The Complexities of the Heart
The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. Blaise Pascal
Biene and I had met twice in the early summer of 1964, each time for only a few hours, as I had a long train ride to get back to the barracks before midnight. Being completely incapable to feel happy for any length of time until then, I was amazed how my restless heart and mind could be in perfect harmony to permit that elusive sensation of happiness during those five wonderful hours I had spent with Biene along the shores of Lake Baldeney. This blissful feeling was further enhanced when Biene wrote that she now knew that I was no longer just a fantasy person, but a real human being she could love and be happy with.
Alas, barely two weeks later, while I was still deeply immersed in a state of euphoria, a letter from Biene arrived with an obscure message out of which I could make very little sense.
You will probably ask yourself why I haven’t written to you sooner. Indeed, you may ask this question. It is strange with me; for I can’t get rid of my sadness. When everything outside looks so peaceful and when I think of you, it is getting even worse. I would rather crawl into my bed being so much in pain and cry. How beautiful it is outside! The sun is shining and the wheat fields have already turned completely yellow and the stalks are swaying in the wind and making a gentle sound. Normally wheat fields fill me with joy and let me dream many a beautiful dream. And now?
I would like to talk to you about everything that moves me. But it is not because of you that I cannot do it. I have a great longing to be with you. But I cannot tell you what I want to tell you. It would increase my sadness, because I would hurt you, and I would like you so much to be happy, if you think of me. Please forgive me that I write nothing that would cheer you up. Normally, I am not like that. Now even beautiful memories don’t comfort me. I don’t want to think about anything of the past …”
I reread this passage at least half a dozen times in an effort to penetrate the veil, with which Biene may have covered a secret of the past. With all the talk in the male-dominated army, where many a room buddy had made himself an expert on what made the girls tick, on how to deal with their capricious behaviour, on how to please them, what to do and what not to do, with all that half knowledge of the opposite gender floating around in the gossip mills, not one of the so-called specialists ever mentioned the devastating influence of the monthly period. I was completely ignorant about what most women had to put up with, their mood swings, feeling psychologically and physically down, often bordering on severe forms of depression. More likely than not, the topic was one of the few remaining taboos left in the otherwise rough and tumble world of the military environment. If only I had had an inkling of those terrible days, often labeled ‘the evil days’, then truly I would have worded my reply with greater understanding. But not knowing the true nature of her problem I merely encouraged her to unburden herself of her troubling past.
“Do you really believe, dear Biene, that I could be happy at your expense? I know that so much of your past has been left unexplained and remains shrouded in darkness. Now you write that the ‘before’ oppresses you or whatever else it might be. But you won’t say, because you don’t want to hurt me. How sweet of you! But you must understand me right. If you are not happy, I cannot be happy either. It makes no sense to shield me from your pain. On the contrary, the silence is more torturous. I start to dig in my memories and try to figure out what it is that bothers you. And someone, who contemplates, gets too many ideas. I’d rather be sad with you than to wander about in fateful darkness, where there is no room for true happiness. Does it have to do with Henk? Or haven’t I understood you yet? Are you afraid that I would some day be lost to you forever? A thousand questions that make me sick! Dear Biene, I ask you, be of good courage and write what oppresses you. Otherwise, I don’t feel happy any more …”
Then there was Biene’s question about my brother Adolf.
“Sometimes I think of your brother from Canada. I cannot understand that no girl would want to be his wife. If two love each other, it does not matter where the two are together, and if it were at the end of the world. Don’t you think so?”
It was obvious that Biene used the example of my brother Adolf to indirectly tell me that if I was going to Canada and stayed there, she would be willing to follow me and be my wife. However, dense as I was then with regard to her hypothetical questions, I failed to read between the lines – the very same ineptitude, of which I had often accused Biene in the past. Or was it that we both suffered from the same tendency to back off whenever we came dangerously close to making a commitment? So I lamely replied as if Adolf had truly been her main concern.
“You wonder, dear Biene, why Adolf can find no girl, who is willing to follow him to Canada. Have you ever put yourself into this position? Think about what a girl would have to give up: her parents, friends, dear acquaintances, her home country, etc. Girls cling much more to matters of the heart than boys. Adolf knows this …”
So we two continued to beat around the bush. We only indirectly described to each other our innermost desires and hopes and out of fear of appearing too bold, we foolishly held back and failed to openly state what really was important to us, our love for each other.
Biene’s Visit to her Birthplace in Gotha
and her Vacation on the Island of Majorca, Spain
In the meantime Biene traveled to Gotha, where her half-sister Elsbeth and husband Paul Werner with their two children Norbert and Christian lived. Biene grew up in Gotha, until her parents and family escaped to West Germany. After a lengthy ordeal at the refugee camp in Aurich her parents eventually succeeded in receiving a decent apartment in Velbert.
Biene reported enthusiastically about her former home province Thuringia. They made many excursions into the surrounding area of Gotha, even visited the famous castle, the Warthburg, where Martin Luther within the safety of the massive walls translated the Bible into German. But what mattered most to Biene was that she and Elsbeth became close friends. They spent as much time as possible together.
While everyone was sound asleep, Elsbeth, twenty years her senior, would share her most precious memories with her. The two would often talk into the wee hours. Biene learned that Elsbeth loved to pen stories and even contemplated writing a book. After the wedding she was deeply saddened that her husband did not share her passion for writing. He was a very practical man with both feet on the ground and was focusing only on what had to be done to survive in the postwar communist society, where most basic consumer commodities were scarce. Paul ignored what was dearest to his young wife’s heart and treated with contempt what was in his eyes useless, sentimental tripe. He callously burned her entire portfolio of creative and much cherished writing leaving her nothing of her priceless collection except for a very few stories, which she managed to save from the senseless destruction. Overall, Biene had spent a wonderful time at her birthplace, that quaint house and apartment, where little had changed, since Biene and her family had escaped from the socialist ‘paradise’ in 1954.
Within barely a week upon her return to Velbert she was getting ready to fly with her friend Gisela to the Spanish Isle of Majorca. There in the company of other young girls and boys she enjoyed two relaxing weeks at the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the first time Biene was allowed to travel alone without parental supervision. Her mother had always kept a watchful eye on her stunningly beautiful and romantically inclined daughter, who had given her in the past much grief with her dangerous, almost fateful attraction she exerted on her male admirers. But as it turned out, Biene returned home safe and sound, tanned by the southern sun so dark she could have easily been mistaken for a Spanish senorita.
Apart from lounging at the beach and going swimming, Biene had once gone scuba diving in the crystal clear waters to explore the mysterious seascape, which gave her quite a thrill. However, as she soon discovered, diving and depending on the vital air supply from the oxygen tank on her back was not entirely without danger. While she took in the wonders of the strange world under the sea, the air supply suddenly dwindled forcing her to quickly surface. There was plenty of oxygen left in the tank. Perhaps Biene had put a kink into the connecting hose. Fortunately she had kept her cool and after being confronted with imminent danger did not panic. After this scary experience Biene decided that it was safer to stick with the more relaxing beach routine. Their flight back to Germany had been delayed by more than a day due to the loss of a plane, which the small tourist airline had suffered in a plane crash elsewhere. When they finally arrived in the dead of night at the Düsseldorf Airport, no busses were running any more to take them home. Biene and her friend were stranded. They were waiting at the dreary railroad station for the morning to come. Then a small miracle happened, which I let Biene describe in her own words.
“In the bungalow village was also a young girl who was teased by all, especially by the boys. She was strutting about in an extravagant attire entirely too dressed up. Nobody liked her. I had only once exchanged a few words with her. When Gisela and I were now waiting at the station for the morning and had gone outside to catch a little bit of fresh air, she suddenly walked up to us. She knew that our plane had landed late. When she learned that our bus would arrive only in the early morning, she took us without hesitation to her place not far from the station. She gave us each a couch, where we totally exhausted slept until she woke us with coffee and buns. You wouldn’t believe how lovingly she cared for us. I had never before noticed so prominently how much one lets outer appearance deceive oneself. I was really stunned by such kindliness.”
The Pain of Indecision
Love that is engulfed by fear is not perfect. It cannot grow in the darkness of uncertainty, where doubt enters the heart and where there is no commitment. In my excessive sensitivity towards Biene’s past distressing experiences of love coming too early and too suddenly, but also out of the horrid fear of rejection, I never found, as I should have, the courage to ask her point-blank to marry me. With a clear yes or no, we both would have been able to carry on with our lives and make plans for the future with or without being together. There is infinite wisdom in the convention to have a formal engagement when both partners gather with their families, relatives and friends, exchange rings, and promise before witnesses to marry each other. In as much this formal coming together was lacking, doubtfulness and its evil ally distrust cast a dark shadow on our relationship in spite of our declared love for each other. Until we met again in November, the pretence to be happy with a mere friendship on my part caused us both to sit on the fence. Frustrated with the regression to a mere amicable correspondence between two very good friends, I responded to Biene’s lamentation over the power of Fate, which was threatening to separate us,
“Leave Fate, dear Biene, out of the picture. Fate in our case is not a blind, impersonal power, to which we must submit. We all create it with our own desires and action. When you say that Fate will one day separate us; that we have to knuckle under; that we have to be happy with what we have given to each other, then you don’t mean Fate, but you yourself and your hidden wishes. What should separate us? Is it perhaps my voyage to Canada? This is not Fate’s power, but my own wish. My wish is also to return if necessary, and yours could be simply to follow me. Why am I harping on it so long? Because I remember all too well our agreement right from the beginning to be honest and truthful, even if it meant to hurt one another. Please don’t be angry with me that I am writing to you so openly… I do not stand terrified and inconsolable before this mysterious force called ‘Fate’. No tyrant, nor any distance, nor any ocean can separate us. We alone separate each other.”
There is some truth in my reflections of some fifty years ago. People do indeed use this irrational force as a pretext to excuse their own lack of courage, inability to act when action is required, their self-doubt and uncertainty about that portion of their personal life that could be given direction and purpose if there was a will. However, truth becomes tarnished when mingled with disingenuous motives and intentions. Such was the case when I accepted the boundary that Biene had set for our love, although in reality I had always wanted to cross that boundary. Instead of giving a pedantic lecture on Fate, why didn’t I tell her that I loved her, asked her to marry me, and then, if she said yes, point out that we needed to make plans to turn our dreams into reality? With horror I look back and realize how much I had been willing to risk with my provocative letter, in which I had renounced my true intentions. But I was young and inexperienced, only a little over a year out of high school. I was groping in the dark. I had nobody to turn to for advice. I only had Biene’s responses and reactions, which were often just as bewildering and confusing to me as were my letters to her. The problem was that we were so much alike in our fear of the pain of permanent separation, which was looming more and more ominous with each passing month that we were erecting walls to protect ourselves, when we should have been busy building bridges of love and faithfulness. Thus, it is not surprising that Biene shrouded in darkness about my true feelings for her would not be writing very encouraging words to bolster our relationship.
“Alas, I also hope, as you do, that everything will work out nicely between the two of us, before you depart, although then the good-bye will be even harder. I thank you that you want to grant me my wish (respecting the boundary) and imagine, sometimes I even wish the opposite. Oh Peter, it is so confusing. Please forgive me! I don’t understand it myself. The more I want to free myself from you, the more my longing for you increases.”
Were these lines popping up sporadically in her letters not an urgent plea to me to make a move, to take the first step to reach out to her, to comfort her with a word of commitment? In the culture of traditional values and conventions of the mid-sixties Biene expected me to take the initiative and break the stalemate. But shy like a little schoolboy I kept beating around the bush. The word marriage was not part of my vocabulary. However, mindful of my good friend Dieter’s advice, I began to arrange another rendezvous with Biene. She was eager to prepare our meeting and combine it with a visit to the Wuppertal Opera House. We both were looking forward to it. We sincerely felt that seeing each other again would chase away those gloomy thoughts and ominous forebodings about our impending separation and potential break-up of our tenuous, yet so cherished relationship.