In the first few weeks, I hardly ever remember my dreams. I feel like I’m drowning in the harsh, dull life of waking up the same time every day and wearing the exact same clothes and doing the same thing and meeting the same people. What a yawn.
On weekends I wear some makeup and go meet my highschool friends, roaming the dark streets in search of an exciting adventure, but find none.
On one of these nights I meet a tall tattooed guy at a bar and let him drive me on his motorbike to his apartment. Nothing happens. He’s sweet, opens up about his depression and rough childhood and we kiss a little, and then he falls asleep and I take a cab home.
Nothing is exciting enough for me, nothing sweeps me off my feet. I feel lively for a second there on this stranger’s bike, with the fast speed and the wind in my hair, and somewhat in love with somebody I don’t know, but it’s over so fast and never returns.
I don’t call him back.
The office walls are closing in on me. I’m young and full of energy and keep fidgeting in my chair as I try to concentrate on my work. My eyes always wander and search for a distraction – a fly, a lamp buzzing, a hairpin, some crumbles on the desk. I feel distant. Whenever I let go of my attention the room seems to change and float around, almost as if as long as I’m not dreaming, real life turns into a dream.
But dreams come back to me as I try and set into a routine.
I dream about two characters – one is like an angel, loving and caring, and the other is a red-eyed crow that would lead me into a wild, destructive romance.
I go with the crow.
The days are getting shorter, the air is chill at night. I manage to get a blue military sweater, which is used and a bit dusty and way too big for me, but I love it. It makes me feel small and cuddly as I wear it.
Autumn comes and brings ceremonies with it, and they love ceremonies in the navy. First, there’s a new Navy Commander, so there’s the ceremony where the old and new commanders switch. Then there’s the Jewish New Year. And there’s Navy Day, in which we wear the white uniform. They are see-through so in the most festive days, we all get to see each other’s underwear.
Here’s the thing about navy ceremonies.
There’s an international tradition called Sideboys – as an admiral boarding a boat, a few sailors need to welcome them by standing and saluting, while the most senior among them whistles the Boatswain’s call – a high pitch note that comes from a tiny brass pipe.
They do so on the land as well, at official ceremonies. The soldiers and junior officers stand in rows of three and wait. The facilitator of the ceremony then announces the entrance of the seniors by their ranks, up to the Commander who enters alone, and they are welcomed with the Boatswain’s call.
So sure enough, I am being volunteered to be one of those Sideboys. It’s not too bad.
Every military unit has a Master Sergeant who is in charge of discipline and order. Our M.S is called Jerry, and he is really into his job. Even though M.S’s are associated with being mean and stupid, I actually appreciate Jerry. This is a man who loves what he does, and is serious about his small and thankless work.
Jerry takes about six newbie soldiers to the yard and teaches us how to stand and salute by order, while another soldier whistles the stupid brass thing.
We have three or four of these training, two hours each. They have an easy-going vibe and I’m glad to be out of the office for a while.
On one of those days when we practice with Jerry, he tells us to stay for a little longer and wait. A military photographer shows up, and it turns out we need to welcome the Indian Navy Commander. As we wait for the commander and his crew, I notice the photographer is looking at me. He’s a tall bearded guy with broad shoulders and warm, brown eyes. Even though he’s not a classic handsome man, I can’t take my eyes off him. There’s something about him that seems comforting, like a big bear.
The Indian Navy crew shows up from around the corner, a strange group of men with sparkly clean white uniforms, followed by the Commander himself, a short man with a black mustache who salutes and smiles at us as he passes by. This is too much for me, and I need to lower my head so I don’t burst out laughing in the Commander’s face. As I raise my head again, I see the photographer is smiling at me. Perhaps he thinks I’m cute?
Things around the office don’t seem to get easier with the days. Trapped in this little, messy box, Katja and I spend the days with our Lieutenant – the 19 years old young man with his panicky look, the droopy stand, his tiny bald head – all give him a turtle-like look, so we call him “Lieutenant Turtle” behind his back.
Even though I dislike him, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. Back in his officer’s training he was the top cadet, always volunteering and helping those in need, probably seeing himself one day becoming an inspiring officer, one who pushes his subordinates and helps them become better people. Instead, he’s stuck in a cramped cubicle with two hormonal teenagers who won’t take him seriously.
And on top of him, there’s the Major. The more I know her, the less I like her. She sends Katja and me to make arrangements for her, or talk to the IT technicians when she has a problem with the computer, or make coffee.
The coffee-making mission is such a classic role for young female soldiers, that it is actually illegal for an officer to ask their subordinates for coffee. But it doesn’t really work this way. Whenever somebody makes coffee, they ask if anybody else wants as well. Officers always do, but they would never be the ones to make the first move. So during my service, I made plenty of coffee for officers but never had it made for me.
I do secretary jobs for the Major, like printing and fixing the printer when necessary or writing emails in her name. Sometimes I need to type – she is rushing for a meeting and has her notes scribbled on a piece of paper, so she stands above me as she dictates the notes and I type, urging me to type faster or she’ll be late.
One day Katja makes a typo which causes a chain reaction in the Excel table and messes up some dates, and the Major notices that only in a meeting as she makes a mistake in front of the other officers. She marches angrily into our office and makes us both sit and watch her pace around, yelling we have to focus or the next time will have results.
I find her revolting. She’s a flirt, but she flirts in such a clumsy way it’s just comic. She sits next to another officer, crossing her legs and chewing the end of a cheap pen, leaning closer to him as he shows her things on the computer. I watch his expression as he moves farther away from her and tries to avoid touch.
I try to find the humor in all this, but I can’t help but admit I’m very unhappy.
I get weary just from being in my own skin. An endless train of thought keeps racing in my head, saying I’m a tiny pathetic person, I am no fit for this world, I’m a spoiled little brat who couldn’t even handle Bootcamp. There’s an invisible wall separating me from everybody else, I’m stuck in my own little world and can’t seem to reach out.
While I’m glad to have Katja on my side, this close friendship doesn’t do good for us both. Sometimes having another person in the same boat can only drag you down.
She’s not doing so well herself; she has to deal with her parents’ messy divorce and her abusing mother, while her low self-esteem keeps nagging in the back of her head. Her douchebag boyfriend is in a different Navy base somewhere out there and they only meet on weekends, and he is often tagged on social media flirting with some blonde.
One evening I sit alone in the office doing some meaningless unnecessary job, but my mind is a million miles away. I think about how I just can’t recognize myself anymore. Am I even real?
The clappity-cloppity of the Major’s heeled shoes echoes in the hallway and I try to shake off my thoughts as she enters the room and starts yapping about work stuff. She’s the last thing I need right now. But then she gets silent for a moment and looks at me, really looking. “Are you okay?”, she asks, “You seem down”.
This catches me so off-guard, I can’t hold back the tears. She sits down with me and insists I go talk with somebody. The next day, she tells me discreetly that she scheduled a meeting for me with a military psychologist.
A few days later I make my way back to the very same base I was drafted at, a huge human-resource center. It’s about an hour-long bus ride, and I look curiously out the window as the bus goes through the Tel-Avivian suburbs and surrounding cities. As I get there I find what is called “The Navy Ward”. It’s a few cabins under the open skies, and the waiting room outside the shrink’s office is just a bunch of picnic tables.
He opens the door and I enter. Good Doctor Eli, a bellied middle-aged man with round glasses and a deep, calm voice, fits well into his office that is decorated like a miniature old-fashioned living-room. We sit facing each other in comfy armchairs, a soft carpet beneath our feet, and a coffee table in the middle.
He looks at me and I start talking, shyly, saying I’m not quite sure I’m feeling comfortable with the treatment. He asks how so and I don’t know what to say, so I tell him about a dream I’ve had.
A man goes to see the doctor because his eyes bleed. Blood runs on his cheeks like tears. The Doctor is a dwarfish man in a white laboratory coat, and he offers the man a treatment called “The Guillotine”. The man crouches and puts the top half of his head under the Guillotine and as he does so, he sees drops of blood staining the floor. There’s a loud “Whack!” sound and the man gets up again and feels the top of his head which is now missing, leaving only his nose and mouth. He feels the open wound, and lets out a heart-tearing scream of terror.
I raise my eyes to look at the Doctor, and he nods, understandably. I like him already.
With time, I get familiar with depression. I let it wash over me. Soon I realise that there’s no better time to be depressed – these years don’t belong to me anyway, I might as well spend them trying to get every last bit of sadness out of my system.
As winter comes I crawl into depression and cuddle with it, like a mammal going into hibernation.