My beloved cousin S passed away one week ago today. She’d been a girlhood idol of mine– beautiful, vivacious, kind, complex. A dancer, a shiatsu masseuse, a certified psychoanalyst. A descendant of Freud. I remember her belly dancing solo at Town Hall in New York. I remember her dancing at my wedding, hand-in-hand in a circle with all the little girls and then salsa-ing with my brother. I remember her this past March, the last time I saw her, telling me how she’d danced for three hours at a New Year’s party and that night had never slept better. She left us much too soon. Dear S, we miss and love you.
Mom passed the haroset around. “We bought a pound of it at D’vine,” she said.
S asked, “Are they even Jewish there?”
“Nah. Syrian Christians.”
“I don’t know. Maybe Lebanese.”
“I saw the owner there. Poor woman has a full beard. Has to shave.”
“Electrolysis is expensive.”
“Take some haroset,” Mom said.
“No, I can’t,” S said. “The stuff is like mortar.”
“That’s the point.”
“It’s from Israel,” interjected Dad. “Taste the figs. Delicious.”
“We bought a whole pound,” said Mom. “Eat more.”
“No really,” S said. “I can’t.”
Later, after getting drunk on whipped cream (S does not drink wine), she explained how in the 1970s she contracted dysentery in India.
“Well, it was four months, and we were trying to stretch $600. Because the man I thought I loved was very frugal. He’d planned to ‘find’ himself before we met–”
“And did he?”
“Well, he wasn’t in India. He wasn’t anywhere. Anyway, he wrote to say how he couldn’t stand to be without me and I couldn’t stand to be without him. So I followed him there. And we travelled to ashrams and ate roadside food and drank chai out of desperation at places that owned two cups that they washed in the same dirty water. We weren’t careful. We slept in ruins, in the off season. June in southern India, too hot for Indians but we’re there, in this dry, horrible heat, until the sky turned black for the monsoons. Sometimes I had to put my foot down and say no to some of these places. A black mattress and no sheets? Once we were at a restaurant and after a few bites of food my head felt heavy.” She lolled her head down and swayed it side to side. “And I felt like I’d been knocked in the head with a hammer, and I said, ‘I have to lie down.’ Luckily, in every restaurant there is a hotel, so we took a room. And I couldn’t stop going to the restroom. Luckily, I was 26 with a lithe Achilles tendon, but I had to hold onto the wall. It was horrible.
“He had grown up in the Dominican Republic, so his intestinal track was built differently than mine.”
Then, for contrast, Guatemala.
“I went to Guatemala with my friend J to help her adopt a child. The husband didn’t go because he couldn’t get off work. But I went, because J didn’t speak Spanish. Five days, with a day trip to Antigua. We were so careful about food—only cooked meat and vegetables. We walked through the markets and there was beautiful fruit and we were thirsty, but we held out. Every day, J would spend a bit more time with the baby, an enormous nine-month old, and the foster mother was there too. And then finally, this enormous baby fell asleep in her arms. And they’re in love with the kid, nine years later.”
Later, after the cognac Mom had doused on the fruit salad got to us, we got silly, playing hand tricks that old uncles use to scare small children (got your nose!) and school children imitate in the school yard, giggling, giggling, giggling…
And E told us how, living in the ghetto in a basement apartment once, at age 12, she’d woken up with a little frog in her palm.