When I finally saw her it was hard to imagine what had happened.
We first met in Berlin a few years after the wall had come down. It was during that great crazy time when the world actually seemed like it was getting better. There was an explosion of club life as art in those days. They were springing up everywhere like weeds in the waste, in abandoned bunkers, in bombed out factories, in the bullet riddled back allies of block houses. You often had to pull back fences or climb down candlelit cellar stairways. Some moved every night carrying with them only their names. Some dug in deep and would become institutions.
We were in Eschlarock Rumpstump. It was in the hinterhaus at the end of a long damp ally in Mitte. It featured a twisting bar, lit from within where fish appeared and disappeared behind found scrap metal and knotty limbs. She was sitting on a table in the middle of the crowd. She had thick curly chestnut colored hair. Her skin had the rich amber hue of raw honey. She wore dainty white gloves and carried a tiny suitcase as her handbag. Her carriage was regal, like a princess. I knew she was a dancer.
I was sitting next to some shrill American girl. I kept thinking "Why am I sitting here, why don't I just go up there and talk to her." So I did.
I told her I liked her bag. She asked me where I was from. I said "New York" and she said
"It might be possible to have a conversation."
We found a table in the corner and I got us drinks. We talked about art and music and dance and dance and dance. She had never met somebody from New York. She had heard about it though. Growing up in the east she had been taught that New York was the center of all evil in the world.
At some point I got up to go to the bathroom. While I was there I panicked a little. I wondered if she would be there when I came out. I looked in the mirror. My beard was showing. I rubbed my face with my wet hands. "Relax", I thought, "she likes you. For whatever reason she likes you."
When I came back she tilted her head down and looked at me. "I want to go" she said. "I don’t want to be the last to leave."
There were few street lights in Mitte and so it was dark. We walked down cobblestone streets lined with 19th century row houses that had been so gleefully shot up by Russian solders. Leering gargoyles, maidens carrying sheaves of wheat, billy goats all with ears, noses and bellies pock marked by bullet holes. Never repainted and never cleaned they had turned a uniform urban grey.
She told me she had a little balcony. She said it wasn't far and perhaps we could have a coffee there. We walked up past the Ferhnsee Turm towards Fredrichshain. For a North American it was hard to imagine that any place outside of Moscow had been named Karl Marx Alle and that made it wonderful.
I don’t think we even managed to turn on the lights. Inside the door we found each others lips and began tearing at our cloths. I was sucking on her tit when she said she wanted me inside her. I fucked her hard and then she pushed me on my back and fucked me. She came with a violent shaking her nipples flushed and hard, her nails digging into me.
I remember looking at her. She was examining her body in a nimbus of morning light. Slender, lithe, brown with no tan lines, shadows of intensity passing like clouds across her brow. I thought "This is it."
What "it" was, was not much. Her moods shifted in violent reversals. She could cling to me like a child and then stare into my eyes with equally intense hatred. One night she woke me with her fists screaming that she didn't love me. In the morning she sucked me hard, mounted me and then rode herself into a dizzying orgasm. She curled into my arms and said.
"Everything is OK now."
It was time to get out.
She made one request. She asked me not to forget her. I didn't. I wrote to her. She wrote back. She found a boyfriend and moved to Stuttgart. Her place in the east was empty and I was invited to use it whenever I was in Berlin. I did.
On my way back from Malaga I received a message from her. She would be in Berlin. She would meet me at the airport. It had been years since we had seen each other.
There was nobody waiting for me at the airport. Shoenfeld is so small, there are bigger bus stations in the midwest. I took the train. When I got to her place the lights were out. I found her in bed. She was groggy. She had called the airport. I told her it didn’t matter. She invited me under the covers. We found each others lips. I caressed her hair, her face her hips, her breasts. She turned on her back and drew me inside of her.
Something was funny. Her breath tasted of alcohol and cigarettes. Her body felt different. I would find out in the morning. She had gotten fat. Not the nice kind of curvy female fat either. Her legs and arms were still skinny but her belly hung out like someone who had been hitting the bottle. She had deep wrinkles around the eyes and jowls under her chin. Her skin was a pasty, yellowish hue. She had transformed herself. From twenty four to thirty she had gotten old.
She brought me brochen and coissants for breakfast. She made rich black coffee with fresh hot milk. She knew I liked Yogurt and fruit and she carefully peeled and cut apples for me while I slept. There was a newspaper too, because Americans like newspapers at breakfast.
I washed her hair for her. This tub had been her pride. It had a separate heater. In the days when we were all struggling with these shitty electric showers or none at all she had always been able to soak in a tub of hot water. An unimaginable luxury for a dancer from the east.
We played Patanque in the park. She told me her story. Her boyfriend and her had never connected sexually. After the first few months he never wanted to do it. This was a girl who liked to fuck and knew how to do it. The eastern girls had been blessed with a hundred years without the church and it had made a difference. They were notorious. She learned all about his world. He knew nothing of hers and so she left.
I was feeling cruel. I told her she should have stuck with me. We could have been raising kids by now. She asked me how she would have survived in New York. I said we would have made it somehow, together, lots of people do. Then she asked me what would she have done in New York. I looked at her like she was nuts.
"You could have danced."
That hit her. I should never have said that. I could see it in her eyes. New York is the dance capital of the world and she had missed it.
She was supposed to meet me later that night but she never showed up. I smoked cigarettes and drank beer in a cafe by the canal. I spent the night on the floor of Johannes kitchen. Lena kept crying and nobody got much sleep. I took one last walk around Prenzlauerberg. I went by the wasserturm and Kastanian Alle. So many cool little cafes and bookshops and used furniture stores. There used to be nothing.
I knew I was in trouble. The second I walked into the airport. The curteous guy told me ever so nicely that the French Pilots were on strike. From Berlin to Paris was ok, but Charles DeGaule II was a disaster. There was a mob at our gate. The rest of the airport was empty. Even the shops were closed. They were trying to put everyone they could onto this one flight going to New York. Just get them out of Paris.
I ended up sitting next to a Danish biologist. He was supposed to get to Mexico somehow. He had been frantically trying to get out of the airport for ten hours. He kept cursing Air France. He had a blanket wrapped around him like a funeral shroud and his breath stank. Every few minutes I kept giving him another mint otherwise I wouldn't have been able to stand it. The headphones didn't work. We only had one movie anyways, Spiderman. It came in in French in one ear and english in the other. Danny Elfmans beautiful soundtrack was like a crackly arc of static between the two. The only good thing about the flight was the conversation. People in Europe believe that every single one of us Americans support Bush and his shitty war. Can you believe it? Like all of us are stupid. Still, it was Air France and so there was plenty of wine. I told the Danish guy, lets just get drunk, it's free and it will take away the pain. It did.
When I got back to New York, Xenia called me. She didn't ask me what she really wanted to ask. Instead she asked me not to forget her. I promised her I wouldn’t.