I have learned to let her talk. When I ask her a question she says, “Stop interviewing me” and stops. I have learned how to sit on the couch across from her, book open, pretending to read. I have learned when to refill her coffee cup and the order in which she reads the Sunday Times.
“When I read the stories from Syria and see these refugees I know I am not a refugee. They called us that when I arrived here. I could have been killed in Auschwitz at 16 and instead I came over on a fancy boat. Look at this story, when you think of that your heart beats, you know?”
I have learned not to respond in words. I nod my head, make an affirming sound. I have learned not to pretend I know, not because she thinks I don’t but because how could I? How could I begin to understand? No matter what I do, she always goes back to reading, unfazed.
“Ach, these children, they have nothing. I got my papers before Kristallnacht all because my mother was a gentile. They closed the American Embassy that day. My parents didn’t get out, but I was so fortunate. That’s when I know in my heart I cannot call myself a refugee.”
She peers at me over the paper. I hand her a tissue for her dripping nose. As a child when I visited Harlem, I thought her German accent was a New York accent until my brother told me otherwise. She goes back to reading, switches to the Business Section.
“What the hell is Sam’s Club?”