TW: child abuse
I took a deep breath of the cold air. Although it was summer, this night was chilly. The moon was hiding behind dark clouds, so I could barely see the asphalt in front of me. Even the buildings surrounding me were only black shapes. But it didn’t matter. I knew this neighborhood like the back of my hand. As a little girl I used to play here with the other kids. We had explored every corner and bush, hoping to find a treasure or an adventure. But tonight, everything felt strange.
“It’s just a dream”, I whispered and walked slowly along the street.
I stopped in front of an old house. It had been abandoned for years, until a new family from Berlin moved there and fully renovated it. Which it had been in dire need of, I thought and took out my mum’s silver lighter. The cigarette in my hand started to glow to life when the orange flame touched it.
“Just a dream”, I whispered again and blew the white smoke into the dark night. Yes, it was just a dream. All those years it had been nothing more than that. Blurry pictures and fragments. In the past, I had had this dream many times and then it suddenly stopped. It was completely gone. Until now.
Since my birthday, the dream was back, but this time it felt different. More complete, more finished. That was two weeks ago and tonight, I had dreamt it again.
My eyes wandered over the house in front of me. It looked empty, like nobody was there. Maybe the family was on vacation. There was no car in the driveway and the blinds weren’t closed. I made my way through the nice, little front yard and walked to the side of the house. The faint light of a streetlamp was shining through one of the windows into the living room. It was not much, but enough to assume that everything was gone. The old furniture, the dusty carpet on the floor, the green, old-fashioned lamp, the stained chair in front of the fireplace, the jar of caramels, and him. The only thing that was left was the fireplace, although it had been renovated with modern tiles and glass. No, nothing reminded of what it looked like in my dream, what it looked like in the past. I thought about my dream and my head started to hurt and I felt dizzy. I took another deep breath and felt a chilly breeze twirling through my hair.
Then I opened my eyes.
A little girl ran past me and knocked on the gray front door. She was wearing a blue, checked dress and her light hair was up in a French braid. It took a few seconds until someone opened the door and put a wrinkled hand on the child’s head. A man was standing at the door and muttered something into her ear. His face was turned towards the little girl, and although he spoke very quietly his voice sent a chill down my spine. I could neither see his face nor understand what he was saying. The man took the child inside and closed the grey door. Even though I didn’t understand a word of what he had said earlier, I could now clearly hear the key turning in the lock.
Nothing happened for a couple of minutes, then I watched the man enter the living room. There was a fire in the fireplace which turned the room red with its warm light. He sat down in his chair, and I could only see him from the side. He was wearing brown cord pants and a yellow shirt. Only from his hands, that I had just seen for a short moment, I could tell that he was old, very old.
The girl also entered the living room and upon the old man’s request, she sat down on his lap. She switched on the lamp and started telling him something. It must have been a sad story, because even from outside the window I could see her eyes tearing up. The man gave her his full attention. Before she started to cry, he put his hand on her back to comfort her. The lamp next to her lit up her pure, innocent face. To cheer her up the man asked her a question which she answered with an excited nod. He grabbed the jar of caramels from the round table next to him and offered her one. She took it with a big smile and eagerly put it in her mouth.
Completely taken by what was happening inside, I stared through the glass and a foreboding feeling crept up on me. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. It was like my feet had been glued to the ground. I couldn’t move, it was as if someone wanted me to see this.
The man put the jar back on the table and almost casually laid his hand on the child’s leg. Her skin is so innocent and pure. Her smile is happy and careless. I wanted to leave. I closed my eyes, but I could still see it clearly. He continued talking and the girl listened. His hand slid further up her leg and moved the child’s dress.
The little girl was distracted by his words and did not seem to pay any attention to what he was doing. Then he slowly turned his head to check if anyone was watching him. Before he could see me outside of his window, I hid. He mustn’t see me. Not without having a plan first. But what could I do? I was standing outside of his house, in my pajamas and shivering from the cold. Get his attention and run away? That was one option, he was too old to follow me but then I would have to leave the child behind. And I didn’t have anything to defend myself.
But before I could finish that thought. I saw something moving behind the fence of the front yard. A young woman. Tears were running down her cheeks and the strong wind whipped her hair into her face. Who was she?
The old man once again focused on the child and put a strand of her light hair behind her ear, while his other hand moved further up her thigh. But suddenly he turned back to the window, so his face was fully lit by the streetlamp and he smiled at the young woman. There was fear and disdain in her face, but his was a malicious, sleazy smile, which curdled one’s blood. But it wasn’t his smile that had scared me outside of the window, it was the man’s face. Just a dream…
The old man pulled the child closer and switched off the light.
“No!”, I screamed and banged my fists against the window. Nothing. “No! Please no! Stop!” I kicked the house wall. Too strong. A stabbing pain shot through my foot and made me fall to the ground, where I started to cry. The pain was almost unbearable, but not as much as the fact that I couldn’t help the child. It was too late. It was eleven years too late.
When the pain subsided a bit, I slowly got up. The street was completely abandoned, no young woman.
There was nothing in front of me. Just a dark, empty house. My whole body started to shiver.
The dream that I had so many times. It wasn’t a dream. It was my memory.
I left the cigarette butt on the ground and ran as fast as I could, ignoring the agonizing pain in my foot. I just wanted to get away from the house, from the memories.
The cold night air lashed into my face. This neighborhood, familiar and strange at the same time. I knew it well and still it had hidden so much from me. The cold made my eyes tear up. How could someone hide something like that from me? Who was the old man? And why did they let me go to him? By myself?
My hands were trembling when I fumbled with the key until I finally managed to open the door.
There was nothing that I could do, I could never reverse what had happened, never turn back time on what that monster had done to me. The bare thought of this disgusting, old swine touching me. My own body disgusted me, and I ran into the bathroom to throw up. Again, and again. But nothing could take away the memories. I couldn’t change it, it was over. I could only try to forget.
Suddenly nothing mattered anymore. I went into the kitchen and dropped onto one of the chairs. I took out the cigarettes from my coat and lit one. Tears were streaming down my face. This old, repulsive bastard. His wrinkly hands. The feeling… It disgusted me, and I got up. I knew where my parents hid the alcohol. Vodka. Next to it were glasses… I grabbed the bottle and took a swig. Nothing mattered. Nothing.
When my mum later found me in the kitchen, she had been mad at first, but when she learned what I had found out, she sat down next to me on the floor and took a swig herself.
Her voice was sad and quiet: “How did you find out?” She sounded uneasy, something that I wasn’t used to from her.
“I have this dream, over and over again. Little girl, old man, caramels…” I answered quietly and covered my face in my hands. Mum sighed.
“You were still little, only 5, when we moved here. Your grandfather had an old friend from school, Bronislaw Winkowski. His wife had died of a stroke, and I felt sorry for him, which is why I used to bring him food and talked to him from time to time. Sometimes you would come visit him with me. He was a bit weird, but I convinced myself that he was an old man and my father’s friend. Sometimes you would go out to play with the other kids. I never thought that you would go to his house. I mean why would you? You have so many friends around here, who would have thought that you would visit him? When you came back home, you were oddly quiet and lost in thought. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but then my gut told me that something was wrong and so I asked you.”
A month had passed since Mum had told me the truth and it was good to have clarity. But the dreams didn’t stop. I could barely sleep at night and if I would fall asleep at some point, it was only to have horrible nightmares and wake up covered in sweat. Even in my sleep, he would not leave me alone. My parents tried to be there for me and to help me get over it, but I couldn’t. The hatred that I felt for that man, that had done this to me, that was responsible for me having these dreams, and the disgust I felt for myself, grew by the day.
I knew that I was changing but I didn’t realize that it was a bad change. At some point my parents decided that it would be best for me to get therapy. The therapist told them that I had to get closure. But how could I? The old man was dead, but the memory wasn’t.
My parents told me that they had thought about reporting him to the police when it happened, but the youth welfare office advised them not to do it. Reporting him would have meant interrogations, examinations, and the risk of traumatizing me. How ironic. And then it probably wouldn’t have been worth it, because he was already 92 years old.
Instead, they had called his daughter. The most shocking thing however was that she hadn’t doubted them for one second. She had started crying, and that was the moment my parents realized – he had done the same to her. She was the young woman from my dream. But how could I have known?
Dad stopped the car at a little path that was leading into the woods.
Mum and I got out of the car and walked along the path, while Dad was parking the car. “Come, sweetie.”, said Mum and offered me her hand. I hesitated but then I took it. After a while my dad joined us and together, we passed a small iron gate and after that a building and a chapel next to it. The sun was shining, but I felt cold and started to shiver. Dad gave me his coat, but it didn’t help. The coldness was inside of me.
And there it was. The cemetery was not far from us now. On the way no one said a word. But somehow this silence created a connection between us that words could not. When we reached the gates of the cemetery my parents stopped.
“It is over there.”, said Dad and pointed to a marble stone a few graves away.
“Okay.” I looked at my parents. “Please wait at the entrance. This is something that I have to do by myself.”
They weren’t exactly thrilled, but they knew that I was right. I felt my dad’s look on me while I walked the small path between the graves. So many lights. So many people, mourning, thinking about the ones that they had lost. A few of the names caught my attention. Gertrud Siegler, Hans Kopp. But that was not the reason why I was here today. Among all those graves was his. Where he got the rest that I couldn’t get.
I felt the note in my pocket. It was there. It was always there. For weeks I had been carrying it around. Even though it was only a small piece of paper, it felt like it was getting heavier by the second. The way felt endless, although it was only a few meters.
This monster. He did something that no one should experience and then he just died. This old bastard had used me to amuse himself. Disgusting. The hatred burned inside of me and grew stronger the closer I got to his grave. My hand grabbed the note and clung to it as if it was a safety buoy. Asshole.
Loved Brother, Father, and Husband. I stared at the word Loved.
Then I opened my note and read the lines that I had written. The anger of the last weeks, the many sleepless nights, I had expressed all of that in this letter. Insults, thoughts, and hatred.
But suddenly that hatred disappeared. The words that I had written weren’t true anymore. He was not a monster. He was pathetic. He had a family, people that loved him and he still had to do something like this. It was pitiful, that some people had to hurt others to feel joy, to be happy. I ripped the note into little pieces. For the first time since I had found out, I realized something. Nobody chooses to have these feelings, but everyone has a choice. What defines us are our actions not our thoughts. He had chosen to hurt others, to follow his drive.
The man that was buried here, wasn’t worth hating myself. He wasn’t worth not enjoying my life. I threw the little pieces into the air. I could be happy. This man had been sick, but I wasn’t. He didn’t deserve my hatred. He deserved nothing. Because he was dead, and I wasn’t.
On the way back I remembered that I had forgotten something. I went back to the grave and rummaged in my bag. When I found it, I placed it on top of the marble stone. The wrapper sparkled bright and golden in the sunlight. I looked back one last time, then I turned around.
It would take some time until I would be able to talk about it, until I would feel comfortable in my own skin again. I knew that I wasn’t the same person anymore, and probably never would be again. But I also knew that I was strong. Stronger than I ever thought I could be, and no one could take that away from me.
Sarah Filippczyk (she/her) is a student and loves to travel and discover new countries. She is currently based in Dublin doing her MA in Media and International Conflict. Since she was a child, she has enjoyed telling and writing stories. When she is home in Germany, she likes to take walks with her dog or drive her motorcycle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org