Germany and other Altered States
I’m about to graduate from University with an almost Master of Music degree. Three months ago, in my extra term of study, they made this a five-year program instead of four. No one could finish in the time allowed. Myself included.
I’m in a fifth year of study taking some credits from a tough undergraduate program. Three classes from a Masters’ program. Insane intensity. My eyes hurt all the time. I have my first-ever pair of eyeglasses. I’m in great physical shape from dashing back and forth between the music building and my flat. I live in a small rental a mile and a half off campus. I make the trek carrying my guitar and a treble viol most days.
I’m sort of unofficially engaged to what some might call my high school sweetheart. I never did get the dating thing. Another human process that doesn’t resonate.
He came over this afternoon after his classes to tell me something. He forfeited his last term before graduation due to a medical emergency. The way he was getting through an extra term of school was through military funding. I kept breathing as my internal world fell apart.
The military? An organisation whose current structure I cannot condone. I do see the perceived need. I don’t agree with the application. The military? He told me he’d signed up for Officers’ Candidate School with a deferment to finish college. That meant training a few mornings a week. Nothing to worry about there. I run every morning anyway. And he will owe the military three years of service immediately following graduation.
You know that screeching sound? The cartoon-amplified screeching of brakes? I’m feeling it with every cell in my body.
“How could you do this without talking to me first?” I ask. “Are we not supposed to be partners?”
“It’s what I had to do to finish school” he grumbled. He turned away and walked across my flat, distancing himself from the horror on my face. “It will be all right” I told him, knowing that it would not be.
I could say that I should have known then. Hindsight is always spot on. He was, and is, a good, kind man. Gentle and generous. I wanted a way out of my circumstances, though my twenty-two-year-old self couldn’t see that.
My perceived way forward was to continue graduate school in England. I’d finished a term at Oxford to research my thesis and loved it. After that, I would work in the serious music community. Nothing was stopping me, except lack of tuition money and exhaustion. My scholarship and the funds my grandfather had allocated for university were at an end. My family didn’t think music was a viable career and were not going to help.
I decided I would take after Scarlett O’Hara and think about it tomorrow. Right now my sort-of-fiancé was angry and I had a thesis review in the morning. I needed his help because I still couldn’t type well enough. It interfered with my keyboard technique. I was setting up an obligation pattern without even knowing what I was doing.
I got through my review with flying colors and we didn’t talk about the future. We didn’t talk about it while I was preparing to defend my thesis. We didn’t talk about it when I used the covered track to run while he and his OCS buddies were doing PT three mornings a week. We didn’t talk about it until several months before graduation when he showed up with a diamond ring.
“I have to take this seriously now” I thought. I actually thought it would be horrible to say no. He’d helped me write my thesis. He was doing this ‘for us’ right? I hadn’t thought any of this through.
There are things about how humans relate to one another I have never understood. So I said “yes”. Again. And off we went into planning a wedding, something I cannot recommend.
It was a small, lovely wedding at a private club. A brought-over-from-England Tudor manor house. The morning of the wedding, all kinds of signs showed up. My ‘now’ self would have laughed hysterically and run the other way.
We almost left my grandmother at the hairdresser. The person scheduled to do my hair never showed up. Three of my friends stood around me with curling irons while I did my own makeup. They had to create the little back-combed nest for my borrowed cathedral-length veil. Never let your twenty-something friends back-brush your very Irish hair! I had to leave the thing there for the first three days of the honeymoon. It took half a bottle of conditioning rinse to remove the tangle.
As I descended the grand staircase on Dad’s arm, I panicked. “What am I doing?” I thought. My heart was pounding, my head reeling. Everyone says how clear and calm and lovely I look. They say that about all brides, right? I asked to speak to the minister. He worked with my Mum’s teacher for years. He was there at my baptism. Could he help?
In our mandatory pre-nuptial counseling session he had called me ‘the problem’. Out of the blue, he’d said it. I didn’t ask him what he meant then. I wished I had.
He approached, smiling, and told me to breathe. “It’s too late now” he said. We both knew what he meant. “You can do this.”
I do recall, about halfway through the service, thinking “This is it?” Months of torture with our families and the arrangements for this? Why does anyone go through this? The whole stage play, I meant. This has nothing to do with who I am or he is or how we relate together. Why did I agree to this?
The “I do” part began. I did. Is it true that I’m sorry? Yes and no. I’m sorry I was too inexperienced to know what I wanted. I learned a lot. This is what happened.
I don’t remember the reception, other than being grateful to be off my feet for a few minutes. It was lovely. Everything went as planned. He was off to boot camp in two weeks and we would spend the summer in Georgia while he finished his training.
Summer in Georgia. Torture for my celtic body. The other ‘military wives’ chatted out by the community pool all day. I ran at 4:30 before the sun came up and went to the pool from 6AM to 7:30 or 8:00 AM. By that time it was too hot for me and my skin was frying.
I spent my time on a cushion on the floor of our tiny apartment, under the air conditioner. No one would have known if I’d gotten out of bed in the morning or not. I was invisible. I’d succeeded. Hiding in plain sight. That was until I found out the base had a library. A well-provisioned library on a military base in Augusta, Georgia! God had thrown me a lightline after all.
I spent my afternoons in the library and brought home armloads of reading material twice a week. There were books on subjects I’d never heard of. Science and world history. I found out that my very English concept of ‘well read’ was lacking.
The base had no spiritual literature of any kind. What a surprise. What it did have was a doorway into how the rest of the world lives. The first Friday evening I left the library, I had six books with me. “You’ll finish those by Monday?” he asked, shaking his head. “Mmhm.” When I came out of the shower he was looking at the titles. “A Short History of the Arab Peoples” he read out loud. “A little light reading?! Sheez!” He looked at me as though he’d never seen me before, eyes wide.
“I don’t know anything about that part of the world. I want to learn.” Two weeks later we were on a huge army plane bound for Germany. Me and a few hundred new recruits and OCS graduates. A preview of life as a ‘military dependent’.
I spent a lot of time reading, while in Germany. I was alone a lot, though it never felt that way. I had my books for company. I learned to speak German. We lived off-base so if I wanted to use the train or buy something in the village, I had to speak the language. Total immersion in the deep end of the pool. No one wanted to speak “American” with the military people they despised. I understood. I could hear the gist of their thoughts even when I couldn’t understand the words.
The local cheesemaker became an acquaintance. She helped me with my German when others avoided contact. I can’t say I made real friends. My job, as the director of a dinner theatre program for the morale support office of the DOD, was easy enough. Fun, actually. We put on plays and toured them through the bases in different cities. I was able to use my music.
I couldn’t relate to the other ‘officers’ wives’. Performing the duties of a functional bracelet was not a way I could live. I read Richard Bach’s Illusions over and over until the paperback fell apart in my hands. I gave copies to people in the theatre community and tried to talk to them about light, spirit and vibration. It wasn’t much and it was uphill, but it was something.
Our small theatre gatherings were full of James Taylor and champagne. It became a thing. Quiet. Friendly. A place for a few sensitive spirits and whoever the rest of the cast was to mingle. I was so young yet. I couldn’t imagine living this way forever. I began to choke inside. This was the life these people wanted. I was the problem. I would have to leave.
Social functions were always military functions. Parties, yes, that always degraded into a sloppy raunchiness I couldn’t stomach. Promotions, where I had to pin the tail on the… actually the new rank insignia on the new Captain. That was the decision-maker. The company commander’s wife phoned me and told me to be present and pin new bars on my husband’s shoulder. An honor. As I stood on tiptoe to insert the pin, my stomach contracted as though I’d been gut-punched. This is my life? No. Find your way.
We became more and more distant. I spent more and more time with my books and my theatre community. I traveled to Italy and France, seeing beautiful architecture and great art. I found my own way.
I watched my best friend submit to calculated brainwashing. He became less and less tolerant of my differences. Degrading comments and casual insults became more common. He had been such a gentle spirit, such a good friend. It broke my heart.
The day I decided to leave, he returned from six weeks on maneuvers in Grafenwöehr. The day he left, I followed my usual routine. Do all the laundry. Put his away where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Put his picture face down on top of the dresser. Put his things out of sight. Remove all traces.
This time, I noticed. When or where had I learned to do this? This clearing of his energy from the flat? It must be from another life or time, I thought. “Some skills stay with us,” my teacher would say, years later. The odd thing was, I didn’t miss him. Not this time.
That day, decision day, he skipped beer call with the guys and came straight home. Another surprise. I had dinner in the making. I sat down to read with chicken in the oven. A minute later he walked in the door. “I need to talk to you” he shouted, reaching for me. “We do need to talk” I nodded. He knelt in front of me. “Let’s renew our vows” he said.
Oh, perfect, I thought. I should have known. I make a decision and now this. “You sit over there” I told him, pointing to the chair opposite me. He looked crestfallen. “I don’t want to renew vows. I don’t want to be married anymore. I’ve saved enough money and I am going back to the States. You can tell everyone I was re-accepted to graduate school and won’t pass up the opportunity.” I’d thought it through, including the face-saving he’d have to do with his cronies.
“You’re going back to school?” he asked, confused. “No. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is I’m leaving.”
“I don’t know you anymore” I continued. “Last week you came home and announced you had re-upped. Another four years. You didn’t consult me. That is not how you treat a partner. I don’t know what I am to you but whatever that is, it isn’t what I want. This is not who I am. “
“Who have you been sleeping with while I’ve been away?”
Heavy sigh. “There is nothing else to say. I’m leaving.” I slept in the living room after that. Someone gave me a cassette tape that helped to relax the whole body and it always put me to sleep. It was the only way I could rest. I meditated.
A few weeks later, he drove me to the airport for my flight. Frankfurt to New York City. New York to San Francisco. The longest travel time I’d ever had with my heart in my throat. Landing in San Francisco, I swallowed. I’d made it. Whatever happened next was up to me. Up to the spirit within me. I would find the awareness I was looking for, no matter what. I never looked back.
Call to Action
If you enjoyed this, please click my heart so others may as well. This is (probably) the second chapter in a new book I’m writing called Walk A(new)way. Let me know what you think! It helps to have this community!