Winter, December 1991, on the phone.
“So you know what I was thinking?” Andreas asks.
“I was thinking if maybe we might want to think about getting married.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it. My heart soared. “That is really funny because I was thinking the same thing, and have been just sitting with this idea for the past two days to get used to it.”
“That’s good.” He paused. “So… we’re going to do this? It’ll make it easier for us to live and work in both countries.”
“Yes. I guess we are. We can’t go on like this can we? I mean we have to either do something decisive, something radical, or continue this long distance suffering we call a relationship.” I paused. “We either get married or break up.”
Andreas laughed. “This long distance thing is a pain in the ass. Let’s do the truly radical thing.”
That is how Andreas and I decided to get married.
I told my parents. My mom was apprehensive.
“Are you going back to Berlin? He should come to New York—you can get married and work here.”
“Mom, we’ll see. We still have to figure this out.”
My dad was mostly silent on the matter; my mom appeared to be doing the talking for both of them. She had that look on her face, that grim I-am-really-upset-about-this-but-will-not-admit-to-you-just-how-much look. Dad may not have said much, but I still felt he was with me. I had space with him, to decide, to think it through.
Spring, April 1992, New York
We’re in our friends’ art studio on the Upper West Side—our crash pad while Andreas is visiting.
“I told everyone in Berlin I would marry you on this visit.”
“Look, we could just go down to city hall and then it would be done.”
“Nice that you told everyone in Berlin. When were you planning on telling me?
Andreas, I don’t want to be married and living apart without a plan. That just makes our current situation worse!”
“So you won’t marry me now?”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Not tomorrow, and not this trip. We need to think this through. It’s supposed to simplify—not complicate our lives.”
He grinned. “You and your planning. Planning is overrated.”
Summer August 1992, Berlin
Andreas and I visit Frank and Katharina in their flat.
“So… you married yet?” the cigarette smoke from Frank’s cigarette rises up like a question mark.
“Oh come on! We can’t get married now! I’m only here for a couple of weeks, and then I go back to New York.”
“Andreas has been telling the whole crowd that he is going to marry you,” says Frank, while Andreas flashes an impish grin.
“Did you tell everyone and forget to tell me again?” I roll my eyes.
“I’m just very excited, Jessica, that’s all,” he assures me. It’s not as if you don’t know we are going to get married.” He is enjoying this immensely.
“True. I just didn’t know you intended it to happen next week!”
I am finding it noteworthy that Andreas and our twenty-something Berliner friends—who pride themselves on not conforming to such quaint bourgeois traditional social customs such as marriage—are all panting with anticipation for Andreas and me to get married. Until now, in this crowd, you’d marry to get someone out of East Germany, or to get a residence permit to live in NY. If you have a child? No need to get married.
Suddenly, the whole anti-bourgeois crowd has turned into a bunch of conspiring sentimental cheerleaders: Andreas is going to marry Jessica, they decided.
Most of the guys in the crowd came to Berlin to avoid the German national draft—a common practice. As a college student before the fall of the Wall, you went to Berlin, and you got subsidized to stay to keep the city a vibrant, capitalist oasis in the communist East German desert. Plus you avoided serving in the military or in any civilian government service required in West Germany. It was an excellent deal—until the fall of the Wall.
Fall, Oct 1992, on the phone.
I get a call. He’s beside himself. He’s drunk in order to dull his… I don’t know…fear? This is not a word that is ever used to describe Andreas. Generous—yes.
Arrogant—yes. Persistent—yes. Bright—yes. Fearful—no. The only thing I can think of that I knew could cause Andreas real anxiety was his fear of heights. This fear on the phone is new. I’m alarmed.
“The army is coming after me, “ he says, a matter-of-factly.
“It’s making me crazy. I’ve already hired a lawyer to write letters for me but it doesn’t look good. They kept track of me, and now they want me.” His voice has the slightly singsong quality—the telltale sign of his inebriation.
Andreas, unlike all of our West German slacker friends in Berlin, thumbed his nose at the German government by writing a Fuck You letter from the safety of Berlin’s borders. The recommended way to avoid governmental retaliation was to move to Berlin and not announce that you are dropping your responsibilities as a West German citizen.
Why he wrote to the army to declare his gleeful departure is a mystery. Actually, wait, that’s not quite true: unlike all of the others in our circle, he was the only one who grew up as a ward of the German state. The little drama unfolding was not your garden-variety teenage rebellion against an uptight parent.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, my one-time-Socialist-Stone-Throwing-on-May-
Day-Youth-Leader boyfriend has been anxiously anticipating the German government’s response to his taunting missive. And the emotional disruption this was causing him was palpable on the trans-Atlantic call. I’d never experienced him this vulnerable.
“I am going to leave Germany. I am going to come to you. We can get married in
New York, and I will come live with you.”
“Are you sure? Maybe the lawyer can help you?”
“The lawyer is not helping me. He told me that the government has given me three options: if I am under 32, I can still serve in the army; I can go to jail, or I can pay a penalty of thousands of deutschmarks. These are not choices! I’m leaving Germany. I’ve had it.”
Winter, December 1992, New York
Andreas flew to New York on December 15th, 1992. I’d moved into our new one-bedroom apartment the week before. We were planning to get married at City Hall, and go out to brunch with my parents who were quite relieved we’d decided to stay in New York. But then Frank called us and said we had to have an actual wedding because he had convinced all of our Berliner friends to come to New York to watch us get married. So we rented a room in an Italian restaurant on Gramercy Park. We got married on December 27th, and in fact, 27 people (a quarter of whom were our Berliner friends) showed up to celebrate.
That next morning, Andreas gazed out the window from the fourteenth floor of our suite in the Gramercy Park hotel where we held our after-party and spent our first night as husband and wife. He wore only underpants. He stood there silently for several minutes surveying the view. Then, he turned around, beaming. Triumphant.
“My fear of heights… it’s gone.”
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