Early on this blog, I mentioned Donna Barr‘s intriguing proposition that she, and I, and any number of other women around our age, harbored the transmigrated spirits of soldiers killed waging the wars of the Third Reich, who had returned to earthly life swearing to wage peace, and resist the death-drunk totalitarian impulse that fuels wars of nationalism and conquest.
I suppose you could start with giving someone a good massage.
I thought about it last night when a late-evening client began talking about her mother, who’s also been on my table — a tiny lady who banged up her back on a holiday visit not long ago. “Mom tells me about what it was like when she was in school, when the Germans took over the town,” she said. They were on the border between two occupied territories of Eastern Europe, and at first the Wehrmacht simply staked the place out and billeted themselves on the residents: “Mom’s parents had to put up this gay lieutenant” [shades of Barr’s Desert Peach!] “who would play the Marseillaise on the piano, until the other officers warned him he could get in trouble.” At first it was only the Wehrmacht — “only” is relative; later it was the SS, of whom even the Wehrmacht officers were afraid. People who had crowded into an open-air market might find the market randomly blocked off, everyone inside it ordered to board a train to a work camp, and their families wouldn’t see them again.
Because of that war, I was born. There was nothing else that would have brought a hornplayer from Nebraska deep into the American South to meet a local girl who was doing war work. I used to meditate on the oddity of being a legacy of war — an antecedent I share with countless people all over the world — long before the occasion when Frau Barr offered me her Phantom German theory.
And here in this brave new century, writing dates on my checks that figured in the futuristic science-fiction of my schooldays, I loosen the shoulders and relax the neck of a small-boned woman who once watched her parents cope with booted men in gray uniforms, striding through the parlor, appropriating the household treasures.
Did I wear a uniform like that? It would make a good novel. All I know is, Time is not a straight line. It’s a spiral or a helix, doubling back on itself, like our DNA.