Chapter Germany – Part 2

Unsure of my immediate future, worn out and ready to collapse onto anything resembling a bed, I stepped off the plane at Frankfurt Flughafen on February 16th, 2017. This time around I wasn’t brimming with elation for anyone waiting to meet me outside of the luggage carousel. I didn’t even have the energy to be excited about being here again. This time, with a rather downcast outlook I felt the stiffness in my legs from the 11 hour journey as I slowly shuffled my way toward the baggage claim area.

I collected my heavy pink suitcase from the belt, and along with my carry on rolled them over to the main area of the terminal. I texted Joachim to let him know I was there, hoping just a little bit that he had decided to surprise me and pick me up. Just seeing a friendly face at that moment was something I direly needed.

But no, he didn’t. Of course not. One more thing I’ll just have to deal with on my own.

Why am I here? 

I want to go home.

That involves more flying.

Fuck that.

After about an hour of exchanging currency, dodging unscrupulous cab drivers, taking a nasty, embarrassing fall down the escalator and wandering around the airport in worn exasperation that I couldn’t find the train out of there, I was finally climbing aboard the ICE to Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof. I dumped my suitcases at the baggage area next to the Bistro car, plopped down next to two Brazilian men and ordered whatever best resembled food. I couldn’t even remember what I had ordered. Exhausted beyond comprehension, all I cared about was that a food-like substance was coming soon. I hadn’t had a decent meal since my stopover at Boston Logan the previous day, and hadn’t slept a wink since then either.

Back in my 20’s, I had a friend we had all nicknamed Drunk Jeremy. Drunk Jeremy was usually drunk (imagine that) at any given time of the day. Sometimes, after the club let out, we would be sobering up for the ride home at the local greasy spoon. He would typically be so drunk that we would have to periodically shake him in order for him to not pass out and do a faceplant right into his omelette.

“Jeremy!” I would exclaim. “THE COPS ARE HERE!”

That usually worked.

Today, the server brought whatever I had ordered, and I did my best to be polite in response to the small talk the two Brazillians were making with me. I smiled, nodded and attempted to form sentences while all I could think about was pulling a Drunk Jeremy and faceplanting right into my food, not waking up until I was somehow magically at my apartment.

Magically, however, was not at all how I got to my apartment.

After using whatever emergency energy source my body reserved for necessary movement to carry my luggage off of the train and onto the platform at Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof, I somehow managed to use The Force and will myself down to the subterranean level and catch the U75. This was, in my haggard state, what I thought was the train to my apartment. But when I asked the ticket agent in the car, I was reminded that I’d have to get off at Heinrich-Heine Allee and catch the Straßenbahn to Ratigen.

Fuck. I had completely forgotten that from last time.

Can I just sleep here then? 

Shortly we arrived at the bustling Heinrich-Heine Allee, which is the main station at the Altstadt. In my weakened state I struggled to get my suitcases off the train as people just piled in around me. But no matter how many polite “Entschuldigung“s I would muster as I moved toward the door, everyone ignored me and kept piling in until the doors were closing. Frantic, I stuck my arm in between the doors and in weary frustration just wailed, “I’M JUST TRYING TO GET OFF THE FUCKING TRAIN.”.

The guards on the platform came to my rescue. They held the doors open and told the mass of people to back the hell off. I thanked them profusely and asked for directions to my Straßenbahn.

Somehow, I managed to keep it together for the seemingly eternal ride to my final destination. Nicole, a blonde German woman about my age with a kind face and in much nicer clothes than what I was wearing answered the door to my disheveled, jet-lagged mess. She greeted me with a genuine smile and led me down the stairs to my little basement apartment, which was downright adorable in its perfectly color-coordinated 60’s mod decor. As nice as this all was, my eyes zeroed in on the bed.

Bed.

A real bed.

For sleeping.

Sleep.

Yes.

Sleep.

She proceeded to show me around as I smiled politely and fought my heavy eyelids open. Delirious at this point, I only caught maybe a third of what she was telling me in her thick German accent, and by the time it reached my brain it was all a jumble of nonsense phrases.

“And over here we have the laundry, in case you want to cook something or wash your head.”

“And here we have a stove for your bike. Just make sure you open the windows for the gnome so you can catch the streetcar outside.”

I nodded along to the conversation as if I understood, or because holding up my own head was becoming work. Eventually, she gave me the keys and the wifi password and wished me a goodnight.

Still wearing my trench coat and my shoes, I disintegrated onto the glorious single bed that had been seducing me and was out cold until around noon the next day.

Suck On My Chocolate Salty Balls

One morning I woke up and groggily trudged down the stairs to make my morning breakfast of an omelette and oatmeal. I sat down at the dining room table, and that’s when I noticed that there were a pile of boxes next to me. Just glancing at the top box, I could see my copies of Michael Symon’s “Five Ingredients” and Aaron Sanchez’s “Simple Food, Big Flavor” peeking out of the not-very-closed flap.

John, while I was working and staying away in the spirit of avoidance and to digest this awful situation, had been packing my things for me.

Uh-uh. No.

My fury steadily rose as I looked down at these haphazardly packed boxes of my belongings.

How dare he do this without so much as a discussion with me?

How dare he pack MY stuff behind my back?

And doing a halfassed shit job of it in the process?

The anger heaved against my sternum as if it were trying to break out.

I made myself calm down into a moderately civilized state. I waited until he was out of the shower and settled into his usual nook on the couch (I swear, there should have been a permanent imprint of his ass on that cushion, thank God it wasn’t memory foam ). I slowly walked over to him, careful to keep my temper in check.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi!” he said, smiling.

I’ll smack that smile right off your face, you prick.

Easy, Laura.

“Don’t do that.” I blurted out, pointing to the pile of boxes. I mean, Jesus. Aside from this being a total dick move, how was I supposed to find anything?

“Do what?” he asked, seeming confused. But coming from the man with the master poker face I couldn’t tell whether or not he was just playing dumb.

I cleared things up and told him – clearer and more politely this time – to stop packing my shit. I added that he was going to have to be patient.

“I have been,” he responded. “But it’s been over two weeks now. This has gone on long enough. We both have to get on with our lives.”

I had no words. I just stood there staring at him in disbelief. Did he seriously think that I could just magically pack up 6 years worth of shit and be gone in two weeks?

“You know,” I started, now trying very hard not to lose it. “this may come as a shock to you, but this isn’t exactly easy for me.”

“I know that.” he coldly acknowledged, conveniently not mentioning the fact that he also didn’t care.

“YOU were the one who wanted this, not me!” I felt my voice grow louder and start to crack with the threat of tears. I was in disbelief at how could he be this horrible to me. He was treating me like I had been the one who was leaving him for someone else, when it was the other way around!

“I know that too.” He nodded again.

WELL THEN WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!, I wanted to shout.

Instead, I knew I had to maintain a modicum of cool if I didn’t want to see this escalate into an all out War of The Roses shitshow of insults and destroyed property.

“Well don’t you worry.” I mockingly assured, eyes narrowed in contempt, my vexation bleeding through my voice in spite of my vow for civility. “I’ll be out of your life as fast as I can.”

“Okay,” he nodded and agreed as if I had told him I was going to the grocery store.

Douchebag. Fuck him.

I know I didn’t deserve this treatment. What had I done, after all? Nothing, that’s what. It was his idea to buy this house, his idea for us to live together and merge all of our stuff together like Ozzy and fucking Harriett. Hell, it was him who had to practically drag me kicking and screaming out of the adorable, cheap little Lakewood apartment I loved where I happily (and stubbornly) enjoyed my independence a good two years into our relationship.

But I also know that if I start sinking to his level and getting nasty, this will go downhill to places I really didn’t need it to go at this point in time. For my sake, and possibly his.

Later, he came home and again took his place on the couch, this time eating a bowl of the wretched canned soup he had been eating in lieu of my home cooking. I smirked at this thought, knowing he will never have so much as a bite of his favorite dishes of mine ever again. My pulled pork and pho were forever gone to him, he’d just have to suffer with his preservative-laden Campbell’s Can-O-Crap.

Heh.

Eat shit.

Literally.

I approached him again.

“I’m sorry for getting angry before.” I apologized, although I knew I had every right to be angry.

“It’s okay,” he accepted. “I was only trying to help.”

Textbook John. Too passive to admit to me that he was trying to send me a glaring signal to get the hell out of his house, he takes the innocent tone of “trying to help”. To keep things civil I played along.

“I know.” I responded. “But you know this isn’t easy for me.”

“I know that,” he acknowledged.

You just don’t care

Without another word, I climbed the stairs back up to my room to get ready for a very-much-needed Taco Tuesday at Barrio with my gal pal since sixth grade, Tam.

We had far too many chips and tacos, and as one can imagine, the tequilla flowed at our table as my dear friend manned her damage control post by keeping us both drunk, happy and tearing my unworthy ex a new one.

She came to the decision that we needed to make up a really, really bad nickname for John. The last time I had done something like that I was about 10 years younger and the name sounded more like a spasm of Tourette’s. But it had at the very least made me feel better, and so did Tam’s enthusiastic contempt for the man who had hurt her friend.

Maybe I’m luckier than I thought…

Afterwards, because we were drunk and my friend’s chocolate shop was only a block away, we decided that it was imperative that we stop in for a visit. As I was hoping, Paul was working, painstakingly pouring brownie batter as we walked in. It was good to see him, but as he asked how I was doing Tam wasted no time telling him her opinion of John and what should be done to his genitals. I could tell this made him squirm a little. He was clearly uncomfortable with my situation and even made the subtle point of reminding me that he became friends with us both at the same time.

Either Tam didn’t notice his discomfort or didn’t care, because she continued to go on in detail about how hard she wanted to punch John in the face and exactly how many times.

Seriously one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

She went on ranting, and I watched her smiling wide with gratitude. This wonderful person had my back, and if the tables were turned I’d totally have hers.

We collected our chocolates, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. When I eventually got home, the tone she had set for the night almost acted as a force field for me against the heaviness that now permeated this house. Maybe it was my mood, maybe it was the margaritas, but I felt better than I had in weeks.
I brushed my teeth, crawled into bed and fell asleep watching old episodes of Sex In The City.

I think I’m going to be okay.

Chapter 7 – Sweet Home Chicago

April 2016

Hooking up my old Moto X to the aux jack in my mom’s Honda Pilot, I set it to the “Roadtrip!” playlist I had made during my longer tech support calls and began the long, grey and rainy drive to Chicago. As the raindrops pattered onto the windshield I sang along to the likes of Van Halen (David Lee Roth years, of course, I’m a woman of taste), House of Pain and old school TLC.

Ah, Chicago. My love for this city knows no bounds. The drive, however…there’s no love lost there. The route between Cleveland and Chicago consists of absolutely nothing. By “nothing” I mean cornfields, some rest stops in Bumfucktown, Ohio, more cornfields, Gary, Indiana, and not much else. As far as I’m concerned that entire drive can just fuck right off. But I had a sense of purpose for this trip, so it was a necessary evil.

The skyscrapers of Chicago eventually rose up over the horizon, boasting their prominence in the city’s signature skyline. My heart panged with excitement. This was it. I was finally here, and not just for a fun weekend trip. This time I was here to apply for my residence permit to live in Germany. A huge step in my plan was about to be taken.

I. AM. DOING. THIS.

Holy shit. I am REALLY DOING this.

This was no longer an idea cultivated by google searches, language software, and cancelable reservations. Oh no, shit was about to get real.

Well, it did. But not the way I had planned.

I managed to navigate my way through the chaotic Dan Ryan Expressway and into downtown to figure out the horrific parking situation – $47 per night at the cheapest. Damn ripoff. I unloaded the Honda and with my luggage in tow and hoofed it around the block to the Holiday Inn Express, my home for the next two days. I checked in and took the very slow and creaky elevator to the 10th floor. The room was tiny and utilitarian, but enough for one person. I did have had a rather nice view of the city block and Sears (Willis) Tower, so I was content. But the best part was the real reason why I picked this hotel – it was a four minute walk to the German Embassy. I wanted absolutely nothing keeping me from getting to my 8:30am appointment, not traffic or train delays or whatever else. Nope. Come hell or high water I was going to be there.

I dumped my suitcases in the tiny closet and immediately headed back out again for my first order of business – finding a Walgreens to get my residence permit photos. I could have gotten them taken in Cleveland, I suppose. But I figured if any drug stores would be privy to the specific photo requirements for a German residence permit, the ones close to the embassy here would.

I was partially right, as the first one I went to normally did those but their camera was out of order. I asked the young man behind the counter where I could find another Walgreens and was given rather vague directions. After following said vague directions for about 20 minutes, I somehow ended up at the Hershey Store. While not a terrible outcome for a chocolate lover like me, it wasn’t very helpful in my mission. Resisting the urge to Pac Man my way through the place, I whipped out Ye Olde Moto X to Google the right Walgreens.

As it turned out, this Walgreens was about five blocks past where the guy told me to go and one street over.

*Sigh*

Finally, after a lot of walking and dodging of panhandlers the proper permit photos were taken, printed, and paid for. YES. I hurried back to my hotel with the coveted photos to tuck them away in a safe place with the rest of my documentation. I continued to spend the rest of the afternoon sorting, signing and rereading everything, making sure every i was dotted and t was crossed.

Okay German Consulate, I’m ready for you.

Since I hadn’t eaten since my 5am breakfast of an English muffin and an apple, I moseyed on over to Gino’s for dinner. After all, I was in Chicago, and not going to Gino’s and getting one of their deep dish pizzas would have been an act of treason. I found a seat at the crowded, graffiti-laden bar and ordered myself a dram of Lagavulin, my usual drink of choice when I’m celebrating. While I was waiting, a rather intoxicated man took the seat to me. In my quest for peace and self-preservation I did my best not to turn my head in his direction or make eye contact.

But this guy had other ways of getting my attention. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see him leaning a little too close to me, drooling heavily, and wordlessly beckoning me to grab some napkins for him from the dispenser on my right. As I quickly handed them to him, I saw that he had puked all over the bar. And just before I could turn away in disgust, he did it again.

I shot out of the bar stool and took several steps down the bar away from him.The smell stung my nose. I felt the lump in my throat grow as I fought off the contagious nausea of having a strange man vomit less than two feet away from me. I waved one of the bartenders over to assist, and moved over to the other end of the bar. Two older gentlemen who had been seated on the other side of the man joined me, and we chatted a bit and ordered our food (miraculously still hungry, but damnit it’s Gino’s!) The one man was a physician from Buffalo, NY attending an occupational medicine seminar, and the other was attending a commercial plastics sales convention.

During our chat the physician and the bartender engaged in a friendly but determined continuation of one debate that has been going on for over 100 years: Chicago-style vs. New York-style pizza. The physician admitted that he liked both for two completely different reasons, which happens to be my stance on the issue as well. You can either fold up a nice, flat slice of New York pizza and enjoy it as you wandered, or sit in a fine establishment such as Gino’s and attack the decadent deep dish with a fork and knife. After some friendly banter over this topic, we parted ways.

The next morning I bounced out of bed at 5am sharp. It was a big day and I was a big bundle of nerves.

My appointment was in three hours. I decided to run off my nerves before breakfast and did a few laps around downtown. When I returned, I spent the rest of my time primping, organizing, and double-and-triple checking that all of my paperwork was in order.

One hour to go.

I. Am. So. Nervous.

I arrived at the German consulate at 8:00am, 30 minutes before my appointment was scheduled. I was not going to be even a minute late. I factored in any oddball occurrences that would happen between my hotel and the block and a half walk to their office. Traffic, car accidents, tornadoes, tsunamis, alien invasions were all plausible events for which I was sure to leave enough time to bypass.

I dutifully signed in at the front desk, then took the elevator to run through the security check. The guard had me hand over my phone for some reason and showed me to the seating area. I have no idea how my jacked-up, 3-year-old phone could be any kind of security threat, but I wasn’t about to go questioning authority now. I obliged and took my seat. I had my passport, my documents, and I was dressed in my best “Responsible Adult” outfit. I was ready for anything.

Here goes nothing.

Finally, I was called up to the desk. On the other side of the glass was a blonde woman about my age with a stern look on her face. With her gentle German accent, she asked for my passport, then started into the conversation about why I was there.

She was very nice and listened to my story, which I backed up with every shred of documentation I could get my hands on – my apartment reservation in Dusseldorf starting in October, my bank statements, my catering contracts given to me by Joachim. She excused herself while she spoke with her supervisor for a rather long time. I sat there and waited in anticipation.

During that rather long time, my thoughts snowballed into rather outlandish territory.

Is she printing my permit?

Is she telling her supervisor to blacklist me from Germany?

Where is she?

Maybe she had to pee?

Or she’s getting candy? I like candy.

Fucking hell, Laura, she’s not getting candy!

She eventually came back and told me that I was far too early to apply for anything, but everything I wanted to do was actually handled in the Ausländerbehörde in Dusseldorf. She went on to warn me that my chances of being issued a residence permit allowing me to work were not guaranteed, and because I don’t have a degree I wouldn’t qualify for a work seeker visa. I asked her about the catering contracts I had gotten from Joachim, but she informed me that those may not be enough for me to stay.

So basically, this trip to Chicago was for nothing.

I felt the beginnings of the lump in my throat as I gathered my things to leave. Before I stood up, the woman added that it was good that I started this early so that “I have time to reconsider.”

I’m not giving up, goddamnit.

Chapter Germany – Part 1

Chapter Germany: Part 1

August 9th, 2016

 Two months premature to my original plan, my plane landed in Hamburg Flughafen. Even though leaving that much earlier to be with a man I had never actually met was an enormous risk, I was excited for what the future held. Also terrified, anxious to the point of nausea, and not to mention harboring more than a shred of annoyance at the smarmy American douche seated in front of me. He was the typical asshole caricature one would encounter on any flight: staying reclined the entire time, obnoxiously making out with his out-of-his-league girlfriend 6 inches from my face, and rude to the flight staff while making inappropriate comments about the “sexiness” of their Icelandic accents.

Gross.

I thought of actually using the barf bag tucked into the back of his seat, both to ease my nerves and to make the two of them feel just as repulsed as I was. This made me feel a little better. But I had spent too long primping in the minuscule airplane restroom and carefully applying my makeup to ruin it.

Besides, by the time I stepped off the plane neither the gross man nor his bimbo girlfriend mattered; I had my whole new life ahead of me. After living through a year of sadness, what awaited me on the other side of that gate represented a hope for happiness and love. Despite wearing three inch heels, I practically ran to collect my luggage as they clacked along on the shiny tile floor.

I wrestled an airport-issue dolly from the rack and made my way over to the luggage carousel, which seemed to take an eternity to add my bags to the rotation. Twenty excruciating minutes later my bike, three suitcases and my carry-on bag were hurriedly piled onto my luggage cart. Smiling in excitement and shaking with nerves, I made my way over to the exit.

He’s on the other side of that door.

Just a few more steps.

My enthusiastic gait was interrupted by a friendly German officer asking to see my passport. He fired off the standard questions; Where was I from? Have I been to Germany before? Why was I there? Was I carrying more than 10,000EUR in cash? He stared at my passport in silence for a long minute, which made me a nervous. Immediately my paranoia took center stage in my brain.

Does he suspect that I’m trying to move here? Will they force me onto the next flight back like they do to people on those border patrol shows?

After 11 hours of traveling, my nerves were just too shot for me to be rational.

He handed my passport back to me and gave me a nod of approval.

“You’re making my job too boring!” He joked in his deep German accent, and I laughed with relief. A herd of tourists brushed past us just then, collectively singing a song in some other language. We exchanged glances and shrugged.

. He then directed me to the other exit door leading to the receiving area so to bypass the slow-moving chorus. Suddenly, an overwhelming jolt of excitement quaked through my veins as I remembered that Matthew was waiting for me on the other side of that door. I couldn’t have pushed my mountain of luggage through that exit fast enough. Craning my neck in all directions looking for him, I scanned the faces of people awaiting the arriving passengers. Some of them were smiling and holding flowers and balloons while others stood there expressionless, displaying names scrawled on paper. I didn’t see him, though. I had never seen him in person, but after months of Skyping and exchanging photos I felt I could easily pick the real life version of him out of a crowd. But the more faces I saw, the more of them weren’t his.

 Where is he?

 Maybe I can’t see him because he’s shorter than he let on?

 What if he’s really short? Like, a midget?

 Is he really a midget?

 Stop it, Laura.

My thoughts then wandered to more realistic worries.

 Did he change his mind?

 Oh God. I hope he didn’t change his mind.
The rickety cart, piled high with my packed-up life, wobbled and groaned as I fought to navigate it. The worn wheels petulantly refused to be guided in the direction I needed them to go, at times just stopping in mid-roll as if in protest to the hefty amplitude of shit I chose to bring with me to this country. I know I had packed too much. The $150 overage charge from the airline had made me well aware of this fact. But after that, a long flight and months of waiting for this moment I wasn’t about to take any shit from a goddamn buggy. Wrestling and negotiating with each push, I somehow managed to steer this rolling episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” over to the other side of the gate. I continued my search and skimmed the gaggle of people waiting for their loved ones.

And there he was. Even though he had his back to me I recognized him immediately. His broad-shouldered, 6’4 frame towered over the crowd, watching the other door in search of me.

Definitely not a midget.

 And no, Laura, he didn’t change his mind.

I silently laughed at my ridiculousness.

After all this time, effort and baggage wrangling I wanted to bound over to him and throw my arms around his neck in elation. But instead, I had a playful thought. I wanted to see if he’d recognize me. If I just casually stood next to him not saying a word, how long would it take? His back still to me, I attempted to slowly creep forward, thinking I would somehow manage to sneak up on him while dragging this enormous screeching monstrosity along with me.

As I got within 5 feet of him he turned around. Our eyes met and he smiled wide, moving toward me with his long arms outstretched. He was just as adorably boyish in person, with his smiling dimples more pronounced and his eyes just a slightly greener shade of brown than his pictures had let on. He had a sort of humility about him that hadn’t translated across our Skype chats, which I found instantly endearing. He kissed me on the cheek and pulled me into his embrace, where we stayed for a long time. His hug was warm and genuine, the kind I could just sink into and never want to let go.

He helped me navigate the dolly over to the taxi stand, and as I took those first steps into my long-sought new life my heart soared. This new place, a blank canvas, was waiting. I could barely contain my curiosity as to what the future would bring.

The End and The Beginning

The end loomed in the air like an ominous storm cloud as I kept busy cooking dinner in the kitchen. I worked carefully, making sure to perfect what I was making in order to pacify him, possibly to change his mind about me and keep him from saying what I feared most. During dinner, we ate in silence at the dining room table as he played games on his iPad.  I cleared the table and washed tonight’s dishes and John took his place on the couch, slumping there with an exaggerated look of melancholy. This was his thing, the look he would always use to coax me into asking him what was wrong.

But I wasn’t biting. Rather than inquiring I avoided his eyes and continued to clean. The dishes already washed and neatly stacked in the dishwasher, I moved on to laboriously scrubbing the stove, then the counters, followed by the cabinets and the floor. As I rigorously worked he came and stood in the doorway, watching me. Staring, really, silently waiting for my eyes to meet his in order to give him the courage to talk.  I looked up, flashed him a wide smile and got back to working, knowing that would keep him and what was circling in his head at bay and from reaching my ears for at least a few more minutes. We were living on borrowed time and I was fully aware of this. I knew what he wanted to say to me. And I knew all I was doing, aside from sterilizing the kitchen, was only delaying the inevitable. I just dreaded hearing those words. I wasn’t ready.

He returned to his spot on the couch, holding his head in his hands with such theatrics that it seemed like he was trying to mime what he had to say to me. I somehow managed to laugh to myself with this thought, yet at the same time desperately trying to think of some other way to occupy my attention, rendering it unavailable to him, making it as difficult as I could for him to drop that bomb he was holding.

But then I stopped. I had to. How long could I keep this up? How clean could the house possibly get before he’d finally manage to detonate it?

Surrendering in our silent battle for my undivided attention, I sank down next to him on the couch, where he clutched a throw pillow to his chest, staring ahead dolefully.

“Is everything okay?” I asked, knowing full well the answer to that question.

“No,” He replied.

“What’s wrong?” I continued, finally giving him the platform he had so struggled to win from me before.

“I’m not happy,” his voice quivered eventually. He looked pale, his eyes staring straight ahead, this time avoiding mine.  I knew this so it didn’t come as a surprise, but I still felt a rock forming in my stomach. It was that kind of feeling you get when you just start to make the descent from the highest point of a roller coaster.  It was really happening.  I was really losing him. The one last pillar holding up my life as I knew it, my person. He went on as his words severing our six years together grew more abstract to my ears, drowned out by my own devastation.

A few minutes later, numb with grief, I helped him clear off the spare bed. I left the room to gather my pillow and my quilt, but he stopped me.

“No,” he insisted. “This is your bed, I’ll sleep in the guest bedroom.”

I didn’t dispute this fact. The bed really was mine, though after being with him for so long I had forgotten this.   He and his stepfather had completely obliterated my then brand new bed while trying to get it up the stairs of our old house. After several failed attempts, a lot of swearing and power tools getting involved in this futile effort, John dutifully went out and bought a brand new one – which would become our bed.

Our bed…

I shrugged and nodded with a small amount of tepid relief. The spare bed was his own as a teenager, which he continued to use until we first moved in together. His old, lumpy double mattress was not nearly as comfortable as my newer, queen-sized pillow top. Despite my fresh wounds, I felt a small ping of satisfaction at the thought of him tossing and turning in this old 1970’s monstrosity as I enjoyed the comfort of an adult-sized mattress.

However, sleeping alone for the first time in six years I felt restless and lost.  What the hell just happened? That question looped in my mind, trying to wrap around this alien feeling. My life…I didn’t even know my life without him. Crumpled into a fetal position on my side of our – my – empty bed, my body shook with sobs and eventually grew limp as I drifted off to sleep.

Night turned into morning with only patches of sleep to be had. But despite such a restless night a rush of adrenaline acted as my alarm clock as I woke up before the sun, bounding out of that bed as if it were on fire.

Fuck this room. Fuck this bed. Fuck that asshole probably sleeping like a baby in the next room. Throughout my body I felt this primal urge to run, to escape.  I just couldn’t be in that house another minute. As fast as I could I threw on my clothes and pushed my feet into my shoes. I bolted out the door and down the sidewalk of our quaint, red brick street past the well-kept houses of our neighbors. I felt almost possessed as my legs pushed my body, attempting to sprint away from the emotional demons that awaited me back home.

Can I still call it ‘home’?

I crossed Lake Ave. into the park, my Mizunos pounding the asphalt path. Past the pool, through the park, down the solstace stairs and to the lake I ran as my heart and mind processed the melting pot of conflicting emotions – unrelenting sadness, fear, even relief. When I finally reached the end of the trail, where Lake Erie hurls itself into the rocks, I stopped in my tracks and gazed across the water. I felt my heart furiously pump the blood through my veins from this explosion of activity

The skyline of downtown Cleveland was nestled in the distance, on the other side of the U shape that makes up the city’s west side waterfront. John and I had spent countless times in this very spot, walking Happy, taking photos, just enjoying the day. But one thing we always talked about doing yet never had was watching the sunrise.

I sat down on one of the benches, letting the sweat bead down my face as I watched the sun slowly emerge from the water, gradually illuminating my city.

What am I going to do?

Chapter 4 – New Year

Chapter 4

I’m declaring today my New Year’s Day.

 On January 19th, 2016 I finally moved out, with the “Mission Impossible” theme looping through my head the entire time. I both planned and executed this move like a ninja. I had made all the arrangements with Two Men and A Truck while sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store, so to not risk John overhearing the conversation,. In no time, I had set the date to do a confidential move. This is something they do in cases of domestic violence, stalking, or for people like me who just want to get on with their lives.

 

At 6am  I woke up and immediately had the shakes. I realized that, on top of being nervous as hell I also hadn’t really eaten the day before. Anxious that any oddity would arouse even a shred of suspicion from John, I had left the things I wanted from the common areas unpacked and untouched, careful not to express interest in them. As he had already been stashing the things he wanted to keep without so much as a discussion, I decided that feigned indifference to what I wanted would be my best weapon. After all, he was the one who was forcing me out so he could be with some bimbo. He already took away my home, half my friends and 6 good years of my life. I’d say I was entitled to help myself to anything of “ours” that I damn well pleased.

But first, I was hungry.

For old times sake I got dressed and drove around the corner for one last quick breakfast at The Place To Be. It’s a cheap diner and one of my old favorites, and their French toast and scrambled eggs were just the thing to fuel the long day I had ahead of me. I ordered and just sat there for a bit, looking around. The diner is quintessential Americana, with its vintage bar stools and bottomless coffee – your typical no-frills classic breakfast place. The waitress spoke with a thick Greek accent and never let my coffee get below a half a cup – which is something that used to annoy me but now I really do appreciate.

 I’m going to miss this place.

By 7:00am  I was back home and ready to execute my well-laid plan. I hurried upstairs, closed the door to my bedroom and moved quickly but with caution, perhaps overly aware of every sound I made. I gingerly unplugged my iMac from the surge strip, wrapped it in my bedclothes and used the pillows from my bed as packing material. Anxious that even the slightest deviation from the norm would mean John had switched gears and decided to work from home, I carefully listened for anything out of the ordinary. The creaking of the old wooden stairs under his feet, the swish of the shower curtain and the steady hiss of water shooting out of the shower head  were all signals that his familiar routine had commenced. So far, so good.

I was almost done packing up my bedroom when I suddenly heard the side door slam shut, alerting me that he had left for work. I scrambled downstairs as the garage door whirred open to get a look out the back window. With mixed emotions, I watched John’s car back out of the garage and roll down the street for the last time.

Adrenaline immediately took over. I got to work unearthing things that he had buried on “his” side of the basement. He had stuffed the more desirable objects in the back of the pile, clearly thinking that burying the things he knew I may want would somehow keep me from getting them. He clearly hadn’t thought this through. Oh no, now nothing was going to stop me from taking whatever the hell  I wanted, and certainly not some feeble pile of old monitors and shitty kitchen chairs from the 70’s.

I dug out my deceased father’s TV stand (for some reason among said buried things) and the mini fridge from the attic bar we had built in the old house. I gave them a quick cleaning, shoved some of the Tupperware into the fridge and moved on to the upstairs, where I promptly removed the curtains from all the windows. Every move felt calculated, like I was going down a checklist. My emotions completely shut down and the logical, “get shit done” side of my brain had kicked into full gear.

The decorations from the dining room he had thought he had hidden so cleverly were carefully packed up as well. I continued this frenzy, snagging the cool Halloween tombstones, strobe lights and fog machine, my pillow he had commandeered from his bed, all the champagne flutes and wine glasses and anything else I could find until I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted.

Well, I left him one wine glass. I’m not a total bitch.

But I will add with a bit of smugness that I bagged all the liquor.

With every minute that ticked away, my gnawing fear that John would return due to forgetting his coffee or a canceled meeting faded. At about 8:30am, I got a rather clandestine phone call from an “Eric”. It turned out that Eric (his real name) was with Two Men and a Truck and wanted to know if the coast was clear, something they do for all the confidential moves. I informed him that that the “coast” was indeed clear, resisting the urge to add something like, “Team One, engage!”

At promptly 9:07am, they pulled into the driveway. Eric and his moving partner Ivan greeted me and had me give them a tour of every room in the house, making sure they knew what to load up and what to leave behind. And in a remarkably swift and organized fashion they got right to work, refusing my help to carry things. At one point I lamented out loud about how much I was going to miss the five burner gas stove in the kitchen – to which they offered to uninstall it and load it onto the truck. I considered it for a minute, after all it’s not like John ever used it. The cooking was always left to me, and when left to his own devices he just ate whatever microwaveable crap he picked up at the corner store. Hell, he probably wouldn’t even notice if I took it. But then I remembered the size of the storage unit I had rented and graciously declined their generous offer.

By 10:45am they were done, having loaded about 80% of an entire three bedroom house into their truck. Most of the furniture had been mine before I met John, and I wasn’t about to leave any of the nice stuff behind for he and his new bimbo to enjoy. Peering inside of the moving truck, I shook my head in disbelief. After having packed what seemed like an eternity of my possessions, it all took up maybe an eighth of the cargo area.

By noon, everything had been driven and loaded up at their respective locations. Despite the arctic January temperatures Eric and Ivan had remained super friendly and professional. Of course, I thanked them and tipped generously.

Soon I was pulling into the driveway of Larry’s house – my final destination and home until April. I unloaded my car, poured myself a glass of wine, stepped into my slippers and sat down to chill for the first time in far too long.

It was finally over.

The next morning I woke up from the best night’s sleep in a long time. I shuffled out of the bedroom and down the stairs without any dread as to who I would see. I wandered into the kitchen and made myself coffee and breakfast without feeling unwelcome or an annoyance to a man who once told me that I was his soul mate. I spent the day unpacking, hanging extra curtains and Skyping with my wonderful new online friend Matthias in Hamburg. After I had made my announcement about my plans to move to Germany, my longtime friend Patty introduced me to Matthias, stating that she wanted to be sure that I knew at least one good person there. This turned out to be a fabulous idea on her part, as he and I had a lot in common and would at times talk the night away. Tonight our conversation went on for over four hours, during which I gave him a tour of the visual candy that is Larry’s house.

Larry’s house, like the one I had shared with John and many others in Cleveland, was built in the early 1900’s. The original woodwork had been restored and meticulously kept up, and everywhere I turned there was something unique, colorful and interesting to see. Artwork, trinkets from his many travels to Asia, and memorabilia of famous musicians from his days as a concert promoter seasoned his house. I could have lived there for a whole year and still not have seen everything. But it was the overall positive energy of this place that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This was in such stark contrast to the unfriendly, hostile environment from where I had just escaped, and for the first time in too long I was finally enjoying some peace.

After I got off the call with Matthias, I decided to enjoy the tranquility some more and take advantage of Larry’s jacuzzi bathtub. I lit candles and put on the calming music of Poe and Garbage. Then I turned off the lights and sank my body into the hot bubbles, letting the jets pulse all over me. Backlit by the candles, I watched the steam rise off of my toes poking out from the foamy bubbles at the other end of the tub. It was great to not have to do anything, just relax. I realized how long it had been. Between packing and moving and carrying things up stairs and unpacking and go go go..this was the first time in what seemed like ages that I had actually stopped in my tracks and did something relaxing just for me. Not because I had to, not because if I didn’t do it I’d feel guilty or like I’m wasting time….simply just for me and my own sanity. And really, I needed it.

My mind then wandered to events of the past months, and the gravity of everything I had lost suddenly became like someone had set an anvil down on my chest. Tears stung my eyes as I heaved into a sob. Normally I’d make myself stop, but this was different. These were tears of relief, plus the realization that my 6 years with John were now quite officially done. There was no going back now. This time I just let myself go, alone in the dim candlelight with the foam and jet streams of the bath wrapped around me like a comforting hug.

Will I ever be happy again?