John and Silke
Silke fumbled with her keys and opened the door. She kicked off her shoes, and walked, as quietly as possible, up the stairs. Her success was limited. As she made it up the last stair, she poised her leg to step on the next stair, which, of course, did not exist. She stumbled onto the second floor with a pronounced thud. Hoping she hadn’t woken up Ariana, she tiptoed toward her room. As she was slowly turning the doorknob, she heard a door open behind her. She spun around.
“Ariana! Oh shit, I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”
Ariana groaned, “Yes, you did. What time is it anyway?”
“Something like midnight,” Silke said, squinting at her watch, “twelve ohfive.”
“You smell like beer.”
“We had a couple of drinks before coming back.”
“From your little ad law tutoring session.”
“Right. You know, you can tell me what you were really doing. “
“Kevin and I were just talking.”
“What’s been wrong with you all day?”
“Come on. You think I don’t know you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Jesus, Silke. We’ve known each other, what, 7 years now? I know when something’s bothering you.” Ariana took a step closer to Silke.
“It’s nothing. I mean, it’s nothing I can really define or anything. I just really don’t feel like myself today. I just feel a bit off somehow.”
“You’ve been crying.”
“Off and on all day.”
Ariana put her arm around her, “Sweetie…”
The feeling of having Ariana’s arm around her was almost like she remembered. Almost. But it wasn’t the same, and Silke curled up on the hallway floor, wracked with sobs. She cried for everything she’d lost, for all the uncertainty, for finding herself in the middle of someone’s life that she didn’t even know, but, at the same time, she also cried because she was so moved by the support she’d found in this. For all that had changed, Ariana and Kevin obviously still cared very much about her, even if not in the same way that she remembered. Ariana curled up with her, holding her tight, whispering, “It’s OK, it’s OK.”
They lay there on the floor for an hour or two, until Silke had run out of tears. Ariana helped her onto her feet, and they hugged once again before finally retiring for the night.
Silke flipped the light switch in her room, and paced around, looking around. She lived here now, so she might as well get acquainted with it. It looked nothing like John’s room, which had all the warmth of an underground parking structure. Somehow, it had a familiar, cozy feeling. She stared at the stuffed animals on the bed – a dog and a teddy bear – for a minute. Part of her felt completely ridiculous having them there for all to see; John had gotten rid of all of his somewhere around the age of nine. But Silke, it seemed, hung onto them. She touched the teddy bear, and was taken in by the wonderful softness. They’re adorable, actually, she caught herself thinking. The part of her that was inclined to resist any such heresy was already exhausted after a long day, and she picked the bear up, and held it close. Something about it felt truly lovely, having something soft and warm on her breast, and she didn’t put it down as she began undressing for bed, throwing each article of clothing into the hamper as she went. Pulling off the bra, which went easier than putting the damn thing on, was a particular high point.
Still holding the teddy bear, Silke let down her hair, peeled down the covers, and rolled into bed. Overwhelmed by the need to be holding something, she wrapped her arms tightly around it as she fell into a deep sleep.
Silke couldn’t sleep. She opened her eyes and looked at her alarm clock: 5:30. Ugh. She didn’t have class today, and she doubted that she was going to get back to sleep for any reasonable amount of time, so she decided to be productive. Silke was no stranger to night thoughts, and she needed to do some thinking, about what this all meant, about what to do about it. At least she seemed to be done crying for the moment; she felt as if she lost a bit of herself every time she broke down crying. Kevin was right. She needed time, and she needed to find some way to deal with this. Obviously, it was not going away. Spending her entire life torturing herself for what she wasn’t did not seem appealing. She had to reach some kind of balance between this body, this life, and who she had always been. She couldn’t survive in constant internal conflict.
First, she reasoned, she would have to have some idea who Silke was, and what kind of life she’d stumbled into. This would require further research. For now, what she knew was (1) that she was well liked, (2) that the people who cared about her the most seemed to be the same ones who cared most about John, (3) she had been apparently a hell of a lot better in Contracts than John, (4) she was both gorgeous and incredibly girly. She was apparently exactly the sort of girl John liked; no wonder she and Ariana got on so well. I suppose that I could have done worse.
Certainly, she could have done a lot worse. If she was going to have to be a girl, she could probably live with being Silke. She didn’t know how the hell she was going to live with it, but she supposed she’d find a way. It seemed like some things were already changing without any help from her. The way she had felt so drawn to Kevin’s new tenderness, not to mention the way she could feel herself blushing even now at the thought of how strong his arms were, the warm, snuggly feeling the stuffed animals gave her, the way tears seemed to come so embarrassingly easily. It seemed pretty clear that it wasn’t just her body that was changing. As if on cue, she started crying again at that thought, frightened at the prospect that she might be losing even more of herself than she had thought.
Why me, dammit? Why the hell does this have to happen to me? This is totally unfair. Why do I, of all people, have to end up losing everything? I didn’t get notice, I didn’t get an opportunity to be heard. I didn’t get a single damn explanation of the reasons for depriving me of…of EVERYTHING, of MY LIFE, MY STRENGTH, MY GIRLFRIEND, OF EVERY FUCKING THING THAT I KNOW!
Angry tears soaked her face, and she found herself crying into the shoulder of the teddy bear, which she was grasping for dear life. She tried to get her thoughts straight, but all she could do was cry. The more she tried to resist the impulse, the more tears streamed from her eyes. Eventually, she just gave in and wept. Strangely, when she finally just let it happen, she somehow began to feel better. Not good, but better. She felt the tension she’d been walking around with all day dissipate, she felt release. As she slowly stopped shaking, she took a few deep breaths, and became conscious of how wonderful the teddy bear she’d been clutching felt against her cheek.
The negatives of the situation were clear enough. Silke was desperately in need of some positives. What was there about this situation to feel good about? What, indeed. She thought back to Sunday – a Sunday that had now never happened – and remembered…
…What am I going to do about Ariana? I haven’t seen her in three weeks now. Maybe sometime this weekend…It would sure do me some good…
That was something. Her relationship with Ariana in some senses, anyway had improved. The issue of not spending enough time together had obviously been resolved. From what Silke had thus far seen, they saw each other every day, rather than having brief, strained midnight phone conversations where one of them was rung out of bed. Silke and Ariana were obviously very close, and clearly cared deeply about each other. Feeling Ariana’s warmth as she lay crying in the hallway was an immeasurable comfort
. Was that, perhaps, a start? Yes, Silke thought, feeling a real smile creep across her face for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Maybe I should make a habit of noting these things as I think of them.
She fumbled in the dark for the switch to her bedside lamp, turned it on, and opened up the cabinet in her nightstand. She rolled out of bed, rubbing the last sleep and tears out of her eyes, and had a look through the contents. Toward the bottom of the stack of books and magazines, she found a bound, unlined notebook with a purple cover. A journal? She picked it up, lay down again, and began to leaf through it. There looked to be about 800 pages, with writing on maybe about a quarter of the pages. The earliest entry was dated January 10, 1998, seven years ago. The most recent was two weeks ago. If I want to know whose life I’ve stepped into, I might as well go to the source.
Flipping back to the first entry, she read:
January 10, 1998
Well, 1997 has come to an end. The champagne bottle’s on its way to recycling. Uncle Rainer and Aunt Silke who, by the way, is the person I get my name from have gone back to Berlin. And I’m finally into the last semester of my high school career! The classes look easy enough so far. German IV’s going to be a breeze. I probably could have just tested out and gotten the requirement taken care of, but it’ll be nice to have one class where I know I can just relax. Looks like I’ll be tutoring Kevin again in, basically, everything. I swear, he’d be getting A’s without even showing up if he could just deal with all the stress and shit he’s always got going on. I guess that’s kinda where I come in, isn’t it? We’ve kind of agreed that we’ll go to Prom together if we don’t have other plans by then. He’s so cute, no doubt about it. And we get along great when we’re working together. And I’m all about that whole skater thing he’s got going on, and I know we’d have a great time together if we went together. But he’s not really ripe to be called Boyfriend Material.
Anyhoo, I’m writing this kinda because of my New Year’s Resolution. I want to see how long I can keep it going. It’s plenty long, so I bet it’ll last a good long time. Bye for now!
She looked over that entry twice. The idea of herself as a teenage girl was too much for her to wrap her brain around, at least for now. She was struck by how upbeat it all sounded. And by the fact that she apparently spoke German well enough to call an advanced course even a high school one a “breeze.” Hopefully she’d long since forgotten it, because that was something she didn’t think she could fake. Her mother had tried to teach John German when he was little, but he never took to it, and barely understood the most rudimentary phrases. He’d taken Spanish in high school, gotten an A , and forgotten it like any other red-blooded American.
She flipped past several pages, stopping at an entry marked May 20, 1998.
I’m really not keeping up with this thing the way I’d hoped. In five months I’ve only made about 20 entries. Oh well. Hmmm, what to talk about today? Prom, of course. It’s five in the morning and I only got back about two hours ago. Kevin and I had a great time just as friends, of course! I do hope he really understands that, too, because I really don’t want to hurt his feelings or lead him on. He is just such a sweet guy. After Anna and I got dressed and coiffed and everything at my place, he picked me up in his dad’s PORSCHE. I had no idea how loaded his family was. He looked exquisite in his tux, especially with his hair all scruffy the way he always wears it. The contrast just works for him. I’ve paperclipped a Polaroid of the two of us before we left tonight to the page. I was certainly getting quite a few looks tonight – looks like the boyfriendlessness isn’t going to last too long. We spent most of our time on the dance floor laughing because we kept stepping on each other. Kevin may know how to use his feet on a soccer field, but the boy’s got no rhythm. The hotel was just gorgeous! There were long-stem roses on every table and lots of warm colours all over the ballroom. And he was just so tender during the slow dances – that was maybe the highlight of my evening, resting my head on his chest with his arms around my waist. I’m so overjoyed I can’t even talk about this coherently! I need to get some sleep.
Sure enough, at the bottom of the page, there was a Polaroid with a picture of her and Kevin. Neither of them looked all that different at 18 than they did now. Silke was wearing an ankle length crimson satin gown with a full skirt and a fitted bodice that showed her shape well. Silke found herself thinking that the spaghetti straps and scoop neck were a particularly nice touch. For better or for worse, she was an absolute knockout. Kevin wasn’t so bad himself. Why they’d both ended up dateless for senior prom was a mystery that Silke couldn’t begin to fathom. But, as their fresh, full-face smiles made clear, they loved every minute. Silke seems I mean, I seem, to have found plenty of occasions to enjoy this whole girl thing. Am I going to become like that now? That’s just too much to contemplate right now.
She decided to hold off on any further reading, and skipped to the first blank page she found. After rifling through the cabinet once again, she came up with a black ballpoint pen. She rolled over onto her stomach, and began writing.
March 14, 2005
I just found this journal tonight in my bedside table when I was looking for something to write on. I've only read a little of the very beginning, but it's apparently a diary I've been keeping for seven years now. Saying "I" have been keeping it still sounds a little weird. Up until a little over 24 hours ago, I was John Mueller, who had never kept a diary, journal, or whatever you want to call it in his entire life. In any case, as has repeatedly been impressed upon me this past day, there is no John Mueller. There is only me, Silke Mueller, apparently born on the same day, place, and everything. A girl. How the hell did that happen, anyway? I'm not a girl, damn it. I'm just not. But even today it's been confusing sometimes. I'm feeling things I don't ever remember feeling. I don't want to get into that too much. I'm rambling here. My whole point in writing anything down tonight was to start my sanity-preserving LIST OF POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT BEING SILKE:
1. I live with Ariana now, so I get to spend a lot more time with her.
2. So far, it looks like I have all the people I care about.
3. I'll save a lot of money on beer. I was totally shitfaced after not even two bottles tonight.
After laughing at number three, she hesitated at number four. She felt there was something more to write, but she was somehow torn over whether to actually put it on paper or not. Thinking it and feeling it was one thing, but actually saying it was an admission that she wasn't sure she could live with. But, strictly judging based on the criteria she'd stated in the title of the list, it really had to go. The whole point of the exercise was to find things to be happy about in order to avoid going insane. This definitely felt positive, and it definitely was "about being Silke," so she didn't see any way of avoiding including it:
4. The indescribable, warm, cozy feeling I get snuggling with the teddy bear in my bed. I admit it. I like that. I can't believe I do, but facts are facts.
Seeing that written down, by her own (surprisingly neat) hand, Silke was overwhelmed, but this time no tears came. Probably ran out, she thought. Let me get this straight. I'm lying on my bed, in the girliest room I can imagine, writing in my diary about how nice it feels to snuggle with my stuffed animals. Jesus. Even after only twenty-four hours, certain things had clearly begun to shift. Material, she thought, that would fit well in a LIST OF THINGS THAT SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF ME ABOUT BEING SILKE. That wasn't a list she planned on actually writing down. She didn't need it on paper to remember the ever-growing list of things on it. The only reason to make the one list was to make sure that she had it clearly in mind that this wasn't all bad. She needed to be aware of that if she was going to be stuck with this life. At the same time, though, she intended to do whatever she could to avoid losing who she was.
Don't look now, but it's already happening.
Despite that unsettling thought, she was finally getting sleepy enough to make another attempt. She didn't know what she'd do with herself if she actually got up this early. The sun was already peeking through the blinds on her windows, and she could hear the sound of birds announcing the new day.
"Save it," she mumbled, to no one in particular.
She reached for the lamp, and turned it off. As she was making herself comfortable for sleep, she reached, as was fast becoming her custom, for the teddy bear at her side. Holding it was so comforting. But it was also exactly what she wanted to guard against. I'm a man under here, dammit, and I need to act like one. Another internal voice suggested that that was perhaps all it was at this point: acting. She rolled over onto her back, and tried to get some sleep without plush assistance. Despite the cold feeling she had even under her feather comforter, she slowly drifted off. As she finally became more asleep than awake, she rolled over to the other side of the bed, and her arm unconsciously reached out for the stuffed bear. Seven hours later, Silke woke up to find that it had made it into her arms despite her best efforts.
Chapter 3Chapter 5
Copyright 2006-2007, Élise R. Hendrick, All rights reserved.