I sometimes wear Eberhard’s Stetson to get Charlotte at school, and stand outside with the other parents waiting for her to appear in the doorway — and when she does and sees me with the hat, she turns pink and walks ahead pretending we’re not together, answers my questions about her day with clipped replies, says she wishes I wouldn’t wear that when I come get her.
Dawn tells me about a story she heard on Radiolab, how our memories are in fact the last memory of the time we remembered and they change each time we remember them: it’s not like a Polaroid fading, the actual content in the picture changes.
And this happens with past visits to Germany we recall: that spring the year my stepdad died in 2008, I remember it was April because a record just came out by one of my favorite singers and it was called April, and the songs were like a soundtrack to the spring rain, they had the same somber, restorative feel — but it was different than the records that came before and I didn’t like it because I wanted him to sound the way I expected, I wanted him to sound the same.
Mom made friends with a Parisian guy named Gilles who lives in the town and picked us up at the airport, but drove exceptionally fast on the Autobahn and bristled when Dawn asked if he could slow down (Charlotte was only six months old and Lily, just three), and then Gilles and Eberhard got in an argument about the fastest route to the airport which is funny now that I know the way, the only thing to argue about is whether or not you get off at Mannheim or keep going on the A6 — but there was probably more reason still for them to argue.
And apart from the pictures, there’s not much more we can remember from that visit. Mom confided some things she learned about Gilles that seemed peculiar, and after John died the two of them were friends for a time, but in that desperate way outsiders bond with fellow outsiders, the friendship can turn edgy, and maybe there’s a reason they’re on the outside, maybe they should remain there.
Gilles’s apartment is dominated by a vase with dead roses in the center that he keeps from the girl who broke his heart, or possibly the very flowers he last offered her but she wouldn’t accept, and why he saved them I don’t know, it sucks the energy from the space: or why he keeps a shoebox full of every toothbrush he’s used over the years: we can’t bring ourselves to ask why he just won’t throw them out and perhaps it’s better we don’t know the reason.
John was losing the sensation in his hands and couldn’t play guitar the same, he was going behind a fog of depression and it seemed his drinking took on a dark tint. He slept on the same side of the bed I do now with an oxygen mask and when I looked in on him that morning we left for the airport flying home, I wondered if it would be the last.
I tap the window on the train and point for Dawn to look out, coming back yesterday from Vienna, the cloud deck thickening as the mountains got bigger outside of Salzburg and gaps in the clouds made spotlights for the sun on the meadows, all the shades of green, light and dark, all the places we could go but probably never would.
We’re taking turns reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and he talks about time, the fact that dogs don’t see it the same way we do: whereas for us time is linear, for dogs it moves in circles like the hands on the face of a clock — how time and incidents have dimension to them if we notice the beauty and peculiarity in life, the fact that themes unfold around us and repeat like the movements in a classical music piece — how we miss each other in relationships, and pass by so close.
A long weekend for Dawn and me to celebrate our anniversary, this springtime in Vienna, tourists outside our hotel in the quiet of the morning stirring with their guidebooks and cameras, trying to be a part of it all and at the same time unseen.
I have to come back to our room for a lie-down after the museum while Dawn goes on to another; I have to clear my mind from the stimulation of the paintings, the weight of all there is to know and feel: the rows of self-portraits along the walls and the artists’ sad faces trapped inside themselves looking out from their creations, waiting to be seen.
I didn’t plan it this way, but now that we’re ending our time here the pages in my notepad are running out and I have to get creative using any available space, and my handwriting looks like ants taking to the margins in a procession along the edges — it has that same busy look of ants where you wonder if they know what they’re doing or where they’re going, they look so determined.
And at night, my memories of where we’ve been criss-cross and flutter in and out of one another and become indistinct. It’s a tapestry of leaves and streets I go beneath, these times and faces, these scenes we love, this life, what little we remember is still more than enough. It coats my dreams and leaves patches behind the next morning.
Like the hands of a clock we move in the same quarter hour increments dividing life into portions, sometimes noticing the sound of the tolls but most times not, and sometimes it seems they ring at different rates, more in circles than lines; the dogs have it right.
We saw Gilles again on his bike going by but now he and my mom don’t talk, and I’ll wave hello but he’ll pretend he doesn’t see me or look away, or I’ll do the same.
But last week, Dawn got up from our table to talk to him while we were sitting outside the Hirsch and I did the same, and he told me he should have died, they said there was a 70% chance he would but he didn’t, and he asked about my job and my writing, and said well, you know where I live if you want to stop by before you leave, and I haven’t decided yet if I will.