Yesterday marked the 7th Anniversary of the night my partner and I first kissed outside a London tube station, the night we “officially” started going out together. We couldn’t know on that fateful April Fool’s Day where this all would take us, or how hard it would be at times. We had met at work, in the cafe at the National Gallery, where I was training her in food prep and hygiene, customer service, etc. She’s German, raised in France, and at the time spoke hardly any English, but as we got to know each other over the next few months, we clicked, somehow. Unfortunately, I planned to apply to graduate schools in the States that fall; she planned to start university in Germany. We spent most of the next three years separated and missing each other, until she got a fellowship to come to America and study, eventually earning her Master’s from CUNY with a thesis (in English, of course) on the impact of the German unification on East German women. For three years we lived together in Brooklyn, the longest I’ve ever lived at one address since I was 13. Eventually, though, I had to begin researching my dissertation, which meant time in Washington, DC, and the Midwest, and she had to start her career in international work, which meant time in Paris, Vienna, Rome, London, Brussels, Geneva, or The Hague.
We’ve had some good times and some bad times. We can both be demanding, self-conscious, aggressive, defensive, anxious, depressive, petulant, and spiteful. There’s a lot of presure being apart, but it doesn’t go away when you’re together. Having my family here and her’s in Germany means one of us is always a long way from home–a situation made worse by the events of 9/11 and their aftermath.
Living in New York City isn’t easy on a relationship either. Friends are rarely near at hand, the pressure of just daily life gets to you, commute times are long. Neither of us dealt with 9/11 well (whatever that means)–she was supposed to start a job a couple of blocks from the WTC on Wednesday, 9/12. Knowing that an arbitrary decision, the matter of a day, is all that stood between her and a front-row seat to disaster (if not worse) gave us both quite a scare, the kind of deep fear that doesn’t go away when your heart stops pounding.
Then there’s our families. Both have been supportive above and beyond their call, but still. I don’t speak German well, nor French (they lived in France for many years), so it is difficult for me to communicate with them, and vice versa. My father has the profound distrust of Germans that is common among Jews of his generation, raised in the shadow of WWII and news of the Holocaust. He loves her, but the thought of me living in Germany, or overseas at all, scares him deeply. Again, this is made worse by the events of 9/11, the anger directed at Americans and Jews overseas, the use of Germany as a base for many of the bombers.
And there’s little things–my American lack of formality makes me come off as rude in Germany, my rather picky tastes in food does the same. She’s very outdoorsy, while I’m very bookish. And so on. Big things too–there’s a lot of unsettled issues that lie between us, things that are scary and strenuous and painful to face.
But it’s her body I imagine next to mine when I sleep alone, her warmth I wish for when I’m cold, her laughter I want to hear when I’m sad (and when I’m happy). Her’s is the advice I need when I’m unsure, and the kick in the ass I need when I’m lazy. Her problems are my problems, and her successes are my pride. She has this way with people that I never stop wondering over, an outwardness, a pleasantness, that I envy. (Yeah, I know–I’m supposed to be the anthropologist, and I can barely talk to people. Go figure!) She constantly challenges me to live up to my best ethical and intellectual standards, to speak clearly and directly to people instead of burying my thoughts in an academic’s language. She has a faith in me that she lacks in herself (and vice versa). I am absolutely thrilled by the pleasure she takes in small things–the taste of fine food, the play of light in leaves, the feel of sunlight.
It’s sad and scary to be separated again now, when the world is in chaos and when both of us are unsure of our futures. Neither of us has a lot of money–I’m the typical broke grad student, she’s just getting started in her career–and travel prices are rising. Americans aren’t too well liked in Germany and France, and Franco-Germans doubly unliked here.
But so far we’ve managed, somehow. I don’t think, in the broad strokes if not the details, that our situation is much different from any other relationship. It’s hard work, sometimes, but it’s work worth doing. Of course I talked to her yesterday, sent her my love and congratulated us both for staying together this long, when so much was against us. I told her all that, but even after 7 years, I still want to tell the world, so here it is.
I love you, Nat. I hope the next 7 years are as good as the last 7.