Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Etti always awoke at dawn, as her parents and sister slumbered on for that one more delicious hour. Soon the house would fill with the smell of coffee as the family began the hectic battle of getting everyone showered, dressed, and out the door for the day to jobs and daycare and school. Even Shaked, Etti’s sister, already a big girl in first grade, slept on. It was warm under the covers. Why not?
Etti spied something moving on balcony, something colorful, floating in and out of sight. “What could it be?” she wondered. She pushed the sliding door ever so carefully, so as not to wake the others. She knew she’d catch it if she risked even one precious moment of their sleep.
It was a balloon! A red one. Tied to a string, the bobbing orb had become entangled with the arms of a chair. Etti clapped her hands, but without a sound, just the two hands meeting, still reluctant to incur the wrath of her sleeping family.
The girl crept closer, reached out for the balloon, and “Boom!” a big explosion.
Now it was like all the sound had been sucked out of the air.
Etti was on the ground when her parents ran to the source of the explosion and found her. And then there were sirens, so many sirens. Too many sirens. Too many people running around. Some of them in uniforms of various types, doctors, fire fighters, policemen, soldiers. Residents in pajamas, too.
It was not even 7 AM.
This scenario might go in a number of directions. In the worst case, Etti is dead by balloon, a gift from the lovely people of Gaza, who want Jews dead, even children. That’s how much they hate us. That’s the extent to which they dehumanize the Jews. If the Jews are vermin, it’s a good deed to kill them, and certainly no reason to let a small cockroach grow up to become a large one.
Fear would spread throughout the neighborhood. Parents would warn their children not to touch balloons unless a parent authorizes the contact. Etti’s little kindergarten friends would ask for her, and wonder why their teachers looked away—couldn’t seem to look the children in the eyes as they explained that Etti would not be coming to kindergarten again.
When they asked their parents, “Aifo Etti?” (where is Etti), their mommas hugged them and cried, while daddy went to check that the new lock on the balcony door was secure.
Or maybe Etti lived, but the explosion robbed her, at age 4, of her eyesight. There were many weeks in the hospital, her face bandaged. Tests, pain. Tension. And worst of all, Etti simply didn’t understand what had happened. She remembers the balloon, tantalizing, red, weaving in and out of her sight, and being so careful not to wake anyone, and then something big, a big noise, then no noise and now hospitals, pain, and bandages over her eyes.
On the other hand, maybe it was only a digit lost, or an appendage. A hand, her right one, of course, or a foot or “just” her thumb. It wasn’t there anymore after the balloon, the red balloon that beckoned to her on the balcony on that clear winter morning, so warm in the South of Israel you could go out in your pajamas barefoot and not be the least bit cold. Etti could still feel her foot/hand/thumb. And sometimes it hurt bad. But when she looked, it wasn’t there. It never was anymore.
Etti had to learn everything all over again. And she’d just learned to draw a house, with a sun in the sky, and grass on the ground, and a happy family standing nearby. Two parents, and two little girls. But now no one was happy.
Her mother would sit and rock with Etti on her lap, neither of them making a sound. With her good hand, Etti would sometimes reach up and touch the fat tears as they fell from her mother’s eyes and then put her fingers to her mouth wondering at the salty sadness, so different from the rain. Her father too, never smiled anymore in the way he used to do when he looked at her, so his eyes would crinkle up with delight. Now his mouth was a tight, straight line. He was angry. Maybe it was her fault for touching the balloon! But it had been so red. She was sorry!
Perhaps, on the other hand, Etti was the luckiest little girl in the world, and all that happened was a loud noise, people running, and a stinging feeling where she’d received a small powder burn on her hand. Lucky means never trusting ever again that a toy could be just a toy. Being fearful and afraid to do anything without an adult confirming that it’s okay, nothing will happen to her, she’s safe. Even though never again does she really feel safe.
She wakes up in the night with heart pounding from the bad dream, the scary one of red balloons with monster faces exploding and hurting her, more and more of them each night, and again she feels that the bed is wet. She imagines that dangerous things are all around her and she is scared of the people she knows, too.
One fine morning, Etti woke up a happy girl. But the next day she was not. Everything had changed. Her face, once cute and pudgy became pinched and sullen. She acted out and had no friends. Etti didn’t want friends. She couldn’t trust them.
They were stupid. They didn’t know about the bad people who think up ways to hurt little girls with toys from far away.
She’d learned to hate the color red.

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