To be honest, I’d never even heard of the term “social isolation” until this whole virus took hold of all of our lives and everything changed and went nuts. I have been in sort of a mild state of shock, not totally freaking out yet except that my family is far away in California, and I know it’s going to be a while until I see my grandkids and most of my kids again. That breaks my heart in ways I don’t even know how to explain. Though I supposedly have more time, my writing kind of hit a wall with all this going on. But now I’m getting back into my stride again.
I found myself thinking about how in 1980 I traveled to West Germany to be with my husband whom I married in December 1979 — actually we eloped to Lake Tahoe during a snow storm. We got to know each other through letters mostly, having only met on a BART train headed for Hayward from San Francisco. Yes, it was a crazy thing to do. When he left for Germany only a week after we got married, I thought oh no, what have I done? It took me four months to get over there.
I decided to see it through and move overseas to a place where I only knew this one guy and no one else. He was stationed in Gelnhausen, West Germany and had landed a small apartment in a large house off post in a tiny town called Lieblos, walking distance to the post. When I first moved over there, he had no car or phone. I couldn’t drive anyway until I took the special Privately Owned Vehicle test to learn all the street signs in Germany. Stephen with a ph, my husband, assured me that he and his buddies on post were fixing up an old car for me. That figured, I thought.
The house we lived in was old and the original wallpaper still adorned the walls of the living room and bedroom. There were no closets but we had a “shrunk,” which is a beautiful wooden cabinet to put kitchen stuff in. Oh no cupboards either. The house was owned by an older woman who said she grew up in this house and always rented to Americans because during World War II, they hid out American soldiers in this house. Another couple lived upstairs from us.
No phone, no car and a TV with only one station we could watch in English, “Stars and Stripes” channel. Stephen did take a couple of days off when I arrived which was nice, but then he went back to “work” which was always long hours, and I was left all by myself with nothing but a pen to write with and no way to communicate with my family and friends. I’d wander around the tiny town on the old cobblestone streets checking out the stucco buildings probably built hundreds of years ago. It was pretty cool in a weird way, but yeah I felt pretty isolated.
The only friends I had at first were the guys from the barracks because they were my husband’s friends. They’d walk down to our place and hang out, and we’d listen to rock music on Stephen’s stellar stereo system with the large speakers — they’d drink German beer and laugh and tell jokes. they were all young guys in their 20’s — I still remember them, Ken and Rick from Oregon, Ted and “Walsh” whose first name I never knew from Chicago.
Whenever my husband worked a 24 hour shift ,which they all did, the guys would walk down to our place and hang out with me. They were good guys who looked after me as a friend and never attempted to take advantage or anything like that.
I got pregnant and had my first baby while over there in Gelnhausen, West Germany. I finally made one female friend right after I found out I was pregnant because our husbands were in the same company, and we went to their place to visit. Her name is Heidi, and she was eight months pregnant with her second baby. I was so sick and scared and didn’t know what to do. Heidi turned out to be my best friend over there — just this year we celebrated 40 years of friendship. yes she is more of a sister to me than a friend, lifelong. I’m so grateful to her. She also spoke German which was so handy when we’d go on adventures with our babies.
None of my family or friends were around when I had my first baby, Stephen Michael. to be continued.