I tried wearing the same pair of jeans every day until something happened but nothing did. It was hard to remember what day it was. They asked us at the airport when we talked to the Bundespolizei, who were nicer and more relaxed than the Customs people at their desks with their guns and their laptops and their tightly cropped cuts — it gave Dawn an anxiety rash around her neck when they said we’d stayed in Europe too long without a visa, that the Schengen was a European community that also included the UK, but didn’t understand they were wrong, and there was an argument among them in the Customs office over the rules and they told us to go upstairs and ask the Bundespolizei, and we wondered for a moment if we should just slip out the side door and stop telling the truth about everything for once, like everybody else: how we’d come here willingly to Stuttgart Passport Control to ask if they could stamp our passports since no one else did when we crossed from England to France, and now it was our word against anyone’s how long we’d been here, and thought it might look bad we got here late July, and then left late October without any proof of when we’d returned to the Schengen.
It seems the gray has a stranglehold over the south of Germany. The house is old and dark and the heating is localized to the corners. I lay in bed in the morning encased in myself not needing to get out of bed but knowing I should to write, though the ink’s run out of my Pilot V5s and I lost some of the story thread I was batting around like a ball of yarn last month, what can sometimes feel like a maze, writing.
Stefan is starting to take on qualities of his dad Willi, whom I met on our first trip to Germany in 2004, with Dawn’s parents over Christmas. There was a party at Stefan’s house (his dad was childhood friends with Eberhard), and they grilled cuts of meat and vegetables on a Raclette and for dessert, sliced banana in bacon fat that Willi lit with brandy (we had to open the windows so the alarms wouldn’t go off) — and there’s a photo of Stefan’s dad and Eberhard, with Dawn’s dad and my step-dad from that Christmas: three out of four of them would be dead in just a few years starting with Willi, then Dawn’s dad Dick, my step-dad John, none of them more than 68, Willi barely 60.
In Berlin, Stefan and I reminisce about his first visit to Seattle, two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, 2005: Dawn and I were housesitting for a couple lesbian radiologists we met in our PEPS group; they had an unfriendly cat we had to feed but lived right on the water near Alki Beach in West Seattle and had killer views — and while Dawn was in the bathtub back at our little house, Stefan and I stood in the kitchen watching her cat Phyllis eat a mouse, marvelling at how quickly she gulped it down, every little bit, the tail, the claws, the head — how she chewed it like a piece of fruit or a nut and just left the face behind like a tiny mask, and Stefan and I had to laugh and say Wow, that’s some cat.
And back at work on a Sunday morning in my office with no one there to get my laptop so I could catch up on work at home, I’d missed some while Dawn was at the hospital visiting her dad and I was home with Lily — nothing looked the same anymore at my desk, it all looked lifeless and unreal like stage props when no one’s there — and I didn’t understand yet why I felt so disconnected with things once so familiar, how a loved one’s life ending can make you rethink yours.
I get attached to things more than I should like these jeans, and maybe that’s why it’s hard letting go of the old coats and hats when someone’s gone; maybe they are more than just props and costumes, they’re souvenirs of a time we want to remember, like the word souvenir in French means the same, to hold onto something so we can look back upon it and return, to keep a part of ourselves and the ones we love alive in our things.