Hors-série / Special issue 7
Juin / June 2020
LA UNE / COVER
We’re each of us enigmas to ourselves, that’s despite what Socrates thought about living the examined life. He said, The unexamined life is not worth living, but he should have said, Examine your life if you’d like, if it’ll make you feel better. If it’ll convince you you’re clever and profound, by all means go ahead, try to figure out your life, puzzle out your mother, plumb your doubts and desires. But look at me, Socrates should have said, I claim to know who I am, but all I really know is I’m about to drink poison.
A Quiet Dinner
Less than three minutes before the first time I met Joachim I was fast asleep, fully dressed, face down on a starched bleached hotel bedsheet. The phone rang with an awful rasping jingle. A quiet voice on the other end said, Samuel Apperson? We’re in the lobby, anytime you’re ready.
The dinner, which I had forgotten, was with an old friend of Catherine’s named Joachim Muhr. He was in Frankfurt, she had said, and you have an overnight there on your way to Estonia, why don’t you two meet? I checked my face in the mirror without registering much of anything except the presence of a head, and then bolted downstairs.
Joachim turned out to be an unusually shaped person. Great flourishes and curls of thinning white hair were carefully arranged on top of his bulbous cranium. From that monumental apex his face diminished alarmingly, ending in a crimped mouth and a dimpled chin, which together produced an effect like a crumpled piece of paper. Perhaps he was the product of a mild congenital deformation. He greeted me with a loud Aha! and shook my hand harshly.
His wife, Irmgard, was a full foot taller than him, elegant but brittle-looking. She seemed tired, as if she were about to say good night. They had made reservations in the hotel restaurant, so dinner was only ten steps away. Our table looked out on the river: the same view as my room, but nearly at water level. Three swans came into view, straining in the shiny black water. Joachim sat next to Irmgard, and I took the chair opposite.1
It has been almost forty years since I talked to Joachim. I no longer remember exactly what he looked like. I remember he spoke at great length. I have only a few memories of the traveling I did that year, back and forth to Europe. I may not have thought about Catherine or Irmgard, except in passing, for decades now. It was long ago. When I read this book, I keep expecting to remember things, to have a reassuring flash of recognition. But the scenes in this book don’t become suddenly familiar. I don’t read them and remember the mood, the day. Instead they read like episodes in someone else’s life, someone talking to a person I no longer know.
When people are no longer in your life, no matter how important they were, you may not think of them very often. If enough time passes, you will forget the things they said. Eventually, if the time they’ve been gone is equal to a large part of your life, you may forget them altogether. Time washes out our minds, washes people away.
When I wrote this book, forty years ago, I had the idea that it was important to remember Joachim, and the events of that winter. I thought if I had a record, I could study it, and maybe figure out what happened. It didn’t work out that way. At the end of that winter my life took a different direction, and this book ended up in a box, first in my apartment in Guelph, then later in Watkins Glen, and for the last thirty years here, off Route 6, in a box in a locker in my basement. If I had revisited this book even twenty years ago, I might still have remembered the things Joachim said, I might have recognized myself in these pages. But the equivalent of an entire generation has come and gone. I have been living here, playing the piano and going for walks, for thirty years. The people in this book are long gone.