The morning sun opened our lust-covered eyes. Tomas pulled me near in my half-asleep state. The next thing I knew, we were engaged where we’d left off the night before.
“Damn,” I exclaimed. “What a wonderful way to start the day!”
We’d spent months planning this honeymoon. The kids were with Mutti and Vater in Chicago for two weeks, and we’d rented the cabin in the beautiful Rockies three months in advance. It stood above a shimmering clear lake, about an hour and a half outside Boulder. The closest residence was a quarter-mile away, and we were well-stocked with every necessity. The most essential item we’d packed with care was our freedom—the freedom to explore our love without guilt or remorse. Our self-imposed exile was over.
The scents of fresh coffee, toast, and bacon, mixed with the sounds of pans, silverware, and clinking glass, drifted into the bedroom. I pictured Tomas, with a smile of contentment, squeezing fresh orange juice and setting a tray. His gentle humming, a rendition of an old English love song, mingled with the sounds and smells of the breakfast.
The sun’s rays shot through the window and reflected off my wedding ring. It had been Omi’s when she’d been married and her mother’s—my great-grandmother’s—before that. It was a small, simple diamond set in a silver band. The light reflected a thousand colors of the rainbow. I looked closer and was amazed by its brilliance.
Jens had been like that ring. He’d overwhelmed me with his worldliness and intelligence. But like a fake diamond, he soon lost his luster, and our love faded to a dull gray.
The bike vibrated between my legs as my arms encircled Jens’ waist. I was scared, but also excited. The wind blew through my hair as we wound through country roads and back to the city, ending up at a party with Jens’ buddies. I was in the bathroom for half an hour combing out my snarled hair. When I emerged, they were drinking, smoking and talking about the World Cup and politics.
“Germany doesn’t have a chance against Brazil. Their forwards are too fast, and Germany’s defense can’t keep up,” said Jens’ friend Paul.
Jens shot back, “Speed isn’t everything, my friend. Germany has strength. They’ll wear them down. You wait and see.”
“Yeah, look where strength got them: almost annihilated!” replied Paul.
“Why do you always bring in politics?” questioned Jens. “World War II has nothing to do with soccer, you idiot. And even if it did, you’d be wrong there, too. Germany has rebuilt itself from the ground up and is one of the strongest economic powers in the world. And mark my word, someday the Wall’s going to fall, and they’ll be unstoppable.”
“You must be drunk,” snorted Paul. “The Wall’s never coming down. You and I will be dead before that ever happens. You think Khrushev is going to allow it? No way! Never! The U.S. doesn’t really want it to fall either. They’re scared to death of a united Germany. Who can blame them? It wasn’t that long ago that we were under their thumbs as well.”
“Paul, you have not only lost your mind, but your reasoning ability as well,” Jens grinned. “Who did you say was drunk?”
They laughed and raised their glasses. “Mark my words, NATO would love to see The Wall crumble, and by tomorrow night, you’ll see the new world champions of soccer celebrating in Berlin.”
The night went on. Everyone grew louder and more adamant about his position. I didn’t dare say a word. I was too afraid to open my mouth, and I didn’t have a clue about half of what they were discussing. I was happy to just be there and sit by “my man.”
Around one or two in the morning, we swerved back and forth to the hospital. Jens dropped me off by the maintenance entrance. I took off my shoes and snuck in like a burglar. Kristan was wide awake and insisted I tell her “everything.”
“There’s not much to tell,” I said. “We just drove around for a while and went to see a friend of his.”
Annoyed with my reluctance, Kristan exclaimed, “Not much to tell! Didn’t you even kiss him?”
“No, why would I?” I asked naively. “We just met.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re impossible.”
I told her I was tired and went to bed. I could tell she was annoyed with my answer and knew I’d kept a lot to myself. I pulled the cover up to my neck, felt my legs still vibrating from the bike, and thought about Jens. He must be the most wonderful creature on earth! He’s so smart and handsome! I’d die for him here and now.
Jens and I continued to escape the watchful eyes of my benefactors at least four to five times a month. We went to movies, concerts and parties and took long walks. Jens did most of the talking and usually decided where we’d go, but I was happier than I’d ever been. Part of me enjoyed being told what to do and being taken care of. As the oldest at home, I’d always been the responsible one. Now I was the youngest. Jens was seven years my senior. I didn’t need to make any decisions—he was my mentor. His presence in my life opened new vistas and possibilities.
Three months later, the inevitable question arose. When he asks me to sleep with him, will I? It wasn’t a difficult decision. I was sure he was the love of my life, and I had no reason to hold back. He’d suggested I start taking the pill a month earlier, when I’d turned eighteen. He’d obviously decided already. And since I’d taken him up on his suggestion, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when.
“When” happened on a cold, windy, Friday night, after we’d gone to see the movie Easy Rider starring Peter Fonda. Jens loved biker movies. I didn’t understand all the drug references or American slang, but the need to let loose and be carefree spoke to all cultures and languages.
After the movie, we went to Paul’s home and discovered that no one was there. I learned later that they had it all planned.
Jens was very sweet and restrained himself from attacking me the instant we walked in the door. I could see in his eyes that he was holding himself in check, waiting for me to “give in” and “let go.”
He kissed me hard, took off my sweater and shirt, but had trouble getting my pants down. I stopped him and did it myself. He took off his clothes. I’d never seen a grown man naked, let alone one this excited. I stifled a giggle, and we continued our play into the bedroom.
Kristan was right: it was awkward. All the sensations were new. It felt strange to have another person inside of me. But this wasn’t just anyone—it was Jens! I wanted to show him I was a real woman. I’d never felt so close to another human being.
That night I went home and didn’t whisper a word to Kristan; it was too personal. I associated sex with love and was sure we were moving down the yellow brick road to eternal wedded bliss, with adorable children following in rapid succession. My head hit the pillow with a contented sigh.
Two days later, Jens took me to a ritzy downtown eatery known as Pole-Nord. I entered with a waltz in my step and a glow in my heart. I’d borrowed a silver, shimmering, low-cut dress from Kristan and spent hours on my hair and makeup. My expectations and exuberance filled the room to capacity. I felt like Jacqueline Onassis; I could have dazzled kings and queens with my brilliance.
As we sat waiting to order, Jens asked how I was doing.
“Great. How do you think?” I winked.
“You look gorgeous,” he said, but without any spark.
“Thought you’d never notice.” I smiled coyly.
After a few more moments of my intoxicated admiration and fawning, he began to unravel.
“I’ve got to tell you something,” he hinted.
“Yes…,” I stated with intimate glee.
“I’m not sure how,” he hesitated.
Here it comes, I thought. It must be hard to propose. I couldn’t wait much longer or I’d burst.
He moved his napkin on and off his lap several times, took a deep breath, and continued. “Well, there’s no easy way to do this.”
“What is it, Jens?” I asked with a shy grin, knowing all the while.
“It’s tearing me up.” He lowered his gaze and his voice.
A flicker of doubt crossed my mind. “What’s tearing you up?”
How could asking me to marry him be tearing him up?
“She doesn’t mean a thing,” he blurted.
I physically recoiled like a gun.
“What?” I mumbled. “She?”
“I was only eighteen,” he whispered. “Her father made us.”
“Made you what?” I asked, hoping against hope.
He looked up. “Get married, you idiot. What do you think I’m trying to tell you?”
Ashamed at my own ignorance, I continued to react like a schoolgirl who’d been attacked by the class bully. “Get married,” I stuttered. “You . . . you were married?”
Impatient and red-faced, he glared, “Not was married. I AM married. Why are you making this so difficult?!”
“Difficult?!” I exclaimed.
I couldn’t believe my ears were being defiled with such obscene hypocrisy. My outrage embedded itself in his floundering gills. “You’re married! You’re telling me you’re already married?!” He nodded. “You were married when we first went out . . . when you took me to see your friends . . . when you made love to me?!” He looked away and nodded again. “And I’m being difficult?!” I shouted.
I’m not sure why I didn’t stand up, kick him in the balls, and leave right then and there. I was paralyzed with shock; I simply froze and watched the crap pour from his lips.
“Yeah, I’m married,” he confessed, “but she doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve never loved her, and she knows it. It’s no big secret.”
They have no secrets, I thought. How nice.
“We’d have never have married if her father hadn’t threatened me,” he reiterated. “Hell, we’d only known each other for four months.”
“What’s her name?” a voice asked, as if it hadn’t come from my own throat.
“Julia,” he said with a hint of appropriate distaste.
“Julia,” I repeated. It felt sharp on my tongue.
“Yes, Julia,” he echoed. “I’ve told her again and again that we’re through, but she doesn’t get it. She and Franz will do fine on their own. He’ll be much happier without us fighting all the time.”
Reluctantly, I asked, “Who’s Franz?”
“Our son,” he stated, as if everyone on earth knew.
My skin began to crawl. I felt the blood drain from my face. “Your son?” the mystery voice continued. “You have a son?” I asked, as the aftershocks continued to rock my world. “How old?”
“He’ll be seven this March,” he said with a hint of pride.
My voice left me, and I sat in stony silence.
He whined on and on. “They mean nothing to me. Do you hear me? You’re the only one who matters. You’ve got to believe me! Don’t ever think of leaving. I couldn’t live without you!”
Grabbing my hands tightly, he continued, “You’ve got to understand!”
“A son. You have a son?” I thought my head would shatter. “Why didn’t you tell me?” My insides were screaming. My mind refused to believe the obvious, and I whispered with one last hope, “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
“I wish I was,” he said. “I didn’t want to hurt you. Can you ever forgive me?”
“No,” I said resolutely. “Never!”
“It didn’t seem like the right time,” he blundered. “I tried, but whenever you’d look at me with those beautiful blue eyes, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand to make you cry.”
“And now’s a good time?” I replied rigidly. “After all we’ve been through?!”
“I understand,” he said gloomily. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Understand? I silently intoned, continuing to stare with a porcelain face at the blue velvet wall across the room. He doesn’t understand squat!
“Don’t shut me out!” he implored, squeezing my hands tighter. “Annalise. Annalise!” He shook my shoulders, and I returned to the pain of the moment. “Say something. Don’t just sit there; it’s driving me mad.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked flatly.
“Your love,” he lamented. “Don’t let a past mistake cut us down.”
All my insecurities rushed to the surface, as my need for affection and direction overpowered any reason left in my hollow shell of a body.
An unknown force removed the adrenaline from my muscles and mind; I calmly looked Jens in the eye and said, mysteriously, “I could never leave you.” I smiled unconsciously. “We’ll work it out.”
I heard a sigh of relief exhale from his lungs like a gust of wind, as he suffocated me with kisses, hugs and reassurance. “I knew you’d understand. You’re one in a million, I tell ya . . . one in a million.”
I retained a semblance of misplaced dignity and insisted he divorce immediately. “If not, we’re history!” I exclaimed, thinking I was being assertive and strong.
I had a rabid case of snow blindness, and I kept crawling up Mt. Illusion, ignoring all signs of the impending avalanche.
The rest of the evening was a drunken blur. I doused the bonfire of my betrayed trust with an ocean of booze, demanding “one more” until I had to be carried home. Throwing up on the floor of his precious BMW was the only inkling of justice I could manage.
True to his word, Jens divorced Julia within the month and maintained contact with his son by buying him expensive gifts, which he delivered with his usual warmth and personal touch . . . by way of the Postal Service.
When I turned eighteen and finished nursing school, I jumped off the mountain’s ledge into the fiery pit: I irrationally moved in with Jens and his seventy-four-year-old grandmother, Rochelle. We inhabited the top floor, she the lowlands.
Rochelle was a little senile and talked as if we’d been married for years. With her failing eyesight and wandering mind, she often called me Netti, as if I were her niece. Honesty isn’t as meritorious as it’s always cracked up to be. There are times when fudging the truth a little—or outright lying—is the most compassionate course. If I’d attempted to tell Rochelle the truth about her grandson and me “living in sin,” I would have drained her pious Catholic heart of all her saintly blood. She would have turned over in her grave—before she’d even died.
I never met Jens’ wife or son. Apparently, Julia had more wits than I’d expected and skillfully kept her distance.
The only persistent threat to our fragile happiness, other than the relationship itself, was my family. The thought of them discovering my living arrangement loomed over me like Godzilla about to attack Tokyo. They had to know sooner or later. And if the news didn’t come from me first, they’d hit the roof . . . and the floor . . . the walls . . . and then me. So Jens and I arranged a little visit. I told my family I was bringing my boyfriend, period.
The little visit went from disaster to disastrous.
Continues at: Loving Annalise