When I moved from
Paris to California in 1986, I had not yet
published a book, but had written diaries from
age twelve. I had never been in therapy and
couldn't imagine yet that I would become a
therapist myself. I began to awaken to the fact
that my diaries were "work books" for
the craft of writing and that they served as
a continuous self-analysis. I wrote my
entries in German, French or
English according to the mood of the
moment. Looking back now at these notes I am
faced with the translator's dilemma of never
quite finding the right word to do my younger
self justice. The following excerpt was written
in German and translated by me as best I
Diary, Caf茅 in San Francisco -- March 17, 1987
I noticed a
mother with a four or five year-old boy and a
baby girl of about one entering the caf茅. The
boy went to a table while the mother pushed her
stroller toward the counter to place her order.
The girl pointed urgently at the table. "You'd
like to sit there?" She lifted the baby onto a
chair next to her brother. The girl was
how pale and sad the boy looked whereas the girl
was round and radiant. Oh dear, I thought, the
well-known sibling drama. The boy was driving a
little toy car with a trailer across the table.
He seemed listless. Every now and then he cast a
black look at his little sister. Perhaps he was
trying to stir her envy, but she sat there with
her bottle and no care in the world. At some
point he disconnected the trailer and started
driving it toward her, haltingly as if not sure
of his intention. She touched the trailer
eagerly, and he let her do it. She had no
reaction when he hooked car and trailer up again
and continued driving them back and forth.
mother joined the table. The boy was now half
lying on his arm, looking sad and suffering. It
struck me how much the girl looked like her
mother. The boy, by contrast, seemed to have
nothing in common with her.
with amazement how tenderly this mother tended
to the boy. To both kids. The girl seemed not to
need much more than her mother's presence. Each
attempt to engage her mother received a ready
response. With her dark head of dark just
like the mother's, the girl was holding onto her
chair, looking around dreamily, with blue-eyed
kept lying on his arm while the mother talked to
him quietly and stroked him. She was very tender
and a fine smile appeared on his lips, but
he had the same inconsolable eyes. Maybe he is
sick, I wondered, deadly sick. I saw how he kept
casting his black, apprehensive look at his
sister. No, I thought, he isn't necessarily
sick. He is perhaps soul-sick – but what
is the difference?
while, all three played with money. The girl was
allowed to take a dollar note. She held it with
both hands, straightened it as delicately as a
flower, and inspected it. "Will you give it back
to me?" the mother asked. "Thank you." "I get
the dollar," the boy said. "Mum, I get the
dollar and Eva can get the coins." Eva let her
bottle drop to the floor. The boy went
obediently and stiffly to retrieve it.
doesn't help to have a tender mother, I thought.
Watching her talk to him I felt at the edge of
tears. Was she explaining to him that she loved
him even though the baby sister was there and it
couldn't be helped?
something inconsolable in human existence and at
his age, when a child already knows all about
it, the only help would be a mother who also
knows it (still knows it) and acknowledges it.
Which mine did not.
couldn't bear, not at all bear, that so much of
life was inconsolable. She didn't have the trust
or insight. Didn't have a coordination system
reaching beyond her. She needed to be everything
and give everything. Deluded heart. Never
allowed to be helpless: she would get angry and
rage against whatever or whoever made her feel
helpless. Only once in my childhood, when she
herself was the cause, did I see her cry. During
the Berlin Blockade, a time of penury, she had
helped loading a car and forgotten that she had
set her bag with the money and food stamps for
the whole family on the roof of the car.
Is this why
I tend to lose my things – in solidarity?
In a make- believe of still needing her? My
therapist commented that I was identified with
the boy at the table. Yes, I agreed. The child
who can't console the mother is what made me so