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S(Mall) trips

Updated: May 19, 2023

Today I worked out for the first time since February 27: I took literally one month off, the longest I've taken in years, even through the pandemic and international travel. I kept waiting to feel better, for the strange aches in my shoulders to go away, for my throat to stop (very mildly) hurting. For me to stop feeling like I had a sinus infection, long COVID, or any myriad of deadly or communicable diseases that start with sore throats and weak immune systems. If I get into my OCD mind, I'll obsess how maybe I'm not over it yet, that maybe I shouldn't have gone and worn myself out, but the hell with it. I'm testing a theory that malaise comes from stagnation, from abandoning our healthy routines during acute sickness, and that it dissipates with movement. It felt incredible to be using my muscles again, to feel the way my body hasn't let me down: that even after a month, I hit a lot of my reps. In the dressing room afterward, I was going to take a pump photo because that's how BA I was feeling, but then there was a naked woman moving to the shower. So I left for the grocery store instead, where I walked home a giant jug of water, blueberries, and orange-ginger tonic, stuffing things under my arms and double-holding them with my wrist, cursing the wind and myself for deciding to go bagless, something you just don't do in Berlin.


A few days last week I journeyed half a mile to the Arcaden shopping center. On Wednesday I stood in the tiny dressing room of Tally Weijl, trying to pull the curtain closed, baffled how Germans have no-gap public bathrooms and yet the dressing room was a peep show. I tried on pants after pants and noticed how flushed I was in the mirror; I was so hot after the trip that I walked around without a sweater, even as others sipped coffee in puffy coats. I bought potatoes to-go from Kartoffelbox and walked them home; I measured my temperature and wondered how I could feel so hot and still be normal. I drank cold fizzy water and spread my loot out in the apartment: 75 Euros worth of clothes, including high-waist straight-leg pants, such the fashion here. They fit so tight around the waist I had to remind myself that 12 Euros is the cost of a meal, but pants last longer. 12 euros is cheap for vanity and making me feel sort of new.


On Thursday, I set up my bank account from N26, one of those virtual banks catered to the digital age, the people who travel and do everything online. I'd started the process in my basement bunker but was never able to connect to an agent to verify me; I wondered if it was the app, or my credentials, but it worked just fine where I am now. I went through a ten-minute video chat with a young guy wearing headphones who said things like "Listen ma'am, listen, show me the other page" (I wonder where he learned that customer service uses the directive listen) only to abort the process when I couldn't get an SMS. Lesson learned: when signing up for something abroad, activate your original SIM card so you can get SMS messages. I took it as a sign that I needed to verify with Oma that it was okay that I used her address for my registration, and for the gym, the whole reason I wanted a bank account to begin with. She said yes in the same conversation that she told me Opa is pale and weak, that there is so much cancer in his bones still, and even his lung, that he probably doesn't have more than half a year left. We shouldn't be sad, Oma went on, Opa is an old man and up until this point, he's lived a healthy life. But I thought the surgery would maybe buy him another couple of years, I said, as if me saying it would make it true. Nein, she said. Sometimes, her voice drops so low I remember that for decades, both her and Opa smoked. Nein, das glaube ich nicht.

6.50 Euros. Could use salt and pepper...

After depositing Euros into my N26 account in the Arcaden at a "partner store" (the bank partners with various drug stores around the country that serve as ATMs where you can show the teller a bar code and hand them the cash and they'll deposit it into your account), I sat at the potato place relishing in the small success, eating a plateful of potatoes and sausage with kreuter-quark. And then, like I've been anxious to do for nearly a month, I signed up for McFit, a Europe-wide gym that they have in Munich and Spain, too. The day prior, I'd walked into the gym, heart pounding, always nervous to talk to people in general, let alone in German. I tried to speak it at first but then the man was like, Is English easier for you? And I said yes probably, if it was okay with him. He smiled and said yes, that was good with him, then explained the details through a heavily accented smirk: that I couldn't pay for the membership in cash, that I'd have to find someone in Europe--didn't I know anyone in Europe that I trusted/that trusted me with using their bank account? What were my grandparents, like 100? Yes, I said, 90. He said the easiest thing to do would be for me to just ask them to pay for it, get a German bank account, or find a Germany boyfriend.

my favorite bicycle in all of Berlin in my Oma's block

On Sunday I went to Oma's; it was my first time visiting her since the Thursday after Danielle and Daniel left. She's only a couple of miles up the road now, technically close enough to walk, but I carried two bags and rode the bus. She made us carrots and mashed potatoes and we ate sausage, too--she threw the sausages in boiling water and then scolded them as they wiggled: bleib jetzt ganz! I filled up our plates and handed her one, and she pretended she was at a fine restaurant and I was the cook, Ach dankeschoen Fräulein, wie schoen!

Her carrots are something I remember from more than a decade ago: sweet and buttery, always so orange, with Petersilie on top. As we ate, she told me she's sat at Opa's bedside every single day except for maybe two or three, and that it's sad, but it is what it is, and he's not coming home again. She said she knows I'd envisioned my Germany trip differently, that Alles war ganz normal, und plotzlich so eine Nachricht. She told me she plans to keep the apartment even after he passes, that she'll get along just fine. Living near us in America, she added, löhnt nicht.

After lunch I sat on the living room floor, stuffing more things into my big suitcase, my home-base "closet" that I'm keeping at Oma's all summer long. I told her about my plans to visit Iceland, Munich and Spain, and to go dancing soon, and she said it's hard to meet people nowadays, that somehow the whole city has changed, and not for the better. She said she used to wear a nice dress and pumps and meet Opa out at the theater; he'd be dressed in nice leather shoes and a white t-shirt. They looked good, she smiled, and people these days don't go around like that, at least not in her part of the city. I nodded: it's something she says a lot. I was wearing some Express jeans with knees so tattered that the threads have torn apart and all you see is bare skin.

She talked about how she keeps busy and doesn't sit around and cry about how Opa isn't there--that we shouldn't worry about her like that, that her personality is independent like mine. I wondered about her then, all the ways being partnered to someone as controlling as my Opa might have suppressed the person she really is. It's strange to think that even well into our 80s we maintain some sense of who we are, versus who we've pretended or tried to be.


Other small things:

a Saturday stroll
behind the scenes of Saturday stroll

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