Chapter 4 (eight months later)
The car is parked in a concrete multi-level garage. Thomas Richter gazes at the disagreeable and tenebrous weather from his sheltered vantage point. Generally, the sound given from the impact of the drops of rain collectively striking the pavement relaxes and focuses his mind, but today is different. A sensitive man flawed by his inability to provide generous verbal affirmations, Thomas heads to a session of couple’s therapy. Looking to his passenger and wife as they exit the car he is not sure how they came to this. He is as attracted to her as before. Michaela Richter with her blond hair in soft waves, high cheeks, and statuesque figure satisfies all the stereotypical ingredients of central European beauty.
But some aspect of her being changed; the vivacious and amiable woman no longer exists. Always yielding to life’s circumstances and ready to seize opportunity, she is paralyzed with the incapacity to relax. It began subtly; her interest in things that she liked ebbed. At the beginning Thomas thought that she suffered from stress. She was working as a graphic designer on a special project for Der Spiegel. Living under the oppression of a deadline, often has its price. At the end of the project, she was promoted to a new position with the German magazine. The couple celebrated with a vacation in the mountains of Vermont. Michaela appreciated the efforts of her husband but somehow she lost her way. Despite her success with Der Spiegel she was neither passionate about her work nor time with her husband; she was flat.
The silent and invisible plague exerted an ambush upon Michaela until she cried without reason, and became too crippled to make simple decisions. During the nights that Thomas stayed late at the university Michaela did not eat, largely because she could not decide what to prepare. She was often argumentative with Thomas. She began seeking counsel from a therapist. Thomas has doubts in the authenticity of depression and its symptoms. On the other hand, he indubitably notes his wife’s inexplicable struggles. She has been going to therapy and today has invited Thomas to participate.
In the waiting room, Katherine Andrews plays classical music. This is probably due to the recommendation of some study, Thomas thinks. He listens intently, analyzing the song. Thomas is a musician, and a good one at that. Actually, his talent reaches far past good. While practically still a baby, music seduced him: it was his best friend, his lover, and his career until meeting Michaela in a café. In reviews of his last live performance, critics praised his talent as virtuoso pianist. Indeed this is the rare sort of awesome musical talent that allows a musician to share their gift and not suffer the financial difficulties faced by artists.
Michaela appreciates music. She took guitar lessons as a child and plays rather well, but not often. Thomas patiently and passionately taught her to play the piano, in their early days of coupledom but it was never an instrument she took too. The cumbersome mass of the piano is for a committed musician with resources. Sure, anyone can strike the keys on a little electric keyboard with its price and portability. But the piano requires space, and money and care for its maintenance and transport. The pianist is anchored to the piano. The guitarist can carry his instrument with ease. Thomas cannot help but wonder if he is the anchor that landed her in therapy. Her eyes wander upon the surface of the coffee table and crowd of magazines when, Katherine invites them into her office.
Katherine moves towards Thomas extending her hand.” You must be Thomas.” He shakes her hand.
“Katherine Andrews, family counselor”
The couple follows Katherine to her office.
“Thomas, Michaela and I have discussed some of the emotional challenges, and a repetitive theme is her loneliness and sadness. We are considering medication. I first suggested that you participate in a session to reevaluate the situation. Let us begin with a general discussion on what you observe in Michaela on an average day.
Thomas wants to banish the idea that he is a cruel insensitive husband. He never threatens his wife with fists nor vituperative words. Ignorant to what Michaela has spoken of to this woman, he feels as vulnerable as if he were naked on stage. He hopes to establish that he is sensitive and caring.
He opens his mouth to speak, but Michaela cuts him off.
“I miss Germany and speaking German.”
“Sometimes we speak German. One day we will go back to Germany.” Thomas protests, but it is obvious he cannot say when. He feels unprepared and erroneous in his answer like his first piano recital at six years old when stage fright overcame him and so did striking the wrong keys.
“We have been here for four years and married for almost five. I followed you here with the idea that it was something temporary. I see your success mentoring all of these prodigious musicians. I see it in your eyes you do not want to give this up. You hardly speak German. We do not have children, but if we did I would want to have them in Germany. Michaela reacts resolutely.”
Katherine replies. How much time has passed since the last time you went to Germany? Perhaps you or Michaela need a trip to your home country. The reality is navigating a culture and language that does not feel like our own is challenging.”
Nodding his head, Thomas says “I am teaching some summer classes, but we can try to go in August.” Often expressing his want for children and seeing her reticence, he wonders if living in Germany would really make a difference.
After an hour the session ends. I feel very guilty, begins Michaela. It interested me to live abroad, but I always intended to return to Germany. I see you, contented. In fact, you are happier and more content than I have ever seen you. You guide those students with tenacity, and enthusiasm unseen in Munich. I deserve happiness as Katherine said, but you also deserve your happiness. “I could continue working. You can join me in August. Henrik and Nicole are to marry in August. If we coordinate the dates, we could go.”
Thomas reaches for her thigh just above the knee at traffic stop. Thomas, thinking of his old life and distant life remembers Nicole and Henrik. They had all been great friends. He replies. “That would be really great if we could go to their wedding. Despite the years apart, they are still important to me. “
Thomas gently reaches for her thigh just above the knee at traffic stop. “I hear you and think a trip back home would be good for you.”
“Would you like to eat out? Her question breaks their trajectory.
“You know me too well.”
Every couple arrives at the moment when they realize that love is not enough. The problem with love is that it blinds us to incompatibility. What nobody admits is that one can love someone that alters the connection with oneself to the point that we are not certain who we are or what is left. An Alumnus of Boston Conservatory, Thomas’s professional network solidified in Massachusetts as a young man. He regretfully returned to Gemering the summer after graduate school without securing employment in American academia. That July day, he treated himself to an Eiskaffee after interviewing and accepting a job offer as an adjunct professor at Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Munchen. It was a compromise he made to launch his career. He sat perusing Facebook and particularly sensitive to how inadequate he felt at the sight of carefully edited perfection that mocked his less than perfect situation. Frustrated he abandoned the webpage and his phone for the moment and took a moment to listen to the music of urban life. Shoes on the cobblestones, conversations on one’s handy, delivery trucks and carts, all came together in an erratic symphony.
The inviting and welcoming personality of Munich is illuminated in the Marienplatz and beer gardens in the summer. This scene is a familiar one for Thomas and his familiarity played patron to complacency. With images of the world at our fingertips, cameras always on hand, it has become too easy to look outwardly then be present and appreciate what is before us. It is too easy to forget the sincere pleasure of the sun on our cheeks and the smell of coffee. But in the café at this moment, was a woman drawing something while she savored every sip of coffee with a subtle smile. The whole scene of contentedness was a welcome reprieve from the weight of his disappointment. He wanted to see what she was drawing.
General small talk is not as common in Germany. To approach a stranger just to speak with them is a rare social interaction and trite compliments hold little weight. It is better to be honest and direct than to feign your interest. Thomas found himself missing some of the friendliness of America, even if it sometimes felt vapid. He rose from his chair and approached her.
“Hello. I hope you do not mind the intrusion, but I noticed you drawing and became curious. Most people occupy themselves with their phones when alone, taking coffee.”
Thomas spoke in English, thinking it a skill he must maintain at a high level given his plan to return to the United States and teach at university. Seeing her intense study of the Marienplatz he secretly hoped she was an American abroad.
“No Problem.” She slid the sketch towards him.
Another German, he thought upon hearing her accent.
She shows him what she had been intently working on. It was a drawing of the café’s front window. Pastries displayed in finite detail.
“This is really fantastic. Are you an artist?”
“Ja” I mean, yes. Do you speak German? You speak English with a German accent.” Her smile indicated she caught his bluff.
“Yes. It is just I thought maybe you were not from here. I have to practice my English frequently.”
Switching to German Michaela continues. “I work as a graphic artist and photographer. It is contract work currently. Apartments here are very expensive now, so I also do photography on the side. I am waiting to meet with a prospective client here. She hired me to be her wedding photographer.”
“I can see your passion for visual arts. You are talented. Some years have passed since my last visit to the Neue Pinakothek. Have you been recently? Would you like to go?”
Michaela is attractive; the type of woman with suitors abound. This man is different she told herself. There is something innocent, kind, and incredibly sincere in him. At this point, she was not sure if he simply sought a companion passionate about art for the museum, or a girlfriend. Seeing him with his vaudeville three piece suit and shoulder length thick, dark hair the directness of his questions, enticed her. Having gone on a date with a tall dark and handsome Turkish man the night before, it was more red wine and soft flattery misconstrued for amor. Thinking she hadn’t been out with a German in some time, she answers him.
“Alright, what is your phone number, I will next you so you have mine. Then contact me when you want to go”
With her number on his phone about to depart, he paused.
“Umm….I forgot to get your name.
“Thomas Richter, freut mich kennen zu lernen.”
They went to the museum a week later. Thomas was more timid and aloof than any Michaela expected, but his talent and kindness provoked and seduced her. Michaela was creative passionate, and emotional in every area of her life. They married after two years of dating.