On my return from Germany, in April 2002, I had an ear infection.
After ten days my ears were still hurting and the antibiotics had no effect.
At the time, I asked myself: “Why now? Could this ear infection be related to Germany? In my denial, I pushed the thought that this might have to do with my grand cousin Karl, aside. Still, it was Karl who triggered the earache with his raging and accusation, his self-righteous attitude. His rage had reminded me of my mother.
Visiting Karl in Augsburg Germany, my grand cousin (my grandmother sister’s, son) was a painful, interesting experience.
Karl was nagging me about his messed up email-program it since my arrival. On my last day in Germany, I fix it for him and patiently explained the function to him for one hour. His experience with the computer was very limited. On top, he had no patience to fallow simple instructions and reacted with blaming for his failure everything and everybody but him self. I offered him to practice emailing as long as I am here and if he ran into problems, I would help him.
Five minutes later he could not send off his written email. I called the online server and confirmed my suspicion that the server was down. Karl meanwhile, started pacing the room and as I tried to explain the temporary problem to him, he started raging that I have “goofed up his computer like all the other so-called experts.” He begun projecting. His rage escalated in yelling, blaming, calling me names, slamming doors. Instantly I was triggered and helpless as a child and paralyzed by fear, I sat there and let this man insult me.
All the doors to the past fly open. What I see in my memory is a picture of my mother, a memory lost for years. In this man’s rage, I see my mother running through the house, yelling, screaming, calling everybody an idiot, while in reality it was she who didn’t understand or was unable to face the facts, just like Karl.
Another picture comes up, which I try to reject more passionately. I see my Grandpa raging, running through the house, slamming doors, and my grandmother sitting with her hands covering her face while she cries. I don’t want to see this picture. I loved my grandpa the most.
For years I held on to a pleasant fantasy my grandpa’s goodness. In my mind, grandpa was always funny, gentle and kind. The present images ruined everything I cherished. Reality was that my grandpa was not the man I wonted him to be. Instead, he was a raging, sarcastic old man. My world broke down under the truth I now saw so clearly. And there, along with this collapse, was another layer of memory about my mother.
I was seven years old when she came back from the hospital, having given birth to my youngest brother, Siegfried. Siegfried had to remain in the hospital and my second brother Hans was there as well because of a ruptured hernia. Days before my mother came home, I witnessed my father beating my grandpa. Grandpa lay on the floor yelling and screaming while my father kicked him. I was afraid of both of them and wished I had plugs in my ears. Their screaming hurt me, terrified me and I felt very helpless. Just days after my mother was back from the hospital, I had a stinging pain in my ears, but I didn’t say anything about it. It was useless to tell my mother that I felt pain. She always told me not to be so sensitive and stop wining.
Now back in the present, at home in the US, these memories haunted me but I still didn’t make the final connection to my ear infection. Then it just happened: From the 16th to 17th of April, twelve days after my return from Germany, I woke up in the middle of the night. Sleepy I felt something on my pillow, my ears and hair. This was the final breakthrough, a memory I had suppressed for 45 years, vividly rushing into consciousness and unmistakable in its meaning.
It was on the eighth day after I saw my father beating my grandpa, after my mother was back from the hospital, when I woke up early in the morning with a stinging pain in my ears. My hand tried to touch my ear. I couldn’t, as my ear and hair were stuck to the pillow. There was an awful smell. It was infection that had drained out of my ears and glued my hair and ear to the pillow. I cried silently while I tried to loosen my hair from the pillow-cover. At this moment, my mother told me to get up. When she saw my ear and the infection on the pillow she said: “Oh no, I can’t have this, not now, not today!” “Get up!” she commanded, gave me a wet washcloth and told me to clean this mess off. Without acknowledging my illness, she told me to get dressed and in the car. Ten minutes later, we were on our way to Neuburg/ Donau, to the hospital where both my brothers were. On the way there, I lay in the back seat, moaning in pain. My father yelled at my mother, telling her to stop me from crying all the time. My mother yelled at me, telling me to shut-up, since no one can do anything about my ears anyway. I try not to whine anymore because I am afraid my father will yell again. So I cry into the little pillow, to release the agony in my ears. When we arrived at the hospital, my father told my mother: “She stays in the car. I don’t need her whining when we are in there.” I am left in the car for hours.
On our way back home, it is already dark and my father yells at my mother again, saying if I don’t stop crying, he’ll throw both me and her out of the car. She yells at me and I was scared enough to stop crying, and swallow the pain.
Back in the present, I am fully awake, sitting in my bed, connecting one memory to another. I see the pattern that has passed along from my grandma to my mother. I see my mother’s weakness, the same weakness I see in my grandma. My mother yelled at me because she felt intimidated and grandma did nothing but cry when my grandpa raged.
My mother was intimidated by fear of my father’s rage as well. She raged at me because she didn’t know what else to do. I was not important, I was just another one who demanded attention that she couldn’t give anyway, because in her fear she needed to please my father. Neglecting me was easier, because I was a little child, I did not yell back. My mother sacrificed me for her fear. She neglected and rejected my needs and, on top of it, she punished me for being sick. I learned early to ignore my pain, learned to endure and not to cause any trouble.
A part of me was still rejecting the idea that I had an ear infection because I did not want to hear Karl or anyone else yelling at me. I needed to talk about it; I needed someone to tell me that I am not crazy, to confirm that there is a possibility that these reactions are connected. I try to talk to my husband, but he doesn’t really want to hear my stories. He tells me to go to the doctor for more antibiotics.
Besides my friend Maus, I have no one to listen to me and understand my feelings. My psychologist does not believe that physical illness can be caused by psychological imbalance. It is devastating to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t have good grandparents. I was holding on to the false vision of their goodness because I needed a good memory so badly. I was left alone, exposed to rage and carelessness, defenseless against the ones who were supposed to care for and nurture me. I was not important and my pain was only aggravating to others. Nature on the other hand, asserts its rights and haunts me again with another ear infection.