Some wait for the bus, some for their children, others for dinner. Recently, we've been waiting for a virus because the kids don't come anymore and we don't sit at the bus stop to wait for a bus. We are not allowed to do that anymore. There remain those who wait for dinner. The ones who set off, walker in hand, as early as four o'clock to roll towards the dining room, only to come to a standstill in the line of people waiting for dinner. They create a permanent buzz with their shuffling feet.
Between the white paint of the highway and the grass, there is still a bit of asphalt. Sometimes there is no white paint. And sometimes just a small strip of land, too small to be called a strip. A good place to die.
The sun hangs tired and orange over the horizon shooting cars. Their headlights brush me, bless me a few seconds of limelight, then drive back into oblivion, at about 130 km/h, faster or slower at times, depending on the driver's assessment. Shortly before Baden, Baden-Württemberg I was still bathing yesterday, bathing in the Rhine, it was fine, I just jumped in. And then there's the highway that goes over the river, but before that it's French, and French has something epic, romantic about it, so here I am, in France, lying on the asphalt. And not a few meters further, on German asphalt. I could have done that, too. But there's something about French that people find sexy. If dying is sexy, it is in France, with a final nasal diphthong on the lips.
Or maybe it doesn't matter at all. Maybe I could have died with a German umlaut on the same asphalt a few feet away. But it did make a difference, that thin black line, like a tattoo - you delicately separate bits of your skin from bits of other skin and it somehow makes a pattern with meaning. The line separates diphthong from umlaut, and then somehow it doesn't, because the tattoo representing Alsace so often can do both.
It also seems unacceptable to want to decide where and when you die, I had always been aware of that, in my consciousness at the bottom, maybe subconsciously, when I signed the note, with my signature under the text that said: you die here, with others, either in this room where there is food, in the garden where there are fences, or in this bed with white sheets that can neutralize odor in case you have to pee while you die. I also signed which people I have to die with, the Croatian caregivers and the German daily companions, who don't get along so well either, especially because of a black line that you can't just cross without a German course. So I signed in which language I would have to talk to die speaking, I don't care about the language, I want to die in silence I think, because you are born in silence and then you scream, why not die in silence?
And after that I also signed, my son had explained it to me, the stone here, on the ground there, by the third tree on the left and then on the right and it would be beautiful and I would have a view over the river. And I was confused, how was I going to see, when I would be lying in and then under something to die? I wouldn't see anything there, and I didn't know why, but I signed, put my signature under that text too.
After all, my children want to see something, a stone, my name, my name is so unimportant, but a breathless, nameless grave, that was something for soldiers whose names were not known in the war, I knew that from before, my brother had probably been buried like that. But when I signed and then sat, in the rooms where I could die when I wanted, just not where and how, I somehow knew again that I was in between, on the thin black line between one piece of skin, alive and the other, dead, because my skin was no longer rosy, but also not cold, but wrinkled. Mountainous, like the little mountains on the line between Spain and France, such a beautiful line, much more powerful than this one on which I lie, no behind which I lie now.
A few weeks ago I was still looking at the shoulder on the Brenner, wondering if this would be a good place to die. But in the mountains everyone was so distracted by everything around, by the money, because there you have to pay for the asphalt and I didn't like that.
I'd rather have an asphalt that at least there, in that place after the Rhine in Baden, where I was bathing in the Rhine, it's free. Not free, no. So many umlauts drive to diphthongs and vice versa, here you do not notice the black line, do not look at a map.
Wise people say you don't understand death if you don't understand life. But I did understand life. I have been here and there and everywhere. I have understood. That's why I'm lying here now. On the asphalt. A little god who, after a defeat, admitted not to be one, like the Japanese ruler sometime last century. He had understood his life, at that point, and his death made sense then. He wouldn't have if he had been a god. Gods cannot die.
There's a strip of land between gods and men, and there's asphalt on the left and asphalt on the right. There is a line, says the map, and they say Bonjour, not Hallo, not Guten Tag, not Servus, and somehow that is exotic for crossing the Rhine. And gods draw lines, too. Between heaven and earth, between right and wrong, between this and that, and what do people do except just that? So gods are people, sobering.
The asphalt is a little crumbly and more the light gray of a pigeon than the dark gray of a middle-aged office worker’s hair. But I like that because the light gray comes from the tired sun. I wish I were a fish and one eye saw only asphalt and the other only sky. Then I would be the line.
But then I wouldn't be able to watch the cars. And there's this beautiful snapshot of time. Each car has its own little time, its own little world on the seats. It goes by faster when you're talking than when you're staring at the map and waiting for minutes to pass. And somehow it's lonely that the cars are all driving and not talking to each other, and at the same time there's wind and asphalt between them, and dashed lines and maybe a diphthong and more than one bonjour, and you might not understand that. The caregivers and daily companions are also cars driving on the same road with too much wind between them, and somehow we all are too, driving and waiting and driving without talking to each other, waiting to die in our own little snapshot that you can take, with a camera and think we might be driving and waiting together. Yet we do it all alone. A delicate black line.
I would have found it exciting, too, if I had been a mosquito and died on the roof racks of a car with the wind in my face. I would assume that the impact from slapping against the roof racks wouldn't kill me instantly and I could enjoy the speed for some time and look right and left and feel the car vibrating under me and maybe chat a little with the others. But what is there to chat about when you actually want to die?
A car hums by and I see Simba on a cloth in the back window, I guess he's supposed to keep the tired sun out of the car. Disney says I have to become the Lion Prince, yet I'm not a lion and I'm not a prince. I never understood what I am now. Whether I am antelope, blade of grass or something else entirely. Asphalt remains a little warm when the awake sun has shone on it before. Is being run over like becoming earth and then a tree grows out of it? Or have I sought the lonely way of individualism, with the others lying on the strip and looking at tires. Or no longer looking at them, because they are already dead. Have I arrived because I want to die on French asphalt and not on white linen in Baden-Baden?
It's a bit like my daughter at the shrink, who feels bad there because she doesn't actually have any problems, but wants to look for some with him in order to talk about them and finds out that she has a few more than she thought. And I don't have any either, after all I have the money, or my husband had the money, to give me a place to die with dignity, dignified dying, and to pay with money for three rooms and a garden. And no decay, lonely in an apartment somewhere in the nowhere, but for 3500 euros minus care degree subsidy in designated halls and not times alone, but with the beeping of the machine of my neighbor next door.
And I ask myself whether it is true that I no longer understand the world and my children should not listen to me or whether we should all live together in one house and create our own rooms for dying. But maybe I would have still gone out into the street, to the hedgehogs and deer and cars.
Because the sun is here, but it would have been easier, I wouldn't have had to sneak to get out and go swimming in Baden-Baden.
I giggle a little bit, and it might look like I'm twitching.
Headlights illuminate a dead hedgehog on the side of the highway.
"Hedgehog!" the children in the back seat shout in unison. The concept of dying is still too far away to comprehend. The father stares at the baguette he just bought. After all, it's better over there than at home, they say in the village. The mother stares at the cell phone screen, straight ahead here for 100 kilometers. But you have to look somewhere, after all, and there's nothing outside but the road and cars. The cruise control even takes away her control of the speed and somehow with it responsibility.
"We're about to drive over the border," she says, not very enthusiastically. It's not a big deal for her or her husband to drive to France; they live not far from the border. And as you do when you don't live far from a border, you often drive across it. It's usually when you first fill up with gas that it strikes them that they're back to where you have to unpack your school French, because apparently the funds still aren't enough for good English lessons. But the self-fueling machine now knows German.
"You can't see, it's where the river is," says the father, glancing briefly at the children, who have their noses stuck to the window pane. Since they have children they can no longer cross the border at any time, it depends on vacations, when the microcosm family pays longer visits to the baguette in Alsace. The baker in the German village also has good baguette. But the family likes to eat baguette in France.
"There was a person on the floor," says the daughter.
"Annemarie pull over, the kids are right!"
The mother is going 120 km/h and is now braking to zero on the shoulder. Then she reverses at minus ten and stops again.
On the asphalt lies an old woman in a nightgown with algae drying on it, as if she had been swimming earlier in the day and laid down to dry on the highway. One is not sure whether to get out of the car or to call the police, the ambulance, the fire department. Whether to cover the children's eyes. The father gets out and looks at the woman. He decides she's not dead yet, but as good as. He doesn't know if she needs his help at this stage, so he prefers to do nothing. She looks like she's lying in the recovery position, he thinks, unsure exactly what that looks like.
Almost there, almost there, just a few more meters, but the car speeds up and is over the line and is at the umlauts when the body, which is between and somehow nowhere, gives up and death, as it so often does, decides to pass under the caring hands of people after all and not between crumbs and cars and a now sleeping sun, between the D4 in France and the A5 in Germany. Arbitrarily.