With Alexander, I could only ever sense his silence and his fear. I only saw him confused and angry, a black cloud around him. I know that it is Alexander who is suffering more. It is he who is carrying the weight of remorse and guilt on his tiny shoulders. But there is no guilt to carry. It is not of his doing. He is only a tool. Alexander is the older, the more emotionally vulnerable, and this is why he was the one who was most used. If only I could take him in my arms, take away the pain and the enormous burden. If only I could speak to him, comfort him.
"Mummy, let me carry the suitcase, it's too heavy for you."
How protective of me he was that day. Maybe in his young mind he is protecting me even now. Alexander was leaving. Constantin was just chugging along behind. He sat behind me in the car, his arms around my shoulders, his cheek against mine.
"When did you say we were coming back?" Constantin asked.
"In six weeks, Tini."
In the two and a half years we had been in London, they had made this trip many times, at Easter, at Christmas, and in the summer. Yet this time Constantin was set to endure it calmly, while Alexander was marching blindly on, driven inexorably by fate.
At the airport, the stewardess came to pick them up, attaching a British Airways folder around their necks containing their passports and plane tickets.
"Mummy, will you put the old one in my cupboard, please?" This was another of Alexander's collections. "The others are in the cupboard on the right."
Alexander always needed reference points and organization. This side of his character touched me. Tini, bolstered by his self-assurance, didn't need any extra organization around him. Life was already in crystalline order in his head.
Their departure to Germany was symbolic. I remember every detail, every word we said, every expression on their little faces. This was my last image of their freedom, the last time I could truly share my emotions with them, and they could share theirs with me, before an impenetrable wall would cruelly separate them from the world and from me, their mother.
Alexander was so grown-up that day, so solicitous in his responsibility as elder brother. He dutifully took Constantin by the hand and gave me their last instruction:
"And don't forget to buy the Legos."
This was another ritual of ours. A present would always be waiting for them on their return, and this morning they had each marked an "A" and a "C" next to the Legos they had chosen in the brightly colored catalog.
"Mummy, you won't be sad without us. We will be back soon, remember."
I felt tearful as Alexander hugged and kissed me good-bye, but I smiled.
"Of course I will be a bit sad, but as you say, it won't be long, and you will have fun in Verden and on the island of Juist."
Constantin was sad that day. He hardly spoke, but kissed me desperately instead. His arms were still tight around my neck when the stewardess interrupted us:
"Come on, time to leave."
Tini extricated himself from my arms. I stood up from kneeling on the floor, and he just walked away, led by Alexander, without turning back. Constantin never showed his intimate feelings, but I had never seen him so dispirited. It was precisely because he did not turn around that I realized how deeply upset he was. Now, looking back, I know he had a premonition, even before I did.
Alexander turned around, waving, blowing kisses at me, and calling: "Bye-bye, Mummy. Be good."
And there they were, two very small boys, each with his rucksack on his back, disappearing amid the crowd of adults into the transit area. They looked so vulnerable. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming desire to stop them, and I almost called out:
"Stop! Don't go. You can't go!"
© 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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