I'd been having premonitions. Dreams, and a sense of dread that hit me right in the stomach as I was benching licht. It's nothing, I said, my husband said. It doesn't work like that. So it was with a vague sense of relief other than for the obvious of reason that his infection was cleared up that I told my sister, "Oh. Good. I’m so glad the hospital released him. Because I've been having these dreams."
"Yes. Also L’s been having them. She cried."
"L cried? L doesn’t cry."
Then the phone rang at 6:30 in the morning. Coco-pop was sitting on my lap, Princess was sitting on the baby, and Outdoorsman had just walked in from shacharis. He handed me the phone. “Who in the world is calling at this—“
"Ima! What time is it over there? Everything okay?"
Everything was not okay. My heart crept up, up, up, into my throat. Abba, my Abba--
"D, it's Bubby."
A flood of tears, and a traitorous sense of--relief?--no, not relief, it can't be relief, my Bubby is gone, and horrible crushing guilt--I have not called her in over a month, I kept meaning to, what kind of person--
And Ima was saying that it was quick, and asking if Outdoorsman could say Kaddish because my Abba is Bubby's only son and he obviously can't say it and Outdoorsman is the only son-in-law who lost a parent, and Princess and Coco-pop wanted to know why I was crying, and if they could talk to Savta too.
I hung up the phone, feeling tingly, feeling numbed, feeling a slight edge of unreality fluttering in the corners of my mind. I’m always here, always far away, never where it could feel real. Outdoorsman tried to get the girls out, to give me space, but they were looking at me, and they were scared. I tried to remember what frightening words they might have heard from my end of the conversation. Ima, where was she? She was on the floor? Like she fell? I hope she wasn’t conscious, I hope she wasn't scared...was she all alone?
I remembered when my Sabba had died last year and how the words that we use to comfort ourselves as adults can be so very scary for kids. We lost Sabba. He left us. How not true, how very misleading and confusing, how frightened I would have been in their place, to learn that people can get lost or pick up and leave forever. I must be succinct. I must push past the wooden emptiness of it all and reach my words. I took a deep breath. “Bubby died. She was niftar. The part of her that made her Bubby, her neshama, went up to shamayim, and her neshama is very happy to go up there, to be near Hashem and to see Zeidy again, but we are sad because..." I fumbled, my lips feeling heavy, and caught it, "sad because we're going to miss her."
Princess asked how high shamayim is, and if it hurts to get niftar, and then asked for cornflakes in the white bowl. Outdoorsman set them up at the table and took the baby. I wandered around my room, looking around blankly for my blue scarf.
My Bubby wasn't here anymore, my Bubby with her suit and shoes matching, my elegant Bubby who went to put on a shaitel before we took a spontaneous family picture, who drove like a cowboy but never got the hang of that new fangled answering machine.
She was aristocratic and fanatical about cleanliness and made the best potato kugel in the world. And I remember the first time I saw her sit next to my father while he lay in bed and her voice broke as she said, "Oy, B, oy my poor boy." And it hit me, it hurt me--my sick Abba is her sick little boy, how hard, how unfair, after all she went through, to start a new family, to go on.
How my sister used to tease her, as she teased everyone, and at the age of 80 Bubby surprised everyone by teasing her back and developing a precious little sense of humor of her own.
Her mysterious additions to her stories of surviving the war that she told me last summer--a pregnancy in the middle of the war, but Bubby, I thought you met Zeidy in the DP camp-- stopped abruptly when she smiled, and offered me some more melon. Now I'll never know. How important is it, really, to know her full story? Maybe it is important. I think it might be.
Bubby never got her mind wrapped around the idea that I can now make a local call from Israel. She still thought of long-distance phone calls as prohibitively expensive and did not stay on the phone for more than three minutes at the most.
"So D'le, how are you?"
"Actually Bubby, I was thinking about coming in for the sumer. Tickets are really expensive, but I miss everyone and it would be--"
"Oh, okay, Dahlink. Okay. I love you, thanks for calling. Goodbye."
I love you, Bubby. I love you, Darling. Goodbye.