My Opa Schulze

On Friday, I was enjoying a decadent meal in Gastown’s L’Abattoir with Franz, when I leaned back in my booth seat and rested my arm on it, satisfied after my last bite of lamb still mingling with the red wine in my mouth, when I absent-mindedly started playing with a ring on my right hand. A cheap, gross, plastic thing painted in gold that was beginning to flick off, topped off with a fake pearl in crusty plastic diamonds. It’s Gotti and unlike anything I own. I wear it on the same finger as a gorgeous silver ring with an emerald stone that was gifted to me by my step-father on the day of his wedding to my mother. The two make absolute no sense together and should not even be in the same room with another. The cheap gold plastic one has always been loose on my finger, but I still wear it every day. As I twirled it around without noticing whilst talking to Franz, it suddenly fell off and behind the booth, into the radiator. I heard the sound of it fall and my heart instantly leapt into my throat. I knew it was gone. I turned around only to be met with the black vortex of the radiator, where even a small finger could not get through. It was lost. Usually, one would not care if such a dollar store novelty was lost, but to me, it was one of the last things I owned from my Opa Schulze.

My mother’s father wasn’t always a bastard. I know that’s a harsh word, but he is. And not in a loving, oh Grandpa stop complaining about everything, silly Grandpa. In a much more serious way. He didn’t used to be that way. In his youth he was an ambitious man, but a family man at heart. There is a picture that exists of him and my Oma in their first years of marriage dancing at a party, looking the way most people do in pictures from the 1940’s; like they were on a film set. A moment perfectly captured that cameras these days just can’t seem to recreate. He was handsome and smiling. He was a very smiley man, even when I was a kid, before the shit storm happened that resulted in my mother’s family dissolving. Him and my Oma lived in one of this picturesque German houses you see on postcards on the outskirts of Berlin, where during the GDR years, it was in one of the few neighbourhoods with trees and front lawns. His rank in the government allowed him things that others in the East could never have. He even was able to arrange for my father and mother to visit a lake in the West at a vacation house for their honeymoon. A vacation that resulted in my poor 24-year-old and newly married father to be picked up from the Stasi police and interrogated about how there was a picture taken of him in the West (a couple they had met at said vacation house took a picture of them, my father had no clue how they got their hands on it). Growing up in the crowded and grey apartment buildings of 1980’s Berlin, it was a treat every weekend to go to my grand-parents. A house nestled away in trees with a huge backyard that was shared with 3 other houses. I used to play for hours with the other children from said houses, and my Opa would make us a tepee so we could play out our imaginary adventures. He would call me over to his garden so we could eat the sweet peas straight off the vine, then to his front yard where I would spend hours with my sister scouring for walnuts that had fallen from his giant tree. I would bring them all to him, where he would collect them in a basket, and crack them open for me to devour. He was kind, patient, and let me do whatever I wanted. Which included letting my sister and I build a fort behind a giant shelving unit that could have easily crushed us. He had a red scooter I rode up and down the sidewalk until he would treat me to an ice cream.

My Opa and my mom

He loved his grand-children. At the time, there were quite a few of us. My mother had a sister and two brothers, who all had kids. I have flash memories of my aunt’s two daughters and staying at their house and being together at family events, but my older uncle has no place in my memory. To this day, my mother only has contact with her youngest brother, my Uncle Peter. He is a gem of a man and I love him dearly. His kids are the only two cousins I am in contact with on my mother’s side, Christina and Christian (Yup, don’t ask me what my aunt and uncle were thinking either). We are still close, but we have to be. We’re all we got on the Schulze side. To explain further, here’s a small summary of my aunt and uncle who to this day, we have no relationship with.

My aunt became manic-depressive after her husband left her. She stopped talking to my Opa and everyone else, but my mother. She was the only one she trusted. Her two daughters didn’t fare well and were hell on wheels. My mother tried her best to support them, but only one of them made it out of the phase and checks in with her twice a year or so. My aunt officially cut off ties with my mother 6 years ago, and it broke my mom’s heart. My uncle barely had a relationship with my mother the whole time I grew up. There was a brief time around 2002 they started talking again, and then it went away. As for my sister and I, we have no memories of him and have not met his kids. When I see an old picture of him, all I see is the resemblance to my Opa when he was younger, but either then that, I know nothing about this man. A few years ago my Aunt somehow found my mother’s email and informed her she had cancer. That was it. We have no idea if she’s even alive or not.

The first thing to happen that started to tear apart the Schulze family was the death of my Oma. Shortly after, and I mean painfully shortly after, my Opa remarried a much younger woman. To this day, no one likes her, and she makes no real effort to hide the fact that she doesn’t like us either. The first time I visited my Opa Schulze after we had moved to Canada, I could already see the changes. We spent a quiet afternoon sitting down for lunch, and that was basically it. There was suddenly a wall. Visits to him became a courtesy and filled with small talk to fill the silence. Once in a while he would call on my birthday. Years passed, all our lives changed. I went through high school, my mother changed careers and got remarried, and my grandfather lost his beloved house, my mother’s childhood home, and moved into a small apartment with his wife. The summer before I started my new life in Vancouver, I spent a month in Berlin. My cousin Christian was getting married, the first in the Schulze grand-children. Problems with my Opa were with everyone, and it hit a new low when he announced he wouldn’t be coming to the wedding. My cousin gave up on him that day. Apparently, he didn’t want to “travel” all the way to the wedding (it was taking place further out of Berlin), despite the importance of the event. I also tried to not feel too hurt of the fact that he didn’t care to see me. Back then I wasn’t visiting Berlin so regularly. The week of that wedding in 2005 changed all of our lives. That week the truth came out, a past in my mother’s family that was unbelievable and explained why my Aunt trusted no one in our family and why she went crazy, why my Uncle is cut off, and why my Opa became such a quiet man that started to distance himself from his own children. There was suddenly a new version of my Oma that I had to accept. A woman with so many secrets. I remember the morning after, sitting in my sister’s tiny kitchen with my step-dad, my sister’s roommate Jule, Marc and of course my sister as my mother paced back and forth through the halls on the phone with my uncle Peter. My other Uncle tried to call but my mom couldn’t talk to him. His kids started calling asking why they couldn’t come to the wedding anymore. No one wanted to tell them. These cousins I was about to meet for the first time, were suddenly strangers again, and would remain that way. I felt ill. These things don’t happen to real people. I thought I was stuck in a foreign art movie. My chest felt like it was being filled with cement. The fact that we soldiered on from it, made the small part of the Schulze family stronger than ever. The night of the festivities, my Uncle Peter and I stood at the bar doing shot after shot, toasting “to family that matters”.

We all made our peace with it as much as we could, my mother and my Uncle Peter suddenly became the only glue to keep together the pieces that were left. My mother tries to keep a relationship with her father. Because despite everything, she is still daddy’s little girl and craves for his attention. Back in 2009 I was in L.A visiting her for a week when we got a call that he was in the hospital for a severe case of pneumonia. My Uncle told my mom that she should prepare to say good-bye. I sat outside on the front porch talking to Dan on the phone, crying about potentially losing my Opa. I hadn’t talked to him in years, but all I wanted to suddenly do was get on a plane so I could hold his hand. My mother did fly to Berlin, and he held on and came out of it. But after that he became afraid of leaving the house and thinks everything makes him sick. He thinks every day he will die. He wants to die. Badly. I know why. One can only live with your demons for so long. Hence why now he is a bitter man. Every day he wakes up alive pisses him off.

The last time I saw my Opa, I sat across from him politely sipping my tea under the watchful eye of his wife. The way my Opa looked at me was how one would look at a bank teller. Someone you know you need to talk to, but aren’t interested in knowing anything besides the business of your visit. I finally gave up. This was a man who had no interest in my life. After that visit my mother knew both my sister and I had just made the decision to stop making an effort with him. She was on her own now.

We don’t chose our family. It’s strange to think that we have no control over these people that we are supposed to love unconditionally, support no matter what, accept all their faults, all because their blood flows in our veins. Sometimes they do unforgivable things that trumps that loyalty, and we make the decision to no longer associate ourselves with them. We go through years where we think we are okay with this. That it was a choice. Last year I found that stupid plastic ring in the depths of a long forgotten bag. At first I couldn’t even place it, until the memory of my Opa Schulze giving it to me one Christmas when I was still a teenager came back, back when our relationship had already started falling apart. But I had saved it. Now I could throw it away, make closure. But I didn’t. Instead, I put it in my jewellery box. Then I started wearing it. Every day. And that is the power of family. Despite my anger, my pain, my heartbreak over his indifference to me, he was still my Opa. A man who continued a choice from my Oma to keep something hidden that destroyed their children. I could be angry at them, but the fact is, when that decision was made the world was a different place. The position my grand-parents were in had no winning solution, and they thought what they did was best. They were humans that made a mistake, and it cost them. What I am angry about is my Opa not owning up to that mistake and attempting to save his family when everything came to light. He was a coward.

This Christmas, my mom went to see him. She lasted ten minutes then left. She informed me he now has Alzheimer’s, and didn’t know who I was when she showed him a picture. For some reason, this did not faze me. It did not faze me until 3 weeks later, when that ring fell off my finger and disappeared forever. I suddenly realized why I had kept that ring when I found it again, because it was the last piece of my Opa I had. My Opa. The Opa who collected walnuts with me, the one that would watch patiently when I performed yet another dance in front of him, the one that let my sister and I slide down the stairs, the one that pushed me on that red scooter until I could do it myself, the one whose face lit up every time my sister and I ran out of the car towards his open arms, while my Oma hollered from the kitchen that she had made Jello. This ring was the last time his heart had thought enough about me to go to the store beside his little apartment and buy me a stupid plastic ring. Maybe he remembered the walnut tree too. Realistically he probably told his wife to get something for me on her next shopping trip, but I want to believe it was him. I want to believe he cared. The realization that I would never have the chance to make amends with my Opa made me stare at the wall forcing back tears. We can pretend that we’re fine, that it’s for the best, but their blood runs through our veins. My Opa is a part of me, whether I like it or not. I won’t ever have closure with him, I won’t ever be able to tell him he hurt me, that he hurt my mother, but that deep down I still cared. And we’re family. I wanted to share this part of my life with you because it’s one of those things that I think everyone struggles with. We want to forgive,  and we should, or at least try, before it’s too late. Because we can stay angry, we can stay hurt, but in the end, if you never had the chance to confront that person or try to get closure from the situation, it fuels an emotion that I despise, regret.

Maybe it’s for the best. In the end, I do have my memories of him as a good man, and that’s the man I choose to call my Opa Schulze.

 

Advertisements

so I went to the gym.

After a year of hearing Franz get up at 5:30 am almost every morning to go to the gym, while I lay in bed smirking and feeling superior with my extra hours of sleep, I decided I might try it. The fact that I even typed those words means someone has taken over my body. I had decided to:

voluntarily

get up

at 5:30 am

to go to the gym

So not normal. I was literally sitting at work feeling like a piece of lard after extreme over-indulgence during December knowing dance class during the week would not be enough during winter hibernation, when I suddenly just iChatted Franz and announced he was allowed to spray me with water to get me out of bed. Although that thought alone had me already cringing, and Franz terrified for his life, since I once threw a shoe at the door when he tried to wake me up before 10 am on a Saturday, I knew there was no other way. Working in post-production you tend to sit on your ass for 14 hours a day. During the summer its fine cause I bike everywhere and I’m out and about after work, but during winter my office chair and couch is where I’m living. Exercise is vital to keep the heart healthy. And not feel like lard. Desperate times, always call for desperate measures, so I typed in the words “I’m serious, make me an appointment at your gym” after numerous Franz:

“Oh, okay”

“Are you serious?”

“You’re not going to get up that early”

Franz being the smart man that he is, told me “we’ll see on Saturday”, since he knows my tendencies to make plans Saturday before 1 pm usually fail due to my adventures on a typical Friday night. And a typical one it was, starting off with Jameson shots after work and escalating to clearing the dance floor with Aaron at 2 am at Joe’s Apartment, a dance bar downtown. After a freak snow storm that had me walking in winter wonderland for half an hour finding a cab (not even mad, snow is fucking awesome), I stumbled into our apartment drenched in melted snow and left over sweat from rave party 1997, and wrote in giant letters on our message chalkboard “2 PM”. After I stared at it, knowing I was now committed. I wrote that shit down. You can’t erase that. Ignore the fact that it was a chalkboard and I could easily erase it in 0.5 seconds. I woke up to sunlight beaming on my face and making me gurgle awake as per usual, and already hearing Franz up and about, like a regular person who has their life together. I slept it off for another hour, and eventually dragged my ass out of bed somewhere around 12:30 pm. I do what I usually do on Saturday afternoons, put on some wrinkly jeans and a gross sweater and venture outside. We hit up the pharmacy first for some supplies, where I caught myself in the mirror and realized I looked pretty haggard and knew right away the GYM PEOPLE would be like “look at this fucking asshole. Coming in to make a membership only to quit a week later. Fucking New Year’s resolution”. NO. NO. NO. I would NOT be one of those people. I held my head up high and announced “TO THE GYM”. Off we went, up the stairs and BAM, there’s the gym smell. Stale B.O and rubber mats. Of course they had that uppity gym music playing mingled with the constant whirring of the treadmills. I stood there fascinated, look at all these people. Taking care of themselves. I always forget just how many people actually go to the gym, as opposed to people like me who think napping is a form of exercise….. somehow. For some reason I always expect the gym to be like the Olivia Newton John video.

 

Which is ridiculous since people would now get kicked out of the gym for wearing “clothes” like that. Sexual harassment lawsuits. “What this thong? Of course it’s acceptable to wear in your establishment, I demand to see your manager”. Anyway, I got introduced to a lovely British man named Tim, who was the “weekend manager”, who wasted no time in giving me the tour. He quickly realized I was half listening and also hungover. I don’t fool nobody. I set him straight and told him I wasn’t interested in muscle gain or extreme toning, I just needed something to get my heart pumping while I’m not biking. To which he gave me a vacant “does not compute look” to which I had a rant in my head that went something like:

LISTEN I KNOW THIS IS YOUR LIFE AND YOU PROBABLY THINK I’M RIDICULOUS FOR JOINING A GYM IF I AIN’T SERIOUS AND ONLY WANTING TO DO CARDIO CAUSE HONESTLY, I CAN GO OUTSIDE JOGGING FOR FREE BUT THAT’S THE PROBLEM BECAUSE I CAN TELL MYSELF EVERY NIGHT IT’S COOL I’M GONNA JOG BUT I WON’T. I WON’T. I’LL COME HOME AND NEVER WANT TO LEAVE THE HOUSE. IT’S RAINING. IT’S SNOWING. THERE’S A WIND STORM. IT’S FUCKING VANCOUVER IN THE WINTER BRAH. SO CHARGE ME 40$ A MONTH PLEASE TO FORCE ME TO COME TO YOUR STUPID GYM AND MOVE MY BODY, CAUSE IF I DON’T COME I’M WASTING MONEY. DO YOU SEE??? DO YOU SEE HOW THIS WORKS???!!! DO YOU SEE???

Instead I just smiled at him nicely and he replied “well okay, um, we have lots of treadmills”. Indeed you do, indeed you do. Paperwork was signed, awkward conversation about soccer ensued (a German and a Brit, what did you expect) and the free handout of powerbars and vitamins were given. And that was it. There was no turning back. Money was being taken out of my bank account every month. I can’t procrastinate going to the gym. Franz smiled at me proudly, while I pondered if I had any acceptable jogging pants. Somehow I knew my ratty beach shorts weren’t gonna cut it.

So on Monday morning, my alarm went off, and no water spraying was needed. Something switches in your brain when you finally sign that gym contract. No more excuses. Suddenly you ARE committed. The idea doesn’t seem so hard. Off we went in the dark, bundled up cause it was nipply cold out, giggling over stupid shit cause our brains were still asleep (“imagine vegetables in a bar” “oh my god, brilliant”). Franz bee-lined for the weight room since he’s on some kind of bodybuilding regime which involves getting Ryan Gosling’s abs by the end of it, while I stood up on one of the treadmills and stared at all my “running” options. To my right was one of those bitches that was decked out in matching Lululemon gear with fucking make-up on at 6 am, and on my left one of those dudes that instantly eyed me up and down and deemed me his competition. Meanwhile, I was in my ratty gym pants from 2005 (when I lived in L.A and also had a brief gym relationship) and a crew T-shirt from 2006. And it began. Nice slow little jog. My momentum was surprising, I thought I would be dead after 5 minutes. Dude beside me upped his speed every time I did so I tried not to catch his eye to encourage him. The reason I hate gyms is because I get bored. A lot of people don’t mind it cause they can zone out, with the motivation of their ideal  bodies dancing in front of them, pushing them to the limit. Meanwhile, in Julia’s brain, here is what I’m thinking about:

damn I should have left my glasses on I can’t see the TV. Ew, why is this song still on my ipod, so over it. Skip. Skip. Skip. OHTHISISMYJAMYEAH. Great, I can hear this guy grunting beside me over my music. Man, I can still taste that weird strawberry oatmeal power bar I ate that Tim gave me. Tim was kind of cute. I wonder if Franz thought he was cute. Would I fuck Tim? No. Maybe? Skip. Skip. Ugh this guy’s grunting is getting louder. Oh fuck, I need to remember to send that email when I get into work. Did I pay my cellphone bill? When was the last time I did pay my cellphone bill? I wonder how warm it is in Barbados right now. Maybe I should take a vacation to Barbados. Now I want a pina colada. Do they make pina colada flavored power bars? They probably taste like shit. Why do I like pina coladas if I hate pineapple? OHMYGODONLY2MINUTESHAVEPASSED.

Etc.

I made it to 20 minutes but then got too bored to continue. Dude beside me also got off his treadmill and gave me “yeah, what?!” nod. Apparently we were racing in his head. GYM PEOPLE. I ventured over to the “relaxing stretch room” to do some setups. Which involved me lying on a mat and doing 10 crunchies every 5 minutes while napping in between. I then sauntered over to the “lady fitness room” which had machines and weights. I tried every machine to keep occupied. One of them was this back thing that I found actually pretty relaxing. Maybe I’ll just chill on that thing every time I come. Franz came to get me finally, and there it was, my first time back in a gym since 2005. Twice a week with my dance class and my heart and body will be happy. And I might feel less guilty when I eat an entire bag of gummy worms and excessive drinking every weekend. Some things don’t change.

JUST SOME PARTING TUNES

Blue Jeans by Lana Del Ray

 

I know this chick is being over-hyped beyond Everest at this point, but I can’t get enough of this song. Don’t know what will happen to her, if she will survive the hype and the bad press after her SNL performance, but all I know is I will always get pumped when she sings in that dreary voice “love you more, than those bitches before”. The whole vibe is not so innocent 1950’s.

Red Arrow (John) by Gem Club

 

Dreamy. To help those who can’t sleep.