It’s been two weeks since Hermann’s all out rebellion began. Two weeks of trying to do whatever we can to figure out how to get him to return to his cage at bedtime. Of trying to stay vigilant to his clumsy rustling so as to determine where he is, what he is up to, where he is hiding his snacks (his regrettable enthusiasm for my underwear drawer continues), and which of the many water bowls I have left out for him he has inelegantly capsized.
Two weeks of waiting, hoping, praying for his approach only to have him tauntingly run over my feet as I’m trying to meet a deadline or look vaguely professional on a zoom call. Two weeks of meticulously cleaning everything only to find a nice little pile of droppings in the corner of the room that I’ve set out to meditate in. He is technically toilet trained, you know, but has apparently unlearned all of that just to make my life difficult.
Meanwhile, the patience of golden child Kotti as he waits lonely and forlorn in his cage for his brother’s return wears thin. He’s having a rebellion of his own, tossing his kale around and making a mess of his litter tray. The anxious attachment force with him is strong.
Kind reader, through this difficult time, I’ve even resorted to uttering obscenities.
“Do you think he thinks his name is Dickhead, now?” asks my new roommate, who moved in a couple of weeks before the great Hermann revolt began, and who has mercifully shown good humour through this Hermann-inflicted chaos.
I’m not exactly sure what has prompted his especially wayward behaviour of late, but it might have to do with all these changes. New roommate, new job, new clarity on my part about where I am and what I want to be doing and what I will and won’t tolerate in my life.
Unfortunately, when it comes to managing my mutinous rat children, I don’t really have much control over the situation, it seems. But a lot of other aspects I do have some control over. While I’ll continue to maintain a toe dipped into journalism -- a world that I wonder might always be marred with ambivalence for me -- I’ve pivoted. And a sense of freedom has come with making that call, a call that feels really healthy and right.
Working conditions have improved significantly. I can open my mouth and share my own ideas without being shut down. I can manage expectations around a feasible workload without a temper tantrum being thrown. I don’t feel any compulsion to hit anything. I haven’t touched a cigarette in three months. I can write a sentence without worrying that I’ve mis-mindread my boss, and I can close shop at a reasonable hour on Fridays knowing that I won’t be getting abusive messages over the weekend for missing a deadline that couldn’t be made because the same person who had set the deadline refused to sign off on a basic decision no one else but him was empowered to make.
Most of all, I don’t have to worry about the ethics of made-up quotes and misrepresented bylines, and I can be myself without having to play any of the verbal and intellectual hijinks and contortions I might have made in the past to survive under conditions that weren’t right, to perform in a way that didn’t fit. (For the record, this description does not characterize all the journalistic experiences I’ve had by any means).
“A lot of women have built a career around writing what their male bosses wanted them to write,” my mentor said, coaxing me to quit. “You don’t have to be one of them”.
Still, through all of this, Hermann’s revolt and everything else, I’ve had to ask myself tough questions. What is it about me that allows for all this orbiting chaos, and can I opt out? How far do my responsibilities towards other stretch, really? And with what level of nonchalance can I, like a cat with a precious vase, tip off the table other people’s shit that’s not really mine to carry?
I don’t have a straight answer to these questions, yet.
I do know that a lot feels like it’s going spookily well for me, and I don’t think I’ve stopped caring about the human race. I've volunteered for at a refugee centre. I've helped friends out who are moving here find their feet, I've cooked dinner for people I'm fond of, I've sweated over meaningful journalism produced on my own terms. I'm just not editing tirades about the world falling apart and everyone in it being an idiot. Nor am I sharing a living space with someone with permanently dilated pupils who seems to think I'm their maid.
I think I’m just rooting for myself more effectively than I have been. A year of turbulence will end with a visit to London, and the only worry I have about taking that trip is whether Hermann’s rebellious nature will show us up at the rat hotel.
A Berlin-based writer engages in the study of belonging and in-between places after years spent faraway from 'home'.