Yearning

Claudia Engeler
19.01.2014
 
Yearning
As I walked in on my mother, she was again standing at the stove. Her bowed shoulders suggested an advanced age that she would never reach. Her destiny did not let her deserve a prolonged future. She would die much too early. But I didn't know that then – then, when my life still seemed orderly hopeless without any kind of horizon at all. Then, when I still thought that I was living a happy childhood in an intact family.

My mother was staring into the inside of a pot. For a meal that our family would later consume without gratitude or hunger, rather merely out of habit. Nearly or utterly wordlessly, our meals took place under a lamp that seemed to hang over the dining table with utter exhaustion.

I do not know what my mother saw in front of her when she was cooking. In secret, I wish for her to want a freer life. Locked up in the kitchen, dirty laundry in her hand, vacuum cleaner trailing behind, clothes iron swinging: that's how I see her as I lay in my bed at night holding my breath, looking up at the ceiling, as though I could project there a life of my own design and taste. This projected life, like a fantasy meal, wouldn't taste any better than my childhood, but it sure would be better digestible. Every night that I spend sleepless and too tired and nervous to protect myself from my own memories, every one of them I fear above of all. They open in me abysses and swamps full of pictures that tower around me on all sides that I have to swallow, just like I had to eat all those meals that I did not like, cauliflower, red beets or bread soup. They became a mash that I had to eat obediently spoon for spoon.

“Drop the ladle, leave the pot cooking, let the potatoes burn and run away,” are the words I spit out. The taste of my childhood give me indigestion and I vomit the pictures that I wish I could leave in the past. But they refuse to do their work and slam the memories mercilessly in my face. Again and again like tireless waves of an enraged sea.

No wonder my mother became sick, deathly sick, as we told the few family members and strangers who wanted to know why she was suddenly no longer in the kitchen. One of those insatiable monsters that I could not imagine changed her into a formless being that was more strange to me than anything I had ever known my mother to be. Mutated into a kind of caterpillar, she collapsed one night, eluding and escaping me again, this time for ever. She had moved into a different world that did not taste better than this one, for as her changed body lay in front of me, a bitter substance oozed from her mouth as though the taste of her new life that she had received was worse and more disappointing than the earlier one and she yearned for her small stove, the familiar dirt and narrow kitchen. “Mama” I addressed the kitchen, but her bowed back remained turned away from me and I hung in the air between pot and door. My mother is not there, she wiles her time in her own world, a house to which I have no key. And so I step out into a windowless hallway.

Three steps farther away, my brother lies in the larger living room. Even though he possesses hardly any physical or life energy at all, he spreads out over the inviting sofa. For years I wanted to sit or lay down on that soft piece of furniture. I fantasized that there and only there could I find an inner peace of mind. Seldom and only when the family was out would I sit there reflectively. The positive effect did not occur. I sat there and stared into space. Waiting for nothing was what was called for.

My brother looked at me disdainfully, rolled his eyes and grunted at me. I should leave him alone and get out of the room. Immediately.

Even though he had his own room, he liked to spread out and take over other rooms. Now it makes me laugh, since I now know that it was because he never had a home. He simply spent time in rooms, but did not make them alive because he couldn't. Essentially, he did not exist. As a child, he lived like a ghost in a family which paradoxically respected him more than a real living being.

I make my way to the toilet because I feel sick from everything. However, my father has locked the door from the inside. As I knock and listen to him, I hear only silence and a yawning emptiness. Definitely, he has again taken off in his thoughts to a foreign land. Every week he flew off to far way countries simply to get away from the apartment and his family. As a child I studied him with fascination, looked up to him and gladly wanted to accompany him. Then I didn't know that he was not at work rather in the act of escaping. Even when he was at home, he locked himself up in his work room, in the model train room, in the bathroom. And again he was gone, in Paris, America or by one of his lovers.

Through the milky glass door plane I recognize his shadow, nothing more. Father stands at the sink and washes his hands in innocence. Perhaps he only looks in the eyes of the stranger looking back at him from the mirror with expressionless eyes and asks, “Who am I?”

I knock again impatiently, hear an annoyed mumble. I should not bother him, should not rush him, let alone use the bathroom. That was his right in this small family planet, the place where he could always and without reason retire. An excuse that was never contested or questioned.

To feel the nearness of my father, I place my open hands on the glass, my right cheek between them and close my eyes. Coldness creeps over my cheek, my neck, my shoulders. Slowly, I collapse into myself until I lay like a dog in front of the bathroom. The door remains closed; calmness rules within. My father has disappeared into his cloudy fantasies.

Later, I wake up, slowly rise and stagger down the hallway. My brother's bedroom follows that of my parents. Both are taboo for me; I am not allowed to enter them. I have even stopped giving a hesitating knock.

In the apartment, there is no room free for me, or even one which had been planned for me to use. Room-less, I stand in my family's house that has no place for me. For that reason, one day I opened the front door and stepped outside – in a foreign world. However, being a stranger was to become my profession. I am a citizen of No Homeland; since my birth my family name is Loneliness and my first name is Yearning.
 
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