Authors: Ida Hattemer-Higgins
After the incident with the door, Erich even considered not saying
to her. If he wanted, he could certainly pull this off. When angered with another fellow who lived in the building, he had done exactly this—for twenty-five years. Even after repeated pleas from third parties to relent. But Erich believed in an apology. When, after twenty-six years and three months, the man did apologize, Erich had
been more than willing to drink a beer with him. But he did like to hear that someone was sorry. It was worth the wait.
His general aggravation with the girl had led him to do something he would normally
do: he had read the contents of some of her discarded mail. He learned that she worked as a guide, gave historical walking tours, and although she considered herself an intellectual and read a great deal (or made a great deal of photocopies) of Foucault and Stephen Greenblatt, and for a while took a close interest in Rosa Luxemburg, otherwise, for the most part, she was merely interested in the Third Reich. You know: who was guilty here, and who was guilty there; the Auschwitz trials; how many died here, how many died there. To judge by the papers that went into the recycling, she seemed to make all sorts of photocopies related to gossip about whores like Magda Goebbels, Geli Raubal, and Eva Braun, and he had once peeked through her door as she went in and seen a bookshelf with the complete diaries of Joseph Goebbels, with their distinctive spines. Erich thought it was a most unpleasant business—foreigners who sensationalize or even think they can call Germany to task. Where had she been when he had taken a stand against his own father, the old Nazi who didn’t like his (Erich’s) leather pants (that was a laugh!), been partially disowned and had to make a new life for himself? Not even a glimmer in her
eye, that’s where.
That Margaret Taub!—she was so sympathetic at first glance, such a soft-looking girl, almost clownish, as if she were ready to be touched, ready to feel pain over anything. After a while, though, you saw that she was soft enough, but so dreamy as to be almost criminally oblivious. All in all, Erich thought, the impression was of a poisonous cobra that believes itself, very genuinely, to be a small dog.
But Erich kept saying
. The trouble was this: although she never seemed surprised at his presence in the courtyard, she never seemed to recognize him either, even after six years in the flat. Yes, she didn’t seem to know him, and although she never withdrew that half-smile, she also never looked at him. Her eyes always found something to rest on off to the side. Perhaps it was for this reason that he continued to say hello: there would be no satisfaction in withholding his friendliness if she wouldn’t notice him doing it.
Today he watched her. There was something more distressing about her as she locked up her bicycle, more wild-eyed. (Recall: this was the very day the city turned to flesh.)
and Margaret gave a kind of cry, as though she
had been about to scream but quickly suppressed the noise before it escaped. She turned her head and took a few swaying steps toward her stairwell, paused as if to regain confidence, and then darted away like an animal into its burrow.
Erich took off his gloves and went in his own ivy-covered house. He opened the file cabinet in the downstairs room that was black with weeks-old cigarette smoke. Without much trouble, he found the heavy notebook he was looking for, thick with several paper clips holding in loose pieces of paper.
It was a diary. He had found it once in the trash, along with a number of Margaret’s other belongings. He had held on to it only as evidence, should it ever come to that: evidence of the outrage!
people in this building, they threw reams of paper matter thoughtlessly together with the general trash!
(The irony—that Margaret with her obsessive privacy, her self-isolating ways wanton in their thoroughness, would be hounded by precisely such a busybody as this. She had thrown the journal in the general trash expressly because the paper receptacle was dry-looking and odorless—it seemed a comfortable place to dig through and steal from. The general trash, the foul-smelling option, appeared to be a roiling abyss that swallowed up far more conclusively. Little had she known!)
Erich thought, now, that he would read the diary. The English would be a struggle. It was the English that had stopped him from perusing it before. There had been, however, reasons to learn English once, reasons having to do with international anarchism. And, Erich told himself consolingly, he liked a challenge.
And then it happened that Erich the
read several long passages Margaret Taub had once written. He became quite interested; he encountered a Margaret very different from the Margaret he knew. The American, it seemed, had not always been as she was now.
February 18, 1999
(Ah!—Erich thought—an old diary then, from when she first moved in. Not a bad thing at all.)
My dearest diary,
Why do I write to you? Why do I write!!! I’m in love, you see. And I’m too proud to really talk to anybody about it (not that I know anyone here anyway) because honestly, I’m afraid I’m in
love in the most terrible way—the way of taking oneself and one’s situation too seriously, of the mind brushing over the same sad fibers of conversation one had with the beloved with such loving repetition that if it were alcohol, I’d have passed out long ago.
It’s Amadeus. I’m in love in the way I thought only thirteen-year-olds could be and I haven’t felt anything close to it for such a long time and the terrible thing is that I don’t think he loves me back. It’s ridiculous, this kind of full-blown sweet torture, that the poets know so well and is so utterly ridiculous, where one vacillates between intense ecstasy and intense agony throughout the day, because one feels as if one were walking a tightrope where falling one way will mean waves of joy unknown to humankind and falling the other way will mean the darkest hell. Your mood simply depends on which possibility you take most seriously at the time. Meanwhile, you attempt to stay on the tightrope, because that way at least you preserve a chance at the ultimate beauty. For instance, you would never attempt to force the beloved with an ultimatum even though that is obviously the quickest escape from this terrible state. It’s the best idea nevertheless, because that way, if he says “no chance, not now, not ever,” then you could at least start grieving and move on. But no, you don’t have the courage. You would rather stay on the hideous tightrope.
Amadeus is his beautiful name, and he was a good friend of my father’s. I had the sense to look him up after I got to Berlin. Dad used to get dreamy when he talked about him, as though just because Amadeus was behind the Wall, he was dead. I think he talked that way because Amadeus couldn’t travel and Dad felt guilty for being free.
Here’s what I know so far: Amadeus Vilnius is his full name (no middle) from Magdeburg in Brandenburg. His parents are both of Russian-German stock—ethnic Germans who lived for centuries in Russia and were driven out by Stalin during the war. He’s forty-four, a professor of Russian history. He teaches mostly theory, speaks perfect Russian, also English and French. Needless to say, he’s brilliant. He is not particularly good-looking, although he has china blue eyes with black lashes around them that are wonderful. Christina says that he looks and moves like a snail that has lost its shell, and that’s entirely true. He keeps his
shoulders pulled up for the most part, and he is all around slightly higher on one side. He smokes continually, Gauloises Légères. He’s about six feet tall, and his hair is graying rather severely, and he’s very unhappy about that. He laughs frequently and amicably, puts people at ease the way he laughs. He has a wife. He’s been married to her for two and a half years—her name is Asja and she’s as pretty as a picture. I saw her at the library once. Very skinny, with bird-like bones and high color in her cheeks, dark hair that stands up, and lovely clothing—brown and auburn clothing that suits her perfectly, and matches him, actually. In other words, I can’t compete with her physically. Beyond that, he has a girlfriend of a year and a half whom he was with last year when he was on sabbatical. She is nineteen years old (like me—hardly a coincidence?), Russian, from a musical Jewish family; she lives in Petersburg. She is starting to rebel, Amadeus says, and having a rough time of it. He took her virginity. He says that she lied to him and said she had had many experiences before. I don’t know whether I believe him on that count. Supposedly, although her dependence on him has become a burden, he doesn’t have the heart to call her in Petersburg and break it off, because of her precarious position trying to establish some kind of independence from her parents. Many of her childhood friends have stopped talking to her completely and her sister as well, because she quit the orchestra. But Amadeus says, being young, she has to believe in something, and she has made him her new god. So he thinks it would be devastating to her for him to forsake her. Asja (the pretty wife) does not know about Yulia (the Russian girl), or about me. Yulia knows about Asja, but not about me. Obviously I know about Asja and Yulia. Hopefully there are no others.
So I am the idiot. And you know, I suspect that I am the least cherished of the three of us, and not only because I’m the newest addition.
It’s awful. You can see what an idiot I am. If it weren’t for the all-consuming love I have for him, I would never in a million years stand for this kind of degradation. Oh Margaret, Margaret, Margaret! You will read this later and say to yourself, Look at what the loneliness did. I have always said in these pages that it is only the emotionally vulnerable who fall in love. And look at me.
I should have taken precautions, knowing that these first months in Germany would be difficult. And I tried my best. I got plenty of books (well, maybe not enough truly stimulating books), and I traveled. I tried. I feel as though falling in love were catching a disease. Because I don’t know how to finish this.
Well, maybe I should help you understand what I do see in Amadeus. The above description makes him sound awful. It’s this: he’s lovely in every way. We recognized each other’s intelligence almost immediately because it’s the same type of intelligence (and believe me, not everyone recognizes my intelligence). What he is doing with all these women is the same thing I do with my multiple men, you know so well: trying to gain a secret power that won’t have any risk, trying to put a wall up against disappointment—the dominating pleasure of the juggler, the clandestine thrill, the sense of quiet self-congratulation. And oh, the way he responds differently to me every time I talk to him is so suspenseful; the way his personality changes. His obvious vulnerability and cravenness, but also his endless sweetness. The way he loves his books. After only a very brief time I felt like I knew him extremely well, also the bad things about him—what trouble it would be if I were his beloved. But also what joy, to be with someone who is so similar, so familiar. We can’t lie to each other because we are too much alike—we both lie about the same things and for the same reasons. For example, once during an intimate moment, when he was above me, I said, “If there’s anyone who deserves a harem, it’s you.” And he said, “If there’s anyone who deserves to be queen of my harem, it’s you.” We were lying through our teeth, both of us. He knew I thought he was rotten, and I knew he had a great ability to crown a new woman queen of his harem every single night. The momentary truce, though,
Oh, this is horrible. If only I could quickly fall in love with someone else. I pray that it’s a product of my loneliness and as soon as I start classes at the university it will dissipate. (I’ve transferred to the history department!) Please let it be so. That much is clear at least, that even my endless joy at his nearness would not be if I could actually possess him, because he would never stay faithful to me, so it would be an endless torture. Oh please let this infatuation pass quickly.
Erich leafed further
through the book. The entries were not regular, altogether just twenty or thirty pages for a three-year period. He skipped forward to 2001.
June 20, 2001
I must tell you, poor journal, about my extraordinary good fortune. I have no one else to tell! Of course it is regarding my happiness about Amadeus. And somehow, maybe—don’t jinx me!—I’m actually having an effect on him and he seems to be starting to love me. (Oh God, let it be so!) When we were in bed and had both had something to drink, I said, “Well, if I can’t be your girlfriend, can I at least be your
?” and he hugged me and said, “How about my sister?” and I objected on the grounds that then we couldn’t sleep together. So he said I could be his
but that I already was his
anyway, and that I was a
and he liked
, and that he liked me even if I weren’t a
. Then the next day he dawdled at breakfast, and said he felt relieved that he wasn’t having affairs with multiple women anymore and pulled me onto his lap and kissed me and told me he liked me and said I had a right to be jealous, that I could call him anytime I wanted because he didn’t mind if I behaved as if he belonged to me, and that his wife still thought I was just an overzealous student and wasn’t suspicious. Then the next day we went to bookstores together, and we had lunch and he talked further about the possibility of making a trip to Prague together, and he seemed slightly hurt when I acted like I would go somewhere alone in August instead. If you only knew Amadeus, you would see what progress this is.
Let it go, let it go. If there is anything I’ve learned at this point in life it is not to ask for everything immediately and at once. Getting things from Life, and from people, is like trying to catch an animal: if you run after it, it will flee; if you are still, it will come to you. If only I can be completely still!