For a mother there’s only one thing worse than the death of a child. And that is the betrayal of a child who’s alive, malicious and living next door.
I take that back. The one thing that is worse than betrayal is multiple deeds of treachery. I know because that is what I have been living with for quite some time. It’s hard to talk about but I feel it’s the only way I can cope with the pain. What makes it worse is that the boy and I had been so close. He was my first born, and while I hadn’t been thrilled about having a child (I preferred mothered baby goslings for Conrad Lorenz, the German animal behaviorist), once Anselm was born, I fell in love with that little bundle of human flesh, blood and bone.
Prior to meeting Anselm’s father I had been one of Lorenz’s Gosling Girls. I had grown up surrounded by animals in my mother’s home during the war. But then when I went off to England to study English literature at Exeter University, I realized how much I needed to be near living creatures. It didn’t matter if they were bats, bugs, baby pigs, puppies or parrots. Whatever the menagerie contained, I was happy just having them in my life.
It was only after I’d gone back home to Germany and wondered what to do next with my life that my beloved mother suggested I go to Munich and listen to Lorenz give a lecture. Before I left the house, she handed me her latest book “My life with little creatures’ and told me to stick around after his talk, hand him her book and then tell him I wanted to work at his animal research institute.
Hers was a bold recommendation, probably more spirited that I normally would have been. But as I adored my mother (whose book was not only written but also illustrated by her). I didn’t want to let her down. Nor did I dare ignore her advice which had been quite specific. So I did exactly as she said.
I’m not really the type who’s good at being a groupie. Nonetheless, it was true that I had read all of Lorenz’s books and was possibly even more of a fan of his than my mother. But I wasn’t nearly as clever or strategically-minded as she was, but I did as I was told. I also knew she had my best interest in her heart.
I was a ‘pretty little thing’ in those days, or so I was told. I had blond hair, blue eyes and as I was just 22, I also had youth in my favor. Once I reached Munich and found a seat near to the exit door, I listened attentively to his talk. I then went straight to the door he was likely to use and waited patiently, my mother’s book in hand. It took some time for him to come out of the lecture hall but once he did, I flashed the book in his face and smiled sweetly. I could see instantly that he was curious and possibly intrigued. As I handed it to him, I had that moment to tell him about the book and also to ask if I could possibly come work with him at his research institute. He didn’t say yes or no, but he told me to come to his office the following day.
I was elated and so was my mother. She was confident that my fate was sealed. I didn’t quite have the same confidence, especially after I arrived at his office and was told by his secretary to go away since he was not in! Fortunately, Dr Lorenz heard me imploring her to reconsider since I was only following his instruction. It was at that moment that he opened his door, greeted me warmly and invited me into his inner sanctum.
“Ah there you are Nani, do come in,” he’d said. I could see his secretary wasn’t pleased, but once inside, he offered to give me a tour of the entire institute. I felt so honored and exhilarated. But then he escorted me an incubator and showed me three large goose eggs. He explained that one of his recent research findings was that gooselings identify and bond with the first living being that they meet. He said that if I was around when those eggs hatched, I could help confirm his research findings. If I were the first living being that they saw, we could confirm whether they identified and bonded with me. If they did, he asked, would I be willing to take on the role of gosling mother and do whatever was the necessary. I didn’t know all that it would entail but without hesitation, I said yes.
Mothering any kind of new born creature had always been a delight/weakness to me. From the time I was a little girl, when we didn’t have funds to buy toys, it was the puppies, kittens and baby birds that had been my favorite playmates. In fact, as long as the creature had either feathers, fur or hairs all over its front and back, I was happy to have a new best friend. So initially I could see myself devoting my whole life to becoming an animal behaviorist like Conrad Lorenz.
That revelation was short-lived however since I soon realized that as much as I loved furry creatures, I was also an artist. It was in my blood since both my mother and grandmother were painters and illustrators. My step-father was a renowned painter and printmaker. And my real father, the man my mother described as ‘the love of her life', was a brilliant musician who had to flee Germany before I was born.
My mother never apologized for bringing me into this life despite my father having left her months before I was born. She also never denied her having loved him deeply even though he didn’t stick around. She understood that as a Jew, he had no choice but to flee for his life.
But she also loved Hap….., the man she finally married on the condition that he adopt me as his own. He adored my mother so he was happy to anything she wished. She wanted him to bring me up as if I were his blood kin which he did. He treated me like his little princess. He was also well aware of how austere my mother’s and my life had been during the war, so he wanted to ensure we would never be in want of anything ever again.
Both hap and my mother were delighted I became a goseling girl. I was consumed with taking care of these beautiful birds and watching them grow bigger and stronger by the day.
What no one was prepared for was the arrival of Harvey croze in my life. The young American doctoral student arrived one day with his professor from Oxford. It turned out that Dr. Lorenz and Dr. T were old friends and they had come to see Lorenz and his institute.
But as much as I hadn’t expected to me an attractive young English speaking boy in the hinterlands of Germany, I was delighted to finally have someone to speak to in English. I had loved my days in England as a student and I wasn’t just tired of always speaking German; apart from my gooselings and Dr Lorenz, I was also tired of living in Germany.
My instantaneous attraction to Harvey was undoubtedly mutual and I confess, I found his sense of humor charming. I would later learn that Harvey’s easy-going manner would appeal to a myriad of women, not only me. But at the time, all I could see was one elegant American scholar (charming gentleman) who wanted me to go away with him. Initially, it was to a conference in Switzerland but quickly the requests got more serious. For my part, I fell in love in a flash so that It wasn’t more than a few weeks before we were married.
But before Harvey could marry me, he felt compelled to ask for permission from Lorenz. Afterwards, he used to delight in telling the story of how he went to Conrad’s office and found him resting on his office sofa. It was a ritual he followed every afternoon after taking a certain medication that required him to lay on one side and then the other.
Conrad’s backside was facing Harvey when he arrived in the office. The old man didn’t turn around possibly because the medication required him not to move. Whatever the reason, when Harvey asked for my hand in marriage, Conrad replied, “Do you mean the pretty one?” referring to me since he had several young women who worked for him as I did.
Yes, Harvey replied. The doctor didn’t budge, but his response was affirmative: “Yes, of course.”
And so we went straight away for a civil wedding. It only took minutes and the deed was done. I was so happy it had never crossed my mind to imagine that just as easily as we were wed, it might be just as simple to end it all, which is what Harvey eventually did.
But for the time being, we were both in a state of bliss. And then boom, nine months later, Anselm was born.
We were already back in England by the time Anselm was born. Harvey was focused on writing his Ph.D and I was quickly discovering how easily art and Anselm became twin preoccupations in my life. I was somewhat surprised since I frankly had never seen myself as a mother of another human being. Mothering geese, dogs and cats came easily to me, but throughout my pregnancy I had my misgivings which I couldn’t share with Harvey. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t because I came to adore that baby bundle of light. What I hadn’t anticipated was how it felt bonding with my own child. He was beautiful and the three of us quickly became a family.
But even as I saw our lives as a loving adventure, I hadn’t realized that Harvey already had a roving eye. (October 18, 2017, pp 1714)