Author : Karin Terebessy
This is German language lesson number twelve. Let’s review. I will ask if you understand. Verstehen Sie? If you understand, how would you answer?
Very good. Let’s continue.
Pretend you see a woman across the park and you want to get her attention. How would you call to her?
How would you say, “Good day.”
Now ask her if she understands English.
“Verstehen Sie Englisch?”
She answers, “No, I understand no English.” “Nein, ich verstehe kein Englisch.”
But she thinks you understand German very well. “Aber Sie verstehen sehr gut Deutsch.”
Tell her, “No, no. Not very well.” “Nein, nein, nicht sehr gut.”
Tell her you are a phony.
Tell her even when you are truthful you feel like a phony. Though you don’t understand why.
But wait. She says, “I am a phony too. I speak English.”
Ask her why she lied to you. Never mind. It probably doesn’t matter. You don’t have a chance with her anyway. Might as well tell her the truth. How you always lie. Because knowingly speaking a lie is somehow the only honest to do.
“People who think they speak the truth are the biggest phonies,” she agrees. “Hypocrites. They delude themselves into thinking they speak truth.”
You marvel that she understands. “Sie verstehen.”
“Ja, ich verstehe.”
Ask her why the truth never seems real.
“What is real?” She asks. “Is it real to say, ‘I am in love,’ or ‘I am happy.’?”
Right now you may be in love. With her. Would that make you happy?
“What does that even mean?” She asks you. “People say it all the time. But ask them what it means to be happy, and they can only say they are not sad. Ask them what it is to love, and they can only say it defies description. Ach! That is evasion. A child’s answer.”
She looks out on the park. For a moment, you both watch an old man toss stale bread to the birds.
You lean on your elbows. “They aren’t real.”
She misunderstands. “The birds?” she asks.
You shrug. “The birds, sure. And love. Happiness.”
She laughs. “And you? Are you real?”
You sit back. Put your arm around her. “Do I seem real?”
She laughs again. “All things seem real. But are you real?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then probably not,” she says.
“And you? Are you real?”
She looks at you sideways. “I am no more or less real than any other woman.”
“Is this real?” You make a grand gesture with your arm. Take in the park, the birds, the bench, the world.
“No more or less real than any place else.”
You hear a honk. “Is that a goose?” You ask stupidly. She laughs at you.
Suddenly you become aware of the guy laying on his horn behind you in a futile vent of anger. Traffic’s at a standstill. Your sweaty hands on the steering wheel. Fumes from the hot fresh asphalt sag through your open window. This car was built before a/c. Before MP3 players, iPods and CD’s. When you bought it, there was a language tape stuck in the radio.
You look to the passenger seat, really expecting to see her there. She’s not. But the seat sags from age. The steam from the highway softening the old vinyl. Warm and sagging. As if she’d only just left.