Aphorisms of an alienated amateur in America

A diary about the other side of moving abroad

Pierre had had enough. He made his way home, even though he didn't know what he wanted there. He generally didn't know where he would want to be, even if he had every option available to him. Many doors had already opened up to him, but he usually had a bad timing and in trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, he missed every single one. Pierre skipped his last seminar, even though it was his favorite class of the week, and walked home. He strolled roughly in the direction of his house and let his mind wander. Occasionally he walked home, because the long way back also opened up the breadth of his thoughts. But today his thoughts were jumping from one topic to another without following any particular train of thought. It annoyed him. He was dissatisfied with himself without being able to give an exact reason why. He wanted something, but had no object to direct his will towards. The only way home for Pierre was leading over a bridge. Pierre didn't like walking across it, but the monstrosity of the barren environment of the strait that the bridge spanned fascinated him. As Pierre stepped onto the bridge, cars roared along beside him and trains below. He heard many mechanical noises and also the resonance of the bridge. When he looked up, two monstrous bridge pillars swung up into the sky, their tops disappearing in low-hanging clouds. Pierre felt dizzy when he looked up. He felt unsafe on this bridge, which he had walked along several times before, but liked the feeling of being at the mercy of a primal force of wind, water and steel. Here he was a pawn of the elements. When Pierre had crossed exactly half of the bridge, he stepped up to the railing and looked down onto the roaring water. Pierre felt the primal forces strongly here. Below him was the hostile, cold maw that swallowed everything that came close to him, the life-threatening height and the wind that seemed to push him into the abyss. Only he, Pierre, his will and the steel construction erected by engineers kept him on this side of the life. He liked the idea that he had something under control, that his will was powerful and kept him alive. Pierre leaned slightly over the railing and stared into the abyss. His palms and feet started to sweat. And yet the abyss somehow attracted him.

When I regained consciousness, I felt different than before. I had the feeling of flowing back into a shell, like air pouring into a balloon. Except that the air was my mind and the shell was my body. Every time I woke up, my body became more alien to me. I was afraid to make another attempt to move my limbs. Afraid of being disappointed and feeling that panic again. So I preferred to keep the illusion that I could move if I wanted to. I glanced around the room and found it unchanged. There was no substance to perceive a change in time. I felt apathetic. As hope faded and time stood still, the energy also drained from my body. I wondered what else I could hope for. My gaze wandered to my hand, which was still lying there as motionless as before. The light brushed gently across the skin and illuminated the fading scar that ran across the back of my hand. It was a relic of being in too much of a hurry. I wanted to catch a train and was already late. At the same time, I wanted to leave my room tidy and quickly washed up a cup. In my haste, the cup broke in the sink and the shards sliced the back of my hand. I missed my train and stayed, just like the scar that accompanied me from that day on and was a constant reminder not to rush things too much. I saw this scar, I saw my hand and my body. The slightly bulging belly that I could never train off because I loved chocolate, my feet that appeared at the end of the comforter and the contours of my legs. All of this was familiar to me, it was my body after all. And yet this familiar shell that had always surrounded me was suddenly alien to me. What had always been available was inaccessible. So close and yet so far away. I was struck by a new fear. The outside world seemed alien and threatening. Even my own body was so foreign to me that I wanted to shake it off, get rid of the heavy ballast. But I was anchored in this strangeness. Like a grain of sand in an hourglass. I didn't belong in this sterile environment and yet I was there, exposed to the look of everyone else.

For Pierre, it was one of those days when nothing worked out. He was late for class, spilled a glass of water, lost his key and a few other annoying but unmentionable circumstances occurred. Pierre was in a bad mood. It felt like the world was against him and he interpreted every interaction with him as hostile. He had tried approached a group of fellow students over the last few weeks, summoning up all his courage and overcoming his shyness to do so. A fellow student in the group seemed to be interested in him, but loose conversations did not turn into deeper ones. The fellow student in question was accepted in his group, which occasionally organized activities that seemed fun. Pierre would have liked to have been invited to one of these, but hadn't yet plucked up the courage to ask if he could join them. The other students in the group didn't seem particularly interested in Pierre and he wondered if the loose connection to the more talkative student was enough to legitimize his joining. He also wondered whether he himself would enjoy participating in the group activities, as he found the other participants despicable. But he felt a longing for company. When Pierre entered the dining hall of his university around noon, he looked around while he pretended to be busy so that no one would notice his loneliness and lack of belonging. He saw the aforementioned group sitting in the corner of the dining hall. It looked like everyone was in a great mood. He heard some of the participants laughing. Pierre headed towards the group, somewhat indecisively, looking down so that it looked like he was heading in their direction by chance. He kept looking up briefly, hoping that the more talkative fellow student would notice him and invite him to join them. When Pierre looked up again, he saw the aforementioned fellow student turning his head away from the direction Pierre was coming from. He made no effort to greet him. Had he seen him? Now he was saying something to the group and suppressed laughter pierced through to Pierre. Were they laughing at him? Pierre changed direction inconspicuously and walked past the table, pretending not to have noticed the group at all.

When I woke up from my unconsciousness, nothing had changed in my situation. I was still lying in the same room, with the same white walls and the same lilac bush on the table. Only it looked like the lilac bush had moved a little closer to death. It wasn't a specific physical observation, but its whole appearance seemed a little flabbier, a little more transient, no longer as fresh and firm as one would expect given its days. My hand was still on the bed, in the same position as a few minutes ago. Or hours. Or days. I didn't know how long I'd been out. But the stabbing pain when I opened my eyes didn't last as long and the time it took to get used to the brightness was shorter. My senses became sharper. Apart from my sense of smell, I could perceive my surroundings clearly in the field of vision I had left. I heard footsteps in the corridor, saw the dying lilacs and felt the sharp wind on my face as it cut my cheeks through the open window. The footsteps in the corridor came closer and suddenly I was gripped by a longing for company, a longing to drain into someone else's world through their eyes. I wanted to scream, to draw attention to myself, but as soon as the impulse to scream, triggered by anxiety, was supposed to pass to my body, this power somehow leaked out of my body. I could no longer reach my muscles. They refused to obey. I could neither scream nor shout, let alone speak. I panicked whether I could still swallow when everything in my body was numb and immobile, whether I could still breathe. My heart was beating faster, I felt, imagined or not, a higher production of saliva in my mouth and my swallowing reflex could no longer keep up with the panic rising in me. I also started to hyperventilate. It felt like claustrophobia in my own skin. But there was no escape from it. I wanted to scream, but my mouth remained silent. The stifled scream dragged me back into nothingness.

As Pierre slammed the door behind him, he saw the streetcar pulling into his street. He ran. At that moment, Pierre was just the one running to the streetcar; his entire existence consisted of catching this streetcar and not being late again. However, the streetcar driver left the door open for Pierre for a moment so that he could walk through and drop onto a seat, exhausted. Only now did he realize that his back was aching because he had once again been running with his heavy bag. The rest of the journey passed while Pierre gazed out of the window, lost in thought. When a brassy voice blared the stop of Pierre's university, he got off. Pierre liked his campus, the green spaces, the trees that no longer carried leaves and the empty fountains. The old brick buildings and small squares where he liked to sit on the bench until he was too cold. He liked the architecture and the facilities, the food and the connections. He also liked his major. The only thing that bothered him were his fellow human beings. It wasn't that he didn't know anyone, but the people who surrounded him were disconnected from him. Pierre couldn't connect with them and felt alienated among in their presence. Pierre was good at carrying on small talk with them and greeted a ton of people on his way through the corridors, asking about their well-being. But as soon as the conversation threatened to drift down to a deeper level, he felt a considerable dissonance towards them. This resulted in Pierre not being invited to gatherings and always being left out. Pierre was trapped in an in-between world of a social butterfly and an outsider. He had more acquaintances than any other student, was greeted more often, but had remained such a stranger that he was not accepted into any inner circle. He felt out of place. And even if you couldn't tell from the outside, because he always smiled and let anyone who desired to do so shake his hand, Pierre felt lonely, isolated and trapped.

When I opened my eyes, the light was burning in my eyes. I had to summon all my strength to relax and lift my eyelids even a little. The light stabbed into my eyeball like a burning sword. I didn't know what was happening, where I was, I wasn't aware of my history, I merely was. I felt the pain of the light, I felt the fog in my mind. It felt something like a tiredness, a weariness. Like when you wake up in the morning and briefly look the world in the face, but you would rather sleep a little longer. This time, however, the gentle slide into the unconscious world felt more definitive, a little more monstrous and final. I was slow to get used to the light. At first I couldn't make out any contours, but the more often I forced myself to keep my eyes open, the longer the period in which light stabbed into my eyeball became. I saw a lot of white, a lot of light and a few outlines. At first I perceived billowing curtains. Windows embedded in white-painted walls. A chair and a table that looked so mass-produced that they could have been in a furniture store or a youth hostel. Then I saw the end of my bed, on which I was lying, embedded in a white sheet. I noticed a clipboard attached to the foot of the bed. The room I was lying in was impersonal and sterile. I let my eyes wander around and couldn't see anything else that was in any way personal, except for a bush of lilac on the table, which radiated some life even though it was cut off and dying. Was this a sign? I tried to turn my head to look further at my surroundings, but I was fixed with a neck brace that kept my head, and therefore my field of vision, rigid. Slowly, I became aware of a sharp pain rising up my body. I looked at my right hand, which was lying outside the blanket, and tried to lift it with all my remaining strength, but it wouldn't move. It eluded my will. As my strength faded, I slipped back into unconsciousness.

Pierre woke up with the same indifference as every morning. It was hard for him to get out of bed. He had set his alarm a quarter of an hour earlier to be on time for once. But he just lounged around, staring at the ceiling. His eyes were burning. He couldn't fall asleep, but he was always tired. Pierre felt burnt out. He had to drag this morning burden through the day, only to create a new burden for himself in the evening. The vicious circle continued. Pierre heated the kettle, went into the bathroom and stood under the jet of water. Here, alone with himself, he felt free. The jet of water poured down like a curtain between him and the world, between him and his recurring thoughts. Here, detached from the world, he felt something like fulfillment for the only time during the day. He felt a state that seemed desirable to him. Pierre stayed under the stream of water a little longer than necessary, but when he finally turned off the jet and the last drops of water sank into the puddle that had formed in the meantime, the peace and hope for a better day disappeared along with the water down the drain. Pierre poured the bubbling water from the whistling kettle into a cup and hung a cheap teabag in it. Although he was already much too late, he watched the red streaks oozing out of the teabag and settling at the bottom of the cup like mist in a valley. When the layer was thick enough and the color gradation had made its way to the surface, he dipped his spoon in all at once and swirled the water, creating a uniformity in the color scheme that matched his state of mind. Pierre burned his tongue on the overly hot water, grabbed his bag, put the cup on the windowsill and left the house.

I saw the water coming towards me. Or rather, I saw myself approaching the water. It had looked flat from above. As if the surface was smoothly undulating, like a pair of silk pyjamas carelessly thrown on the bed. My body was flooded with adrenaline. A chill like a shock ran through my body. I fell. My hands were clammy. The sweat glands had no time to produce moisture. I could feel the surface approaching. Like a wide-open mouth, it threatened to swallow me up. The roar of the waves was drowned out by the rushing wind in my ears. My arms flailed as if trying to gain control of the situation. But it was just me, at the mercy of gravity. It's interesting what mundane thoughts come to mind when you feel your end coming. I thought of my standard buffet style restaurant, an unreturned book and the warm smile of the librarian I never invited to dinner. Flashes of thoughts that wanted to tell me a story of my life that I didn't want to accept as mine and never would have. Me, immersed in the banality of life, exposed to the insignificance of my existence. And besides all that, the sweat. The cold heat in my hand, the pulling sensation in my feet that I always felt when I was on a rollercoaster or on a swing as a child. The discomfort of falling. The texture of the surface came closer and with it the spray of the waves, the darkness that seemed monstrous and dangerous beneath the surface, the uncertain and hostile. The waiting inside me, the tensing limbs, the agonizing seconds in fearful anticipation. Like when you're expecting a punch and wonder, with comical rationality, where it is. And then the impact. Muffled. Coolness. Hardness. And then nothing.

I am currently working on a short story, which I will publish here beginning on the 1st of December. It is sort of an advent-calendar. The story board is set up and I hope I will be motivated enough to finish it! That’s why it is so quiet here. I hope you all are getting excited, because this story will go deep.

Maybe I will find the time to publish something before that, but you will see something new on December first the latest.

The shoe lying on the side of the road, trodden and worn out, disgusts us. The very idea that this thing is or has been in someone's possession makes us shudder. Who would want to own something like that? Such a dirty rag?

But if we accompany the rag through its life, we become attached to it. The worn-out T-shirt is loved, the worn-out pair of shoes wants to be put on again. We still remember it when it was new. The signs of usage tell our story. Even the dirty room, the shabby wallpaper, the littered room become familiar over time, despite our initial horror. Once a piece of history has been experienced with an object, the flaw becomes special, the flaw elevates the mass-produced item to something special, elevates it to the personal sphere, because it is my flaw that is exemplified in the object. Our own flaw, the musty smell, is glossed over. We see ourselves through an idealized veil and can never take off our rose-tinted glasses. We have the urge to glorify our flaws, our dirt, our rags and turn them into an expression of individuality. The love-hate relationship with ugliness can only be endured in contrast to our own history. Without history, the forgotten pair of shoes at the streetcar station becomes, from one moment to the next, in the light of the other person's look, un-disposed of garbage that is not ready-to-hand. Although the object does not change, without history it drains into the world of the other and thus into the sink.

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