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  • Emma Törzs (bio)

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[End Page 92]

After my brother Jonah’s funeral, I didn’t fly home with my parents. Instead I stayed behind with Eva in her shoebox apartment in Tel Aviv and spent a couple nights [End Page 93] learning to go down on her, an act that felt surprisingly natural once I got used to the right-up-close-ness of it. I’d never been with another woman before, but we didn’t talk about that. Mostly we were quiet or talked about Jonah. Though Eva and I had met for the first time at his funeral, she’d been serving with him for over a year, and he’d shown me many pictures of the two of them in their sand-green IDF uniforms, their arms slung around one another’s shoulders in the casual way of soldiers everywhere. In e-mails he’d referred to her breezily as “my best bud,” but when he’d come home on leave the last time, he’d gotten uncharacteristically wasted on a twelve-pack of High Life and said to me, “I can’t stand it, Miri. I want her so badly I can’t pray, I can’t sleep. I’m on my knees asking God to either turn her straight or gun her down so I don’t have to look at her anymore, and then I spend all night begging forgiveness for thinking such fucked-up shit.”

Before Eva, I had never seen my twenty-three-year-old brother in love or even in lust, which I’d pop-psychologized as a reaction to the trauma of his puberty; he’d dreaded its coming for years even before the physical changes began. He was terrified of losing his voice. And I was frightened too: just a year and a half older than he, I’d grown up to the sound of his blue-sky treble floating around our house, the foresty trill of arpeggios from behind his bedroom door, and I was used to a life organized by his choir practice and performances. He’d been singing since he was four years old and had been gifted in the oldest sense of the word, as if a hand had reached down and pressed light into his throat. We’d both been raised by secular Jews, but Jonah was raised by his choir as well and was a believer. He’d been raised on music steeped in God.

“The Christian God,” I’d argued once, home freshman year of college for winter break. I was sitting at our kitchen table watching him blend peanut butter and bananas into ice cream, as always working tirelessly against his twiggy teenaged metabolism. “All those old songs are about Jesus.”

“It’s got nothing to do with words,” Jonah said over the screech of the blender. “I didn’t listen to the words. I listened to the feeling.”

He was seventeen then and had known for several years that his voice was never coming back. He could still sing better than most, but his tone was uneven, his range stilted, all the buttercup richness graveled down. His coach had told our parents there were some boys who never came to terms with the change, never figured out how to handle their new instrument, and gently recommended that Jonah begin to see a therapist [End Page 94] instead, “to address the mind behind the larynx.” But by that time he was beginning to lift weights and had subbed out choir practice for the temple and the gym, and my parents figured he was moving on.

“All praise music, all worship music, it’s the music that tells you what the song’s about,” said Jonah, pouring his viscous beige shake into a glass. “The lyrics are just a key, like on a map. A compass rose. But you don’t need the idea of north if you know which way is up.”

He took a sip of his drink, his corded neck contracting and releasing. This new body of his called attention to itself in...


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pp. 92-112
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