Twenty minutes before end of tonight’s drawing session, a man rushed in carrying his sketchbook and a pencil. He was tall and lanky, with an angular face, wide-set pale blue eyes and a protruding nose. Early-mid 40s. Very German.
After some gentle mindless chatter while sketching the model in his final pose, we learned the man’s name was Brian and he had just moved here from another city in the US. The event host had known him from a prior session and knew he spoke German. Our model of the night also happens to be of German heritage. The two of them spoke in German for a few minutes. When they moved to talks about families, Brian shared a rather personal story with the small drawing group consisting of mostly older men (and me):
In the twilight of 1989, he was spending his last days as a soldier stationed in Germany, when he met a German girl in a Berlin bar. His service term was ending and he was moving back to the US. She had grown up in East Germany and had a pocket of newly-minted dreams thanks to the recent fall of the Berlin wall. Over the course of a weekend, they had fallen in love. But for practical reasons they parted ways and returned to their respective lives. More than twenty years had passed by since that weekend. “I think this is why I’m still single” he said at the end of his monologue, with an air of resignation and self-mocking. “I never gave her up, even after all these years”.
I asked if he had tried to find her on Facebook. Apparently his search came up empty. He was certain that she had gotten married and had taken on her husband’s last name.
No one else said anything and the topic was changed. While finishing my drawing in silence I thought about his story and all the literature and films that depict the kind of brief connection that is powerful enough to take roots inside a person (Before Sunrise trilogy, Once, Bridge of Madison County, oh so many). I wondered how much of all these was “life imitating art imitating life”? How many people out there live with these “what could have been”s for chunks if not all of their lives? What tragedy is it if the person they are pining for is also pining their days away on the other side of the earth, carrying dusty versions of each other inside their hearts. I feel this strong desire for fate to bring these broken halves together, somehow and sometime, in their lifetimes.
But that isn’t how it works is it? The “wise” among us would quickly point out that this kind of love is nothing but an illusion, that if, say, he had actually stayed and married her, their lives wouldn’t be as enchanted as he had imagined for the past 20+ years.
I think the truth is somewhere in between. But of course none of these matter in the end, for the paths we choose in life have no U-turn lanes.
Then I thought, nostalgia really is the worst kind of slow-burning disease, one that causes cancer of the heart.