Funny how it often feels good to disconnect, but then we long to feel connected again. And maybe that’s the combination I’ve found this week reconnecting with my mom and our home here in Germany. Lily went away for a time this year to find herself and perhaps I’ve done the same, sometimes it just takes a bit of shifting to put things back into place. Or to just go away.
Martin and Roland invited us to dinner. They got an elephant! It’s right in their front yard, hard to miss when you pull up the street. Right beside a giraffe and a family of monkeys. The big monkey is called Peter and the little one, Peterle.
We sat in their outdoor green room, Roland in charge of drinks, Martin the food. One by one he brought out small dishes and soon it was clear he’d been cooking all day. When we settled in, Martin said they would let the stump go thick on the one tree but checked with me, was stump the right word? I said trunk, you mean. Like the elephant has, and then mimicked the sound, made a trunk of my arm.
Like the car has a trunk?, he said.
Yes, and like a man’s swimming shorts I said: trunks.
But we do not call this same word for the woman because they have no elephant trunk in their shorts, he joked. And we all laughed.
We used the maps app on my phone to navigate home; the AI voice assistant bungled the pronunciation on the street names but she still knew the way, and that’s what mattered most. I think it made mom and me feel better about our own German, there was still someone who spoke it worse than us.
Our time was winding down and I hoped we’d see Benny on Saturday, just back from France. He was a friend of my mom and John’s since they first moved to Germany in 2004. Back then he house-sat for them with his girlfriend Andrea. Benny played guitar then and taught English, spoke the language perfectly. He was finally seeing some success with his music too, had even opened for Van Morrison at a festival in Stuttgart. The concert promoters had chosen the opening acts, but it was still something to say, I opened for Van Morrison.
Benny and I used to stay up all night drinking and talking, and one time he said to me Bill I think you drink too much and you should quit. It was hard for me to hear that but he was right, and I looked forward to telling him I’d gone sober now, to see his reaction. I liked the sense people could be more direct here it seemed. When they asked how you’re doing they meant it, it wasn’t just something they said.
I could take another walk but it rained last night and feels like a good morning to sit with my coffee and relax. I’ve taken all the routes over the vineyards now, even the one by Clementine and Marcus’s house—that couple my mom and John were once friends with but mom doesn’t see anymore. We still wave to Marcus when we see him at the store, but Clementine doesn’t go out.
We went to their house one afternoon for tea but got held captive by Clementine talking and now each time I walk up their street I’m reminded of that bizarre, sad story she told. Her daughter had been murdered on the streets of Spain in a village somewhere—all because she’d looked at someone the wrong way—and the killer had knifed Clementine’s daughter in broad daylight right in front of her daughter’s kids, the most ghastly thing you could imagine.
Clementine had just been to Spain for the trial when we visited her and Marcus, and said the realization she made is that in order to find peace with a tragedy such as this you have to learn to accept, even love, that which you most despise. To embrace your daughter’s killer as you would your own child. So at the murder trial she’d said as much to her daughter’s killer, I love you, and had looked deep into his eyes as she said it. And we just sat in silence with that, not knowing what to say.
But then for hours more we were forced to listen to Clementine talk about her life without once asking us about ours, and left feeling like we’d made a mistake by going. My mom had later seen her with her servants on the street one time, and had started to introduce herself to the servants, but Clementine stopped her and said no, you don’t have to know their names (they’re servants)—and that was the last time my mom ever talked to Clementine.
Living in a small village you never know who you’re going to see on the streets and for that I often prefer to stay inside. We could connect from afar too with our phones, and sometimes that was enough.
Our stories aren’t ours anymore once we share them, and maybe that’s what helps connect us to our world. Or to let loose what we keep inside, for there is some release in the sharing. The stories take on more weight through the telling, and less so for the teller.