When I first returned to Israel every mundane thing scared me.
I was afraid of the unknown plains. I was petrified of retracing steps like a foolish, misguided foal.
I couldn’t remember where everything was. Which bus would take me where, which street bled into the next.
I didn’t know words like chozeh (contract), sefach (attachment), or even tofes (form).
Those little technicalities, the little cracks in my semi confident (rather flimsy) veneer, would show and I’d be so embarrassed, I’d agonize over it for a whole day.
They see me.
They see right through me.
I’m the fumbling chutznik who’s trying to squeeze into the picture frame.
It was almost debilitating, the fear of my words, the fear of displacement.
Ask my sister (she used to take me places at the beginning).
I was afraid at the bank.
Tak. Tak. Tak, my leg would go, to the rhythm of my heart.
I’d rehearse the conversation in my head.
“Yesh li cheshbon kan, aval lo hishtamashti ba’zeh…”
My words were wrong. I could feel their wrongness in my mouth, sense their traitorousness in my veins.
I could get going in French accented Hebrew then bam-stumble on a word.
A blank look would meet my sudden mortification.
How could she have been conversing so well, understanding me so well, then suddenly drop off as if she were deaf?
And that was only at the bank.
Bituach Leumi had me running in circles, causing me to engage in real Vikuach’s to establish that YES I AM A TOSHEVET CHOZERET AND I STILL HAVE MY RIGHTS.
Everyone said it would get easier with every visit.
But Misrad Hapnim.
“B’hatzlachah,” they would say with a laugh when I told them I was going to that place, that infamous place. Those people are dragons.
The snif I went to while staying with my sister must have hired pussy cats of the suguriest nature by comparison. Kind. Pleasant. Efficient.
The woman’s mouth didn’t even twitch when my “Sefach” came out with too much “chhhh”.
People were obviously over exaggerating.
Then I moved to Jerusalem.
At the start, rules sounded the same.
“Get there a billion years before their opening hours.”
“Have all your papers ready.”
“Be prepared to argue until you’re hoarse.”
I was several months into my klita. I’d be fine now. My heart and leg didn’t dance together to the sound of a fictional oncoming heart attack. Well, not as often as before. My technical Hebrew had majorly improved.
I’d be fine.
Even though my confidence was low.
Even though I had gone through something pretty damaging to my self esteem, like losing a job.
I could make it here.
I wanted to make it here.
Here was home.
Here was where the better me came out from layers and layers of self doubt.
So I went to Misrad Hapnim late. Almost two whole hours late.
I didn’t stumble when I was asked what I was getting in line for.
I didn’t hesitate to ask the lady at the general information desk if I did indeed have everything I needed.
The room was crowded, but I remember not being bothered.
It felt like a messy bus station. Everyone waiting, slightly hot, no clear lines, only a number in your hand that would at some point (or day, har har), flash up on the screen to announce your turn.
Maybe I had been in Israel too long, but something about it calmed me.
I sat down.
And despite my heart rate being normal, my leg gave a small, Tak Tak Tak.
The cubicles were manned by a diverse group, just like the customers waiting on the metal benches.
The diversity calmed me too.
I don’t know why.
But my foot felt the old fear, like a subconscious tick that never truly goes away.
Tak Tak Tak.
It was then I realized that the cubicles in the main room were only numbered 1-20.
WHERE WERE THE OTHER CUBICLES? You mean I’d have to run down a hallway, into a possible labyrinth of hallways if necessary?
TAK TAK TAK.
I looked at the employees of this den of dragons.
They look frustrated. Red faced. Some even frowned. Normal.
But they weren’t sitting where I was. They could be dragons from where I was sitting.
Twenty minutes passed uneventfully.
לקוח 718, לעמדה מספר 30
Client 718, to stand 30.
I shot up into the air, climbed over (apologizing profusely as I went) the lady in the hijab and the Eritrean man at the edge of the row because I stupidly thought sitting in the middle would give me a fair chance at reaching my netzig.
Don’t skip me, don’t skip me, don’t skip me.
What kind of dragon decides to nest in an office that’s several million heartbeats and two hallways away? A very cruel one.
I clambered in through the door with the number thirty above it, wondering why in hell, this employee, and at least ten others, weren’t sitting in cubicles in the main area.
And then I stopped very short.
Facing me as I sat down, rather repentantly, was a patient looking woman with strawberry blond hair that was sticky outy and reminded me of my mom’s reoccurring color.
She was sitting in an electronic wheelchair with a head grip, her hands curled in front of her in a downward lazy drawl, like a supplicant in church who forgot she was praying.
I internally smacked myself.
In a steady and efficient manner, this quadriplegic netzig smiled at me and asked me what my business was.
“I’d like to change my address. On my sefach.” I murmured in Hebrew, trying to match her ease and pleasantness, even if my heart was still racing and I was angry with myself.
She proceeded to turn what she could of her head and blink into a special camera above her screen, which then played her deliberate blinks onto a digital keyboard.
I watched as she wrote with each shutter of her lids.
There was my name. There was my address. Calm, quiet, efficient, quick.
“Could you flip your contract to the pages with signatures please?”
“Sure, of course.”
I did what she asked, flustered, but realizing that my heart was no longer going Tak Tak Tak.
When she directed the computer to the print command with a few swift blinks and flicks of her eye lids, she told me she would need me to (“If I didn’t mind”) go to the printer right behind her and bring the new sefach to the desk, and then she would direct me on how to properly fold it so it would fit neatly into my Teudat Zehut plastic pocket.
I did as she asked. I may have fumbled a bit but she only smiled at my clumsiness.
All over in ten minutes. My entire visit took no longer than twenty five.
She wished me a good day (no growl).
I genuinely wished one right back at her.
Her shirt was bright. Her glasses were rimless.
She didn’t look like a dragon. More importantly she didn’t act like one.
She probably could have been. She probably could have harbored many silent frustrations about having to do things through an effortful blink.
But she didn’t.
And just like that, she slayed the dragon for me.
Whatever I need to do, whichever implacable, impossible person I have to face behind a desk at whichever bureaucratic office, my heart no longer goes…TAK TAK TAK.