On Anya’s last day of school in Göttingen, I went into her school to bring a cake and stickers for the class, as a way of saying good-bye and thank you. I listened as Anya said her farewell to the class, amazed that my shy, worried girl had come so far that she could stand up and make a speech in German to a group of kids who were now her friends, but had quite recently been strangers.
As Anya talked, one of the girls tied a lavender-colored friendship bracelet around my wrist. She said, “Für dich, bitte vergiss mich nicht.” For you, please don’t forget me.
That friendship bracelet quickly became a symbol for me, to not only remember this little girl and all of Anya’s dear friends, but to remember Göttingen and our family’s year there. I often have found myself twisting the thin yarn as I remember how to weave my way through the city’s medieval streets, or how to ask for a kilo of Kartoffeln at the market. I was determined to keep the bracelet for as long as possible so that I would not forget.
Friends of ours in Göttingen, who themselves had just returned from 16 months abroad in Toronto, told us that they often dreamed of walking around their Toronto neighborhood, and that as time passed the entire experience felt like a dream. I’ve found that too, as I day-dream of riding my bike on damp cobblestone streets in my black leather jacket, when in reality I’m stuck in a small-town traffic jam, trapped in my mini-van and an old fleece sweatshirt. (The grass may literally be greener in Vermont, but the clothes and modes of transportation are definitely cooler in Europe!) As I snap out of my dream, I feel for the string on my right wrist. Still there, it did all happen.
Today, while stacking wood and working in my yard, I lost the bracelet. Now greyish-brown and stretched thin, it must have slipped off as I pulled weeds or piled firewood. I’m trying hard not to make too much of it, but I’m a sucker for symbols. Will I now forget which church is which, how to get to our favorite Spielplätze, or the German names for everything I bought at the Wochenmarkt?
I will forget names, I always do, and words too. But I don’t think I’ll forget the streets or houses or spaces and directions. I won’t forget the smells and sounds and faces of people I knew. I don’t need the bracelet to conjure up these memories in my day dreams. But, just in case, I may write to Anya’s friend and ask her if she could make me another bracelet. Just to be sure I won’t forget.
This will be my last blog post about our adventures in Germany and beyond. Maybe I’ll break that rule if we go back for a visit and something interesting happens. But perhaps this should be it.
We’ve been home now for over three months. And though the first few weeks were very strange, we did quickly readjust to our life here in Vermont. We all miss things, but do our best to keep in touch with friends and memories and things we learned. The girls and I continue to speak German with each other, often prompted by me saying something horribly wrong and they proceeding to correct me. But the strategy works and we are speaking German.
One after-effect that has surprised me is that the kids now know very keenly about how quickly time passes. Before we went abroad, the passage of time for the kids was masked by the rhythm of our lives here, the changes in the seasons, the passing of holidays, one into another. But now they have each remarked about how short a year is. A year is now measured by the time we spent in Germany.
Anya, who’s had the most difficult time being back, Skypes with friends, writes adorable letters, and even takes her German books to school each day in case she finds time to do a page or two. This morning, while I was stacking wood, she was Skyping into the birthday party of one of her closest friends in Göttingen. I walked in the house and the excited squeals of German girls filled the air, and it was so wonderful!
We’ve had visitors from Göttingen, the graduate student who sought Jason out at a conference in Zurich over three years ago, a meeting that eventually led to an invitation and then our year in Germany. That he and his wife were our first visitors after our return home seemed right. A full circle. He brought us Gummibärchen and a book about Gauß, the famous mathematician and astronomer in whose observatory were the offices for Jason’s fellowship.
Coming home has perhaps been hardest for me, as I’ve found myself fighting reintegration. Ambivalence about life here has hit me hard. It’s been three months feeling like the day after Christmas.
A friend of mine here, who returned from a year abroad in England with her family just days after we left for Germany, told me that it took her a full nine months before she felt alright about being home. And still, she says she often longs for that year and time and place again.
If I’m to stay within that nine-month window, then I will have to do something to shake my ambivalence. Writing this blog helped me to get through some of our most difficult times being abroad — broken bones, a horrible kindergarten and its aftermath, the weight of history. It also helped me relay some of our greatest joys and coolest adventures.
And still, there were many topics about which I wanted to write, but couldn’t find the time or hook — trees, playgrounds, wine, women’s history, more about schools. I’ve been thinking that perhaps my own blog may help wring me of ambivalence, and provide me an avenue to relay my thoughts on these topics and more. We’ll see. Perhaps just a good vacation, good book, good cause or good class would do the trick too. I’m working on these too.
For now, I’ll say good-bye and Tchüss, be well and Alles gute. Thank you to all of the people who supported our year abroad through reading this blog, providing comments or just letting me know you were following our time there. It meant a lot to me that so many new and old friends, family members and strangers read my words and helped me to celebrate and process our experiences in Germany. Perhaps even more than a friendship bracelet, I have this blog to help me remember the time we had in Göttingen. Danke.