In the summer of 2006 when I found myself in Germany, experiencing my very first summer away from home, I realized something very crucial, in fact so crucial, the realization still follows me everywhere I go. The circumstances, as to why I was where I was, are easily explained. I was 18, seeking for an unforgettable adventure. Jump into the icy cold water, at the deep end, without floats, no parental guidance, if you will. There was not more to it, as simple as that.
That summer I learned, that if there is no one else to count on, you can always count on your parents. They are always there, even if you can’t see them. The days quickly became dull, Monday, Thursday, Saturday, they all were alike and adventure seemed, at least from what I read in books, saw on TV and heard on the radio, was something very different. Day-in and day-out it seemed as I had talked to the same people, when in fact they all were different people, in different parts of a town, but somehow, they were all alike. This is why the days seemed alike, because there was no difference as to where we were and when we were and why. But one day, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, time stood still.
I found myself on the 5th floor of an old apartment building with no lift, most people were at the public pool and who could blame them? The sun was beating down, my white shirt clutched to my sunburned skin. I knocked on the door, three times, thinking to myself, if I would only get a buck for every time I knocked on a door, this particularly hot day, I would walk home a rich woman. I was waiting, hoping for someone, who was kind enough to let me into their humble, air-cooled homes, offer me a cold beverage and talk to me about their lives. To this day I find it intoxicating, when someone is kind enough to tell me a story, it makes me happy, it fuels my engine and, above all, the looks on a person’s face, when they feel heard, is just priceless.
Back to my story, on this particularly hot day, you could hear a needle falling onto the floor, that’s how quiet it was at this end of the world, in retrospect, it was surprisingly quiet. We find ourselves drawn to newborns and funerals, as a newborn is the beginning of the end, a miracle if you will. The funeral is only a testament to life. The door opened slowly and I stared into a thousand eyes. I will never forget those milky blue eyes, the way they looked at me and didn’t see me. The way they mustered me, but didn’t evaluate my being. These cold eyes, surprisingly vivid and still, trapped in time. The man was in his 80’s, I presumed, he was wearing a white tank top, beige shorts and white socks up to his knees. He didn’t say a thing, nor did he do anything, he just opened the door and let me in. To this day, I have no idea, why he let me in, since – struck by amazement – I wasn’t able to say one single word either.
I sat down in front of this guy’s wife. An elderly woman with white curly hair, wearing an almost see-through night gown, I somehow envied her. How I would have loved to sit at home, in my nightie, have a cold lemonade and just wait for the day to pass. They sat in front of me, not saying a word, not motioning towards anything, not doing anything. I wondered if they even realized, that I was sitting in the room with them, if they were able to see me, if they were able to hear me or if they were off in their own world, a better place maybe?
And then, after what seemed like an eternity, she spoke in her softest voice, she asked me how my day was going, how my school was, how my pet dog was doing (I do not own, nor did I ever own a pet dog). She asked me how my sister was doing (I only have two brothers), she asked me if I talked to Dr. Huber recently (my practitioner’s name was Mayer). She asked me all kinds of questions, I didn’t know the answers to. And all the while she looked at me, and didn’t see me, she listened but didn’t hear me, she sighed the kind of sigh, only a proud mother sighs. Her husband, then asked me, if I remembered my first day of school, when he took me there and I cried and didn’t want to let go of his hand. He laughed and squeezed his wife’s hand and then she laughed and then he smiled, the kind of smile only a proud father smiles. I don’t know in what alternate universe the two of them were trapped in, but somehow I felt relieved that the both of them, were trapped in the same universe.
The room still was the quietest room, I have ever been in. There was no outside noise heard through the windows, no radio playing, no TV screen on, it was quiet and I suddenly felt it. The need to go home. I have only been in Germany for about 4 weeks, and my contract was for at least 8 weeks, but I couldn’t stand the thought to stay one day longer here, away from home, away from my parents. The people, who proudly sigh and proudly smile, when they tell old stories and when they look at me. I couldn’t wait another minute. So I got up, and thanked the two of them for their time, I tried to reach for their hands, to shake them but instead they hugged me tightly, the kind of hug, only your parents can provide you with. The kind of love, you only get from your parents.
They asked me, to call them more often, they asked me to come visit more often and to stay healthy. Only on the way out, did I realize the newspaper article and some pictures hung up by the entrance. It seemed as they had lost their daughter about 40 years ago in a car accident. The only resemblance we had was our age. And my heart broke. There they stood, holding onto each other, smiling at me, as if I was their only source of pride and joy, longing for the love, only a daughter can give them.
I left the next day, calling my parents from the train. They never asked me why I came home early, they never questioned it, all they did, when they saw me, was smile and sigh, like only proud parents do.