I must admit, I don’t know how old she was, but the travel guide for San Francisco, that she gave me as a gift, was published in 1976, in her other life, as she claimed. Back then she smoked joints while she preferred wine now and my inner question, if she got completely away from weed was answered by my excellent nose, which should have recognized something in all those years of our neighborhood. I can imagine how she lived in her twenties among the hippies in America, I would have loved to be a part of it.

For a while she wore wigs to hide her thinning hair and her skin showed the signs of time. A bit of vanity should be allowed for everyone but on that beautiful day on her balcony she left the artificial hair in her rest room. She took it off like she took off all her clothes in the summertime in Croatia to go for a swim. The people there don’t care about nudity or recommend it for the youth only. Here in Germany it doesn’t seem to be okay to be nude at a certain age. Maybe because we equalize nudity with eroticism and that it something that doesn’t belong to the older ones.

My neighbor didn’t think about these things. She enjoyed her trips to Croatia, as well as the time on her balcony with the red wine, which tasted superb. She gave me the first bottle as a gift, after I dragged the boxes to her apartment. I thought it was way too much for such a self-evident act. But for her this was the only way to live a good life and she didn’t see giving gifts as a sacrifice. Her biggest gift, though, was her wisdom, which she granted me for free.

I told her about that girl my best friend dated and who had an affair with me. Or my studies, which didn’t move forward and was on the brink of failing. Or my anxiety towards my family and communicating openly with them. There was no problem she couldn’t give me an answer to, and even better: She never judged me for any of my acts. She listened, replied, talked and could be silent in a comfortable way.

She was invaluable in my life. She, who was old and should have been in a nursing home. She, who shouldn’t be lying naked in the sun. She, who was gone one day. She was content and happy. And she was my teacher.

Steffen Gärtner

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