FERNWEH

FERNWEH

Fernweh

German, n.

A longing for a place you’ve never been

By Sophie Haigney


I remember his house exactly, although I’ve never been. Slats in the wood, dusty floor—a true cabin with a roof flat enough to sit on and one chimney. It’s a two-story house but mostly flat, with pine trees in the back and a dock in the front. When you sit on the roof you can see the ocean. There’s no beach, just rocks jutting out into a harsh cold sea. In the distance there are some islands that are also just rocks. There’s always a chilly wind, and inside there’s one of those old, black New England stoves. The door’s never locked, except maybe in winter, when his family tries and fails to keep the weather out.

This is all fiction. Sort of and sort of not, because it’s so clear in my mind that I believe it. The places he and I never went are more real to me than the places we did go. We never went anywhere, actually, besides the roof of my house in Boston where we spent a handful of nights in July and August four years ago drinking beer that he bought with a not-fake ID. This impressed me. We also ate a lot of raspberries, for some reason, and once or twice we made a mess in the kitchen cooking a real dinner. We talked a lot, about a lot of things,

something about my dad and something else about his ex-girlfriend and something about both of our fears. We both talked a lot about places we wanted to go. Together?

The next summer, I went to Spain by myself. I missed him by a week—he’d been abroad for a semester in Madrid, mostly drinking and sitting in parks, based on the list of recommendations he gave me. My first day, I sat alone in the Parque del Buen Retiro. I went there in the morning, just off the plane and waiting to check into my hostel. The sun exploded. I ordered a caña, which felt wonderfully exotic to say out loud, but which was pretty regular beer. At a stall in the park, I bought a postcard for him. I imagined him here, leaned back in his chair doing a thing with his hair. I imagined us at a bullfight, the red of the blood and the red of the cape and dusty light. I wrote: I miss you. This was true. Then I wrote: I wish you were here. I’m not sure about that. We’d been writing to each other, but we’d spent a year canceling plans when we were in the same place. His school was 20 minutes from my house, but somehow it was better just to go to Maine in my mind. When it was summer, I always went in the winter, and in the winter, we always went swimming in May.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Sophie Haigney is a freelance writer from Boston who’s graduating from Yale this spring. She often writes about food, visual arts, and music. Her work appears in The Boston Globe and The New Haven Independent. She spent a few weeks in the jungle in Peru chopping invasive bamboo with a machete. Contact Sophie here.


Photo credit: Sander Hoogendoorn