I can admit it now. Things probably would’ve been different if I hadn’t gone on that two-month holiday while my baby was in her belly. I did it for two reasons. The first was that the holiday had been planned long before she fell pregnant and I figured now would be better than later, after the baby had come. The second was that through my fault or hers or most likely both or ours, we’d been getting along horribly ever since she fell pregnant, and it was only getting worse.
All this happened over 5 years ago, in the summer of 2012, and everything’s since been fixed, but those were some strange days.
The first leg of my trip was in Madrid where I stayed for a month, living in a €22/night hostel on the Gran Via. After that I went to Lisbon for a week and a half, and then came back to Germany – Cologne for a day, and then Bad Wildbad, a little spa town in the mountains of the Black Forest. The hotel I stayed at in Bad Wildbad was advertised as a Christian hotel. I wasn’t a Christian. But it was the cheapest place I could find in all of Baden-Württemberg, and I figured I could fake it if I needed to. When I got there, it was a Saturday afternoon, and the front door was locked. I rang the bell and looked through the window. The whole downstairs of the place was dark, but on a table near the door I could see books and pamphlets of Christian propaganda. I waited. Finally, a woman of about 60 came down the staircase and unlocked the door. “Herr Powers?” she asked. I nodded. She called for her husband who came down with the contract for me to sign. Then I got my keys to my room and went up there and unpacked. I noticed there was propaganda up there too. There was a crucifix on the wall, a framed painting of a very handsome, perfectly groomed Jesus on the dresser, and on my nightstand next to a lamp whose bulb stuck out the top of its shade, sat precariously this strange object.
I ended up staying at the hotel for two weeks, and got into a routine almost immediately. I would wake up for the continental breakfast that began at 8. Then I would go wandering through the Black Forest for a few hours, come back down the mountain, eat a light lunch, drink coffee, and then sit at a picnic table on the stream that ran through town and write for the whole afternoon.
There was a rule was written somewhere. It might have even been a commandment. You weren’t allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in the Christian Hotel.
Quatsch! I said.
A man that’s been writing all day… a man whose baby is sitting in a woman’s belly he’s not getting along with in the least… needs a little booze at home to assuage the nerves. It wasn’t in my nature to believe otherwise. So, after I’d finish writing, I’d go to the liquor store and buy several little and big bottles of the local vintage and cram them in my backpack. Then I’d go back to the hotel, the bottles clanging as I walked.
One time when I got there, a gathering of some sort was taking place in the dining room. It looked like da Vinci’s rendering of the Last Supper. Everyone was sitting at this long table, and there was a guy standing in front of it, preaching and gesticulating, his eyes gleaming like wildfire.
I walked past and took the steps two at a time, the bottles clanking and crashing together in my backpack.
When I got to my room, I opened the windows to the mountains in the distance, reclined on my bed and opened the first bottle. Cherry wine.
I got out my copy of Faust. It wasn’t Goethe’s Faust. It was the first Faust book, Historia von D. Johann Fausten, about the life of Johann Georg Faust, written by an anonymous German author. I was trying to read the book in German, but the text was ancient, and my German, like my baby, was still in the embryonic stage. But I found an English version of the book online, and read about how one night between 9 and 10 p.m., Doctor Faustus took his staff into a great dense forest, made three intersecting circles with it and conjured up the Devil.
The Last Supper of course was still going on as I read this, but I was inspired to follow suit, so I grabbed my backpack, went down the steps and past the dining room, the bottles clattering behind me.
When I got outside, the sky was clear and the stars were out. I headed down the grassy hill to the stream and found the walking stick I’d hidden under a bush. Then I took some paths up into the Black Forest and found a little opening between some trees that seemed like a good place to conjure the Devil.
I made three intersecting circles in the dirt and waited.
I sat on a stump, took a sip of wine from the bottle. I took a few more swigs and waited for about fifteen or twenty minutes. But the Devil was a no-show as I knew he’d be so I walked out of the forest and over the stream and up the hill.
The downstairs of the hotel was dark. The Last Supper was over. I crept quietly up the carpeted staircase and down the hallway and into my room. I took off my backpack and undressed and got into bed. I turned out my light and listened to the crickets chirping in the grass. Then I started thinking about how on the other side of Germany, in a small flat in Berlin, there was a woman with my baby, not so much bigger than a cricket, sitting in her belly.
It didn’t seem right. Me? A father? I’d gone 41 years without being one, it had to be a mistake. They got the wrong guy! Didn’t they?
I looked through the darkness at the faint outline of the crucifix on the wall. I looked out the window at the phantom shapes of the mountains and the stars blinking and felt suddenly weighed down by melancholy and loneliness. It was like two hands pressing down on my chest. Will a baby cure this old familiar feeling? I wondered.
I had two days until my two-month summer vacation would be over. Two days until I’d be going back to Berlin, staying in some cheap Lichtenburg hotel until I could find a new flat, then figuring out my money situation and how to make things good with her.
I was dreading it, but I was also ready for it.
I’d been hiding in the Land of Myth long enough.