December 29, 2011 One More Time

A funny thing happened on my trip to Israel over the summer. I got in touch with my ex-husband, whom I hadn’t seen in over – well, let’s just say, I hadn’t had any contact with him in literally a lifetime.

We had gotten married when I was doing my Masters at Northwestern. We returned to Israel, lived there for a year or so, then returned to NY. The marriage didn’t make it much longer after that.

We split up, he returned to Israel, and though the first year or so, we spoke on the phone occasionally, calling Israel wasn’t the “no big deal” that it is today. He married, I did a Ph.D., married, he had two children, divorced, and we had no contact and no friends in common– so the years flew by and I actually didn’t even know if he was alive.

Then I’m in Israel and we speak and his voice is exactly the same. He was in the north, David and I were in Jerusalem, we couldn’t work out time to meet, but no matter, he was coming to the States in December.

And so the other day, there he was. He was flying back to Israel that evening, so we simply sat in his hotel lobby and talked. How do you bridge the years — so many years? Almost everything that I am is a result of things that I did after we were together. How do you start? Ph.D., CUNY, CBS, Bravo, cats, Emmys, David, death of my parents, marathons, triathalons, DIVA!!! Impossible to compress, highlight, consolidate?

But yet.

When we sat sharing a piece of chocolate cake, I was at peace.  I am grateful for the life I have, and grateful for the fact that the person that I was so many years ago had made two good decisions– one, in marrying a man who turned out exactly how I expected- hardworking, incredibly loving, kind and generous, and the second, in divorcing him, knowing that however much a mensch he was, however utterly committed to me he would have been, it really wasn’t the right time for me. I look at him with affection, not longing; respect, no regret; happy for the life he has, and utterly grateful for the life I chose and have now. Tomorrow at 2:30 pm, my mincha moment, I will stop and think of him and I will be grateful for the path that took me to meet him, for the quest for knowledge that forced me to leave him, and for the incredible blessing of good health that allowed us to meet and embrace one more time.


  1. Pina Martinelli January 1, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Debra, your story resonated with me more than you could ever know and I thank you for sharing it. Although the circumstances were different, I experienced something similar and equally poignant that I want to share.

    It happened nearly 4 years ago on Sunday, March 9, 2008, the day after I went to my local hospital for what would ultimately be a “telling” mammogram. For the first time since I started getting them I was anxious, tense and very worried, which surprised me. I didn’t know why I was so worried about it, as my other mammograms always turned out fine and there was no breast cancer in my family, but this time I was very tense and preoccupied. Unbeknownst to anyone including my husband, I “knew” something was wrong and sensed that a terrible truth would ultimately be revealed. To stave off my anxiety, I distracted myself by perusing the Internet and responding to emails I had neglected.

    At one point “something” told me that I needed to check my spam folder and though I usually did, there were times when I simply deleted everything without giving the folder a glance. But this time I listened to my intuitive self and found what was waiting for me: a letter from an old high school boyfriend -one that I hurt badly- who I had not heard from in 35 years. I was stunned. Even though I heard from other old friends from my past during the 2007 and 2008 years, (with all due thanks to Facebook) I never expected to hear from him again, but now I had. I was so stunned I spent the next 20 minutes staring at the letter as if I had seen a ghost, wondering why he had reached out to me after so many years. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say or what to feel.

    Eventually I collected myself enough to respond to his note, and though it took great effort on my part to do so (since he was rehashing the past somewhat), I was relieved and grateful. We spent weeks writing back and forth to each other, ultimately able to put the pain of the past behind us while forging a new friendship between us and our spouses. I felt at peace inside, just as I felt there was a reason why I needed him and my newly reconnected old friends in my life again.

    There was. Two weeks after I first heard from him I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

    Throughout my journey through breast cancer, he and his wife stood by me through regular emails and phone calls. Throughout the lumpectomy surgery and the 4 weeks of radiation treatment (which exhausted me because I have fibromyalgia) he was there cheering me on and encouraging me, as were the rest of these old friends, my family and colleagues. But in December 2008, 8 months after I was diagnosed, our friendship was further solidified when I had to undergo a total hysterectomy as part of my cancer treatment. The day after that surgery, my old boyfriend bounded into my hospital room at Sloan Kettering with two bouquets of white roses and white lilies in his arms, a gesture that touched me more than I can express. That day he met and connected with my husband and a very close college friend of mine who was also visiting me that day. The four of us spent several hours together in the hospital library chatting, as if we were at a party instead of being in a cancer hospital. For the first time in several months, I felt like my old self again and not a cancer patient fighting for her life, while desperately trying to maintain the presence of mind to get through this arduous journey.

    After they left I felt at peace and spent the rest of the evening thinking about how my past and present converged at an especially critical time in my life. For the first time I finally understood why I was so drawn to my husband and why he felt so familiar to me when we first met 11 years ago. Seeing him and my old boyfriend together made me realize that they shared the same energy, lively personality and creative spirit, as much as they shared the same coloring and style. Everything made much more sense now…everything was clearer to me.

    Nearly 4 years has passed since he first contacted me, and though we haven’t seen much of each other since his visit to Sloan Kettering, we are still in touch. I remain grateful to him still: for reaching out and reconnecting with me despite the pain of the past; for connecting me to his wife; for standing by me through my darkest days as if we had always been friends; for giving me back a part of my past that I had missed for so long; for helping me to let go of my regrets and my own pain from our relationship ending so long ago.

    To me, he was and will always be an important person in my life, and one who will forever be a part of my Mincha Moment. Each day at 2:30, I think of him and all the other people that helped me get through my cancer journey and contributed towards bringing me to the “other” side -survivorship – with love and steadfast thanks.

    • What a terrific story– on many levels. On the most basic, I think it’s great that Facebook is able to facilitate these positive connections (versus the horror stories of people running off together and abandoning their families to wolves!) On another level, I have found that the “idea” of reconnecting is often better than the reality in terms of temperament and time commitment. But on the deepest level, this is great because we just don’t get a chance to stop and realize how lucky we are in our choice of significant other– and hopefully it never has to become a part of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi-“Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got, Till it’s gone .” That’s what I love about 2:30 pm– I just have to shut up about what’s f**d up and acknowledge– damn, I’m lucky!

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