REFLECTIONS ON A GRECIAN URN
Two warriors eye-to-eye:
Who is the strong one?
Who is going to throw the spear first?
I am breathing hard.
This is a fight to the finish.
Blood is going to flow.
One of us is going to die.
I do not really hate my enemy.
I was forced to go into battle.
As I left home,
my wife was crying.
my children were holding on to me.
I made myself smile,
despite my tears.
“We will be together again very soon,” I said.
I raise my lance and my shield,
serving as my attacker and my protector.
Because of those I left behind,
I must be strong and daring
Do I like to fight?
How would I much rather
sing a song.
The sun at Orchard Beach was burning into my skin. But I was 16-years-old and I thought it would help to clear up my teenage acne.
There were three other girls with me, all schoolmates from Monroe High School. I only half listened to their chatter. “I like your new lipstick.” And, “Isn’t that a gorgeous bathing suit?” And, “Guess whom I bumped into yesterday, accidentally-on-purpose?” I thought their conversation inane.
In any case, it had no relevance to my present life, as only the day before, my father had informed me that things were tight at home, that I would have to go to work during the day and finish school in the evening. I was trying to cope with my ambivalent feelings: anger, resentment and, finally, resignation.
And yet, I had not told the girls, afraid of their negative reaction. But keeping it to myself made me feel even more unhappy and isolated.
Presently, I was concentrating on the swishing sound of the surf. My eyes scanned the water’s edge—and there HE stood. A heavenly creature!
He was broad in the shoulders and narrow in the hips, his legs slightly apart, his arms folded across his chest, his skin a golden tan. Now he relaxed his arms and I noticed the dark hair spread evenly over his pectorals like the proud wings of an eagle, spiraling down into mysterious places.
He was looking straight at me, his flashing eyes shooting comet-like sparks, connecting with my own. Now he looked away. An Adonis. Unattainable. I sighed a sigh of centuries, laid down on the blanket face down and shut out the world.
I could not hear his footsteps in the sand. Rather I felt him coming towards me, and I turned around. “I am Emanuel,” he introduced himself, his sonorous baritone voice playing a seductive aria for my ears only, and straight into my heart. E-man-u-el. The name made perfect sense containing the English word “man” and the Hebrew “El”. I swished it around my tongue like a delicacy. Emanuel—the God-like man.
“And you are called?”
“My name is Kismet,” I offered then, sitting up. How appropriate. Today, I have met my fate.
He knelt down next to me, his fingers tracing the outline of my lips, his handsome face coming ever closer, until our lips lightly touched.
To this day, I can feel the stream of electricity which shot through my body.
“Kismet,” He murmured. He sat down next to me and, as our bodies touched, his kiss became ever more urgent. I knew that at that moment my essence, my entire being, had opened to receive him and that we would be one.
“Shirley, wake up!”
I ignored the voice.
“Come on, Shirley, wake up!”
How dare they interrupt my reverie!
“Shirley, Shirley!” The voices were insistent now. “It’s going to rain. We have to leave.”
I sat up reluctantly and looked at the horizon. Heavy grey pillows were quickly drawing closer, threatening o discharge their unwelcome contents. I looked at the spot where HE had stood. It was empty now. Ignoring the urgings of my friends, I hastened over to the water’s edge. There I found the faint outlines of two footprints. Carefully, I stepped into them, letting my smaller feet meld with his. A fast travelling wave washed it all away, together with my tears.
The years passed by. I have dated many men and had a number of affairs. But none of them—none—equalled the intensity of my imagined love affair on Orchard Beach.
In truth, I still search for my golden vision surreptitiously, mind you, sometimes in restaurants, and elevators, in the theater, and of course on the beach. Any beach. Emanuel—his image is forever etched into my memory, the young handsome man frozen in time.
If I ever found my Emanuel (if that, indeed, was his name), I would tell him: “Though our eyes met only for a moment, my life was changed forever.”
THE ROOM WHERE LIFE TOOK PLACE
Years ago, we lived in a very old house, in a very old town in Germany. We had a kitchen with running cold water, two bedrooms and a living room. This living room could not have been named more properly, for it was in that room where life took place.
As soon as you entered it, you perceived an old icebox with a pail underneath that caught the water from the melting ice. Perhaps, our living room was part kitchen.
Next to it, Father had built a high bookcase, covered by a curtain. So perhaps, too, it was a library.
On another wall, there was a huge wardrobe containing my sister’s and my dresses. Turn the corner again, you’d find a pot-belly stove with a samovar on top, a remnant of my Russian ancestry, my parents’ original home.
The couch came next. It was really a disheveled sofa that had a bulge in the middle. When I was 12 years old, this couch became my bed. Every time I stretched out on it, I rolled toward the back, right over this bulge but, I slept well just the same.
Turning another corner, there was a glazed mirror, and—for reading—two rococo chairs on either side, quite elegant. Beside the window, there was our old-fashioned treadle sewing machine where I learned to construct my first apron.
In the corner of this eclectic room stood a table and six chairs around it. This was where we ate our Friday evening and Sabbath meals. This is where the family sang in unison. This is where friends congregated. This is where our amateur actors practiced their scripts while Father directed.
One day, Father brought home a life-sized doll. We placed her into one corner of the sofa. There she sat surveying the scene with large artificial eyes, in astonishment I thought. I wonder whether she ever figured out what to call this, our most important room. Though it was furnished with hand-me-downs, it served its purpose.