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.
So we got on a plane a week ago and moved to Frankfurt. I gave the process 110%, and celebrated last night in the Anglo Irish Pub with a Jameson or two for a little taste of home. It was the first drink with ice cubes in 168 hours butwho’scounting. Wrote a few notes while there.
We’re staying in a very cozy temporary apartment for a couple of months. The owners left a scale in the bathroom. I tried it a few days after we arrived, but even accounting for kilograms, I thought it was broken. Finally got Kris to try it yesterday, since she’s so consistent, and the scale is perfectly accurate — it’s MY weight that’s off.
Since starting our moving the moving process in earnest 5 weeks ago, I’ve lost 21.4 pounds. I have literally worked my ass off, and my love handles. No time to eat and never stopping moving (plus doing all the lifting, since Kris broke her elbow a few weeks before we left, actually pays off. Starting a migraine preventive during that time (finally) has helped, too — it’s tempered my outsized appetite down to a normal size AND quashed most headaches, too.
Our apartment is cozy, if too small for two active six-year-olds. Is ANY house big enough for two active six-year-olds?! Our neighborhood feels safe, quiet. Transit is plentiful and easy. Shopping it pretty easy, and everything on offer is nicer than the shoddy goods we’re used to. The weather is a little grayer and a little cooler than we’re used to, but after 70s right up through November, it’s about damn time. Bundle up, motherfuckers, it’s xmastime.
Can’t help thinking my ASD makes me well-suited for much of life in the city. Avoiding eye- and physical-contact, no matter how close the quarters, is first nature. Minding my own business, the same. Efficiency? Check. Working within the system (when the system makes sense), hard same — and a lot of things in Germany have been engineered logically. Feeling visibly invisible is a preferred state whenever more than 2 or 3 people are around, so I don’t understand that “lonely in the big city” trope.
So I boarded a plane and landed here in a foreign land and unpacked some clothes into an apartment that smells like my mom’s best friend’s house from my childhood in Macon. She wasn’t German — Moroccan — but if you go far enough away, maybe you come back around, like a boomerang.
My kids like the food here, mostly. I tried lychee for the first time. I’ve been overwhelmed by the selection of meat products at even the small grocery (meat “pretzels” for the keto soul, y’all). I’ve been thwarted finding Jameson as anything but by the pour — until I realized I can buy it on Amazon Prime and wondered why we didn’t move here years ago. Public toilets aren’t as plentiful as my overactive bladder would prefer, and it helps to have spare change, but tant pis.
I’m here. It’s December. There’s chocolate and cookies everywhere. We’ll figure it out.