screaming, the fur of a german shepherd and her tongue licking my hand, but mostly screaming – that´s the first thing i remember from my childhood … i think i wasn´t much older than 3 years.
Perhaps i should start from the beginning. I grew up in a village, now the suburb of a small town. Back then it was mostly a farming community, very tradtional, very conservative, very roman – catholic. From the outside we were the average family, the old farm handed down from generation to generation for over 300 years. We that were my mother, my father, my grandparents from my mothers side Right down the street lived my grandmothers older brother and his wife, right next door lived her younger brother with his wife. Well and than there was little me.
From the inside … well … with the things i know today, i am sure we weren´t unique.
But where was i – right – the screams ….
It wasn´t me screaming, it was my grandfather and in our house it was just a normal day. Grandfather was a soldier back in WW II like practically every man and boy in Germany. He lost one leg on the eastern front and the other one a few years later as a follow up, he had shell splinters stuck in his brain. Part of his screams had been caused by pain. But that wasn´t the only reason. The other one … no one really talked about it …. there were wispers, hushed voices, sudden silcence whenever i entered a room or better every time someone noticed i was there …. which didn´t happen too often.
… the war, you know … he´s seeing things … shell shock …. the war made him crazy … his poor wife … maybe it would be better he´d be locked up …
These are things i overheard, of couse i didn´t understand what that really meant, but i understood some things, that grandfather spend a lot of time terrified and in agony. I believed he was seeing ghosts, you know like the ones in the movies and stories. When i happened to be in his room, i often got scared too by the way he looked … tears streaming down his face, his eyes reminded me of a panicking horse about to flee (we had horses too) sometimes he tried to run away from what ever he saw, from whatever place his mind and his memories had put him … he tried to run without legs … he didn´t recognized anyone of us. Sometimes my mother had to call the neighbors to hold him down before he could hurt himself. Usually every one was so busy dealing with these episodes that no one noticed me or talked or explained to me what was going on. Well, that´s not quite right, mother and granny talked to me *Be quiete, go get out of here, find something to do* And when i grew a bit older *Go visit the neighbor* Some times these episodes came out of the blue, at least it looked like it, but i remember that loud noises had been a huge problem. It was one reason i wasn´t allowed to have friends over.
Usually at the point when he fought to escape the neighbors and his brothers – in – law who held him down so the doctor could medicate him i ran and hid somewhere in the barn or in the backyard, clinging onto Anka our German Shepherd. Depending on the time of day sooner or later Granny or mother came searching for me, usually angry because they had to search for me, sometimes when ti was one of his extremely bad days i tried to hide at the neighbors across the street. It was an American family, they had a little girl D. she was just a couple of month older and despite the language barrier, we often played together. That was when i picked up the first english words, i loved beeing with D. and her family … it was so different compared to my home, her dad played games with us on his days off, he told stories and read to us …. not like at home … on his days off my father spend all his time in the garage working on his motorbikes or meeting with his buddies, well, sometimes he took me with him on his weekend trips, but than i sat in a cheap motel room with a few toys or ignored in a corner while father and his buddies talked about bikes. Granny worried and cared for Grandpa 24/7 and if there was nothing to do for him, than there was the farm, the household, mother worked part time in a nursing home and when she came home … grandfather, farm and mostly excessive house cleaning sessions. Today i know why and what was going on at home … back then i felt and i was ignored, lost, confused and often terrified with no one to talk to and the safest place and time had been the hours across the street with D.,her family and Anka. The longest time my mother spend with me, was when she taught me how to read at age 4 … i loved books and they became sort of a second safe place … sort of … no one cared what bookd i read …. the point was … i was busy and no one had to interact with me.
Grandfather never talked about the things he saw, the memories that clearly haunted him – his brother in law uncle F. he was a different type … very different … when grandfather slept after one of the major episodes a drug induced sleep, uncle F. sat down with a sixpack and told me stories …. war stories … very graphic war stories, sometimes he even showed me pictures … in retrospective i don´t think he really knew what he did, or even that he was completely there … yeah today i know what 1000 mile stare means … sometimes he took me out behind the barn, he had build a dummy, roughly human shape and the size of a man … he taught where to kick, where to punch and later where to stab so a real human would quickly bleed out ….
All this caused nightmares, i developed panic when i heard a loud bang … things like a poppin balloon, a engin failling …. i tried to hide under the couch, under blankets whatever was available and i was sure i was about to die. I was sure they would come and get me …. i had no idea who THEY were … i just knew the enemy would eventually come and kill me. When now i woke up screaming and hiding in the closet it wasn´t so that my mother or granny came to the rescue … as long as my grandfather lived my fears and nightmares and my screams send him into an episode. So usually granny rushed to his room and mother yelled at me that i shouldn´t have watched a certain tv show (even when the tv wasn´t on at all at that day) or i was told i should stop imagine pictures to the stories i read or i should stop listen to the stories i´ve been told by that strangers from across the street. Father usually pretended to sleep,so he won´t get involved.
My father tried everything to be as far from home as possible, well his mother in law never liked or approved of him, and he was a bit short tempered …. nothing more than barking and yelling … but enough to scare him. Which in the light of today isn´t a surprise – his father was a soldier during WW II, too and he coped a bit different. Ok, the episodes my mothers dad had wasn´t copeing at all. Grandfather from my fathers side he was a mean drunk who beat the crap out of his kids and wife on a regular basis while my father and his sister were kids, later Grandfather number 2 beat his wife and acted out on prostitutes. Another thing i learned later in life. Not much later, tho. He only was kind to his horses and his grandkids … as long as we were little … he spoiled us with money and gifts. At least when he couldn´t avoid me and my cousins. So my father must have decided at one point that he won´t become his father and so he did the opposite …. pretty much nothing …. he had his own business … a frozen food truck … he started working at 5 am and came back home 10 pm.
My mother had been …. yeah what … i don´t know if it really was fathers short temper or if she was conditioned …. pretty much everything revolved about the number 1 house rule *Don´t upset Grandpa at all cost* somehow it evolved to *Father must never know, man must never know* bad grades, a fight, a scratch – no matter how little or big, no one was allowed to tell him any thing. Not the best way to develop a healthy realtionship. I am honest … my father and i don´t have one … we don´t even know how to call each other …. and i seems it´ll stay this way, cause every time i try to change that and tell a little bit of my life i seem to disturb him and he instantly is changing the subject …
These memories are the starting point for developing a mild form of secondary ptsd … the gift that keeps on giving …. a gift that´s pretty much like a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation in one way or another …. we´ll get to my main form of ptsd … but not tonight ….