bleeding raspberry sunsets,

Silence me and bind me into sheaves.

 

Don’t implore to those who retreat from approaching.

I will be alone, a wanderer in your lands.

My prayer doesn’t request a thing,

My prayer is one, and it says: Here, for you!

 

To the ends of sorrow, to the fountains of night

In the iron streets, empty and long

My God commanded me to carry for your children,

From my immense destitution, almonds and raisins.

 

It is good that our heart is still entrapped by your hands,

Don’t have pity on it, to let it flee in its exhaustion,

Don’t let it rest so that it should fall dark like a room

Without the stars that were left outside.

 

There the moon burns like the kiss of a slaughteress,

There a damp firmament thunders its cough,

There a sycamore will drop me a leaf like a handkerchief

And I will stoop to it and lift it up.

 

And I know that for the voice of the drum,

In the cities of commerce they are silent and pained.

One day I will fall again with a wounded head to pluck

This smile of ours from between the chariots.

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“When a Nation is Occupied, Resistance is Justified!”: Justice and the Free Palestine Movement

The following is a picture that was recently posted on the Israel Defense Forces Facebook page.

TW: Blood, death

palestine 1.png

This picture shows, on the one hand, the bloody scene of a Jewish home in the West Bank where 3 Israelis were killed last Friday. It also shows several Palestinians celebrating that death.

While this picture raises a lot of questions, I think that some of the comments on the picture are even more interesting than the image itself. I would like to focus on two of these comments:

palestine 2.png

These commentators argue that because Israel is oppressing Palestine, any bloodshed that goes the other way is, as Feehily puts it, “resistance.” It is a justified, noble fight against the oppressors, and should be encouraged. Like the Gazans in the picture, Feehily celebrates the actions of the killer, who is fighting the good fight for freedom.

This is a common argument presented by pro-Palestinians, and can be summed up in one sentence that is often chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies in America: “When a nation is occupied, resistance is justified!” This sentence, when thoroughly taken apart, means the following: “Because Palestinians are oppressed by Israel, they should kill Israelis whenever possible.”

A lot of the liberal Americans that I know buy into this argument. In fact, the first time I heard this chant was at a rally protesting an Israeli speaker at Columbia University.

Because people I know and relate to take this argument seriously, I would like to address it seriously. This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conflict. Here are some thoughts that I’ve been considering, that maybe you haven’t been.

I want to start with Donald Trump.

Let’s say our lovely new president really went out and built that wall he keeps talking about.

Let’s say he kicked out all of the Mexican-Americans currently living in the United States of America.

And let’s say – it wouldn’t be so difficult to picture, would it? – that a small group of Mexican-Americans started fighting back. That they snuck into the country every chance they got, with one purpose: to kill Americans.

Let’s say they killed a pregnant woman and her two-year-old child.

Let’s say they killed a young man a month after his wedding.

Let’s say they killed any American they could find – black, white, anyone.

Let’s say they even killed a French tourist who was visiting the country for a week.

Let’s say they even, accidentally, killed an old Mexican-American man without realizing that he was one of their own.

Let’s say they killed you. Yes, you, reading this. You, the liberal. You, who cried when Trump was elected, real tears of fear and shame. They killed you, because you were living in America. Dead. No more life. The end.

Yesterday, in a city near Tel Aviv, a Muslim man was killed by a Muslim terrorist. The two were in a restaurant in a mixed Jewish-Muslim area, and the terrorist assumed that the man was a Jew. This is not the first time this has occurred.

Last year, in the West Bank, an American tourist was shot by a terrorist as he drove to do community service in Alon Shvut. He did not have Israeli citizenship. He was just visiting.

And often, constantly, the victims of terrorism are young childrenparents, and  grandparents.

One of the main tenements of democracy is a fair trial.

The problem with terrorism is that there is no trial. No judge approves terror victims before they are killed. No judge says, “This is a right-wing Israeli who believes in the occupation.”

There is no justice in terrorism.

Instead, people are killed randomly. No child chose to be born into an Israeli family. But children are killed. No Muslim man supports oppression. But Muslim men are killed.

Terrorism is senseless. It is random. It takes innocent lives. And, at the end of the day, it achieves nothing.

שפיל פורים

(הפעולות כתובות בסוגריים)

אסתר: שלום, זה התחרות יופי? החיילים שחטפו אותי מהבית של בן דוד שלי הכריחו אותי לבוא לפה.
כרוז: אה…זה תחרות, כן. לא תחרות יופי, אבל לא משנה. בואי תצרפי עם כולן.
אסתר: אוקי.
כרוז: ששש
בנות: ששש
אסתר: אבל למה התחרו-
כולם: ש-ש-ש-ש-ש!
כרוז: שלום בנות, וברוכות הבאות לתחרות. יש לכם 12 חודשים עד למפגש עם הרבנית. בששה החודשים הראשונים, תוכלו להשתמש בכל הספרים שאתן צריכות. בששה האחרונים, יהיה לכן הזדמנות ללמוד מהמורים הכי טובים בעולם. טוב, נראה לי שזה הכל. באו לקחת ספרים.
(כל אחת עולה לשולחן ולוקחת הרבה ספרים, אז יוצאת. אסתר לוקחת ספר אחד – הספר של הרב סולובייציק).
כרוז: מה אסתר, רק ספר אחד?
אסתר: אני לא צריכה יותר מזה.
(אסתר יוצאת. אסתי באה לבמה ויושבת על כיסא בצד).
כרוז: אוקי בנות, היום הגדול הגיעה! הבת הראשונה נא הגיעה לבמה.

(בת א עולה לבמה. היא ממש נלהבת וצועקת כל השיחה)
אסתי: שלום, מה שלומך?
א: מה זה משנה? לא כדאי לבזבז את הזמן עם שאלות טריוויאליות, זה ביטול תורה. לי יש שאלה יותר חשובה: למה חג פורים נקבע ביום שהיהודים נחו, אחרי שכבר נצחו את המלחמה?! והנה התשובה: זה קשור לניצחון טוטלי על עמלק! במלחמה, הרגנו את עמלק בגוף! במנוחה שלנו, באי-דאגה, אנחנו הורגים אפילו את הפחד שעמלק ער בנו! עכשיו יש לי שאלה יותר חשובה! מה הבעיה שלנו עם עמלק? מה הם עשו לנו? המם? (מחכה כמה שניות)
אסתי: אהם, למדתי מהרב עמיטל ש…
א: גם אני למדתי את זה! אני למדתי את כל התשובות! עשיתי שבוע שאלות מלא על השאלה הזאת! ואף אחת מהתשובות לא מספקת אותי! עכשיו, אני עוזבת! אני עושה עליה ברגל לספריה הקדושה, ספריית ישיבת הגוש! אני אשאר שם עד שאני מוצאת תשובה! שלום!
(היא צועדת מהבמה)
אסתי: חבל, היא הייתה טובה. שפיצית כזה.

(בת ב עולה לבמה עם כוס מים ביד, מתנהגת כמו שיכורה)
ב: שלום תתסי – אה, סתתי – אסתי! שלום אסתי! (נראה ממש גאה בעצמה שהיא זכרה את השם)
אסתי: כן, נו
ב: אוקי! הנה היא – הדבר תורה שלי! הדבר תורה טכי הובה – גיהק – הכי טובה בעולם! סבבה. אז יש לנו חיוב לשתות בפורים. אבל מה בדיוק צריכים לעשות? הרמבם כותב שחייבים לישון עד שהולכים לשתות. גיהק. השולחן ערוך חושב שחייבים לשתות עד שלא יודעים את ההבדל בין “ברוך מרדכי” ל”ארור המן”. גיהק. ואני – לי יש חידוש! ממהממ.
(היא עוצרת לדבר. אחרי כמה שניות, אסתי מדברת)
אסתי: ומה החידוש שלך?
ב: כן, החידוש! את מכירה את המשפט בגמרא שמתארת את המצוה לשתות בפורים?
אסתי: בוודאי.
ב: טוב, אני אלמד אותך. המשפט הולך ככה: (היא מרימה את הידיים בצורה דרמתית) “מיחייב איש – אישה – אינשהו – איניש – לבסומי בפור-ר-ר-רים. לא. פוריאאא. עד ללא – עד בלא – עד דלא ידע (היא עוצרת לנשום). חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי! ולי ולדעתי – הנה החידוש – בן אדם צריך להשתכר עד שהוא לא יכול להגיד את המשפט המטומטם הזה, אפילו עם עזרה משטיינזלץ! תודה רבה! (היא משתחווה)
אסתי: אממ…תודה. נחזור אליך.
ב: אוקי, ביייי! (עוזבת בדרך שיכרותי)

(בת ג. עולה לבמה)
ג: “וישב מרדכי אל שער המלך.” חז”ל מסבירים שהמילה “שב” כוונתה היא שב בתשובה. למה חז”ל חתרו?
(הבת מתחילה להסביר במבט חולמני ובקול ישנוני ולפעמים מתרגש ככל שדבר התורה ממשיך)
לאחר שהמן לקח את מרדכי ברחבי העיר והכריז ” כך יעשה אשר המלך חפץ ביקרו” ונתן לו כבוד מלכים, הבין מרדכי לעצמיותו של הדבר העמוק באספקלריותו המאירה. בסיפור נהפוכו זה הבין מרדכי את ענייין תנועת הגלגל של מעלה-מטה מעלה-מטה במציאות של עולמנו. ובתוך זה יש גם את עניין “אין שום ייאוש בעולם כלל” – על האדם תמיד לזכור שיש באפשרותו לעלות תמיד. לצאת מהחיצוניות של המצוקה, לצאת מהשדה, לכוון את עצמו לטרנסצנדנטיות ולראות את אור האינסוף משורש נשמתו. וכך בלי פחד לבטוח בה’. שהרי כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד והעיקר לא לפחד כלל. אחרי שמרדכי הבין את כל העניין הזה עשה מרדכי תשובה בלב שלם וטהור בבוטחו בה’ שתהיה הצלה גם לכל עם ישראל ועל זה כתוב “וישב מרדכי אל שער המלך” . (הבת מחייכת חיוך חולמני, מרוצה ונראית עמוק במחשבה)
אסתי: (נראית מבולבלת) אהממ…מה?
הבת: (אומרת בביטחון) מקום שמחשבתו של אדם נמצאת, שם הוא כולו.
אסתי: סליחה?
בת: כל זמן שהנר דולק אפשר לתקן.
אסתי: אני רואה שאת ממש אוהבת חסידות.
בת: סופו להיות שמח!
אסתי: נו באמת.
בת: אופ בסדר. בקצור, כתוב שמרדכי “שב” אל שער המלך, אומר שהוא רוצה לחזור בתשובה על שהוא לא השתחווה להמן וזה יצר את כל הבלגן הזה על “להרוג ולאבד”.
אסתי: אה. באמת זה לא כל כך מרשים
בת: (יוצאת בכעס) לפחות ה’ יתברך אוהב אותי!

(בת ד עולה לבמה)
ד: שלום! אני פה להסביר את הפסוק “שושנת יעקב צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי.”
אסתי: בבקשה.
ד: מהי שושנת יעקב? החברה, הבת דודה, אז השכנה שלה…זאת שנשואה ליעקב, אז היא. צהלה מלשון שיש לה קול כמו סוס.
ושמחה זה: שם- חה. כמו שכותבים בוואטסאפ: “חה חה.”
בראותם – בי ראו אותם – כלומר שני אנשים (שושנה ויעקב) ראו את מרדכי בצבע תכלת כמו שראו את אסתר בצבע ירוק… וזהו.
אסתי: זה לא אומר כלום.
ד: אני יודעת.
אסתי: זה היה בכלל דבר תורה?
ד: זה היה מספיק דבר תורה.
אסתי: מספיק למה?
ד: ביילע אמרה שהיא תיתן שוקולד לכל מי שכותבת דבר תורה להצגה. אז אני כתבתי את מה שאמרתי עכשיו, וקיבלתי שוקולד.
אסתי: אכפת לך בכלל מהתחרות?
ד: לא. להתראות (מדלגת מהבמה).
(בת ה נכנסת לבמה)
ה: שלום. פעם תהיתם לעצמכם למה מגילת אסתר נכנסה לתנ”ך? כידוע-
בת א: שם ה’ לא נמצא במגילה.
בת ג: לא כתוב על ארץ ישראל.
בת ד: אסתר התחתנה לגוי.
בת ה: או אהממ… רוצים לשמוע תשובה?
בת א: זה מראה שה’ עוזר גם למי שנמצא בגלות.
בת ב: תוכחה ליהודים לעלות לארץ.
בת ג: תיקון לאיך ששאול נכשל בלהשמיד את עמלק (בת א: “עזבו את עמלק!”).
בת ד: תיקון לעץ הדעת.
בת ה: אהמ אוקיי! רוצות לשמוע עוד תשובות?
בנות: לא!!
(ה יוצאת)

-אסתר עולה לבמה בבושה
אסתי: שלום, איך קוראים לך?
אסתר: אסתר
אסתי: איזה קטי, גם אני! אני רואה שהבאת רק ספר אחד.
אסתר: כן. זה של הרב האהוב עלי. מצאתי את הדבר תורה שלי שם.
אסתי: יפה מאוד. בבקשה תתחילי מתי שנח לך.
אסתר: אוקי (נושמת עמוק) יש לי שאלה אקסיסתינציאלית. שאלה אנטולוגית. שאלה על המצוקה המטפיסית באישיות האדם. למה השמחה שלנו בפורים היא לא כמו שמחתינו בחג קלאסי? למה הפסיכולוגיה שלנו בפורים היא תיאטרלית, כמעט אבסורדית, שבחגים האחרים כמו פסח, השמחה שלנו עמוקה ואינטנסיבית? הטקסט של המגילה מגלה פילוסופיה אנטולוגית עמוקה ביותר. בפורים, הסבל העמוק של האדם ממשיך גם אחרי הישועה. הטרגדיה האבסורדית של פורים היא גם שאחרי שה’ מציל אותנו, אנו עדיין נמצאים במצוקה אונטית ואונטולוגית. אחשוורוש עדיין שולט עלינו. הישועה הפרדקסולית הזאת גורמת להירואיזם יותר אינטנסיבי ממה שמבוקש בחגים אחרים. הפילוסופיה של פורים מבוססת על התיאוריה שאנחנו עדיין בגלות. המן חדש יכול לעלות בכל רגע. אנחנו נמצאים במצב פונדמנטלי של פחד. ולפיכך אנו משתכרים בפורים, להזכיר לעצמינו את המסר האוניברסלי ורלוונטית הזה: שאנחנו, לכל דבר ועניין, נמצאים אפילו היום מתחת לשליטת פרס – בדרך מטפורי, כמובן.
(אסתי עומדת ומחייה כפיים)
אסתי: זה הדבר תורה הכי מושלם ששמעתי כל הלילה! את בדיוק מה שחפסתי! מזל טוב, אסתר – התקבלת לשנה ב’!
(כולם מחיים כפיים)

A Factual Account of a Recent Terror Attack in Israel

Thursday, November 19, 2015. Migdal Oz Beit Midrash for Women. Approx. 4:30 p.m.
The sirens started wailing about halfway through Rav Medan’s Tanach class. We were used to it by this point, and while a couple of girls furtively checked their phones for news of what we knew must be yet another terrorist attack in or around Alon Shvut, most of us ignored it and continued straining to hear the elderly Rav Medan’s whispery voice with all the Talmudic brilliance it could impart. After all, what is there to do but bring more Torah into the world, and try to change our lives as little as possible so that we Don’t Let the Terrorists Win?
But the sirens kept blaring, on and on and on. Five minutes…ten minutes…Rav Medan, who lives in Alon Shvut, is getting nervous. His wife is there. His students at Har Etzion, the brother yeshiva to my seminary. His grandchildren probably, and the more the sirens wail the more you have to wonder, How many people dead or injured need that many ambulances? So when his phone rings a few minutes later, none of us mind that he puts down his Tanach and answers.
“Can it wait? I’m in the middle of a Shiur,” he says bravely. Our eyes are glued to his face.
“Ten people?”
We gasp. There is a chorus of “What?!”s from around the room.
The Rav talks for awhile longer. When he hangs up we all look at him, waiting. In the expectant silence, the sirens continue, frightful and incessant.
“Ten injured, some possibly dead. No one I know. Tourists, apparently. American.”
He lowers his head and begins to murmur something, probably Tehillim. By the time I think of saying a Perek of my own, he’s gone back to teaching as abruptly as he stopped. As we plow through Bamidbar, he throws in a few extra jokes to distract us. We laugh a little. But the sirens are still wailing. The sound goes on whole fucking class, and afterwards, a half an hour into dinner, more and more sirens until the sound becomes oppressive and the learning unbearable.
I want to close my ears. I want someone to stand up and scream along. There is something gnawing at my stomach, my gut, my conscience. When I found out that three people had died during that hour of ambulances, including an American boy, Ezra Schwartz, who was in Israel on a gap year program like me and who shares four mutual friends with me on facebook (I checked), I imagine that the sirens that we heard and ignored were the wails of the dying. We did nothing…what could we do… He was friends with my friends, with Batman and Hannah Stanhill and Moshe Frier and Taco. Taco was in the car with him when they were shot at. I saw a picture in the news, of Taco, my classmate since fourth grade, with his head in his hands and his friend Ezra’s blood all over the side of his shirt. The boys in that van, Ezra Scwartz too, were real and alive and gleaming with health.
I wonder if he called his mother every day like I do. I wonder how they told his parents. Maybe they told them over the phone, or maybe someone called their Shul’s Rabbi so that he could tell them in person. I wonder how it feels to lose a son who’s all the way over the sea with his whole life stretching luxuriously before him. I wonder what it’s like to die young, suddenly, you don’t even know that it’s happening and then you are gone.
Unimaginable things happen every day.

Saturday, November 21st, 2015. Ben Gurion Airport. 8:00 p.m.
Ezra Schwartz’s coffin was being sent home. His friends and family in Israel gathered at the airport to say goodbye. I was one of the few there who didn’t personally know him; I went with Chani, who did know him but couldn’t go without me. Her mom won’t let her take buses by herself because of all the terror attacks.
Q: Why do people cry at funerals?
A: They are sad because he is gone; after death, there is nothing; therefore the fact of his life being cut short is an unspeakable tragedy.
B: They are sad because he is somewhere else, and they will miss him.
C: They are scared because they know that death, whatever it is, comes for all of us.
Everyone is un-settling. Shifting back and forth, breathing teary sighs.
Why am I even here? Good God I don’t want to stand here with my arm around Chani’s shoulder and everyone bonded by mourning and love all I want to do is go sit quietly in the corner and croquet a kippah, working my hands, pulling the thread in and out of the loops, a circular motion, like lentils, representing the cycle of life and…

Saturday, November 21st, 2015. A taxi. Approx. 10:00 p.m.
I never thought that the ambulances shrilling out the window in class one day would have such big effects. Just an hour’s worth of noise. Even more so: the sound of the bullets – rat-a-tat-tat – such a small small sound, and look what it caused. On the one hand a levaya full of crying people ushering a coffin onto an airplane, and on the other a gathering of teenagers to sing at the Kotel in his memory, and an entire family with a member ripped out, and an entire country with one more terror wound tearing its flesh, mourners all, deep emotions all stemming from the sound of nothing, the sound of a bullet piercing skin.
If a man falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear him, does he still make an impact?
The Baal Shem Tov once said that the reaction to tragic events shouldn’t be to Do What They Would Have Wanted or Don’t Let the Terrorists Win or even There’s a Lesson to Be Learned From This. Instead, he said, we should just cry. Let the tragedy fill up our souls and spill over. Cry and cry and not think.
If the Baal Shem Tov were alive now, he’d sit around crying all day.
May God comfort the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem!

Ducks

Today was June 1st, although it is now 12:02 on June 2nd. A belated Happy Birthday.

There is a time, when you are young, when you don’t believe that you can end up like your parents.

When I was little we had a lake in our backyard, just on the edge of the playground. The ducks who lived there would leave splatters of green or brown droppings that blended in with the grass, so that you’d have to look carefully before you stepped. They weren’t scared of people, and if you were walking and one of the ducks was walking and the two of you should happen to meet, you would have to get out of its way. My brothers and I used to chase them, shrieking; and they would waddle slowly away from our reaching hands, as if they couldn’t be bothered with such silly things as fear. Every year at springtime we would search the hidden places around the lake’s border for nests. When we were lucky enough to find a mother resting wary-eyed atop her hidden eggs, we would come back to visit her every day from a distance. When the ducklings hatched we followed them as they followed their mothers.

When I was seven years old I began to think about death. My great-grandmother passed away, and as I watched her being lowered into the ground I wondered. Every year on my birthday, my relatives wished me a long and prosperous life; and my great-grandmother had lived a long and prosperous one hundred and three years, and now she was dead. One day, I would be dead too. This was the only ending.

But I had never seen a dead duck. I led my brothers in a search around the lake, but in all the masses of fat, waddling, breathing creatures, there was no hint of death.

“Mommy, do ducks die?” I asked after this failed expedition.

“Yes, of course,” she said, looking down at me from her adult height. She was dressing raw chicken in preparation for dinner.

“Have you ever seen one?”

“Seen a dead duck?” She pursed her lips thoughtfully, pulling some spices from a cabinet above her head. “No, I suppose I haven’t. Well isn’t that odd! With so many around here, they’re bound to die all the time.”

“But they haven’t,” I said solemnly.

She laughed, reaching to pat me on my curly brown head before remembering that her hands were dirty with chicken fat. “I’m sure they die, Caroline. Someone here must come and pick the bodies up before we can see them. Or maybe they migrate and die somewhere else. But they die just like every other creature does. Now stop worrying about their death and enjoy chasing them around while they’re still alive.”

She was always telling my brothers and me not to chase the ducks, so I knew that this last comment was said only to end the conversation, because she didn’t have an answer. From then on I stayed indoors or in the yard, safely away from the ducks at the lake. I was afraid of immortality.

I only returned to my old haunt of grass and sky and water when I was fourteen and desperately needed someplace to run away to. By then I’d forgotten the reason I had avoided it for so long, except as a sort of mysterious dark feeling in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps as a consequence of my staying inside all the time, I had become more aware of family politics, and the older I got the less I liked them. My oldest brother, Nate, was sixteen years old and had just hit that nasty age where he detested everything about his parents. He and my father would get into shouting matches that began at the most inconvenient times – in the middle of dinner, right before we had to leave for school – that could last for hours. When this happened I would run to my room, put on my socks and shoes, take my sketchpad into my sweaty hands, and listen by my bedroom door, trembling, for their voices to move to the kitchen. When I could hear that the coast was clear, I would make a break for the patterned glass door that led to the backyard, open it quickly, slam it behind me so hard that the glass nearly shattered, and sprint through the yard to the lake. There in the warm humidity I rediscovered the secret places I had known in my childhood, and sat and drew the sunlight opening itself on dark green leaves. The ducks didn’t bother me. They understood that I needed to be left alone.

Soon I was coming to the lake every day, and my drawings somehow transformed themselves under my shaking hands from pretty leaves and sunlight to scowling, angry faces. Everything was twisted in my head. The lake didn’t seem real anymore. It was just a dream world to escape to. I imagined it was a drug, something fake and hard and pretty to abandon reality to. And in a way it was. I left behind my younger brother, Connor, who had stopped being shocked by the fighting and instead sat on the couch watching Nate and Dad watch with blank eyes, as though he was watching television. I left behind my mother, who tried to outshout them in her soft voice, to plead with them, to somehow separate them so that they’d just shut up and give her some peace. I left my father, whose angry screams escalated with pain at the near-fatal wound of being hated by his own child, at the terror having failed in a way beyond forgiveness. I left Nate, whose hatred twisted his mouth and brought tears from his eyes, who couldn’t believe he had been born to such a stupid excuse for a man, who couldn’t forgive his father for being detestable. I escaped. I abandoned them all to their terrible fates.

One day my sketchbook fell from my fingers with a plop into the water. I had been staring absently into the sky, which was a fake child-bright blue. I had been hating it. And the sketchbook had slipped, slowly, from my loose fingers…I watched it fall. I didn’t notice it falling, as I watched it.

It should have floated away, bright white with symbolic innocence; or it should have sunk; it should have done anything other than what it did. It sat there on the surface of the lake, water slowly washing brown debris over it. It grew dirtier and dirtier, a foot from where I sat on the grassy slope, swishing back and forth in the murky water. I stared at it. I got up and moved away, up towards the shady space between two pine trees that only I knew existed. I sat there for awhile. Then I got bored. I had nothing to do without my sketchbook. I lay down and stared at the stagnant branches plastered against the sky. I closed my eyes. I opened them again. I had nothing.
I got up and walked back down to the lake. My sketchbook was still there, looking like a drowned piece of trash. I stepped ankle-deep into the water, bent down, and picked it up. It bled muddy water between my fingertips. The top page, an image of a grinning face with demon eyes and spittle flying from its mouth, leered up at me. I stood there in the lake, feeling my toes start to wrinkle. I still had nothing.

That was when I saw the duck.

It was a pile of matted black feathers, heaped on the surface of the brown water like a crumpled shirt. Its white head, barely visible under the water-logged pile, was dirtied to a shade of gray. Most shockingly, its beak was gone, leaving behind only a blood-encrusted stump in the middle of its ugly face. I had a sudden, vivid image of Nate grabbing the duck by its neck and forcing its beak to the ground, hate sneering across his mouth, and grinding, grinding, grinding…

I twisted to the left and threw up. The vomit made a liquid sound as it hit the water.

Then I ran, padding up the grass with still-wet feet, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I ran back to the hidden place between the two pine trees, grabbed hold of a trunk, and began to climb. My legs kicked desperately away from the ground. The lake was no escape anymore. I needed to fly away, like ducks do, like the ducks were supposed to do when they died, so that we couldn’t see them. We weren’t meant to see them like that.

Pine needles whipped my face, and I dropped my sketchbook for the second time that day. There was a muffled thunk as it hit the ground.

Florida

Today is Sunday, the nineteenth of April.

Today was a beautifully exhausting day. It was probably all the heat. It’s starting to feel like summer here again. I can barely even handle walking all the way around the lake mornings like I usually do. It’s probably the last time I’ll feel the slow, burning dawning of a Floridian summer. My sixth grade brother is going to Sea Camp with his class for the next couple of days. The humidity, the heat, the salty stickiness of the ocean – it’s the very epitome of Florida. Anyway I woke up pretty early this morning and had a good day and now I’m tired and don’t feel like writing. Good night.

Another Portrait

Today is Sunday, April 12th.

Drew is short, but that’s not the first thing you should know about him.

When he was in tenth grade, Drew had an epiphany. Like most important revelations, this one took place in the bathroom.

What he realized, he will tell you in an impassioned voice, is that there are important things in life and unimportant things, and when one makes a list of those things from most important to least important, money will come in dead last (as a means to get to something more important, of course, money is useful – but money for its own sake is worthless). School will come in second to last. Drew will raise his arms, gesturing fervently to make you understand. The most important thing is finding your passion and following it. Nothing else can possibly matter as much as that.

After his revelation, Drew stopped bothering to get good grades in school. He likes to call himself stupid.

Drew has had two girlfriends, both of whom are still sensitive subjects, but especially the last one. If you mention her name in passing, he will look up as if it was his name you were calling, and stare at you with guarded and wounded eyes.

Drew will answer any question you ask in as much detail as possible, and he is an amazing storyteller. If you are bored one day, walk over to him and ask him how his life has been going lately. Once you get him started, he can convince anyone of anything, so long as he believes in it. He does not, of course, answer the questions that you don’t ask.

Drew will always make fun of himself first.

At an early stage in his pubescent life, Drew decided that he cares about the world. The world is not a happy place, and Drew would sit and think about it and sometimes cry because no matter how much he does, he knows that he is not even making a dent in the seething horror that life can be.

It must be assumed that at some point Drew shelved these thoughts and set about doing as much as he could to change things, ignoring the fact that some things are too big to be changed.

Drew loves to know your personal business. He has warm hazel-brown eyes that crinkle around the edges with something that looks like understanding. He is always moving, but when he sits still, he listens with as much passion as he does everything else. He loves to mention your personal business too, blurting out veiled references in front of everyone you know. He will wink at you as you blush and stutter, and he will enjoy the secret that you share. If it is your secret, you may not reciprocate that enjoyment.

Drew is always sure that he is right. He believes every word he says. If you stick around him long enough, you will too.

I like to listen to him talk. The way he weaves his words is a thing of beauty. It’s like a song, and orchestra, a crescendo of thought and feeling.

Drew sings, too. Not very well, but that doesn’t matter if you put enough enthusiasm into it. With as much enthusiasm as Drew has, you can do anything.