This Time Last Year
I was in Berlin, my mom was there too. She had arrived about a week before and we had been filling our days non stop. She had taken a piece from my sketchbook the day after she got there and made us a calendar for the three weeks until we would leave. We penciled in plans for museums and gardens and restaurants and bars, and the last three days before our departing flight took off were circled and titled “Lydia's Freak Out Days.”
On this particular day, August 1st, 2019, we had about 2 weeks left. We had plans to meet a good friend of mine for coffee in Mitte, one of the twelve boroughs in the city. It was a teeny tiny bustling coffee shop, all white and black marble, and we grabbed a few stools outside as soon as they were empty. We talked about school and classmate drama and moving plans and my friend’s musings about her relationship and the cute barista brought us our drinks and joked in both German and English, the Berlin dialect.
It was a short and sweet date as my mom and I had to rush off again, to meet another friend at the airport. She was going home for summer holiday and wouldn’t be back before I left, so we only had a moment at the airport to say goodbye. She lived near the edge of the city, so the only thing that made the most logistical sense was to meet her at the airport close to my flat. It was a rushed few minutes of hugs and chaotic goodbyes because there isn’t an organized way to say goodbye when you don’t know when you’ll see each other next. A few tears were shed and then she had to go, through security and to her gate and home, just like I would. My mom and I wound our way back to the bus and back to my flat for some dinner. We had evening plans as well. When I say the days were packed, I mean like sardines. Only three weeks left in the greatest city I’d ever lived in to show my mom everything didn’t leave any time to waste.
That night our plans were drinks at a bar/venue where I knew the owners and a poetry open mic at a bar called DuBeast in Neukölln (the borough farthest from mine, about 45 minutes on the U-bahn) and I texted the boy I was seeing at the time and invited him to join. I said my mom would be there. He didn’t answer for a few minutes.
“Doesn’t it seem a little crazy for me to meet your mom?” (Or something like that)
“Doesn’t it seem a little crazy for you to not hang out with me when I’m leaving in 2 weeks?” He agreed to come and said he'd text me when he was on his way.
My mom and I had dinner and got ready to go. It was a warm evening, as are most July and August nights, and we both could wear tank tops and not bring a jacket. We made our way across multiple train lines and stepped off the U7 at Karl-Marx-Straße deep on the east side.
We wandered our way to the bar, the owners I knew weren’t in but we ordered drinks regardless and sat at a sidewalk table, a luxury that I can only dream of in 2020’s pandemic. The time was nearing for the open mic to start, so we made our way through the neighborhood to DuBeast. We sat inside and I was feeling nervous, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to perform or not, and the sign up list was filling quickly. Part of me thought “Duh, I have to,” and part of me thought “I have nothing ready,” and part of me thought “Anything that's ready is about the breakup,” and how cliche is heartbreak poetry, but how relatable, but how weird to perform it in front of your mom and the new guy you’ve only been seeing a month and a half but it feels much longer?
My mom and I chatted with the bartender as the place filled up. The MC was making his rounds, asking all the patrons if we were performing or just watching. When he got to me I chickened out and said just watching, and kept checking my phone.
The screen lit up. “On my way now, this place better be worth it,”
“Well I might be performing,” I texted back. “So you tell me later if it was worth it or not.”
The MC was gesturing for everyone to head down to the basement stage and as he was walking past me, I decided it was now or never.
“Hey,” I said, tapping him on the arm, “Are there any slots left? I’d love to perform after all.”
“Of course girl! Lemme get you on there. Come downstairs and grab a seat.”
He was off into the crowd with a wink and my stomach had turned into butterflies. My mom and I headed down and grabbed a spot on a couch in the corner. The first half of the show went by in a laughing and awestruck blur, in between poems I had just seconds to think “Why haven’t I been coming here all year?”
Why do we always seem to find the best places just before we move, make the best friends just before we graduate, or start to really love our job right before we quit? Maybe it’s graduation goggles, or maybe it’s the fact that an inevitable ending does more to help us live in the moment than endless time ever could.
Intermission came around and everyone went outside to roll cigarettes and chat, and I lingered in the basement, looking at the stage, imagining myself on it. I went upstairs to find my mom and check my phone. She was talking to some people outside, just as at home in Berlin as she is in our small town. It was great to see. Everyone milled around for 10 minutes or so and then went back inside, and I stayed out, pacing, looking down the sidewalk towards the train station. Finally I typed out a text.
“You almost here?”
He answered with his voice, walking out of the shadows right after I hit send. “I’m here, I’m here,” he said, giving me a hug. “Where’s your mama?” He was looking around, mapping the area.
“She’s inside. You nervous to meet her?”
“No way, I can handle it, I’m no shrimp.” I laughed as I always did with him.
We made our way back down to the basement where my mom was holding our spots.
“Hi Mrs. Turino,” he said, putting his hand out.
“Just call me Julie,” she laughed, taking his hand. He went up to the bar to grab drinks and I sat down with my mom. Boys are always nervous to meet her. Maybe boys are always nervous to meet moms. The second half started and the three of us were squished on the couch together and the performances were beautiful and I was bouncing my knee waiting for my number to be called. When it finally was, I walked up as calmly as I could even though my legs were shaking how they always do when I perform. I was grateful for the wall behind me to lean against.
“Hi everyone, this is my first time performing here. I’m moving back to the US in 2 weeks so I thought I should finally perform in Berlin. So here it goes.”
I tried to not read too fast, like I tend to do. I made sure to pause in all the important spots. I stood up straight, like this boy had been telling me to do all summer. We’d be walking out of school to the train station and he’d poke me right between the shoulder blades and say “Hey, Turino! What did I tell you? Bad bitches stand up straight, don’t let me catch you slouching. You’re better than that.” It always made me laugh. “You know what? You’re right.” I would say, straightening up.
I tried to listen to the audience while also reading, and the piece was over just as I had started to summon up the nerves to read it. I caught a few smiles as I squeezed my way back to the couch in a flurry of applause and my mom leaned in and whispered that she was proud of me. I was feeling the post performance rush, even if it was only in front of 20 or so people in a bar basement. The rest of the performances went by and then the night was over and we all went upstairs and spilled out onto the street and a few people came up to me and said they loved the poem, and I accepted the compliments with a gracious smile and some surprise, it hadn’t felt like anything particularly significant, a random page pulled out of a pile of heartbreak poetry, but it's always nice to hear that a piece spoke to someone other than me. I looked around and saw my mom standing with him and some people from the audience, laughing at something he was saying, as per usual. People were always laughing with him, put at ease and comfortable in his energy. I walked up to them. “So what now guys? I see you two are already best friends.”
We made our way to the station to head over to Kreuzberg to our favorite bar. Off at Kottbusser Tor and over a few blocks, we stepped into the low lit room and ordered drinks, grabbing the best table by the window. Conversation and jokes flowed so naturally and the candle flames were flickering and we were laughing and the night was sparkling outside the door and the bartender was talking with us. I ordered a drink for my mom and accidentally took someone else’s off the bar, and when the bartender came over to bring us the right one we somehow convinced him to give them both to us for free.
My mom left to go to the bathroom at some point and I leaned over to him and said, "Hey, how you feeling?”
He paused and looked around. “I feel weird...that I don’t feel weird. She’s cool.”
I smiled. “Told you.”
Then my mom was back at the table and we were paying for our drinks and we were out on the sidewalk and headed down the block to Burgermeister, the perfect place to be after midnight or 1 am. I was dragging my feet and getting tired, the days had been non stop.
“Hey, get this girl some food!” He was saying, “We don’t need her getting in her feelings since she hasn’t eaten. Yo Lyd, don’t be getting in your feelings right now.” His tone always pulled me back to earth, no matter what cloud I was floating up to.
“You right you right, where’s the food at right now.”
There’s something so intangible about the way our words flew rapid fire back and forth all summer, something that can’t be written down so much as it can be glimpsed out the train window or seen at sunrise from the back window of a cab.
We were joking and laughing after we ate and when we realized how late it was, we headed towards the station. We got underground...and realized it was Thursday. Trains ran every 30 minutes—if not longer—after 12 on weeknights. Back up to the street level and to the curb, I argued with my mom and him about the bus being cheaper than a cab and how we can deal with it but they outvoted me and we decided to split a cab and 20 minutes later we were piling out onto the cobblestones outside of my apartment and saying good-bye and see you later and handing him back his jacket and unlocking the apartment building and going upstairs with my mom and falling into bed, shutting the lights off and falling asleep with a smile on my face.
Today, a year later to the day, I’m going on 5 months of quarantine in the US and could never have seen this coming this time last year. It is unbelievable the state of this country, and as I check Google Flights every day, dreaming about where I would go if I could, it is easy to slip back into my memories. I have always been a nostalgic person and this has been alive and well during quarantine. Nothing new is happening, and not many opportunities to explore the world exist right now. It is easy to daydream while I wait for the things to reopen, and it is easy to spend hours looking at old pictures and reminiscing. I am not used to this much stillness. It has almost been half a year of this and I’m getting pretty stir crazy, but for now, I write.