I’ve never watched an episode of the ‘Real World,’ but I think I have the concept down. A group of young 20 year olds travel to a sexy location where they are housed together in a place that’s way too nice for them to afford. Multiple people share each room and there are common areas where the entire group hangs. They work crappy summer jobs and at night they all go out. There’s lots of alcohol, lots of fighting, lots of hookups.
I’m standing outside of my apartment building. I’d walked this street on Google Maps dozens of times. I’ve looked at this apartment via street view enough to know that this is it without needing to check the address. I’d zoomed in on the windows of 270 Ha–Yarkon, looking for a glimpse of what the inside might look like. I’d dreamed how one day soon, I’d be standing there in person.
I signed up, on a whim, to be a part of this ‘Reform Jewish young adults Israel summer program.’ We’d all get internships during the day and over the weekends my fellow program participants and I would go on organized trips and tours.
Eyal, our trip organizer, comes out from the front door of the apartment with a huge set of keys. He takes me to the top floor of the building. The rest of the floors are already filled with American kids living here for the summer as well. There’ll be 30 of us in the building after me and my roommates arrive, Eyal tells me.
“You have double luck”, he says, as we fit our bodies, my large suitcase, backpack, and pillow into the tiny elevator. “Two times luck. Ehh, one because you are here first, you can pick your room and two because you live on the top floor, so you get the roof deck.”
The apartment is strangely designed and wonderful. A large glass sliding door in the front of the kitchen overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The door opens to a narrow balcony that wraps around the front, side, and some of the back of the building.
Inside there is a small bedroom off of the kitchen. The room has an incredibly gaudy chandelier made out of brown, green, blue, and black gems. The chandelier is so tacky that I pick this bedroom instantly. I want this summer to be gaudy, over the top.
There’s another small bedroom and then a large bedroom that is connected to the only bathroom in the apartment. The large room is lined with cabinets and standing closets and mirrors- our dressing room. Perfectly gaudy again.
Upstairs there’s another bedroom that leads to the roof deck, a huge space filled with mismatched outdoor furniture and a pile of pillows and blankets left by the last group for Americans who’d lived here.
M arrives at the apartment next. She has long red hair and a round face.
We run around the apartment together, throwing ourselves into rooms, and screaming. I feel like the girls on ‘Top Model’ when they first arrive at the house. Admittedly, I had already seen the apartment and picked a room, so my frantic energy was most likely confusing to Eyal, but freaking out feels more fulfilling when you have company in it.
M quickly picked the same room as me, which affirmed my choice – no one can resist an over the top chandler.
B, N, and Shwa arrive together.
N has small dark eyes, and wears thick eyeliner.
B has big boobs and tan skin.
Shwa is a pretty boy. His real name is Josh, but back home his friend group was comprised of mostly Joshs and he hated being called Joshua. I think he’d given himself the nickname.
D arrives next. He’s sorta chubby and dresses like he always about to play tennis.
Eyal brings up the other program participants, who have already moved in. All thirty of us mingle in our apartment, on the balcony, kitchen, and roof deck.
White boys in polos flirt with me and N. And the girls crowd around B, who seems to know everyone already. M plays hostess, offering everyone drinks. And D and Shwa sit on the couch watching videos on their phones.
That's when I first see V. When she walks into my apartment, I can’t help but notice how different she looks to everyone else in the program. She looks like a little boy, but like a little boy with swag. She has short black hair that’s almost buzzed on the sides and longer on top. Her eyes and freckles are the same color.
I grab a beer from M and go over to introduce myself. She leans comfortably against the door frame in the entrance to my apartment while we sip on the beers. “I live with those dicks over there,” V tells me, pointing to the boys in sherbet colored polos who still eagerly flirt with N. I notice the piercing on V’s lower lip, a silver hoop that taps the beer bottle every time she takes a sip.
Similar to the ‘Real World,’ drinking is an important element to our program. My apartment, ‘The Penthouse,’ would host nightly parties. We sit on the roof deck as the sun set over the Mediterranean and drink Gold Star beer in tall cans. We smoke rollies that D had assembled.
“Shwas trying to hookup with you,” V whispers to me as we sit close together on one of the outdoor couches. The deck is loud with around twenty other people. I’ve got my legs resting over hers. We’re both just starting to get drunk. I laugh and lean my face against her shoulder, feeling silly from the tipsiness. “I’m serious, he asked me if you were DTF?” Another round of laughter with our bodies collapsing onto each other.
Within the first few days of being in Tel Aviv the girls of my apartment and I all download tinder. We sit together in the kitchen, making dinner and swiping. Israeli guys love American girls, it seems. We match with everyone. All the girls agree to set up group dates, it seems safer that way. V laughs at how much time we’re spending on tinder.
“Aren’t you gonna tinder while you’re here?” M asks her. V responds, “ I have been, but when you’re a lesbian you run out of swipes in like five minutes.”
When I think of the word Lesbian I think of my grandma. She’s a lesbian and she’s old and doesn’t wear a bra. Her friends all looked similar, no bras, Hawaiian button up shirts. Lesbians, in my mind, look like my grandma.
Elan had left an extra key for the apartment in case we lost ours, but instead we give it to V.
Pretty soon after we give her a key she decides to move in. We make her a makeshift bed on the roof deck comprised mostly of the pillows and blankets left from the earlier program participants. She thanks us on her first morning moved in by getting up early to make breakfast before we left for our internships. I help out, scrambling eggs over the stove while V chops fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.
After everyone leaves we sit on the balcony eating the leftovers, drinking Turkish coffee, and sharing a rollie.
“So babe, what should we do today?”
It makes me laugh when V calls me babe because we’re not together. I’m straight.
I’ve have been talking to this Israeli guy on Tinder. I show V his profile and she looks at the first picture, then passes my phone back to me. “Aren’t you gonna look at his other pictures?” I ask. “Nah, all straight guys look the same to me.”
For one of our programed trips, Eyal took us to spend a weekend in Yeruham. Yeruham is in the Negev desert and has a population of under 1000 people. It’s hot as hell and the middle of nowhere. We’re staying in a youth hostel, which is surprising since I have no idea why youth would want to visit Yeruham. V, and I are rooming together.
We walk into town to buy some alcohol. The center of town is an open square with dirty folding chairs and tables. There’s a small convenience store with really cheap Arak, this middle eastern liquor that tastes like black liquorice. There’s a small grocery store and a hookah lounge. The town square is filled with feral cats. V snapchats a video of the cats after we buy two large bottles of Arak and one bottle of mango juice.
One cat, significantly cuter than the rest, comes up to V and rubs up against her leg. The cat jumps and plays with my flip flop as we both take snapchat videos of her. We call her Keshet, which means rainbow.
We walk back to the hostel right before sunset and sit outside on the rough grass. V brings out a blanket from our room and we lay next to each other, passing the Arak and mango juice back and forth and looking up at the stars. I take a snapchat video where V puts her arm around me and kisses my cheek.
In the morning, we leave our room to go to breakfast and see Keshet cat playing in the bush outside our door. V goes back to the breakfast hall to get her milk and for the rest of the day we lounge around playing with our cat, Keshet.
It never occurred to me that I could kiss her. I’m impatient normally, often initiating the first kiss with a guy I’m on a date with, but kissing her didn’t seem like something that was possible. I guess I had a crush on her, but it was different.
B decided to go on a date with one of the guys she’d matched with on Tinder. She tells him that her roommates are coming and that he should bring friends as well. Her date, Shlomi is a dud, but the guys he brought are cute and we flirt with them until someone suggests we show them our rooftop deck.
Laughing loudly and stumbling up the steps we lead the boys upstairs. When we get to the deck I see V sleeping on her makeshift bed. I run over to her, and tickling her awake say “come on V, come meet our Tinder boys.”
We sit around the outdoor table, dirty with dozens of smoked rollies and beer cans. The boys flirt and we laugh loudly at their jokes and accents.
I put my hand on Roy’s leg when he talks to me, and laugh hard when he tries an American accent. V goes down stairs to sleep on the couch in the living room.
As the summer goes on, V and I spent less time together. On our last weekend in Israel, Eyal takes us to the Blind Museum in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
Lead by a blind tour guide, we enter into a series of rooms that are void of any light. The museum does something with the light so that your eyes never adjust to the darkness.
V and I are in the same group and as we walk through the tunnel and the lights gradually get darker, we grab on to each other. Our tour guide leads us with his voice through streets, a boat ride, a grocery store, and last, a symphony.
V and I fumble through the darkness, clasping on to each other, and leading the other with our voices and touch. She puts her hand on the small of my back and leads me as the other hand holds mine.
In the final room, we sit listening to a symphony. The music swells around us and in the pitch black my hand rests in hers.
Back in Chicago, almost a year after we’d met in Israel, V sits on my porch, in the back of my apartment. There’s no view of the Mediterranean here, but if you stand on your tiptoes you can sort of see the Sears Tower.
We sip beers as I tell her about my first girlfriend and how we’d met.
“Yeah, I guess I always knew you were gay,” she tells me.
I smile at her and she smiles back, looks down, and takes a sip of beer. Her lip ring making a faint noise as it hits the bottle.
About the author...
Anna Rose Wolfe is an writer / performer. She is the co founder of Scout & Birdie. Anna is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where she earned a BA in Acting and a minor in Gender Studies. She performs regularly with The LIVINGroom, a solo performance ensemble. Anna has been featured in venues and fests around Chicago, such as Life Line Theater’s Fillet of Solo Festival, Greenhouse Theatre Center’s Solo Celebration, Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Festival, National Cool Shorts, Flat Iron Comedy, Greenhouse Theatre Center's SoloPerformance Lab, The Plagiarists Salon, and The Election Monologues.
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