Outside 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.
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