“Oh and Babe? Meet me in Treptower Park? Tomorrow after work?”
The text had come just before I had picked my bare feet up from the cold wooden floorboards to tuck under the duvet.
Treptower Park was an intriguing, if not ironic place to meet, for it is the memorial to the soviet soldiers who died in the fight to liberate Berlin. As I contemplated the relevance of this symbolism, I also thought that, at this time of year, if nothing else, it would be beautiful-If I made it there before dark.
The commute to Treptower Park from the Mitte neighborhood wasn’t a long one, it was just inconvenient. Especially after work, when the city’s workplaces emptied into the subway stations and buses.
Friedrichstrasse to Tempelhof. Change Trains. Suedkreuz on the Ring for fifteen minutes.
I sat alone with my thoughts, the last to snag a seat in an otherwise packed subway car.
It was true that Mathias and I had been struggling along for awhile; struggling from the pressures of entrepreneurship, mostly. He was compulsive and manic, obsessed with his work and passionate about his contributions. And I was absorbed in my own world of writing and orchestrating, perpetually calculating my days precisely, never really finding the time to waste a moment by actually living it. But, there had finally begun to shine a light at the end of the tunnel.
By the time I had crossed under the archway that stood as the entrance to the park, the twilight was already fading fast. I quickened my step, hoping to find the meeting place before the place became entirely under shadow. I knew he would be waiting at the end of the cobblestone path, standing in front of the weeping widow statue where dying roses were scattered at her feet. He greeted me, as always, with a small smile and a quiet voice.
“Come here. I want to hold you in the dark. One last time.” I came to him and took a deep breath. His leather jacket was cold against my cheek. I closed my eyes. He smelled of cigarettes, our favorite neighborhood bar, and the coal oven in his apartment.
“No flame burns forever,” he whispered. I looked up at him. “You and I both know this all too well.” The moment had come.
He sighed, sliding his hands down my shoulders, my arms, clasping my hands in his. His eyes searched mine.
“I’ve never been so lost,” he murmured. His forehead found rest against mine. I squeezed my eyes shut as the tears came. “I never tried to trick you, babe. I just wanted to work it out. But I was just swallowed up by doubt.” He sighed. “If only things were black and white, cause, really, I just want to to hold you tight without holding back my mind.”
The first tear broke loose and rolled down my cheek. I let go of his hand so I could wipe it away before it froze to my face.
“It’s alright,” I whispered, “I understand.” I shook my head. “No flame burns forever. No, they don’t. At least they say they don’t.” I searched for his eyes. “Most won’t even last the night.”
He looked away, hiding his own sorrow for the fate we had come to meet. Behind him, the statue continued to mourn the loss of good men.
“I do love you,” he whispered above the noise of the stealthy wind.
“And you know I love you, too. And I always will.”
“That is a gift I will never deserve,” he replied with a sad smile.
I took a deep breath of the cold night air and shrugged.
“I guess you only ever told me one lie, when it could have been a thousand,” I murmured, turning my face towards the far end of park where the monument stood at great heights, tall and proud.
“Might as well have been a thousand,” he said. I could feel his eyes on my cheek. I closed mine before looking back to him.
“It was never a lie. Every time I felt it, I said it. I’ve never lied to you.” His eyes were blazing ice blue in the darkness.
“Matthias, we could talk this round and round. But there’s no point, is there.” My voice was as cold as my fingertips, stuffed deep in my coat pockets.
“I guess we didn’t have to come all the way here to talk about this,” he said finally.
“No, it’s the perfect place,” I said shaking my head. “Remembering a man and mourning his loss is just what happens here.” My voice had grown softer, though the the ice in my throat felt solid enough to throttle me. He looked at the ground as the wind blew scatters of leaves across our feet.
Scattered to the wind. That’s what we had become. All the time wishing to stand as strongly as the monument behind us, we had merely been leaves on the tree beside it, awaiting our time to turn, fall, and be taken by something stronger than ourselves.
A tragedy in a place to remember tragedy.
I reached out my hand and placed it gently on the soft, cold leather of his jacket. The white of my skin contrasted brilliantly with the cracked and worn black. “If only I could hear you laugh, one last time.” He smiled a small smile that faded quickly.
“Good bye Matthias,” I said softly. I looked over his shoulder to the weeping woman. “May you find peace.”
I turned to go, my own words echoing in my ears. I thought I heard someone calling my name on the wind, voices from the past calling me back. But the past was gone, encrypted on blocks of stone, or disintegrated in the flower beds. And still, the voices followed as my steps drummed a rhythm on the cold stone walkway.
At the subway station, the scream of the metal cars sliding to a stop on the rails chased away all I had been hearing. As I walked to the open door, I glanced over my shoulder, expecting Matthias to be coming up the stairs. He didn’t appear, and the car doors slid shut.
But he wouldn’t appear. How could he? He had been gone since that dreadfully cold night a week before Christmas when a semi-truck had smashed through the Christmas market in front of the Remembrance Church. He had been there, out for Glühwein with a few friends after calling it an early day from the office. He and many others had been at the right place, celebrating the festivities of the season, but at the very wrong time. I had been on my way to meet him in Treptower Park when I got the call. By the time I had gotten to the hospital, hearing the screams of the ambulances echoing through the halls of the building, he was already lost.
I would therefore never know what he would have said to me if we would have met each other in Treptower Park that night. Imagining that he would have told me the last of our story has trained my heart to let him go. And some days, I think to myself that he is walking the streets of our old neighborhood, on his way to someone or something. And still, because it has become a habit to answer an impossible question, I go to Treptower Park once a month to walk among the sadness and loss that the place signifies so well, all the while trying to conjure the words he might have spoken.
As the subway lurched forward, the now black expanse of the park whirred past before disappearing entirely.
It was gone. He was gone; another ghost in a city that was always remembering.
Remembering, and yet moving, traveling forward everyday.