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.