As I was packing their last items, I fell into thinking how lonely the next six weeks would be without them. I knew how much I would miss their cheerful voices, the constant to-ing and fro-ing and rampaging about the house. Without them, the house was always so silent: no one to greet me with a shower of kisses in the mornings. This is the harsh price of a broken marriage: schooldays with Mummy and most of the holidays with Daddy. But watching Alexander pack his rucksack, I realized that he was already halfway into his German forest.
"I think I've packed everything---my magnifying glass, my swimsuit, my goggles, and a few toys."
Alexander loved going to Germany, exploring the woods and the bird life, examining the insects under his magnifying glass. Alexander is an explorer, and his lively interest and curiosity were always a delight to watch. Verden had become a second retreat, offering him an assortment of mysteries to discover. He had two lives---one there, one here in London---and each offered its thrills, even though he was occasionally torn between them.
Alexander was, I think, the more complex of my two sons. Not a difficult child, but apprehensive and sometimes restless. He was a funny mix of tender emotion and anxiety, a will to please and obstinacy. Somehow I was always slightly worried about him and wondered whether he would eventually be at peace with himself. Alexander saw life as full of complications.
Constantin, on the other hand, was the steady and predictable one. He was even-tempered---almost never moody. At school he was exceptionally competent and top of his class; he did his homework without protest, was good at sports, and was popular with his schoolmates. Constantin had a calm, cheerful, robust disposition. This made him more independent and self-confident than Alexander.
But if Alexander and Constantin were so different, they were very compatible. One observed the world with solicitude, the other with serenity. One was already longing for peaceful country walks, the other looking forward to his return to London.
"Mummy, when are we coming back?"
Constantin had not packed a thing. Packing was boring, and besides, a holiday in the countryside did not hold the same fascination for him. It was just something that could not be bypassed, but soon he'd be back with his mummy and on holiday with her.
"Where are we going to go? To Valérie's, like last summer?"
"I am not saying. It's a surprise."
"If I tell you, it won't be a surprise."
I had arranged a trip to the theme park Alton Towers. The thought of their excited little faces as they discovered what the surprise was made me smile in anticipation. Little did I know that this was never to be. Little did I know that day---July 6, 1994---what a tragic turn our lives were about to take.
Had I had the slightest inkling of what was going to be inflicted on them, I would never have let them go. I would have protected them, protected their peace and, above all, their freedom. I never realized, never imagined and because I was so naive, their lives have become a monstrous charade.
How can I ever explain to them the injustice of the law, the injustice of life, when it is they who are paying the ultimate price? How can I ever make them understand that they have become the victims of a bitter intra-European dispute when it is so far removed from their reality---two small, vulnerable boys who have no idea about justice or politics? How can I ever make them realize that they have been used as two puppets, that they have been denied their own mother, in order to make a point?
All day and all night, I dwell on the images of my children, the boys they were and the dark shadows of the two little prisoners they have become. I can feel their warmth close to my body, remembering how we used to read our ritual bedtime stories snuggling together in my bed. How many nights have I heard Constantin's calls, which woke me with a start, cold perspiration dripping on my face. Sometimes he felt so close I could almost feel him touching me. At other times his voice was far away, lost in a fog. These calls were the most agonizing because they were calls of despair.
© Catherine Meyer 1999. Published with permission of the publisher, Public Affairs.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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