"Mama, why are you in love
with Daddy? Why did you get married to him?"
Annika, obsessed for so many weeks with death, and its meaning, and possible thwarting thereof, is now turning her little inquiring mind to the concept of love. What is it? Where does it come from? Why is love when you want to get married different than the love you feel for your mama? Or your cat? Or your favorite yogurt flavor? Her relentless questions on these subjects, coming as they do from completely wacky starting points, turn into these seriously intense quasicomic scenes, "Mama, what will we do after Halloween
dies?" She's like her own little Woody Allen movie, every day. Trying to explain that some things die and some things don't ("Why?") turns into a disquisition on the nature of Life itself. And then she turns to Love
and we're off on a whole new set of difficult questions. Geez. You'd think that major in Philosophy would start paying off at some point. But, wait, no. I was all into the black turtlenecks and getting all snarky (before that was even a word) with the cool kids in the postmodern classes, which weren't really about answers at all. And it's not like I can blow her mind by suddenly revealing her categories to be fluid social constructs. I mean, her mind is already blown every morning when she discovers, yet again, that the Trix rabbit has managed to cram 2 different colors and
flavors into 1 tiny cup
. And, besides, she's already pretty well convinced that these "categories" (no, you can't marry your sister, but, yes, maybe you can marry Jacob the neighbor, if
you both want to in, say, 30 years, which is really pretty unlikely if you want the truth) are mainly crap, anyway.
But, still, I keep trying to answer her questions to her satisfaction. So I begin my list:
"Well, I love your Daddy because he is smart, kind, funny, and handsome."
Short, sweet, and totally understandable. She follows up, "OK. But what about Daddy? Why did he love you and why did he get married to you?"
No response from Jörg, so I raise my voice meaningfully with a sideways glance his way, "Your Daddy will have to answer that one himself."
Still no response from Jörg.
"Daddy," Annika tries again, "Why do you love Mama?"
Finally, he starts, "Welllllllllll. She's sweet....And she's a good mother. Hmmmmmmm. And she's a good wife...."
Studiously not looking his way, I'm thinking that this question should not be so terribly hard for him to answer. The pauses are almost painful to hear. And "sweet"? "Good wife"? What in the world is that supposed to mean?
Then he comes over to the table, where the girls and I are sitting. "And your mommy has a really wonderful voice." Then he tousles my hair, and heads upstairs with the laundry.
And just like that, he has pulled it off. With that one surprising detail, I know that, whatever all that other stuff meant, he truly did mean it
Annika seemed satisfied, at least for the moment.
For My Girls
When I first saw Jörg, he was sitting across the table from me in my first graduate Logic course. He was hard to miss - tall, with long hair and one ear full of silver studs. His accent was heavier back then, too. Very hard to miss.
He was in my next course, too. I half-expected to see him in my third course, as well. But that was an early morning course. It may surprise you to learn, girls, that Jörg, the man who now raises faithfully at 5:30, once refused to take courses before 10 in the morning or so.
A few days into the semester, I chopped off the right top portion of my left index finger while simultaneously slicing stale french bread and reading a book, subsequently passing out and awaking a few minutes later in a pool of my own blood. I spent the next few hours in the E.R., and missed both of the classes I shared with Jörg. Thus, a golden opportunity for conversation, disguised as a request for note-sharing. (And now you also know why that finger is a bit asymmetrical).
Of course, the conversation quickly turned from logic and Montague Grammar to more personal subjects. He told me about his summers spent riding his motorcycle around Europe, going to Bruce Springsteen concerts, and camping on beaches in Greece. It all fit the leather jacket image. You will soon (too soon) learn, girls, that an edgy sort of bad boy gifted with serious intelligence and a deep-voiced accent is practically irresistible. It may take a bit longer to learn that that combination frequently occurs in a common species of Jerk.
As we talked of music (mainly Springsteen and Dylan on his part), I pulled out one of my favorite CDs of that time, Nanci Griffith's Other Voices Other Rooms
. To my amazement, he both knew it and loved it himself. I think I would point to that moment as the instant that I was lost. The sensitivity of a Kate Wolf song added to the leather jacket and such precise notes from our logic class. Sighs are not enough.
We were together for about 2 months, passionately and wonderfully, and then we had a big fight and broke it off. I don't even remember what the fight was about, but I surely remember how angry I was afterward. I was just furious, and even surprised at myself, as all my previous break-ups were fairly low-key affairs. This should probably have been my second sign that I was done for, which might have occurred to me, had I not been so busy sputtering.
After a few months of ducking behind bookcases when our paths crossed in the library and sitting on opposite ends of the room during classes, we finally began speaking to one another again. At the end of the year, I found an amazing house for rent, but it was 3 bedrooms and too expensive for me to afford without 2 roommates. Jörg, who had only come to Indiana to study for one year, had been given a fellowship (the same one I had) to continue his studies in this country, and he decided to take up my offer of a room.
I spent that summer with my new boyfriend in Scotland, and Jörg spent that summer back home in Berlin, dating several women, apparently, and participating in the filming of a Springsteen video shoot for a re-release of "Hungry Heart."
I was the first to return to Indiana and its stifling late-summer humidity. Thus, I was also the one to discover that our dream rental house was also a dream abode for millions of fleas. Several fumigations later, I moved in with my cat. Itchy and hot, all discomfort disappeared when I walked into the house one afternoon and saw Jörg sitting there in the kitchen, still smelling of travel, but unmistakably happy to see me. I was glad I was wearing my favorite dress - the purple print wraparound, in case you girls are ever going through clothes I could never bear to give away.
But we really were just friends. Great friends. Now that I was not dating him, I had no problem confessing all my many embarrassments and shortcomings. We still were taking most of our classes together, and joined forces on many a late night proof. And I spent many transatlantic hours chatting with my new boyfriend, and Jörg soon began dating a busty English graduate student. The arrangement was working perfectly.
Until suddenly, it wasn't anymore. Jörg's girlfriend began to resent my constant presence, and I resented her resentment. I spent less time on the phone with my own boyfriend, and more time making needless trips up the stairs to Jörg's loft. Just to chat, you know.
And then there was the shift, when we somehow knew that we enjoyed each other more than we enjoyed anyone else. I broke up with my boyfriend and Jörg with his girlfriend and we spent Christmas break together. We decided to get married within a few weeks, and set a date, completely out of the blue, for May 11.
Jörg decided that he would take me to a Springsteen concert - my first and his gazillionth. We set out one night just after midnight to drive to Chicago to line up for tickets. When we finally arrived, 2 hours before the box office was to open, they were already turning people away, saying that there were more people in line than they had tickets to sell. Broke, and in love, we simply turned our car around and headed back home rather than taking the opportunity to stay and explore the city. A few weeks later, Jörg managed to score some tickets online to a show in Detroit. We left in the early afternoon, headed into a storm, and arrived at the theater over an hour early. Jörg never likes to be late for anything, you know. While we sat together up in the rafter seats singing along with the pre-show tape, he told me a story he had heard about our professor, Jon Barwise
. Because he was notorious for showing up exactly
on time to all social events, so the story goes, his colleagues at the university simply took to giving him a party starting time one hour later than the one announced to everyone else. "And if it's good enough for Jon Barwise, then surely it's good enough for me," was his punch line.
And then Jörg's conservative approach to time paid off, when a man stopped by our seats and asked if we would like to trade our tickets in for better seats. I was pretty sure that we were being conned, but Jörg had heard of Springsteen's "man in black," who chooses unsuspecting audience members to populate the front row at a concert. So we ended up front-row, center for a wondrously intimate acoustic performance. I tell you, girls, it was like our union was blessed at the altar of rock star legendry.
I guess this would be the place to insert a wedding picture. Except that Jörg looks like he's on the verge of throwing up in all of the pictures. If we had those pictures sepia-toned and then Photoshopped in a big, hairy guy in overalls and a straw hat holding a shotgun in Jörg's general vicinity, I tell you we wouldn't have to change Jörg's expression one little bit.
OK, I had to throw in the wedding picture, anyway. I much prefer this picture, though, taken at the Bardsville Folk Festival in Kentucky, where we saw Nanci Griffith, after we had driven all night from an Emmylou Harris/Lucinda Williams show in Virginia the evening before. Those two days are what we have been calling our "honeymoon" all these years.
So there we are. Looking in love and all freshly married.
We waited 4 years to think of children. Waited to have insurance, a house, and at least one steady job between the two of us. We waited until we were ready to put the days of impromptu drives to no place in particular and late nights drinking wine and listening to music behind us. We didn't actually have any friends with children at the time, but we had heard rumors that those types of things weren't readily accessible once small children roamed your hallways.
I gave away my more outrageous clothes to Goodwill, determined not to be the mom whose Hawaiian skirt and Danny the Dinosaur shirt left my pre-teen daughter blushing and rushing from the car before I could even open my own door. I bought maternity clothes. Jörg put together a crib, and investigated the family insurance plan at the university. We were ready for you girls.
Then you came, sweet Annika, and we discovered that we weren't really as ready as we thought we were. But when the exhausted fog lifted enough for us to contemplate our own feelings, we knew we were happy.
Of course, life got very complicated once we discovered that your golden glow
was actually jaundice, and we had to learn, quickly, a whole new medical language to describe our lives.
One lovely spring day, the kind of unexpectedly warm day that feels like a celebration after the long, dark days of winter, Annika, you and I were dancing. Your first surgery was nearly 6 months past, and we were beginning to relax and hope that you would be one of the lucky 25% that could avoid transplant. Maybe the worst was over, after all. Because I am too lame to have a favorite Springsteen album, we were listening to a Greatest Hits compilation. I held you and we bounced along to my '80s memories, back when my best friend, Adriane, declared Bruce to be the only white man with an ass worth checking. The doorbell rang, and it was the Bug Guy come to investigate a possible termite sighting. He turned out to be the guy from the camera store who tried to solve my flash problem on the old Nikon Jörg bought for my birthday years ago. We chatted about photography, about which I have more love than knowledge, and I confess I noted a certain boyish appeal about him. At that moment, I was happy that I had dressed you that day in your very cutest lavender outfit. It was the strangest kind of non-flirtation. "You're kind of cute! But see how very
cute my child is! Isn't she adorable?"
In the end there were no termites, but exactly one week after the termite inspection, our house was broken into and our entire stereo system was stolen, including the CDs that were in the changer. The Springsteen CD was not among them, although it would have been easily replaced. A few days later, you were placed on the transplant waiting list, and then hospitalized. In my memory, that year's spring lasted for just that one day.
And then, 2 transplants, 10 months, and innumerable infections later you were home again. If I thought I had been happy on that Springsteen-dancing spring day, it was nothing compared to the joy of coming home after hours spent listening to the 3-note progression of ventilators being adjusted.
But Jörg and I had to learn to be a couple again. Not only had we lived, essentially, apart for nearly a year, but we had come back together again as different people. And Jörg and you, Annika, had to develop a new relationship, as well, after such a long time only seeing one another for a few hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends, when Jörg made the grueling 5 hour round-trip just to spend time with you and me in between teaching classes. You were so happy to have your daddy around every night
when you came home, and you two began the tradition of evening sofa snuggling, in which you sprawled across Jörg's chest while watching a movie or listening to music. Eventually, Jörg came around to sharing Springsteen with you, too. He got out the collected Springsteen videos DVD, and slow-motioned it to point exactly where he was in the crowd. You were duly impressed, and, when watching the video on regular speed, never failed to point and shout, "Daddy!" even when the camera was panning over the skinny female models planted in the front row of the audience. He showed you the Barcelona concert DVD, and taught you to chant "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!" along with the crowd. You fell in love with the opening song of that concert, "Diddy Wah Diddy", and Jörg turned it into a game, singing the first part and letting you fill in the ending "Diddy" every time. When Jörg traveled to be best man at a friend's wedding in Scotland, he recorded himself singing that song on your little telephone toy. You carried that telephone everywhere while he was gone, even holding it up for strangers in the store to hear. Proof that you had a daddy and he loved you, even when gone.
Developing your new relationship came naturally and easily. I suppose it's been a bit harder between Jörg and me. We have had to learn to be a couple, who are also parents, but parents to a child who is simultaneously so normal and so unusual. We don't always agree on the best course of action.
One thing that we both agreed on, though, was that we wanted you to have a sibling. And so came Frankie.
Jörg brought you to the hospital to meet your new baby sister. You stroked her head as she slept in my arms. Frankie awoke and began crying. You jumped back and began crying yourself, afraid and upset and confused. Jörg scooped you up and told you that you hadn't done anything wrong, that babies just cry a lot because they don't yet know how to talk to let us know what they want. You giggled with relief to hear this, and you still stroke her head nearly every day, wondering at the softness.
I think we are more keenly aware of the uncertainty in life because of your complicated medical condition, and perhaps value the certainty of each other a bit more because of it. The recent drama of your bleeding varices and upcoming surgery has been draining, as Jörg and I have clashed over the best approach to take with your doctors. But still we talk and spend our evenings together companionably after you girls have gone to bed.
With your last hospitalization, Jörg contacted Springsteen's management to see if he could come to play "Diddy Wah Diddy" for you. The request was taken quite seriously, but in the end it didn't work out. Still, I'm quite certain that you were far more excited that your daddy spent the night with you in the hospital than you ever would have been over a visit from Bruce Springsteen.
May it ever be so.
So the answer to your question, "Why do you love Daddy?" is a lot more complicated than the one I gave you. In the beginning, it certainly had a lot to do with feelings and emotions and glorious imaginings of an unknown future together. After nearly 10 years, it has more to do with what I've given you here. It's a remembering of the past that tosses out the petty fights and hurtful words spoken in high emotion. It's valuing a story of life that we have created together, and wanting to give it an ending that is worthy of its beginning.
(and Happy Birthday, Jörg