In the end, as it does for so many of us, it all comes back to my parents.
Not in the When a Man and a Woman Love Each Other Very Much sense, but in the way they mold us, the way we mold ourselves, twisting around them. To be them, or to piss them off; to make them see us, or to make them let us go.
So it was the complicated path of two decades of twisting myself that led to that dinner, in that restaurant, that day. Between me and my parents lay a piece of paper, and on it was written the wisdom of the federal government, which had seen fit to offer me two years’ worth of not having to figure out a career.
I had narrowly avoided my mother’s major, and while I had majored in my father’s field it was only a convenience of paperwork. I had specialized in Asia, a region in which neither of my parents were experts. I had forced myself through the mnemonic-foiling horrors of Mandarin. And the government had heard my pleas and accommodated my wish to be sent to Asia, where I would not become my parents. Which is why the paper between us said Jordan. Because Jordan, according to the federal government, is in Asia.
Did I mention that the restaurant was a little place called Aladdin’s? They had no agenda, my parents. Not the Chinese place down the street because their food was no good. Aladdin’s was closer. Nothing to do with the decision at hand.
“It really is a strange coincidence,” said my mother, who had loved living on a kibbutz practically visible from the Jordanian village to which I was headed.
“Your grandfather would be so proud,” said my father, author of the book after book on the Middle East that lined one shelf in our living room. “And your mother and I will visit.”
I may not be religious, most of the time, but even I could read the writing on that wall.