One morning our mother picked us up and told us there would be a surprise waiting for us at home. “Things are going to change,” she said.
“Yeah right,” Nigg grumbled. “I know your surprises and they are never good for any of us. What is it this time?” He shook his head, “Never mind, I don’t even want to know.”
Hans and I looked at each other but kept our mouths shut and our thoughts, to ourselves.
Ignoring Nigg’s comments, she said, “A lot of things are going to change. Maybe your father won’t beat you kids so much anymore.”
There was something in her voice that seemed strange to me. I realized, she almost sounded guilty. But why? I wondered. She never defended us when he beat us. Then my mind wandered and I started daydreaming about finding a nice family I could live with, like our neighbor, the young Mrs. Reischel. It was only a daydream.
The surprise awaiting us at home confused us. A young man waited in the living room and was then introduced to us as our brother, Lutz, and he would now be living with us.
I did not understand, but didn’t dare ask how he could be our brother. His name was Lutz, he was about 18-years-old, slender and had light brown hair. Not black like ours. He was good looking and I was proud to have him as my older brother.
An elderly lady, Mrs. Jauernik, was introduced as Lutz’s grandmother. How could that be? I wondered, confused. Why didn’t he have the same grandmother as we did?
I long ago quit asking questions. It was like beating my head against a wall. I couldn’t change anything that happened, nor could I change what my parents did. So why bother trying? I also tried not to have any feelings about things. “Sentimentality,” my father preached, “is unnecessary and leads to an irrational reaction.”
My mother said things would change and she was right. From then on I had to sleep downstairs in Lella’s kitchen, which had been remodeled into a bedroom. Mrs. Jauernik needed my room. I also learned that Mrs. Jauernik was our new housekeeper and we were instructed to obey her.
I could not stand her. She had small, mean looking eyes and she started in right away giving orders. Nigg had to get her luggage and I had to help her unpack. My “new” brother got one of the rooms on the third floor where Nigg and Hans slept. We were not allowed to join them. My mother said we were too young to understand. Nigg and I looked at each other, understand what? We wondered.
Later I learned, for the first time, that my father was married before and that Lutz was our half-brother. Nigg and I hoped we would have a big brother that understood us, would protect us, and would help to change our lives for the better.
We were wrong.
Our new housekeeper, Mrs. Jauernik, started the morning by giving commands. I was to clean the wooden stairs before breakfast every morning and wax them once a week. I had to do all this before I left for school. For breakfast we got oatmeal with sugar and for school, a sandwich with margarine only, no jelly. Lutz and the old man always got two soft-boiled eggs, two rolls with butter and jelly and coffee.
When I got home from school, Mrs. Jauernik had finished washing the laundry and had a basketful waiting for me to iron. I had to admit that her bossing and criticism were better than the beatings my father gave me.
When the old man and Lutz were gone all day to introduce our new brother to his family we kids enjoyed every minute of his absence. Mrs. Jauernik always talked about how pretty and nice it was where she used to live in the Sudenten Deutschland. They owned a big house on many acres and many horses. Lutz had been born there and they lived there until 1955 when the family had to escaped from East Germany to west Germany. They left everything they owned behind. I had a hard time understanding her dialect because she used different words for certain things.
Yes, everything changed, but not all of it was for the better. It was true that I had to work less around the house, but in exchange I had to work more at the gas station. I did my school homework whenever I found time in-between work and chores. Sometimes I found no chance at all. Mother called the school and told my teachers, “My daughter has to work and has no time to waste on useless things like homework.” That was easy for her to say, she knew the teachers, she’d gone to school with most of them.
I still managed to make a B average on my tests. If I came home with a C the old man would yell at me and tell me I was born stupid. My mother would join in and say if the teachers thought that her children could be better in school, then why didn’t they teach them more at school?
When I was in the third and fourth grades my grades were so good the teachers wrote a letter to my parents telling them I should attend gymnasium. Was my mother proud? All she said was, “This is a waste of time, we need you at the business.”
Whenever my class organized a trip Nigg and I had to work. I remember only one time when the secretary at the gas station took over my duties so I could go. Nigg and I worked long and hard. Seldom did we kids come home before ten o’clock at night. My mother would close the business at midnight. She normally sent us home with somebody driving in our direction. Going to work after school was even more difficult. If there was no one to take us we had to ride the 17 km on our bikes or hitchhike to the business. The old lady used to say, “You can do it, don’t worry about it, everybody knows you guys.”
One time I got a ride from a man who promised to buy me ice cream and chocolate if I would be nice to him. When he started touching me I knew I did not want to be that kind of person. I screamed “No!” And he threw me out of the car. When I tried to explain the incident to my mother all she said was, “You were probably very rude to him.” She did not want to know the real reason he threw me out of his car.
One night it was past ten when Lutz gave me a ride home. I was very tired and fell asleep in the car. Some kind of pain woke me up and I found myself laying in bed with Lutz on top of me, his hand covering my mouth. He whispered, “Don’t tell anyone.” Then he left my bed.
At first I did not know what he meant by not telling anyone. Nobody paid attention to what I said anyway. I couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt at that moment. With the pain in my stomach I felt disgust, dismay and guilt. How could I explain this to anyone? And who would I tell what I’d been through?
I became afraid of Lutz. I knew my mother wouldn’t have cared what I’d suffered at his hands and I couldn’t tell my father. I couldn’t even explain to myself what had happened. All I knew was I felt dirty and wished Lutz had never come to live with us. I was so disappointed. It was the same thing over again, there was nobody to protect us.
The next morning Lutz threatened me again, but added, “If you are pregnant, just say you wiped yourself with one of my handkerchiefs.”
From that day on Lutz pretended nothing happened and I tried to stay out of his way. When he came into the house I always found a reason to leave. I made sure I didn’t stay in the same room with him. My whole way of thinking had changed, now I had to stay away from Lutz.
For the next few days I tried to make some sense out of what Lutz had said and to hide my stomach aches. I kept asking myself what he meant by getting pregnant and having a baby? I was ten-years-old. How could I have a baby? I knew only parents had babies and the stork delivered them.
In school the teacher caught me daydreaming. He didn’t know I was trying to figure out how to leave the house forever. Or that I was wondering where could I go and how could I survive.
I was afraid someone would find out what Lutz had done to me. I needed to lock my door at night but didn’t know where the key was. I also wondered if anyone could tell what had happened to me by the way I walked or if it was somehow written on my face. I felt very dirty and all the washing I did, didn’t seem to help get rid of that feeling.
The morning after Lutz’s attack I burned the blood stained sheets after my parents left the house. What else could I do? I thought I might tell Heidi what happened, but was too ashamed. Then I wondered how to avoid Lutz. That’s when I decided if I didn’t think about it I would be safe. But when night came I laid awake, listening for Lutz. There were times when I heard the church bell strike midnight before I fell asleep.
I felt so isolated dirty and lonely. If only I could have talked to someone. Was it my fault Lutz did what he did? I wondered. The more I blamed and questioned myself the more I felt lost and confused.