animal trails dotted in;
Birds, a bunny rabbit
As the wind whistles through the last leaves left.
She wrote songs about being the only Jewish girl at Catholic school, closed her eyes in the shower picking destinations on her world map curtain, and sat on the window frame smoking and dreaming about being a stewardess back when airplanes had black noses.
Arriving at boarding school, the first thing I saw of my dorm were sunbeams flooding through iron bars. Word on the floor was that one of the better sneaking out routes led right through it, and you could have totally pulled it off, as all it would have taken was to work yourself down the roof, a daring jump and freedom. But bars… looking back, I’ve kind of needed them, daydreaming without having to dare it, but I just felt trapped again, the school a prison, and still no sporks.
Flying into the showers, toothbrush in hand, sitting it out in class, finally collecting in the hallway before being swept into lunch hall. I kept on eying the note towering our bulletin board left behind by one of the summer’s graduates now on his scholarship abroad: Manhattan Beach, California. It read like a promise, I’d just have to keep going and counting. My roomie’s talk about hazing rituals, lights out and still no sleep. Five weeks until autumn break, years for my own Manhattan Project.
“You don’t build a nuke overnight.”
A week later I was in gardening, and as a small victory on the bulletin board, in the photo club too. Both with Nandita, the girl I’ve started to like. We were the last year still breathing and living on film, our photos slowly appearing in the solution and our teacher’s – a fossil too – stories about spy cameras, grainy films, our school in the 60’s and just… life. Developing; being a teenager – not picture perfect, but it started to feel real.
We organized a water cooker for the dorm; secret midnight noodles and finally Nescafé, my hair catching a good length again. Nandita’s name sounding like right out the Kamasutra. What doesn’t when you’re fifteen? Also, nothing ever happens when you’re fifteen, least not for me. As far as the hazing, we only got put in the shower, clothes and all, and me a push in the lake too, clothes and all. I halfway jumped.
The train curving us through the country side in reverse, dropping us off one by one, finally, dad on the platform. At first, everything still looked the same, two turns over from our street the two aged VW Beetles guarding their driveway like knights, not even a tree was missing. It’d have taken an earthquake. I thought of California. Yet there were invisible fault lines forming underneath the surface. My old room at home in the making smelt like being back from a long summer vacation. Small cracks.
They were just starting to find planets out in the Universe orbiting distant suns. I felt like being on another planet too, my old friends aliens. It’s the people that change, it’s the old stories you end up talking about making no new shared memories anymore, just the same old shit: that’s your San Andreas Fault. I kept on brushing my teeth in the shower and kept my eyes closed while drinking my coffee, the opened suitcase a life raft. I didn’t unpack it, one week until being back at school.
Some time after winter break his address sailed off the board without any fuss, and a couple breaks later I knew what to say: us, icebergs slowly adrift, continental shelves, and glaciers. Take your pick. But really, I was just so fucking tired of them, while shooting through the Universe a million miles a second. I couldn’t wait to go back to school, even if it meant leaving a whole planet behind. I had arrived.
Last night, after having been teased by more and more snow-capped cars rolling in from the mountains, it finally snowed.
I love listening to songs in languages I do not speak. I always have. As a kid, the radio blasting, my breath holding, fingers writing what could be understood on the Volvo’s dusty rubber back rest. And while guarding the car during dad’s errands, slipping secret cassettes in the stereo.
Dad loves the Boss - I believe all dads of a certain age do. Bopping along, Born in the U.S.A. sounded so powerful; the more words I’ve picked up in school, the more Bruce Springsteen’s song changed – the more I did. There are a very few German songs that touch me. They’re too close to the brain, the language knows me all too well, even English still leaves a thin film underneath; my French’s always gonna be shitty enough for little escapes.
I still know all the frequencies of the good stations on the long drive down to grandma, and all the way to Paris, the mighty 89.3 slowly drowning out, the first French ones beaming in miles ahead of the border. During the summer of my first modem translating Rammstein lyrics to American teenagers, and after I moved out and plugged my stereo in the neglected outlet sitting next to the fat cable TV pipe, I spend my days listening to NPR Worldwide.
Americana filling my room from across the ocean; driving down highways in my head, telegraph poles flying by, All Things Considered looping through my nights, Michele Norris singing me to sleep, geeking it out with Science Friday, Morning Edition during my afternoons. And sometimes winding all across the spectrum to the classical music station; nights in absence of words – blank canvases for my dreams.
It’s the way you can daydream about anything you want in the words, and I tell you those are usually a good deal better than what they are actually singing about, ‘cause that’s always just love, never atomic bombs – ‘cept for Morrissey.
I just woke up. I’m so bad at telling the time in the middle of the night especially in December when late afternoons can feel the same, but after a minute of wondering, all still with my eyes closed, I’ve said 1am, turned around, woke my laptop up, eyed the right corner and was only forty or so minutes off. Not too bad. I’m pretty bad at telling myself that I’m out of high school, as I still wake up in complete panic, zoom in the shower, zoom out the shower, grab my shit and almost out the door realize. Sometimes I’m pretty disappointed that I’m here, living in the future, and instant mashed potatoes just don’t cut it, not my melancholy.
The way my lips feel after kissing; all that numb.
Yes, and apologies for the overseas lisp. It always sneaks in whenever I’m drunk or speak English. Heaven helps when I’m tipsy abroad.
Audio Postcard 9 Adventures
A year ago, and across the Atlantic, Billie and I were reading “Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life”. It is written in the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure book and begins with the familiar warning.
These pages contain one adventure about the time you, a guy who does not care for drinking, dated an alcoholic. It is also about crashing on a planet of giant malevolent space ants. From time to time as you read along you will be asked to make a choice. Your choice will have no meaningful impact on anything that happens. So this will all make a lot more sense if you just read it from beginning to end.
We went for the adventure, one with sadly way fewer spaceships than I’ve expected. Since she didn’t own a copy of her own, I would read it out loud tacked onto emails, before plotting what we’d do next. Space ants are no picnic.
Neither is love, we never finished it. I was afraid that we’d too end on the last page, and I think so was she.
If you would prefer to stare at the radio while being slowly overwhelmed by dread and longing and sadness, turn to September 11, 2004
“It was chilly for August and you sat pressing your sides together, greedy for the other’s heat. Eventually, a pause in conversation. You look at her. She looks at you. You kiss.”
—Anonymous, Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life