Note: Wrote this 5 nights ago after we got word that school would not be starting back anytime soon, and I clicked the wrong tab and thought it was lost forever. Realized today that wp just sorts newest drafts to the bottom of the list (dumb). I revive and share not for its literary merit or the golden halo of maturity it affords my character, but because it is a prequel to a future post.
This is the worst year of my life.
Hindsight might have some net losers that were worse, but I really can’t think of what they were right now. None had the same grueling suspended-time quality that 2019-2020 is showcasing.
I thought time was supposed to speed up when you got older.
2006-07: The year I started having nonstop pain and got diagnosed with a chronic, incurable, degenerative neurological disease? There was novelty is seeing new doctors, failing new tests, starting new treatments, learning a new pain language and the limits thereof.
1989-90: The year my dad went into rehab and my mom moved us away for a few months, and I never could find my footing when we got back mid-schoolyear? At least he and I got to watch It’s a Wonderful Life together at xmas that year, and it was Very Meaningful, and eventually school did end and reset, and there was less fighting, for a while.
2011: The year I went effectively blind for 9ish months? Well, yeah, that sucked a lot and I had to quit my dream job and nobody could say if or when I’d ever recover. But also, my friends and family were amazing at stepping up to keep me supplied with good music and audiobooks and road trips and visits. And we had a photographer at our wedding, so I saw the pictures later.
But this? THIS?
There is nothing that can balance this lost year, and I have nothing to do but continue to watch it spool on and on, getting farther and farther behind.
I gave up every place I’ve known, all my friends, my closest family, my therapists and doctors, thrift stores, labels I could read, the ability to flirt with anybody anywhere, my cars to sing in, my trivia team, air conditioning, my own room, 90% of my books…
And for what? Fame, glory, influence, sex appeal, wads of cash?
Oh. Guess I’m not half the negotiator I thought I was.
So my kids could see more of their euro family? Yes — but we only got a few days at xmas in, and then canceled canceled canceled. We could have simply visited. So.
So my kids could get better at German? Yes — but they’re not doing that at home with me. So.
So I could meet new people, buy cool stuff, have new experiences, learn the language? Yes –but I’m sure not doing any of that at home with me, either. So.
I know life wouldn’t be fun or normal if I were back at home, either. I’m not stupid. Shit’s weird and hard and scary everywhere.
But I might be able to eat familiar food that I didn’t have to cook myself, food I could taste. I might be able to see those friends and family from time to time, quarantine be damned. To see people who can see me — imagine! I could go for a drive and sing my terrible songs terribly until I’m hoarse and healing, instead of whispering them in the kitchen and still getting interrupted constantly.
Would I give up being able to order whiskey on Amazon? Absofuckinglutely.
Would I give up great public transit? Begrudgingly, and then I’d fight like hell to make it happen at home.
Would I give up…well, see, that’s the problem. I already gave everything up. This cupboard’s bare. There’s just a bunch of moths where my heart used to be, and a cough I’ve had for two months. Anybody want that? I hear it’s all the rage.
I knew I would be giving some things up to make a big move away.
We sold the house and everything that was in it, but hell if that wasn’t a relief more than a shame, and always tempered with the spoken and un- “we’ll get new stuff, better stuff, just the right stuff.”
Better than a compromise: a fair deal. A blessing.
We sold the cars. “Where we’re going, we won’t even NEED a car!”
Trains are romantic. We could be in Paris by dinner. I’m sold.
And what’s more:
I wouldn’t have to give up my job to follow K’s, since I don’t have one. I wouldn’t have to give up quality medical care – it should end up being more affordable and accessible. I’d have the opportunity to learn a language in its native context. The kids could perfect theirs during these critical years.
Then we said goodbye to the people, my real home. And I knew right away that that was a Bad Deal. No substitutions, no exchanges, no facsimiles. There might be new friends, eventually, but there would be no better friends.
But it was too late.
We were leaving.
. . . . .
In the lead up to the flight over, all the clearing and cleaning and boxing and moving, I lost about 15 pounds and slept even less than usual. We had a series of hard deadlines to make, and with K working full-time and the boys in school, it meant I had a series of hard deadlines to make.
For the first time in my life, I often just forgot to eat. I was too busy.
After caring for an injured spouse on top of all the last-minute moving stuff (K fell and broke her elbow and sprained an ankle and sprained her other arm 2 days before closing on the house, 2 weeks before we had to fly), after caring for 2 small kids on fall break, after one more national holiday with my family, I was exhausted.
So naturally, one of the kids did not sleep for even one minute on the 8 hour overnight flight over. Which means I did not get to sleep any.
It was foreshadowing.
We landed on a Monday morning. K took those first 3 days off work, to help us get settled. Then she was in the office every day, and I had the boys, because there were no school spots for them. Advice from the school authorities: wait until mid-January, after the winter holidays. There will be spots then. (What, is Santa bringing them?)
Six weeks. 24/7/42. Plus the 9 days I’d just had them prior to leaving: 24/7/51.
There would be no rest.
There was navigating foreign currency and supermarkets and transit and language, endless couple’s administravia as we looked for our own apartment and finalized insurance and kept looking for school spots just in case, and trying to keep the monkeys from destroying our temporary apartment furnished with other peoples’ handmade treasures and glass-front closets.
Eventually, mid-January did come around, and we rushed to move into our own place the weekend before school started, since it had a more favorable commute.
The first week they were in school, I speed-shopped every day before picking them up, desperately trying to locate the basic necessities we needed to live independently in a naked space. Towels. Mugs. Extension cords.
The second and third weeks they were in school, I woke up and got them fed and dressed and saw them off, then went back to sleep until 10, 11, even 1pm. Hours I had not kept since college. I almost felt bad about it, but then I would think about the last 3-4 months of ass-busting and roll over and snuggle up and set an alarm so I’d be there for afternoon pickup.
And eventually, after a couple weeks, I just quit needing to go back to sleep. I could go out and see more of the city, source more things for the house, or even start to shop for new clothes, since I’d shrunk out of everything I’d brought. All the stores here are closed on Sundays, so all shopping has to happen Monday – Saturday or online.
I was starting to get the hang of it.
All told, I had six good, usable weeks. I visited one of the 60+ museums in the city. We got a cool bike to make the school commute faster and more fun, and the groceries easier, kind of. I was even starting to make a few friends, thanks to Saturday nights at a pub.
Until they canceled school, the evening of 13 March.
The beginning of the end. The other restrictions that they’ve added periodically since suck, too, but no-school is the ultimate hobble.
I’ll be drowned in children for six weeks, according to the initial closure period running to 20 April 2020. (Those jokers.) They won’t announce until after Easter if, or when, schools will reopen. I’m not stupid, though. Given the current rate of things, they can’t reopen the schools anytime soon.
However, our school year here is supposed to run until 3 July — longer than much of the US — before a six-week-long summer break. Is there still a chance they could go to SOME amount of school before being out for the summer break?
Because the thing is, that first “world’s longest fall break” almost killed me. It definitely left marks. I am not handling this March-April period with any degree of grace or poise. I am beaten down and surly.
Because here’s the reality right now:
I gave up all my things, then didn’t have time to replace 98% of them before all the stores closed. We don’t have enough mugs, and one of my little assholes drop-kicked a toy and knocked one of the six off the table and broke it a few days ago, RIGHT after I told him not to kick toys in the house. We don’t have enough forks. I really need new underwear. I only have one pair of sweatpants. I knew things would be different, but I didn’t think my life would be materially worse here. And so far, it is.
I don’t have my own bed. I sleep on a folding couch in the living room. I don’t have my own room, because “my room” is also everybody’s living and dining room — and now school room. At least back home, I had my own room, my own little bed.
While I am the full-time childcarer, my life is on hold. I cannot do anything else. This is partly my fault: I cannot multitask in the face of their constant interruptions. I can’t read, I can’t converse, I can’t plan, I can’t cook, I basically fail to function. We’re in a full reversion to the newborn period, living in 15-minute increments, but with much more backtalk. Everyday I am less of a person and more a slave to the role that the government and our domestic economy has decided for me. It is untenable.
Gluten-free stuff is a lot harder to find here. Labels are harder to read, and not just because they’re in a different language(s). Eating out is more trouble than it’s worth, except that I need the break from cooking once in a while.
The stress is driving my MS symptoms crazy. My back hurts again, something that had really mostly faded away (no: something I had driven away through a concentrated, sustained effort of lifestyle adjustments, diet, stress management, and occasional herbal medicines which I still have not been able to source here). My legs are stiff and twitchy; even my bladder’s playing at being more withholding than usual. The neurologist I finally got in to see last month had never heard of rituximab as an MS treatment.The university clinic that might actually be able to administer it (I’m due next month) hasn’t decided where to see me, since the regular hospital is being turned into a COVID ward. Hoping they call back before I vegetate.
I had signed up to start my first german course in early May (to run through October, with summer break off). No word from the provider on that yet, but I don’t see how it could possibly start before fall, since they’ll need to let the people finish from this spring first, etc. So that’s at least a few more miserable months of not knowing what the fuck is going on, or how to ask for what I need. And when you’re a person accustomed to knowing wtf is going on and how to ask for things, a few months feels like a really long time. All of this feels like a really long time.
Needless to say, we have not been to Paris by dinner. I was supposed to get a day and a night to myself last week in another city to see a show I could never see in the US (and buy the underwear I need at a 4-story Uniqlo there — equally exciting). K was supposed to take the boys for a few days next week to her sister’s in England so I could have a little staycation. Neither of those will happen.
And even if they do get rescheduled, one day, they will not be enough to make up for what’s conspired since. It’s not about keeping score but trying to find a balance, a rest point.
And things are so far out of balance. I’m turning 40 in just over a month, barely a year out from some of the worst months of my adult life, and damned if fortune didn’t say “hold my beer” and go big.
Trashed my playlists when we moved. They were years outdated, stale, deadwood.
I’d started building a new one and rather enjoying the process. Riding trams and trains by myself on the weekends and any-days once the boys were in school (oh, how the boys used to be in school) gave me ample time to audition new music, see what old stuff still fit.
Over here, phone calls are expensive but data is cheap, and streaming music on my phone is “free,” and I took full advantage of the opportunity. [“Free” because I’m sure they’re selling my information to whatever companies want to use it for whatever nefarious commercial purposes. Good luck with that. My shotgun taste is as good at confusing algorithms as it is genders.]
And then the world ended. The restrictions started. The noose tightened. The walls closed in.
And I was drawn quickly back to some of the same stuff I listened to in high school. With the added benefit of having the internet around this time, and using it to springboard to other stuff I missed the first time around, as easily as “OK Google, play a Counting Crows station.”
It took me another week to figure out why. I’m not nostalgic. Those were not good old days. The music wasn’t awesome, but they wrote about being sad a lot, which I needed then. And now.
This quarantine has me living triggered 24/7.
When I was a kid, my parents’ demons ruled all our lives. Wrapped in their own dysfunctional blood feud, substance abuse, mood disorders, etc, they vacillated between ignoring me (mostly Dad) or screaming firehoses of criticism and threats (mostly Mom, or between Dad and Mom). I could do no right, but not for lack of trying.
If you’re familiar with the archetypes: I was the classic firstborn parentified perfect kid. Teachers adored me. My friend’s parents begged to have me over to play, to stretch one sleepover night to two or three, I was such a good influence! So mature, so polite, so helpful, so pleasant, so kind. Straight-As, 99% percentile, shirt-always-tucked-in, raises her hand, never interrupts, never breaks the rules, never tattles on others, always knows the right answers but gives others a chance to go first. Such a joy.
And: I had my first panic attacks in first grade, afraid my dad would come back to the house and kill my mom and baby sister during the day while I was away at school, since he hadn’t been able to finish the job the night before when he’d come home raging after last call.
Because obviously, if I were at home, I’d magically be able to prevent manslaughter.
Six-year-old logic. I already knew they wouldn’t change, but I still thought I should help.
That year was also the first time my mom said, on the ride to school one morning, “I want you to know I’ve been talking to a lawyer about divorcing your daddy.”
And I said, “Good.”
And she was horrified! “Why would you say that?!”
And I thought, haven’t you been here, too, all these days and nights? When he’s punched holes in the walls of our rented houses? When he’s ripped the phone out of the wall so we couldn’t call for help? When you bundled us into the car in the middle of the night to try to drive to a friend’s house, and he ran out and ripped some handful of wiring from under the hood so we couldn’t? So we had to walk to the neighbor’s house and ask to use their phone? All those times we woke up in somebody else’s house in the morning and ate their breakfast cereal and watched their cartoons? And the horrible stories you’ve told me (that you should never have told me) of before I was born, of when he actually hit you, he a foot taller, you the size of a 10-year-kid, of when you should have already left? What thinking person wouldn’t say ‘good’?
So I just shrugged. Knowing the right answers doesn’t mean shit when you don’t have the power to put them to work. And I knew I had no power outside of school, so I carried my permanent stomachache to class and cried silently when all I could think about was broken hinges and bloody sheets and broken necks.
So polite, never interrupts, a joy forever.
In case you were wondering how that turned out, the parents “celebrated” their 46th anniversary last week. And I still don’t make noise when I cry.
To the outside observer, this quarantine situation doesn’t have anything in common with back then. Neither of my 6-year-olds has a cocaine habit or a drinking problem. I’m 30-plus years older with average adult levels of autonomy.
But in the same way a certain scent can evoke a memory, my brain can read the dynamics of a situation and instantly find its match in the archives.
And that’s what’s happening here.
I am trapped in an unhappy home led by two strong and volatile personalities, frequently warring, even more frequently screaming, never satisfied. I am somehow responsible for their happiness and yet completely incapable of making it happen, despite trying so hard my eyes want to bleed. I am cut off from resources that might help support me, if any such even existed in the first place. My needs and desires must be subjugated to the functioning of the household and the needs and desires of the Big 2. Every day is a repeat of the days before and a preview of the days to come. The is no defined endpoint, no way to measure success, so no way to succeed. There will be no real freedom until somebody turns 18, or somebody dies.
In a lot of ways, school is still my safe space — even now, when I’m not the one attending. My 2019 ended and 2020 began with a 7-week school “vacation” while we waited for school spots for the boys to open up, and it was HARD. Getting dunked into the shit again after barely 2 months in has been brutal.
We’ll find out sometime next week what the next steps of the school closure will look like. Ours is originally scheduled to run through 4/20 lolsob but I don’t see any way they could lift it yet, so I fully expect it to be extended. Our school year runs through 7/3, so my hope is that they could go back for some amount of in-class time before getting out for 6 weeks of summer vacation. “Vacation.”
In the meantime, I wait, for authorities with more power than I to decide the direction of my life. I try not to suffocate. I wear headphones a LOT, with their musical heartbeat, where changing tracks can substitute for making progress in a life stalled and sinking.
I’ve been avoiding 99.9% of coronews out of self-preservation. But the Chancellor of Germany gave a rare televised address last night on the measures they’re taking here, and more importantly, WHY they’re taking them, that I thought showed refreshingly clear, honest, and stable leadership (remember that? it can still be a thing).
Here is the official English transcript, for my US friends and family especially, since I KNOW you’re facing the same threats but not getting the same messaging. Click through and read it — it’s not terribly long — if you’d like a little official straight-talk on the topic.
For context, here are some of the restrictions we’re now living with in Germany generally, Hesse and Frankfurt specifically that she is referring to:
Closure of the borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. Requested stoppage of all elective travel, both domestic and international. Turning away incoming travelers at Frankfurt airport.
Closure of all schools, from preschool/daycare through university
Our transit has switched to running on the lighter summer holiday schedule. Which is just as well, because they have
Closure of ALL: Bars, clubs, pubs; Theaters, operas, concert halls, museums; Trade fairs, exhibitions, cinemas, leisure and animal parks and providers of leisure activities (indoors and outdoors), special markets, casinos, prostitution facilities, brothels; all public and private sports facilities, swimming pools, fitness studios; all other retail outlets not mentioned elsewhere in this document, and Playgrounds.
Nearly everyone who can work from home has been asked or required to.
Prohibition of all gathering in clubs/sports/leisure facilities as well as taking advantage of offers in adult education centers, music schools and other public and private educational institutions outside of school as well as travel by bus; also gathering in churches, mosques, synagogues and the gatherings of other religious communities.
Hotels should not be used for tourist purposes, only necessary business.
Restaurants may only open from 6am to 6pm, though it might be possible to do pick-up/take-out later/delivery later? It’s changing every day.
What’s still open (for now)?
Doctors offices and hospitals, obviously. Groceries, weekly markets (they’re like farmers markets), pick-up and delivery services, beverage stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, drug stores, gas stations, banks and savings banks, post offices, hairdressers, dry cleaners, laundromats, newspaper sales, construction, horticultural and pet supplies markets, probably hardware stores.
And it’s hard, because we ARE all used to more choices, more freedom, more clear guarantees and end-dates when we make compromises.
It was nice to hear Merkel acknowledge that, even as she told us what we already knew: that nobody can make any guarantees, that there are no knowable end-dates, but that maybe MAYBE our sacrifices can help shorten the time needed to live under these conditions.
Even so, I’m 100% sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better — curfews and electronic surveillance, like we’re seeing in other countries, maybe even violence. Those genies are harder to get back into bottles than just holding a grand re-opening sale.
Realized today I’ve reached maximum Corona saturation. Which means I really topped out weeks ago, but seeing as I consume information and oxygen interchangeably, I was not careful to notice when too much was too much.
They say your gut is your “second brain,” though, so after the sixth(?) day of this IBS runs, (haha! oh how we laugh!), I had to wonder what was up. (Also, Corona panickers, stop fucking hoarding toilet paper, some of us need it right now.)
But considering that since the beginning, I have not actively sought out ANY information on the shit besides the breakdown on the ages catching it and the mortality rates, I’ve still been absolutely bombarded with everything I didn’t want to know about it at every fucking turn in at least two languages on every possible platform and outlet. For months.
And today, it was Too Fucking Much.
The Norms have started panicking in earnest and I just do not have the energy left to carry one drop of water for them or their fears.
See, I don’t like to brag, but I don’t ever have the privilege of walking through the world feeling even modestly invincible — not against health systems which are not set up for patients like me, with chronic and complex needs, during the BEST of times; not against economic systems that push those health systems farther out of reach during the BEST of times; and certainly not against microscopic invaders lurking anywhere/everywhere, ready to wreak havoc in my immuno-modulated body.
Maybe it’s maybelline, or maybe it’s the lifelong complex trauma history, chronic illnesses, a good eye for patterns, chronic pain, a chemo-customized immune system, being a long way from home, going through menopause and puberty at the same time…
Maybe it’s all of it, or none of it.
But from the first mention of this novel threat (which came in addition to the annual seasonal influenza threat, against which I cannot be effectively vaccinated), the question was never really
“oh no, what if I get Corona?” or “what can I do to keep from getting Corona?”
the question was always just
“How long until I get this?” and “Will this be one I can get better from, or the one that gets me?”
I don’t have the luxury of panicking.
Anxiety is the fear of fear, and panic is anxiety turned up to 11. You don’t panic in front of a firing squad; the inevitability precludes it. You might panic when a plane experiences turbulence and bounces around, but have you ever read survivor reports about what happens when one really crashes? It’s often eerily quiet, not screamy like in the movies, because once the uncertainty vanishes, so does a certain degree of the anxiety/panic.
And it’s not just me feeling stuck between damned and doomed. I WISH it were just me, so I could take my little whiny worry and wrap it up and bury it in a hole somewhere and sit on it until this thing passes, but there are so many others in the same or worse situation. Nicer people! People with jobs, and pretty smiles, and polite children, and bright futures! People who serve their communities, in spite of pain and limitations! People who are basically the polar opposite of me in every way, except they are also more likely to catch this fucking virus for no fair reason, and it could very well kill them.
So many valuable, vulnerable people out there who, in addition to all their other lacks, also lack the luxury of panic about this new threat. They can only add it to the stack of all the old threats — maybe build a cabin one day? Or at least a nice bonfire? I’lm brng mrfmrllws, I say through a mouthful of marshmallows.
In the meantime, I’ve muted my local grouptexts #indefinitely. I’m spending more time drinking (I mean, if these are the last days, I want them to be good ones), starting now. Well, 30 minutes ago, here’s mud in your eye.
I think self-congratulatory”social media fasts” are silly, but I’ll probably log in less for a bit — those who know me IRL are welcome to reach out directly in the meantime. I’m trying to avoid the public firehose, not real people who really matter.
At first it was nice for my ruins to be acknowledged FOR THEY ARE LEGENDARY but she just kept hammering on it, day after goddamn day. (You can stop reading after that part though. The anxiety thing is bullshit; it’s called homeostasis — your living system seeking a dynamic equilibrium — NOT pathology. The only unstimulated/unsoothed nervous system is a dead one.)
Uhh I mean, astrology is bullshit and so am I for reading it, but maybe not all of neuroscience is, says the person with a large brain tattoo on their arm.
Yesterday, I started noticing. Fading pasts, futures birthing, etc.
And then the Chief looked even worse, immediately after, in the WC. Ahem.
There are no pictures of that phase — pre-use! jfc — even though I DEARLY wanted to take one: it was the first time since arriving that I’d finally encountered one of the classic German shelf toilets.
I’d restarted my no-cell-signal phone while dining, forgetting that the SIM PIN lock would then be on — and that my SIM PIN was 45 min away at home. So no phone, for the next 5+ hours, until I returned.
My past might be fading*, but doing stupid inconvenient shit will always be here for me.
*It’s not. I fully agree with Faulkner’s oft-quoted observation that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
And also with Bessel Van Der Kolk’s longer version:
We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
It didn’t start out that way. It never does! I’m not wired for that.
I’m just trying so hard at everything all the time here, with super-this-human levels of busting-ass and endurance and determination. I guess trying to make up for all I’m missing here, which is…pretty much everything. No friends, no job, no language, no skills, no reputation, no power. No reason for existing.
That vaunted immigrant work ethic? Turns out it’s just vulnerability, flipped around and razor sharpened.
And all I want is for some of this trying to work out sometimes, in exchange for all the goddamn effort I’m overextending every fucking endless day. And it just really almost never does. And I can only say, “Whelp, maybe tomorrow” so many tomorrows in a row before I land on a day like this one.
Today I tried to find, and mostly failed, to find a cleaner who would agree to wash a 30lb pillowcase full of bedlinens for our new apartment.
Before I started, I thought I was being resourceful, savvy. Have someone with a washing machine (I don’t, yet) do this bit of apartment prep while I assemble furniture, commute across town between apartments, cook meals, wrangle children, etc. (aka tasks collectively known as Things I Can’t Very Well Do At A Laundromat).
Also, German washing machines and dryers are verrry slow compared to US ones; a wash cycle is often 2 hours, and drying can easily take that long and still not be totally dry.
Outsourcing sounds smart, right?
First the Amazon delivery dude calls me from the new apartment because I wasn’t answering the door. I am not an idiot so I do not answer the phone the first time he calls, but when he calls back about 30 seconds later, I answer in case something terrible has happened (I answered the phone from an unknown number in a foreign country, it doesn’t get much worse, Quod Erat Demonstrandum).
I told him I’d be there in 30 minutes and he said begrudgingly that he’d swing back by. I hadn’t planned to start the day over there, but ok. Atlas can hold up the heavens AND bend over backwards, right? Onward!
The sitter had just arrived for the first time to stay with the boys for a few blessed hours, so I headed straightaway to the new apartment: bus to the end of the line, walk to the tram, wait 10 minutes, tram to the end of the line, walk 7 minutes, home sweet home. And I wait.
While I wait, I open all the new linens that I would eventually take to the cleaners: sheets, pillowcases, duvets. With each piece, I thanked god that an uncle gave us a mass of ready towels for xmas so we didn’t also have to buy, and wash and dry, those as well.
Finally, after about an hour and half, I gave up on Amazon guy, figuring that he had chosen to stand me up in revenge for my not being “home” earlier, and I left to go get something for lunch, carrying a giant gaily colored pillowcase full of some lump the size of an average preschooler.
Five meters outside the building, I almost passed a man carrying 3 cardboard boxes, but I slowed down and said the only international thing I could think of, which was, ” Justice ? ? “
And he said, ” Y e s .”
This is where I digress to point out that every conversation I have here is straight out of some terrible literary fiction novel I’ve never read, or some slow-ass arty movie I’ve never finished. Every exchange is slowed down and blown up and padded with extra white space and longing and sideways eye contact and unspoken unknowables — and that’s when it’s going well.
” Thank you so much for coming back ,” I said as I put down my pillowcase and dug out my keys to open the building door that had closed behind me just seconds earlier. “We’re just moving in so we’re not here all the time yet, and –“
” I understand ,” he breathed, then said nothing more but looked like he might be considering it. Or maybe my microwave was heavy. Probably both.
“You can just drop those here uhhh in the elevator. I’ll get them to the apartment. Thanks again…. ”
” I’ll do it, ” he said quietly.
So we went up to my apartment together. Hmh.
I dug my keys out again to open the door. “Right here inside the door is great, thanks so much.”
” I’ll wait for you . ” and he held the elevator door with his foot while I relocked the door and we rode back downstairs together.
He’s really nice? I’m a total asshole? That’s the boilerplate takeaway I get from every interaction here. It’s exhausting. I fail and fail and fail and I’m not even sure how, but it’s clockwork.
More wait, more tram, 15 minutes of walking, 30lbs of clean dirty laundry
Cleaner #1: When do you want these back?
Me: Uh, this week?
Cleaner: Well…[looks inside the bag]…no. NO. She does these on Tuesday and Thursday. NO. Try the other place up by the tram stop and the hotel, 5 minutes walk.
Me, thinking: You mean a place I probably walked past 10 minutes ago and never saw? No thanks.
So I took my bulky bindle to the food court of the nearby mall to finally get some lunch. Accidentally ate an egg! It was between the burger patties — sneaky, and delicious.
Decided to take a shortcut by taking the Ubahn back through another main station on the way back to the old apartment, thinking surely there must be a cleaners near there.
And there was! And it only took 25 minutes of walking and googling and texting a friend for help and blind slogging-a-preschooler-in-a-pillowcase-making-my-hand-numb-luck to finally find them inside the station. I know prepositions are advanced and open to interpretation and stuff, but there’s a difference between “at” and “in.” If you are located IN the station, you should say you are IN the station and not AT the station. Ahem.
Cleaner 2, breaking off a conversation with somebody already there: Hallo.
Me: Entschuldigung, *pant* ich spreche kein deutsch. *pant* Sprechen Sie englisch? *pant*
Me. OH THANK GOD! Can you please wash these for us? We’re moving in and don’t have a washing machine yet.
Cleaner: When do you need them?
Me: I know this riddle. Sometime this week would be best.
Cleaner: Ok, take this ticket and we’ll settle when you come back on Monday.
Which means I have NO IDEA how much they’re going to charge me and it does not matter. Anything less than the cost of new sheets/pillowcases/duvets was reasonable at that point, because for hours and miles and 7 kilometers of trudging, I was ready to drop that shit in the nearest trash can and set it on fire.
Like, really really ready.
DELEGATION: 1, NEGOTIATION: 0.
Before I left, I took a few orientation pictures so I can find them again, faster, on Monday. Because ultimately, there is nothing to do but get up and do it all again, and try to do better. Or at least get different results.
But in the meantime, I go home and cook a minimal-effort dinner and let my kids think they’re getting away with stolen tablet time, and then I go hide in my room in the dark, because lying down in the cool there is better than sitting on the fake couch in the fake living room and pretending that I’m only fake dying.
And I can cry some. Have to, or I think my eyeballs might just shoot out of my head from all the pressure they’re under, like a Pekingese with a triple espresso and a deadline.
All those sidelong glances and pregnant pauses don’t just evaporate at the end of the day, you know. They’re cumulative. All the wrong things, said and the weight of things unsaid, and how many people thought I was running away from home today, with just my clown ekg pillowcase full of stuff? My face didn’t look fancy and free.
I feel so lonely. My wife speaks the language and has use of a bike and so nimbly avoids 80% or more of the problems I run into on a daily basis. She has other problems, I know — I’m one of them, and I hear there are others — but they’re different.
Everybody here dresses so nice all the time; I don’t just look like a country mouse, I look like I might have escaped from some kind of supervised community living situation. I’m about to need a haircut, and I can’t shop for clothes with kids, and even if I didn’t have them with me, I’d still be fat and dumpy and shoulderless and weird-looking. I don’t have any angles, just slump and slumpier.
I thought there was supposed to be a honeymoon period.
Supine and naked, we were attending some friend-of-a-friend’s spa party. But space was at a premium, as it is in so much of the city, so the crisply uniformed spa workers stacked a blonde woman on top of me.
We both studied the ceiling for a moment.
“I wasn’t planning to get anything done,” I finally said. “Spas always make me too nervous to enjoy anything besides leaving.”
“I’m already nervous. I’m getting my ears pierced,” she admitted. “I feel so silly for waiting this long. But I’m so afraid of needles.”
She tried to laugh self-consciously, but just exhaled a few times really fast and then felt even more self-conscious. I still couldn’t see her face, but I held easily the full soft weight of her being (kuschelig I am), and I silently appreciated the way that her loosely pinned-up hair was not falling into my face, because ew I have enough nightmares thanks.
I couldn’t help feeling a tenderness toward this stranger and her reasonable, ignorant fear.
“I got my ears pierced when I was 9, after begging and begging,” I told her. “As soon as they did the first one, I said — through tears — they could stop, and I’d live with one. It would be fine, a lot of people only have one earring.”
It was my turn to laugh self-consciously, and a ripple ran through our body-stack.
“But my mom and the minimum-wage mall piercer were having none of that, so they finished the job. What I had started to learn, as soon as the first one was done, was –“
And it was about that time that the spa attendants swarmed up, efficiency en masse, chattering to Top Bunk in a process like surgery prep on speed.
One white uniform pulled her arms out straighter, another turned her head to one side and then the other, still another prepped the tray with the piercing gun and wipes.
“What I learned was that the needle didn’t really hurt, it just surprised. In, out, gone.
She stiffened, sighed.
“What hurts is your own body’s own response to the invasion. It’s a lot slower, throbbier, then achier, crustier. But it also has its own timeline, which means it will end. You inflame, and you cool. And you will love the results.”
Of course that’s about the time I woke up, so I never did get to see her results, or buy her a pair of sparkly new earrings to celebrate her rite of passage.
She wouldn’t be able to change them out for six weeks anyway, unless guidelines have changed in the last 30 years, but that’s part of the rite, too — anticipation after the dread.