On Tuesday night, after a gap of five years, our friends the Zimmers came to dinner.
Ulrike and I met 17 years ago, in a manner that is not unlike the beginning of a romance. I was sitting near the window in a coffee shop in Brookline Village, looking out, and she was walking by, looking in. Our eyes met, and, although we were strangers, we smiled a greeting. The next day, or perhaps the day after that, we recognized each other at our children’s nursery school. Instantly, it seems now, Ulrike and I were friends.
We were neighbors during the time she, her husband Claus, and first daughter Pauline lived in Brookline. I look back on that as a golden time, although some of what we discussed during our countless moments together, alone or with Pauline and Eli, was rooted in the struggle to figure out who we were now that we had become mothers.
And, I dare say, if we had had more time together this week, we would have returned deeply to those mutual concerns: Who am I? What work am I most suited for? What do I want for myself? Where is that line between where others end and I begin? When the Zimmers moved back to Germany in early 1996, I lost a daily connection to a rare and intimate friendship. Yes, letters and email and infrequent visits can keep us in touch, but we are missing out on the incremental and ordinary comforts of being nearby. Shared life.
On Tuesday night, Ulrike brought us presents. To me she gave a pair of beautiful, silver leather gloves from a famous German glovemaker. “For the skater,” she said. I felt known by my friend, as though she had recognized the ‘me’ that I am, alone. Not the mother, not the teacher, not even the friend. A true gift.
Today I wore them for the first time. Little by little as I learn how to skate, I have been progressively marking my commitment to it in concrete ways: the purchase of fitted ice skates; the private lessons; the summer practice time; notebook; and gear bag. This is my first piece of costume.
I skated neither better nor worse today. In fact, one of the rink regulars, whom I recognized but don’t know, skated up to me and gave me some unsolicited “skater’s advice,” as he called it, which, he promised, “will give you more power.” (I found this to be extremely irritating, and I wish I had had the perfect comeback. Mad at him, I turned my back, but later tried what he suggested. I vow, though, to never thank him.)
The whole time I skated, I felt my gloves on my hands, and they seemed to be helping me steer into the future, when I will only skate better.
On our last afternoon together, Ulrike was brainstorming ways to get me and my family next to Munich for a visit. (Business trip? Frequent flyer miles? House swapping?) “We cannot let five years go by again,” she said.
“Yes,” I say. Our words make a promise to the future, when we will see each other again.
The title of this post is an homage to the Brothers Grimm’s tale, “The Girl with Silver Hands” or “The Girl without Hands.” The photographs were taken by Grace Guterman.