I showed Maus and Alex the street where we frequently stood after school hitchhiking as an 12 year old to work in Noerdlingen, the town where our parents had their gas station. Now, seeing the tunnel through the castle hill 36 years later brought back some of the worst scenes of my childhood.
My mother had a fit when she saw the mechanics standing in front of the garage at 7:15 a.m. at the gas station. She rolled the window down and yelled, “Don’t you have work to do? You’re working hours started fifteen minutes ago.”
One of them yelled back, “We can’t get in, Walter is not here and he has the keys.”
She stopped the car in the middle of the gas station entrance. She cursed Walter, the manager of the station, as she unlocked the doors. I didn’t feel like listening and started cleaning the floor at the back of the building. I could, however, hear her trying to call Walter on the phone. Evidently no one answered. Then she called his neighbor and screamed at them to check to see if anyone was at home. I think they hung up on her. Totally enraged, she grabbed the car keys yelling, “I will teach him a lesson.” Pointing to the mechanics she bellowed, “You better have everything done by the time I’m back, you are not getting paid for standing around.”
Father arrived just before my mother came back. I tried to stay out of his sight by stocking shelves in the back storeroom.
I heard mother say, “Walter had an accident, his wife is in the hospital in Nuremberg. She cut her face when she flew through the front window.” She almost sounded friendly, but I knew better, it was nothing but a sanctimonious act.
One Saturday afternoon Walter came to the gas station and I saw my mother pointing in my direction. A minute later I knew what she must have been talking about. She told me to hurry up and get dressed. “You are going with Walter to the hospital. You are old enough to represent the family. Don’t forget to tell Walter’s wife that I would have liked to come, but the business doesn’t give me enough time.”
What a lie, I thought. Then, a little too sweetly, she added, “You will behave and do everything Walter tells you to do, and don’t forget the greeting from all of us.”
It was a two and a half hour trip to the hospital. I hardly recognized Walter’s wife. She had been very pretty before the accident, but not any more. I was shocked to see her that way and I felt very sorry for her. I was glad when Walter asked me to wait outside. When he came out I searched his face to try to discern his mood. Once outside he pointed to a restaurant across the street.
“Let’s eat, I’m hungry.” He said. I hadn’t eaten all day but what could I get for the two marks I had? I’d spent three on the flowers for Walter’s wife. When I didn’t respond he said, “You are invited.”
Money wasn’t my only concern. I didn’t know what time my parents were expecting me back and we still had a two and a half hour drive ahead. Like always, my mind starting forming an explanation as to why I was late.
It was dark when we left the restaurant. Walter was in a quiet mood. I was lost in thought and fighting to stay awake. We were almost home when Walter turned off the road into a field. He stopped the car and turned off the lights.
“I have to pee.” He said.
I looked out the back window wondering why we hadn’t just stopped at the gas station we’d passed. When he got back in the car he asked, “Are you afraid?” I didn’t answer. He leaned toward me. “Do you remember what your mother told you?”
My mind raced. I had done everything she said. I behaved, brought the greetings and did everything Walter told me to do. “Yes, I remember.”
“Then climb in the back seat.”
Trembling, I whispered, “Please, no. Take me home, I’m already late.”
In a harsh tone of voice he said, “Are you going or do I have to pull you back there?”
I obeyed reluctantly. I tried to fight him off but it was useless, I wasn’t strong enough. When he finished with me he climbed back in the front and started the car. I sat in that back seat paralyzed with fear, shame and guilt. My hand slid over the seat trying to find the penny I used to hold my stockings to my girdle. I found my shoes pushed under the front seat and I couldn’t grab them easily. I was afraid to move or say anything. I’d been violated!
As we entered town he said, “Don’t try to tell anyone, I know your mother will believe me.”
He stopped the car in front of our house. I grabbed my shoes and left without saying anything. Quietly, with shoes in hand I opened the front door hoping everyone was asleep. I stood in the corridor listening for any voices coming from upstairs before I tiptoed up to my room. When I reached the upper hallway the light went on in my parent’s bedroom and I heard the whistle. I knocked on the door and said, “It’s me, I’m back.”
Father asked, “Where have you been? It’s almost midnight.”
Confused, I replied, “Mother sent me with Walter, didn’t she tell you?”
“Okay,” he said, “we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
Once in my room I exhaled and whispered, “saved.” I wanted to wash myself and get rid of Walter’s smell but it would have made too much noise. Relieved to be home, I fell asleep.
I hadn’t been asleep ten minutes when my mother came in and woke me up. “Come to the bedroom.” She said.
In a sleep state of mind I looked for any workable excuse to give to my parents.
“Lie between us and tell us what happened today.”
All I could think of was, oh God please help me. I crawled into her side of the bed and she covered me with her part of the blanket. Father started asking questions. He wanted to know everything in detail. I started talking about how long the ride had been, how bad Walter’s wife looked and how he invited me for dinner. I told him everything except what happened later. He kept asking, “Is that all? Don’t you have anything else to tell me?”
I looked at my mother. “No.” I said.
My mother said, “If you don’t tell us, we’ll have to take you to the doctor tomorrow. He will find out if you are telling the truth.”
My father bolted upright and slapped me across my face then threw the covers off. “If you don’t want to talk, I’ll find out for myself.” He started fondling me. In complete rage he yelled, “I’ll find out if you are a virgin or not.”
I screamed NO and pleaded with him not to touch me. He hit me again, this time even harder. He continued fondling me until he suddenly quieted down, his fingers were on my clitoris. He asked, “Doesn’t this feel good?”
“No” I whispered helpless.
My mother lay there watching. I don’t remember her saying anything about my abuse until that evening. For the first time she got an angry look about her and removed my father’s hands from me. “That’s enough.” She said.
From that day on I never looked into my father’s face again. I hated him. I had to watch him all the time after that. He tried everything to catch me alone, but each time I managed to get away from him. If my mother was not at home he would ask me embarrassing questions and expected an answer. He always wanted to know when I had my last menstrual cycle.
I hated myself and the rest of the world, because there was no law against people like my father or Walter. This overturned my hope and belief in moral justice, or of any God. I didn’t feel I had the right to protect myself, and the word “no” had no power. This indescribable human disgrace and humiliation left scars I still haven’t adressed even to this day.
I developed psoriasis all over my body shortly after that episode. I still have it, a silent and sometimes unbearable reminder of how much I think I’m worth. I constantly battle this memory.
I needed my mother to stand up for me, but she never did. She always wanted to please others and to her I was nothing. Running away or ignoring that humiliating feeling didn’t do a bit of good.
A picture of a girl sitting on her father’s lap on TV triggers terrible memories. The wound created in the past is bleating again, the memory is alive.
Years later my therapist told me that I had to learn how to love myself. My question was, how? Her answer, “Everybody has a self-sustaining love for themselves and you should find it.” What she didn’t know was that I couldn’t find any love for myself, I hated myself. I had done all these dirty things. How could I love what I did? How could I love someone so worthless?
All my life all my energy had gone into defending myself, fighting sexuality. As an adult I realized that I had built a wall around myself. What I didn’t know at the time was that the same wall kept all pleasure, enjoyment and healing out of my life. I couldn’t respond naturally because my imprint told me “when someone is nice to me, I had to give something in return”. I was very apprehensive towards men, because my experiences as a child told me they only wanted my body. Those memories and the imprint haunted me, even tormented me until I was 52 years old. Could I ever find release? Will I ever be able to feel anything other that disgust for myself?