We are born as individuals, unique in mind, body and soul and with our own identity. To develop what we are given we need to grow up in a healthy, loving and supportive environment. If a child is mentally and physically neglected that child must find a way to fulfill her needs.
If a child cries because it is hungry, the mother feeds it showing care and attention. The child then feels satisfied and seems happy; it stops crying. If the mother ignores it, the child continues crying. If the mother still ignores it, the child cries even harder. The message the child has received can be dangerous. He could learn that he must cry more when he is hungry because if he doesn’t, he has to find another way. Later in life that child will take on his parents opinions and habits.
My family imprinted me with the message that it is for your own good to follow in the footsteps of your father. We have built this company and you must take it over. If you cannot do this, what would the neighbors say? At your age you have no right to voice an opinion. Listen to what your father says, he knows what he is doing.
“Niggers are born as second class humans to serve the Arian race. No decent person will strike up a relation strike with them. We would not be living like this if the Fuehrer, (Hitler) were alive.”
For the first time I saw my father as weak. The fear I had for him as a child had lost its power when I realized how he had no opinion or ideas of his own. He was completely dependent on someone to guide him. He needed a symbol he could fallow.
I thought of all this after we left the restaurant in Harburg and were driving back to the market place, the center of the town. As we walked to the stone bridge I said to Alex and Maus, “I’d like to show you our secret hiding place.”
Heidi and I changed into different clothes and shoes many times there before we went to school. One time I hid my high hills in the bushes near the water. Margit, our secretary, gave the heels to me, but I couldn’t keep them at home. My father would never allow me to wear shoes with heels before my confirmation.
We neared the little two room house build on the tiny weir in the middle of the river Woernitz. Mr. Banger had turned the house into a store where he sold cigarettes, news-paper and magazines. As we walked down the narrow stone steps to the weir, a very painful memory dominated the moment.
Bebo, who’s real name was Helmut Rehm, was waiting for me after school under the wooden bridge. He walked slowly toward me looking around to see if anyone was watching us.
“I have something for you”, Bebo said, “let’s go to the weir.”
There was always a possibility that some other kids felt the need to share a secret or need to exchange something, like shoes or clothes they’d hidden and would pick up before they went home.
“Remember, I told you,” Bebo said, “I would like to become a lab technician?” I nodded. “I got the job in Munich, as a trainee and we will move after I finish school next week.”
My spirits sank. Now I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. Bebo encouraged me to be strong for just two more years. “Then, when you are 14 and have finished school I’ll come and take you to Munich.”
Two more years, I thought. Why not now? I felt like crying but couldn’t. Time for tears were long gone.
Bebo reached for a necklace around his neck. “And this is the only thing my father gave my mother before he left and made the promise that he would come back to get us. He never did, so now it belongs to me.” He took the necklace and put it over my head. “I want you to wear this until I come back to get you. You are the only one who has been good to me, besides my mother.”
I couldn’t show him how happy and proud I felt. I did tell him I couldn’t wear his necklace openly, but I would wear it under my sweater.
“I know,” he said, “just wear it and any time you get sad, remember my promise.”
I wanted to believe him because I had nothing else to believe in and I had to get out of the house as soon as possible.
“I have to go, I am already late. Thank you for the necklace. I will wear it forever.” I kissed his cheek.
I ran the rest of the way until I could see our house. I saw my father’s new car in the driveway. My heart stopped for a second. I calmed myself before I went inside the house, and then tiptoed up the steps.
In the kitchen I asked myself why was I so afraid. At this moment I heard the hated whistle of my father, coming from the living room. Oh God help me, I thought, I’m only ten minutes late. When I came closer to the living room door I heard a second voice. Thank God, nothing would happen if there was someone with him. I held my breath and knocked on the door.
My father’s voice boomed, “Come in.”
I opened the door slowly and asked, “Did you call me?”
Everything seemed to happen at once. The door flung wide open and father posted himself in front of me with his hands on his hips.
“There she is, our little nigger whore!” He bellowed.
Before I realized what he was talking about I felt his hand on my throat holding me against the door frame, choking me. With his other hand he reached for the necklace and ripped it off before he hit me with his fist on top of my head. All I remember was falling backwards, just a few inches away from the stairs, before I passed out.
I woke up when he opened the door again. He was in a rage and acted insane. “Are you still here?” He yelled, “Go to hell!” One swift kick from his foot and I tumbled down the stairs.
In a panic I jumped up and ran out of the house. I didn’t stop until I reached the weir. I hid there until the next morning. I had all night to think about what happened and how much I hated my father. His cold gray-green eyes made me shiver. His black hair combed straight to resemble Hitler, as well as his moustache. I would never act in the cold hearted, arrogant, self-righteous way he did.
I snuck back to the house after my father had left. I changed my clothes, washed my face and had a glass of milk before I woke my brothers to get them ready for school. On the way to school I asked myself if I should tell Bebo what happened. Maybe he could take me with him now.
Bebo did not come to school that day. When I remembered what he’d told me about his father’s promise to come back for him and his mother I knew, he would not come back***I began to doubt I would ever stop thinking about the past. Every step I took in the town I remembered something horrible. Alex, so supportive, said, “If you look long enough you may find something pleasant to remember.”
Maus reminded me to empty my soul’s garbage can first. I knew she was right.
I wondered about my father’s childhood. Why was he so full of hate toward other races? It was not only the black race, but also Jewish people and every other race besides Arian. How could he believe that Hitler had a right to destroy another human life? I kept asking myself questions. Then I remembered his mother, an evil, venomous, controlling, judgmental woman. She actually believed that she was better and more aristocratic than the scum she was forced to share the same street with. She even denied my cousins, who lived in the same house with her, or us, the smallest of favors unless we obeyed her blindly.
When we reached the stone bridge one of my most hated memories flooded back. At the same time I saw this childhood experience mixing vividly with a scene from a rainy February day in 1993.
I visited a friend in Yuba City, California, about 40 miles north of Sacramento. We had been working on a computer project and the time had flown by. When I glanced at the clock it was 3:00 and I remembered I had to pick Alex up in downtown Sacramento at 5:00. I quickly packed everything up and had my friend call Alex to let him know I would be leaving in a few minutes.
Just as I pulled out of the residential area I saw the red light on the dashboard come on telling me I was almost out of gas. The rain got heavier. By the time I turned into the last gas station in town the storm hit. The rain fell too hard for the windshield wipers to clear the windows and it was still 20 minutes before I even reached the main road to Sacramento.
The rain fell so hard a lake covered the intersection***where I needed to turn. Four cars stalled in front of me blocked any other way of getting around, except through an orchard. I thought, no problem, since I drove a Jeep.
I panicked. It was already 5 p.m. and too late to call Alex. He would have already left his office and would be waiting on the street in front of his building. I imagined how wet he would be and fear seemed to block my logical reactions. I backed up, turned around and drove into the orchard. I shifted into four wheel drive. The Jeep dipped its nose and swayed from right to left until I reached the trees. I inched my way through the muddy water until I reached the main road.
By 5:15 I was on the road to Sacramento driving faster than the speed limit. The rain had finally stopped and I was in an overwhelming panic. It reminded me of the day I was ten minutes late.
It was my 12th birthday, March 27th. Early in that morning I heard my parents arguing again. My father, the one who never got his hands dirty, insisted on painting the kitchen walls that day. The thought made me laugh. It was my birthday and as usual my parents didn’t pay any attention to that fact. Except for my father’s birthday, they treated our special day like any other.
Heidi and I had planned to go swimming. She told me she had a surprise for me. She and I always had to meet secretly, since my parents didn’t allow me to speak to her. Heidi was an illegitimate child and father said she wasn’t the proper company for me. We saw each other anyway and arranged a special signal, something long and red in the window when the air was clear.
I often wondered why Heidi and I were so close. Maybe it was because she was born just six days before me, or that our bond was strong because my mother breast fed her after her mother died.
It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. When the old lady left the house and the old man ordered Nigg and I to move all the furniture out of the kitchen. I constantly glanced at the clock. Heidi and I were to meet at noon. I told Nigg and he promised to help me. We worked faster, washed all the furniture down and even the kitchen floor.
It was 2:00 p.m. and I was hungry but our father would not allow us to eat until we were finished cleaning. My stomach rumbled and I was tired but I kept my mouth shut. I was afraid to ask if I could go. When our “master” left the kitchen I asked Nigg if he would speak for me.
We finished everything we had to do when Nigg said, “I will ask him now before he has some other ideas.” When Nigg came back he said, “You had better hurry before he changes his mind, but you have to be back in one hour to cook dinner.”
I was devastated. “Only one hour? That’s not even worth it. I need twenty minutes to get there and twenty to get back.”
“That’s all I could do. Come, I’ll take you on my bike.”
When we got to the river all my classmates had left. I was upset but I stayed anyway. I had on my bikini underneath my clothes so I went for a swim. I had half an hour to myself before Nigg would pick me up.
There were a few people I didn’t know there and three guys from town. I knew the boys were 17 and 18 and already had girlfriends. One came over and asked me if I would join them for a boat ride. I mentioned today was my birthday.
“Let’s go for a birthday ride.” One of them said and helped me into the boat.
Thirty minutes later I told them to turn around that I had to be back home by 4:00.
“Why? It’s your birthday and we are giving you a special boat ride.” The guy sitting next to me said, then tried to kiss me.
“Stop it!” I demanded, “Take me back.”
“Not before we all have been kissed and have seen your breasts.”
No, I said to myself, not this time. I wondered if I could swim to the bank. At that moment one of the guys stood up and started rocking the boat while the other reached for my***bikini top.
The boat tipped over and I panicked. I had one chance, swim down stream to get my clothes. I was afraid to look back to see if the boys were following me. At that exact moment I remembered somebody got stuck in the creepers and drowned.
I made it to the other side of the river and swam closer to the bank. The water was ice cold and I was afraid to get out, they had my bikini top. I swam close to the creepers looking for my clothes. I couldn’t remember exactly where I had left them. When I did find them I dressed as quickly as I could and started running.
I knew I was late. And where was Nigg? He promised to pick me up. Halfway back I heard Nigg yelling, “Hurry, the old man is going insane.”
I hopped on the back of the bike and he pedaled furiously.
There he was, our father, waiting on the stone bridge with the water hose in his hand. The first hit swept me off the bike, then he started beating me from one end of the bridge to the other and every time I fell down, he hit me again. I finally fainted.
When I woke up I saw Nigg and a woman kneeling next to me, together they took me home. The woman insisted on speaking to my father. He threw her out of the house and slammed the door in her face. Then I heard the well-known whistle and the command to go to the laundry room. He beat me until blood ran down my legs, then left me lying on the concrete floor. On his way out I heard him say, “Twelve years old and already whoring around in nothing but a bikini.”
My whole body ached. I was afraid he would come back. I pulled myself together and left the laundry room. I ran up the steps to the backyard, jumped over the fence, and kept running along the pastor’s way toward the castle. I made it half way up the hill to the memorial statue, then I had to rest. I couldn’t run anymore, yet I didn’t feel safe either. Carefully, I climbed over a low wall where there is very little room to walk before it dropped straight down. I took one Step***at a time pressing close to the wall hoping I wouldn’t slip off, until I found a place big enough to sit. I hid in the nettles resting until dark. Only then did I feel safe. My body ached and I felt dizzy and nauseous and so tired.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew the church clock sounded midnight. My hands, arms, legs and even my face were swollen and I was afraid of the dark. The fear that my father would still be looking for me swept over me. What do I do? I asked myself. The north side of town was dark, there were no street lights. By moonlight I could see the two-way street leading through the tunnels way down the hill and I knew I had my answer. Fatima, a friend in Donauwoerth would help me.
Carefully, in a squatting position, I slid down the slippery, almost vertical slope. I wondered how I could get through the tunnels since there were no lights inside. I had never been there at night and I knew there were no sidewalks. Cars drove very close to the walls. What should I do? I asked myself. Going through town was impossible. Apprehensively, I took a couple of steps into the tunnel. I had to take off my shoes because with shoes every step echoed. I held my breath and listened for any car that might rumble into the tunnel. Halfway through I heard a car approaching but I didn’t know which side it was coming from. I panicked.
I don’t recall which pumped my adrenaline more, the thought of being hit by a car, or the fear of being discovered by my father. I reached the end of the first tunnel before the lights from the car came from behind me. I jumped into the bushes along side the road. I felt pain rip through me. I had landed in a Hawthorn bush. Carefully, I moved the branches to get out, hoping the driver had not seen me. Thankfully, I hadn’t lost my shoes. My breath came in huge gasps. I needed to rest before I went into the second tunnel.
Once rested, I continued my journey to Fatima’s. The night was still and I ran. Then a truck sped out of the tunnel. The driver stopped and asked if I would like a ride that he was going to Donauwoerth. I was too exhausted to refuse. He looked at me and shook his head, but didn’t ask any questions. I was so grateful for his silence and his help. Shortly before we reached the town he asked me for the address, he would take me to it. I told him I didn’t know the address, but I knew the way.
“No problem,” he said, “just tell me where I have to turn off.”
He stopped in front of Fatima’s house and got out of the truck. “I will walk you to the door; I need to be sure you are safe.”
The man who opened the door was a stranger to me. I knew he wasn’t Hassan, Fatima’s husband. “Where is Hassan and Fatima?” I asked.
His German was hard to understand and he gestured he would get his wife. She turned on the outside light. I could see she was shocked when she looked at me. She pulled me into the house.
The truck driver said, “I think you are safe now.”
The woman took me into a room where two children were asleep on the couch and told me to have a seat. I didn’t want to stay and told her I had to go to Fatima and Hassan’s. She brought a washcloth and carefully wiped my face. As the husband and wife looked at me I could see sadness in their eyes. The man got dressed and took me to Hassan’s new house.
As soon as Hassan opened the door he said, “You can’t come in, your father will be very angry with me.” He and the other Turkish man spoke in their native language, which I didn’t understand, but knew enough to know it sounded like an argument. They kept pointing to my face and back.
Finally, Hassan asked me in and the other man left. Hassan went straight to the bathroom and I heard running water. When he came back he gave me a little bottle of strong smelling liquid and told me to put some in the bath water. He also gave me one of Fatima’s nightgowns.
I felt a little safer and went into the bathroom. When I saw my face in the mirror I hardly recognized myself. No wonder the truck driver had shaken his head and the woman stared at me with sorrow in her eyes. Slowly, I slid into the***tub. The water and the herbs burned my skin terribly, especially my back. I must have fallen asleep in the tub.
I heard Hassan knocking on the door telling me to come out that he needed to see my wounds. He had a first aid kit and said, “Don’t worry, I was a nurse in the Turkish army.”
He wiped the wounds on my back then said, “This is all I can do for you, you need to see a doctor.” I told him I was afraid. “Okay then,” he said, “go to bed.”
I woke up the next morning when I heard the door opening. It was almost noon when Hassan came in and brought me a dress. When I asked if Fatima was up, he said, “Fatima is in the hospital, she had a baby two days ago.”
“Oh, I didn’t know, I would not have come if I had.”
“I visited Fatima and the baby this morning and told her about you. Fatima thinks you need to see a doctor and that you should call your mother.”
I had to leave Hassan’s but where would I go? I told him I would stay with a girlfriend.
“You don’t have to leave,” he said, “just don’t open the door for anyone if I’m not here.”
Grateful, I made myself useful for the next couple of days. I cleaned, washed and cooked. Every morning Hassan cleaned my wounds. The streaks on my back started to heal and my facial swelling went down. The blisters from the nettles completely disappeared. I almost felt comfortable there. I wondered if I could stay with them. I could take care of the house and the new baby when Fatima came back from the hospital.
During the third night I had just gotten into bed when Hassan came in. He sat on the edge of the bed and asked if I liked it there. “You know I’ve been very nice to you.” He said.
“Yes, and I’m very grateful for everything.” I answered quickly hoping he would leave.
His hand stroked my arm in a familiar way that made me very uncomfortable. “Don’t you think you should do something for me?”
A wave of nausea and fear left me feeling defenseless. When his hand moved under the covers I said, “Please don’t, I will clean the house, wash and iron the clothes or do everything else you ask, but not this.”
“I think I have to call your father,” he threatened.
“Please don’t, do whatever you want, just don’t call him.”
When he left the room I felt dirty and helpless.
Early the next morning my mother showed up. I couldn’t believe the act she put on in front of Hassan. She had tears in her eyes, pretending my father never hit me before. My hate for all people was indescribable that day and grew steadily. All I could think was I had to leave home.
I finally picked Alex up at 5:40 p.m. I apologized to Alex and nervously told him what happened. Once home he asked why I didn’t leave earlier. Resigned, I said I didn’t know I would be late.
Alex didn’t know how I felt, and I wasn’t able to communicate my anxiety. I tiptoed around Alex for days praying and hoping he would never mention the incident. I hated the mind robbing fear.
I associated the intensity of the feeling with the fact I’d been late when my father allowed me to go swimming. In my mind, when Alex allowed me to use the car to see my friend, I was ungrateful again because I was late and figured I must be punished. As an adult I felt the same way I had as a child. I was guilty and ungrateful. No one ever told me that this kind of fear is actually a depressive anxiety, a disorder, and not a way of life.
For months, the past and present were the same. It was a vicious circle and I became more depressed, my self-confidence slipped away and I started sleeping all the time.