A Heart That Beats For Twenty

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I met Ido’s parents on a night messy with color and pain. Mostly, I remember a soft shade of yellow, and her smile, and how the phantom flaring from my amputated arm hurt worse than usual. Men wearing white coats had upped my meds, painkillers that, to begin with, were powerful enough to tranq a baby elephant.

I’m just glad I found the will to crawl out of bed, to stumble out of my musty room at rehab and into the raucous lobby. That’s where the parties happened, where Israel’s citizens came to serenade their wounded veterans. There were plenty of us; the 2008 Gaza operation had flipped the sign on most hospital beds from vacant to otherwise.

A heart that beats for twenty

I shuffled aimlessly through the colorful crowd, cakes, and flowers. Phantom tendrils wrapped barbs into my arm, a mixture of frostbite and thunderbolts that made it difficult to enjoy the laughter, the vibrations coming off a lone acoustic guitar.

The meds were doing their best to dull my world, so I don’t remember exactly how I met Ido’s mom. Just that a flower with yellow petals passed between our three hands, and that she smiled a lot, which made me uncomfortable.

“That’s my husband on the guitar,” she said. “He comes here every week to play for you guys.”

“He’s good,” I told her. “Soothing.” And it was.

“Where do you stay on weekends?” she asked. “Do you go home?”

“No.” I told Ido’s mom the truth. Everything was abstract, surreal. It’s the only reason I told her that, “I stay here alone.”

But I didn’t tell her why.

I was too ashamed to go home. I didn’t want my family to feel bad for me. I didn’t want my mother or sisters to see me minus an arm struggling to feed or dress myself.

“Nonsense,” she said. “From now on, you’re going to stay at our home on weekends.”

“Right,” I said. I figured I’d never see her again anyway.

Before she left, Ido’s mom told me how she met her guitar-playing husband. He had served in a brigade called, Givati, the IDF unit with the purple beret. When they met, Ido’s dad was only nineteen. He had yet to learn guitar, but he was already a combat officer who led troops into battle. Ido’s mom was the secretary on base and in charge of the only working phone. They met each other when Ido’s dad asked to ring home.

That Friday, the rehab emptied out, as it usually did. I had the place to myself, so I decided to spend the weekend watching movies and old reruns. I was on season four of How I Met Your Mother when Ido’s mom burst in. “Ready to go?” she asked.

I tried to fight her off, but she dragged me to her car by my shirt. I hunched, stumbled, moped until she had me belted firmly beside her. That’s when she told me about her son, Ido.

“I’ve got three boys,” she said. Her hands gripped the wheel at 10 and 2, but she watched me instead of the road. “Ido’s in the middle, thirteen-years-old. You’re going to be using his room.”

I didn’t know that, on his own, Ido had offered to give up his only personal space. For a complete stranger, he moved in with his little brother across the hall.

I lived in Ido’s room for months, slept in a soft bed that he had given up. I did this until I felt comfortable enough to return home. And not once did Ido complain. His heart, I understood, has a tendency to beat for more than one body.

Eight months after losing my arm, I felt ready to again face the travails of combat. I reenlisted into the military and landed, yes, in Givati. I wore my purple beret for two years, serving long enough to command troops of my own. Just like Ido’s dad.

Last year, Ido turned eighteen and was drafted into the Israeli military. He ended up wearing purple like his dad. Like me. Within a year and half he earned the rank of lieutenant.

I saw Ido a month ago during a brief visit to Israel. We met for dinner before my flight back to New York. He didn’t look anything like the boy who gave up his bedroom for a recovering stranger. His eyes, now sunken and worn, seemed to scan our surroundings without pause, searching for signs of danger – a result of his dangerous post in Chevron. He and his twenty troops have been attacked by Molotov cocktail, they’ve been ambushed with blades and gunfire. He still has soldiers recovering in rehab.

No more time to chat. My flight time approached all too fast. “Are you doing okay?” I asked him before we parted. “I mean, really okay?”

He returned a tired smile. “I just need a good night’s rest,” he said.

“Good thing you don’t have some random shmuck entrenched in your bedroom.”

And then we laughed. A good, hearty laugh. We embraced farewell. And there, beneath his uniform, beneath the rifle he carried in a vice grip, I could feel it beating.

Beating still, beneath it all, was the heart of a thirteen-year-old boy. A heart, I remembered, which has that tendency to beat for more than one body. These days, it beats for twenty.

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