Rose sat at the bar alone. She was used to that. There was something about her aura that made people want to run the other way. Its loneliness and despair was so overpowering that you could pick up the scent from a kilometer away, even if you weren’t an animal in the conventional sense. But that was okay. From the other side of the room, she could hear a boy, no older than nineteen, playing an acoustic version of “High and Dry” by Radiohead and suddenly she didn’t feel that she was totally alone in Berlin. The city of division. It was fitting really, since she herself had felt so divided since coming to Europe. Was she meant to stay here? Or would she be thrust back to her native land of the United States like every other sorry weakling who had tried to hack it here before? How she loathed sentimentality, yet was the very embodiment of it. She figured if she sat at the edge of that bar long enough, clutching to her beer as though it was her dick and she was in the bathroom looking at a nudie magazine, someone–anyone–might feel inclined to strike up a conversation with her.
Usually, this bar was teeming with English speakers. But tonight, it was too early. All the serious drinkers were German. She was awash in their bitter language, supposedly so similar to her own, but the only thing she could ever understand were the basics–which essentially amounted to bitte. It was one of those moments when she was forced to really look at what she was doing with her life. It was an American mentality that couldn’t be shaken. Surely, she had to be doing something. How could she have allowed herself to just roam about the continent as though the yoke of slavery wasn’t about to come down on her? She wasn’t free; she had bought time, sure–but a small respite does not freedom equal.
She took another sip of her beer. The brand was called Astra and its logo was an anchor with a heart at the bottom of it. Oh god, she thought. It’s all just too fucking fitting. She could not only not be free from the inevitability of a job, but she also couldn’t be free from her heart’s anchor, still attached to the one she loved and was waiting for, but who could, at this very moment, be chatting up some other girl or even worse, not thinking in the slightest about her. She wanted so badly to be able to return to the carefree days of her early twenties, when it was easy to talk strangers and let them take your worries away for a night. Now, all they did was aggravate them.
Still, this didn’t stop one man with a bald head and dubious dental records from noting, “You don’t seem very happy.”
Rose took another sip from her beer. “What does a happy person look like?”
“Not you,” retorted Zelig, as she would soon learn his name was.
“Your name’s Zelig? I thought that was just a Woody Allen movie.”
“I don’t understand.”
She rolled her eyes. Germans never understood. Everyone’s always going on about people from the Middle East not having a sense of humor, but the Germans–oy vey–so stoic. Even though many can understand English, it doesn’t assuage the cultural barrier between laughing and not.
Rose was not interested in further engaging Zelig, but he was old and bored, and she was alone, thus it seemed, to him, like a perfect match. “You are from U.S., no?”
She gulped some more of the anchored heart beer. It was Europeans’ favorite thing in life to call out if someone was from the U.S. or not. As if your utter lack of refinement completely pigeonholed you. She admitted, “Yes, I’m from the U.S.”
This was always a difficult query to answer. She had moved around so many times that it was impossible to say where she felt she was from. It certainly wasn’t the town she was born in–the place Courtney Love once sung about, Olympia. And it definitely wasn’t the last town she left, Los Angeles. So where, exactly, was she supposed to say she was from if she didn’t identify with a single place she had lived?
“New York,” she lied. People in Europe seemed to tolerate Americans if they said they were from New York, as though it was a semi-acceptable motive for living in the United States.
“Ah, New York. What a great city,” Zelig encouraged.
Rose threw down another two euro coin to keep the bartender pouring. “Yeah, super fun,” she responded.
Zelig, in an uncharacteristic German move, ran his hand through her hair and said, “Would you like to dance?”
Repulsed, Rose ran out of the bar before the bartender could bring her the drink she had ordered. Everyone everywhere made her feel insane.