I am a tall woman. When I grew up and kept growing and was not the slender maid you may imagine now I felt like a colossus. I didn’t feel feminine and I didn’t use that many feminine signifiers because it was too much of a contradiction to my height. One time I heard a girl say to another is that a male or a female as I passed by from behind them. I considered pointing out the evidence I had. I imagine strangers take a second look at me, just to be sure they put me in the right category. That is, only in countries where people are generally shorter. And except for short men, they know this process from the other side. And so I like everything that is bigger than me, bigger than all of us, so that the size difference between me and the people around me pales in comparison to the size difference between that rain forest tree, that banquet hall, that warehouse and all of us humans.
The familiarity I get from that. Everybody sticking to the kitchen when being over at someone else’s house. And it’s the first thing you see when you get to those apartments, warmth, food and drinks, a table to sit at and talk. That’s my first place I had to myself. It was the back part of the ground floor of one of those typical North American houses, all wood. The rest of the house was empty and closed off. The owners, who lived next door, had just renovated the part I lived in, and renovated it very lovingly, furnished it with old furniture that was solid, clean with a new coat of white paint. My miniature apartment in France opened right into the kitchen but there wasn’t even space for a table, no staying there. Our apartment in England opens to the kitchen but it’s open plan and so the space is not as obvious. When our lease comes to an end we can have another look around the city, I know what to look for.
From Düsseldorf to Kaiserswerth in January, frozen puddles next to the Rhine, taking my grandma’s camera with me, it gives out almost square pictures und she had just died. In high school, the yearly pilgrimage to Trier over a long weekend for the older students. My favourite parts the walking in a quiet large group at dusk that first morning and the arrival at a monastery the second evening, everyone has blisters by then. The repeated breaks. The tired muscles. The keeping on. Similarly, the training weekend with the rowing association I was in during my master’s, rowing and eating and warming up and sleeping. Everything tastes so much better when your muscles pain like that. In Canada, feeling all stretchy on the days after evening soccer and my lunchtime swimming. The joy in hunger then.
To look at her language, her handwriting, makes her and that time alive to me. Mundane holidays, decent food, day trips in rental cars. Her little jokes. During her last years with dementia there were no jokes, hardly any speaking. The years that she was as I remember her now, static in deterioration. Little notes from late in her life in which her handwriting was coming apart more and more, just to write down the things she didn’t want to forget or that she wanted us to know when she couldn’t let us know any more in any other way. But when writing those postcards I have she was still okay; I wasn’t born yet, my older siblings were little and she was excited about them. She lived and it was unremarkable and yet it was this most remarkable thing we’re all going through.
When I talk out loud I have to stick to one language. I wasn’t raised bilingual, I made myself like that, comfortable between languages. But so there is no one in my family living like this, no one I share this internal mash-up with and that makes talking out loud pretty exhausting. I want to use phrases, grammatical constructions and the most fitting words whether they appear in German or English. Instead I have to translate that part I want to say in the off language. In my head both languages are on most of the time. A bit more German when I’m there with my family, a bit more of either language when I’m trying to write something down in it. Somehow, English ended up being the language I can express emotions in more easily, science anyway. German is more of a homely, subconscious and direct way to speak. You can see how I would need both.
Both in Ithaca and in Edmonton I had garden space. I had rhubarb in both those places. I arrived in Ithaca in April and left in September. But in Edmonton I was summer to summer and in springtime Mike and Taylor and I planted vegetables. To work there and to feel the wind pick up the smell of the soil and come at me, me being just one of the elements of nature. To watch the peas bloom that we planted, to eat beans, to take in rhubarb and from those sprawling raspberry bushes all spring and summer long. Instant food as in right there for us to take. To go out and pour water and pick out weeds and take care of those living things in the evenings, after coming home from the lab and its minuscule movements.
Best when made for me by someone and they take care to remember how I like it. One of the simplest acts of providing.
To make something with my own hands and then it’s there and I can see it is good or this is how I could make it next time and better. The planning out is my favourite part, more than the construction itself though that often needs re-planning and that is good too. The time I can spend on those things, at ease. And I end up with something that will be there for others to see. Or just for me to see and know about. But making a part of my world, having my own say what the world should really be like.
When I need to not be so goddamn irritated all the time, when I need humility and patience and appreciation and freedom for the other to be their own person I hear inside the beginning of one of the movements of Brahms’ German Requiem that goes Herr, (Herr,) lehre doch mich, dass ein Ende mit mir haben muss. Lord, teach me that there must be an end to me. Only in retrospect, after that line having so much resonance with me when we sang it in the choir, I noticed that this was a bible verse that my father had picked out for his notice of death the year before. I am not sure how much to trust my faith, how much of it is really inside of me. You can love the world and see its beauty and mystery and know of your own finality without believing in god. But the beauty and mystery and the continuance of the world is god for me. God certainly not as a person but as a presence, embodied in Christ. I feel that presence in singing. The choir, the community around me, the working together as one body. The kept-ness I feel, the peace it gives me.
A sort of home though our parents are from Hamburg and so they never showed us any of their history in this city. Some traditions were not our traditions. Occasionally people could hear it in our accents and I liked that. The heavy Rhine scuffling through the city right by the school we went to. Its water gauge that looks like a clock until you look at the face properly, built in the yellow sandstone of which there is so much around. The Hofgarten with the statue where we with our dad used to pick up our mom after work. The good big bookshop. The good tiny bookshop. The good art bookshop. I’m not listing all of the bookshops. The museums, the churches, the wind that comes with having a river valley. To have an adult relationship with this city, to show my friends where I come from. This explains so much about me, look closely.