“In Her Country”

I arrived at Berlin’s Tegel airport at eleven in the morning on a Saturday. The American Tourist suitcase by my side, the previous year’s Christmas gift from my mother, was bursting at the seams. Standing there, slumped, hand in my pocket, I had a heightened sense of awareness by the fact that I was there, finally, after having heard all about Kathleen’s formative years: the history of the family in the East and their lives—her limited experiences—before the wall came down. She was twenty-four now.

Mumbling this and that, I wondered where she was. In America, questions were pummeled with logical, righteous answers. I’d even been nicknamed “the problem solver” at the family-owned company where I had worked, but now, things were going to be different. There were the unknowns of new territory to contend with—I’d have to accept the tacit uncertainty. It was crazy, but so what?

Through the airport window I watched the foreign taxis make their entrance and exit. On top of my bag my Motorola phone did a balancing act. I checked it. Still nothing. With a careful eye on my luggage, I shuffled through a nearby set of electronic doors and, once outside, took in the deep air that had looked so uniquely appealing from the airport window. In the chill for no more than a few seconds and, again, I began to think about her.

When she wore that green sweater, especially, not a fancy Cardigan, but that comfortable-looking, nifty sweater, I knew there was something about her. On the sidewalk near Hunter College, and then after on the six train downtown, I had realized the discovery: that clever combination of brown hair, fair skin, and emerald. The inside mattered first, though: deference to my amusing anecdotes and words that made me think. It’s what kept me coming back for more—date nights, dinner with friends, the MET, Central Park walks, riding across the Brooklyn Bridge on rented blue city bikes, pizza and bagels and what we found in New York that we loved more than in any other city in the world. If fate hadn’t showed up at Jaralyn’s party, who knows whose arms either of us would’ve wound up in? That we were still grateful in spite of an unfortunate departure back home to Europe for her finance career was a testament to our lasting commitment.

LUFTHANSA FLIGHT 450. I peered incessantly at the arrival gate door. Thoughts of our happy life surfaced. Time passed. The lethargy was beginning to wear me down to a fraction of myself. If I had my druthers, I’d have collapsed right there on the floor; things could be extreme like that. “I need a drink,” I said aloud, as if she were right there next me. What do you want, honey? Nearly twenty-four hours ago, we were sitting together at the breakfast bar: I drank coffee while she ate cherry tomatoes with Brie on dark bread. Separate flights, she had rationalized, would add mystery. Not to mention hers was being paid for by her employer. Is this what forever felt like?

“Want a gum?” … “I’m feeling squeezy.” Tightening my baseball cap, I let out a warm chuckle. Often, I would make the correction, but when the innocent look and the slight accent I downright adored distracted in such a pleasant manner, it just wasn’t worth it, despite her being adamant about wanting to speak English flawlessly.

Three hours later. The grayness of the season fashioned heavy faces upon worn-out passengers. I went over to Kaiser’s. Saying nothing, I purchased a bottle of water. It produced no relief for my slim, thirty-year-old body. Still, I had rapture and tales from a year of romantic interludes. But this seemed only to fuel the anticipation.

While fiddling with the zipper on my jacket, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a complacent-looking, petite brunette. She had an angled bob haircut and an upper body swimming in fabric. Beside her sat a young man, leaning up against the large airport window. I glanced over at the two of them. Setting her in a fixed gaze, I perceived the act as neither an infatuation nor a lustful gesture but rather an innocuous show of interest in an ordinary woman, someone modest even, in her mannerisms. That’s the best I could tell.

“Was läuft morgen Abend im Kino?” she said.

“Das weiß ich nicht,” the young man replied.


The subtle movements, the soft tone—could she be Kathleen’s sister? While he I had never ventured out of my comfort zone before, I wondered, anyway, about life beyond one`s home base and the confines of my small existence. This could be my brave new world.With the accidental drop of a purse, I took odd delight in monitoring their activities. I even turned to look away at one point, almost as a form of punishment. The noise over the loud speaker, the vapid travelers filing in and out, began to irk me.

I walked the floor near my arrival gate, evaluating the passerby. The imagined foreign appeal was a farce. It was nowhere like my home, which I now fearfully clung to in my thoughts. On a nearby window ledge I sat down. Leaning back against the spotty glass, I extended one leg to the floor while my hand cupped the other knee. Lips pressed together tightly in a frown-like scowl, for anyone that came within my range, it spelled trouble. Real trouble. Eventually, the disapproving glares became comfortable after a while.

This had to be her. Carrying a dozen or so flowers, she had tanned skin and a round but vogue face, a scattering of freckles on the nose. She wore a maternity style black-knit sweater over tight jeans. When she neared, the smile she gave dazzled: a white ribbon of notably perfect teeth. If only by accident, my hand brushed up against her leg as she jockeyed for position among the small crowd of people. I could smell the lavender, with its calming effect, jumping off her skin.

It surprised me, though, now considering it, that I had never seen many pictures of her. After a friend’s wedding week in Florida, on a morning of photo books and coffee with the old host family, she hadn’t come up in conversation. I wondered why. We’d been together a year. Why all I got was, “My sister got the good genes,” I didn’t know. Then again, I never bothered to ask.


The young lady and man by the window were gone now. I’d left to read a magazine standing, lost track of time. But the other girl was still there, holding the bouquet of flowers. She was buried in the small crowd of people waiting to greet their friends or loved ones. A skinny hipster wearing a black hoodie and a sensible pair of European sneakers stood behind her. His hand caressed the back of her neck. He checked, periodically, a sleek, smart mobile phone. The girl could manage nothing less than a cheerful demeanor, her attention directed at the door to the arrival gate, which was closed. A fair enough distance away, I watched their faces as the door to the gate eventually opened, one or two and a few solemn passengers at a time coming through. Kathleen hadn’t arrived yet. The wait had been so long that even a vestige of what was to come would be as foreign as the airport I inhabited.

I started at the freckles on the girl’s face.

“Honey!” said a voice growing louder as it neared. “What a terrible delay. And the flight was really bad.”

I was clutching my carry-on. “Honey? What are you doing? My sister says they wait outside for us.”


As I momentarily fished through my carry-on, crumbling up a receipt, sighing over the abundance of loose American coins, I had no real sense of myself anymore. It was the beginning of a new life. On her terms. In her country.

Comments

How sweet @Cloudyskies. This could have been written at almost any time in the years of commercial flying.

My husband, Rod, is British and it was a decision as to where to finally settle during our 55 years of marriage....we're working on our 56th. A choice of three countries, but we ended up returning to the U.S. My mother was also British and the opportunity of a lifetime was better for him in Dallas, TX.

So with the thought of not really ever knowing where we'd end up living, we've now been here, in the same house for almost 44 years. However, you and your Kathleen could have been us so many years ago. (No, it doesn't seem that long at all....since you're probably wondering).

Our daughters are tri-nationality, and we took them everywhere when we travelled when younger and before my illnesses. Even afterwards, they stayed with families abroad and today have almost zero desire to travel overseas, although one will be travelling to Europe with her family this summer. Sure, there's Mexico, but that's still in N. America and a common destination from this part of the country. Both are very adventurous, it's just that movement is very important to them. Sports...that type of thing. Their children? Well, all they want to do is stay at home, no interest in other places or people.

Besides, once our parent or parents die, there isn't any reason to return to the same place....it just makes one sad.

Yes, I remember the feeling of wanting to fit in, especially in a new country. Blue jeans are the universal outfit and t-shirts that have nothing in the way of writing or a logo. Learning at least a few phrases in the language of the country we're visiting....these all help. We're not island, sit in the sun people, but our daughters are and that's just fine.....for them.

There are three of you men who are good writers, very descriptive....you, Howard and Nord Wolf. Enjoyed and enjoy your adventures. Where has life taken you now? Yours, Lenora
 
How lovely, Lenora!

Your husband is British and your mom was, too — that’s very neat. And 56 years is a looong time. My parents just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary last week.

So I am back in the Massachusetts suburbs now, about an hour from where I grew up. It must be nice in Dallas. I’ve never been to Texas before but apparently it is quite the hotspot for many people wanting to move there these days.

Oh, and thanks for the kind compliment. We’re still waiting for you and Rufous to start your own blogs!

- Dave
 
Hi @Cloudyskies,,,,,,Well, if we (I) could travel, I would love to spend some time in Boston and Massachusetts generally. We were there many years ago, but time has passed and well, for those of you are still able, take the chance while you can. Personally, I'm just glad we traveled as much as we did when we were younger.

People relied more on their cars then (yes, the bench seats, no safety features) and we just went. Holiday Inn was basically just starting out and staying in one was always a special treat. Now they just look old! Things change, including us.

I would like to make one last trip to Europe, see what we didn't over the years, but now it will be either a travel show (Rick Steves) or via a book, foreign movies and the like. Rod was in San Francisco for a week at Thanksgiving. We have our youngest daughter there with her family well, just north of the city now...children in school. You know the changes you have to make. I couldn't go the day of the trip, but he needed time away so it worked out just fine. He worries about me too much.

We're extremely fortunate with our caring children. Her entire family surprised us with a visit in late Dec. (they all scuba dive), so rerouted their homeward bound trip. She then returned in March for a few days - another surprise....works from here also. Computers have made the working world so much easier.

That was a huge change from our time. One or two weeks of vacation/year. Fortunately, we did a lot of traveling b/c of business and were able to tack on extra time to spend in a country. People today generally have more time off, even though most don't realize what used to be common.

Enjoy your two young children....and your Kathleen. Yours, Lenora.
 
Thank you, Lenora. Your daughters sound lovely…. I hope you get to do some domestic traveling again one day, maybe make it on over to Boston, but if not, there is always Rick Steves, as you say.
 
I'm sure your parents say the same thing, but it's true that time passes so very fast. Remember to snap photos with your eyes and hold special expressions, both good and bad in your mind. It's good to relive them and not just in photos.

In the beginning we think we'll be young forever; then suddenly two of our grandchildren are in university and almost getting ready to start their own lives. Yet it seems that our daughters were just their ages not so very long ago.

It's nice to watch our daughters grow into women, have good careers, children and to have married men like their father...sons-in-law that we also love. Yes, having parents who love their children and show it really does leave a mark. (That includes all parents, whether married, divorced, single parenting - any type). Stick with them through their many phases, include troubled ones until they've found their path.

I realize that many times children can't be helped....just do your best. We've lived both sides of that coin and it's difficult, expensive and heartbreaking. Still, they do reach adulthood (I'd say it's about 25 now though) and still need some guidance.

At the ages they are now (48 and 51) I wouldn't dream of giving them advice. We understand more and more about our parents the older we ourselves become. Experience, I guess.

I know, I know....you didn't ask for my advice either. Sorry. Yours,, Lenora
 

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