I think I just saw someone who looks like you, you text me on a Sunday morning in Berlin. Are you here somewhere?
Not yet, I reply. That’s not me. Still getting dressed. But I’m coming.
Eleven in the morning is a little too early for Berghain when you aren’t trying to catch a particular DJ set, even for me, but what I don’t tell you, and what I’m trying not to admit to myself, is that I was not yet dressed when I said I was getting dressed — I rushed the process to see you, the handsome new friend I have an embarrassingly huge crush on. Luckily, the club is easy to dress for.
Berghain is at that strange transition time on Sunday morning, when I arrive. The tourists of Saturday night have either hooked up or struck out, and are now slowly filtering out of the club, spent, making room for the next wave — the real Berliners — to take their place after brunchtime. It’s far emptier than I’m used to, but having enough space on the dance floor for myself and both of my hand-fans is a rare and special privilege that I intend to enjoy. Two last minute stragglers approach me — a couple, from the looks of it. A little too close for comfort given how much room there currently is. “You look like Rihanna,” the girl tells me. I do not look like Rihanna. Smoky black eyes and blue lipstick do not Robyn Fenty make, but it’s a compliment and I thank her awkwardly, mildly bemused to realise that they see me as a prospective unicorn — a potential third in a threesome. I am also very uninterested and I don’t quite know how to escape this conversation.
You and the three black crows on your shoulder swoop in out of the smoke and shadows like a dark daydream and sort that problem out for me. She’s spoken for is the message that doesn’t need to be said to be made very clear when you take my hand. They say goodbye and head for the stairs behind us, presumably for the exit.
You and I, we dance.
Weeks later, after we’ve fallen in love and refuse to admit it to ourselves or to each other, I will tease you relentlessly about your inability to tell one Asian girl from another. “Remember that time you thought you saw me in Berghain? I mean, come on, I don’t actually look like every other Asian girl.”
“You idiot,” you’ll tell me then. “Didn’t you get it? I knew you weren’t there. I wanted to find out if you were coming but I didn’t want to make it obvious.”
For all that I consider myself clever, I’ll be surprised by that revelation. I’ll think it’s the sweetest thing.
My family — visiting for my birthday even though I have only been gone a month — leaves Berlin for Geneva on Sunday morning. After seeing them off, I make a mad dash up Kastanienallee and into my flat on Fehrbelliner Straße to get dressed and meet you at the club.
The easiest place to find missing friends in that cavernous labyrinth is the toilets. I seek you out in Panorama Bar’s, upstairs, the place where we first met — really met.
You (and Tim and Luca) sing Happy Birthday to me right there. I think to myself, this is the best birthday I have ever had.
A week — and a spontaneous trip to Zürich to join my family for my mother’s birthday — later, as I am on my way back to Berlin, you ask me if we can skip the club tomorrow and just hang out.
You want to know if we are as good together sober and in silence as we are on a sweaty, frenzied dance floor. The truth is, I want to know, too.
So you step into my Mitte flat, armed with groceries. To my absolute delight, you want to make me Bolognese from scratch. No boy has ever cooked me a proper meal before. “What can I do to help?” I ask you. “Your only job,” you tell me, “is to sit there and look cute.”
So I sit there in my kitchen and look cute. Every now and then you take a break from whatever you’re doing to plant a quick kiss on my lips.
You even do the dishes. I eat spaghetti for a week.
The answer to our shared question is, yes, we are.
I am somewhere in Neukölln — your part of town — at a party Tim invited me to. You’re texting me about what you believe is a stalker situation. A strange woman was at the bar at your work tonight, and you think she tailed you home. Your flatmate inadvertently let her into the building on her own way in, and you are both a little freaked out right now.
But this strange woman doesn’t know your name, and doesn’t know which door is yours, and you think the coast is probably clear.
So I walk over, even though it is two in the morning. I think I see her exit your gate. I shut it firmly behind me. I climb all of the stairs. I don’t know what I am doing here.
No, I know what I’m doing here. I want to see you. I know the feeling is mutual.
We all laugh about the strange and surreal evening. You and I, we open a bag of chicharon (something I introduced to you that you love) and we mix a little sriracha into some vinegar to make it spicier. (Still not as good as my spiced vinegar back home, but a decent effort nonetheless.)
I sleep in your bed. It feels safe. I don’t know if I make you feel safe, if having me here makes you feel safe, but after tonight, I want you to feel safe.
Over the rest of my time in Berlin, there will be weeks when I spend more nights in your bed than my own. But I don’t know that yet. And neither do you.
You join me and my friend at Griessmuehle for an open-air kino screening of Gaspar Noé’s Love. I had no idea what the film was about before I invited you to come with us, only that my friend — visiting from Paris — wanted to see it and she typically has great taste in things.
I swear to God, I wasn’t expecting that much sex, either.
She catches the last train back to my place in Mitte on the S-Bahn. We take the long walk along a cold and empty Sonnenallee back to yours, each holding an Augustiner in one hand, our other hands entwined between us.
It all feels so cinematic.
You catch a stomach bug, leave work early, and message me to ask if you can stay at mine because it’s closer to your doctor’s. I have a feeling that isn’t the real reason.
The real reason is that you want me to take care of you. And that’s okay, because I do, too.
I find you slumped on my doorstep when I get back from school. You look really fucking miserable.
You crawl into my bed, pale, ashen, and weak, and you curl up like a small child. I wrap myself around you and run my fingers through your hair until you finally fall asleep.
It’s a Saturday night and my classmates and I are at Loftus Hall. You are at work. So of course, we are texting each other.
I don’t know whose brilliant (terrible) idea it is to just go straight to Berghain (yours), but we agree to meet there at around five in the morning, after you get off work, and after I go home to get changed.
I show up an hour late, horrified and ashamed to discover that you’ve been sitting on one of the concrete blocks by the späti, waiting in the cold all this time, and looking just as drained and exhausted as your long empty phone battery. I can’t apologise enough for my rudeness. “Normally I would be really mad about something like this,” you tell me. “This is not cool.”
I know it’s not. I feel awful.
We line up. The legendary doorman, Sven, gives us a little laugh before waving us in. (Do we look that tired? Can he tell how annoyed you are at me right now?) We’re both a little thrilled that it’s him who said yes to us today.
We sit on the big swing, still too tired to dance, talking as we eat the chocolate gelato you bought from the Eisbar. This club is the strangest place in the world to talk about feelings, but apropos, I suppose, for us. We have known each other exactly two months — I realise at this moment that I actually met you on my very first weekend in the city — and we have spent that time in the vortex of this unbelievable summer romance.
When you ask me to be your girlfriend, it feels as though all the blood inside me triples in volume. I can feel the elation in every single pore of my body, every last cell.
But also, a sharp pang of dread shoots along my spine.
There is a part of me that already feels, inexplicably, that we are doomed. There is a part of me that is terrified by how badly I want this, a part that now realises that this whole time, I have been too scared to want it because I didn’t think it would be possible to have it. And now that I have it, I am even more scared to lose it.
I am leaving in a month. What will happen then? The circumstances are so stacked against us. This was supposed to be a fun summer fling. How are we going to do this now that it’s real?
I never thought I was going to fall in love.
But the smile on your face when I say yes pushes the fear out of my mind, long enough for me to tell myself that we will cross that bridge when we get there. For now, for the first time, I am finally going to take what I want.
I waited a long time to feel this way.
But I don’t tell you then that I love you. You don’t tell me that you love me, either. Even though we do.
No, we save that for the last day of summer.
I wrote ten thousand words over the span of a year about the heartbreak after we eventually fell apart. I never wanted to write that story — but I needed to, in order to heal.
It’s these stories, these stories and so many more still that I haven’t written yet, these were the stories that I always wanted to tell. They are almost four years removed now; mere fragments of an unreliable memory, washed in rose-gold, the imperfect remnants of a perfect summer.
I am telling them before I lose them. Because I don’t want to lose them.
I’m not sure how accurate my memories are anymore. Perhaps you remember us differently. And neither of us can ever really be sure whose recollections are the real ones. Such is the nature of memory. Maybe we are both wrong. Maybe we are both right. But this, this is how I’ll always remember you. It’s how I’ll remember us: wide-eyed, wild-eyed, hopelessly hopeful, and so, so young.
Not the heartbreak.
This. My whirlwind romance. The adventure of a lifetime.