This week was significant in that I didn’t feel I needed to fill the time, every second, with useful work. It’s not like I’ve done a lot of useful work lately, regardless of my efforts. But this week I didn’t let lack of accomplishment get me out of sorts.
Good things cost something, I suppose. I dated a woman thirty years ago who really changed the direction of my life. I dreamed about her again last night and woke upset and fatigued. But I’ll tell you about that later.
I have to give you some background. In summer 1985, I was 22 and working for a liquor and wine distributorship in the warehouse. We’d start early in the morning, about 7 a.m., loading cases of liquor and wine onto the delivery trucks. By 8 a.m. the jungle heat we have in these parts had us drenched with sweat and kept us that way until with hit the time clock at 5 p.m. As soon as we opened the doors in the morning, the nearby wastewater treatment plant filled the warehouse with the odorous fug that only thousands of gallons of human sewage can produce. The stench was so strong, my clothes reeked of it. I came home and smelled that sewage plant through the whole evening until I fell asleep or passed out. I’d been working at the warehouse for about six months and already fell into a routine of work, drink, and sleep. You already know what meaningless jobs do to me.
That September I was ripe for a change when a friend of mine who was traveling in Germany called me from a broken payphone in Hamburg and extolled the wonders of foreign travel.
Germany! Vineyards! I had for some time been infatuated with wine. I don’t know if I understood this passion as a ruse the alcoholic uses for his excessive drinking. Every night I pounded away at beer and wine. I always woke with a foggy head and walked around punchy until mid-morning. Every day, I worked in the stench, the dirt and dust coming off all those boxes, and the intense heat. And every day, I dreamed of owning my own vineyard.
“Why not come to where they make wine instead of just living in a place that has no vineyards?” my friend asked that night he called from Hamburg. Going to find a job at a winery in Germany sounded like a great idea. (California didn’t come to mind.) The idea of selling everything I owned and moving to a foreign country seemed a fitting escape from the routine, sweat, and dirt. I felt as if I stood on the edge of a cliff and all I needed to do was jump.
I jumped. I decided to sell all my material possessions and get down to a backpack and a plane ticket. I met the opera singer at my sale. She lived around the corner. She didn’t buy anything but said she was thinking about a summer semester in newmusic at Darmstadt. I took her address and told her I’d write her when I finally settled in.
You’ve already heard about my travels and I need not tell you more. I wroter her and she decided to take a summer semester Darmstadt.
We had a fiery affair. She traveled back and forth from Darmstadt to Trier on weekends. I was living in a small room at the time but had the run of a house of some friends who were often away on the weekends. The opera singer and I made love the way 20 year olds grind away at that zesty enterprise. We were at it at all times of the day in any room in the house, in the bathtub and on the washing machine, at the kitchen sink and in front of the television. It was torrid stuff and I still think about all that gyrating with a great deal of fondness. I was young. I was exploring new worlds. I had an adventurous guide and teacher.
Was it love? I was 23 when she arrived in Trier. I was living the sexually irresponsible life of a young man breaking ties with the repressive atmosphere he grew up in. Hormones and emotions had hold of me. At the same time, I’ve been in love more than once and am convinced I was in love with her.
She went back to the States. I believed that she was true to me and looked forward to my return, a return I had not planned on when I first arrived in Germany or well into my working year. When I came back to Kansas City, however, I found that she had returned to the life of the libertine. She wasn’t interested in having a needy, naïve boyfriend who was really, in the end, damaged goods. I don’t blame her. I drank all the time, heavier than before I went to Germany. I was lost.
But during our short relationship, she pressed me to open myself. I wanted to be a writer more than I wanted a vineyard but I was backward and unable to access the inner place where the imagination lives and works. She made me look farther, break open the door of the creative safe, and begin exploring myself and my mind in ways that seemed off limits until I met her.
It wasn’t a fun relationship. I often felt ashamed and inferior, and she did her level best—albeit not consciously—to demonstrate her superior creative ability. This one-upmanship lasted until the relationship sprung apart. Regardless of her actions, my expectations and drinking did more create a toxic atmosphere and end that relationship than anything she did by accident or on purpose.
I still dream about her. I dreamed about her last night. I can’t remember the details, of course, but I will say that the dream was real and vivid. When I woke up I was emotionally drained and stunned at the influence she still has over me.
The opera singer was a powerful personality and presence. I was just a kid when I ran square into the most erotic woman I’d ever known. I’ve haven’t met anyone more sexual since.
I have not seen her in decades, so the woman I dream about must be a shade of the one I left behind all those years ago—someone I didn’t know or could know. Or she is someone I imagine her to be and I’m creating a person from whole cloth. She became a professional opera singer and, from what I gather of my internet searches—yes, I’ve done that—built a successful business and publishing enterprise around, of all things, Tantric sex.
Would I love her still? Nothing would have worked between us. Ours was a class clash. There was too much working class in me (still is). She had a comfortable life. While she was involved in esoteric creative matters, I wanted evidence and celebration of my commonness. She had summer fun with a callus-handed rough. That dirty fingernailer came back chasing after the love of his life. It was a situation, I think, she had not counted on and that no one should be made to endure.
I still scrutinize this relationship like no other I ever had. What about her so moved me? Why do I haunt myself with her nearly thirty years after the fact? Why do I still need to impress her?
That last is the real question, I think. I find myself still trying to prove myself to her. She hasn’t thought of me—at least the ways that I thought and still think about her—and probably never had a dream about me. I can’t even imagine what would make an impact on her. And, more than that, I wonder who I’m trying to astonish. The 21-year-old libertine or the person she is today, or someone between? I never knew her well and don’t know who she is today. Maybe I’m still trying to meet my own expectations. Maybe it’s me I’m trying to amaze.