Walking down the unlit hallway of life

IMG_7932Outside in the mid-afternoon there was just the sound of birds and kids and cars going by. It was too hot for anything, everyone hanging onto the edges by the shade. I’d gotten up when the church bells struck six and walked back up the Himmelsleiter, the old Roman steps leading through the vineyards to look down on my mom’s town here in Germany. Trying to make sense of things, confusing the past with the present, all the times we visited and now just feeling a sense of loss for those times, here on my own.

We got out of the car washed-out and wet from the drive back from Prague, four and a half hours with no AC on the autobahn, the A6 from Nürnberg to the 81 turnoff for Stuttgart, the 27 taking us home to my mom’s, past the cornfields and farms. Not even 48 hours in Prague but enough time to get our fill, out early for morning walks and afternoon lie-downs, back on the streets for dinner. Confusing the two times I visited there (once with Dawn, once with my mom)—walking the long way up the hill to the Czech Eiffel Tower looking down over the city, remembering that time with Dawn but not able to make it out really—feeling all the more distant and removed as a result.

I lay in bed our first night in Germany in the upstairs bedroom, the one we used to stay in when we first came and the kids were really small. Some of their things are still here, preserved in that eerie state of childhood memories that feels more unkempt than anything, kind of abandoned. And how my mom must feel that way living in this old house where John died 10 years ago this Halloween, how the past can just hang there and grow heavier as it fades.

I tried to remember the last time I saw him; it was August then too, and I’d come because I thought he was near the end. We’d sold our first house and were living with Dawn’s mom, Beth. The economy crashed and we decided to wait it out before buying again—then, Starbucks announced layoffs and we talked about what we’d do if I lost my job (probably move to Europe for a while with my mom). And the thought sounded so good I took a sabbatical the following summer. Charlotte turned 2 here, Lily was only 4. We actually had the nerve to drive from Germany deep into Italy with no cell phone, Charlotte still in diapers. When it was over, just three months, we wanted to return and stay longer the next time but I wasn’t eligible for another sabbatical for seven more years. And that seemed like a cruel amount of time to wait so I quit my job five years later and we moved back in 2015.

How time changes when we travel, with all the stimulation crammed into such a short space. It could be like an accordion the way it opens and closes, and opens again. And how our lives are like that too, in a sense. What sounds it makes as it compresses down. The difference between noise and music.

On the last night with Eberhard I got the grill out of the barn and cooked some chicken legs and breasts. Mom said she wished she had a video of me watching Eberhard eat the chicken. Probably a look of fascination and horror. He started on the thigh with a fork and knife but soon dispensed of that and just took it by hand, but I worried the meat could be underdone (I hadn’t temped or timed it), and I hadn’t trimmed the fat either, and because of all the flare-ups the skin and bone were blackened—but he seized upon it with the look of a dog tearing at the tendons and tissues and the juices ran gray down the insides of his wrists, and he went back for another and then a third, slapping his gut, sitting back—and I remembered the Becherovka we got in Prague and ran inside for it, and we finished it as the first stars appeared, and the almost-full moon.

On the last night mom and I agreed we’d go up to the biergarten and sit in the shade, get a wurst, and then call it an early night. We were leaving for the train at 5:45 the next morning.

There was the look of the corn fields with the sun coming up as I popped out of the valley and headed back down the Himmelsleiter that day: how the fields freshly harvested have such a look of peace to them, with only the sound of the nearby birds and the breeze through the leaves. How it feels I’ve harvested so much, myself.

To feel grateful for a life so full of memories I’m sad to miss them.

Post title taken from the Mark Kozelek song, Unlit Hallway.

Follow me on Instagram @pinklightsabre.


Categories: death, Memoir, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

24 replies

  1. ditto to Kevin’s comment. A pleasantly reflective early-autumnal mood.
    (I hope that compliment sounds sincere, I think I’ve been reading too many wine labels.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i love the accordion opening and closing imagery

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The harvesting comments reminds me of line from an Eagles song: When we’re hungry, love will keep us alive…love and memories and gratitude for it all. That was sweet Bill, really lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yessir, that’s a good one, well-done. And that picture is almost, but not quite, as creepy as the corn head.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I felt like I was there with you. Nice flow and imagery

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Bill.
    I’m somehow caught between the flow of memory in the piece, and the frankly terrifying encasement of the chap in the photo – a gravestone, you say? Wow.
    We try to hold memories, capture them in calligraphic stone with writing; gaining something and losing something in the process.
    The stream of words between the photo and that closing sentence…
    – Bruce

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bruce! Thank you. Yes, the photo is a bit much. Trying to capture the “caught between the past and present “ thing maybe. Discovered the stone when I was brooding in my mom’s neighborhood earlier this week. Just landed back in Seattle. Good to be home. Grateful for your note! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The memories of life and as we look back feels someone stole the joy away from us. I was sucked into the writing from start to end.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That chicken scene. The word “ravenous” comes to mind.
    Just back from your country, very near the land of your youth, if I recall. Via Philadelphia was actually an alternate route home, and if we’d had more time, we might have.
    You are an exhausting nation, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: