Another German winter. Christmas was now a memory; the facshing/Carnivale Season was over. Just the cold, fog, frost and bleak gray sky. But it was my Germany, where I made my home. Everything I owned was here, my daughters, now just toddlers, were born here and I assimilated willingly.
I gazed out the large window, watching the students from the gymnasium school up the street. The students walking by were conversing, laughing and playing on skateboards. They seemed to be completely unaware that a major war was waging. Being just past lunchtime, I surmised it was Wednesday, when they had a half a day of school. I sipped strong German coffee from the warm mug in my hand while I forced back the hot tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
The German house was cold, the German countryside was cold and so was I.
I loved my neighborhood with the playground a minute walk up the street and a little market around the corner. The center of town, with its bakery, café and meat market, was a five-minute walk down the cobblestone street.
The evenings were the worse times, when the house was still and the needy girls were asleep. I tuned the radio to the BBC to listen to the war updates. More bombings, more troop movements, more fear. The days were a little better, but most of my friends didn’t have a husband fighting on foreign soil, so they didn’t understand the loneliness, the fear, the depression.
One day the doorbell rang. I hesitated before answering it, then I peered first through a little crack in the door, then at half open. A teenager with pulled back blond hair, rosy cheeks and a blue scarf wrapped around her neck stood there holding out a bouquet of flowers. I froze, wondering if poison was hidden inside. She saw my insecurity, and said, “Alles ist gut.” I looked the flowers over, spread them apart, and peered through the cheap glass vase. It did all look good, but my guard was still up. “For you, this house,” she said in English, prompting me to pick out the tiny envelope and pull out the notecard: “I love you, hug and kiss the girls for me. Joe.” The flowers were legitimate. I thanked her before closing the door and bringing them inside.
It was the end of the month and the rent was due. I bundled the girls into their snowsuits, not because it was snowy, but because it was so bitterly cold.
“Stay and watch Mummy through the glass, and I will come back for you,” I instructed them.
I went outside and opened the garage door. I felt my hands begin to sweat. First I checked the exhaust pipe for a bomb, then I circled the car looking for the other signs of a homemade bomb. All clear, I went back for the girls and off we drove to the military base.
At the first checkpoint the MP wanted to see my I.D. and asked me if I checked my car over before entering it. He waved me on to the next checkpoint. Several military police motioned for me to inch the car forward as they used mirrors to search under my vehicle. Finally, a sharp and intelligent looking German shepherd sniffed my car over.
“Mummy, look! I want to pet the doggy!” I heard from the back seat.
After the girls were asleep I listened to the BBC. One night Scud missiles again were launched into Turkey. I wondered how my husband, living in a tent, could survive the attack. I went into the bedroom where I kept two bags. The checklist was on top and I reread it. Enough non-perishable food for three days each person, three days’ worth of clothing each, passports, birth certificates, and other critical documents, important phone numbers and enough money to cover unforeseen expenses. An asterisk at the bottom of the page warned to bring only what I can carry myself. I lay on my bed, deeply alone. What would I do? Where would I go? Every day I became less of an American. This place was my home and the depression seeped deeper into me.
One day the German phone rang, ddrriink ddrriink.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Jeanie, it’s me. I was shipped out of Turkey two days ago. I’ll be home tomorrow.”
After I hung up, I went to lie down. No, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t want him home just yet.
The following day I forced myself to get ready. The house was clean, the sheets were clean and the babies were smelling of talcum powder. I was putting on my make-up when the doorbell rang. No, no, I’m not ready! I went to the door, took a deep breath and opened it. There stood Joe in his uniform and holding his camouflaged bag. My heart sunk. He dropped the bag and hugged me. I still had the eyeliner pencil in my hand.
The girls came into the hallway from their bedroom and hugged their father. Good, I needed time to wipe away my sad tears.
Finally, we had time to talk. “Is it true, Joe? I went to a meeting at the base and they said we were being sent back the U.S. as soon as the war was over.”
“Yes, it’s true. We’ll be leaving Germany this spring.”
Editor’s note: This story takes place during the Gulf War and is part of our September 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about Location: Where are you, and how does it affect how you see the world?’
Adelaide Ramsay is busy painting her flea market finds when she isn’t writing. She has just finished her first (unpublished) novel. She can be reached at Adalaide@zoho.com.