I do not know how to shed my childhood, this old snake’s skin. My childhood weighs on my bones and hinders all my movements.
After my dad died and my mom’s worsening dementia forced her into a care facility, it fell to my sister and me to clean out their house. When we walked inside, it was like uncovering an intact archaeological site. My dad’s closet was still filled with his fleece jackets and golf shirts. Inside the pantry, opened bags of potato chips and crackers were sealed with clips. I expected my mom to walk into the kitchen, grab the half-used bottle of Windex from the shelf and clean the table.
“Unless one practices medicine or works with medical literature, one is unlikely to encounter the enormous mass of words used to describe the things that go wrong with us. But the words are out there, multisyllabic and waiting.”
My mother has told me a beautiful story since I was quite young. The story goes like this: Once when I was very small I followed my father into the bathroom where he was replacing a broken mirror. Somehow—the events get fuzzy here—I ended up in the bathroom alone, and she found me there sitting in the middle of the pile of broken pieces, squeezing them in my small fists. At the moment she found me, there was a split second when—as she saw the blood and broken bits surrounding me—she did not move. She could see that I was watching myself amplified over and over in the strange glass. I imagine this is the first time I had ever looked in a mirror, but that is only my imagination—I don’t remember.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is not a train station now, and never was in Hamburg. It’s a museum of contemporary art in Berlin. It’s also a good metaphor—in name and in content—for this city where nothing is quite as advertised. Though a very fine layer of general German Ordnung covers everything here, it gives way easily to a jumble of rules without regulation, a mass of juxtaposed and unlikely objects of which I am also, and only, one.