Who I Really Am
Übersetzt von Jordan Lee Schnee
Veröffentlicht am 09.04.2018
I’m standing in my perfectly fitting uniform with its freshly-pressed swastika armband in a long line at an American office. I’m waiting to submit my Application for Total War. Then, after standing in line for hours, the friendly clerk tells me that I need The Application for Foreign Aggressions in the next office over. Since I’m a depressed fascist, I don’t keep my chin up for long—despite my spiffy brown uniform—so I decide that’s enough for today and to try again tomorrow. The very next morning, I’m valiantly standing in the correct line, but then I’m missing some paperwork for the correct submission of my Application for Total War. Besides a birth certificate (the original, no copies allowed!), I’m still missing two recommendation letters from American citizens. Five are necessary. But—I thought just three… No, five in total! With a smile, the clerk raises her right hand, her fingers spread instructively. How I ran myself ragged just getting the three.
Back at home, I’m content to sit on the edge of the bed with sunken shoulders, musing on the failure of evil in the face of soulless bureaucracy and about how, as Benjamin says, all hope lies in corruption. Think of the castle official who you surprised the other night, Bürgel. At least he acted surprised. He’s the wrong person to talk to. Well, he’s not responsible for any of it, and therefore is, or at least would be, exactly the right person for your case if you hadn’t been overtaken by sleep while talking to him. Well, you must admit in all honesty that you were in no way overtaken, rather you willingly gave up on the will to stay awake. You would rather dream grotesque dreams, and so this time, you lost the case. Just remember: The lost cause is the only one worth fighting for. Even though this situation is actually exactly the reverse of that; the reverse logic being: all hope lies in corruption.
But that’s that. There’s still hope. There’s got to be some kind soul at the office who will help me. There has to be, because We shall never surrender, we will fight down to the last man, and that’s me. The first, only, and last. The trinity of my thread-spool existence. Fold the girl three times. Like that. Like that. Like that. Everything’s all coiled up into an invincible being. It’s leaning against the wall in the attic. Stunted and crooked: the last man standing. So get back up. Again put off dying until tomorrow. Quickly smooth down your uniform, and you’re already trundling down the stairs. Square circular movements from step to step.
Whistle down a taxi, and I’m back at the office. But behold, this time I have again been conspired against. The office for the Application for Foreign Aggressions is so full that I can’t even see through to the workers. No semblance of a line can be made out in the tumultuous mob of aggressors. On the other hand, the office where I waited in vain for years, the one that was wrong for my application, is now completely empty. A clerk is lazily flipping through a magazine. It’s my chance. He’s my guy. I can recognize him by his eyelids, drooping like an actor’s.
I put everything I’ve got on his desk and request in a firm voice to submit my Application for Total War here and now, with him. I argue stalwartly that I haven’t been foreign for a long time now, more like interior, or at least rather familiar. He nods sympathetically, thumping my ID card, saying technically sorry but no, and that it’s not common law that’s in effect here. I barely open my mouth to protest, when he says, mercifully quietly: “Come on, go home Odra.” When I don’t budge, he sighs and puts down the magazine that he had kept thumbing through the whole time:
“Look, just having the uniform doesn’t make you an evil person. You still haven’t wrapped your head around that one. And yeah it’s a tough one to get. Because the banality of evil was a dead end, and so was the evil of evil. Or else you get too far with those concepts. The perspective that you take on them leaves everything far too clear, so that in the end you can’t see anything anymore. At least it’s unclear where to put the unwieldy details. Where are you supposed to put everything in your head? Especially in a head like yours, right? So just let it be, and go home. You’re apparently not harming anyone.”
What’s left after such a complete rejection, other than to finally retreat? Yesterday I turned 13 for the 37th time. Now I’m really exhausted. At midnight I was staring at the clock and the year hand jumped forward. I had barely started breathing again when it jumped back into its old notch, trembled slightly, then stood still. And no matter what wealth of experiences I’ve had in these 37 years, the fact remains that a 13-year-old child can’t exactly go into battle alone.
My shoulders sadly hanging in my smart Nazi Uniform for Children, I sit back down on the bed, and bitterly recognize that I’m really at the end. Not just like I always am around this time of day, but truly. I’m at the end. So let’s end it.
You lay down to die. Then nothing happens, and it’s going to be like that for a while. You realize that right away, barely having nestled your plugged ear into the cool of the pillow. You need to lay there for longer than ever before. Longer, and in a new way. You can’t waffle back and forth anymore. From now on you’re not just sleepless. You’re no longer desperate. You’re on a completely different level. You’re somewhere else, far off. You need to make it clear to your body, and as soon as it has understood, now the two of you just have to wait. Pass the time together with a mini memoir:
Depression—Who I Really Am
I. The Early Years
Well over thirty, in fact nearly forty years go by in the country before the two of you come to an understanding. You could look all over this land which sucked all the years into itself. But I don’t want to look back. You don’t have to either. Now that the mask of fear has fallen away, there are no more blockages left; all ways suddenly point forward. So what’s that? What do you see when you look at any random spot? Maybe… a sunrise? No, look closer. Where’s the light coming from? Because here’s the beginning of your story. It’s a short one. It can be told quickly.
Your story begins with a tunnel. In a tunnel. A channel has been opened. It’s not a tunnel exactly, more of a long hallway that’s dark as night. Still there’s a little light shining in from somewhere. A very improbably fluorescent light is spilling from the cracks around the door at the end of the space. It’s like the light that comes from the door at the end of the hallway in Diabolique or any other horror film. Nothing bad and nothing good are waiting for me in that glowing room—just the end of the hallway. And that’s already something.
Like every open channel, my dark hallway isn’t a one-way street. It also needs a back channel, so that the medium can speak. Two paths, so that the spirt appears, two primal images – a contradiction which isn’t the end of the story. What I want to say, or actually ask is: Where did I first see the Scho-Ka-Kola tin and recognize its magic? In Roses for the Prosecutor, or at a gas station on a long drive? The man’s favorite. The one in front of me. Wait a minute, a Wehrmacht soldier or a car-driving citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany? His wife in the passenger seat, the kids in back. In any case: Scho-Ka-Kola for the enemy. What I admittedly didn’t know, just saw, was that the tin is both a thing of beauty and of evil. A round thing. Naturally, I saw it in both places for the first time—in the movie and at the gas station—neither is less probable than the other. If I hadn’t seen it in both places at the same time first, then I wouldn’t have seen it at all.
The tin traveled from the candy shelf below the register at the gas station to the glove compartment; a magic place in and of itself. Everything inside of it—sunglasses, city maps, cigarettes, and of course the Scho-Ka-Kola tin are Get Away From There!—off limits to you, though not private or anything. The grown-ups keep taking them out and stuffing them back inside in the casual display of their ability to handle objects that really only serve to make of adulthood, wretched in reality, a state of enigmatic mastery. And all because of their embarrassing presence in the world, the grown-ups have to keep allowing the ghost-children to get something out of the glove compartment for them from time to time. A cheerful command, a special treat, seeing as you’re already there aren’t you. You’re not exactly allowed to be there, sitting in the passenger seat, and now you too are starting to become ridiculous… But the bottom line is, even if the exceptions have become the rule over the years, the rule is still: Get Away From There! The thing is, you can be sentenced to death if you steal one of those tins from a glove compartment or a store. Well, to be more precise, it was two tins. That makes the verdict all the more understandable, all the more pedantic. Perfect for the Nazis: to be hanged for stealing one tin would be a bit much, draconian even. But stealing two, now that’s clearly a preventative punishment, so near to defeat, sorry, the final victory. So the noose it is. Two tins that Private Kleinschmidt didn’t even really steal. No, he got them on the black market which, to be honest, is sometimes worse than stealing. Preventative measures. But luckily, everything is going fine for Private Kleinschmidt, though not because some kind soul is helping him out, but just by coincidence.
Where coincidence comes from is hard to say. It’s clearly something other than simple chance, which, even though it presents itself as small and meaningless, is always a big deal in the end. Chance always seems to come from one very specific place, whereas coincidence stays small and doesn’t only appear to, but actually comes running from all directions at once.
Where it came from on that day is not so easily explained. In any case, just as coincidentally as everything ended well for Private Kleinschmidt, a few years after their respective first encounters with the Scho-Ka-Kola tin, Odra rolled out of a car at a gas station and was forgotten after filling up. Normally in this scene, you next see the car. Inside, they’re talking to each other loudly, or at least eagerly, then suddenly Mom or Dad stares into the rearview mirror and says: “Where’s … ?” In the next frame the car is driving back into the gas station. It reverses back up to the fuel pump, to the exact inch where they’ve left the kid, who hasn’t budged from the spot. Even if he doesn’t look like he’s in shock, exactly, the expression on his face is ostentations. A strange combination of guilt and reproachfulness. Now the two of you have aborted me after all. Not back then, when it wouldn’t have been any problem at all because I wasn’t yet myself back then. No, now that I’m me, because I’m me, or rather was. I promise I won’t be anymore, I really won’t.
But it didn’t go like that. Because Odra did budge from the spot. Her parent’s car had barely slid away from the pump, when, lightning fast, she slipped into another car. So she didn’t know how long her parents must have taken to notice her absence, or how long it would take for them to quickly—or maybe not so quickly—turn back. So there was no reason for accusations or feelings of guilt. Because knowing full well, or at least in complete childish control of herself, she had simply said in that coincidental moment at the gas pump: From here on out, I’m not coming with you. She chose instead to get into a stranger’s car.
In the end, all the oncoming happiness that one can only get from a corrupted story ran after Private Kleinschmidt in the form of a woman in the rearview mirror. So he got out there. He had long since given up on being a private and was now in the private sector, deregulated. Kleinschmidt let his buddy in the truck drive off to the next city. We keep going with the friend and see happiness in the mirrors. Future happiness is in the rearview mirror. Odra understood that the moment she got into the passenger seat next to her new family man. He didn’t seem to hear her question about whether he could take her a little ways, but he didn’t seem to object to her presence.
For almost forty years now, he hasn’t seemed to have any objection to the presence of a disturbance in his house. It’s small but not inconsiderable. Only once in a while does he seem a little troubled by her tireless struggle for identity, but it’s possible that hidden behind his worry is nothing but a secret pride. Tomorrow I am going to try again. At some point, they have to buckle, and I’ll be there then.
lebt als freie Schriftstellerin in Berlin und Essen. 2016 erhielt sie den Kunstpreis Literatur der Akademie der Künste, Berlin.