Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Yerushalem. So saith PSALM 122:2, the psalm given to me by Father in 1994 when I asked Him for one to pray daily over my children. My feet had already stood there in 1984. Julie and I had arrived in Israel and been sent to a kibbutz in late 1983, sometime in November.
After the obligatory dining room or kitchen duties, I was able to obtain a job in the chickens, then the dates because I looked after the kibbutz secretary, Yohav’s, five horses in my own time. That was one of the best jobs I ever had because it allowed me to ride them every day if I wanted. Funnily enough I couldn’t really ride then. I just sort of pretended and hung on for grim death.
One night soon after our arrival at Ashdot Ya’akov I was in the bar-in-a-bomb-shelter which tripled as a disco–and saw a lot of drunken volunteers from many countries stumble out to bed. The bar had a five-person committee overseeing it: John, the tall Cockney who looked like John Lennon; Bruce, the shy handsome New Zealander; a German girl; and two others. Sitting writing Christmas cards home to family while a bar meeting was in progress, John came over to me.
He said, “Debbi, it’s not permitted to write Christmas cards in the bar. So the committee has decided you are banned for life. The only way we’ll lift the ban is if you discuss it with Bruce because he comes from your part of the world, so maybe you two can come to some sort of agreement.”
I stared at John trying to fathom his rationale. Was he joking? How could someone be BANNED FOR LIFE for writing CHRISTMAS CARDS? It never entered my mind for a moment he may have been trying to match-make Bruce and me.
Looking into John’s eyes, unable to read anything there, I jumped up in disgust, gathered my Chrissy cards and stalked out. Back at the volunteers’ quarters, where I shared a room with two other Aussie girls, I spat out my angst to one of them, Janet. “John banned me from the bar FOR LIFE!” I exclaimed.
“What?” she asked. Neither of us could figure it out so we let it drop.
It was a few days later while I was working in the kibbutz kitchen, John walked through. He hugged me with one of what I came to know as his Big John hugs, and told me he had been joking. I could come back to the bar. I think he was pretty upset at himself and rather astonished I had taken him seriously. What a relief. But my pride refused to show it had been duped, so I just said rather haughtily that I’d do what I like whether HE liked it or not!
Janet secured me a job in the chicken coups. We all hated the kitchen and dining room jobs so all new volunteers were sent there first. Meanwhile I started going out with a cute Israeli named Gaal. A month later that ended when he went into the army, and I had decided Israel was simply too far away from Australia to have such a long distance relationship. Gaal had the dubious honour of being the last of the fun and no relationships men in my Year of Living Dangerously. When we farewelled each other at the end of my time on the kibbutz, he very fortuitously having had that weekend on leave, he said to me, “I wish you a beautiful life, Debbi.” You too, Gaal.
One day in the chickens Janet and I found a rigor-mortified chicken that had died in one of the laying boxes, probably suffocated by other hens piling on top of it. The coups consisted of several enormous hen houses, thousands of hens, and some roosters thrown in to keep the ladies happy. They were able to run about freely inside and lay in the straw-lined plastic boxes provided. Janet and I would commence work at 4 am so we could finish at 9 am to have the rest of the day off.
I had an idea. We took the rock-solid, stiff hen back to the volunteers’ quarters hidden under my jacket. Bruce shared a room with John, so I asked him if he would unlock their door to put the hen on John’s bed as payback for banning me from the bar. He was only too willing to do so. Beside the hen and a couple of eggs, we left a note saying From the Godfather. It was in the movie by that name: someone left a horses head on a bed as an extreme payback, so Janet told me. The note was her idea.
Bruce relocked the room. I was coming out of the shower next to the boys’ room when John came round the corner. He grabbed me and hugged me tightly saying, “I love this girl so much…” Bruce was right behind John and I mouthed to him, “He won’t love me in a minute!” When John released me I rushed upstairs to my room and locked the door.
A moment later the whole block reverberates with: “WHO THE F…… LEFT A DEAD CHICKEN ON MY BED!?! John was fastidiously clean and apparently the chicken had emptied the contents of its bowels all over his sheets. I expected the big guy to come stomping with his long legs up to our room before smashing down the door. I was, as we called it, packing death. Janet and I were, after all, the only volunteers who worked in the chickens.
Well, apparently John never did find out who did that deed. Nobody told him, not even me, despite the fact he came to Australia some time later and lived with us for several months. I was grateful for that. I lived to tell another tale.
Bruce had a haircut soon after and I noticed for the first time how good-looking he was. Oh, Debra! All the girls had their beady eyes on him. Course I couldn’t have cared less about that. Being tall and blonde, I’d never had trouble attracting guys, but Bruce didn’t seem interested in me. Somewhat affronted by this, I took it as a personal challenge to win his heart. Turned out he had a girlfriend in Switzerland. When I learned this from him, my fun-and-no-relationships idea kicked back in, so I put it to him: “Let’s just have fun while we’re on the kibbutz and say good-bye–as I had to Michael, Chris, Steve, and Gaal–when we leave. He thought this was a good idea too.
My mother was in the habit of saying, “Well, you know what thought did, don’t you?” The only problem with my ‘great idea’ was that it wasn’t fun. We kept getting hurt by the other as we got in deeper and deeper until it was impossible to say good-bye at the end of it. Once I won Bruce’s heart it stuck like glue to me and mine to him. All ‘egged’ on by John because he had seen us being kindred spirits from the beginning. I would venture to say John was our cupid.
John adored me and the feeling was mutual, but he had a delightful girlfriend in pretty, long-haired Israeli, Ronit. They eventually broke up because it was too far for John to keep travelling between Israel and London. Perhaps relevant to this story with its dead chicken saga is that John is today my daughter’s godfather! John also had a habit of wearing wacky hats which, to my mind, made him look so silly I wondered how Ronit didn’t die of embarrassment. Today I am just so different and I myself wear wacky hats without the whiff of a blush.
One of my roommates, Kathy, and I took a week-long trip to the Sinai during this time (and there were other trips to Yerushalem and Mt Hermon), where one night we awoke to a donkey munching through all the food we’d bought in Elat. We had to live on pennies, which bought us about a flat loaf of bread a day from the Bedouins, and necessitated us sleeping on the beach. Snorkeling on the magnificent, colourful Red Sea coral reef, however, more than made up for our loss.
Upon our return I was in the bar one night being up close and personal with Bruce. There had been an influx of new volunteers while we were away, and one of them, he had noticed and was quick to tell me –a delicate, china doll-like girl from Finland–had a crush on him. Her friend came up to me asking the way to the toilet. I took her outside the bomb shelter and introduced her to squatting on the grass. As we did our business, this girl berated me: “You should leave Bruce alone! My friend, Such-and-Such (don’t remember her name), likes him.” I just looked at her and laughed. We were by then firmly a couple until kibbutz-leaving doth us part.
Yohav had a brother named Amid who had a crush on ME. One day Bruce, being the kibbutz gardener, planted me two rose bushes. Amid became jealous when he heard and flattened one rose-bush with the tractor as he was SUPPOSED to be mowing. But YHWH got him back…
After the chickens I went to work with Yohav in the dates, for which he was famed. Yohav sort of favoured me because I’d looked after his horses. He was married for a while to an English girl named Gill to whom I retired my little blue tent. Anyway, both Bruce and Amid came to work in the dates too. Amid got speared with one of the long date darts that are supposed to be trimmed off the fronds every year. Some of the guys don’t do this properly and are a bit too gung-ho jumping around those trees. Most would end up stabbed. Amid’s went right through his hand, sticking out several inches both sides, palm and back. They would have to go to the hospital in Tiberius to have them removed. I was always super careful not to be stabbed after seeing those long darts sticking through arms and hands. And I would pick my way around the trees with feminine grace, TENDERLY cutting off any missed ones. Always remember to BLESS an Israelite, even if you are an Israeli Jew!
It was an amazing time. There is no more favoured place I ever went than that kibbutz. I think I could have stayed there forever. But came time to leave. Bruce and I left together, our hearts having utterly forgotten about the have-fun-on-the-kibbutz-until-we-leave agreement. We travelled to Greece, Crete, Yugoslavia, and on through Europe to Paris. Bruce spoke fluent French from living in Geneva so our weekend stay there was hands down the most romantic in my life. We breakfasted on croissants and coffee at a sidewalk cafe before taking in the Louvre, visiting impressive Sacre Coeur, and standing under the spaceward heights of the Eiffel Tower. Bruce took photos of me all along Haussmann Boulevard as if I owned it, which of course I do, for that is my maiden name. The world was our oyster, as they say. I scratched our nicknames for each other–Space Cowboy and Action Man–amongst the dozens of others into the soft lead made-for-graffiti roof of Notre Dame Cathedral. Then, after seeing me off on the train to London and loneliness, he returned to Sue in Geneva.
On that train and back in London I was the loneliest I’ve ever felt. Running into some South Africans I’d met in Europe and on the kibbutz, they invited me to stay at ‘their’ place in Earl’s Court. But it wasn’t theirs. They had climbed in through a window and made themselves at home having known someone who lived there before. When the four girls who were current tenants had come home they discovered three additional males living with them whom they found impossible to evict. Then the guys kept inviting more and more friends until by the time I moved in without having the least idea what was going on, there were thirteen of us with our backpacks in a one bedroom flat!
Eventually two of the New Zealand girls booted all the others out but invited me to stay. We got in a French girl called Matilda would you believe. I went back to work as a nurse and missed Bruce. He wanted to work the summer at his gardening job at a college campus in Geneva, and was worried if he came to London he wouldn’t find employment.
Several more weeks into this I bought tickets for us to Bob Dylan when he was to play at Wembley Stadium, wrote to Bruce about it, and begged Father to get him there in time. Such was the discomfort in Switzerland, he made it. And Bob Dylan–B.D.–witnessed the reunion of Bruce and Debbi. The nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Russia melted down as a result, making the Brits worried the ensuing atomic dust cloud would envelop the UK. In addition this was when the foolish farmers were making cannibals out of their cattle, with the much later mad cow disease a consequence. There is no doubt we ate infected meat as Bruce had found work within his profession as a butcher. However, we have survived the madness, as has happened many times now, to tell the tale.
I’d been away from home almost three years by then and Bruce for ten long years. His best friends had left Auckland with him. Russell was in the north of England working on, not in, a monastery, and the other friend on a moshav in Israel. Bruce’s mother had been urging him to come home to see her before she died of emphysema. So after four months, we set our sights toward the southern hemisphere and home. I wrote my folks we were going to Sri Lanka but left my homecoming a surprise. We stayed for a languid month, most of it on a beach, in Sri Lanka. Then flew to Brisbane and caught a taxi home where nobody WAS home.
From its hiding place under the stairs I fished out the front door key, opened my parent’s house, hugged my cat Misty (she remembered me–do you remember HER from my post Dave?), and waited.
My brother Vin was the first. He walked up the stairs, saw Bruce and me, and asked, “What are YOU doing here?” AFTER THREE YEARS AWAY!
Bruce and I rented a half house nearby. I went to work at Prince Charles Hospital while he found a labouring job in the city. With cash I hadn’t spent travelling, I bought a car. At Christmas Bruce went home to New Zealand to see his folks. Imagine that homecoming. Like the prodigal son. After ten years. And if he hadn’t met me…
Back in Oz, working one day, Bruce hurt his back so badly he limped home on the train in excruciating agony. He was on compo (worker’s compensation) for six months and was operated on by our Lord Mayor’s husband. But a couple of months after he’d seen his parents, just after injuring his back, we received a phone call from New Zealand. Bruce’s dad had only recently been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The call was to tell us he had died. A bereft Bruce cried on my shoulder as I held him.
We tried so desperately to get him on a flight that day to catch the funeral, to no avail. His back was too sore and flights without notice too costly. Bruce decided to wait until he could go home and spend some time with his mum. Next day we received another call. His mum had died – of emphysema. My shoulder again wet from his tears. And I was honoured I could do that for him. He (Bruce’s dad) had come back for her (his mum), he said.
When Bruce finally recovered from his operation he decided to go to the USA with the money he’d saved while laying flat on the floor for six months. So off he went. I hadn’t expected to miss him so much. A postcard from him declared: If I had a ticket to Heaven and you didn’t have one too, I’d sell my ticket to Heaven, and go to Hell with you. I took to getting drunk each night to assuage the loneliness again.
By the end of the year when I had holidays coming up, I booked to go on one of my dream trips, the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. Bruce was back in London and wanted me to join him there. At the last minute my trip was cancelled due to the extreme cold in Siberia that year. Not wanting to wait another month for the next train, I flew back to London and those brilliant Bruce hugs. I worked as a nurse again. Bruce acquired a job as a gyprock plasterer, the trade he still works in today.
In the September my brother Vin got married in Australia so I flew home for the wedding, then back again after six weeks. My Action Man had moved into a little place at Kilburn. His brother and wife had come over too, and they lived in another bedsit. It was a grand time with the whole house filled with Antipodeans.
But I wanted to go to Africa. It had always been my dream, like riding on that train across Siberia, to go there. As Bruce described me once: I can live on the smell of a penny; but he just couldn’t save money, so he had none. I decided to go without him. Our relationship was becoming rocky by then. Living in sin does that. The details of that trip continue in my previous posts Having Done All, to Stand; Scent of a Hippopotamus; Black Plus Red Equals White; and Ladders, Sand Dunes, Soft Edges, and Prayer.
As you know if you’ve read it, I was pregnant when I left London–a deliberate if unconscious ploy in my part to keep a little part of Bruce forever when I thought we were breaking up–and returned to London before flying home to Australia. Bruce followed me but emphatically did not want to be married. Ranyhyn was born a few weeks after he returned. As my doctor walked out the door of the delivery room, he turned and asked us, “What is her name?” We both said unhesitantly in unison, “Ranyhyn.” We hadn’t known we were having a girl. It was written in the stars (see my last post The London Chronicles).
We lasted another three years. I am convinced to this day what broke us up was living in sin. But he rues the day he chose for us not to get married. Only recently have I come to an accurate understanding of my own heart in this. I desired marriage and committment from Bruce, yet my own committment was so unshakeable toward him I went on to marry two other men! How pathetic and what a hypocrite. Bruce finally asked me to marry him as I asked him to move out. I said, as he had three years earlier, “No.” I had this silly idea the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. Well, when one decides to find someone ‘better’ than the best, let it be known the grass ISN’T greener. It’s DEAD.
AM (Action Man) and I had a reconciliation when I was at the end of my first marriage. But there was bitterness there and pain that drove us apart. We recently became friends again after 11 years and have started, I hope, on the road to mending the wounds. Ranyhyn is a prodigal and I don’t see her but Bruce does. I really cannot think of a better person to be in my daughter’s life than him while I am not. And I’m thankful, so thankful to Father for him. It is 30 years this year in November since this lost Israelite came home and met Bruce there. And we still call each other Action Man and Space Cowboy.