Just kids. No money. Living richly. With almost no money in the bank. Me with my head in the writing clouds. Or completely down, contemplating suicide. How many times did you talk me out of those suicidal, self-loathing, desperate moods? ‘Out of the sky, into the dirt.’ Manic-depressive eb and flow. You fulminating because I forgot to pay internet bills, electricity bills, the water. Getting fined for administration, seven euros a time. And we didn’t have that much money.
I was making peanuts as a teacher. Sometimes full-time, sometimes only halftime. Selling plays at 500 euros. Until we started staging them ourselves. You directing them. Win-win operations at best. Terribly time-consuming. Exciting yes. Terribly confronting. Never being satisfied with the script. Not me anyway. You frustrated, when I lost myself in strategic board games with carefree friends who were still studying and not in this sort of relationship, where you depend on each other for so many things. When the other is more than half the world. All the world, the only world in desperate times.
Your parents had kicked you out. They wanted to kill me. They cursed me. I wasn’t good enough for you. Too low born. The Iranian stuck-up pricks. How many times did they come to pick you up? How many times did you run away, back to me? Every time the same pattern. I had the most violent daydreams about torturing your mother to death.
How must I measure the time you and I spent as one? By the hours we spent watching series and drinking tea with meremiya, from the endless supply we got in Palestine? The hours we spent in bed philosophizing about everything possible? The discussions we had? The laughs we had? We laughed a lot. You have a wonderful laugh. When it was genuine.
The times we went to restaurants? We had little money in the bank, but we lived like rich people. We economized in every possible compartment of every day life, but not on restaurants. At home I learned to cook nice dinners from scratch. Poverty stimulates creativity. You disagreed. And you were right. “Don’t think so much about what we spend, think about making more money.”
We had fights over the water you used. The light you weren’t quick enough to switch off. And at the same time I was always buying you the food you liked. The quality cheese from the shop just round the corner. Sweets. Your kind of potatoe chips. Your kind of apples. Your kind of rice.
You took care of me, mostly emotionally, which was a tough job, I took care of you materially, which felt like a tough job, and emotionally, which wasn’t that hard most of the time. Even though it could look like that to the outside world. You had a short fuse. It was easy to label you as hysterical, you will agree. But whatever, when we were together, just the two of us, we got along fine, more than fine, grandly.
Especially the first two years you got into a lot of fights with people we met. Very empassioned discussion. Lots of drama. Quick-tempered. Violent. You hit me quite a few time. Like the time I kissed a girl in front of your eyes at a party, because you were sulking, because that one morning of all mornings I thought it was your turn to get a loaf of bread. You smashed up our place a bit. Not because of the girl. Because of the loaf of bread. And you hit me then. Not that it hurt or anything. But it wasn’t respectful. I never yelled so loud as I yelled at you. And I probably never will. I’m not a violent man. Though you’ll say the evidence in my defence is inconclusive.
Our relationship started with the lowest point in my psychology and the highest point in my physiology. I mean, I never looked better and I never felt so bad. The two facts are unrelated. Let’s not complicate things and keep it at that. I looked great, I felt bad. I thought you were from Morocco. Most people think you’re from India. But worse exists. You’re from Iran. You’ll forgive me that I’ve become prejudiced towards an entire nation.
I don’t remember being particularly drawn to you at first. The swimming pool teacher said I was really good-looking, you thought the swimming pool teacher was me, but I wasn’t. I was there to take the lessons, not teach them. You thought I looked good, but I wasn’t your type.
It was just after a bad break-up. A sour break-up. Taking swimming lessons, was only part of the strategy to get my girlfriend to stay. She didn’t. And so I met you. In our downfall we find the seed of our rise. And in our rise is the seed of our next downfall. And so we go. Up and down.
You and I. Hard to judge, hard to evaluate. The sweet and the sour had a way of balancing each other, day to day, month to month, year to year. Hell was hell with you, and heaven was, well, quite like heaven, there’s no honor in denying that, only self-deceit. And when times got real bad, you weren’t to blame.
I could read the hundred something letters I wrote you. Or the ten volumes of diaries I kept. I don’t want to do that. Nor will I plunge into the 500+ emails that are still in my email box, because I never delete any email. I don’t want any of that Hineininterpretierung. I don’t need to be so thorough. Let’s give my memory the solace of forgetting, of blotting out some of the more painful passages.
I’m most grateful to you for being there when my dad died. A comedian with no name, a funny writer with no name, a hard-working factory worker with no name, who said in his last month on this earth: ‘I leave nothing behind’, when I said the drummer of Jimi Hendrix had just passed away. ‘But what a life he must have had. I leave nothing behind.’
He did leave something behind. A blue binder with lots of funny letters. All very much drawing on the idiocy and small hypocrisies of every day life in a very small town. It could have been much more, if you’d worked at it, if you’d known like your son knows, that it doesn’t just take talent. It takes talent plus 10,000 hours of very hard work, of shaping your craft, by listening and heeding high quality feedback. How many hours did you spend behind that typewriter? Not 10,000 hours, but a couple of thousand. It could have been something. But you gave up, understandably, the odds were tough, with no connections and almost none of that high quality feedback until I got an idea what good writing was, but still not much more than an idea at the time. So you gave up, for which again, I certainly don’t blame you, but you gave up and you died of it. Of that giving up on your dream. And that’s the lesson you left behind, unwittingly, if you give up on your dream, you die. First inside, than outside.
See, I’m talking about my dad, when I set out to talk about you. My dad’s suicide really marked our relationship, my old love. No girl has ever seen me cry so much as you have. So, so many tears. After we watched ‘The road’, about a father and a son. I broke down. On many occasions when we drove from my house to our apartment. I broke down. In the morning when I woke up crying, having dreamt that somehow my dad had been restored to life. I broke down. Funny feeling to open your eyes in the morning with the tears already in them. You were there, when I was crying desperately.
And when you cried, I was also there. And when you cried it was mostly because of something I did. Because I didn’t give you enough attention, or because I was chasing some other girl, just a momentary distraction, but still, sometimes a big momentary distraction. But I stayed, I always got back to you, and you stayed.
Or the time I was so afraid I had irreparable heart-damage from snorting cocaine, some six or seven ridiculous little times. And you took me to the hospital and you got me to see the head of the cardiology department or something and he said it was entirely impossible that I had any heart damage. Which my doctor later confirmed. I was scared shitless, but you were there. You called me Wall-E for getting into awkward situations like that. Or for being distracted and somehow managing to get chew-gum all over my hands, while daydreaming.
You were also there when I wanted to kill myself when I’d written some script that I had written completely in vain, because the director decided to try something different. Partly my own fault for missing a deadline.
You were there when I was in the deepest pit of depression, just reading, reading, reading, and going for groceries and cooking, and reading. And you were mad. Because I read books, and nothing changed. The books about psychology didn’t make me any happier, they didn’t get us money. Money was very important in your family. Money and status. And we both wanted more of it. And you pushed me and pushed me to get more of it. Though I travelled roads less travelled to get it, because I didn’t have the right passport or something to get on the regular roads to it. Didn’t much like the traffic there either.
And so I did plays with an alcoholic director. Which you qualified as a loser. You were quick to qualify people as losers. And I hate that word. But you were usually right, if I’m honest. And sometimes you called me a loser, but only when you were really mad for something I did or didn’t do. Which sometimes could amount to twice a week. Which was a lot. And then we both wanted to walk out on each other. But we didn’t. We had a lot of sympathy for each other. Not just love, but sympathy. And that’s not the same. Sympathy might be even more fundamental. You were a small, tough, clever fighter. I always saw the small child in you. A lonely child, I needed to protect and spoil. Which I always did, even if you didn’t always think so. Most of the time you agreed that I did.
And my God, -I can say God, you thought I was a closet-case Christian anyway, based on a combination of my fears and the habit of taking care of others- it was so, so hard. So very hard. We always had to worry about money. My dad died. I hated my job. Your parents hated me and looked down on me and I was already loathing myself for my low or completely non-existing status. And all your friends were doctors, or going to be doctors, or God, neurosurgeons. And I felt like nothing. Even if I commanded some respect, somehow, with your doctor friends. It was tough. And you and I were just kids. Just kids. Living in a place, so small, very small, but cosy. And then you wanted more space, so I moved our stuff to a bigger apartment in the same house. And you left me to handle all that by myself, you were studying at home, and I had a hard teaching assignment at the time, and you wanted me to go to Palestine with you, the next month. And I was so, so mad at you then. Maybe the first time ever that I got mad at you. But I managed. And when you first saw the new apartment, which cost about double as the old one, you said you didn’t like it.
And I quit my job to go with you to Palestine, which had to be done in June, because you had to study in July. I was simply too flexible for my own good. So we went. And your parents wanted to keep you home. One of those many times they tried to kidnap you. A threat that was always hanging in the air. But you always escaped, with some bruises sometimes. And you had escaped then. And we left. Early in the morning. To Palestine. From one family war zone to a much bigger war zone. And we were one day earlier. We were rushing to catch our flight, but our flight was only the next day they told us at check-in. And so your crazy parents thought we had already left, when we hadn’t. Which was fortunate. And so we spent the night in a hotel close to the airport that we couldn’t afford. And we had a very formative experience in Palestine.
You were just a tiny little trooper, more back-pack than girl. And you had eyes like the oriental princess in a Disney movie. My mum liked to say so. But it’s true. And I was wearing your golden ‘evil eye’ round my neck. And you were wearing my golden Pisces necklace round yours. We were very adventurous sort of people. Especially as a combination.
What worried me most was having children. Not that I didn’t want children with you. But I was afraid your mother would
a. kill them
b. kidnap them, fly them to Iran
c. brainwash them, and make them hate me
d. a combination of any of the above
No, that wasn’t much of an option. I had just lost my father. I wanted my children to have one big, very big, happy family. No evil grandmother witch who called me ‘the sheep’. Even being nice was wrong in her eyes.
It was hard to let you go. Or more exactly: to push you away. You made it a bit easier with your regular outbursts of anger. That made me forget the child in you that aroused my nurturing impulses so easily and so deeply. You had a certain loneliness that I liked to lift from you. We did spend a lot of really cosy moments together. Even when I was one blob of depressed, suicidal, frustrated mess of an old man. Yes, an old man. Ancient. You didn’t let me slip away at those times, not completely. You had me hanging on there to a reed, in my morass of bile and self-loathing. And for a long time you read everything I wrote, unless it was too much about girls. And you liked it and you believed in me, much more than I believed in myself.
And if I felt completely miserable and worthless, I could still think I must be doing something right, because I am with you and we have intellectual conversations about any topic. So you kept some framework of my ego intact. Even if the roof had come crashing down and the walls were full of holes. Quite like our apartment, where the wind just blew right through the roof. Which was fine in summer, but Siberian in winter. I remember that winter when I was wearing all my sweaters, and reading ‘the cider house rules’ by John Irving, under the covers in bed, while you were studying at home. I saved more than 400 euros on heating that year. And I lost my mind only once, from loneliness, cold and malnutrition. And I could have saved a bit more if you hadn’t had an other fight with your mother, about me, and come home, your real home by now, to study with me. And I cooked while you studied, and I did the dishes, and we watched something in the evening, and I wrote while you slept. You slept so much. You had this affliction that made you tired. So you slept, a lot. And I wrote at my desk, while you were in bed, some two meters away. And you looked so peaceful and so soundly asleep. And when you woke we ate. And you continued to study a little bit. Or we went out. We went out so much. And spent the money we saved on clothes, heating, electricity. Looking back it’s almost impossible to see how we managed all that time. If your parents had supported you in any fair way, I could have saved quite a lot of money. But it was a small price to pay, back then, to live together. Only later did you say you were happy at that time. Only later. Back then it was never enough. Never enough. Money was a constant worry, but what we did manage to buy we enjoyed. We were both rather spoiled, even if we shared the distant memory of a childhood in relative poverty, we were spoiled. And it was bitter to feel poor, even if we did live rich.
And most of the time we found a way to forget our (mostly mine, maybe) financial troubles. And we had long, deep- or we thought so- discussions about a lot of things, and we analysed every person we met, and we laughed a lot, and discussed movies, and I talked crazy diets out of your head, and you tried to talk the more impractical plans out of my head, and got mad when I spent too much time with friends.
It feels like an entire life-time. And it was. It had enough challenges, enough laughs, enough setbacks, frustrations, pains, sexual experimenting (let’s be brief: we tried everything), enough comfort, enough talk, enough cosiness, more affection than most couples pack in their life-times, and so on, and so on. I died a few times when I was with you. I died when my dad died, I died and was reborn after my first miserable job, I died a couple of times when my manuscripts got rejected, and I got reborn when your parents tried to kill me. It really mystifies me how I can still look so young. I have felt 80 at times.
There’s no point listing everything we did. The free love experiment alone could fill an entire volume and we already staged a play about that.
We had days that were days like days should always be. You coming home from class. Walking up our road. To our apartment with view of the river. That view came free even for poor punks like us. And I was sitting in our open window, waiting for you to arrive. And we waved at each other. And you said my pet name that you invented for me. That I won’t repeat now, because I’m already crying, and I had dinner ready. And I served you and we ate. And the sun was shining and it was warm inside. And we could hear birds chirping. And the city was waking to student night life. Slowly. And there was the smell of the neighbours’ barbecue not far off. And after dinner some fifteen of our friends would fill the house till somewhere near three a.m. Or a pothead medical student would crash on our couch after asking me to hit him with a whip. Yeah, we met some crazy people. Almost as crazy as we were.
Crazy kids, just kids, in love, and sympathy, lots of sympathy. And we lived there. In that house. Near the river. With our best friends at the time only a few houses away. In that dusty, windy apartment, that felt more like a boat when it stormed, there we lived. First all the way downstairs, then al the way upstairs.
Until I moved 1,200 kilometres to get away. Not from you. But from your parents that I resented by then, like I have never resented anyone in my life. And don’t want to think about that again and taint those perfect summer days.
Those I want to remember. The summer days. When I slipped chocolate in your bag when you left for class. When we woke up in a big bed with an other couple. After drinking an insane amount of bottle of wines sitting next to the river. Bottles we kept buying, already uncorked, in a night shop. And you threw up on a small flower lot when we walked back in the morning. And even then you looked adorable. Really, adorable. Those summer days I want to remember. And conclude: for I have lived.
In between all the fears, the dread of live, I did live. And maybe I’m prejudiced but I never seem to meet people who have experienced something so profound like we experienced on those summer days. When we sat in the park and I made up some lengthy funny story about the ducks surrounding us and having a conversation about how they would go about selling us dope. We ruled the night, you and I. And the city. Every corner of that city holds more than one moment of us.
Like that time I bumped into you. Completely by accident. I hadn’t seen you in months. You didn’t get the postcard I sent you from Portugal. Looking back of course it’s clear your mum hid it. If I hadn’t bumped into you that day, I would have left for Slovenia most likely by the end of the academic year. I had a teaching assignment in a town called Velenje. I jumped up and down from pure joy when I got that assignment, but I stayed. I stayed because I bumped into you that day. And I cooked for you, because I was dazzled by your black curls and the red nail polish. Such exotic beauty. And you had a very literary voice in your mails. And you fell for me when I said you had such beautiful hands when we were doing the dishes. And I heard it in the silence that we’d be together. And we were. And how many girls did I reject just in those few weeks after that dinner? I won’t count. I chose you. Though it didn’t feel like a choice. You admired me for going all the way in chasing my dreams. I admired you for the toughness with which you studied and the determination you had in chasing your dreams. And for standing up against your parents when they said I wasn’t good enough for you, again and again and again. I had to move 1,200 kilometres to break away from that dark parental maelstrom. And your temper, when you got mad for something small, you went for nuclear destruction, and I hated that. And I warned you so many times, that’s not how I did things. This violence. And you said I could never understand how much you liked to be with me and that was the reason why you went so outrageously berserk when I got home late.
The summer days. Let’s remember the summer days. When we ate French fries at the terrace of our favourite place, the entire city feeling like OUR city, went home to watch a movie and saw our candle-lit apartment fill up with all of our friends.
And let’s bask in the all healing eternity of those moments, when all our world came crashing down, plenty of times, and all that held us up, was I for you, and me for you.