EXCERPTS FROM “THE VELVETEEN GULAG” [a memoir]:CHAPTER 4: GOTH AND CHOCOLATE

Berlin (818)

Early in 2004 I was looking for a bass player. I had gotten my first serious royalty check, as a songwriter, a year before.

I had to post a classified  ad in a free newspaper called “Zweite Hand”. A couple of weirdos called  in response (guys who sounded like they were in their 50s, smoked a lot of pot, and would miss most of the rehearsals) but nothing much came of the ad until about a week after I mailed it in when a very strange female voice rang up and inquired, one morning, if I was still looking for a bass player.

“Sure. Do you have a demo tape?”

No, but she said she could eventually make one. Meanwhile, we could meet in a convenient cafe and discuss my project. Part of me wanted to suggest that we should wait until she had a tape she could mail me. But part of me thought she sounded strangely matter-of-fact, and confident, despite the barely-audible voice. When I agreed to meet her and we set a time and a place, she hung up while I was still saying goodbye. I thought: only really confident people do that. Why is she so confident? Is she a bass prodigy?

When I went to meet her at the cafe on Goltzstraße, Magdelena turned out to be A) 45 minutes late B) creepy-beautiful. She was tall as the height of my chin,  frail-thin, big-eyed (grey-eyed), buxom, with shoulder-length curly black hair and a vampire’s complexion. She was 22 and spoke with a maddeningly-effective quiver in her voice, always so softly that I had to lean in to hear her. I’d describe her as somewhat provocatively dressed, dressed to get her way, denim jacket with an exploding top and lacy red bra framing the package, her hair sort of bedroomy wild. I ignored the special effects and we talked about music; I took it as a good sign that she hadn’t bothered to either brag about her playing or deprecate it defensively… whenever potential band-members do either, they’re inevitably dilettantes. The real players check you out in conversation for a while and finally say, “Let’s do it,” lead you to a rehearsal space (or their living room) and blow you away. I was expecting that “Let’s do it,” moment out of Magdelena when I quite accidentally got her to mention the fact that she’d never played a bass guitar in her life. What she wanted to do was sing.

But, she added: she really had no idea how to sing.

Magdelena explained that she was recovering from a terrible phase in her life and awful things she didn’t want to go into and that she needed music to help put herself back together. I realized she was begging me, a total stranger, for help.  I had put a four-line ad in the paper looking for a bassist, I got what looked like a beautiful Victorian waif-ghost asking for absolution in response. My super-chivalrous savior gland (nestled right next to my bulging self-destruct sac) disabled my common sense. I agreed to give her singing lessons.

She cheered up immediately and gave me a powerful hug. I  was overwhelmed by the warm-pillow smell of her scalp  and wondered if she hadn’t taken a shower for a few days. She didn’t smell bad but it wasn’t a smell I expected out of a stranger at a “business” meeting. I had absolutely no plan/ desire to fuck her.  I’ve never used music as leverage to get into bed; always felt that was unethical. Always hoping for Art or Money with music projects. Had no idea what I was hoping for in this particular case.

The first singing lesson was the following Thursday.

It was late January and pretty cold. I was subletting a hip storefront studio from my best friend B. (he was in Korea with his girlfriend) and I always kept the space so warm that you could pad around its cement floors naked. There were crates along the walls, full of B.’s girlfriend’s sculptures (her medium was bars of soap and she was sponsored by a bar-of-soap company and I had free soap for a year) and prints on the wall.  The kitchen was a little too much like a Korean grocery, odor-wise, but it was a cool living situation. Magdelena tapped on the storefront window (the lower-half of the glass was blocked with butcher’s paper; the upper half with rotten old vertical blinds) at exactly the appointed time.

My lesson plan involved two goals: get her to become unselfconscious about making vocal noises in public (even professional German singers tend to have a constricted sound to their voices, it’s a cultural problem) and, then, to teach her a little breath control. If I could get her that far, I’d worry about whether she could sing in key, at all, when I got there.

I let Magdelena in the comfortably warm flat and sort of gestured to take her coat and scarf. I want to say it was a camel hair coat, but I have an ex who had a camel hair coat identical to the one I’m seeing Magdelena in right now, so I doubt that’s true. But I am certain she had a burgundy scarf, and a little pale-green ingot of snot on her upper lip when she stepped into the studio. I was in a short-sleeved t-shirt and very comfortable but we did the entire lesson with Magdelena in her coat and scarf, her coat buttoned all the way to the top (and bulging ridiculously), the snot intact. I pretended that nothing peculiar had happened. We worked on making loud-ish sounds without straining her voice or making her feel foolish. I told her that even when she’s talking, she should imagine herself onstage and that the sound she’s making is a performance and a force. Imagine the sound of your voice is a hand you can touch people with or push things with. Imagine it’s a thing with a shape and a weight and a temperature, blah blah blah. But the whole time I was thinking:  what the fuck is going on here?

Near the end of the first lesson I grabbed a bar of chocolate I’d been saving and broke it in half and handed some to her and she ate it like a freshly-liberated inmate of Auschwitz. Her eyes practically rolled up in her head while she gobbled it down. So, for the next lesson, she had a whole bar of chocolate to herself. By the four or fifth lesson she really started to relax (eg: allowed me to take her coat and scarf without hesitating) and the sounds she started making became sort of strong and kind of “happy”. And the bars of chocolate became a game: I hid them, she’d find them, sometimes squealing with delight. I began spending serious money on very expensive bars of chocolate (which I bought from the fancy French Lafayette Department Store on Friedrichstrasse). It was during the chocolate eating that she began talking about herself (parents had disowned her), hinting at the mysterious, horrible thing she was recovering from. I showed I was ready to listen but I didn’t dig. Meanwhile, we had begun doing the lessons twice a week, Thursday and Sunday, and the bits where she got on her coat after eating the chocolate; the goodbye hugs, too;  began to take on a wistful, lingering quality. One Sunday, she accidentally left her burgundy scarf behind, rich with her smell, and I masturbated with it and washed/ dried it dutifully before giving it back the next lesson.

After one of these especially protracted, subtext-haunted hugs one afternoon, Magdelena said, “I wish I didn’t have to leave… but my boyfriend is waiting…”

“Your boyfriend?”

Yes, she said.  He drove her to every lesson, parked the car outside and waited.  I went to the front window and peeked through the blinds. Magdelena said she didn’t want to go but she had to. She said she was always so tired by the early evening but he expected her to go clubbing and so forth. I could picture myself being shot  in the back from the black car I could see parked in front of the playground across the street.

I didn’t want her to go, either… but I didn’t want the jealous boyfriend, of a beautiful girl from the proletariat, nursing a righteous and lethal grudge. It’s much safer to steal the girlfriends of men/boys with a few years of college diluting them. I began wondering: has this guy ever sat parked in that car in front of the playground across the street when Magdelena wasn’t here? Like, late at night…?

Not thirty minutes after Magdelena drove off in the black car, I got a text message, boldly proclaiming her feelings. We exchanged about forty messages. Between the proclamations of Undying Romantic Love were several references to her promise to tell me about The Thing That Had Happened To Nearly Destroy Her.

But not yet. Not yet.

Two things that bear mentioning: 1) the reason I had been advertizing for a bass player, in the first place, was a demo of songs I’d recorded in a sort of techno-Rock-ish direction … and the coolest song on the demo was called “Downtown”. The song was a narrative epic about a guy who meets a strange woman and tries to save her from a bad situation. The first words of the song went:

“One night I met a little girl / eyes like ice from a night-world”

…and I don’t remember how long it took for it to dawn on me about the eerie synchronicity of Magdelena quite obviously being the girl in the song (recorded a couple of weeks before she responded, irrationally, to my “Seeking Topnotch Bassist” ad) but I do remember how I felt when it hit me: dizzy. I remember being in that Art studio late at night, all alone, peering through the front window with the lights off (so I couldn’t be seen) watching the three swings on the playground blowing back and forth, out of synch, in a gusty rainstorm (not making up that corny detail) in the dead light of the street lamp. I remember being too spooked to go to sleep with the TV off.

The second thing I should mention: my first wife (the psychopath model), back in So Cal, had just been through an abortion with her idiot-surfer-car-salesman-middleaged-boyfriend Jeff. We had been separated since I fled the US, to return to Berlin, before Bush 2’s inauguration (roughly four years). She had (in her own words) aborted Jeff’s fetus in disgust because Jeff was so stupid and could she please come to Berlin and stay with me a few months while she figured out what to do next? She promised she wouldn’t be a Harpy (my word). She would find a flat that we could share (I had to plan on moving out of the Art Studio for a couple of months when B. came back from Korea). I told her about Magdelena and she found it quite funny. I guess I needed to hang out with someone who found that story funny. So I told my first wife: okay, whatever, come back to Berlin for a little while.

Magdelena dumped her boyfriend and told me so by text message. Then she told me to check my email. This letter was waiting for me:

Monday, 1 March 2004, 15:57

 

 Dear,

Here is the mail, I´ve promised to write. For two years ago I came from S____ to Berlin. In S____ I had known a man ( I have forgotten his name, I will give him the name Michael).  During the time in S____ I get a friendship with him. Sometimes I took care of his kids,  because he was working often at night. Ok so much to Michael.

Well it was the one night, which was my fate. Was in Berlin B____straße. I wanted to drive with my car to S____, because I had forgotten some important documents. In this street my car did`t drive anymore. There had I met a friend from Berlin his name was B____. He said I can get his car but he had no money to get some petrol. It was Saturday evening and my bank card was in S____. Michael told me one day before that he is in Berlin at a friend of him. His friends name was (and is) J___ C_____. I had taken one call to Michel if he can give me some money for getting some petrol. He said yes, I should only come to M____ to his friend and he would give me the money. So I drive to J___ C_____. It was a house beside the forest with swimming pool and so on.  There was also two woman. Both woman lived in this house with him together and both were the girlfriend of him. An relationship for three. It`s was not my case but all were very friendly to me. After the day Michael was calling me I`m invited from J___ C_____ for a dinner. I said yes why not. The next time I get one good relationship to the girls and I had a good relationship to J___ C_____. After five weeks I had known they asked me if I can take care of their dog because they want to far away for few days. It was not a problem for me. We often go out, I take care of the dog it was really funny. But than came the day changing everything.

I drove with one of the girls through the city. She stopped the car and one man was waited on the street. She gave him 11.000 € . I asked her for what. Her answer: for business. Well I accepted this answer, what should I do.

One day I drove with Michael and J___ through the city. We drove to an mysterious place.  It seems that in the houses around me nobody lived in.  One building seems an old factory or something else. Here stopped  J___ the car. Both get out and said to me, I should stay in the car. I was waiting for a long time. It was the longest 45 min I`ve waited because I had went to toilette so urgent. So I left the car to search a quiet place. During searching it I have seen that there was drugs in their live. A lot of drugs and a lot of money. The other people they met had seen me and makes a lot of trouble. Incredible trouble. After this time it was changing everything.

Up to this day they said me the truth. The both girls were working for him as prostitutes. He wanted to forced me to work for him as third girl. He was the opinion when I work for him I wouldn`t go to the police. For me it was not logic. But what is in these circles logic. As I didn`t  do that what he want from me, he hurts me very bad. He had done things with me I don`t wanna talk about it. He had broken my proud, my personality, saying shortly he destroyed everything. As he said to me he will something do with my sister, I had done what he wanted.  And so was the way I had to be a prostitute. I was there for five month. In these five month it`s happened so much and I have seen so much that I can`t believe that there is one god. In this time I had known Peter who helps me to get away from him and to find back to a normal live. Yes its more than one year over I had seen J___ C_____, my live normal, but that girl who I am now that`s not me. I don`t know who I am. I will find back with the music, that’s the cause why music is so important for me.

Please forgive for doing that.

Have I mentioned that the song I’d written, Downtown, was about a guy saving a woman from a pimp?

My savior gland went Full Blown Lancelot/Christ. I lost my mind. I phoned Magdelena immediately and told her I didn’t care… that, as far as I was concerned, she had survived a plane crash. If she wanted to talk more about it, she could… if she didn’t want to, I would never ask her about it again. She told me that because of complications owing to medical problems she’d suffered as a result of her ordeal, she was sterile… that she wanted to warn me on that: she couldn’t have children. Again: I said I didn’t care. She told me that the only reason she’d been with the boyfriend she’d just dumped to be with me was that he’d been a former client who rescued her. That he was a nice guy (?) but she’d never loved him. She loved me. Okay, I said.

We were lovers but I couldn’t sleep with her.

After what she’d been through? I couldn’t.

She was willing. We kissed… I couldn’t bring myself to do more than that. When we slept together I kept her behind me, arm around me. I didn’t want my stupidly persistent erection to press needily against her all night and  embarrass me. I wondered if I’d ever be able to fuck her. Wouldn’t I always feel like some kind of rapist if I did?

But they were sweet nights.

Kissing and cuddling and listening to Leonard Cohen, Chet Baker, all the sad, soft songs. She looked absurdly/cornily/ Hollywoodishly cute in my undershirts.

My first wife got a place in Berlin, I eventually moved in, and Magdelena kept spending the night. Vividly: I remember the two of them discussing Magdelena’s shoes, one morning, with us cuddling drowsily on the futon while first wife stood in the middle of the room with a mildly patronizing (delighted by my bizarre plight) smile on her face.

Also vividly: I remember another layer of Magdelena’s inner life unfolding one night, cliche candles flickering, and hearing about The Love of Her Life, Adrian, who died in a car wreck six years before, when they were both 16 or 17. She was holding me tight (from behind) as she described how she woke up at 3:23 am (I’m guessing at that figure) , “the very moment he died” (true? or from a movie?) , and knew he was dead. Etc. The violence-drenched melodrama of not only youth but, let’s be honest: the not-particularly-well-educated. Adrian was stealing cars at the time he checked out.  It’s impossible to avoid cliches while describing Life. Magdelena was crying softly by the time she finished the story.

Wednesday, 14:41

Yeaah, my Internet is working. I have the modem new installed and I hope it would be going better. I wondering about so much things about you. What did you said that I like (and need) chocolate so much. The first song “falling” that`s really me. From the first day you give me quiet deep in me. And I wonder me, because you believe in me concerning the music. I know that the first lessons were not good. They`re going better but I know I can do it better. I know I`ve lost the last year a lot because I did’t sang the last four years and smoking makes it not better. You was search one bassist and I call you for singing. You said the bassist were not good enough, my voice was also not good. After all you didn`t say make what you want but not with me.

About all these I wonder me. And one thing is more, you know so many people why do you feel good when you are with me?

 

I have to admit at the moment you are also the best time in the week for me. It`s like diving in one another world. I can forget my problems for few hours. I feel good when you are beside me because you give me one feeling believe in me. I have not all the time smiling it`s also ok for you when I´m quiet. You let me be how I am. I am not afraid when I am with you alone. You make me feel good.

You have to know it`s sometimes hard for me say such things , its easier for me to write it down. So I thank god for these form of comunication : the internet.

 

PART 2

Things were stable, I think, for about two weeks. They were nice. Every day I was in the recording studio, working with my then-writing partner on a project for a world-wide campaign for skin cream, and Magdelena went off to her day job (I can’t quite remember exactly, but I think she was working in the accounts department of a little insurance company). Several times every week, Magdelena and I would spend the night together, my first wife sleeping in a room down the hall. A few times in the evening or on the weekend, Magdelena hung out in the recording studio where I was working on the project that featured the song “Downtown” and I was feeling very rock-star-ish with a beautiful, mildly-Goth girl on my arm. She was intelligent and very curious, chatting with the recording engineer, and came off as a little shy and slightly innocent… no jokes about drugs or anything; I remember a discussion about Evanescence, her favorite band. I was almost exactly twice her age but she didn’t care, and no one in the studio knew it; everyone in the business thought I was in my early thirties (I looked so young back then that I was almost stopped from entering Sweden in 2000, because Customs Control refused to believe the age on my passport). I lied about my age because I wouldn’t have gotten all the Pop jobs I got if I hadn’t; Magdelena thought it was funny. She wrote to me, in an email:

“For many years you was a nice baby, than a nice growing up boy and now a beautiful man. And I am proud that these man loves me.”

Then one afternoon I got a text message: “I’m pregnant.”

I called her and got shock number two: she was giddy about it. “I thought it was not possible!” she said. She’d repeated it often enough the previous few weeks, the thing about being sterile from some prostitution-induced medical condition and how sad she felt about that because she’d always wanted to be a mother. “But Magdelena,” I said. “It can’t possibly be mine!”

And that was the funny little twist in the whole story… or, should I say… plan. By refraining from having any kind of sex with Magdelena, I had made it impossible for her to pass the kid off as mine. It wasn’t until later that I found out that her boyfriend, at the time that Magdelena and I met… the former client who had rescued her from prostitution (only to use her like a sexual jukebox with a busted coin slot, himself, never needing to pay, after they ran off together)… somewhat resembled me, in a sort of Brazillianish way. I have lots of different gene types in my package and so did he; if Magdelena suddenly produced a baby bump after we’d been fucking vigorously for three weeks, I wouldn’t have questioned the paternity. The baby would have then come out looking pretty much how I expected him to (both of my actual children looked “white” for the first few years, then took on a beige-to-bisque complexion) and I certainly wouldn’t have demanded a DNA test: Magdelena’s plan would have worked perfectly. As it was, she had to gamble everything on the possibility that I was still so deep in Savior mode that I’d shrug it off and embrace the idea of raising another man’s (a dodgy man’s) child. Well: no.

Magdelena wanted me to come and meet her at an U-Bahn station (downstairs at Fehrbellinerplatz) to talk it out. I was not in a good mood when I got there, at lunch time, the station packed. The other plot-foiling irony of the story was that I had just been through the very experience, experimenting with being a stepfather. The year before, I had had an affair with M., a half-Cuban dancer with a little blonde daughter. The thing I had learned from fucking with stepfatherhood was to never, ever do it again. To be a stepfather for a toddler was to be nothing but a glorified baby sitter. No authority to make any serious decisions about the kid’s life; always dealing not only with the whims of another male adult but the other male adult’s family.  No way. Never.

I told Magdelena all this. I’ll never forget what she did. Dressed like a corporate secretary in a dark suit, she sort of went down on her haunches (there’s no way to describe this without it sounding absurd but it seemed like a weirdly natural thing for her to do at the time)  while I was ranting about my misbegotten dabble in stepdadland, wearing a world-weary look on her face, and said, with immeasurable exasperation:

“Men!”

An old woman in a peach-colored raincoat and a shopping bag  was hovering nearby with a look of “should I intervene?” on her face… as though I was the nutty Foreigner, haranguing the German beauty. I told the old lady to fuck the fuck off and she did.

I turned to Magdelena and explained to her that it was impossible, despite her tears. She warned me that she would never consider an abortion. When I left and she went back to work, we were at an impasse. Maybe it was the end. I thought (I did) of that line from Also Sprach Zarathustra:

if you’re going to a woman, don’t forget your whip!

It took maybe four hours for my super-Christ self-destruct sac to swell (like the Grinch’s heart) ten times bigger than it had ever been. I sent Magdelena a text message: I’ll do it.

We had a celebratory dinner at my then-favorite cafe with the unimprovable name of The Kant Cafe (it was, and remains, on Kant Strasse; as a bookish boy I had always mispronounced that noun, like most Yankees, as “Can’t”). Digression: the cafe had a special place in my Nostalgia Vault because the owner of the cafe also ran a place called The Cafe Hardenberg, not far from the Zoo Station, which had been my first hang-out in Berlin. There had been a waitress at the Hardenberg who was a foreign exchange student from Brazil and this waitress and I had flirted for three years (she asked my name once but I never asked hers: I wanted to keep the whole thing lyrical; in fact, I put her into a couple of poems). The waitress of the Hardenberg was so beautiful, they put a drawing of her on the menu of the Kant Cafe, and maybe that’s why I patronized the Kant cafe long after she went back to Brazil.

Anyway. Back to the celebratory dinner at the Kant Cafe.

Magdelena was looking fairly stunning in her secretary drag (the dark suit, the low-cut red blouse, her hair down) and she was glowing and giggling and very, very pleased that I had come around to her way of thinking. “You will be so much a good father!”

And I was thinking: well, fuck, I am in the music business. She’s a young, petite, Gothy-looking  ex-prostitute. If I can’t live in a lighthouse, at least I can raise another man’s child with my stunning young Gothy ex-prostitute girlfriend.

Magdelena toasted me with her tall glass of grape juice. “To the best father of this world!”

She then told me another little surprise: after dinner, she had to run off to meet her parents… there was a reconciliation in the works. She was getting all her ducks in a row. “That’s great,” I said. But I also thought: these creeps disowned you at the very moment you actually needed Parents the most… and now you’re going to make them doting grandparents? Ah: but the kid’s not yours, I reminded myself. None of our business, Lancelot.

A few hours later it was roughly 9pm and I was inspired (sitting in my room, listening to Leonard Cohen, while my wife emailed her dumb-as-a-rubber-ladder surfer/car-salesman boyfriend, Sal, who was pleading for her to come back to So Cal) to give Magdelena a little call. To tell her I loved her and all that post-hypnotic-suggestion-style stuff. No answer. Okay. I waited ten minutes and tried again, no luck, waited thirty minutes and tried again, no luck, waited an hour, tried again, no luck. Sometime around midnight I got a text message that went something like,

STOP CALLING ME!!!!!!!!

WTF, I thought (though I’m pretty sure this was before I started using this popular internet catch phrase). But, srsly. Is she nuts? I just fucking agree to be the father of her another-man’s-child and this is what I get? No way! Fuck this fucking bullshit.

I waited until the next day and sent her a text message re-stating the above-mentioned sentiment. She called me in tears, begging forgiveness. It’s just that things were still complicated with her parents, she explained, and she couldn’t talk at the time and and and. She was under so much stress and she was confused and never meant to hurt me. Well, okay, I said… but I was starting to get the sense that things were slightly more fucked up than I had initially suspected. Then the inevitable thought: is she still… you know what-ing? She was always complaining that she wasn’t making enough money with her job at the insurance company…

Magdelena spent the night that night but I couldn’t sleep. Her light snore accompanied my rapid, irregular blinking. Could I feel a nascent bump pressing hot against the small of my back or was I imagining it?

The next morning, Magdelena disappeared completely for a week (I later found out she was staying at her parents’ ramshackle country vacation house, not to be confused with anything fancy, way the fuck out in the boondocks).

No calls, no answering her calls, no email. That’s about the time it suddenly dawned on me that I had never, in “all this time” (I had only known her five months) seen where she actually lived. Ever date someone and sleep (literally) with someone and yet never once see where they live? I couldn’t go lean on her doorbell because I hadn’t a clue where her doorbell was, and what the name on the doorbell was, even. Was her name really Magdelena O.? The spell was definitely broken. I began to negotiate with myself about the extent to which I wanted to continue helping her.

When she re-appeared (as a text message) the following Monday morning, I texted her right back: check your email. The email I directed her attention to went, in its entirety:

I hope you had fun making me feel like shit. But now it stops.

Tell me what to do with your battery charger.

S.

She phoned immediately, we had a weird argument (at her end she had a hand over her mouth and the receiver, so I muffled myself, absurdly, too), then she sent an email.

I am sorry for not calling you before. But for today I am not sorry. The doctor was here , because I had no home he is coming here. I have teribble hurts and in this moment it was not possible to talk. When you are thinking I am bull shit, I can`t change it. But i know I am not like bull shit. I have more than problems here. You don`t must leave Berlin. I will do that for the next time until me is getting better. I had problems with my healthy and at the moment I can`t give you need. You don`t acceppt that I need that persons who are longer in my life. I don`t know who you really are and I have at the moment not the strength to fight. I am lying on the ground and deeper it´s not possible. I have no other boyfriend and I don`t fell in love with each other. I know for you it is at the moment very hard and I can just say sorry. I never want to hurt you or cause bad feelings in you. I have problems with money, with my healthy, with the flat and my job is more than hard. I will call you in the evening when I feel better. I love you furthermore and you can believe me for me is this situation harder you have ever felt in your life. I am just a little girl and I fight against all these monster in my life. I will change it. I will get a new life that not so hurts…..

I felt (sorry) for Magdelena but I broke things off. I told her I would help her any way that I could…. but.  The daddy thing was out of the question now.

Heard nothing for almost two weeks. Then a call.

“Hello. Will you meet me today at U-Bhf Heidelberger Platz? I want to show you something.”

I’d never been to U-Bhf Heidelberger Platz before, though I’d been through it, on the train. It’s a strange neighborhood that doesn’t feel entirely like Berlin. It’s semi-bucolic, but also near a massive noisy highway and oily blips of industrial crap. There’s (what looks like) an abandoned mosque, a sprawling and ancient cemetery and various proletariat Kneipen… pubs with velvet curtains and knick-knacks in their windows. I usually stay out of these pubs as they ping very much like country-western dives do, in America, on my Race Radar. I took the escalator up out of the dank dark station at U-Bhf Heidelberger Platz, up into a sunny day, and there stood Magdelena, on the surface of the Earth, in twilight-tinted, awe-inspiring Goth regalia, looking like the Angel of the Afterlife, in a long black dress and silver jewelry and silent film star makeup and powdered cleavage rising blue-tinged from a lacy black bodice. Me? I was wearing khaki shorts and a baseball cap. My king size box of WTFs was all used up.

Magdelena hugged me and kissed me and said “This way,” and I followed her about two blocks to the entrance of the very old cemetery. Isn’t this the part in the movie where the audience is yelling “Run, you fucking dummy!” at the screen?

What really sort of knocked me out about the place were the two or three gigantic fucking memorials to Nazi generals… one towering Wagnerian mossy black dynamic sculpture of a helmeted angel with a sword bore the stone-letter legend HE DIED FOR THE FATHERLAND. What? Isn’t this shit… illegal or something? The statue was about fifteen feet tall.

Magdelena knew the cemetery like it was her fucking living room (and maybe it was). She would gesture at a spot about twenty meters away and say, “That one’s new… just a baby..” and, sure enough, we’d get there and it would say, “Beloved Ralfie” or something. There weren’t many people there. I was both creeped out and fascinated. A twilight-winged (subtly pregnant) Angel was showing me around Necropolis in the middle of the afternoon, showing me to all the hot spots, the in-spots, the places only frequented by the cognoscenti of the dead. One could imagine various shades from various epochs… Mozart-era plague victims, the aforementioned General,  gentleman-farmers who married when Einstein was in knee-pants (like I was at that very moment)… I could see them waving from their holes, “Hallo, Magdelena! Maggie, Halooo…!”

Up ahead on a wide, paved path stood a well-dressed woman of about 65, plump, upper-middle-class, her tight-assed coif dyed the blood-clot-magenta popular with many matrons here. She was tending a very neat plot with an altar of half-a-dozen polite bouquets. It was either a recent burial or this was a seriously devoted widow. We stood nearby and Magdelena and I admired, out loud (I was faking it), the beauty of the grave. The woman turned and smiled at us and said, in German, “Oh, that’s nothing,” and pointed to a spot opposite, on the other side of the path. There was a heap of flowers there, too. “This,” said the lady, “is my Harry…”  but she couldn’t finish. If you ever live in Berlin for ten years or longer, one of the things you will never see (along with a funny Germany comedy or people eating pizza with their hands) is a middle-class German matron weeping openly in public. Shouting: possibly. Weeping? Never. It was so unusual that I found myself a little sick at the sight.

Magdelena had her arms around the woman (oddity two: a German allowing herself to be touched by a stranger). Magdelena said (paraphrase),

“There there. He’s in a better place. A wonderful place. No pain, no sadness, no fear. And, remember, you were so lucky… you had Harry for so many years! And I only had my Adrian for such a short time…”

Fifteen minutes later, at the other end of the cemetery, her shoulder still wet from the matron’s tears, Magdelena, looking rather triumphant, revealed to me the amazing news (I’m getting slightly creepy-giddy as I type this) that, uh, you know, Adrian was coming back. She’d known it all along… she’d dreamed it last year… it was all a part of the plan. She hugged her highly visible baby bump.

Adrian was coming back as her son.

I gave Magdelena the money to buy a few pre-paid phone cards and never saw her again.

Advertisements

1 Comment

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR [letters are vetted for cogency and style]

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s