This story falls under the category of “it seemed like a great idea at the time.” A few years before I got married, I lived with a young man for a bit over a year. He was from Germany and was doing his alternative service here in the United States. The relationship had its ups and downs but after he left we kept in touch by mail. He had a short unhappy marriage but eventually met the woman he is now married to and they have two children. They live in Germany. We lost touch for a time but when my friend Jane and I decided to take a trip to Germany, France, and Switzerland, Hans said he would like us to come and meet his wife and children. It was very exciting to wait in the Hamburg train station to see my past lover after almost twenty years. He had aged well. We had a great time and I enjoyed his family. We drank a lot of wine and reminisced. His wife did not appear to be at all jealous. When Hans and I were saying goodbye at the train station, we kissed quite passionately. Once I boarded the train, I put the window down and we held hands until the train started up. It was the only time in my life that I felt I was in the scene from a movie. Within a couple of years, a conference brought him to the States and he arranged to visit me and meet my husband. They got along well. Hans and I did not exchange anything other than warm hugs from then on.
Fast forward about five years. My husband and I separate after twenty-three years. I am devastated. When I tell Hans, he tells me that he has decided to bring his wife and children to the States for their first time. He says that they talked about it and wanted me to accompany them and serve as their tour guide. I was flattered but unsure of the idea. Hans was persistent, so I agreed.
It began fantastically. I met them at the airport. I had arranged that we spend a few relaxing days at my parent’s lake place. It was perfect. The kids swam and the three adults, relaxed in the sun, played with the kids and prepared easy summer meals. Little did I know that would be the beginning of the end of our pleasant vacation.
After the lake, our next stop was my hometown of Chicago. I had a wide array of ideas for them to choose from but the only thing they wanted to do was take a bus tour of where Al Capone had done his dirty deeds. I declined to go along although I later learned that the bus took you to many varied neighborhoods. They didn’t want to go up in any skyscrapers, or go to the museums or planetarium, even if it was on a free day. I was a confused and frustrated guide. I was tempted to jump ship at that point but wanted things to end on a good note.
After Chicago we camped for a few days. I thought that would be my chance to cook them an all American breakfast of fried potatoes and eggs for breakfast. Hans’ wife informed me that they only eat potatoes for supper. Same for pancakes. So much for when in the Midwest, do as the Midwesterners. It gets better. I will spare my readers some of the details with the exception of the following.
In St. Louis, we stayed in a motel. We shared one room. I imagined that their daughter would sleep with me and their son on a cot. I was wrong. Both of the kids, wanted to sleep with Mom. That left me and Hans. Since this was their vacation, if anyone was going to be physically put out, I wanted it to be me, so I offered to sleep on the floor or a cot. Hans said he and his wife had discussed it and had agreed that we (he and I) should share a bed. I haven’t mentioned that Hans’ wife spoke very little English and my German consisted of “Haben sie gut geschlafen” (which I think means “Sleep well.”) and Ich liebe kasekuchen. (I love cheesecake.) This decision making process was all occurring late at night after several beers. Truth be told, after having slept alone for ten months at this point, the idea of sharing a bed with a person of the male sex was tempting and who was I to argue. The other factor was that I already knew, but had forgotten that Hans and Inge did not believe in putting on garments when they swim or sleep. We didn’t swim at the motel, but there wasn’t a lot to prevent me from feeling his body heat while we slept. Actually, I spent most of the first night, trying to keep some space between us. He slept soundly. His wife showed no signs the next day of being unhappy with the arrangement. On the second night, I relaxed a bit and didn’t panic if a part of my body not enclosed in pajamas inadvertently made contact with his unclad body. There was still almost a week before they were scheduled to leave. I realized that if there was any chance for our friendship to survive, our time together needed to be shortened. I called my friend who had traveled with me to Germany. She was more than happy to extend them hospitality for a few days. This all took place six years ago. Inge and I have not been in contact but Hans and I email a few times a year. At first, I tried to discuss with him what went wrong and what we could have done differently. He just said that it was his wife’s first time in the States and she had a hard time of it but that it had been a wonderful family vacation. So be it.