Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dear Astrid

Ich sollte diesen Brief auf Deutsch schreiben, but you read and speak English better than most Americans I know. I was on the Vashon-Fauntleroy ferry again, and I always think of you on that boat.

My job required a few trips to Vashon Island and it was coming back from there, on the ferry and the bus when you first looked at me: piercing stare had always been a cliché. I never understood it until then. I heard you speak to him. You sounded German.

The next time you were alone and you sat across from me in the cabin. "Guten Morgen," I said. There was a way your brow shifted, opened up, brightened. It happened then. And we talked for a while on the boat and on the bus.
"Sie sprechen Deutsch?"
"Ja, ich heiße Ada"
"Astrid"  eeed. That is the way your i's sounded.  We talked all the way into downtown.
"Ich habe Dich gern, Ada," you said as I stepped out the door onto 3rd.
You agreed to meet me at the B&O Espresso. I remember how that place became fire when you walked in and smiled at me, looked at me with those violet eyes. You were the brave one. You were the one who suggested we go back to my apartment off Harvard where we had sex for the rest of the afternoon. It was the first time for me with a woman. And you have been my only woman because you were never just a woman. You were, and remain Astrid.

And you did the single bravest thing anyone ever did for me. You dumped the guy you were going to marry to be with me, even though it meant you couldn't stay here. I should have known then, but it didn't seem to matter at the time.
I thought I loved him, but I don't want to remain here anyway, you said.
I was afraid to ask what you meant. You terrified me because  I knew you would answer me. Directness, and semantic precision were Wasser und Wein for us. When we spoke. But we often left the difficult and vague considerations hanging on the door, you remember, I wore it around my neck on those long walks. I know you left your questions in the imprecise bleeds on the Arches watercolor paper.

How much it still reminds me of snow upon Rainier. And I remember the trip to Sonoma. And how, on Sunday mornings, the terrible angel in my apartment awakened me with orgasms, black coffee and Rilke.

We speak of hidden sides to people, as though another being, another Dasein exists just beyond the Wesen an sich we cannot immediately know anyway. But what is hidden is often there because we choose not to see it. We leave the cave in the distance. The ruddy door remains shut. I adored you, and like many Gods, I kept the grand icon of your manifestation hidden deeply away in a plain bronze box within a golden temple. It was enough to ask the libation-bowl for a drink of water from your lips.

Did I miss some cue in Düsseldorf? I had promised to never go back to Germany, but you lured me there for Christmas of all times. You never actually liked to talk about Hegel or Wittgenstein because you never read them, so why should your family? Der Spiegel and Brigitte Woman were about it. A six foot dark girlfriend was not what they were expecting when you brought me home. I ate too much marzipan, got drunk and showed off. You laughed, but they didn't.

Or maybe it was because the only person in my family you met was my Uncle Louis, who understood my situation better than anyone could have. And he still does. And for a year and a half I got to understand his life.

Why did you leave? I never asked you what your true name was. I did not transgress any proscription of seeing you bathing (we often shared that clawfoot tub, the one without even a curtain rod). I did not strike you three times. I—am not sure it was anything I did. Your work visa expired and…
"Es ist zu spät für daß, Ada. Wenn Du weißt nicht, ist nicht die Problem. Kannst Du die Frage stellen? Weißt Du wie? Zu viele lebst Du in die Vergangenheit.  Müß ich in deiner Vergangenheit auch leben? Ich kann, und I wird."
When Washington passed same-sex marriage I thought of you for days. If only the timing had been right, but I always remembered that you didn't want to stay here. Did that mean me? I didn't know what I was doing, but neither did you. You could have said something.

The B&O, like many places of memory has been destroyed and plowed under for the new Seattle. A few of our haunts remain, but they are truly haunts now—places for beautiful ghosts in love.

You are right: it is too late for that. I know how to ask the questions now. I have asked them enough in the Konjunktivergangenheit: a place you said was especially my own. You always said I lived in the past too much. That is why  you paint and I write. Writing always struggles with the past. It is the curse of narrative.

Yet in watercolor and ink a moment remains pure and present, so I keep our portraits.

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