I drive slowly around the bend away from the upper sports field of my youngest’s middle school. I look up and through the stark framing of a house on a street in an otherwise complete and constructed neighborhood in north Seattle. The upper, third-maybe fourth-story roof line is sharply pitched-maybe an obtuse triangle. Pulling back from high school geometry and the parent teacher meeting I attended last Friday for my daughter. The one preceding the work meeting, proceeding the almost kiss.
The unframed floor has a partially framed window, presumably in the attic. It is framed on three sides the top edge open to the sky. I look through the window exploring the cumulus clouds on the other side. I pluck out the memory of surrealist Rene Magritte painting False Mirror. I land briefly on the concept of barn raising. And the skeleton of a home.
As the train grinds out of the Stuttgart train station, I quickly find an empty cabin and fling my bags on the hard, deep red vinyl bench seats. I wonder how comfortable they will be for the two-hour ride back to southern Germany and my one-year internship assignment at the Waldorf School. I stride to the other side of the cabin, my fingers finding the plastic and steel window notches that slowly, precisely allow the window to let down. The wind rushes in and flattens the bangs against my head. I lean out, looking for her. It is surprising how quickly the heavy train moves on its prewar tracks, squelching and brining in the iron on steel harmony. I think I see her. Yes. The gray woolen mass identifies my grandmother. I see a small white dot of fabric flapping in the early spring air. It is her handkerchief against the clouds waving me away. I can still see her and then she is gone; gray coat, white handkerchief, worn, calloused fingers dropping down to her side. Just like that. Disappeared.
Everything about leaving her scares me. I look around the small upper story apartment and realize these are the enduring board book pages of my childhood. The tiny eat in kitchen with the Formica triangle table surrounded by two chairs with the torn seats. The winter garden, enclosed on all sides by large panels of windows, overlooks the streetcar stop into the city. This is where Willie lived and died. The languishing bedroom with the king size bed we shared, adjacent bathtub, small television and voluptuous wandering Jew ivy. And the living room, with its corner hobby horse, green corduroy like couch and grand piano. Always a feature of my grandmothers’ apartments. This one I both laid on as an infant and spilled a flower vase of water on as a kindergartener. These are the domestic roadways where footsteps were first taken, German words were enunciated, and rituals established. Like smelling the aroma of a perfectly cooked egg. Like waiting captive for him to arrive. Like watching my aunt chain smoke during her lunch hour eating green beans in butter sauce. Like listening to endless Mozart practice etudes in the afternoon when she was allowed to play. After quiet hour. Like touching the drape of our wet laundry as she hung my small white knit skirt over the metal clothes dryer. Leaving this is leaving her and us. Most of all it leaves me.