I met my last boyfriend on the day of my grandfather's funeral. A cold, windy November day that smelt of winter. He was so old, I don't remember what he died of.
At his age it felt like the acceptable end of a life cycle, and so the actual cause of death was never discussed. It must have been a natural cause, perhaps a stroke or a
heart attack. I don't know. Neither do I remember when he was born. Probably because I am not very good with dates, but also because it really doesn't matter, does it?
If you were old enough to have fought in the war, it mattered little in which precise year you were thrown on this earth. Instead, you became part of a greater entity known
as the "war generation". Those that were unlucky.
The funeral was rather boring. I tried not to look at my father because he was sniffling in his handkerchief and my shoes were too small and hurt my toes. Back then,
however, I didn't much care about that. As long as they made my feet look smaller I'd handle the pain. My eyes burned from staring straight ahead, at the priest, and
after the funeral I had to rinse off my contacts because I hadn't blinked often enough.
Later that day I changed into flared jeans and a white, oversized dress shirt. Monika and I slouched around on the couch and watched "Friends". She had
brought a bottle of Cabernet and was determined to be there for me on that fateful day. The Cabernet went very well with the salt and vinegar crisps from the NAAFI.
"I can't believe you didn't cry, Angie." She stuffed another handful of crisps into her mouth and stared at Rachel's breasts.
"There was no reason to," I ventured. "He wasn't there."
"Perhaps you weren't there?"
"I just can't cry when everybody else is bawling. Hell, even my father cried. It was all so ... pathetic, you know."
She brushed the crisp crumbs off her hands and lit a cigarette. Tomorrow I'd have to vacuum the couch.
"I have never seen my father cry."
For a few minutes we watched in silence, as Phoebe was massaging a stunningly attractive man. Then Monika resumed our conversation.
"How long do we know each other?" she squinted against the cigarette smoke that almost got into her left eye.
"About six years, isn't it? I came into your class two years before we graduated."
"And did you know, that in all those years I haven't once seen you cry?"
"Yes, you did. When Thomas and I broke up last year, remember?"
"That doesn't count! I saw one tear running down your cheek, and then you hid in the bathroom."
"Whatever." I tossed a crisp at her and reached for my glass.
The petite waitress who approached me was either Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese. I can never tell, but then again they must have the same problem with
Caucasians. She stood very close to me and her bangs ended just above my fourth rib. Even if I hadn't been scanning the room for somebody that vaguely looked like
Michael, I couldn't have established eye contact with her. She led me to an empty table by the window.
When he came in a few minutes later I was glad I had arrived first. I would have never recognized him. His dark-blonde wispy hair had been reduced to mere stubble,
about two or three millimeters long. With an almost arrogant hand gesture he dismissed the obliging waitress. He had spotted me.
"I wasn't sure you'd be here," he smiled.
"Neither was I," I smiled back.
A big, tanned hand placed a pack of red Gauloise and a heavy zippo lighter on the table. Then it reached for the lighter again.
"Please, don't." I looked apologetic.
"Huh?" His hand hovered around in mid-air, not too far from the candle.
"I'm wearing contacts. Candles make my eyes water. It's just a little too bright."
"How about if we keep it on the end of the table?"
"Okay, that would be fine."
As he lit the candle he looked into my eyes.
"I just noticed - you have green eyes."
"Yes, why?" His matter of fact statement puzzled me.
"Well, I just don't really like green eyes."
"Now, I am so sorry." Irony dripped from my words and my hand darted to my pack of cigarettes. "Is there anything else you don't like?"
He grinned and offered me a light. As he lit my cigarette I kept my eyes on his hand. The little blonde hairs that crept down his wrist fascinated me.
"Yes, I don't like it when women wear their hair up."
"Do you really think you'll win me over by insulting me?"
"I haven't yet decided if I want to 'win you over'. But if I was to try, would honesty be an obstacle?"
The waitress couldn't have chosen a better moment to bring the menus. It gave me a few seconds to manage my growing irritation, as I watched Michael order a Beck's.
Without this brief interlude my reply might have been a little more impulsive. I vaguely wondered if what I was about to say would have any bearing on my future.
"No, honesty is not an obstacle, it's a virtue. However, just like any other virtue it can be used like a destructive ax or a surgeon's scalpel."
"Agreed," he seemed to ponder for a few moments. "Nicely put, actually."
Something inside me snapped back into place. If I had let them my lips might have curled into a smile.
"I didn't really mean to insult you. In fact, if I didn't like the way you looked we wouldn't be here now. I thought that was obvious."
"It's not always obvious why people do things. At times one doesn't even know oneself."
He leant back in his chair and smiled, rather to himself or his own thoughts it seemed. "Ahh, but that's when it gets adventurous." His eyes met mine. "Not knowing why
you do something is kind of liberating, don't you think?"
"Not really," I felt the urge to light another cigarette. "Then how will one know if it's right?"
"One doesn't. It's called spontaneity."
My lips parted to make a reply, but closed again when the waitress brought our drinks. Since neither of us had studied the menu we ordered sweet and sour duck because
we both had had that last time. Our eyes met in a synchronized smile that cut through the tense space between us. I liked his smile. As for the rest, I wasn't so sure. Now
that his hair was gone I noticed that his nose was a little long. If he hadn't been such a jerk I might have called it a Greek nose. His clothes were casual, but they sure
hadn't been cheap. He wore no wrist watch.
Stretched out on my back, underneath the quilt, the sound of a distant train sent my mind wandering. As far as I remembered, I had always lived close enough to a train
track to hear them at night. An oddly comforting and soothing sound, I thought. Memories of many nights arose. Back in my old room, in my parent's house on the other end
of town. Sleeping over at my grandparents', or at Nicole's. And even on vacation, in Denmark. That mellow rattle seemed to follow me wherever I went.
Nicole had been a bitch. Her piercing voice resounded in my ears.
"Why don't you do something with your hair? Get a perm or something. Maybe then you'd get a boyfriend?"
She was a fine one to talk. With hair that fell down her back in studied disarray, a mass of shiny, natural curls. How could I afford a perm? 150 Marks every second month,
who had that kind of money at fourteen? A long line of faces, Thorstens, Bills and Markus', marched straight past me. Her boyfriends. I never knew where she got them from.
Some day they would appear out of the blue, stick their tongues down her throat and fondle her ample breasts for a few weeks. Then they vanished again. Was the world
passing me by? Was I a prude? Or was it really the way I looked? I went to my father. He knew everything.
"Why is it that Nicole has so many friends, and I only have her?"
Of course he had no idea what kind of friends Nicole had. It was our secret.
"That's probably because she is a little more extroverted than you are, Angela. You are rather quiet. There's nothing wrong with that. It only means that you form more
That sounded comforting.
"And why do the boys like her more than me?"
"Ah, now." He cleared his throat. "I'd say she just has that certain appeal. For a little girl she's very attractive. Boys can see better than think. Especially at your age."
"Can I get a perm?"
He smiled. "No, we can't afford that, sweety. Not now anyhow. If we hadn't bought this house perhaps things would be different. But we have to be very careful now."
I sat in silence, thinking how unfair the world was.
"Really, Angela. You needn't worry about these things yet. You may not be as beautiful as Nicole, but you have other things going for yourself."
"For one, you are very intelligent. You can think logically, rationally. Your grades have always been outstanding and one day you will go to college."
When I turned sixteen I got my perm. Looking at the old photos now I can't say that it improved my looks. I also got my first boyfriend. Only two weeks later I saw him
fondle Nicole's breasts at a party. None of that, of course, was my dad's fault.
Later that week, I was just struggling with the structure of my paper, Michael called.
"I just thought of you," his voice resonated with carnal propositions and thrust itself into my ear drum like a belligerent army of devils. "What are you doing right now?"
"I'm at war."
"With my brain. It refuses to organize my thoughts."
He gave a low chuckle. "Working on your paper?"
"Well, I'd ask what the problem is, but I really couldn't care less. Let it go for a few minutes, lie down somewhere and have a cigarette with me."
"Couldn't you be a little more supportive?"
"I'm being supportive. Matter over mind. If one is stuck then turn to the other. Always helps with me."
"I can't make that transition so quickly."
I was whining and I knew it. Against my better judgment I went over to the couch and lied down.
"Okay, now close your eyes and don't think about that paper for a while. Can you do that?"
"No, but I'll try."
Closing my eyes made things worse. My brain was pulsing and sent multicolored circles to my pupils. When Michael spoke again my right foot started to wriggle uncontrollably.
"What do you see?"
"Uhm, circles, blue, red and green circles. They are driving me crazy."
"Geez, woman. How long have you been sitting in front of that PC?"
"Six hours. But I was reading in between."
"When is the last time you had sex?"
My foot stopped wriggling and the circles exploded. I could hear myself say "Almost a year ago", but it wasn't my voice.
"Was it good?"
"No. I had a feeling it would be the last time, so I didn't really enjoy it. When was your last time?"
"You don't want to know."
I was very calm now. "But I do."
"About three weeks ago."
"And how was it?"
"It was okay. She had been teasing me for about two weeks. You know, the 'You couldn't handle me'-type. Just as things were getting boring we did it anyhow. It was fun,
but nothing special."
He misinterpreted my silence.
He walked straight to the coffee table, placing his cell phone, cigarettes and lighter on its empty beach surface. In much the same way, he then took possession of my
couch, simply by sitting on it. The room was now his, it wasn't big enough for the two of us. I went over to my desk to turn the monitor off.
"No, leave it on. I like that blue light."
Turning to face him, I suddenly became aware of my breasts. They pressed against the fabric of my blouse although I tried to control my breathing.
"Can I get you anything to drink?"
"Wine, or beer. Whatever you're having."
My footsteps made no sound and I realized I wasn't wearing my slippers.
As I returned from the kitchen, the smell of his after shave seemed to fill the entire apartment. It mingled with cigarette smoke when I entered the living room. He was
studying my bookshelves.
"Die Kunst des Liebens, Erich Fromm. What's that?"
I made a face. "Not what you think."
"Ah, then surely Anne Rice's Beauty isn't what I think it is either?"
"Oh, that... I had liked the Vampire trilogy and bought it without ever reading the cover."
"Have you read it?" His eyes fixed on mine.
"Maybe half of it."
With him standing at the shelves I had been fine. Now that he returned to sit next to me, it felt like an invasion of my space.
"So what does Fromm have to say about the art of loving?"
"It's been a while since I've read him. I think he says that love and sex have become a commodity. That we no longer allow ourselves to feel deeply for somebody else.
Instead we are trading emotions." Under his intense stare I couldn't remember much more. "That's probably out of context, but like I said: it's been a while."
I wished he would do something to break the tension. If he had just smiled, or reached over to touch me. Anything. He just sat there, playing with his glass of wine. His
eyes frequently covered the distance between us, but that only increased it. Something would snap, I could feel it. Time couldn't stand that still for so long. I watched him
gently hold the wine glass with his fingertips. Every now and then, he would almost caress it with his palm, balancing it like a snifter. And then it occurred to me, that he
probably thought of me as he did of that glass. A fragile plaything, predictable and transparent. Half filled with air and half with sweet, blood-red wine. He was about to
drink me, slowly, rolling me around on his tongue until I dissolved. My pulse began to thud in my ears, like a pagan drum accompanying an ancient fertility ritual. Even
his after shave suddenly smelt like moss. He took a little sip. Trickling down his throat I could feel how he enjoyed every moment of this. I decided to replace his wine
glass with a heavy goblet. Less fragile and transparent, I thought.
In one smooth, deliberately slow motion, I reached for my own glass. Careful not to mirror the movement of his fingers, I began to play my own little game. There was no
hurry now. My fingertips hardly touched the rim as they circled it. I knew I was treading on an equally fine line, but drew the final moment out a few breaths longer. Then I
lifted the glass to my lips. His eyes gently caressed my every movement and followed the heady liquid down my throat. Smiling inwardly, I said:
"You taste good."
There was only the faintest flicker in his pupils. A tiny contraction perhaps, of the iris. But I saw it. Devouring my little moment of glory, I carefully placed the glass back on the table.
"Unbutton your blouse."
His words extracted the air from my lungs, but he didn't smile.
"Yes you can."
The voice was softer now. Still it echoed through the room and contorted the image of every object. I heard a clinking sound. My spirit collapsed at his feet and curled up
into a little ball.
"I need to go to the toilet." It came out like a whisper.
"No you don't. You are just scared. That's okay."
He moved closer, forcing himself between my legs, until he was almost leaning over me. I hoped he would kiss me, but instead I just felt his fingers caressing my neck.
The drums returned.
"There is a reason I'm asking you to do that, Angie. Please trust me, if you can?"
We looked at each other for hours. It took every possible sliver of courage to move my hands. Under his scrutinizing look I slowly opened the buttons of my blouse.
When I got to the fourth my heaving breaths turned into sobs. Only I couldn't hear it over these drums. Was this how a rose sheds its petals?
No, perhaps its thorns. If only the drums would stop, maybe I could think straight. Something felt cold and moist against my neck. Moss. Moss and rose petals, or perhaps
birch leaves. A hand brushed away some of the leaves from my chest. A tanned hand. With hundreds of fine, blonde hairs. I felt another tear falling onto the moss. Then a
warm blanket covered me, before I even realized that I shivered and needed it. He held me as I cried, his warm, soothing voice whispering random but meaningful words.
When he finally kissed me, he tasted of wine.
Simona Harms, New York, November 2000.