Young and Immortal
The Golan Heights is still covered in minefields left by the Syrians before the Israelis captured it in the Six Day War in 1967. We were children at nineteen and twenty, volunteers on a kibbutz in August of 1982, hiking to a waterfall. We had been warned: under no circumstances leave the track marked with barbed wire. Every year a couple of people lose their lives to the mines.
It was a long day with many adventures. This was the last.
We had just turned the last leg of the return trip down the Golan. Suddenly we hear loud wuh-wuh-whoom sounds above us. A poem I studied in seventh grade sprang into mind: “bullets smacking the belly out of the air.” We were being fired on. Ted Hughes and Mr. Davis saved my life.
Did I mention there was a war on?
I paused, trying to decipher what was happening, then jerked into action as one of the girls shouted at me “are you OK?” We hid behind some rocks, afraid to stay where we were, afraid to move. Trapped.
There were two distinct sounds of gunfire. One a faint crackle like fireworks. Difficult to tell what direction it came from. The other a full throated clacking sound. They seemed to alternate.
Eventually I realized that the sounds were not of combat, but of target practice. Long bursts of fire, punctuated by longer bursts of silence. Only two guns, the silences as they would stop to talk and set up new targets. The rhythm was familiar to me.
My fear that the war had come to us, that we were caught in a crossfire between the Israel Defense Force and their enemies, whether Syrian or PLO, was unjustified. My fear was now that we would lose our lives to an accident of war. A footnote, less than a footnote, a never to be remembered tragedy of errors.
I had seen as I paused that the firing was from an old Syrian position that we had passed through hours before. The trail led steeply down, until it was safely below the emplacement. I waited for my moment, and when the riflemen paused as if to smoke a cigarette, charged down the hill screaming for them to hold their fire. Twenty seconds of running, I lived a lifetime.
After I reached the emplacement, the Israelis (kids our age waiting their turn at the War in Lebanon) sheepishly asked if we would like to take some shots with their M-16 and AK-47. We all declined. Any time before or after I would have jumped at the chance, but not that day. As it turned out, I was never to fire an assault rifle. My plans to emigrate permanently to Israel and serve my time in the IDF were up-ended when I fell in love with an American, and decamped to New York to marry her.
In later years, I would dream of that time. The dream was always the same: that I had made a mistake in believing that there was no battle going on, and as the bullets hit me I knew I had killed not only myself but also my companions by revealing their position. My wife would wake me from these dreams, but I could not tell her their content until many years after they had passed.
Time is said to heal all wounds. Or they lie concealed, layered under new ones. My wife fell out of love with me. No one will wake me now if the dreams start again.