by Susan Rudnick (Pleasantville, NY)
Just days after they had become available, I had snagged an appointment early in January for my first vaccine. I did a little dance in front of the computer to celebrate. The night before I had stayed up till after 1 AM and then had gotten up before 7 to go on both the New York state and city websites, as well as my local Westchester county medical provider’s site. I had stayed with it through the mire of questions and red tape. It had paid off. Caremount, my medical provider, came through.
But the next day a text message abruptly canceled it.
Caremount was no longer able to provide the shots.
My vaccine rollercoaster rolled off the rails. I felt vulnerable, jealous of the friends who had already gotten their vaccines, and ashamed.
How come I couldn’t make it happen? What lead hadn’t I followed? Why me? I’m a first-generation child of Holocaust survivors, and that night I woke up shivering from a nightmare about the visa I had which was no longer valid. I was trapped in Germany while others were able to leave.
Around 7:30 AM, the day of my canceled appointment, I woke up to a phone call. Nope, it wasn’t a last-minute call for the vaccine.
In a supposedly unrelated matter a few weeks ago I had received an e-mail from a second cousin I had never met who lived in Israel. Her sister, Ruth, and I had visited each other several times, both in Israel and NY, and we had become close. A year ago I had mourned her death from breast cancer. But Nomi lived on a kibbutz in the south and for a combination of reasons we had never met.
Now in her eighties, Nomi was looking to connect with me. Her daughter, living in California, had found me. She mentioned that her mother had health problems and, realizing her time was short, wanted to meet me, and also learn what I could share about our family. We had all gone back and forth a few times about using What’s App and how to meet. But nothing had been settled.
When I picked up the phone on that morning, I heard a voice that sounded familiar. It was Nomi. Her voice was comforting, and sounded a lot like her sister’s. Her English was not the best, but we managed a lovely back-and-forth conversation about our family. She had met both my parents on their trips to Israel.
At one point I asked if she knew my parents’ refugee story: how they escaped Germany, made it to Brazil and then to New York while my mother was pregnant with me.
“Yes” she said, “and how your mother lied about the pregnancy because for some reason at the time you were not supposed to fly if you were.”
My heart missed a beat. As a child, and, even now, I loved telling friends how I was conceived in Brazil but born here. But my mother had never told me about the lie. Nomi didn’t remember where she had heard it, but she knew it was true.
My brave mother! She had lied to get us here. I literally wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t. She desperately wanted a better life for us in the United States. My parents had risked everything several times. On this very last leg of their journey, I imagine them standing on an airport line together, and my mother not hesitating for a second to omit the truth about me in her belly.
In that moment I could feel my mother’s strength and wily wisdom coming to me through this fragile phone connection with someone I had never met.
If I had been driving to get my shot I could not have picked up the call that held this vital fragment, a glorious puzzle-piece of my story that I would certainly enjoy sharing with friends.
I didn’t get the vaccine that day.
But I was gifted with another kind of boost: a testament to the resiliency and creativity of my parents in a far more complex situation than my current one. I would surely find my way through the miasma of hotlines and websites to get my vaccine.
Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir: Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole. It is the story of how her differently abled sister has been her greatest teacher. Susan is a published haiku poet and maintains a psychotherapy practice in Westchester NY. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website: susanrudnick.com