Catherine and Nathan            at Nine Months

Catherine followed him to Berlin.  She went because it was far away from Texas and far away with him.  She’d been seeing Nathan for the past six months, when she decided to go.  He’d asked her to come along as his assistant, to help Nathan collect data on which frozen food companies had soared in the former GDR.  And so they’d left, together, some three months later.  Their relationship was long enough to have birthed a baby.  Sometimes she wondered what it might look like.

She saw it as a European present, their love child, something set aside from Texas, apart from the culture she’d left behind.  It could never have big hair, instead opting for a slick androgynous look.  It would grow up speaking multiple languages, able to shift from tongue to tongue, sentence by sentence.  Words would contain multiple definitions depending on each one’s sound and placement within the sentence inside the language it was spoken.

Nathan always told her, “Dein liebe für mich ist verboten.” In English it meant, “Your love for me is forbidden.”  Sometimes Catherine said the same to Nathan, only in English, and they would both laugh.  Although this statement seemed funnier when Nathan said it to Catherine, than when she said it to him.  When she said it, the laughter seemed a bit more forced from them both.  She wondered if there was something lost in statement’s translation, “Your love for me is forbidden;” Catherine refused to believe there was anything lost in making his words hers, so she wasn’t sure why the joke lost its humor in reverse.  The relationship belonged to both of them.  Catherine believed it was equal, a meeting of the minds, a crossing of the hearts into one.  She thought maybe it was because the joke had originated as Nathan, since he was still seeing another grad student during the time when they first came together, but that possibility seemed to remain equally flawed.

Collette was her name, Nathan’s ex-girlfriend, and she and Nathan had lived together the past year, before he met Catherine.  Nathan had recently found his own place in the wake of their separation, which seemed to be more his idea than hers.  Sometimes he referred to Collette as the ‘woman with weapons,’ because she’d chased him around their apartment the night of their break-up, when he’d returned home late smelling like alcohol.  Nathan told Catherine he’d been out with his buddies earlier that evening, guys that Collette didn’t like, fellow grad students in his program.  Nathan explained that he believed Collette was jealous that night, though it remained the foundation of so many of their problems.  Collette blamed Nathan’s drinking on his inability to completely connect with her.  She believed that so much of his energy went to work, and the rest of it to thinking, that his drinking left her with nothing but his shell, an empty Nathan.  

He explained that when he got that way, drunk and tired, he felt nothing, not even pain. This is why when Nathan returned home to Collette that night he’d told her to ‘hit him.’  “Hit me. Hit me.  Come on.”  Supposedly Nathan had recently read Fight Club, which is why the idea had struck him as funny that night.  He said they were always fighting with words, so why not try fists.  If Collette really wanted to hurt him, why not just throw a punch?  Collette didn’t see the humor in Nathan’s laughing as she punched him once, and punched him again, as he continued to laugh unphased, no feeling at all.  Catherine thought that Collette must have been determined to make him feel pain at that point, because that’s when she grabbed the knives, chasing Nathan around the apartment, out the door, and down the street, which ended the year they’d spent together.  This happened on a Friday, and he was moved into a new place Monday. 

Still. Collette and Nathan had broken up so many times that she wasn’t content to let Nathan go without a fight.  More times than Catherine could count, Collette showed up between 10 at night and 10 the next morning, banging on Nathan’s door.  Catherine had to hide still beneath his comforter a couple of times, when Nathan had forgotten to close the blinds.  Collette continued to pound out the anger she felt through her fists, sometimes with the heel of her shoe.  Catherine found the red heel of Collette’s stiletto sitting outside the front door on her way to class.  She wondered if Collette knew about their relationship, or about her specifically.  Nathan said Collette knew that something was going on, but would probably never suspect him taking up with an undergraduate.  She was convinced he’d gone with another grad student.  So for that reason and for many more left silent, when Nathan whispered to Catherine under the covers, “Dein liebe für mich ist verboten;” they both held back their laughter, until Collette had disappeared completely.

Now that they were in Berlin together, this phrase no longer seemed funny.  In some ways, Catherine felt Berlin was the first place, the beginning of their time together, which was no longer forbidden.  In fact, their love was perfectly legal, and assumed normal in Germany.  The taboos that held true in Texas were eliminated there.  It seemed as if the Germans had more serious things to worry about than the age difference between a young couple.  It wasn’t as if Catherine were so young, or Nathan were so old.  She was in her early twenties, and he his early thirties.  In another fifty years that age difference would feel minute compared to the experiences they’d accumulate together. 

So in some ways the nine months they’d spent together hiding in his apartment gave birth to the possibility of something real for them in Berlin.  They’d planned to stay there together for a year, living in his tiny apartment, and sharing his European twin.  Catherine enjoyed falling asleep tangled up in Nathan.  She enjoyed the sense of her becoming a part of him through sleep.  His body her bedframe, his chest her pillow, together like this for a year.  Compared to nine months, a year seems to be an arbitrary length of tome.  She’d rather see what another nine months might produce.