It was totally dark when I woke up and I had the incredible feeling of floating over my bed. I had heard someone calling “No, don’t go, please no, no, no…” I felt for something solid and was grateful when finally touching my pillow. But it was wet, very wet next to my head. I was flat on my back. I kept lying still and tried to shake the cob webs off my mind. Who had been calling? Why would my pillow be wet? I noticed that my hair on both sides of my face was wet as well and there was moisture in my ears too. I touched my eyes. Yes, – I was crying, the tears just kept running out of my eyes, down my cheeks and it seemed that some flood gate had opened. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t properly wake up, either. Weirdly, I knew I wasn’t really awake and I also knew I wasn’t really asleep. The dark room around me felt cold and empty. Very empty. Almost hollow. I could touch the hollow in the air above me.
The next I heard was my alarm clock going off. It was 6.30 AM. A bit of grey light shone through the curtains. It took me a while to gather my thoughts. The wet pillow was a puzzle. I figured I must have had a bad dream and therefore cried. Walking to the bathroom I felt lightheaded and in a weird way very somber. Not singing or humming as I sometimes did. I had my shower, dried myself, put my house coat on and padded back to the bedroom. I dressed without thinking, choose everything black. Black pantyhose, black dress with a high collar, buttoned half way down the front with small round shiny black buttons, black pumps. When I was back in the bathroom I stared into the mirror: Why did I dress in black? I opened a drawer and pulled out my opera length large white baroque pearls and hung them around my neck. I shook my head to the image I saw in front of me and took them off again. I noticed that I was very pale and had large dark circles under my eyes.
Eventually I set off to drive to my office. For no reason at all I felt thankful that nobody had taken my parking spot. For a while I sat in my car and prayed that my secretary would not notice my eyes, still red from crying. I still had that somber feeling but as I entered through the backdoor I pasted a smile on my face when I called out “Good Morning” and hoped it sounded cheerful enough. June, my secretary was at her desk, gave me a rather serious look and said somewhat timidly “Good Morning, Giselle”. What’s with her, I thought as I walked past her and into my office. I placed my coat on the hook behind my door which was always open. I wanted to be available and approachable for all my “girls”, – I had twelve estheticians working for me. Behind my chair was a one-way window which allowed me to look out into the shop but nobody could look in. I sat down at my Jacobean desk in my Jacobean chair, folded my hands in my lap and did absolutely nothing. I didn’t see anything either. I was numb.
After maybe ten minutes June called “Giselle, telephone for you.” I picked it up and said my name.
“Hi, Giselle, it’s Chris. I am afraid I have bad news for you.”
“Yes, I know, my father died.”
“Oh, you know already”.
“Chris, – no I don’t, – what did you just say? How do you know?”
“We received a telegram this morning before the shop opened since we were the only Roeders in the telephone book close to your shop.”
Grandpa Erich and Eric
I was stunned. I hung up the phone and just sat there, my heart racing and my mind reeling. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t make them stop. Now I slowly started to understand my tears during the night, my somber mood, my disconnection with reality. My father had written a letter on February16, complaining that he didn’t feel good, that not even the cigars tasted good anymore. Since then I had not heard from home. Neither my mother nor my youngest sister had written to let me know that he was in a bad way. And today was April 7, 1983, time enough to let me know, to give me a chance to fly home and see him again before it was too late. How good is a funeral of one you love so much when you cannot be there? Oceans were between us. They lived in East Germany, had tried to escape but father had a kidney attack on the way to the train station and ended up in hospital. That was on the 13th of August 1961. Two days later the Berlin Wall was up.
“June, my father died, Chris just told me.” I had left my office and stood in front of her desk.
“I am so very sorry, Giselle, I thought you knew.”
“No, June, I did not know. It just hit me the moment Chris said it.”
“But then, Giselle why did you dress like that?”
“I have no idea, June. I wasn’t really aware of it. I just felt kind of somber this morning. It was as if I was in a trance. I thought I must have had a bad nightmare because I had cried so much my pillow was wet…”
I walked away from her towards the open part of the shop, the elegant waiting room with the manicure tables all around the huge glass windows. I stopped at every table to greet my customers and stood a bit longer at my daughter Ingrid’s table. She lived with Chris. Her head was bent way down – she clearly did not want to face me.
“Ingrid, Grandpa has died.”
She never looked up from her work. “Yes I know. You did too, didn’t you?”
“I had no idea. Chris just phoned me a few minutes ago.”
“But then, why did you dress like that?”
My back prickled, the hair at my neck was standing up as the full force of what happened last night hit me. My father had come to say “Good Bye” and the voice calling “No, don’t go, please, no, no, no…” must have been my own.