He clips my phone to his back pocket.
"Because I want you to meet your grandmudder before it's too late. That's why."
So this has nothing to do with Ron wanting to get to know me and spend time with me. No from now on I want to be the father I always should have been from him.
I shouldn't be disappointed, but I am.
"Boarding now for El Al flight 001 to Tel Aviv with a connection in Newark," a voice with an Israeli accent blasts through the loudspeaker. "Passengers in rows turdy-five to forty-five please have your boarding cards and passports out for the attendants."
"Tell you what," Ron says. "I'll give you back the phone if you'll cooperate and get on that plane. Deal?"
As if I have any other option.
"Fine," I say and hold out my hand. At least I'll have my little connection to sanity and independence.
He hands me the phone and I reluctantly follow him on the plane.
Ron and I are assigned to row sixty, the last row. I'm kind of glad nobody will be sitting behind me so I can rest comfortably on the twelve-hour flight to Tel Aviv.
Unless, of course, a bomb is planted on the plane or terrorists hijack it and we die before we even get to the war zone. As I think about terrorists on the plane, I look over at Ron.
"I heard there are air marshals on all El Al flights," I say as I shove my backpack under the seat in front of me. "Is it true?"
I don't know if I've ever actually started a conversation with Ron before, and he seems stunned. He looks around to see if I'm asking someone else the question before he answers.
"El Al has always had air marshals."
"How many?" Because if there's only one air marshall against five terrorists, the air marshall is toast.
"A lot. Don't worry, El Al's security is second to none."
"Uh huh," I say, not very convinced as I look to my left at a guy with a mono-brow who looks pretty suspicious. Mr. Mono-brow smiles at me. His smile fades as I realize Ron is glaring at him.
After so many years with Ron as a 'birthday only' figure in my life, I feel like he doesn't have any right to say he's my dad. When I was younger and he came to take me for my annual birthday outing, I worshipped the ground he walked on. He was like this superhero who granted my every wish and treated me like a "princess for a day."
But by the time I realized a father should actually be there for you every day, I started resenting him. Last year I actually blew him off. I snuck out of the house, left a note I'd gone out with friends, and came back after dark.
My mom isn't easy. She throws men away for sport. But from what I know of Ron, he was once a commando in the Israeli Defense Forces.
A commando who's too chickenshit to fight for marriage to a woman he impregnated isn't worth much in my book.
I won't be like my mother when I'm older. I won't be like Ron, either.
Before long, we land in Newark to pick up more passengers. I've never eaten sardines, but when people start piling in and filling each and every empty spot on the plane, the disgusting little fishes come to mind. It boggles my mind how many people pack the plane to fly to a place on the warning list for American citizens.
When we lift off, I push that little button to recline my seat because I'm starting to get tired.
Only since we have the back row, I realize pretty quickly the back row doesn't recline. Okay, now this isn't funny. It's not just a short flight to Orlando. This is a whopping twelve-hour flight to a place I don't want to go to in the first place to meet a sick grandmother I didn't know existed in the first place. (That's two first places, I know, but at this point nothing in my life that bugs me is second place ... it all takes first place.)
As I try and force the chair to recline for the fifth time and the person in front of me reclines theirs so far back I hardly have room for my legs, this feeling in the pit of my stomach makes me want to cry. I can't help it. I hate this plane, I hate Mom for making me come on this stupid trip, and I hate Ron for just about everything else.
After a few hours I get up to go to the bathroom, this time for real. Unfortunately, at least one hundred people have already used the facilities and the floor is full of little pieces of unflushed toilet paper shreds. To top it off (in the first place) the floor is full of these little droplets. Are the droplets pee or water? My Dansko clogs are not used to being subjected to this kind of abuse.
I go back to my seat and to my astonishment I'm finally able to get into a comfortable, albeit upright, sleeping position. Sleep right now would be bliss. The captain turns off all the lights and I close my eyes.
Someone yells, and I'm jerked awake from dreamland. Right above me, like practically in my face, is a Hasidic
Jew. You know, one of those guys who wears a black hat and coat and has long, curly sideburns running down his face and neck. Jessica (she's Jewish) told me they're ultra, ultra religious and try to follow all of God's six hundred or so rules. I have enough trouble following my mom's rules, let alone six hundred of God's.
It takes me a minute to realize his eyes are closed and he's praying. But he's not praying in his seat, he's praying right over mine. He's bobbing up and down, his eyes are shut, and his face is in total concentration. In fact, as my eyes focus in the dark, I realize all of the Hasidic Jews have congregated at the back of the plane to pray.
But it doesn't sound like prayers at all, more like some chant mixed with mumbling. They might not even be praying. But then one of the guys, I guess he's the leader, says a couple of words loudly and they all respond and keep on doing their mumbling chant. Yeah, they're praying.
Do they all have to do it at the same time?
And what are those straps on the back of their hands and arms or the box strapped to their forehead?
Now that I watch them more intently, I admire the men for being so devoted to their religion they would pray instead of sleep. Don't get me wrong, I admire it, but I wouldn't do it.
I look over at Ron, sound asleep. He's a good-looking man, if you like the dark, brooding kind of guy. Which I don't. My mother is pastey white and has blond hair and green eyes. She was probably in her "opposite" stage when she and my dad got together that fateful night.
I wonder if Ron wishes I wasn't born. If he'd chosen to stay at his cousin's dorm room at the University of Illinois, instead of following my mom to her sorority house seventeen years ago, then he wouldn't be stuck with a kid who resented him.
His eyes suddenly open and I sit back in my chair, pretending to watch the television screen in front of me without the headphones on my ears. I have one good thing to say about El Al Israel Airline--it has personal television screens embedded into the backs of every single seat. A miracle in its own right.
"I think you'll like it there," Ron says. "Even though I've lived in America for seventeen years, Israel will always be apart of me."
"And ...?" I say.
He shifts in his seat and looks at me straight on. "And your grandmudder will want it to be a part of you, too. Don't disappoint her."
I blink and give him my famous sneer, the one where my top lip curls up just the right amount. "You've got to be kidding. Don't disappoint her 7 . I didn't know she existed before yesterday. What about her disappointing me? If you haven't forgotten, she hasn't been the doting grandma."
Believe me, I know people who have doting grandmas. Jessica's Grandma Pearl spent four years knitting her a blanket. Four years! And she's got arthritis. I wonder what Grandma Pearl would think if she knew Jessica lost her virginity to Michael Greenberg under the blanket she spent four years knitting with her crooked fingers.
Ron sighs and turns his attention to his little personal television screen. I note he's not wearing the headphones, either.
I sit back. There's a long silence, so long I think if I look at him I'll find him sleeping again.
"What do I call her?" I ask, still staring at the screen in front of me.
"She'll like it if you call her Safta. It means grandma in Hebrew."
"Safta," I say quietly to myself, trying out how the word sounds coming out of my mouth. Glancing over at the Sperm Donor, I notice he's nodding. His chin is raised and he's giving me a little smile like he's proud. Ugh!
Looking forward, I turn my personal TV to the channel showing how much longer until we land in Israel. Four hours and fifty-five minutes.
By this time the Hasidic Jews have gone back to their seats. I close my eyes again, thankfully drifting off to sleep.
Before I know it, the flight attendant says something in Hebrew. I wait until the information is repeated in English.
"We're starting our descent into Tel Aviv, please put your seats in the upright position ..."
News flash--my seat has been in the upright position for the whole twelve-hour flight!
I'm not rude, I'm just a teen with attitude.
The immigration officer inside Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv asks Ron (who has dual Israeli and American citizenship) who I am.
"My daughter," he replies.
"Is she registered as an Israeli citizen?" she asks.
Is the woman joking? Me? An Israeli citizen? But when I see the serious look on the immigration officer's face, I panic. I've heard of Middle East countries where American kids are taken and aren't allowed to leave. I don't want to be Israeli. I want to go home, like right now!
I turn around, heading back to the plane. Hopefully the captain will let me back on ...I'll go in the belly of the aircraft, in someone's luggage, in a damn animal carrier. Just get me out of here!
I'm almost at the door. Freedom is in sight when I feel a hand on my shoulder.
"Amy," Ron's familiar brooding voice says from behind me.
I turn around and face him. "They won't let me go back home, will they? You've kidnapped me to this country that wants me to be a citizen. Oh, God. They make everyone, even girls, go into the army at eighteen, right? I've heard that, don't try and deny it."
I know I'm sounding like a crazy sixteen-year-old right now, my voice several octaves higher than usual. I can't help it and I keep rambling.
"You're going to make me stay here and be drafted into the army, aren't you?"
I can just see them making me trade in my Abercrombie & Fitch for fatigues. My heart is beating fast and little droplets of sweat are running down my face. I swear they're not tears, just droplets of sweat.
"Ron, to be honest I doubt I'm even your kid. Did you ever get a paternity test? Because I saw a picture of this one guy my mom dated in college who looks just like me."
Ron looks at the ceiling and lets out a breath. When he looks back at me, his brown eyes are darker than usual. His jaw is clenched tight.
"Calm down, Amy. You're causing a scene."
"Dude," I say really tough, getting a grip on my voice. Now I sound like Angelina Jolie, in that movie where she kicks everyone's ass that crosses her. "I haven't even started to cause a scene."
A soldier with a very, very large machine gun walks up to us. He has an almost shaved head and I can tell just by looking at him he has a twitchy trigger finger. Great, my life is over, I'm going to be stuck in this third world country for the rest of my days ...which are probably numbered now.
"Mah carrah?" the soldier says to Ron in Hebrew. It sounds either like "Macarena?" or "Kill Amy?" to me.