Twenty-five years ago, my wife Anne and I bought a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. We were two working doctors with small children living in the Biblical suburbs where the story of Chanukah took place.
The dollhouse of a flat was Anne’s psychiatry clinic. With an Oriental room divider and a coat rack, the living room became a waiting room. A desk and chairs and, yes, a couch made the bedroom into a suitable treatment room. The kitchenette provided tea and snacks. Anne still has the prescription pads and business cards.
One evening a week, I would flee the suburbs to meet my friend there, Rogé from Bnei Barak, a Tunisian-Israeli Orthodox father of nine and a great Afro-Cuban percussionist. We would jam at the apartment and then hit the Yemenite Quarter for shish-kebab and a beer. Our bowling night.
After a good Saturday at the beach, all my family would descend upon the apartment to shower before dinner in the big city. There was sand everywhere and then a big sweep to get ready for patients the next morning.
For my 39th birthday, Anne involved the apartment in her scheme, lying about some romantic interlude there before a purported favorite restaurant. I unlocked the door to “Surprise!” from 20 friends packed into the clinic, drinks and eats on every surface. A flurry of incongruous emotions consumed me. It was a legendary night at the apartment. We all congregated in the kitchen.
A few years ago, our daughter Lia got her own keys to the place when she started boarding school in Israel. She could get away from the dorms, decompress and maybe throw several parties that we still do not know about. After graduating from high school, Lia joined the Israel Defense Forces and made the apartment her home.
Around that time, I started working sporadically at Assuta Ashdod University Hospital in Israel, while I was still based in Milwaukee, in our sweet empty nest on a lake. I wanted to be near Lia, reconnect with my roots, and instill some adventure into midlife. I would come to Israel for a few weeks and live in the hospital call room between ER shifts, then crash on the couch at ‘Lia’s apartment’ on days off.
I began to spend more of my time in Israel and this winter Lia moved to a nearby rental while Anne and I reclaimed our speck of Israeli real estate. We shuttled between our Zen palace in Milwaukee and the tiny oasis in Tel Aviv. Anne returned to the States last month, and I intended to catch up with her there a few weeks ago.
Then came the virus, the travel ban and lockdown. I am considered old and high risk for the front lines in this war against the invisible enemy. I am sheltering in the apartment, working on telemedicine and health tech.
I never dreamed that this apartment would one day become my universe. Places that matter leave impressions on all of our senses. Yet the relationship also changes, and new chapters unfold. This is now my world, where I jammed with Rogé and celebrated my 39th. Maybe I was destined to end up here in lockdown and somehow, I missed the clues all these years. Maybe life is random, like a global game of musical chairs. When the music stopped, we all froze wherever we were at that moment, and here I shelter in place.