Ben is gone. He left for India last Wednesday night. I am ok now, but for the first 48 hours, I was just this side of devastated. Here I will recount my last moments with Ben before he departed.
Monday: Ben’s Going-Away Party
Monday night, Ben invited about 40 of his nearest and dearest to a pub here in Tel Aviv to have one last hurrah. Not knowing who, if anyone, would show up, Ben was quite nervous leading up to the event. He told me I could invite whoever I wanted, so I took him up on the offer, bringing along a girlfriend from work. I figured that Ben would be busy hosting, socializing, and generally being loved so Ellen came with me as someone I could talk to in case I didn’t know anyone (or worse, the people I did know didn’t want to talk to me). As it turned out, Ellen was the perfect choice. She’s sweet, relaxed, and easy to get along with. She goes with the flow and can talk to anyone about anything for just long enough. She and I chatted with his friends, many of whom I’d met before, and had a grand old time doing it. Ben would float in and out of the conversation as people demanded his attention. Of course, it was Monday night and we had work early Tuesday so the night ended for Ellen and I around 1:00AM. I made my rounds, saying goodbye to people (Ben’s brother and sister included), kissed Ben and reminded him that he has the spare key to my apartment and he need not call if he wants to sleep over. “I’ll call you when I’m on my way, babe,” he said. “Don’t call. Just come,” was my reply. And off I went.
I wasn’t home and in bed more than 20 minutes when I heard the familiar sound of Ben’s bike and footsteps coming down the hall. Next thing I know, a very drunk Ben is standing in my “living room” taking his shoes off and rolling a cigarette somehow simultaneously. 10 minutes later, he’s in bed with me and we are chatting about what a success the night was as we drunkenly drift off to sleep.
Tuesday: Ben’s Last Full Day in the Country
Tuesday morning I got up for work (somehow by the grace of God) at 6:30AM. Ben was in and out of sleep, considering how we woke each other up at 4:30AM to have sex. I got up, got dressed, kissed him goodbye, and went to work. When I came home at 12:00PM, Ben was out running last-minute logistical errands. I called him to tell him that I was home and he said he would be back within the hour. So, I took a nap. True to his word, Ben returned to my apartment around 1:00PM, hungry for hummus. So off we went. At this point, it seemed like we were talking about everything and anything other than the elephant in the room which was that this was the last time for a long time (if ever again) that we will be going through these motions together. After lunch, still in a state of blissful denial, we came home, had intense and incredible sex, then lied in each others’ arms chatting. And here is when sh*t got real.
First he started to cry. Then, I started to cry. We kissed, we looked into each others’ eyes, there was more time with no words than with, but words seemed so unnecessary in those moments. He took my hands and kissed the backs and held them so tightly..”I’m sorry if I ever did anything to hurt you or offend you. You are the best and you deserve the best. I want you to find a nice Jewish, Israeli man and settle down with the life you want. You deserve everything you want from life. I’ve been trying to warn you from the day I met you that I’m not staying here and not to get involved with me…” More tears.. “I wouldn’t have had this past year any other way,” I responded through tears of my own.
We hugged, we took more pictures, we kissed, we dried each others’ eyes, and I walked him out. I asked him to call me the next day, and from the airport, and when he landed. He smiled at my insanity and promised to do so. “Talk to you soon, baby,” he said. I walked him out and found myself, shoeless and in pajamas, following him down the stairs until I couldn’t go any further without being locked out. We kissed one more time and off he went. I ran back upstairs to watch him ride away through the window, my heart feeling so heavy in my chest. After he was out of sight, I slowly went back into my apartment, locked the door, looked around, and fell apart. I cried and cried and sobbed and cried. I called my mom but it didn’t help. My heart was being torn from my chest and it was the most painful thing I think I have ever felt in my entire life.
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sit up straight. And my head felt like someone was taking an axe to it. At 7:30PM, I finally took a sleep-aid and went to sleep, heartbroken.
Wednesday: Ben’s Flight Day
I woke up Wednesday morning feeling as if my eyes were sealed shut and my head had been put through a washing machine on spin-cycle. I got up, showered, and looked myself in the eye (in the mirror): “We’re not going to cry today, Joan. We need to stay busy.” So, at 9:30AM I called the one woman I knew could provide a distraction for me: the cray lady I tutor for. Off I went.
On my way, on the bus, I received a facebook message from one of Ben’s friends I met at the party:
Hi Joan,it was so nice to meet you the other night at Ben’s party. Now that he’s left the country, I’m not sure how else to reach you, but I thought you were really pretty and you seem cool and intelligent so I was wondering if you were interested in possibly going out/hanging out sometime to get to know each other a bit better? talk to you soon! Max
Well, this is an interesting twist, I thought to myself! But, would this be weird for Ben? For me? What kind of friendship/relationship does Max think Ben and I have had? Or is all really fair in love and war now that Ben is “gone”? At a total loss, I texted Ben:
Boker tov! Please call me when you are up. I have some exciting (maybe) news!
A few minutes later, he called. I told him about the message and asked his opinion about it. “Max is a GREAT guy! I wish all of my female friends had a man as nice as Max! You can’t do better than him. You have my happy blessing to go out with him!” With that, I facebooked Max back and agreed that I would like to go out sometime. Shortly after that, we had plans for this Sunday afternoon. Doing what? Who knows. What time? Who knows. Where? Who knows. Typical Israeli.
I had been tutoring for a few hours that morning when my phone rang again. Ben asked me “are you still tutoring?” When I said I was, he told me he was near her house and asked if I could take a break to come down and say goodbye one last time without tears. “I don’t want us both to be crying the last time we see each other.” We are so similar. I’m usually the one who wants a million goodbyes and wants to hold on until the very last moment possible. Now, it’s nice to be on the receiving end of that. So, I informed the mother that I would be downstairs taking a break for a bit and left.
We sat on a bench and talked. We laughed, we philosophized, we kissed. It was nice. Sure enough, about 30 mins later, Ben was standing up, holding me in a tight hug and saying goodbye one last time. I did a good job of holding it together. So did he. We smiled at each other, kissed, and hugged. Then, it happened. “I love you so much, Joan.” “I love you too, Ben. So much.” It somehow seems appropriate that we waited until just this moment, perhaps our last moment together to say these important words. I know he means it. I didn’t have to ask him what he meant.
“Tov. We’ll be in touch,” Ben said as he put his bag on his shoulders. One last kiss. “Talk to you soon, Joan!” “Safe travels, Ben. Take care of yourself.” He flashed his wide grin at me and off he rode.
We both agreed that this is the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new chapter for both of us; not the end of the book. We know we’ll be in touch. One day we’ll see each other again. And until then, there is email, skype, whatsapp, iMessage, facetime, and facebook. We’re not without resources for keeping in touch today. And I meant what I said to him on Tuesday: I would not change anything about the past year. Even though I feel like I saw the train coming down the track and still didn’t move out of the way, I have no regrets.
Since he’s left Wednesday night, I’ve heard from him 3 times. One text to say he was landed and safe. One mass email to all of us, giving an update. One email personally to me in response to my response to his mass email. 3 communications in 24 hours is nice. I shouldn’t get used to it.
And now what of Max? I guess we’ll find out on Sunday!