This is a letter of thank you, twenty-two years later. A letter I have carried around inside of me, in some form or another, for all of the years. Because you, who you were and how you were and the way you loved me, it changed me. And once the changing happens, that kind of thing never leaves.
I was fifteen. I needed to leave, and I needed to find things. I flew, for the first time in my life, an eight and a half hour flight, alone. And you were there at the airport, my mother’s friend, waiting for me. I remember your hair, blond and cut in a bob against your chin, and I remember how you smiled when you saw me coming through customs, and there was a sense of recognition in your face, and I felt from that first beginning this kind of belonging.
I remember travelling in those months, getting lost in all the wonderful kinds of ways, going to see new things. And days or weeks later, when I would come back, you were there, and I could tell you about it, and you would ask questions, and I felt like I knew what it was like to have someone believe in me.
These were the things I loved.
I remember coffee, first thing in the morning, so early, and how I learned from you that I do best this way, waking up and taking the time to settle and listen and enter into the day. And kaffee trinken in the afternoon. and the darkest of dark coffees we would get at Karstadt after shopping.
I remember watching the movie Ghost with you, so many times, to try to learn more german, and how we would have all these conversations about the movie, and about translation, and about what we wanted. I remember the long stairway in your home, and the pounding of my feet down it every morning, never having been one to walk gently. I remember dark beer and brats and Pommes Frites with mayo from this place close to your home. And the light show at the fountain gardens. And how in the spring, there were roses everywhere.
I remember the way you worked for things, planned for them, and did what was needed to make them happen. And how that made things feel possible. Like the surprise trip you planned for him to England. Do you remember that? Sneaking around to make the travel plans and reservations, and all the kids waking him up in the morning with sparklers. Sparklers! It was the most beautiful thing. Because there was all this love, and the love turned in to the doing of things, the living of life.
And I remember you. And that I had not known a woman like you before, and that it made me feel not so alone, because it was also like me. Some had called it stubborn, a set jaw that wants what it wants and doesn’t quit easy. You showed me these things were not my enemy, teaching me how to not be at war with myself. You were determined and strong, and spoke your mind, and didn’t ask others to tell you what was ok. You were willing to challenge things, and to seek, and to choose devotion. For years and years, whenever I would hear the voice in my head that said that women “should” be something in order to be a “real” woman (delicate, pleasing, quiet, careful of saying what she really thinks or feels) I would think of you, and it saved me from the kind of crazy that will make you turn into someone you don’t recognize anymore. Knowing you, who you were, made it ok for me to be me.
And I remember how human you were, honest and open and solidly real. A heart the size of whole countries. And when you were in the room, everything became more alive and interesting.
What I am trying to say is this. There are times when we need different things, for reasons we know, for reasons we can never understand, for reasons that don't become clear until years later. We just do. I was fifteen, trying to find something that had no name.
I needed you. And you were there.
I love you.