Sunrise Over The Mediterranean
Summer of 1971
Sam’s parents were so-called functioning alcoholics. “It’s five o’ clock somewhere,” Harvey said right before his cut crystal glass reached his mouth, even if it was only noon. At public appearances Harriet, a socially awkward housewife, clutched her large designer handbag in front of her like a shield with perfectly manicured nails. She had a full staff of cooks, nannies, and housekeepers to help her "run our home,” dressed in full attire. She rang a dinner bell expecting to be served, as though she was an aristocrat from the eighteenth century. Sam and her siblings were forced to wait—still dressed in their school uniforms—until their father came home from work to eat.
Sam immediately felt that familiar tightening in her throat as she walked in her parent’s immaculate Tudor home. Only years of practiced stoicism kept her from doubling over in pain when she heard that same old clicking sound of vodka on the rocks, her mother’s drink of choice. Her parents were seated in the living room. The butler handed them their afternoon cocktails while they read the paper. They looked up at Sam with mild smiles but didn’t move. She took a seat beside them in the brightly colored sunken room decorated with shag rugs and tapestry hangings. She stuck her hand in a bowl of peanuts the butler placed on the coffee table and chewed them one by one. Silence—God, they made everything feel so uncomfortable. No hugs, no cheer. It was all so unnatural.
“Hello Sam, we have been waiting for your arrival. I gather your trip home was good? How was your last semester at school?” her father asked.
“Great, besides taking my finals, they sucked.”
“Watch your mouth, dear,” Harriet said still hiding behind her paper.
“Sorry Mom. I just love Boston. I was sad to have to leave all my friends. I really wish I could’ve stayed.”
“I’m sure you did. That city is great, especially for young students like you.”
“Did you hit any traffic on your way here?” her mother asked eyeballing her daughter’s body from head to toe. Sam began to fidget in her seat when she noticed her mother’s eyes glaring at her body.
“There was some on the parkway, but we still managed to get here in three hours.”
“So, dear, tell us. What are your plans for the summer?” Her father put his paper down and finally looked at his daughter.
Suddenly, Sam felt a pang of anxiety. She knew her parents might ask this question, but didn’t realize it’d happen so soon. “I don’t have any plans just yet. I’m still trying to weigh my options.” She took her shoes off, rubbing her feet against the soft shag carpet in an attempt to relax.
Harvey had the ability to catch anybody’s bluff. He didn’t buy anyone’s bullshit for a second. “Well dear, you can’t just sit around the pool all summer and do nothing. Mother and I thought it would be beneficial for you to get a job or volunteer to work on a Kibbutz in Israel."
Only ten minutes after Sam walked in, they’d already devised a way for her to leave. Why did they have children if they were going to be so cold and distant all the time, scheming to send them away? Sad memories of feeling unloved as a girl welled up in Sam’s throat but, luckily, she didn’t cry.
They seemed happiest when it was just the two of them and they could act out their odd rituals. Embarrassingly enough, Sam had no idea what a kibbutz was, but anything sounded better than being stuck at home.
“Give me some time to think about it, Dad. Sounds like an interesting opportunity. Thanks for the offer.” She excused herself to go up and get settled in her room. She sat on my pink tapestry bed—still covered with her dolls from childhood—and looked up kibbutz in the encyclopedia that’d been given to her for my sixth grade graduation.
It sounded intriguing: A farming settlement in modern Israel where everyone shared the work based on agricultural principles. The communal living part didn’t sound great. Sam could barely deal with her roommate in college, let alone a group of people she didn’t know. Maybe she could just be a lifeguard and sit around the club pool all day, except that’d entail Sam having to keep her towel securely wrapped around her waist while in a bathing suit in front of all the members.
“Hurry up and get dressed for dinner, dear,” her father yelled from downstairs.
She sighed, got up from bed, put on a nicer outfit and dutifully applied some make up in the hopes of avoiding their disapproving glances. It would be so nice, just once, to get their stamp of approval. She put on my pearl earrings as well.
The restaurant was a small Italian bistro close to my parents’ house. They’d decided to try someplace new. The outside was brick and had a rustic look to it; the inside wasn’t impressive. The lack of natural light, black table cloths and dark walls made them feel as if they’d just entered into a cave.
“Would you like a Shirley Temple?” her father asked, as if she was still twelve.
She laughed and ordered a glass of white wine and the lasagna.
“Wouldn’t a salad be a healthier choice?” her mother asked.
“This is an Italian restaurant and I’m hungry. I think I’m old enough to make my own food choices.”
The waiter looked as if he’d just realized he’s forgotten something, sensing her embarrassment.
“Alright, dear, but at least order a salad for your side dish.”
Before Sam had a chance to respond, her mother waved her hand to our waiter, who was still right there. Her ostentatious wedding band sparkled throughout the room. “My daughter would like a salad with her dinner,” she ordered politely, and then took a sip of her ice water with one wedge of lemon; her pink lipstick remained on the glass. Sam felt like she was back in pigtails, getting scolded for eating too much food—the cycle never ended.
Harriet and Harvey always expected top-notch service and perfectly presented food at restaurants. If this expectation wasn’t met, Harvey, in particular, would be sure to let everyone around him know it. The waiter’s first mistake, according to Harvey, was that he served bread that wasn’t fresh and perfectly warmed in the oven. The second mistake? It wasn’t toasted enough. The third was butter so hard that we couldn’t spread it on our now-burnt bread. At that point, Harvey lost his patience. The fourth and final mistake was when the waiter served him regular spaghetti instead of angel hair pasta. “I said angel hair!” Harvey screamed as he thrust the dish of pasta in the poor waiter’s face.
Sam quickly remembered how embarrassed she got when her father was rude to waiters. She was mortified. The waiter stayed exceptionally calm. Sam asked her father to settle down, but he just continued to yell. Harriet sipped her vodka, keeping her eyes fixated on the candle that was burning in the middle of our table. What was wrong with these people? They were insane.
Sam noticed other tables looking over. One man even laughed. The manager apologized to her father and offered to remake his dinner and a complimentary dessert for the table. She figured they must’ve known her father was the owner of Shapiro Brothers’, the largest liquor distributors in the state. Otherwise, they would’ve thrown us out by now. She not only lost her appetite, but imagined the chef probably spat in all their food. At least she avoided another comment from her mother about how much she ate. Suddenly, Israel sounded like heaven.
Sam lay in her bed while her mother washed the glasses from their final nightly bourbons downstairs. She then joined her husband in bed. Sam heard their bedroom door click shut, as she had so many nights before. Even though her bed had the most comfortable pink designer sheets and the softest pillows, she couldn’t relax. The house was so silent. Outside, it began to rain. God, she was hungry.
As quietly as Sam could, she tiptoed out of the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. She listened to hear if her mother was on her way downstairs or was stirring near her bedroom door, but heard nothing, and so Sam crept down. She then got out a piece of bread and some butter from the fridge. She sunk her teeth into it all, paranoid her mother would catch her eating. When she finished, Sam got on my hands and knees, making sure to get every last crumb off the kitchen floor.
“What are you doing?” She asked herself out loud. It was pathetic! Crawling around to hide that she’d eaten a piece of bread? Look what they’d turned Sam into! She went back upstairs. As Sam stared at the wall, she thought about what would be worse: silence, or scrutiny?
It was easy to forget this side of who she was when she lived away from home. Sam reminisced about walking around Harvard Square, carefree and laughing with her friends. That girl vanished here, swallowed up by the bleak, lonely, strict atmosphere. After another failed attempt at sleep, she decided to take a bath. Soaking in a warm tub always made her feel less anxious and more sleepy. As Sam filled the tub, she looked in the mirror and saw what her mother always saw in her—a chubby girl.
The next morning, Sam woke up and knew what she had to do. She found her father out on the patio with his newspaper and cup of coffee. “Dad, I think I’ll take you up on that offer to go to Israel to work on a kibbutz. How soon can I go?” She said with great enthusiasm.
“Great, I think this would be a life-changing experience for you.” He bent a corner of his paper, peeking at his daughter with a smile.
It was a relief for Sam to have a summer plan. Harriet eyed her daughter from across the table as she put a forkful of cheese omelet in her mouth. Was it the cheese in the omelet she noticed or her bed head and worn pajamas? Harriet was always criticizing Sam’s appearance in her mind—it was like an obsession she had.
If Sam stayed there any longer, She would fall right back into the depressed state of her childhood. She knew nothing about Israel but the uncertain was suddenly alluring to her. Perhaps Sam could find joy there.