Turn over in bed to your best friend’s slumbering face and gently chirp, “hey, we’re going to be riding on a camel in a month,” like the sweetest alarm clock. When her lids flutter open, venture out for bagels together and sit on someone’s stoop slurping the last of your orange juice, daydreaming about a place without subway systems.
Sit through family dinners with the aunt who wears a camera as a necklace. Seek out the least likely Kodak moment because you remember that time your guy friends admitted they thought you were the least prettiest. Listen to aunts roar about how sad it will be to not have pictures of yourself at 25. “Especially with your big trip coming up,” your mom will chime in. Feign care and complete your highest score on Doodle Jump. Be so nervous for what you don’t know that you buy pills to settle the acidic cocktail brewing in the cauldron that is your gut.
Get to the airport without breakfast. Chew gum, offer gum, share gum. On your sixth piece of peppermint, in your sixtieth minute standing in line, start to slip away from a consciousness of cool. Forget when you wore eyeliner like Jackson Pollock painted it on your lids. Remember when the middle school math teacher told you that you were a better 13-year old than that. Remember when she told you that you would be a woman someday who was independent and wouldn’t need to hide behind sweatshirt sleeves or spotty raccoon eyes. Realize that moment might be right now, in a line, at Newark airport.
Land in Israel after ten hours and seventeen games of 21 Questions. Stay close to your best friend. Link arms with her because she’s the only one who knew you when the closest you’ve ever been to the Mediterranean was through a Pinterest board.
Finally let go of your latch on her elbow and exchange words with people who didn’t know you when you woke up that day. Eat falafel. Eat all the falafel like there’s no $5 falafel joint a mile from your apartment in Brooklyn. Follow Israelis to their favorite hummus place in Tel Aviv. Never apologize when you ask if hummus has nuts in it for the twentieth time in five days the same way that annoys your friends at home. Let sand scrape your face in the desert. Feel anxiety bubble but settle it with single jaunts to the Mediterranean. Dip your toes in and feel grounded. Realize where you are and gain perspective on what’s important. Return to your hotel mirror and realize you’d rather spend time studying the stars than the constellations of freckles on your face.
Jump in front of lenses pointed at desert landscapes and hotel walls. Smile until your dimples are as deep as the crater in the Negev. Dance with new friends in bars like you’re in your kitchen on a Thursday night with a Taylor Swift playlist. Rip off your leather jacket and wrap arms around strangers in hotel conference rooms, swinging each other around to tunes you only understand the rhythm of. Curl up to friends under layers of coats in a tent. Play card games on top of sleeping bags and don’t hide the smile that makes you look like a fourteen year old enjoying her first summer at sleep away camp behind your sleeve when a camera flashes.
Sit in a spiritual zone atop a misty mountain and meditate to a woman’s vibrating voice. Listen to her gentle hums deliver thoughts on having a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual romantic connection. She’ll tell you to never compromise all four for one and you squeeze your eyes shut to dam the tidal wave rushing to your ducts. Fall weak to the force of these words anyways and cry because someone asked you for “artful nudes” the night before you left. Cry because you’re done with relationships that are stale of emotion. Cry because you want to feel a connection deeper than penetration can reach. Only respond to artful nude requests with The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
Pick your eyes up from city sidewalks and smile at someone. See what it’s like to be seen as a person and not a profile. Kiss that kind of a kiss that feels like taking a trip without leaving a square foot. Be grateful, not expectant.
Drop your towel and run bikini first into the cold water of the Dead Sea after suffering a sweltering summer in long sleeves. Tell the man in a falafel shop with eyes the color of glacier water that he’s beautiful without being dared to. Realize metaphors like blooming apply to you.
Tell your secrets to girls who served as Israeli intelligence officers and feel real trust in a person because they are essentially a vault. Share tears and shampoo and hair straighteners and opinions. Learn from a 24-year-old woman who wears maturity better than Karl Lagerfeld in a trendy scarf. Forget she’s a year younger than you because of her wisdom. Treasure what she taught you about security, strength and compassion. Hug ten times before she leaves you in Jerusalem.
Get back on a plane. Play one last game of 21 Questions. Spot the sunrise and the skyline beneath it.
Give your mom an album of pictures. Eat a French fry. Go to a birthday party. Feel uncomfortable as an upgraded you in an old space, like an iPhone 6 running on iOS5. Feel rash but stay sane.
Traverse the soiled tracks you’ve stomped on for months. Get scared that the girl who wore pants during scorchers will haunt these daily hikes and return to possess. Decide to not be an entity for insecurity. Learn to live everyday like you only have ten days in Israel – or anywhere else.