Still in Harburg I had some good, but more bad memories of my past. Nigg and I climbed the 200-foot solid rock cliff behind out house, polished for hundreds of years by the wind and rain, to look into the nesting place of the falcons.
“Nigg always wished he could raise one of the birds.”
I saw the cliff now through the eyes of an adult and I thought how little we’d cared about our safety back then. If we had fallen we wouldn’t have survived the fall. It was natural to us as children to climb the mirror polished earth’s crust, sometimes as a shortcut to the castle.
This area was formed by the impact of a meteorite thousands of years ago. The impact left a hole about twenty one miles across. The stones that NASA found here are similar to the ones on the moon.
As Alex, Maus and I entered the castle restaurant “Fuerstliche Burgschenke” we sat at the first table and ordered coffee and cake. I explained to Alex my parents used to play pinochle once a week at the table we were sitting at with the Pfeifers, the former owners of the restau rant.
Mentioning the Pfeifers triggered another memory. I thought of Nuschi, our guinea pig. My heart began to beat frantically. I could feel it in my ears. I was angry and my hands shook. We got our black, white and golden brown fur Nuschi from the Pfeifers.
My brothers and I were happy we had something nice that we could pet that didn’t react to the evil influence of our father.
Early one afternoon mother made us work at home. The house had been neglected and every room was dirty. We were out of clean clothes, since the laundry hadn’t been done in two weeks. The woman who cleaned our house and did the laundry had quit. Mother told us she left because she could not stand our father. I liked the lady because she had the nerve to tell my mother the truth.
Being a girl, it was now up to me to take care of the house and the laundry. A lot of clothes had piled up and Lella’s washing machine had broken down, so I had to use a washboard. Mother said she had no time to clean the floors, she had to go to Donauwoerth eight miles south.
My back hurt from all the rubbing on the washboard, and now I had to scrub the floors too? I hated my parents. They believed we were only born to do their chores. My father used to say, “Everybody has to earn their living and you are no exception”. I wondered why it didn’t apply to him. He only showed up at the gas station when he felt like it, dressed in a suit and smoking his stinking cigar. He ordered everybody around. Everyone, including the employees, were in a good mood before he showed up, but by the time he left, they were angry and took it out on the customers.
Before mother left for Donauwoerth she said, “When the boys come home tell them to clean Nuschi’s cage.”
When she returned and the boys hadn’t cleaned the cage she threw a fit. Her face turned red. “You ungrateful brats!” She yelled called us names. Then, after yelling came the threats, “Just wait until your almighty lord comes home.
Then he did.
Nigg and I trembled. We were sure, like always, we would go to the laundry room, one after the other, where he would beat us with a water hose. This time father had a surprise for us. He said, “I will put an end to this problem.” After his usual endless cussing he told us that we weren’t worthy of possessing anything. He screamed, “I never wanted you rotten bastards. It was your mother’s fault you were born, only my grace allowed you to live. I would have beaten you to death a long time ago, but it certainly wasn’t worth going to prison for.”
I saw his face change and suddenly I knew what he was thinking. Oh Lord, I said to myself, don’t let that happen. I wished I could have passed out, but at the same time, glad I didn’t have to go to the laundry room.
He stalked out of the kitchen with mother running after him, begging and pleading. My brothers and I sat on the kitchen bench, petrified.
Nigg asked, “Why is mother whining? She wanted it this way, didn’t she?”
We held our breath, listening, to see if we could make out what he was doing in the laundry room. He came back looking powerful, triumphant, like a general in Hitler’s army after winning a battle, saying: “You all are not worthy of owning anything.” In a commanding tone of voice he thundered, “Get that guinea pig out of here!”
I felt a sense of relief. For a moment I hoped that nothing had happened. I was sure he had changed his mind. He hadn’t.
“What happened to the guinea pig is nothing compared to what will happen to all of you if you disobey my orders one more time. I hope this has taught you all a lesson.” Then pointing to Nigg and me, “You two take care of the guinea pig…now!”
Nuschi was dead. Father had killed her. We looked at each other powerless as the tears choked in our throats. We were too afraid to cry.
Nigg whispered, “One day I will pay him back.”
I carried Nuschi up the steps to the backyard. Nigg dug a hole under the plum tree and buried her. I kept wondering if my father was really like God. I believed only God had a right to take life.
Suddenly, experiences from the past mingled with the presents. I saw the first connection; why adults act like they do. I saw myself, the adult, in a similar situation and just as helpless as I was as a child.
As my thoughts came back to the present I looked at Alex and wondered why he didn’t comment on the story.
Did he remember his rage; did he connect his action the same way I did? Did he remember himself treating the puppy Shiva the same way?
On Valentine’s Day, 1992, Alex’s 16-year-old son, Michael from his previous marriage, brought us a 4-month-old Golden Retriever mix we named Shiva. I couldn’t have been happier. In July we moved to a larger house with a garden and I was especially happy for Shiva since I worked out of my house and Alex was gone all day. Shiva was attached to me. Of course I spoiled her as much as I could. I loved the affection I got from her. The day we moved, Shiva wanted to stay close to me and managed to get in Alex’s way by whining. He decided Shiva had to sleep in the garage. I asked him why, but my submissive fear returned and I was afraid to say anymore about it. Even though I felt sorry for Shiva, I didn’t defend her.
The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat with Shiva on the patio to reassure her of my love before we had to leave to clean our former residence. When we returned to the new house Shiva had torn down the screen door and was sleeping in front of our bed.
Alex grabbed her by the collar and pulled her out onto the patio. I froze. I felt defenseless. I watched in horror as Alex beat Siva with the leash. I knew he was punishing her because we would have to replace the screen door. I saw, again, in my mind the trauma of my father killing the guinea pig. I was filled with guilt that I couldn’t bring myself to stop Alex. I suddenly hated Alex for what he was doing, just as much as I hated my father at the time.
Suddenly I screamed “stop”, and Alex drew back.
The chain of fear, that was holding and paralyzing me since my childhood, was broken for the first time. Today I stopped what I couldn’t have stopped as a child. I felt for the first time in control; my NO was heard.
I knew that to heal, I had to relive the scene from the past and let go of the trauma. The feeling of defenselessness over and over will leave a permanent scar.
After Shiva received the beating, she was never the same and finally in 1998 she bit a child who just wanted to stroke her. We had her put to sleep. I never forgave Alex.
It was months after Shiva was gone but Alex decided he wanted another dog. I was afraid he would beat it, but at the same time I wanted something to take care of, to cuddle and spoil. I was sure I wouldn’t tolerate Alex hitting another dog and was convinced I could find the courage to intervene if it happened.
Since the day I saw Alex’s uncontrollable rage my childhood memories came back, scene by scene. I would compare memories from the past and the present. The closer I got to the pain the more my mind tried to close off. In my mind I told my father everything I would have liked to have told him when I was a child.
It wasn’t until we got our black Labradors, Diva and Wotan in April of 1998 that I knew I had changed, but I couldn’t explain how. But I knew. These two dogs became my babies and if Alex didn’t agree with my dog raising methods, then I just overlooked it and did what I thought was right.
The day I realized I had addressed one of my many fears was the day we took Diva’s first litter of 6 puppies out for a run. They had just had their first shots. While they were running and playing at a fenced school yard, one of the puppies, Wulf, approached an adult Dachshund. Wulf must have thought anything on four legs was there to play with him. The dachshund bit Wulf. When Diva heard his cry she attacked the Dachshund. She did return to me when I called her, but reluctantly.
I asked Alex to hold the dogs while I talked to the Dachshund’s owner to make sure her dog had his rabies shot. Diva followed me despite our commands to stay. Alex grabbed her and started hitting her. At that moment I screamed “stop.” I told him firmly I would not tolerate his violent behavior anymore. His rage over Diva’s disobedience he exposed the same violent behavior like my father. At this moment I was afraid of husband, just as I was afraid of my father. The only different was this time I could say NO. This single no prevented another abuse.