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Back to normal, ish

I've been jamming to 90s Love Songs on Apple Music because this is the best channel ever: Backstreet Boys, Alanis Morissette, Goo Goo Dolls. Seal. Spice Girls. The songs I used to listen to on rainy days, spread out on the carpet in Mom's living room. It's the kind of drizzly here again today that you can hardly see until you're in it. Last Saturday I thought I'd try to make a habit of walking to a bakery and getting myself a treat every weekend, but I don't feel like it: I fell asleep rather quickly last night, and early, and dreamt a lot, but woke up at like 7 something with my heart beating fast. Felt hot. Drank water. Measured my temp, like I have been every morning that I feel a little "off": it's always between 98.0 and 98.3, but sometimes it gets to 98.4 and then I worry. I watched the NashSevereRx YouTube feed for a while as tornados moved through Columbia and remembered Tabby, Danielle and me running around the front yard under dark summer skies, Lisa Patton or Davis Nolan on the news (though Tabby loved Lelan), Dad walking in and out of the house to look at the clouds. Tabby and I used to dream of being meteorologists; just the other Tabby texted about living in DC, I miss the tornado watches! I told her every time the train rumbles by here, I still think it's thunder groaning.


On Wednesday I went to Oma's after the gym. I made maybe the most delicious salmon I've ever made: butter and oil, the pan just right, perfectly fried with pepper and lemon and salt, crispy skin and tender flesh. We ate it with salzkartoffeln and a bright, beautiful assortment of buttery vegetables: zucchini, tomaten, leeks (Porree), bell pepper (Paprika), carrots (Mohrrüben), celery (Sellerie), can of corn (Mais). As usual, Oma hopped from one subject to the next, truly a talent to be able to fill space with words and stories. She reminisced on the romantic gestures of East and West Berlin, how Opa would sometimes surprise her with bananas, oranges and chocolate: delicacies she couldn't get in East.

One of the staff from the hospital called while we were eating to ask where Opa was now: they moved him on Monday from the Waldkrakenhaus to Johannesstift Wichernkrankhaus, a rehabilitation hospital just up the road. Oma always describes this particular man as "lustig" and says he brings such a good energy into the room and probably cares about all his patients and Opa isn't exactly special, but it's still sweet that he called. When she hung up, she told me that in the past when people died, their loved ones would walk around for a whole year in black and cry. She laughed and agreed that it was as terrible as it sounded, but then her brow furrowed when she reflected that she outlived her own child: that Wednesday would have been Mom's 66th birthday.

For dessert, we shared a puddingschnecke, an apple turnover, and a piece of Möhnkuchen: Danielle and Moms' favorite, which I tried again and can confirm I still don't like, it's sticky and strange. I'd bought the treats a day earlier at this cute pink bakery about 20 minutes up the road and kept them in the fridge, so they weren't exactly freshly baked, but still good. I got Oma to talk a little about Mom, that she had her when she was 22, (she married Opa at 20), that every parent thinks they have a cute kid but Dat war ein susset baby, so niedlich, with such a doll face. She said Mom was ein bravet kind and a good student who loved learning languages, particularly English and French. She didn't finish her French course because she got approval to work abroad in America with a company that Opa knew. I told her I thought she came abroad because of her boyfriend at the time, Stefan, and she said no she doesn't think so--that maybe it played a role, but Mom had always wanted to come to America. When I asked her if it was a surprise that she decided to stay, she said no, that everyone thought good things of America -- that it was a "Zügnummer für alle".

Growing up, Mom would sometimes reflect on why she came to America at all. Everything here is just backwards, she would say, she didn't realize how good she had it.


I visited Opa on Wednesday and Thursday. The first thing Opa said to me on Wednesday was, Man, ich will zu Hause. I held his hand and asked him what was wrong, and he said he just sits in bed all day, that nobody even comes to move his legs or anything. But then knock knock and in came a physical therapist, an older woman with short blonde hair and glasses, who said she'd come back for Opa when we weren't there unless we could promise to have zero commentary (a real challenge for Oma). We promised and watched her rub essential oil lotion on him and give him a small massage; she helped him bend his knees and raise his arms. She brought the color back to his face, heat to his hands. She told Opa not to push himself too much, that he was doing amazing (much better than she expected) but that everything needed to be slow, because he was healing from a major operation. She was very caring and called Opa charming but was also very German, hushing Oma whenever Oma started to talk.

Opa told her he wanted to go home, and she said she'd like to take a cross-country cycling trip, would like to go hiking, would like to do a lot of things, but in order for HIM to go home, he needs to be able to walk and stand first--your wife is no junge Frau and your Enkelkind is going home, and you have cancer--this is not a spaziergang, cancer is a serious thing, and it's in your lungs too, and cancer in the lungs is not always fatal but it can get be nasty when you start having a hard time breathing. She wanted to know how long he'd smoked cigarettes, and he said he hasn't smoked for 20 years but began when he was 20, which means he smoked for nearly 50 years. The physical therapist said she did, too, and now she takes all the cigarette money and uses it to go on vacation and buy nice things, like a kayak. Furchtbar, they all agreed, how much money they wasted and what they did to their health.

The therapist told Opa that if he was feeling up for it on Thursday, she would come around 3 pm and set him in a wheelchair and roll him outside. I was so excited that I went to visit again on Thursday when the sun was shining and it was in the mid-60s, but soon after arriving it started to rain and there was actual real thunder and a blitz of lightning and the physical therapist came in and sat down next to Opa and said, so my colleagues told me today that you aren't doing so well, what's going on? And Opa sighed and puffed. He seemed tired, his hands were cold again, he had an IV. The physical therapist told him he needs to eat and drink, above all else, to avoid a blood clot. Oma called me Friday morning to tell me they rushed Opa to the hospital Thursday night because he had tweaked his new hip somehow and they had to set it back into place.

I think maybe that's the hardest part of the illness for everyone involved: the sick person fantasizes that they are better, and everyone starts to believe it, too, because it could be true, couldn't it? I want Opa to die comfortably in his home, not hooked up to machines in the hospital, staring at the wall for most of the day. But for him to die there, he first needs to walk: he first needs to get healthy.


I got a lot done with work this week, but also spent hours doing Illustrator, tweaking my roadkill animals yet again, and sending an email to a wildlife rehab place back home to see if they could use a sticker donation. I worked enough in PR to know that it's basically delusional of me to think that an organization would use an off-brand design to promote their products, but still I wanted to try. Of course I didn't hear back but then ended up working on bumper stickers for myself. With Danielle and Austin's help I've got it narrowed down to two or three main background options (the solid yellow, the yellow block at the bottom, or the yellow block in the middle). I'm kind of leaning toward the yellow block at the bottom, with each animal having its own 7.5" by 3.75" sticker?


I chatted with Sara for a while yesterday for her birthday; it was raining there and raining here. By the end of the call we decided it's more realistic than not for me to meet her and Paul in Switzerland in mid-September, after I go to Spain. My major concern was being in Deutschland for more than 183 days since that could trigger the tax rule, but I'm spending two weeks abroad in Iceland in June and probably 2+ weeks in Spain in August, so that's a whole month that I "get back"? It's just hard to imagine my life that far in advance--it's only April, and this last month has dragged on and on and on.

There's still ice on the sidewalk some of the mornings, but I caught a sign of spring in the grocery store the other day, a display bin stuffed with packets of Hollandaise mix that read: Endlich wieder Spargelzeit. I walked back and forth, contemplating buying a bundle of white asparagus but then decided it deserved more than me half-ass cooking it. I want to celebrate it and all the things it represents, memories of health and the sea, Oma and Opa and me vacationing together ten years ago. Heritage and this other "home", however foreign. A reminder of seasons and how all things change.


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I love how your mom is striking a pose and her hair is blonde!?!?

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