(In which Annie wants to meet with Dieter.)
One evening my phone rang and Annie told me what their plans were. “We would like to let you know that we are going ahead with adopting that little girl. How have you been? I imagine you’re busy looking after Molly’s girls.” Then she said goodbye. There wasn’t a great deal of warmth in her voice but at the same time there was no chill either.
That was about the extent of it. I was delighted for her but at the same time it hurt terribly. I did think that in some way I had helped her to get to this and she could have at least thanked me.
But three days later she called again. “If you’re not doing anything would you like to drop around for a coffee? And Vera has just taken some scones out of the oven.” I looked at the clock and worked out how the time fitted in with the school day and walked over to their place.
It was good to see Annie again. She seemed a lot better than that terrible cold angry time when she had sent me away. This time she seemed more at ease with herself. The hurt was still there but there must have been an acceptance and a resolution.
“I’m really sorry about the way I spoke to you the other day, and I’m really glad the virus stopped you from going back to Australia. You have been very kind to me. I think you understand me a little better than most. I asked you over here because I want to ask you a question and I promise I won’t get upset with you. Although I might get upset with what you tell me.”
“You can ask me any question you like but I might not answer you. At least not the way you like.”
“It is a very simple question. Why am I still so angry about the Nazis and the fact that they killed my Grandfather? Why has my mother accepted Dieters apology and I won’t? I can understand the logic behind forgiveness like it is written on that last paver. And Dieter is such a kind and gentle man. But what is stopping me? I have tried and tried to answer my own question. So that is my question. Why can’t I let go like Vera has?”
“Oh wow! Annie. That is such a question.”
I think I’ve got a bit of an answer. I might be wrong but maybe I’m not. I was thinking of Katie and how angry I was when she died and how that was added to my continuing anger at the loss of our baby. But I’m not sure I can explain that to Annie.
“How long do you think it has really bothered you?” I asked and then I stopped her answering. “Now, just wait a moment. I want to ask you a few things first? I’m thinking out loud here Annie. Have you always been so angry? When you were a little girl Vera would not have told you about your grandfather. Not until you were old enough to understand. Did you ever notice all the cement buildings and the memorial stones and ask who were these for?
“So my question is when? You can answer now. Think about it and take your time.”
Annie thought for a while. I watched her eyes. They were dancing back and forth from the trees to the flowers to the clouds in the sky as she shuffled her mind. Then she took a slightly deeper breath.
“Well, Jack. Since I’ve been at home on sick leave I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’ve gone to the museums and to the Jersey Tunnels and I’ve read a lot. Maybe I didn’t think about it before but I have since I’ve had all this time. But that doesn’t answer my question.”
“Well it might. I think it might answer your question a lot more clearly than you could imagine. Now I know why you’re at home. William told me a bit and Molly told me a bit. Let me explain what I think. You are trying to deal with the two things at the same time. You just lost a baby and you are so angry that you can’t stop being angry about losing your Grandfather as well. I don’t think I’ve put that as well as I should, but the two things go together.”
“They’re not the same, Jack. My Grandfather was murdered by the Germans but nobody killed my baby. He just died. How are they linked?”
“Can I talk about Katie? My Katie. We lost a baby. The baby we lost would have been a boy, not that it makes any difference. Katie went through a whole range of emotions and feelings. Maybe I did too but to a lesser extent. First of all it was the shock. Then there is the standard denial that every psychologist talks about in those infernal self-help books. My sister lost a son when he was twenty-two. It was a car accident. And that is a whole lot different than for you. She has all the photos and memories of him to remind her everyday. You might think that’s worse, but I’ll tell you something, Annie. It is not worse to lose a grown up child. She does have those memories to hold on to. You have nothing but your dreams. Just like Katie had nothing but her dreams. And my dreams. I sometimes think that’s what caused the cancer. I don’t know if it’s medically or scientifically sound but it’s what I feel.
“You lost a baby just the same way Katie did. I don’t know how big your heart is but even if it is huge you can’t carry that loss and the loss of your grandfather with you as well. Losing a baby is big enough for anyone. You really must let your grandfather go.”
I stopped. I don’t think I had anything left to say. I went into the kitchen and stole a glass of Vera’s brandy and took it out to the garden. The sun wasn’t shining but at least it was warm. Before I sat down under the shadowy Rowan I looked through the window. Vera had gone to Annie and was holding her in her arms. There were too many tears for this old man to take so I walked down the garden to the back and looked out over the fence at the trees and grass of the golf course. All I could see was Katie and flat red earth and I wanted to go home. If Katie wasn’t there at least something of her would be.
When I walked back to Vera and Annie they were sitting and talking quietly. The tears had been mopped up and there was the hint of a smile on both faces. Vera was the first to speak.
“You know Jack, when you were talking about losing a child and losing a grandparent I realised that I have been very close to losing Annie. She has been getting more and more distant from me since the baby….” She didn’t finish her sentence; she didn’t need to because Annie took over.
“And I nearly lost my mother. And William,” she said. “I pushed them both away. I didn’t really know why but I think I was punishing myself. I have asked Mother to invite Dieter to dinner tonight. I don’t know how I will handle it but it is time I tried. I want you to come as well. Will you come?”
“No Annie. I think it’s something for you and your mother and William. And anyway,” I said, smiling, “I don’t think I can handle so much emotion all on the one day.”
She didn’t argue. Today Annie was allowing herself to be as strong as she has always been. I think we all need to give ourselves permission to think and feel in ways that we have hidden before. I know I’ve said it many times, but the day Katie gave me permission to cry was one of my best days.
…..to be continued.