Reflections

The humidity was visibly laying in a wall of fog that reflected off car headlights as I drove to the rink along the canal at five in the morning .

When the temperature is lower than the dew point, the atmosphere has an uncomfortable chill; that, positively sticky skin yet with a chill that can grow to a shiver, demanding no coat or cover, however demands a car’s air conditioning.

At such an hour though it also requires an espresso clutched in my cold fingers. I sip, standing before the chained door. I wait like the padlock to be freed and drop down the stairs into the dressing room.

The ice rink glass was fogged by the humidity in the building.  The panes of glass sweat clear streams of water downward, since they could not freeze in the warm air.

This morning dressed in goaltender gear, I stepped through the door already sweating from the slight exertion to proceed to the far end, my net. Solitary. Team-less. An exercise in tenacity and spirit for which there’s no reward.

As the skaters churned up the air, spinning, deeking, colliding about the ice, I saw their various reflections come clearer – a mosaic of movement on the glass, and as their motion moved air, it reduced the fog from the panes.

Like ghosts, I watched them in the mirrors of glass.  They multiplied, solitary figures became two, three, merging with others as they triangulated on the ice.

I heard a voice behind me say my name. Twice. But the play was at the other end. I glanced back to my right, then behind the net. Emptiness. My eyes were drawn upward. Empty grandstand though briefly, a figure. A skinny man, whose vestige then disappeared.

In months past, I’ve seen an older man standing by the railing at the other end of these grandstands, though I knew he was not really there. A figure that did not move for minute upon minute, gone once I had moment to glance again after stopping multiple shots on my goal.

At moments I’ve thought it my father, twenty-five years deceased. My biggest fan, supporter.  He had never seen me play hockey. I’d seen that smile. Perhaps he was there again, as he was always in my youth. Smiling. Beaming.

It’s been recurring. I’ve rationalized it another ghost, whose soul rested at the rink perhaps his greatest love. He has stood there motionless many mornings.

The voice returned to say my name but I ignored it as the swirling reflections to my right multiplied, even though the boys were playing at the other end.

It was a projection of boys turned men now perhaps ghosts. Reflections of youth, which we no longer possess I was thinking as suddenly a half-dozen skaters barreled toward me like life, or maybe death were chasing, chasing our youth from our aging bones.

Extra Time with Jutta

Howard

“Have you followed the World Cup, Sister?” I asked.

My sister, Jutta and I have floundered to find words and ways to describe nearly five decades of separation. Since she discovered my posts seven years ago, we’ve struggled to connect; that is, to essentially, effectively convey who we are; what has made us the people we are before suddenly thrust upon each other as strangers.

I know she’s struggled to understand a brother for whom our mother never mentioned. At least I had always known of sisters; twins. They were out there. Somewhere. Nameless. But I held hope.

In that first year, we shared experiences but not much commonality. Superficially she was familiar since I had been raised by a similarly committed Christian. Like my mother, in my view her religiosity was yankee conventional, dogmatic. I struggle with it. In turn I can’t articulate my being. My Cliff Notes even read like hieroglyphics to her.

This World Cup USA Team though was a perfect opportunity to reach out, provide insight, broach barriers and define what has made, or at least, motivated me and to further understand her.

“Did you know there are four players on Team USA who are like me, like us?” I asked; “born in Deutschland of Deutsch Mütter” and (along with a fifth player, whose mother moved him back to Deutschland when a toddler) their fathers were American soldiers of the Occupation.”

Here they’re wearing the USA shield and “they’re performing splendidly”, I said. Naturally unlike me these young men “were kept by their mothers, raised in Deutschland” as Deutschen.

“I suppose these young men are more like you, Jutta. Our mother raised you and Evi” in our hometown; that is, until another G.I. Joe swept her and you away (which I found multiplied my sisters’ trauma).

I hold no animus. It was simply the order of our birth. After them I was the next born in an untenable situation. As Jutti has reminded “there was no food, Max”. At our grandmother’s insistence, I was made eligible for “transfer”, as they say in football. I’m forever grateful, yet it doesn’t sooth deeper pain.

Nearly 30 years later, these players were born in a different Deutschland; born in a more inclusive, integrated world thankfully since they had the added layer of interracial creation. The shared ironies are remarkable for all our lives.

We have many layers, painful layers to peel away from what we inherited with birth for which we had no control. As we struggle to understand each and every layer, we attempt to heal, move forward. This match, life provides no added time for childish regret, frivolous apologies.

“Jutti, I share with these kids a competitive life”, even if at inferior levels and different athletics. I understand them. “I found solace in competition, identity in competition.” I fought through adulterated scars, our heritage’s scars, the taunting and the bullies by competing athletically.

The clock is always running. Intuitively I react without thought.

Now, I realize how terribly Jutta must miss her twin sister, Evi. She was the only one who understood her. “You must have relied on one another” to survive the life handed us.

Our mother was born in a joyless, laborious life. She was a victim of war and youth. She was a child when she had both of you. Then to fall statutory prey again with me, it’s understandable she was unable to deal with compounding betrayals. I’m certain though you brought her joy, pride. I’m so sorry you and Evi had to go through so much pain, as she sought reclamation.

Fortunately I had a forgiving man who became my father. And as with these footballers, though not my blood, I had the compassion and honesty of a sturdy mother to subdue a child’s pain. They didn’t understand the depth of my turmoil yet their unconditional love got me through adolescence, even if without modern coping tools.

With this, sister, I realize we share inner strength. I realize after Evi died your strength derived from the Biblical father you know, as mine from the father figures I knew.

And here, as I watch another World Cup I feel reality slap my face. I share my awkward abandonment with you, sister, and perhaps now with new partners – these youngsters.

Still with much to work out, I’m reminded survival’s in our blood and as I’ve reassured you, “wir sind blut”.

It is our determination and courage that wills us through the trajectory of our life and times, as we try to absolve ourselves while making better lives for our children.