Four years ago this month we were packing up to spend the month of June in Munich as a try-out. Did we want to move for a temporary contract or stay in California? Did the Mothership of Beloved’s employer want to accept him as an expensive, temporary employee? By the end of the month we knew we wanted to take the temporary assignment. I remember the night we decided to accept the offer how I took a few moments to stare up at the night sky. I remember the softness, the warmth of the late June air. How the church bells just kept marking the passing of time and I knew that if we came, we might not leave. We’d be in Munich for a while.
We took four months to make the leap. We sorted our worldly processions into three piles: Move to Germany, Put in Storage, and Set Free. We took too many bookcases. We should have taken the Christmas decorations. I’m glad we took the baby webber grill. We did not take the shovels, the hedge trimmers, and half the kitchen gear. We’d be back we thought. We’d be in an apartment with no lawn to tend.
We liked it here. We extended our temporary contract from three years to five. While the ink dried, word came that Beloved’s employer was going to be shut down by the Mothership. Suddenly, there was no job to return home to in California. If we went back, it would be to Chicago but only if this other subsidiary of the Mothership had a place for Beloved. Or if not Chicago, it would be some other insurance company, most likely on the East Coast as that is where most are located. We were not returning to Santa Rosa. We sold the house and started to think about where we wanted to spend the remaining ten years or so until Beloved is ready to retire. Stay in Munich, stay in Europe in another city, or head back to Chicago?
For the last four days I’ve been dreaming basically the same dream: Items, people, and tasks that are important to me are in separate rooms or locations and I am struggling to recover and to reconcile all of them. One part of the dream is accepting that there will be loss, which my dream self is resisting. Most of the dream is being caught in the middle of the task, uncertain that anything will be recovered or if all must be surrendered.
We are going to stay. We are moving to a local contract which means we need to close down the storage unit in California which is the last material, non-human connection we have to the United States, to our old life. We still have family, sons and daughters as well as brothers and sisters and aging parents but we will no longer have a place in the country of our passport. At least not until we return, date uncertain. When we visit , we’ll sleep in hotel rooms and the bedrooms of friends. In our homeland we will be visitors, not residents. We will now begin to live fully here in Germany. I will remain American and I will continue to measure my recipes in cups and listen to Fresh Air via the internet but I will be all the way here, not partly there.
On Thursday we’ll take our last flight home paid for by the temporary contract. We go to visit family on the west coast, to see a nearly grown son walk the graduation stage, to attend a professional conference, and finally to take the last sort on the storage unit. We’ll spend two days going through all the boxes, making snap decisions, and then living with the consequences. Three piles: What goes to Germany; What goes with Beloved’s sons; and What is set free? We have a small cheat as a back up plan. If there are a few things we’re not ready to give up, we can ship them off to Beloved’s sister on the East Coast for future claim but I’m hoping not to take that option. My dreams tell me to consolidate or let go.
Purging stuff is liberating. It felt like we were cleaning the barnacles off the boat called life when we got ready for the first move to Germany. Purging stuff is terrifying especially because I am one of those people who attach memory to things and places. If the thing goes, does the memory go too? Would it be as if it had never happened? “Open the hands,” I murmur to myself.
My mother was a genealogist. She spent decades of her life searching for the family she lost before she reached first grade. I went through her files and found not just the details of her ancestor searches but also the first communion certificate for her half brother, killed by a drunk driver when he was but 24 years of age. I find wedding photos of her older, full brother’s third or fourth wedding plus letters from previous wives asking as to his whereabouts due to a few debts that needed settling. Some of these files I will hold onto for a little while yet but much of it is ready to be set free. They were important to my mother but they do not have to be important to me. My uncles are gone. They have lived their lives. And so has my mother. “Open the hands,” I murmur to my anxious self.
As I write this it occurs to me that I have never even thought about buying Euro-measure devices or tackle a recipe written in German. And then I realize that maybe I’m ready to take that step. Maybe its time for Euro-measure to lie alongside American measure in my baking drawer.
This is what my dreams have been trying to tell me.
Its time to finish arriving.