Seventeen moves and more than forty years the bright red treasure chest has accompanied me. Carved by my grandfather. He, whom I barely knew, lined it with green velvet. Decorated by my grandma with water-soluble stickers at hand for Easter eggs, in the 1970s.
We’ve traveled a long way, the box and me. Until today it has guarded the first love Letter I wrote, full of spelling mistakes, to the hottest lad of the entire school. A curl I cut off a swarm I had a crush on, whose name I forgot and don’t remember anymore. And my address book at the time.
Yeah, we still had it all on paper and not in the smartphone. What for my children today are as many collected addresses, telephone numbers, and followers possible on Instagram, is the same as the many collected addresses and telephone numbers possible for my generation. I was counting. 171. That’s how many people I had in my address book back then. A piece of cake against digital networking.
A lot of names don’t mean anything to me anymore. Others tell me that they’ve long since died. And then there are some that I more than liked to say goodbye to. Especially those people who ended up in my later address books. Of all the energy looting vacuum cleaners.
It took me more time to realize who wasn’t right for me than my grandfather needed for his carpentry apprenticeship to finish. Much more. It started with a woman who happened to live in the same little hicks Ville that I had moved to because of mine – and bye…! Yes, I was drawn to my ex-husband. She happened to have a dog like mine. And by chance, a daughter that same age as my best one. I couldn’t get the attention of a Drugstore Cowboy, I mean, I did not know, and I was glad about every word that someone exchanged with me, the “blow-in” and beside still a “Neigschmeckta.” (“Grouse.”) (Interpreters note.) (That probably only Swabians understand – I came new into a village, somewhere from nowhere, and on top of it I belonged to the wrong denomination, not being enough, I was divorced with a child as a result by youthful folly. My life in this town was from the outset fucked up).
It started harmlessly. We met while walking the dog. The daughters, although they could not stand each other, were fobbed off to play with each other. I bought tons of tea. Me, the passionate coffee drinker! Because my new girlfriend was just drinking tea. And at some point, every day sitting in my living room or on my terrace. To puke and all bent out of shape about her husband. Her in-laws. I was listening. Suffering too. Getting up in the middle of the night, she stood in front of the door with a black eye. Breastfeeding her bleeding lip. Sleepless, I smashed my head. For Days. Night after Night.
She stayed with her husband. Got into a new problem. My daughter was seven, my son two. I was getting used to the puberty of a daughter I didn’t know. Stayed up all night. Researched books and the Internet, which was still working at a snail’s pace at the time. Gave tips and advice.
Guess what – none of it was taken by heart.
And then I collapsed. I made no secret of it: I had massive panic attacks. So sorry that I couldn’t leave the house, couldn’t wash anymore, couldn’t take care of my three children anymore. Guess who never asked me if I needed help?
Damn many so-called friends said goodbye in this phase of my life. Mental illness could be contagious, contact with a lunatic could damage your business. My ex-family wanted me to deal with this on my own. Pressure. More pressure.
And then the day I said, “I’m scared,” at a party where I couldn’t breathe in the hall. A woman unknown to me at the time led me out of the room. She took me in her arms and said, “I know that.”
I cried. Like an animal. And from that moment, a decision was made. Saying no to all energy robbing vacuum cleaners. To say goodbye to empty, hollow people. And you know what? My address book today is thin. Very thin. But I do know that I can call any one of these people at any time. In the middle of the night.
I don’t need and don’t want any more dumb-asses in my life. I like to say “Bye” to them. Do it well – but without me.
Silke Porath lives together with her French husband in their home of choice in Balingen, on the border of the swabian Alps. Born in 1971, the mother of three children works as a freelance Journalist and Writing teacher. Trained as both an editor and PR consultant, she is a member of the “42erAutoren”, the association of German writers and the Group of 48.