A68 hans2

Our love affair took on a kind of urgency that was hard to explain. We met in secret, during lunch hours, in parked cars. I ran out of boring lectures so I could fuck him in the bushes near the dining hall. I could have introduced him to my parents. We could have gone out on dates like a normal couple, but we never did. Though he was much older than I was, neither of us even noticed or cared. We were kindred spirits in the deepest sense. We barely even spoke when we were together. We didn’t need to. When he did talk, it was usually in German. He whispered things that sounded impossibly dirty and sexy into my ear. It could have been his grocery list – I still have no idea, but I loved it all the same.

I was so young and stupid. I did not cherish him properly. At some point during our 17-month affair, I found out that he had an estranged wife and daughter living in Guatemala. After I graduated from college, I told Hans that I was moving to California to pursue a graduate degree.

He took the news with his typically implacable tranquility. But then he began to shake. He crushed me against him. “In the labor camp, the only thing that kept me sane was my erotic fantasies. The lover I imagined for myself was exactly like you. You might not know it, but you visited me at night, passing like a spirit through the white walls. You sifted down from the clouds to save me. I always knew I would find you. So I had to survive.” He kissed my cheek, my eyes, my mouth. “Then here you were. And now you’re gone.”

I was just a confused kid, not ready to be anybody’s savior. But now, oh, god – now, I realize what I lost. And when I think of Hans and his years in the Nazi labor camp, I’m reminded of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous quote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

My girlfriend mailed me an article about Hans from the local newspaper a few years after I’d moved to California (this was before most people knew about or used the internet). He’d been featured in an exhibition at the same art gallery where we’d taken our class. The headline said, “Internationally Acclaimed Artist Aids Local Charity.” He had donated 100% of the proceeds to the campus chapter of the Alliance Against Hate Crimes. Nowhere in the article did it mention that he was himself a Holocaust survivor. In the photo, Hans stared down the camera with his trademark fierce intensity. He looked like he had lost a few pounds since I had last seen him, which didn’t suit him. Yet he was as handsome as ever.

My stomach clenched. It felt as though he was watching me through that grainy ink. His piercing gaze was as mysterious as I remembered. What was that look? Accusation? Undying love? It was both, I decided, as I carefully clipped out the article and placed it in my underwear drawer, right under the purple panties I’d been wearing the first time we made love. I still wanted him, but I felt like I had committed the one grave offense that Hans could never forgive. I had done what not even a concentration camp could make him do. I had given up. Not having him was to be the price I would pay for my transgression. And I’m paying it still. From moment to moment, I do as Hans taught me. Even when you must live without hope. You survive.

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