The date was February 10th. The year was 1986. I reluctantly woke up. It was a Monday which meant my countdown till the weekend began. I brushed my teeth and put on my ugly plaid green uniform. I was in 4th grade at TAG, an ultra orthodox school in Far Rockaway. My family fit right into the school from the outside. My father wore a black hat on Sabbath and my mother wore a wig and modest clothes. However we had several TV’s, something the school frowned upon and my parents had no issues with us enjoying it. We would spend hours every night and Sundays watching the popular sitcoms of those times such as Threes Company, Growing Pains, The Cosby show and Family Ties. But other than TV and occasionally going mixed swimming in hotels over vacation, we pretty much fit right into the religious level of that school.
I rushed downstairs so I could grab a quick bite before my bus arrived. My younger sister by 18 months Yael was sick, as usual, and therefore lucky enough to be staying home for the day. Rosalba my housekeeper was feeding Udi his breakfast while mumbling something about him being a crazy dog. “Udi Karada Perito Loco!”
”Udi is not crazy!” I yelled back at her. Udi seemed to perk up when he heard my voice and his tweets, which sounded remarkably like a bird, were filled with joy. He loved me just like he loved all the members of our family. He jumped on my shoulder and rubbed against my hair as I prayed that he wouldn’t “go” on my crisp clean button down shirt.
I gave him a few kisses and promised I’d be back later to play with him and then I rushed to the front door to wait for my bus which would pull up right in front of my house. It was already 8:00am and the bus would be there any minute.
A few moments later I heard the distinct sound of my father’s footsteps rushing down the stairs. Turning around I saw my father holding his briefcase and rushing out as he usually does. He was about to leave with his usual quick goodbye when he stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around to face me. He then kneeled down to my almost 10 year old level and gave me a hug. My father had hugged me countless times in my life, but this hug felt different. It was tighter and more intense and it made me very uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed. He said goodbye and I watched him walk off.
That was the last time I ever saw him again.
That afternoon I came home from school and played with Udi as usual. He was always so happy to see me after spending the day practically alone in his cage. I did my homework and teased my sister who was still sick with a bad cold. My mom came home from her teaching job and then dinner was served at the usual time. At 8:00 pm I looked forward to hearing the front door open and the heavy footsteps of my father. My sister and I would usually run to greet him with the same enthusiasm and joy Udi would give me every time I entered his domain. I suppose we were my father’s little monkeys too.
When it was 8:30 pm my mother started to get a bit agitated. She had not heard from my father all day and it was not like him to be late and not call.
”Rosalba” She called out. “You said you spoke to my husband this morning?”
”Jes” She answered. “Meester Israel call me to check on Ja-elli in the morning.”
”What time was that?”
”I theenk 10am time…maybe earlier.”
When an hour had passed my mother began making calls.
”Hi” she said to the phone, her voice now a bit more frantic. “Have you heard from Yisrael today?…No?…It’s just that he is not home and it isn’t like him to not call.”
I ran upstairs and got ready for bed but could not go to sleep knowing my mother was so nervous. I knew my mother was a big worry wart and lots of things made her nervous. Once she nearly broke my arm pulling me back when I tried crossing the street by myself. There weren’t even any cars!
At 11pm my mother decided to call the police. Shortly after my living room was filled with all these strangers in uniform asking my mother questions. I was sent upstairs and was told to go to sleep. My heart was racing with excitement and nervousness. I had never seen so many police officers and I knew that this was not a good thing.
My sister, age 8, was peacefully and innocently sleeping and I needed to share my anxiety with someone, since I was banished upstairs. I nudged her awake.
”Yaelli!” I whispered loudly. “Wake up!”
”What…” She said annoyed and half asleep.
”I have to tell you something.”
”Just tell me” she said. “I want to go back to sleep.”
”Abba hasn’t come home yet and it’s really late. Ema is very worried.”
”That’s why you woke me!” She said with a grimace. With that she rolled over and went back to sleep. Shortly after I joined her.
The next morning, I woke up, certain that everything was back to normal. I ran to my parent’s room and noticed that their bed was made. Their bed was never made this early in the morning. It seemed as if it was never used.
”Ema!!!” I called out. “Abba!!!”
I ran downstairs and Rosalba was busy preparing breakfast. Udi was chirping away in response to my voice. Everything seemed normal so I felt a bit calmer. “Where are my parents?” I asked.
”Your mommy say you no go school today.” Rosalba answered.
Yes!!!! I thought with excitement. No school!!!
I ran back upstairs to tell my sister when suddenly I realized that this meant something was wrong.
”Rosalba!” I called out as I ran back downstairs. “Where is my mother? Where is my father?”
”I don’t know.” She answered, avoiding my gaze. “Now eat your breakfast nicely and go feed that crazy dog.”
”He is not a dog!” I yelled. Rosalba really got on my nerves. I grabbed a few grapes and handed them to Udi who began chirping with such excitement after seeing my treat. Suddenly I heard my mother’s voice.
”Ema!!” I shouted as I ran towards her.
She was wearing the same outfit she wore the night before. Her eyes seemed redder than usual and her curly brown wig, which she wore for religious purposes, was all disheveled.
”Ema, where is Abba?” I frantically asked.
”I don’t know.” She answered carefully. “We are looking for him.”
”Where could he be? Is he lost?” I asked with wide eyes, panic starting to set in. I pictured my father lost and afraid somewhere, trying to find his way home.
”Maybe he’s on a business trip and he got caught in a storm” She said, giving me hope. She would continue to feed that hope in the weeks to come. “Don’t worry Michalli.” She said, realizing suddenly that I was only 10 years old. “We will find him. Today you and Yaelli are going to go to Sabba and Savta’s house for a little while.”
I frowned. I hated leaving Udi and I loved being in my house and I did not want to go to my grandparents.
”You won’t have to go to school for a few days, okay.” She told me and I brightened up. Although I was a straight A student, school was just plain boring and I preferred staying home any day. I imagined all the shows I would watch.
”Ema.” I said. “Will Abba be back in time for my birthday party next month?”
”We’ll find him, okay…don’t worry.” She responded.
Her response made me feel a bit better. I trusted her wholeheartedly. There was no reason not to. Besides everything so far in my life always worked out. My monkey was found miraculously the few times he escaped. I was certain everything would be ok.