Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring forward, Fall back

Spring, with all of its promises of renewal and redemption, can't always be trusted.

In the Northeast, it often arrives on the calendar without its promised reprieve from itchy wool and down coats. Even if the winter has not been harsh, it has been long, it has been dark and in New York City, it has been irritating. We have been blown about for months, slush in our shoes, subway grit in our eyes and not enough places to defrost. The holidays are long gone and now half priced versions of their evergreen promises. We are ready for thaw.

I spent my nineteenth spring in Tel Aviv, Israel, on a spring semester exchange program with my home university. I actually arrived mid-winter, after a fitful year of college-born angst, complete with extreme dieting, heartache and passionate arguments with friends. It was an escape -- and while I was going with a few friends from college, I was set on disappearing, on starting over.

Tel Aviv in those winter months still felt like spring. Partly because I was desperate for renewal, but mainly because of the weather. Cold air nipped only between the hours of my earliest classes at the University. By mid-morning, the breeze had warmed, layers were shed and the promise of new made me giddy.

The campus was a sight to behold. Maybe not for those hailing from the University of Florida or the like, but for me, who had spent three years in an often gray and frost-bitten suburban Massachusetts campus, I was in love. It was lush and green and rolling. Students sat on the grass and scattered on towels with radios in a manner that I had only seen in that college catalogues that I had discarded despite my father's urgings to go to a different school that was bigger, and newer and more. My dorm room boasted a huge balcony that overlooked it all where I would sit for hours, listening to local radio, trying to decipher the words, desperate to feel like a native.

It's amazing how you can carve beauty out of madness when you set your mind to it. That particular year was riddled with terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. The ground beneath me would rattle and I knew something had happened. The students would be coralled and counted, hoping that no one would have to make a terrible call to parents who were wringing their hands near CNN at home. None of this fazed me. I ignored my parents pleadings for my immediate return. I focused hard on the new me, desperate to avoid any reality that might permeate my efforts towards total reinvention. Our dorm room was on top of a night club called "Focus", and I would lie in bed, walls shuddering with disco music, focusing on my magical new life.

And it worked, for a while. I had the perfect partner in my new roommate B., a new friend with the same curls, sense of humor and likely the same demons. But she was different in a crucial way. She was a risk taker, an enabler. "No" was not in her vocabulary. Every day was a delicious adventure, the kind that fills your mouth like an unexpectedly sweet peach, juices dribbling down, leaving you desperate for more. I don't know exactly what we did together -- mainly because much of the time was spent intoxicated either in truth or in metaphor. But the smallest things - the new piercing in my ear cartilage at a run down drugstore, the stolen handfuls of supermarket candy, the long walks along the desert sky (when I begged for a taxi) filled with secrets...these things were all new and freeing. We would dance on tables, hike mountains and sing out loud. The weather always agreed with us, adding heat to our constantly flickering fires. And as much as I was unloading, I was just as quickly building fences between the new and the old.

When I felt the semester slipping from me, I became desperate. I underwent a significant makeover. I straightened by dark curly hair and dyed it red, and then blonde. I greeted summer in Tel Aviv in the smallest clothes possible. I stayed out all night at clubs with names that translated into English had names like "Corruption". There were a variety of boys and drinks that I did not remember, and narrowly escaped some life altering mistakes. I tried to sever the ties to my past, my college friends who watched me from a distance, shaking their heads in disbelief. But like the sand on those Mediterranean beaches, it was slipping through my hands, and the more I grasped, the more that spilled - tiny grains everywhere, impossible to gather back into original form.

The night I headed back to New York, I cried in the manner of the child I had behaved like for so many months. When I came of the plane, my mother was clearly horrified by the sight of my hair, my faraway longings. But there was life to return to, an internship in New York City. I had to remove the ear piercing. My hair straightening routine became too time consuming to maintain, and my dark roots grew in defiantly. There were relationships to heal, a senior year to deal with and another winter ahead.

When I returned to school, there were bits of my personal renovation that had remained -- shorter skirts, a penchant for bad techno music and expensive highlights, my lingering friendship with B which kept my life juicy. And there were other things -- like my extra earring hole and friendships that had eroded from neglect -which would gape open and slowly heal but leave scars in its place.

I no longer rely on seasons to heal me, or on makeovers to change my insides. But a well planned escape - to the colorist or the Carribean, can do wonders to spring me forward, in a never ending quest to keep things warm.


At 11:24 AM PDT, Anonymous gila said...

so glad you came back... in truth and in metaphor.

At 8:31 AM PDT, Blogger beri said...

this B girl sounds awesome! ilove you har. thanks for a little exodus of my own for a moment while reading your story. hag samayach


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