The ambulance’s siren faded, leaving me with questions that might never get answered—would he survive or would God make him magically disappear before I even got the chance to know him? Would I ever see him again or would I leave Tel Aviv and go back to New York empty handed? It was out of my control.
I looked at Dalia, thinking how lucky my mother was to have a friend like her—kind, honest, and easygoing.
“Leigh, are you okay?” She looked into my eyes.
Of course I wasn’t. How could I possibly be okay? I’d just met my father for the first time an hour ago, I’d barely exchanged a few words with him, and now he was already dying on my watch. I was completely stunned—my body trembled.
“You must be worried. I’m sorry. I know we never planned for this to happen.” She wrapped her arm around my shoulder.
“Yes, I’m worried, but more disappointed. Think about it, finding out at the age of eighteen that the man who raised you is not your biological father is not an everyday thing. Not to mention that the way I found out about it colored my opinion of my mother. She could have at least sat down and told me about it, instead of leaving
me her journal to read. And the worst part, she lied to me for eighteen years. It hurts. You can imagine that I had a lot of expectations and hopes. Besides, I feel guilty in a way.” My voice tremble.
“Guilty of what?” Her voice was high-pitched as she turned to
“For the cardiac arrest or whatever he just had,” I said.
“Please. This had nothing to do with you. You shouldn’t feel guilty or take any responsibility for any of this.” She tapped my shoulder, encouraging me to start walking. “Here, let’s go somewhere we can talk. Actually, I know a nice, quiet place nearby.”
If not for the numerous traffic lights and the difficulty in finding a parking place, we probably would have arrived at the café at least fifteen minutes earlier. I didn’t mind the lengthy drive at all. Something about Tel Aviv
reminded me of New York, where I grew up and currently lived. It wasn’t the visual resemblance, but more the pace, the energy, and the overall atmosphere of a big city—heavy traffic mixed with stop lights close together, wide sidewalks bordering colorful windows filled with fashion, electronics and art blended with an array of inviting restaurants. We passed boutiques, coffee shops, pharmacies, and flower shops. Trendy shop windows sported brand-named clothing adjacent to shops with exquisite items made by local and high-end designers.
The public transportation system seemed busy but organized.
“Do you have underground transportation here?” I asked Dalia.
“Oh no,” she said. “We use the underground for other things.”
“Mainly security and military services.”
“Really? Can you take me there?”
“No, I can’t—it’s a restricted area.” Dalia was abrupt. The expression on her face was unreadable.
Her reaction made me curious, but the bustle of the crowd ahead drew my attention away.
“Good evening. How many?” A young hostess greeted us with a forced smile as we entered the café.
“Two please,” Dalia said.
“Follow me please.” She led us to a corner table—exactly the seat I would have chosen, with my back to the wall. A spot where we could people watch.
Hesitantly, I reached for the menu, hoping it would have an English version or at least a translation. But the bilingual menu didn’t help, as I was clueless of the local culinary culture.
I asked Dalia for some help before placing my order.
Finally, I settled on a large coffee called café hafuch—or as Dalia translated it, inverted coffee—and to me it was just a simple latte, but stronger. A fresh cup of soup was enough to satisfy Dalia.
The crowded café was dynamic. I was occupied with my surroundings, watching people interact. Small tables for two were interspersed with tables for four. People of all ages were scattered around talking; others were buried in their phones, obsessively poking and swiping. Waitresses rushed from one table to another, taking orders, serving fresh plates and removing empty ones. The buzz of conversation mixed with the din of activity created a busy atmosphere, much like home.
I wondered how I appeared to these people. Do I fit in or do I look like a New Yorker—an outsider? Do they even notice me? What if my mother hadn’t left Israel? What if I’d been born here? How different would my life be?
The place, the crowds, the food, and the Hebrew language—everything was beyond what I’d ever imagined. I was consumed with all that was new to me—with Israel. But wasn’t this my culture? After all, this was where I was conceived and this was where my mother, and my probable father, grew up. Questions of my identity bothered me—my mother’s journal echoed in my mind, reminding me of the reason for this epic journey I was on.
Dalia cut into my thoughts, grabbing my attention. “I guess you’re going to tell your mom, right?”
“Tell her what?”
“Tell her what happened with your dad.”
“Why don’t you tell her?”
“Why?” Dalia opened her eyes wide though her eyebrows were stuck in place thanks to her perfect Botox injection. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “If you weren’t here, of course I would call her. But this is your father and you were there when it happened. You should be the one to tell her.”
“Do you think she really cares?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? Of course she does. I know she does,” Dalia said with a laugh.
“Did she love him?”
“Oh my God! Most definitely.” Dalia changed her tone. “And I believe she still does in a way.”
“There’s no question.”
“But she loves Steve. And she’s happy.”
“Of course she loves Steve and she always will. But Sloan is your father. Your mother’s dream was to have a child with Sloan. Sadly, he betrayed her. This doesn’t make Steve less important—he’s the one who raised you. Perhaps in your own life he’s more significant than your biological father.”
“Well…” I hesitated, not sure I understood exactly what Dalia meant.
“Does this make any sense?” Dalia asked as if she realized her explanation was longwinded.
All I said was that she loved Steve, and she was happy. “I guess.” I
raised my shoulders and my eyebrows. “You know, I’d always believed in true love, princes and fairytales, but the reality of that journal destroyed my illusions.”
Obviously there had to be more to it. I was insecure and confused—fragile in a way. The lies had thrown me off. I never would have thought my mother capable of living such a lie. And I didn’t know if there would be more to come. At this point I didn’t trust that Sloan was my biological father—I needed proof. I wanted to know who I was and whose genes I carried and why things turned out the way they did. What if Sloan is not my father? Will I be angrier with my mother, or will I feel sorry for her for not knowing who the father of her child is? And maybe she didn’t unveil the entire truth. Maybe there are more secrets buried in her heart.
“I’ll call her tomorrow.” I snapped back from my thoughts. “How will I know if he survived?” I asked Dalia.
“I’ll make some phone calls as soon as we get home. I won’t leave you in the dark. I promise.”
When we left the café it was already dark. The dynamics of Tel Aviv had shifted. It was still busy but transmitted a different feeling. It had gone from a business vibe earlier in the day to a more recreational one. Nothing about the city made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The picture I had in my mind about Israel didn’t match what I saw. The frightening images and stories from the news were not there.
I looked around. The streets of Tel Aviv teemed with life that didn’t show signs of stopping. People gathered in large crowds in coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, and lined up for movie theaters and plays. The sidewalks were congested with people from different walks of life.
The image I had in my mind of a dry, yellowish desert country was replaced with a clean city covered with beds and planters of seasonal flowers interspersed among trees, some more mature than others.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother’s life, growing up and working here. It didn’t resemble her life in New York. Whatever information I had clearly wasn’t enough. Now, I second-guessed my decision to look for my biological father. It all seemed inscrutable. Maybe I would have been better off accepting my mother’s secrets as
fact, sight unseen.
How important is it really to meet this man who I supposedly share genes with? My doubts haunted me, and my thoughts vacillated between my mother and Sloan. Do I really need to rehash my mother’s love life and pain, dig in open wounds that may never fully heal? Should I leave it all behind and go home now? Or should I revisit her journal, live her pain, and play out her revenge? Is that what I’m here for?Or did I come here because I’mangry and want to punish her? It was hard to reconcile my feelings and thoughts about Sloan—the man who most likely loved her and obviously wanted to conceive a child with her, but didn’t dare leave his family—someone who might be dead by now, or about to die. I felt ambivalent toward him, yet I wasn’t ready to let him leave me behind.
And what if he survives? I thought. Will he make me part of his life or will he deny me? The odds of him accepting me were slim. I hated him and loved him. I wanted to forgive him but felt the need to torture him. I felt sorry for him but had a bigger heart for my mother.
“How many hospitals are around here?” I asked Dalia as I surfaced from my thoughts. “Do you know what hospital they would take him to?”
“There’s only one hospital he could possibly be transferred to.”
I turned to look at her. “Which one?”
“There is only one big hospital in Tel Aviv.”
“How far away is it?”
“Nothing is far in this little country.”
“Do you mind if we go there now?” My stomach was in knots.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. They probably won’t let you see him.”
She was right. They probably wouldn’t. But that wasn’t what mattered right then. I was obsessed with the need to know the truth, and the only man who could provide me with that piece of information was lying in a hospital bed.
“But I need to find out. I want to go now.”
“What for?” she asked indignantly.
“Please,” I begged. “It’s a big deal for me. I’m sure you can understand. I have to know if he’s my father or not.”
“Do you really doubt it?”
“Maybe. I can’t know for sure. It’s not only that… There are other things.” I stopped, hoping that Dalia would say something—but when I realized that I was entering into a one-way conversation, I spat out what was really in my heart. “It’s about knowing if he loved my mother or not, and if he did, why didn’t he leave his wife for her—why didn’t he marry her?” I gasped and tried to calm myself. “I’m curious about whether he actually believed that she kept the pregnancy—what really crossed his mind back then and during all these years—did he ever think he had a daughter somewhere out there?”
“What difference does it make?”
“What difference does it make?” I was astounded by her question.
“If you were me, wouldn’t you want to know? Didn’t he think that one day I would come looking for him?” I choked on my tears.
“But you do realize that going to the hospital now won’t get you the answers you are looking for.” Dalia turned toward me for a brief second and then looked back at the road. “I’ll be surprised if they let you see him, or if they even talk to you. I bet he’s either in ICU or CCU. These are very restricted areas. What will you tell them, that you’re his daughter? Think about it.”
She didn’t say anything more until we reached the next red light.
“You know what, I guess you’re right. Maybe we should go to the hospital now.”
“Are you sure?” The high pitch in my voice disclosed my excitement.
At the next traffic light, Dalia made a U-turn, clearly putting us en
route to the hospital.
Though the drive didn’t last long, the journey was enough to allow me to see the city at night. Dalia navigated between side streets of purely residential areas and main streets where buildings offered small shops on the ground level and residential apartments on the upper floors. Tel Aviv again reminded me of New York, but I had yet to feel at home.
“Over there, on your left. That’s it,” Dalia said and slowed down, then turned to enter the parking lot. The huge medical facility loomed in front of me. Its size and modern appearance were impressive.
I panicked. My palms were sweating. My heart sped up to the point where I could feel its pulse throughout my entire body. I had a brief moment of regret. Do I really want to meet that man again? I clasped my hands behind my head and gasped.
“Does he work here?” I asked.
“No he doesn’t. He works at a different hospital.” Dalia pulled into a parking space.
“Good, less drama to deal with.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s enough drama already. This is a small country kiddo—everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everything. You’ll see.”
The late hours of the evening added to my obvious stress. The silence and darkness in the parking lot were uncomfortable. Dalia knew her way around and all I had to do was be her shadow.
“Can you tell me if a Dr. Ezra Sloan arrived in the ER?” Dalia asked the receptionist at the window.
“We don’t have a physician by that name.”
“He would be a patient.”
“Oh, yes. In fact, we were looking for a family member. Are you a family member?”
“No, I’m not. I’m a friend. Can you tell me how he’s doing?”
“I’m sorry, I really can’t say anything, but I’ll let the attending physician know that you’re here.”
I kept quiet and followed Dalia to the waiting area. I was scared and had lost the courage I’d felt outside the hospital.
As soon as Dalia got situated, I shrank in the chair next to her.
“Why didn’t you tell them that I’m his daughter?” I asked her.
“Didn’t you tell me earlier that you’re not sure if he’s your father?” Her voice oozed sarcasm.
“Yes. But now it’s different. It could help us to find out what’s going on with him.”
“You don’t pick and choose,” she said and disappeared into her phone.
I turned away from her, fixating on my surroundings. Chairs were scattered about, litter overflowed the trashcans, and the coffee bar needed serious refreshment. How many people like me had been there during the day? Tens? Hundreds? Even that late in the evening there were at least forty other people around. Waiting. They all looked worn out.
Shortly after eleven p.m. a middle-aged physician wearing a white lab coat over green scrubs walked into the waiting area and said, “Is anyone here for Dr. Sloan?”
I jumped out of my chair and looked at Dalia. She took her time, searching the room carefully before she stood and said, “We are.”
“How are you related to Dr. Sloan?” the physician asked as he walked toward us.
“I’m a friend. But this is his daughter,” Dalia said and pointed to me. I wondered what made her change her mind.
“I didn’t know he had a daughter.” He looked surprised.
“Well, now you know,” Dalia answered quickly, and I felt as if I’d won the war that my mother hadn’t wanted to lose.
A moment of silence captured all three of us.
I looked at the identification card hanging from his jacket, eager to find out who he was. Only his name was there, nothing else. I tried to make eye contact with him, but his gaze roamed over me with a doubtful expression. Something appeared to be bothering him. Is he questioning the announcement that Dalia just made?
After a brief pause he resumed the original conversation. “My name is Dr. Levon and I’m taking care of Dr. Sloan. Unfortunately, I don’t have much news,” he said as he stuck his hands into his lab coat pockets. “He’s still in critical condition.”
“What does that mean?” Dalia asked.
“Of course. I’m sorry. He’s unconscious and is intubated. He’s on a ventilator with some spontaneous breathing.” He looked from me to Dalia and continued, “He had persistent ventricular fibrillation. We’re doing everything we can to keep him stable. We will need to take him to the Cardiac Cath Lab soon—we need to proceed with an
angio so we can see where the blockage is and what can be done.” He reached for the stethoscope around his neck, folded it in three, and stuck it in his lab coat pocket. “I wish I had better news for you. I’m sorry.” He came across as professional but didn’t sound very optimistic. I noticed the emotion in his speech and wondered if he
knew Dr. Sloan personally.
“I understand,” Dalia replied.
“I’m surprised his wife isn’t here,” Dr. Levon said suddenly.
“Maybe it’s better this way,” Dalia said.
He smirked. “I can only imagine.”
“I guess we should go home and come back tomorrow morning,” Dalia said.
“Why don’t you go and I’ll stay?” I said.
“There’s no reason for you to spend the night here, at the hospital,” she said, her tone detached.
“I think I should stay. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be here for the rest of the night. She can stay. I’ll make sure she’s taken care of,” Dr. Levon said and looked at Dalia. “You should go home and get some rest. I won’t mess it up. I promise.”
“There’s a lot to watch. I don’t know if I can take the risk.” Dalia put a fake smile on her face.
“You make it sound like I’m a problem,” I said.
“No. But the circumstances might expose you to one.”
I raised my voice. “I’m staying.”
“I don’t think so,” Dalia said.
“Hey, calm down ladies. There is no reason to fight,” Dr. Levon said. “I think you should let her stay. Didn’t you say he’s her father?”
“I did,” Dalia said. “However—”
“I promise to take care of her. You can trust me.” He looked at Dalia.
“It’s not about that. There’s more to it.”
“I hear you. Still, as I said, you can trust me.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I’m positive,” Dr. Levon said.
“Okay then, I’ll be back tomorrow,” Dalia said and then turned to me. “Call me if you need anything. And please”—she put her palms together in front of her face as if she was begging—“don’t talk with anybody but Dr. Levon. If Sloan’s family shows up, things could get nasty.”
“Okay, okay.” I couldn’t control my irreverent tone. Just go, I wanted to tell her.
Unexpectedly, as soon as Dalia left, my stomach knotted and my knees grew weak and started to tremble.
“By the way, what did you say your name is? I don’t think we were officially introduced.” Dr. Levon smiled.
“Amos Levon.” He extended his hand to me.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said and shook his hand.
“Oh, the pleasure is mine, young lady.” He smiled and reached for his beeping pager. “I have to go. They need me. Please wait here and I’ll check on you later.”
The mystery of what I didn’t know and what other people had warned me about was enough to keep my mind spinning.
My situation seemed surreal. I’d gone from one extreme to another—from being closely guarded for the last eighteen years to being let loose in a strange land. It was refreshing, as if I had grown up overnight.
For whatever reason I remained seated exactly were Dr. Levon had left me. I was glued to the chair, looking around, watching people as they came and went—different kinds of people. I judged them by their looks and by my checklist—rich or poor, classy or trashy, clean or filthy. Some appeared sophisticated and some appeared dull. Happy people sat next to sad ones, hysterical next to calm, and polite next to rude. There were soldiers and officers in uniforms among citizens in street clothes, prostitutes, gays, and more. It was just another way that
Tel Aviv was similar to NYC—a wild melting pot.
And what if one of them is Sloan’s wife, or one of his other relatives? What are the odds that we’re sitting in the same room, maybe even next to each other? Should I leave? My breathing accelerated and my chest felt tight. I found myself clenching my teeth.
It seemed forever before Dr. Levon walked back into the waiting room. I jumped out of my chair, feeling relieved at the sight of him.
“Like I said earlier, we have to take him to angio. However, you’re the only family member here. I need you to sign the consent form.” Dr. Levon looked straight into my eyes.
I heard the urgency in his voice. Adulthood quickly lost its appeal as my thoughts tumbled from my mouth. “Why me? Where’s his family? I’m not even sure he’s really my father.” I paused for a brief second. “What would you do if I weren’t here? There must be another way for you to get the consent. I need to ask Dalia.”
“You don’t have to ask anyone, just calm down,” he said. “Why don’t we go to the physicians’ break room where it’s quiet?” He pointed toward a side corridor and started walking.
I followed Dr. Levon’s steps. He walked fast and his strides were long—I had to run to keep up with him.
“Listen to me,” he said as soon as we entered the room. “This is your father—you know it and I know it. Evidently his wife isn’t here and I have no idea if and when she’ll come. He needs to get to the Cath Lab now.” He pulled his pen from his pocket and continued. “My only other option is to get three other senior board-certified physicians to sign this consent. Could I do it? Yes. Would I have enough time? I’m not sure.”
“You promised Dalia that you would take care of me, that I wouldn’t get into trouble.”
“Trust me, don’t miss this opportunity. Take the chance I’m giving you,” he said as if he knew something that he couldn’t discuss with me. He handed me the paper along with his personal pen.
I refused the form and the pen. “If you really don’t need my signature then why are you asking me to sign it?”
“You have to understand I’m practicing medicine and following rules and regulations that come along with it. You are the only family member here. I can’t ignore you.”
“You’re putting me under a lot of pressure,” I said, my tone critical.
“Do you understand that this is an urgent matter? Your signature could save his life.”
“I guess.” My voice quivered.
“Thank you,” Dr. Levon said. “Let me show you to the Cath Lab waiting area so you can wait for me there.” He opened the door and rushed me out once I signed the consent.
The clock hands were approaching midnight. The corridors were fairly empty and quiet. The dimmed lights added a feeling of mystery. The place appeared less dramatic but, for some reason, more intimidating. I walked next to Dr. Levon, actually a half step behind him, not wanting to get lost in the endless corridors. Maybe I should’ve just gone back with Dalia. What have I gotten myself into?
Finally, at the elevator bank we stopped. Dr. Levon pressed the button and all eight elevator lights lit up. Seconds later, just as the door opened, Levon’s pager went off again. He stepped into the elevator with one foot and stopped right there, at the doorframe, blocking the electronic eye, preventing the door from closing. He checked his pager, looked at me, gave it a quick thought and said, “I have to run back to the ER. Take the elevator to the sixth floor. When you get out of the elevator, turn right and go down the corridor. You’ll see an intercom on the left wall, right before the double doors. Press the button and tell them that you’re supposed to meet me there. Don’t introduce yourself using the name Sloan.”
Duh. Why would I? I thought. I’m not going by the name Sloan, I’m Leigh
He reached for the inside panel of the elevator and pushed the button for the sixth floor. “Actually, I don’t even know what last name you go by,” he said and rushed out, disappearing from sight.
“Stone,” I said after the doors closed.
I was left to ride the elevator by myself, trying to remember his