My opa has started calling me Frau Herzog, my new last name. It sounds too old and grown up, and I realize with a jolt that I no longer legally share a last name with the rest of my five siblings. I shock my oma by eating avocado toast (she’s “never really had much use” for avocados) and then at 11pm I stumble on both my grandparents drinking schnapps in the dark, in silence.
A few days before, I have breakfast with all my siblings (there is a sentence I don’t often write). On a Sunday morning in northwestern Germany, all six of us were together at my grandparents’, stink-eyed glances and sly grins sandwiched between brötchen and butter. This the aftermath of a family reunion which, along with the usual suspects, miraculously welcomed my in-laws and my sister-in-law. 16 of us bicycled through the fields to get to the reunion as my grandfather threatened to buy each of us orange safety vests “to warn others.” I joked that 16 of us on bikes would be warning enough, but still he insisted on wearing one himself, the leader of a band of divinely fortuitous family.
Does returning to a childhood world as an adult always evoke such hazy, bittersweet feeling? Yes, bittersweetness, and the deep exhalation of a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Riding down the trails I’ve known all my life, for the first time with my husband and his family, was one of the truest full circles I've ever experienced. Moments so perfect and fleeting they were hard to fully absorb; what a feeling to know and be known, to love and be loved.
Jacob and I took a trip throughout Germany—his first, and my…I’ve lost track. A second honeymoon, we called it. In Rüdesheim, a small town on the Rhine river, we walked uphill out of town into the vineyards, still and shimmering in the end-of-day heat. Marriage so far has vacillated on a spectrum with love thick and heavy on one end and pure, momentarily-blinding exasperation on the other. But thankfully, the meter swings more towards the former than the latter, and that night in Rüdesheim I felt out of my mind with adoration. We stumbled upon a heavy-laden cherry tree in the middle of a field, which immediately halted our conversation as we began the hunt for plump, crimson rubies. We ate Chinese takeout on a bench, perhaps the youngest couple in a town full of elderly tour groups; two of the four prongs of Jacob’s plastic fork broke much to our amusement; he told me in the most tender way possible that he was glad to have ended up with me. How to capture the feelings of that pink-tinged 10pm sunset in the vineyards, with his hand holding mine tight? I’m starting to realize that love cannot exist without pain.