I went back in January, 1992. The draw-down of troops had begun after the fall of the Berlin Wall and real estate was going back to the Germans– to be completed by 1995. Forces, including civilian employees, were leaving.
My first stop back was Alt Sachenhausen, our popular hangout of heavy metal music and heavier-handed drinks. I found no one I knew. The booths were filled with locals, instead of the regular high school/soldier mix. A few Germans took pity on me, joined me for my drink, and spoke of the climate change. People were upset we were leaving, yet resentful we had been there to begin with. They had suggested that this be my last visit, for my safety.
I didn’t go back.
I retreated to my room. It had been waiting for me, on the top floor of a military housing unit, off base, and in the middle of the local German/Turkish population. I had missed my huge window with the heavy black-out blinds. They opened all the way, or could be closed lightly so that tiny peeks of city light came through the slats at night. But I closed them tightly, and not even a small seam could get through, no matter the hour. I never did right my internal clock.
I slept the days away and was up in the night, at my old desk in front of that big window. Depeche Mode played softly as the ghosts of my last year of high school paid their visits. January 17th, 1991 wasn’t far gone, the commencement of Operation Desert Storm had kept us out of school for a week. Our return was met with closed bases and soldiers with assault weapons standing behind sand bags. I’m waiting for the night to fall…I know that it will save us all…
As I sat, I remembered my mother’s plea at that time, in the absence of my father who had just left to bury his dad in Arizona. If we were going to smoke, do it out our windows. We were not allowed outside– until further notice. Americans in Germany did not know how the war would be affecting us. There is a sound in the calm…someone is coming to harm…
A large deployment of personnel ensued, leaving military wives and children to their own devices. Many an affair would result. Yes, the operation lasted only a little over a month, but many stayed behind in the Middle East. We had a bare-bones military presence left for our protection, and the unattended women and high school girls were a distraction from the men’s boring duties. They all wished they had gone, too. I press my hands to my ears…it’s easier here, just to forget fear…
I quickly started missing my fiancé, as I started remembering. My dreams were tormented by scenes of him getting along without me quite nicely. During a blurry phone call, I’d recounted my most recent paranoid dream, where he’d slept with an old girlfriend. He’d laughed as he told me that had really happened and joked that I must be psychic.
Over chimichangas and margaritas at our local Chi Chi’s, on the base that housed our PX, I spoke of my dilemma to my mother. I had to decide, she’d said. I needed to decide if what he’d done had ruined my trust forever, or could I let it go? With my plane ticket to Texas already in my hand, my head was telling me to end it, but my heart was broken at how lost I felt back in Germany, at how I didn’t belong there anymore.
I’d been devastated, but in the end I decided to go back. I was too lonely, Germany was forever disillusioned, and it had forever changed. I was never going to get those years back, no matter how long I sat with Depeche Mode and smoked in the dark. I’m waiting for the night to fall….I know that it will save us all….
I boarded my plane and headed back to my wandering fiancé. Four years later, my high school and all of the army bases in Frankfurt closed forever. Four years later, I took my two babies and left my still wandering husband.
Twenty-five years later, I am a survivor of much more than a small war. Two divorces, infidelity, abuse, alcoholism…poverty. Though that last is my battle, still.
Yes, I chose that road out of Frankfurt. I wonder–what if I’d stayed?