My dear friend Rosemary began a photo series called Primary New York: Manhattan in reds, yellows, and blues. Here's my effort from across the pond. (Try it, wherever you are! You'll start seeing your entire world in three satisfying shades.)
Berlin = one big love-jungle dumpster
Corner of Brunnen & Bernauer Strassen
Best shorts in Berlin, Schoenhauser Allee Ubahn platform
Back of his motorcycle, two in the a.m., hold tight! and
FLY. Berlin barren, alight: Reichstag Brandenburger Tiergarten:
our very own. And Wannsee! air tinged by earth tree lake, sky
starred dark. A deer sprints. And. Hope leaps.
There's plenty to say. A Madonna reading in Munich. A hankering for Dirndls. A plan for Paris.
And yet. Mum's the word here in Prenzl' Berg.
Besides, I'm trying to earn some money. Editing. Journalism-ing. That kind of thing.
Blog's gotta wait.
Also I'm thinking, shouldn't someone be PAYING me for all the hours I spend painstakingly coaxing words into submission for each day's post?
Ain't going to happen. Thus a personal boycott of this non-compensatory activity.
Very quiet blogger.
Living through stuff that doesn't get to be blogged.
But the sky is blue. And the sushi is exquisite. And my new MacBook is the best thing that ever happened to me. Black as gunpowder. Masculine as Brut cologne. And so-damn-sexy.
Which is good. Because for now, my fingers on this keyboard is all the lovin' I'll be gettin'.
The fuzzier he grows. A figment of my imagination. A dream I once had. Or a dream once had by a girl who used to be me.
Maybe that's for the best.
Or maybe it makes those moments when I'm told of him (he talks! he breathes! he rides in cars with boys!) all the more jarring. His very existence an affront.
Maybe I don't want him fuzzy. Maybe there's (strange) comfort in blood-raw pain. As if what we had did matter.
And that's the urge to see him.
Then again, I'm not so very brave. That I'd walk straight into flame.
Nor so foolhardy.
Today is two months. At this very hour.
Monday night he came to me, in my sleep. His pale face, his Nike jacket midnight blue. He was beside me, he was with me. He had returned.
I looked at him. His somber eyes. "But..." I shook my head. "I don't want to be with you."
Not angry. Just rooted.
I woke, surprised. Because I rarely lie. And never in my dreams.
And there I was frittering away the hours with a blog about the Caucuses. Where are my priorities?
Last night, a string of videos: The whip of her body, lavender lycra. Jeans riding low, American flag. Her duet with Justin Timberlake, beige rouched bodice.
Say what you will: She is an empty vessel, a half-talented chameleon of pop ephemera, more materlialist than feminist. But: I was enchanted.
Besides, I owe the Divine Miss M a lot. And I will be honoring her with a reading of my very own prose in (god help me don't let me garble the umlauts or the rolling r's) German on Friday night.
Completely unrelated: Happy Birthday tomorrow to the other formidable Leo in my life. You know who you are.
When you see the footage of Georgians on your TV Saturday.
Tough to hold the channel steady for: refugee camps, Russian tanks, child corpses in charred autos.
When you could be watching: Sea of Love. Late-night talk show. A Jamaican in green and yellow run as if immortal.
But you do. Sit through. Until you are sick inside. And grateful.
Still. You wake into your own life. Pissy. Insomnia-addled. The chills roll in, first time in a week. The news from San Francisco weighs heavy. An (insane) urge (MUST see the Ex!) accompanies you all over. Mean as a migraine.
Georgia? Very far away.
Afternoon, window table, Sowohlalsauch, the waiter with the astounding brows. You haven't seen him for a while now.
You nurse your cappuccino. He brings you the check. He leans in, shy, respectful. I was wondering, he says, German spiced with an accent you can't unpuzzle, May I take a photo some day, you sitting at this table, black and white, that is what I do, my art, I want to capture images, of people here not German...
You smile. Try to hide your titillation. An honor, you say. And then: Can I ask you where you're from? (Spain, you've decided. The homeland so often attributed to you of late. Go figure.)
Georgia, he says, and No! you say, Your family!? Are they okay?
Yes, he says. His eyes are torn with fear and question. His eyebrows knotted, restive.
I wanted to go to them, he says, My father told me no, my friends told me stay. Oh, but I am ripped up inside. I couldn't come to work all week.
I am so sorry, you say. It must be awful.
I haven't watched the news since Friday, he says. I had to turn it off.
That is good, you say. That is better.
He lays down a Euro change. You slide it toward him. Oh, he says, thanks. 'Cause one's a lot on a four-Euro bill.
Still. You both know: a Euro means nothing. Not now, on this day when the sun laces in and out of Berlin cloud.
In Georgia a woman keens. That was her child in the auto.
Unsteady earth, indeed.
Yesterday someone told me of an encounter with him. What he said. How he said it.
Her report was a red-hot branding iron, pressed against my sternum.
I wept, off and on. For hours.
How can I possibly see him. Without bursting into flame?
Today. At 9:40 a.m. Exactly.
Now is your chance (while you're here, putting off work you know needs doing) to:
Wow, so many days, so many words. To think they almost didn't let me into the country.
It is not the hard drive. It is the motherboard. The friggin' heart and soul of the laptop itself.
I feel legless, armless. I bang my forehead against the keyboard at my local Internet hovel. A sunless hallway, air stained by smoke, and the keys ALL wrong. As German keys insist on being.
I cannot check my emails when I rise. Nor when I retire. Nor the habitual hundred times in between. I cannot SKYPE (no verbal contact with you Amis). I cannot blog (madly) after midnight. Nor texture every at-home hour with iTunes. I cannot download This American Life. Nor Speaking of Faith. Nor Leonard Lopate. I cannot, worst of all, pick at my memoir, juggling this word, serrating that, sliding one sentence up, another one sideways. Nor can I march forward into snow-white pages.
Okay, that last task? Yes. There is such a thing as: fountain pen (lavender ink). And moleskin notebook (college-ruled).
There is such a thing as: Everything happens for a reason. Or at least, the death of a laptop, and the timing of said death, does.
That is what my Serbo-Croatian literary hot stuff friend believes. I don't disagree.
All I've done for five long weeks is shape-shift Chapter Six on-screen. Massage, slice, reorder. A set of scenes that REFUSE a solution. Likely they don't belong at all.
Now? Forced suddenly (unwillingly) free. Nowhere to go but blinking, squinty-eyed into the bright blank glare of Chapter Seven. Do you see how I limp? As if my ankle's still shackled.
If we are wrong, my friend and I, it hardly matters. Finding a reason for the Sony death, and bewitching it into metaphor, makes you feel better. Which also applies to the men who leave you. And that has to be good enough. Or at least, that's all there is to do.
But let us pause here. For a heartbeat of self-pity. Because:
1. Health busted.
2. Sleep busted.
3. Heart busted.
4. Entire order of the universe busted -- due to BAD news from home.
And now featuring:
5. Laptop (most vital tool I own, more so even than my BabyBliss hairdryer) busted.
The prognosis is bad. The Vaio, purchased as it was in the states, cannot be serviced, nor its motherboard replaced, in Deutschland. Leaving me legless, armless, for quite some time. Also: The warranty ended a year ago. The cost of a new motherboard? Nearly that of a brand-new laptop.
Options: Replace the motherboard on my colicky, sputtery Vaio and risk further breakdowns in a country where it can't be fixed? Purchase a new PC in Germany, where the prices are prohibitve and I don't have the Euros to spare anyways? Buy a new one in the states and hit this snag all over again?
Or...buy a MacBook. In America. For pleasant American prices. With a three-year warranty. Which also counts in Berlin.
Wait. Did I say MacBook? No! I am... I was... I want to be... Eternal PC Devotee. Help!
It's all his fault. He, more enamored of the Apple brand than I am even of my cat. More loyal to it, too. How he cradled that iPhone box. Breath-held, gently lifted the lid. Palmed and fingered each smooth white part. "Even the packaging is flawless," he crooned.
A starry-eyed ad for Apple, he was. A walking rant at Microsoft.
Fiddling with my Vaio, he'd curse: Twelve convoluted steps for a Mac's every one! Blocks against basic user rights! Greed! Corruption! System failures!
He pretty much had a point.
Did you know? Microsoft, too cheap to buy the rights to The World's Best Font (Helvetica), crafted Arial. Oh, tasteless knockoff! Oh, pleather, Stevia, fake Fendi found cheap on Canal Street! Helvetica's letters are wholesome, impeccable, each stroke graceful, each curve solid. Microsoft came and squished and shaved, bullied an entire alphabet off-balance.
For this reason alone I am moved to buy a Mac. And not because the Ex still has my heart.
Besides, does Apple still have his?
His iPhone busted as no iPhone's ever s'posed to. A ride in Gauloise-smoking Felix's auto. It slips behind the seat. Or beneath it. Or somewhere. Plastic metal glass in splinters.
Forgive me if I seek the metaphor. Forgive me if I think: My cousin put the iPod idea into his head to begin with, at my birthday party, December 2007. And I'm the one who laid down the dollars (oh, pleasant American prices): Mac store, Union Square, San Francisco. Snuck it through customs, Tegel Airport, right in time for New Year's.
Seven months later, my heart, shattered. Eight months later, the sleek and beveled beauty he would not own were it not for me...
Well, you get the picture.
Me, window table, Cafe Sowohlalsauch, Sony Vaio.
Three times in a row I punched the On button. Blue and yellow keyboard lights danced odd flickery dances. The screen? Slept.
I tried again. Soothing three-cord boot-up music sounded. The screen lit up. Hurrah! Promptly faded. So dark, I could not read a thing. I turned it off. And tried again.
The seventh time I pressed the On button: NOTHING. No lights no music no screen. And the eighth. And ninth. And tenth. With battery, without. With power cord, without...
Stone-cold dead. That is what my laptop is.
The Vaio's been colicky and ill-tempered for months. Hot to the touch, blanking out suddenly.
My Serbo-Croation literary hot stuff friend has the same model. And two weeks ago: Exact same problem. Hard drive irretrievable, she was told. Apparently our model contains a drive so poorly situated it cannot NOT overheat. And die. Too soon.
I should be wrecked. Up in arms. Wailing.
I can't seem to manage. A busted heart body home makes a busted hard-drive so much less upsetting.
Also: Last week I re-saved everything on my external hard drive.
Let us be clear: I am not the kind of girl who owns an external hard-drive. I am not the kind of girl who even thinks of it. Supposing I were the kind to think of it, I would put off the buying of it for, oh, seven years.
The only hope for a girl like me is to date a man who says (eyes ripped wide open): "External hard drive!!!" (in German, natch)
No, that's not good enough. The man must bring me, via U-Bahn, all the way to the vast and buzzing techie store on Alexanderplatz. A Saturday, in March. He must, amidst all the whir and neon, locate the correct floor. Find the appropriate aisle. Lift the desired item from the rack. And walk me to the cash register. The paying for it I can do.
Still not enough. Thereafter, he must accompany me back to my sublet. Unpack the item on the dining room table. Plug in the multiple cords that mean nothing to me. And do the downloading. While I hover behind his left shoulder, sort of kind of paying attention.
Today I am calm. Today I have no single chapter of my memoir to mourn. No book outline, no journal entry, no short story, no scanned illo, no tenth resume draft, no old letter, no poem I wrote for my uncle's memorial.
It's all there, in the little black box.
Thus. Let us pause a moment. To thank the Ex.
Yes, Bayreuth Boy, if you are reading this, I mean YOU.
You wouldn't give me your heart. But you gave me that.
Nothing much could matter more.
Let us revisit:
1. Health busted.
2. Sleep busted.
3. Heart busted.
4. Entire order of the universe busted -- due to BAD news from San Francisco.
In under four months.
The last item on the the list entailed a new twist: Fly home at the end of August. Just as my sublet runs out. Meaning: Fnd a new apartment and move and furnish the whole damn thing. In under three weeks.
It would have been funny. If I weren't hyperventilating.
Out of the blue, unprovoked by any of my Milanese Mafia connections, the woman I am subletting from called. "I am not returning from Hamburg in the fall," she informed me. "I like it too much... Of course, I'll keep the apartment in Berlin."
"Kah-lunk." (The sound of my jaw hitting the floor.) "Does that mean I can stay?????"
Seems God finally realized: Lilan might have enough to handle at the moment.
For the next three months, you'll continue to find me here, on Ryke Street, spitting distance from the Wasserturm, where the Nazis did horrific things but which now holds luxury condos. Even for the next five months, if the fancy takes me.
Thank you, God. Or the street-cleaners of Hamburg. Whoever had more to do with it. I really don't care.
Four in the morning Friday, I realized: I MUST see the Ex.
This letter that I've been writing in my head every night for the past six weeks? That I have been outlining, revising, proofreading, power-pointing? Translating from English to German and back again?
It is not a letter at all. It is a conversation.
Face him, I thought. Tell him what you believe.
Not because I think I can sway him. Not because I even want to. But because I want him to know. Precisely where I stand.
And I must say it. Or else this spine of mine might forever be soft as taffy.
Yesterday, at Cafe Sowohlalsauch, I reported this to my Serbo-Croatian literary hot stuff friend. "It came to me in the night," I told her. "Immediately I felt strong. And tall." Except that I was lying down.
"Then you must," she said.
"Or I will never be free of him."
Across the street, suddenly, a sheet of raindrops, caught in the sunlight. Where we sat: entirely dry.
"It's God!" We laughed. "Sending us a message." And I think we both believed it.
* * *
Today, at Sowohlalsauch, I made the same report to Dylan. "I want him to harbor no illusions," I said, "of what I think about his reasoning."
"But..." She looked at me so kind, in her pretty pale blue blouse. "Do you really believe he did the wrong thing?"
"Because, you can do so much better." Her eyes were limpid as sky.
I paused again.
She launched into his shortcomings. As any good girlfriend should. She didn't need to.
"You're right," I jumped in.
Funny. How, for the first time, I actually believed it.
The waiter brought Dylan her coffee. My cup was already half-drained. Black, with sweetener.
"You can take my milk," I told him. And handed him my mini-pitcher of foamy white, full.
He balanced it on his tray, stepped away.
"Those eyebrows!" I murmured. A forest. "Those lips!" Cresting waves.
Dylan chuckled. "You said that milk thing sooo flirtatious."
* * *
Dylan has a plan for me. Not involving the waiter. Rather, her roommate. Leonine forehead. Silvering mane. He is an Ossie. You do not realize he is handsome. Until suddenly: My. God! Is that his testosterone that bowled me over?
He needs a girlfriend.
"Doesn't he have issues?"
"I think he is afraid," she said.
I shook my head. I am through with the hesitant. The meek. The undecided. You better chase me, buster. "I'm not doing like I did with the Ex."
He asked me to the movies. In a totally vague, non-committal, platonic-ish sort of way. Which is just right.
That was last week, right around the same time my holistic healer handed me the snow-white swan feathers. The next day I discovered I was one of the few authors reading at the Madonna book release party (an honor!). And the literary agent I'd sent part of my memoir to? She reported being "intrigued" (holy cow!). She wants to see more.
Hmm, I thought, this whole "wobbly before you fly" thing... My healer might have a point.
Then, of course, Mr. Epstein Barr laid me flat.
There goes that.
Still, the air currents sure were nice. While they lasted.