WAITING FOR MY assigned room, I sat in the sun-drenched solarium staring at the first of many inedible meals to be served over the next few days. I was intensely aware of the mingling of gag-inducing odors that are particular to medical facilities: barium enemas, disinfectants, greasy food-trays. The resulting pain of total knee replacement would be addressed with morphine, Percocet and other analgesics but the ever-present queasiness would remain with me for days on end.
A large peroxide blond sporting crimson talons, purple lipliner and wearing a leopard jumpsuit limped into the solarium and announced to nobody and everybody, “My surgery is tomorrow at 1:30!” She sounded as though she were a finalist in the Miss World competition.
That is how I came to know Shoshana. Younger and faster, I grabbed the bed by the window, drew the curtains and set up camp. Books, computer, walker and cell phone within easy reach, I had no reason to socialize with her. Popping her white-blond locks through a slit in the striped partition, she informed me that she was divorced, had six adult daughters and a son. Hearing this, I presaged hordes of visitors speaking loudly on cell phones, cracking watermelon seeds between stained/capped teeth and a daily buffet of pungent ethnic dishes that would have Room #7 smelling like the Machane Yehuda shuk.
After surgery I was returned to my humble space. I was heavily drugged and did not see Shoshanna whisked away for her go at the knife. That night was peppered with the sounds of beeps, oxygen-bubbles, groans and shouts but no talk. When the fog cleared, however, friendship happened.
By design, I was mostly alone with only visits from my husband each night after his grueling workday. Shoshanna always had a daughter in attendance. All married with children, they were lovely, refined and generous not only to their mom but also to her previously-snarky roommate. Needing nursing assistance only for medication, my every wish for a cup of tea or fluffed pillows was met by one of Shoshana’s girls. I taught my roommate a clever method of how to lift her injured leg onto the bed without pain and she taught me the secrets of making foolproof kubeh. In the middle of the night, we shared the uglier tales of too-similar first marriages and marvelled at how, in some manner, our histories mirrored one another’s and how fate resulted in very different trajectories. As I’d already assumed, she’d been married at sixteen to a man in his twenties, divorcing him 34 years later; I’d spent twenty years in that world with my first marriage and was familiar with the cultural vibe. It wasn’t a bad world; it merely was. But when she felt safe enough to cry in front of me, she bemoaned, “I did nothing with my life. Everyone became ‘something’ while I stayed a ‘nothing.’” Awash with shame, I was guilty of objectifying her as well.
My roommate’s children are not products of ‘Nothing’. The devotion, laughter and unconditional love surrounding the bed adjacent to mine encompassed that which remains unattainable for many. Few films, however, are made or glossy magazine articles penned in celebration of the Shoshanas among us. Instead, with chortles and guffaws aplenty, she is reduced to comedic-material for Israeli sit-coms. A Borscht-Belt equivalent.
I was discharged first but not without exchanging phone numbers and setting a lunch date. We’ll probably hear the click-click-click of our shiny new canes seeing the other, two sisters whom, without crippling knee pain, might never have discovered the magical existence of one another.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She is a contributing write to Jlife magazine.