It was around the time when I was five years old that I reportedly began to ask visitors to my mother’s house whether they won’t take me with them. I would be good in doing house work, I suggested in front of my embarrassed mother.
It had been a hard childhood. Born to a couple in the midst of their university educations, after they had graduated they soon divorced when I was around four or five, but not until a sister begot in an act of attempted reconcilliation was born. We children stayed with our mother who was to become a secondary school teacher.
Violence was constant – bruises on my mothers neck as well as beatings I endured from her. It was the times when beating a child was commonplace; my mother used wooden spoons on me or her bare hands. One time, after she had beaten me severely, she held me in her arms, mumbling it would hurt her more than me …. “Silly,” I thought, “then why don’t you stop it?”
When my father left the family, we stayed in this huge house – or so I thought it was: two-storeyed, basement and first floor, my room, with the look down to the street, beside the room of my mother’s with an open wide window in the centre, looking from half the hill’s heights down the valley with the river and the vineyards. I don’t remember the directions clearly, but when the window of my mother’s room showed to the North, mine showed to the East. On the other side, to the West, lay the savaged garden, mostly an area sloping steep to the creek at the bottom that marked the boundary. It had a high tree on the upper side of the garden near the street, a birch, that was my famous outpost. Sitting high above in her arms I would gaze to the North, into the valley, the sky, listening to the wind, watching while dreaming ….
The house stood halfway the hill, so the garage and the coal cellar could be reached from the street when one walked or drove up the hill. A bit higher above lay the entrance to the basement of the house, with the kitchen to the right and a small parlour to the left. Behind the hall and the stairs to the first floor was a larger living room with a look into the garden.
After many attempts by my father my mother finally agreed to my separation from her. My father was a friend to a couple that at that time was trying to file papers for an adoption of a girl. As this didn’t turn out because the mother withdrew her assent, my father asked them whether they would like to take me instead. “Well, just bring him here,” my new mother simply said, and so one day it was all to become real and final. I had asked visitors to take me with them for years, and now there was a couple just doing that. I was excited.
I remember how quiet my mother was when she helped me pack my stuff. I couldn’t understand. Wasn’t it exiting? I would go away! And they would fetch me up in a sports car! But she was quiet, looking all inside, not even doleful, just still when she put some of my clothes in a backpack, and my favorite three books in a little suitcase. Then we went downstairs to this small parlour that looked out to the street. I was restless, always looking out of the window while I had to sit besides my mother on the sofa. She sat to my right, her look all wide inside, a small tear in her eyes I believe. Then came the car and the couple I was supposed to go with. I remember being outside on the street, entering the car, all light blue, beautiful. Did I turn back as my mother closed the door and vanished into her house?
As she closed the door she may have gone back to the parlour or to the kitchen where she used to sit at the table to do her work for school. What kind of day must that have been for her? How was she ever able to close her eyes that night? How terribly empty, exhausted, defeated must she have felt. Has she felt anything at all? Has she ever recovered from the tear she shed as we both waited in the small room with its look out on the street?
I don’t know. I’ve never seen her again. But one day, it was in my late teens, early twens, a thought touched me. It’s always cruel for a mother to lose her child. But how much more cruel and sad must it be to say to your own child: “Dear, it is better for you to go, as you will be better off without me.” How brave must a mother be to a say that and agree to it. So, after all those years, as I went on with two mothers and three fathers inside me, I still believe that the single most intense, most sincere moment my mother has ever loved me was the one she agreed to let me go, the one she let me enter the car, this one endless moment it took her to close that door behind us and vanish inside the house. With this sacrifice, with all her admission of defeat, the acknowledgement that she couldn’t have done better, she showed the greatest love she was ever able to offer. Still I’m shaken when I think about the vastness of what she has done. And I hope she will be rewarded one day.
* * *