It’s easy to dismiss so much that’s inexplicable in this world if you refuse to acknowledge that something has actually happened or that you even saw it. Those of you who know me know that I’m one of the least gullible, most grounded people around. But yet… There’s so much in this world that’s extraordinary, so why shut our eyes to it?
I’d love to tell you definitively that I don’t believe in things like ghosts and spirits and strange phenomena because I don’t want to be perceived as one of “those” people. But yet… How else can you explain this?
On the morning of September 13, 1993, I was attending a “class” as part of the Livnot U’Lehibanot program I had decided to enroll in, living in Tzfat (Safed), Israel for three months while I figured some things out. It was a historic time: President Clinton had brokered a peace accord between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat just the day before, and the two long-time enemies had actually shaken hands on the back lawn of the White House. Our class was watching a rerun of the news clip on TV and I was looking out the window at the view of Mount Meiron, lost in thought. I rubbed my ankle idly up the wall and cut it on a protruding wire that I hadn’t seen. In that instant, as I watched the blood well up, I knew for certain that something had happened to Doug, thousands of miles away.
Let me backtrack a few months. Senior year of college wasn’t the happiest time for me–I was depressed after my amazing year in England and I had a horrible honors thesis to compose. I was more than ready to be done with school forever. Doug and I were figuring things out and, as I’d mentioned in In Case You Didn’t Know: I’m Jewish, I was trying to decide whether it mattered to me if I married a non-Jew. He and I had a discussion that I’ll remember forever, where he asked me not to go because Israel was so dangerous and I told him that working overnight, by himself, at a gas station in the projects of New Brunswick was more dangerous than Israel. The one time in my life I wish I hadn’t been right.
Now that you’re up to speed…
I couldn’t have explained it then and I still can’t adequately explain it now. But I just knew something had happened.
One of my family’s mottoes is “No news is good news.” This has been used as an excuse by my parents for not filling us in on a variety of things over the years–relative’s deaths for instance–and, most recently, a couple of trips to the emergency room that “weren’t worth bothering” me about. Doug’s assault was their biggest abuse of the “No news is good news” motto.
I didn’t call them because it wasn’t an overly easy thing to do. As I remember, we had one communal phone in the kitchen and we really weren’t supposed to use it for international calls. Remember – those were the days before cell phones.
So days passed, and I blew off my feeling of unease. Until the day I came back from working on one of our many projects (building a rabbi’s house, restoring a prophet’s tomb, etc.) for lunch and one of my colleagues on kitchen duty said offhandedly, “Rachel, your parents called.”
My hackles were up immediately. “What did they say? What did they want? What’s wrong?”
“Relax,” she said. “They probably called to wish you a Happy New Year. (It was the time of the High Holy Days.) They said they’d call you back.”
They called back while we were all eating lunch. I remember taking the phone, and hearing my parents wish me a happy Rosh Hashanah. As I brought the phone into a nearby closet for privacy (it had one of those long cords–remember them?), I remember saying to them “Oh, that’s why you called? I thought something happened.”
The last thing I remember is my Dad asking me if I was sitting down. It brings tears to my eyes even as I write this. I don’t remember anything else.
In the very early hours of September 12, 1993, only a few hours before that famous peace accord was signed, Doug was beaten and left for dead. He loved working alone, overnight, at the Exxon station because it was quiet and he could work on his screenplays. This night, somebody came up on foot, asked for cigarettes and, as Doug turned to get them, this man–this monster–took the gas nozzle closest to him and beat him over the head with it 4-5 times, cracking his skull open, taking his wallet, and leaving him there bleeding out on the gas station pavement.
In a sequence of events that one can really only attribute to a guardian angel (if you don’t cynically ask where the angel was before this whole thing went down, as I do), a regular customer of Doug’s came by after his security guard shift and found Doug lying there, near death. The guard’s name was a near amalgam of his first and my last names: Doug Lipot. The head trauma center of New Jersey – Robert Wood Johnson Hospital – was only about a mile away from the gas station. And my sister Jen, who was studying to be a doctor, was doing her Residency at the same hospital at that time.
And then there was the fact that I knew…
My parents, with no good news to tell me, decided not to tell me at all. FOR A WEEK. While Doug lay in a semi-coherent state, with a swollen brain, a cracked skull, and part of his body semi-paralyzed. The doctors said he’d never walk or talk again.
I never meant to get into the nitty gritty on this post (but he did give me permission to tell his story), so let me just say that he went through months of therapy and has a plate in his head. Back in the day, for a fun party trick, he used to ask people if they wanted to touch his head there. (We’re sick, but fun.) If you know Doug, you know that nobody will ever tell that man he can’t talk! He’s got a few long-term effects, but nobody would know it.
As for my sixth sense: I’ll never be able to explain it. But I also hope I never, ever, need it again.
©2015 All Rights Reserved