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Jogging the Wall What does the ‘ob’ in obsession mean anyway? If I were a linguist maybe life wouldn’t be so hard. A German woman next to me in the cafe where I am sitting just explained that the prefix ‘Ob’ means ‘at’ or ‘on.’ This makes good sense. I am in Berlin. I have come here, in part, to try to get over my most painful obsession, but it hit me as I sat down to write this that Berlin might not be the place to come if you want to stop brooding over something painful. This is a city where hundreds of people walk the length of the Berlin Wall every day, Germans and non-Germans alike, all looking to imagine and relive the pain of life behind the Iron Curtain -- the pain of wanting to be on the other side of a vast divide. Others try to imagine more horrible things, and perhaps there are things that shouldn’t be forgotten but there are also things that shouldn’t be remembered and that should just rest in the Hinterland of the human memory. In this city in times gone by, some people pretended that the wall didn’t exist and tried to forget the people and the places on the other side, deciding that there were just some walls that were bigger than they were. Others couldn’t let go of an idea and died in the effort to surmount it. I used to think that there were only these two kinds of people: The feint-hearted, and the courageous. As I have gotten older, there is a gray area that is emerging in my mind of the people somewhere in the middle of those two extremes who went on with their own lives in the midst of the pain, who knew the wall existed but never tried to jump over it and who found a way to keep moving forward despite its presence. My mother wants me to take a picture of myself in front of Checkpoint Charlie. “People of my generation..” she wrote “...could have never imagined that they would be able to cross that frontier.” She wants me to cross it now for the both of us. But, I don’t like Checkpoint Charlie. This is my fourth or fifth time to Berlin and I don’t want to go there anymore. It is not the same place as it was the first time I visited. The first time I came her was in the winter of 1994, and the city was a different place than the one I find myself in now. Back then the lines between east and west were clearer, but now time is starting to cover these things up as the city and its neighborhoods establish new identities, Everyone knows that Prenzlauerberg is where the bourgeoise live, Kreuzberg is home to the bo-bos, Fredrichshain the young, Neukölln the immigrants. These new lines are obscuring the old ones. The past is memorializing itself and the pain that was once palpable is starting to disappear. While Berlin has changed, I seem to still be stuck int he same pain that I was back then. Back then I was in love with a man far away, a tall, passionate, slightly chubby, intellectual, man with glasses in his late twenties who I couldn’t convince to love me or inspire to take care of me. I spent my days walking past construction crane after construction crane and along the streets near Alexanderplatz that didn’t quiet connect while listening over and over to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits album, adeptly dodging pimps on the lookout for lost young things like me at every train station, sidestepping gypsies, tramps, and thieves under the Brandenburg gate and seeking out refuge for


myself in one East German opera house after the next watching ridiculously inexpensive productions of Man of Mancha and La Bohème while trying to imagine life beyond my tragic obsession with this man. I told my mother I would prefer to send her pictures of the cafes in Kreuzberg where I have been spending the bulk of my afternoons over the last several days -- or of the trees in Tiergarten that I have been jogging past every day. Perhaps she is right though. Maybe in stepping over the line from east to west and in trying to imagine what the people who did that in 1989 felt like... I could imagine what it would feel like to be free from the things that have cornered me. I once wrote a poem about the frustration of how I kept going over and over to the same place in my life trying to understand my father’s death. I have spent a hefty chunk of my adult life revisiting this pain, recreating that reality with different men. That is one of the reasons I am in Berlin. One of these men, a tall, slightly chubby, thirty-year old, intellectual with curly brown hair and glasses who understands just about everything, except for his own heart, lives here. This is the wall I want to get over. It finally occurred to me a few nights ago that maybe instead of going towards this wall, it is time to just walk away from it and stay in my emotional East Berlin and hope against hope that eventually the wall falls down itself one day like the real wall did -- right at the moment when everyone had stopped pushing. Last night, in front of Victoria Park at the border of Kreuzberg and Schoenberg, after almost a week of walking around Berlin massaging my pain singing Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me” to myself over and over again, I got out of my intellectual tall chubby guy’s car. My exodus was sudden and spastic. I kept thinking, “Elle it is just time to stop dancing around in the pain. Move away from the wall and carry on with things or just take your chances and make a break for it.” “You’re running.” Chubby said as I scrambled for the door. “Look at you, Elle. you’re running.” I shut the door and stepped onto the curb breaking into a light jog and moved quickly towards the place I am staying. I had the urge to look back, but I couldn’t remember any movie about the Berlin Wall where the escapee stops and looks back at the holes created by the shots or grenades that have fallen behind them...everyone always ran for their lives and they certainly never stopped to try to refill the holes with the earth that was forced out of them like I have been trying to do. As his words rang in my ears, I thought, “Running. Damn right, I am.”

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