What I must have looked like, running through the airport trying to get to Border Control. Trying to get as close as I could to the front of the line so I could get to the other side and make my train, the ICE to Stuttgart. And having to stand in the non-EU section in that labyrinthine line with all the other suckers. Having to endure their small talk while we watched the others use the auto-scan to sail right through.
What I must have looked like running in my ffp2 mask with my carryon like a shield rushing into battle. Nine in the morning on a Friday in Frankfurt, me up since 6 the day before. Me crossing the IDL by way of the North Pole and Reykjavik without any rest. That look of desperation, the pilot light behind my eyes turned too high.
I ran dodging strollers and wheelchairs muttering excuse me in German but not meaning it. I ran through the very pages of my past through vast ornate bahnhofs surrounded by glass. The scent of cigarettes, the feel of grime. I ran with the grip of Europe animating my frame, telling me I’m young. And I got to the platform to discover my train was late and I would make it, though I only had five minutes to connect to the next one.
And so it goes, the train is about to arrive. And we kick the squatters out of the seats we reserved and connect to Wi-Fi. And outside the window it is Germany again and the train is already moving away.
I have come here so many times I’ve lost track. Running through airports with Dawn pregnant, running through airports carrying our kids, cutting the lines so we could make our connection. I am here now again and it feels like home. We walk the stone-covered streets and there is that familiar sound the tires make when the cars go past. Familiar faces of people walking their dogs, finishing their meals outdoors.
I am up around 3 my first two days, up writing in the dark, recording. When the light comes up I walk to the top of the vineyards and look down to find my mom’s house in the distance but never can. There is the Rathaus and the lookout tower and the big old fachwerk homes but I’m never quite sure which one is hers, and I’ve been trying now since 2004.
The fruit is getting plump on the trees beyond the vineyards on my walk to the valley floor. I remember a poem by Robert Frost I wrote a paper on in high school, After Apple Picking, how I got a bad grade on it because my teacher disagreed with my analysis, how she wrote in the margins disparaging comments (“is God an apple?”) and how my dad went to bat for me, he called a meeting to challenge her, and she was everything you might hate in an English teacher, her name Mrs. Smullen.
But my dad had the courage to confront her, a science teacher himself, less equipped to debate the meaning of poetry with someone as well read as she (your son is reading between the lines so much I’m not sure he’s reading the lines). And for that I will always be grateful, will think of him this time of year when the apples hang low.
Whether it was mourning doves or owls hooting I don’t know, but the valley was filled with birdsong, the sound of a stream running but otherwise quiet, familiar. Familiar by the way you would think of the root for the word family, I felt a part of it. I roamed the trails through the dark forest in the early morning gloom and emerged by the cornfields beneath a gray-pink sky, the sound of church bells below.
At first the trip would remain open like this, a week unplanned, but would soon fill in. Perhaps we’d get nervous with so much freedom we’d feel the need to define it. I could take a train to France to visit Laurent or fly to Chester to see Alex. Or I could just stay put.
Mom and I would sit by the window on the second floor reading to the sound of kids from the playground below. I’d try to stay up until dark, when the 9 o’clock bells rang, then try to fall back asleep when I woke at 1 AM with insomnia. And lay there in bed scripting scenes from our time, recalling the names of nearby towns, how it felt to sit across from Dawn at a table in some restaurant there, so in love. So much promise ahead of us with all this time, all our lives still.
It spans out in all directions like this. The plump fruit poems no one guesses just right. The meaning in the dreams we shake off, the webs we break crossing trails in the morning dark. We are surrounded in a land of memory and remembered here. We are held by unseen, loving hands.