A new opportunity for Louise arrived in the form of an application. Frau, Louise’s new German teacher, handed Louise an application to spend one full year in Germany. She applied immediately not thinking much about the consequences. She did consider a few things. One being that she would get her father off her back about moving in with him. Recently he had been encouraging Louise to move in with him.
Louis’s parent had been divorced since she was 3. She had only a hand full of blurry memories of the family living together. Like when Louise woke up from a nap one day with braided hair. She didn’t want her hair to be braided and started undoing it when her mother said, ‘’Oh Louise your sister braided your hair while you were asleep. Don’t you like it?’’
She also had a short memory of her mother and father hugging in the Kitchen. Her mother was crying. And another memory which took place one late afternoon. It was dark outside. The family and friends of the family were lying on the carpet in the family room, all comfortable with pillows and blankets, watching ‘The Three Little Pigs’, when a woman named Lesley came in through the sliding door. Louise didn’t pay attention to what was said or done. She might never have remembered this incident, had it not been for the fact, that Lesley remained a part of Teds’ life long after her parents divorced.
One other memory was of being carried down the stairs into the basement. Her father said he had a surprise for the family. Down at the bottom of the stairs running around in circles barking was a tiny little dog. Ted asked his girls what the dogs’ name should be. Louise said the dog should be named Chinky. And the name became final.
Louise has curly blond hair about which neighbors and family regularly commented. It made Kelly jealous. What did anyone ever say about her? That she was smart, but never ‘’Oh look at that beautiful hair, she is so cute.’’ like they did with Louise. Kelly wanted to name the dog too. But no one listened to her. She couldn’t even think of a name, but she also couldn’t stand the fact, that her sister got to decide everything, just because she is little and cute.
But the most significant memory Louise had, was of searching for her mother in the big house. It wasn’t really a big house, but could seem big for a small child. She remembered walking through the kitchen and stepping down a small step into the family room. Her heart was pounding with the loud music. Ted, her father, was kneed in front of a stereo system. They didn’t have enough money to buy meat and the house was paid for by Ted’s father. But a stereo system couldn’t fail.
‘’Papa, I can feel the music in my bones!’’ Louise yelled, hoping her father would turn down the music. He didn’t turn it down. He didn’t even see or hear her yell. Louise turned the corner to find her mother on the bathroom floor.
‘’Mama, I can feel the music in my bones!’’ She tried again. Sally smiled and told her not to come into the bathroom. ‘’Mama, can I help you clean?’’ The bucket next to Sally was filled with water and Louise wanted to get her hands wet.
‘’No baby, the chemicals are too aggressive for your little hands.’’ Begging didn’t help either. But Louise just wanted to be near her mother. She stood in the doorway watching her mother scrub the tiles on the floor.
As Louise got older she asked herself why it was ok for her mother to be cleaning, while her father played. Who knows? Maybe that happened often and was another reason why Sally left her husband.
Years later when Kelly would ask Sally ‘’why did you leave our father?’’ she would answer: ‘’I didn’t have enough money to buy milk for my babies and your father went out and bought a new camcorder.’’ This answer never satisfied Kelly. She wanted to hear, that he was a beater, a cheater or worse. Those were the only reasons she could have accepted as good enough to ‘’give up on marriage.’’ Sally stayed firm in her position. Other than answering Kelly’s questions honestly, Sally never said a bad word about the girls’ father. She assured them that they were not the reason for the divorce. She even went as far as sending them to group counseling. There, Louise and Kelly learned to share their feelings in a group. That all feeling are accepted. They learned that there are many other children of all ages whose parents have separated. The two girls listened to the other children express distress about divorce. The lessons Louise learned in this group, helped her throughout life: You’re not alone. Your feelings are never wrong and should not be hidden.
Not only was Ted telling Louise to move in with him instead of applying for an exchange year in Germany, but he had also been encouraging one or both of his girls to move in with him ever since his wife left him. He used to tell his girls how much he loved them, how he had always dreamed of becoming a father. He wanted to do a better job than his own father had. Maybe that is why he started a family so young. But after the divorce, he stopped disciplining his children and just tried to be their friend. That is until he met his third wife. She told him that he was being an ungodly father by not disciplining his children. He threw himself in between his wife and girls just trying to keep the peace. But it didn’t work.
At one point Kelly almost did move in with her father. It was all planned. But after the sudden marriage of Ted and his third wife, the plans got cancelled. Devlin wanted nothing to do with Kelly. So instead of moving in, Kelly became bitter and even more rebellious than ever. It was more a cry for help than anything. But her cries were left echoing in the darkness. Louise felt as if she was the only one who could hear the deep wails of her sisters’ grief. Louise became the sounding board for her sisters’ and fathers’ problems. They didn’t know they were using her. Kelly could be forgiven, being merely a year and half older than her sister. But it could be expected, that an adult would know better than to place his problems on his daughter.
At one point after years of enduring Ted’s stories of his personal oppression, Louise told him to get a counselor. ‘’I’m tired of hearing the same stories over and over again. At some point you have to stop blaming everyone else and take life into your own hands. I have enough of my own problems. I can’t solve yours. Go get help from a professional.’’
Sigh ‘’I know you’re right, you’re so right.’’ was his reply. But he never got help. He continued to prolong every car ride they had together to load all of his garbage on his daughter.
One day as Ted was driving Louise home after a weekend visit, he pulled over at a gas station to have a ‘talk’. They were only three miles away from Louise’s home. ‘’Here we go again, I wonder what he is going to load on me this time?’’ This was the worst of all. He told Louise that he never used to understand how a father could just up and despair without a word or note and never return, but that he understands now. He continued to go on about how some fathers don’t feel good enough or worthy enough to step into their role as a father and that is why they stay away. He confessed to wanting to commit suicide at one point, but that he didn’t when he thought about his daughters. He told her she should read a book written by a man for other men. It would help her understand how men work and the problems with which men deal.
Louise had taken the book home with her and read the first chapter, but was so disgusted that she couldn’t finish the book. The first chapter described a man sitting on the couch watching his niece. She lay on her belly in front of the television resting her head in her hands. She wore mini shorts making it possible for her uncle to see her underwear. She fell asleep and this man was so aroused that he pulled out his ‘Jimmy’ and masturbated right there on the couch while his niece slept on the floor in front of him. He felt excited at the time that she might wake up and see him pleasuring himself. Afterward, he felt ashamed. Louise wondered why on earth her father would give her a book like this to read. She wondered if he wanted to tell her, that he sometimes thinks of her in this manner. It was too much to consider. Louise closed the book and tried to erase this pornographic picture that now consumed her mind.
These little talks remained private between Ted and Louise. No one knew about them. Louise wondered what her step-mother Devlin would think if she found out about them. When Devlin was around, Ted pretended to be a Godly man. Man of the house. The spiritual leader. It was all show. It was more that Devlin called on him to be these things. When it worked in her favor she said what a wonderful job he was doing. Such the perfect husband. But in reality, Ted remained quite in the presents of Devlin. He had no opinion other than his wives’. He never disagreed with her, even when she told flat out lies. It worked out well for Devlin. She could say what she pleases and pretend it all came from her husbands’ mouth. Once, at dinner time, Ted, Devlin and Louise sat around the table. Devlin began talking about Kelly, who wasn’t there to defend herself. She said Kelly was one of those girls who would go get an abortion without telling anyone. This of course could not be further from the truth. Louise knew there was no point in arguing with this woman, but she wondered why her father didn’t at least try to defend his oldest daughter. He just sat there, letting Devlin ramble on and on about his child. She would even look at him saying ‘’Isn’t that right Teddy? You know I’m only speaking the truth. It is important for Louise to see the truth, to see that we are united in God, and to see the good from evil. Kelly truly is evil…’’
Keeping all of this in mind, Louise filled out the application that Frau had given her. She hoped and prayed to be accepted, to get away from the circus. In the meantime the small German class decided to do a three week exchange. First the German girls came to the USA and stayed three weeks in one of the American families. Then the Americans went to the home of the girl that had visited them.
© Rebekah Schmidt and Ten Years in Germany 2013, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rebekah Schmidt and Ten Years in Germany with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.