Grandma always called me Cinderella but when I visited Germany’s Neuschwanstein (an inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle) I behaved like an ugly stepsister. More like an ugly American. In Germany, I used an n-word: Nazi.
What I actually said was, Fucking Nazis.
Why? It was quick. It was easy. I felt persecuted…by four elderly German women in a carriage who did what so many of us Americans do when someone doesn’t understand English: they spoke louder. And louder. They yelled over each other, each one more frustrated because my brain was unable to make the connections between our languages. That same brain quickly substituted those four grandmothers with images of Hitler at the podium bringing the German people to an orgasm of hate and fear. A shameful moment: four grandmothers equaled one Hitler.
But I felt this encounter with my whole body. I got off the carriage and stood in front of a railing looking down into a fairytale forest. Tears squeezed my eyes. Breath wheezing and raw, auras of blood-tinged light threatened to crumple me. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I said in the voice of a mouse. Stop it, Syndy, just stop it, my husband whispered. I closed my eyes and gulped until finally my lungs felt clearer. Clear enough to say an n-word.
“You know, Syndy, you’re better than that.”
That hurt worse than a punch in the mouth; my husband was right. I was better. It’s not like I never traveled to a place where I didn’t understand the language—I had and while not all of my experiences were beautiful, I embraced when things became challenging. They tended to make for interesting stories.
But in Germany, on that day, I don’t know, I lost it. Even more embarrassing, it was due to a simple misunderstanding. When I paid for the tickets to the carriage, the cashier told me it would drive us all the way to the castle. It stopped on a plateau that intersected a road leading up a hill on which the castle stood. Some people got off; the grandmothers got on. My husband and I looked at each other, confused. I stepped off the carriage and then hopped back on, waiting for the carriage to make its ascent. That’s when the yelling began. And it continued for at least three excruciating minutes until finally the carriage driver, who spoke English, said, “This is where we drop you off.” It should’ve been just another interesting story. It wasn’t. So, why? Why now? Why Germany?
I never considered myself to be prejudiced. And against any other race, ethnic group and religion, I’m not. Germans are different. Why?
Because I am German.
I mentioned in another post I am Italian and Polish; those are from my mother.
My father is the German one.
And my father has not been a part of my life for twenty-seven years. A steady part anyway. He did attend my high school graduation and honors assembly when I was seventeen years old. Four years later, we encountered each other by surprise. My car’s tire blew. I was changing it when I heard a voice ask, Miss, do you need any help? I looked up into my father’s face; he hadn’t recognized me. A few months passed and I saw him at the grocery store. A few months more, we stood in the same line at the credit union. By then, I was twenty-two; and that was the last time I saw my father. Through the years, I sent him birthday and Christmas cards; more often, when I was in a place of forgiveness. But I never heard from him.
Until four years ago. He telephoned me on my thirty-sixth birthday. Somehow, I knew he was going to call. A few months before, he had turned sixty. I sent him a lovely card wishing him peace and happiness. I truly meant it. When I awoke on my birthday, I felt that strange wistfulness twisting my heart: I wanted my daddy. Perhaps our souls or better selves conspired on a higher plane to connect us. Somehow he heard me. And he called.
That call ripped my heart like a claw.
I thought him courageous at first. It was a chance: the daughter he and his entire family rejected when she was barely thirteen could’ve rejected him. I didn’t. Yet as he spoke, he asked around my life but not about it. He asked questions about my great uncles and second cousins that he remembered. But he never once asked about my mother, my sister or his only grandchild; he knew he was a grandfather—my family all live in the same town and it’s not that big. That’s what hurt the most: that my little sister who suffered at his hands just as much as I, no longer existed for him. As he talked, the little girl who wanted Daddy so badly turned into the cool observer, listening with an eagle eye to excuses, to what was not being said. I stopped a long time ago expecting an apology from my father but while he talked, I wanted one. Not for myself; but for my mother and sister. It never came. We hung up.
Four months later, he called again, looking for my cousin’s address. My uncle, also estranged from his daughter, had had a heart attack and my father wanted to contact her. I gave my father the last address I had for her. He didn’t remain long on the phone.
My heart ached for six months until I sent him a letter. I told him we could begin again but he’d have to accept me for who I am—that a new relationship would have to begin in truth. Truth that included me talking about the people important to me: his daughter, his grandson, his ex-wife. And truth that included me talking openly about my life, present and past. I made him an offer: meet me in the truth and we can start anew. By his silence the last four years, it seems an offer he refused.
I think about him. Not every day. But, often enough. No longer do I miss him like a little girl because I’m not her. Not anymore. I’m just an older woman who wonders: perhaps the next time I see my father will be on his deathbed or in a coffin. That is, if any of his family thinks to even notify me. Horrible thoughts. Yet, honest: my father may die never knowing his daughters, his son-in-law, or his grandson. He makes this choice every moment of every day. Truly, it is sad but there is also a peace in knowing I’ve done what I could. Without sacrificing who I am and what I worked through to become, I welcomed in my father, giving him another chance when he probably didn’t deserve one. He made his choice. He chooses to deny my existence. And he’s done it for two-thirds of my life.
No wonder it was so easy to react badly to those Germans: that part of my blood barely exists.