Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Written By: Jonathan Safran Foer

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer





I


BEFORE THE WAR





GET BACK TO HAPPINESS


When the destruction of Israel commenced, Isaac Bloch was weighing whether to kill himself or move to the Jewish Home. He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceilings, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced persons camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brain; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe-quiet Silver Spring split-level: ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world’s last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren.

German horticulturalists had pruned Isaac’s family tree all the way back to the Galician soil. But with luck and intuition and no help from above, he had transplanted its roots into the sidewalks of Washington, D.C., and lived to see it regrow limbs. And unless America turned on the Jews—until, his son, Irv, would correct—the tree would continue to branch and sprout. Of course, Isaac would be back in a hole by then. He would never unbend his knees, but at his unknown age, with unknown indignities however near, it was time to unball his Jewish fists and concede the beginning of the end. The difference between conceding and accepting is depression.

Even putting aside the destruction of Israel, the timing was unfortunate: it was only weeks before his eldest great-grandson’s bar mitzvah, which Isaac had been marking as his life’s finish line ever since he crossed the previous finish line of his youngest great-grandson’s birth. But one can’t control when an old Jew’s soul will vacate his body and his body will vacate the coveted one-bedroom for the next body on the waiting list. One can’t rush or defer manhood, either. Then again, the purchase of a dozen nonrefundable airplane tickets, the booking of a block of the Washington Hilton, and the payment of twenty-three thousand dollars in deposits for a bar mitzvah that has been on the calendar since the last Winter Olympics are no guarantee that it’s going to happen.



A group of boys lumbered down the halls of Adas Israel, laughing, punching, blood rushing from developing brains to developing genitals and back again in the zero-sum game of puberty.

“Seriously, though,” one said, the second s getting caught on his palate expander, “the only good thing about blowjobs are the wet handjobs you get with them.”

“Amen to that.”

“Otherwise you’re just boning a glass of water with teeth.”

“Which is pointless,” said a redheaded boy who still got chills from so much as thinking about the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

“Nihilistic.”

If God existed and judged, He would have forgiven these boys everything, knowing that they were compelled by forces outside of themselves inside of themselves, and that they, too, were made in His image.

Silence as they slowed to watch Margot Wasserman lapping water. It was said that her parents parked two cars outside their three-car garage because they had five cars. It was said that her Pomeranian still had its balls, and they were honeydews.

“Goddamn it, I want to be that drinking fountain,” a boy with the Hebrew name Peretz-Yizchak said.

“I want to be the missing part of those crotchless undies.”

“I want to fill my dick with mercury.”

A pause.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You know,” Marty Cohen-Rosenbaum, né Chaim ben Kalman, said, “like…make my dick a thermometer.”

“By feeding it sushi?”

“Or just injecting it. Or whatever. Dude, you know what I mean.”

Four shakes, and their heads achieved an unintended synchronicity, like Ping-Pong spectators.

In a whisper: “To put it in her butt.”

The others were lucky to have twenty-first-century moms who knew that temperatures were taken digitally in the ear. And Chaim was lucky that the boys’ attention was diverted before they had time to slap him with a nickname he would never shed.

Sam was sitting on the bench outside Rabbi Singer’s office, head lowered, eyes on the upturned hands in his lap like a monk waiting to burn. The boys stopped, turning their self-hatred toward him.

“We heard what you wrote,” one said, thrusting a finger into Sam’s chest. “You crossed a line.”

“Some f*cked-up shit, bro.”

It was odd, because Sam’s profligate sweat production usually didn’t kick in until the threat had subsided.

“I didn’t write it, and I’m not your”—air quotes—“bro.”

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