18 Years Ago, Early September

September 14, 2019

We were in the German Alps, eating fried pea soup. The owner of the guest house took us to watch the only tv, in the kitchen. We watched for about 15 minutes and then went for a walk. We could hear, but not see, the cows with their cowbells move through the forest.


That night, we had a terrible argument. We don’t remember what we argued about, but it rose up from that terrible sorrow.


Some days later we were in Munich. Church bells rang all over the city, so we suppose it was Sunday. We went into a cathedral that must have been under repair. Sheets of plastic hung everywhere, creating many dim, opaque rooms under the high vault of the ceiling. In one of these plastic rooms, again unseen, a choir sang, in German or Latin or something else. Back in the daylight, if before we hadn’t felt as if we floated through a sad, angry, but inarguably beautiful dream, we surely did then.


Of course, there were the candle-light processions, the architecture bunted in black, the Germans so deferent and kind to us. There was the cemetery in the rain, too, with so many of the lives ending in the ‘40s. Odd to make the inevitable comparison of fire, smoke, and ruin.


We weren’t sure if our plane would depart for home, but on the last day, our airspace reopened. People talk about the quiet of the sky before it did—as equally sad and dreamlike, we’re sure.


We landed at Dulles, the plane making certain to sweep wide away from the city as we descended. Through some mistake, we ended up driving downtown, instead of swinging widely around it ourselves. To come upon the guns parked on the corners and aimed at the sky is planted permanently in our eyes.


We heard all the stories and they heard ours, locations and timing, wrath and tears. We felt lucky, though perhaps with some guilt, that we’d been spared the hours of tv, the incessant speculation, the slow miles of commentary. How strange to have been away instead, a narrow valley, the late-summer lakes, sun on the glaciers.


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