When I came to Germany back in 2016, well, really, when I made the plan to come in 2015, there was a lot more than cobblestone streets and chocolate that drew me here.
I had a friend. A longtime friend, whom I met when I was a high school student back in 1998 at the dawn of the internet age.
As an eighteen-year-old kid I loved metal and was a fan of the German industrial band Rammstein. Listening to them inspired me to learn German, at the very least so I could understand their songs and be cooler than the rest of the kids.
My high school only offered Spanish and French classes, so I went to the school library and checked out the one German-English dictionary they had in stock. When I got home that day, I situated myself in front of my parents’ brand-new IBM. After patiently waiting as the grinding static of dial up did its thing, AOL’s trademark “You’ve Got Mail!” sounded through the box monitor. Ready with the dictionary, my notebook, and a pencil, I navigated into the AOL German chat room and did my best to start a basic conversation.
Unfortunately, my eagerness to learn wasn’t well received, and the members of the room either ignored me or told me in all caps to leave. Despite their hostility I kept trying, until one person sent me a private message. After the initial “A/S/L” question (Age, Sex, Location for my younger readers – get off my lawn), we talked nonstop. He was thirty, which to my eighteen-year-old self might as well have been seventy-five. However, the picture he sent of himself showed an incredibly handsome man with blonde hair and dimples and clad in a black leather moto jacket . He was mounted on top of a motorcycle, smiling into the camera.
“Wow, you’re hot,” I typed with all the charisma of a teenage girl.
“Thank you” he wrote back graciously. “But you are too young, you are like a little girl to me.”
“Little Girl” has been his nickname for me since then, and for over two decades we kept in touch as modern-day pen pals. During those two decades, as I got older our friendship got more flirtatious. Harmlessly so, but it was enough for him to keep me a secret from his girlfriend.
Fast forward to 2015. I had just gotten back from Scotland – my very first international trip ever. I had what I can only describe as a “traveler’s high”, and wondered what else I could cross off my bucket list. I decided that learning a foreign language would be the next item. I remembered how good my Spanish was when I worked with a friendly Puerto Rican who liked to teach his language to whoever would listen, and my thoughts drifted to my German friend. Of course! He would be more than happy to teach me!
At the time, my six year relationship was waning. My boyfriend had grown far more distant and sometimes unnecessarily rude. So my decision to take up learning German with my German friend also turned into long talks, which turned flirtatious, then snowballed into a torrid affair. It was exciting. I felt beautiful again. Wanted. Special. And when it became more obvious that my boyfriend was stepping outside of our relationship to have his own fun, my involvement with my German friend became far more intense. I always loved him as a friend, but now it reached a new level. I loved him.
He had his obstacles, too, as he was with his longtime girlfriend who he constantly told me ignored him, and he was seeing the end approaching there as well.
So when my boyfriend finally ended things and eagerly pushed me out of his house, my home, as sad as I was I knew I was free, and my German friend could be free as well. And if I could just get over to Germany, we could finally be together.
In the beginning of the planning phase, he helped me learn German, guided me through the different ways to get my visa, and even looked at apartments for me.
One day, we got onto the topic of my learning German and he went on a tangent of trying to teach me. Exhausted from packing, I felt my patience thinning with my lack of recent practice. He must have sensed this because his expression softened and he switched to English.
“I only want you to succeed with learning German, Little Girl. You need it to succeed in Germany.”
Before I could say anything, he went on.
“I don’t want to come off as mean or harsh. If you’re not perfect at it, I still love you.”
He still loves me.
Stunned, I stared at him, unable to speak for a moment. He didn’t threw around such verbiage. In fact, never once during our entire twenty-year friendship did those words come out of his mouth. And from the look in his eyes, I knew he meant it.
We smiled at each other in silence for a moment, then I spoke up in a soft tone.
“Ich liebe dich auch…” (I love you, too.).
His smile grew bigger before he abruptly changed the subject.
And after that conversation, he changed. The messages became less frequent, and I’d see him online and his responses to my messages were shorter and more delayed. He pulled away, and I never felt more alone in my life.
As vulnerable as I was, I ended up messaging with someone else in Germany I met online, only he was in Hamburg. This turned out to be a very bad idea, but I didn’t know that at the time. I clung to this man like a life vest. I invested so much time and energy into convincing my friends, my mother, and myself that changing the plans to be with him in Hamburg was my key to being happy again.
When I got to Hamburg and the man turned out to be mentally unwell and volatile, I held out as long as I could out of stubbornness. But when he snapped and threatened violence, I called my German friend, who drove three hours to Hamburg to come get me.
When I got settled into Düsseldorf, he set me up with a job my visa, set up my bank account for me and helped me move into my apartment. For the first couple of days on the job, he came by my office to say hi, occasionally took me out to lunch and even gave me rides home.
Then one day, all of that stopped. If he had to go past my office, he no longer stopped to say hi. When I’d catch him in the hallway or visit him in his office, he’d tell me how insanely busy he was and get on the phone before I could respond. Our talks vanished. Our friendship disintegrated.
I was now left to mourn another loss. And mourn I did.
By mourn, I mean downloading Tinder and swiping on any guy I decided was as or better-looking than him. A lot of sexting, one night stands, and a semi-regular fuck followed these efforts, as well as some unforgivably awful dates.
Before I found myself going through the entirety of men in the Nordrhein Westphalia area within my age group, I took a break. Joachim slowly began talking to me again, even on a rare occasion offering me a ride home. But our friendship would never return to what it was.
When I restarted (redownloaded) Tinder again, I found myself swiping right on an honest-looking Spaniard with huge Raul Julia eyes. Instead of the typical douchey shirtless bathroom photos and long lists of physical requirements, he simply had a portrait of himself and a selfie of him walking in the park. His bio was short, “I’m looking for a nice person to spend time with.”. Honest. Real. I had to swipe right.
So began my current relationship with Carlos.
Joachim never let my relationships bother him in the past, but when Carlos and I got serious he began to display an odd jealous streak. He’d get awkwardly flirty with a female coworker when I was around. While I could tell he thought he was being smooth, it looked forced, deliberate and I saw right through it. Then when that didn’t work, he’d emphasize how he wanted Carlos and me to get married, and insisted that he’d be invited to our wedding. When I asked him if he was sure he’d want to go, he answered, “A friendship of twenty years, and you don’t think I would go to your wedding, Little Girl?”
He said this several times, and when he eventually met Carlos he gave an open invitation for he and I to have dinner with he and his girlfriend.
Yes, the same girlfriend from before, the one whom he was somehow on the verge of ending things with, and other such lies.
Soon after, he bought his dream house up north, then dropped the bomb on me that he was going to marry said girlfriend.
“Just for financial reasons, it has nothing to do with anything romantic,” he insisted, again and again.
By then, Carlos and I were on solid ground, but I would be lying if I said that this didn’t gut me. After all those years of being told how unhappy he was, how she never touched him anymore, and after leading me to believe that if I showed up in his country we’d make each other so happy? If this didn’t hurt me, I wouldn’t be human.
He moved quietly, never really saying goodbye. One day, his wedding photos popped up on Facebook.
So he insisted that he be invited to mine and Carlos’s wedding, but I wasn’t good enough to be invited to his?
With no further communication from him, I blocked him from my posts, deleted him from my phone, and decided that was the end. But of course, I missed him. I missed our talks. And I was left to wonder if maybe I should forgive him because he was my friend and I still loved him.
On my birthday, he called to wish me a happy birthday. Normally he’d just send a text, but I found out later that he had sent a long, heartfelt letter of how he wanted to continue our friendship before he called me. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on what perspective you see it through, he called my while I was hiking through the woods with little to no cell signal on my way to Burg Eltz. We could talk enough for him to say, “Happy Birthday Little Girl”, but then things got cut off before he could brag about getting married.
Perfect, I thought.
I didn’t get to tell him how I was moving out of my apartment, which would have piqued his interest since he paid the deposit on the one I was living in at the time. He did say he’d call me back, but he never did.
That is, until I posted a picture of my new living room with the caption, “New Beginnings”. The he blew up my work phone before my regular phone. When I answered, it took about two minutes of conversation for him to mention the deposit money.
“Ah, that’s why you’re calling.”
He got defensive at this.
“No, no, that is not the reason why I’m calling. I don’t have time to call, I am always busy…”
Yadda yadda. Same excuse, different day.
After things got settled and I sent him the rest of what I thought I owed, he told me I was off by a couple of hundred. I told him he’d get it back soon.
That was the last I’d heard from him.
Then the other day, I saw a missed call.