If I were writing this in an hour, I would be sitting on the floor. This is a floor both Elijah and I have scrubbed to no avail. The old Arab tiles that form its jigsaw pattern are too beautiful to be replaced and too historic to ever be fully clean. In an hour, our landlady is stopping by to pick up her furniture. The orange chair whose fluorescent monstrosity I had bemoaned is leaving, and so are we.
With 15 days left in this chapter of life, I am inhabiting the Jerusalem version of “Goodnight Moon.” I am eating as though I am seeking to satiate a constant craving for everything I will miss. I am shoving falafel and lemon cheesecake milkshakes and fruit crumbles down in the hope that they will ease the pain of departure, as though I am nursing a bad break-up.
And yet, the break-up could not be more amicable. I am still in love with you, Jerusalem, and part of me probably always will be. You are that lingering former lover who has changed a girl’s life in ways so profound that even when she has found love elsewhere, even when other places make her smile, even when there are other caverns she calls home, she looks back to you wistfully and with gratitude for stretching her heart.
We have invested millions of steps onto these streets. We have seen the tulips on King David street be replaced by roses and those, in turn, replaced by snapdragons. We promised to always kiss under that one tree that always smells nice, and we kept the promise. Now we are nearing the point at which we talk about the making of memories in the past: “Remember that one time when I found a paper flower in the street for you and you told me not to pick it up because you thought it was a bomb?”
For years, my brother has joked that I have an MPA, a Masters in Packing Administration (being a Dorkosaurus runs in the family, I know). I have mastered how to condense life into two suitcases. I am an expert in sorting and sieving, in selling space heaters and voltage converters. I have learned to relish the lightness. I increasingly distrust the people who tell you “oh, it’s not goodbye, it’s see-you-later” because I know to cherish the closure. I should, intellectually, know that these are the times that call for mindful presence and for breathing in every moment we have here. I should, intellectually, continue to make memories until the second the plane takes off with two suitcases of my life in its belly.
And yet, this time, I am drawing on that process with which I am perhaps more familiar than transcontinental moves: mourning. I feel myself gliding like a ghost through the stages of grief: denial, anger, remembrance, nostalgia. I am mourning the end of the Jerusalem chapter. As my teacher in grief and in love, Joan Didion, has put it:
“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”
We are spending our last 15 days here loving radically. Like a band on its farewell tour, we have loaded the car with wafers and pretzels and have driven nearly 2,000 kilometers to live out every item on our wish list. We felt the spray of a waterfall on our faces and rafted down the Jordan river. We saw the sunset over the sand dunes of Caesarea and drank cardamom-flavored coffee in Akko. We caught a glimpse of Syria from one border and swam in the Mediterranean the next day. We even had a drink at Messi bar, in an homage to the hundreds of hours of Barcelona games we have watched in bars across this country. Neither of us has unpacked from this last trip, the Farewell Tour, because we know that will mark the beginning of the sorting and sieving and donating. It will mark the beginning of the moving on.