Prose: Schmerz

I learned a new German word. Schmerz. A word that means what it sounds like. The definition came in a defining moment of repetition, so many moments. The word – over and over again like an onslaught, so in itself not able to be lost in translation. Schmerz. It comes spat out like a cry. It is an ugly word, a word that epitomizes and does not leave room for doubt as to exactly what it is. A word that coerces worry and crinkles between the eyes. A word so meaningful. A word so German. So very German. I learned this word, Schmerz. I learned it well. I learned it from a German. The definition: pain.

I learned about Schmerz between and through and up and down and pressed against sea foam green halls of walls grimly lit with intoxicating fluorescent. The orchestra of quietly screeching wheels distracted me, him, us, for only a small little bit of a while, as everything turned back into white again over and over again; the only relief from Schmerz.

It was everywhere. It was coming out of his mouth, shooting out from his body. It was coming out of my heart, and held inside the cavity of compassion. It was coming out and into the catheters attached to the rolling liquid fulfillment coat racks of our new unwanted and unwelcoming neighbors, the ones who had already felt it all. The ones with the unkempt scraggly hair atop their lonesome heads and spread sporadically about their undesired torsos thinly veiled through the coat of polyester makeshift robes thrown effortlessly about their arms. It came, the Schmerz, in sound and touch and taste and sight and smell, and hearing. The Schmerz, when it came, it never left.

This pain, or Schmerz, was not in vain nor did it beg to forfeit all other emotions involved, for this was a strong, defining, repetitive, loud, bloody, German pain, as aforementioned. This was not a feeling, but the feeling itself not as adjective but as noun, and it was the objective that made everything else bigger than it already was.

The first time I heard this word, my face sunk inside of me, down to my stomach that was already half on the floor by the time the third hour began. I was left helpless and the solitary factor for help, help for me, help for him, help for us. He had said it, screaming in pain, the word for pain, this newness invading into our lives, said to the newest strangers, “Schmerz…”

I learned a lot of German that night/morning/day/night. I wondered why my questions were questioned and the answers were lost in that specific word that meandered through my memory as I poked and prodded at my mental rolodex for the right words to solve what was wrong. This situation, as I pretended was not already portended, this massacre of understanding. The Schmerz kept getting worse.

I squeezed and I smiled and I winked and I blushed and I kissed and I held and I hugged and I consoled and I caressed and I cuddled and I coddled. And I cried.


The medicine dripped inside of him like the tears dripped to the floor for the few minutes or four when he was in slumber. My Schmerz was his Schmerz was our Schmerz. Then I became the anti-body, quickly and quietly the outsider who did not belong. The raging displaced refugee, the only cure for the cause, the only shield from the Schmerz.

It all came raging in, in different directions. It was him and her and it and this and that, and I became the virus, the problem, the pain. I pushed and pulled, and tried to protect my love, but the Schmerz augmented, and came, it came and came, unrelenting, brightly shining in my wet eyes, reflected off of the sea foam green walls, making me green, pulling me into the undertow.

I looked into the green eyes of my friend and I told him, “I’m destroyed,” after he told me the story I was just about to tell him. We knew then, like we always had, that it would come to this. That the Schmerz would come rushing, raging in. His Schmerz, the Schmerz of his love, my Schmerz, the Schmerz of my love, all of our Schmerz, that Berlin Schmerz. We turned the music up, let it hit us, and more than ever, we felt the pain. 




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