I’ll skip the beginning, though that was undoubtedly the best part of Sunday—a doubles row with a very able partner, then breakfast with a friend at Turtle Bread, a place I’d missed all year—to explain how it was that the Berlin year, and the time I’d begun to call “Berlin Plus,” came to a grinding halt.
The last two weeks have been a bit of suspended animation, a time in which I’ve sworn off all freelance work and reveled in the joy of being on vacation at home. I have never done this before; if I have time off, it’s because our family is heading somewhere—North Shore, east coast, or well beyond. Take time off to garden? Be a tourist in my own town? Sit around and play Scrabble? Not me.
Not until these past two weeks, anyway, milking the crutch of jetlag for all it was worth. It’s been just C and I of late, and our little unit of two has become quite adept at vacationing at home together, playing Monopoly and Boggle, taking the dog for long walks, getting takeout or making dinner, visiting with neighbors and old friends. I started thinking of this time as “Berlin Plus,” meaning we were still on some sort of meandering non-clock; sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, make up excursions just to explore your city.
I had prepared for the end of Berlin but I had not prepared for the end of this unstructured time, probably because there was no one to bid farewell to, exactly, so there were no plans to be made to build up to this day. But after the fun parts of Sunday were over, it was suddenly just that, a plain old Sunday: The end of the weekend, the last day before my new job started. My last day of freedom.
It started nagging at me as I crossed the Lake Street Bridge, and my pace showed it; where I should have built up speed to climb the hill to Marshall, I veered off to River Road for a softer entry to St. Paul.
Somewhere between Lake Street and Summit Avenue I hit the pavement, which was only fitting—the sabbatical was over with a slam, and there I was, flat on my ass.
I’d tell you it was because someone stopped in front of me if I thought less of you, dear reader, but you’ve been so generous over these past months that I have to tell it straight.
I was on the shared path along East River Road when I passed a woman jogging. I wasn’t too close to her, I’d done nothing wrong, but she yelled at me as I passed: “Get on the bike lane! It’s right there!”
I lifted my left hand as a coxswain would to acknowledge her, like the mild-mannered cox in my 8+ did the day before when a coach told her to get her boat over to him, pronto; I was trying to express, “I hear you.” But my mild response was not taken the way I intended; the jogger reacted as if I’d given her the finger.
“Move over! Get off this path!” she yelled, and I don’t know what it was inside me, beyond too much caffeine from the self-serve coffee bar at Turtle Bread; something seized up in me upon hearing this, and my hands clamped down hard on the brakes. And the same thing happened as the last time I braked too hard, at the age of 10, riding a borrowed 10-speed bike for the first time in my life: The bike stopped, but I did not.
Well. That was brilliant.
For someone who wants nothing more than to row on these hot summer mornings, who is relying on her bike as her means of transportation these days, introducing my knees to the pavement was a really dumb move.
But did I think all this in those seconds on the ground? No. I wanted to get away from the woman, and how. The compliant person in me stood up, moved my bike off the shared path (note, shared path; I had every right to be there, I later realized) to the less-safe bike path painted on the street that most bikers avoid on this curvy stretch.
“Are you okay?” she called from behind me, but I refused to look at her, only returned, “I’m fine! Thanks!” as I peeled off, like the better person I wanted to show I was.
After I rounded the corner I slowed my pace, realizing my knees were a bit banged up. I rode at a crawl the rest of the way home, my spirits flagging.
I made it to our dollhouse of a garage, unlocked it, and stumbled inside; soon I was pacing the narrow path between kids’ bikes and lawnmower and gardening supplies. The garage was heating up with the day, but I didn’t want to come out; I left my sunglasses on so no passing neighbors would see my tears.
Berlin is over, I realized; Berlin Plus is over too. I’d said goodbye to Berlin, but I hadn’t prepared for this. I think I wanted this limbo to go on forever, my family checking in from points on the east coast, letting me enjoy the simple routines C and I had established, enjoying the sweet 12-year-old who is so happy to be the only child for a while. Keep the new job twinkling in the distance, not yet a reality.
Transitions are hard, but pavement is harder. My knees called out for ice and ibuprofen, and that’s what got me out of the garage.
Later, on the phone, I told M what happened. He offered little sympathy.
“Most people would count themselves lucky to be starting a new job,” he said, and even though he was right, that didn’t help at all. I’m not most people, I thought.
But he did find the right words before we hung up.
“Have a scotch,” he said.
I chuckled. Have a scotch. I don’t even drink scotch, and he knows it. But he wasn’t talking about scotch.
He was quoting his mother, and I recall Terry saying it to him many times in years past. Meaning: Enough already, my tiresome friend. Sit down. Mellow out. Whatever it is can’t be that bad. Take a minute and breathe. That, and pour yourself some Dewar’s if you’re so inclined.
It reminded me of being in Hanna’s piano room in Berlin a few months ago on a particularly unhappy day, the tissues piling up before me. I remember she said, “Just sit with it. For five minutes. It will change.” Meaning: No matter how bad you might feel in this moment, in five minutes, you will feel differently. Something will shift.
And that was what I needed to hear.
So we hung up, and I did not pour a scotch. I sat with it for five minutes, and it changed.