In 1994, Catherine Laylle Meyer sent her sons from their home in London to stay with their father in Germany for the summer in accordance with their custody agreement. But at summer's end, he refused to send them back. The English courts ordered the children's immediate return to London under the terms of the Hague Convention. Initially, a German court upheld the English decision. But Meyer's relief did not last long.
Chapter One: Cri de Coeur
My heart is filled.
It is filled with nothing but pain.
In our London home, the three of us were packing in Alexander and Constantin's bedroom. A few hours later my sons would be leaving for their summer holiday in Germany to stay with their father. Little did we know then that this would be the end of our happy and peaceful existence. Little did we know that this would be the very last day we would be free to talk, free to cuddle, and free to love. "You won't touch anything, Mummy? Promise. I have cleared my desk and arranged my toys the way I want them for when I get back."
Alexander was always so meticulous. His collection of tube tickets was neatly held together with a rubber band in one drawer, his stamps in another, and on the shelf above, small boxes containing his secret treasures and souvenirs were tidily stacked. Everything had its special place, and no one, not even his younger brother Constantin, was allowed to disturb the private domain of his desk. In the large cupboard, his Legos were laid out very precisely, like a theater. On one shelf, he had arranged his medieval knights, shields and spears in hand, ready to venture forth on their next crusade. On the shelf beneath, pirate ships encircled a lone island, ready for imminent attack. The display was so carefully planned that the models looked almost real.
My Alexander: partly a serious boy and yet still partly a demanding baby. By nature, he was less levelheaded and even-tempered than Constantin. He was full of mischief, often given to embroidering the truth with his vivid imagination; he could be capricious sometimes, torn between the real world and fantasy.
But fate would throw him prematurely into adulthood. His father and I had separated when he was six and a half, and since then we have lived in different countries. His daddy stayed in Germany, and the three of us moved back to London, where he had been born. Living without a man around, he gradually assumed that role for himself. I never imposed it on him. In my eyes, he was still so tiny and vulnerable. But he cherished this new status, and at times he would almost take charge and be protective of me. Today was such a day.
"Do we still have time? We won't miss the plane?"
"There's plenty of time. We don't have to leave for another hour."
"And, Mummy, don't forget to buy the exercise books I need for the beginning of term. Here's the list from school."
He spoke to me in French, as he always did, French being his and Constantin's mother tongue. Both children had always attended French schools, but they were also fluent in German and would automatically speak to their father in it. It was wonderful to hear them switching so easily from one language to the other. Alexander was particularly gifted, and his English, too, was perfect now. English offered many fun expressions, which he loved to mix up, sometimes with a Rastafarian accent that he imitated well and that always made Constantin and me laugh.
Both my sons were the perfect image of the new Europe. Brought up in London, with a German father and a French mother, they had, and still have, three passports and are trilingual. In a future Europe, this background would surely give them tremendous advantages. I was thrilled that they had this chance and terribly proud that both of them could rise to the challenge. Even given the opportunity, not all children are so adept at languages!
© Catherine Meyer 1999. Published with permission of the publisher, Public Affairs.
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