My time in Israel still wasn't over.
As I made my way to the part of the country where I planned to leave from, I passed again through the town of Beer Sheva. And I called to a girl I knew who lived there. We'd only met once before, actually, but she'd made a glittering impression.
Now that I think about it, a lot of the people who deeply inspire me can be associated with romantic first impressions. A favorite Czech girl was my first partner during ballroom dance lessons, and we waltzed while she wore a short, black dress. A favorite American girl got a softball and two mitts out of her trunk and we played catch in the night, the first time we were at a party together. And my lifelong best friend and I met on a playground when we were six; he was pretending to be Chewbacca, and I helped him get a woodchip out of his eye that was making him teary-eyed.
Most recently, a girl wearing an unbuttoned, furry sweater began hitchhiking next to me in Israel. It was after dark, and I was surprised to see that, other than the sweater, her outfit was a thin, bright red dress. Her turning towards me caused me to say involuntarily, as if a cool breeze had blown the words out, "You're beautiful." She wore gold hair tightly pulled back; smart, rectangular glasses; and a soft face and blue eyes that belonged to a forest populated by deer.
Obviously, a car stopped for us in no time. While we rode, Maya from Beer Sheva said she's a psychology student. I asked, excitedly, if she had any theories of her own. She said she did, but they were kind of complicated to tell of in a car. I told her one of my theories: "When people in a society have sex, it necessarily leads to them wanting monogamy." Before my six-kilometer ride was over, she'd already busted my theory: "What about communities that have polygamy?" she said. Nicely done; apparently, hitchhiking wasn't the only thing she was quick at ...
Weeks after this brief meeting, I expected that Maya and I would merely have a drink together in her city, and then I'd move on. I also expected - as I often do, though surprises always landslide down on me - that she'd think just like I do.
Within minutes, we were agreeing we were both "soloists", as she helped carry my bags to her single apartment. That was almost the last time we agreed on anything.
My first surprise was that she looked more real, not surrounded by the veil of night nor my idealistic imagination. Her cheeks, free of glasses, were puffy and red. The skin around her eyes seemed tender and moist, the kind of skin that well-meaning, blond, blue-eyed women have, and the moist looks made her words seem deeper and more emotional. She looked less like a kid that needed to be taken care of, and, at age twenty-five, more like an adult with convictions.
She didn't share in my view that all vices are bad. She smoked pot, cigarettes, and had a table full of empty "Goldstar" beer bottles. She lived in the moment. She didn't fear much: not sitting close to me, not - like 95% of Israeli girls I ask - dancing with me, not falling into laughter with cheeks aflame; she let me sleep next to her in bed. In addition to letting me crash at her place, she said I might be able to join her in working as a lumberjack.
Like other girls here, she said, "I love sex!" This was our biggest disagreement. "I'm not convinced," she said, as I argued that romance without sex is better. She sounded like she was open to being convinced.
I tried to convince her. In bed, she let me touch her slim, yogurty body. But, she wouldn't kiss me.
Maya had, after all, a dream. It was the traveler's nightmare.
But, when she told me about it, with her naked honesty and a knowing mother's confidence, it sounded beautiful and pure. She wanted to meet a guy who'd always be with her. She wanted to have children. She thought getting old sounded great.
She was in love with a psychology professor, whom she currently dated though not seriously. He was in love with someone else.
On the second day of my visit, we went downtown. Beer Sheva had a dusty center with cluttered shops that resembled a third-world country more than modern Israel. "The Capital of the Negev Region", Beer Sheva was populated with some Bedouin women who did their shopping in black gowns that covered all but sand-dune faces. Maya and I ate an omelet sandwich from a street vendor, mingled with a Morroccan-Jewish hermaphrodite, laughed, and felt intrigue here.
I left Maya, as she waited in a government office to pay a bill. Bills, certainly, represented the less-glamorous side of stability.
I saw a gray building that resembled a spaceship's heating duct. And I learned Beer Sheva was the site of the last successful cavalry charge in history, when the Australian and Kiwi equestrians had taken much of the town from the Ottomans during World War I, in a mighty charge.
When I returned to Maya, she was talking to a guy. He was certainly much more stable, and less weird, than I, and he and Maya started to see each other a bit.
Over the next day and a half, the communication between Maya and me wasn't very good. Maybe a traveling guy and a stable girl didn't have so much to talk about.
But, she definitely cared about me - and about a boxer dog named Diego who wildly flailed his white limbs, who'd shown up at a restaurant Maya waitressed at, after his owners had abandoned him. She prepared for us oatmeal with bananas and cinnamon, red lentils and rice, which she'd learned to cook while backpackign on her own in India, and - for some of us - dog food.
She read/translated to me parts of a book on the psychology of love. The main character, a religious Jewish woman disgusted by the thought of love, wondered why humanity kept acting out the exact same scenarios, generation after generation, only with new actors. She wondered why her friends, a married couple, could act civilized at the dinner table, and then engage in violent lust afterwards. I loved having my arm lightly around Maya as she read to me.
A lot of Maya's friends would tell me she's special. Maybe she was more caring than most because she was interested in people, and knew life was hard. I watched her smile as she rode bicycles with a small girl she mentored. In addition to a great mother, she wanted to become a psychologist who'd make modest reforms.
I wasn't sure what to expect when we said good-bye. I said I still believed in my philosophies. I still believed that if there was no sex there'd be no competition, though Maya disagreed.
We hugged, and Maya said honestly, "It was nice having you here." She told me to write her, if I'd want to. Of course I'd want to.
This time, maybe, I was a bit sad I was a traveler - and an idealist. Maya was really beautiful.
peace and love,
Thanks to Michael; Erez; and Shai for rides!
Much thanks to Talia; and Maya for places to stay!