Love Story: Page 15
November 28, 2015
September 2006 – Bonn, Germany
I had a notebook with me, on the airplane and for the next few months. It was supposed to be a travel diary, but ended up mainly filled with chicken scratch hostel addresses and contact info for all our Amazing New Friends, whom I would never speak to again. However, on the flight over, my journalistic intentions were still fresh, and I did write. I don’t even have to hunt down that book to recall one particular passage.
“People always say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, but not for me. Absence makes me forget.”
It wasn’t a good start.
Things were awkward from the first… hug. A hug. How were we supposed to greet each other? It had been almost a year, and I’d done my best to make things even more ambiguous, throwing that rock climber into the mix at the last minute. Plus I’d made him assure me, repeatedly, that he had no expectations. That we were “just friends”. It was a little like… we were seeing a movie together that we’d both already seen, but were each pretending we hadn’t. Or something. Of course it was weird, but in my burning, churning pot of emotions, he had already messed up somehow.
You know that page in The Cat In The Hat, where the maniacally grinning cat is balancing this impossible tower of objects – a birthday cake, a platter with a jar of milk, a seriously disconcerted goldfish – while teetering, one footed on a beach ball? Well, that’s what I felt like. The fish, I mean. Not that cat.
There was all this history – all these hopes. Such a good story. Everyone was rooting for this. It all made so much sense. It was perfect. It had to be perfect. And I felt completely out of my depths, subject to a possible crumble crash at any moment.
So, I did my terrible best to get things under control. It had to be perfect, so he would have to be perfect.
Of course, I say this with great clarity, now. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, only that I felt really strange and nervous and super critical. And that we were fighting, a lot, over… well, everything. For example, he had exactly the WRONG opinion on what made a good children’t book. That kind of make-or-break-us stuff.
At this point, we were still planning to drive to Spain together, but that’s about all we had planned, despite that our departure date was supposedly days away. We didn’t discuss it.
Here and there were little glimmers of that playful ease, the wandering, wondering conversation and sparkling late nights that felt so good, but they were constantly guillotined by tense banter and awkward misunderstandings. A few days in, I took the train to Cologne to visit a girlfriend for the night. I wouldn’t admit it, not to her, not even to myself, really, but it was deep, relieved sighs all the way to Cologne.
When I got back to Bonn, Achim seemed nervous. He wanted to go for beers at a pub he said I would like. He was really insistent on it. My intuition was abuzz and I didn’t want to go. I kept making suggestions for other activities, and needling for why, why would I like this pub so much? He was vague, something about trying wheat beer. Which, I mean, anyone who knows me knows this is probably one of the last things to entice me… actually, I’m gluten intolerant, and although I didn’t know it then, I sure knew that beer wasn’t my thing. I digress. He was set on this.
The pub was a small, dim, dark wood hole in the wall. Gemütlich. We perched on heavy wooden stools at either end of a tiny, weathered table. In some show of defiance, I think I actually refused the wheat beer, and only tried Achim’s after argument. He cleared his throat. Once, twice. We need to talk, he said.
He was so confused, crestfallen, he didn’t know what had happened. Neither did I. While I was away, he’d met with out mutual friend – dear Florian, Fran, that exchange student’s ex-boyfriend, if you can go back that far in the story, and they’d hashed it out. I won’t get into the details of our tear streaked conversation, but it ended like this: We weren’t going to Spain together. We weren’t even going to finish the week together. Clearly this wasn’t what we’d thought it was… somehow, somewhere along the way, we’d terribly misjudged things. When we got home, we quietly booked my solo ticket to Barcelona, and I made arrangements to spend the remainder of my time in Germany with my friend in Cologne. I would leave the next morning. I went to bed in his room, he in his roommate’s.
It was over.
Except, of course we know, it wasn’t.
Page 15/TBA. Oh boy. This was an intense moment! Whew. 🙂 If you’ve just found me, I’m in the process of writing and illustrating our (true) love story. I’ve been at it for a couple months now but I think I’m actually almost done! You can read more about the project, why I’m doing it, etc., here.
p.s. Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Page 9, Page 10, Page 11, Page 12, Page 13, and Page 14 if you’ve just started reading!