LIKE A flash of lightning a pain went through my body—and a moment later I landed on the floor.
Danger! Help! But not from this adult here beside me who is now so shocked and wants to examine me—No! I don't want him now! I love him, but in a moment of danger he is not the person I want.
I ran back into the room towards a strange, beautiful woman to whom we had just said good night. I knew that she would help me in a completely understanding way. At other times, too, I liked to be near her; I always liked the scent about her, and I always found I was in perfect safety in her presence. Now, in my panic, I ran to her in search of help. I whined as I showed her my plump little hand that was hanging down like a limp rag, refusing to obey me any more. The beautiful woman looked at my hand, threw aside the dress on which she was sewing and cried out:
'Robert! Robert! Come quickly!'
A door opened, and the grown-up man about whom I dimly knew that he lived with us and somehow belonged to us, came in. For the first time I looked at him with real attention. He was a tall man with a face like ivory; hair, beard and moustache as black as ebony, eyes glowing black, and he always radiated so much force and strength, that everybody around him was kept at a certain distance. He cast one glance at my limp and useless hand and said, 'A doctor! Stefl, get a doctor immediately.'
Uncle Stefl ran away and the tall dark man asked us what had happened. So we told him. After Grete and I had said good night, Uncle Stefl took me on to his back and carried me that way into the bedroom. There he let me slide off, but I slid too fast. To keep me from falling, he suddenly grabbed my hand. In the same moment I felt a violent stab of pain in my right wrist. Then when I tried to raise my hand, it just hung limp.
'Yes,' said the tall adult, 'her wrist is sprained. The worst part of it is that I am just leaving on a business trip and cannot wait until the doctor comes. All night long I will be sitting on pins and needles. Wire me as soon as the doctor is through; tell me what he has done.'
He kissed us and mother and went away. I looked up astonished to the strange beautiful woman who had always pointed to herself and said 'Mother' and whom we therefore called mother.
Up to that moment I had been crying and bawling for all I was worth. I was badly disappointed and frightened to find out that the adults could not help me. They were not able to stop the pain that was torturing me more and more; nor were they able to fix my hand the way it was before. When I heard that the tall dark adult was going to have to spend all night sitting on pins and needles, I was so astonished and so concerned for him that I suddenly forgot about crying and asked mother, 'Why is he going to have to sit on pins and needles all night long?' At first mother gave me a look of amazement and then began to laugh and said, 'Because father is all excited about your hand'.
But what kind of an answer was that! Simply nonsense! It didn't explain anything. The tall man we called 'father' was completely in earnest when he said he was going to be sitting on pins and needles—and now mother was laughing at me. Why? I had only repeated what father had said. What did she mean by saying that father was 'all excited' and why did that mean that he was going to have to sit on pins and needles? Would that mean that he was going to be dangerously pricked? Mother spent a lot of time sewing and she had shown me how dangerous a needle can be; the point of a needle can be very unpleasant. That hurts! That's why needles should only be used for sewing. So what kind of nonsense was this, the adults were giving me again—just because my hand was so helpless and painful that I had to hold it with the other hand? Why did that mean that father was going to spend the whole night sitting on pins and needles, when after all they are only supposed to be used for sewing? I was already pretty used to the fact that adults often talked nonsense and did senseless things, but this was too much, and I insisted on knowing more. But I did not get the chance to ask more questions about this 'sitting on pins and needles' because Uncle Stefl. returned with the doctor.
The doctor was a tall, impressive, friendly man who looked at me as if we had known each other a long time. He lifted me up high and so took me out of the protective nearness of my mother. That filled my heart with terrible fear; the movement caused a new wave of torturing pain, and I began to bawl again for all I was worth. The doctor set me on' the table—I saw my little feet dangling very close under my breast—and he shook his head as he laughed and said, 'Oh how ugly this little girl is when she is crying!'
I was stunned. What? He says I am ugly when I am crying? How does he know that? Up till now I always thought one could see everything except me. Everything and everybody else, the adults, the cook, Grete, the canary bird, my toys—in fact everything round about me was visible, even my hands, my little tummy, and my feet, but I myself could not be seen. I was present, but yet not present, somewhere but invisible. I had never yet seen myself, and I could not for the life of me imagine how it could be possible to see this something, this fl'. So how could it be possible for this adult to see my desperation, my pain, my crying: that is 'me'? Goodness! If he sees me, my amazed and horrified condition, that must really be 'ugly'. For sheer wonder and amazement, I stopped crying and looked at the doctor quizzically.
Then all the adults began to laugh out loud, and mother said, 'See how vain this little girl is! She is even suppressing her pain in order not to appear ugly.'
There we were again. Here was another one of those senseless remarks by adults. 'Vain'—what is that? How could I be vain when I didn't even know what that was, and how could I 'appear' when I did not even know that I was visible? Up to now I had always thought that I was the person doing the seeing. I it was who saw everything round about but I was in some way or other outside of the visible. All this was going around in my head, and I just wanted to ask another question when the doctor took hold of my limp little hand and pulled it hard, so hard I wanted to scream again—it hurt so terribly! —The crazy man is going to pull my hand clean off! I thought—but then he twisted the little hand that somehow or other was fastened on to me, because it hurt 'me' terribly, and all of a sudden it was in its right place again.
'There we are,' said the doctor. 'Now the joint will swell up a little bit, so for tonight we will bed it down on a pillow, and pretty soon we can forget the whole matter.'
Then the adults went on talking about how vain I was, saying that for pure vanity I had not even cried out when the doctor was twisting my wrist back into place. Mother was particularly impressed by this and that made me sad. I could see that the strange beautiful woman whom I already loved very much just did not understand me. And even though the doctor could see me, 1 was certainly invisible to mother. Nevertheless she radiated a wonderful love, and a little later, as I lay in my bed, with my hand resting on a pillow, I was happy that her fine sweet face leaned over me from time to time and smiled down at me encouragingly. She radiated sweetness and warmth, and as long as she was near I did not feel alone or abandoned. I knew that I could count on her; to a certain extent she was in my power, and I had complete confidence in her. Gradually I fell asleep. The night passed, and my hand again became the obedient instrument, the faithful friend that, later on in life was to bring me so much joy—so very much joy—and was to help awaken me out of my unconscious state.
But the doctor was wrong! I never did forget the matter, and through the law of association he has remained permanently and indissolubly connected with my first awakening and my first becoming conscious in this life. From now on my consciousness—my memory—was constantly awake. From now on I observed everything, everything around me as well as within me, with the greatest attention and with uninterrupted concentration. From now on I knew that I lived in a home where the tall, dark, and powerful adult was unconditionally master. Mother called him 'Robert' and we had to call him 'father'. The whole household revolved around him; mother belonged to him body and soul. His power spread over all of us, and later over many thousands of people, like a tent, like a protective envelope. Everybody that belonged to father's sphere of influence enjoyed help, security and prosperity. During the morning hours father was not at home so I could be with mother. I was permitted to accompany her in the whole apartment, even in the kitchen, and oft times when she sat quietly embroidering a big tablecloth with brightly coloured threads, I was permitted to sit beside her and amuse myself by 'embroidering' various patterns according to my own imagination, using the same brightly coloured threads. At midday father came home, and after lunch Grete and I had to go to the children's room, something I did not like at all. Grete was also a child of the house, like myself, only—as I was told—she was three years older than I. At the time I sprained my wrist she was four and a half and lone and a half.
The following summer we spent our vacation in a village beside a great body of water. We lived in a little farmhouse that was surrounded by a large garden and a big farm. Grete and I were allowed to run around barefoot, and we were also permitted to accompany a woman with a very brown and wrinkled face when she went to the barn where there was a cow, a calf and a number of rabbits with red eyes. That was all very thrilling. In the garden there were gigantic yellow flowers, seemingly as high as trees, that always turned in the direction of the sun. I liked them too, father came only from time to time, and when he did people said, 'Today is Sunday'. The rest of the time we were alone with mother and I could spend the whole day with her. Every day we went down to the lake and bathed and splashed happily in the water.
One day mother said, 'Tomorrow is Sunday, but today is already a big day, and we are going to have a lot of fun, because father is coming.' That definitely did not impress me as such a happy event, because I was only very slightly interested in father and I knew for sure that when he was with us mother's time was always taken up with him. At such times I had to go for a walk with Grete and with Sophie, the grown-up daughter of the wizened old farmer's wife.
During the evening while we were waiting for father, I suddenly heard our neighbours telling mother that the 'Train had run off the track' and that was the reason why father had not yet arrived. Mother was horror struck. She called Sophie, entrusted me to her care, asking her to pay close attention to me and not to leave me alone a moment. Then she hurried to the station. Grete was allowed to accompany her, as Grete was 'three years older' and could walk better than I could. I stayed alone with Sophie.
It was already dark, and for the first time I was allowed to be up and outside in the garden at this time of day. It was very thrilling, although I did feel a bit uneasy, as I was accustomed to seeing everything in daylight, and now the world around me was so unclear. I had a feeling of being near trees and flowers, rather than of seeing them. And the poplar trees whispered in such a mysterious way. But there was no more time for me to make further observations about the garden and the flowers, because suddenly something fearful happened: Sophie picked me up, crooked an arm about me and carried me to the garden fence where a horrible apparition rose up out of the darkness. It looked like a man but had a fearful kind of bush of feathers on its head, its eyes sparkled in the darkness like burning coals, on its jacket there were tiny buttons, and over its shoulder it carried something I instinctively felt to be terribly dangerous. Later I heard the name 'rifle'. I found this sinister being very repugnant and hoped that Sophie would take me away as fast as possible. But to my great amazement, Sophie again did something completely senseless—true to form, of course. Instead of running away, she went up very close to the fence and allowed the horrible apparition to whisper something to her in a terribly deep voice. Then the man—by this time I knew it was a man—put his arms around her and held her tight. Since Sophie was holding me in one arm, he was holding me tight too, much to my distaste and great displeasure. But that wasn't all! He had a gigantic moustache, and its two 'branches' stuck out from his face like sharp horns. Next he pulled Sophie quite close to himself and acted as if he wanted to bite her. I expected that Sophie, in the face of this deportment, would finally run away. But no, with her free arm she embraced the neck of the terrible apparition, and when he wanted to bite —or eat—her, she did not turn her face away but held her mouth to his, and both of them acted as if each were absolutely bent on eating up the mouth of the other. All this time they were squeezing me so hard I could scarcely breathe. I fought with all my strength to keep this horrible apparition as far away as possible, struggling to keep my nose free. His presence was unspeakably unpleasant. He smelled of all kinds of things, and a certain kind of bitter smell was particularly repugnant. But neither he nor Sophie paid the least attention to me, squeezing my head so tightly that I heard the man's heart beating, while both of them acted for all the world as if each wanted to slip into the mouth of the other. Gracious! these adults and the funny things they do! As they hugged each other, I could not for the life of me imagine what had got into the modest, quiet little Sophie. She was like a strange person who paid no attention to my struggles. And then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the horrible apparition released us and disappeared into the darkness. A moment later I heard the comforting voices of mother and father, and soon their happy faces appeared out of the darkness. All the neighbours gathered round and asked father about the derailing of the train. Sophie acted as if nothing had happened, not even bothering to tell anybody what a horrible being had held her in its arms only a few minutes earlier. She just stood there with her calm, innocent face. That was another big surprise for me, but I had no time to think about it, for father had brought us bonbons from the city and I was extremely eager to find out whether I was going to get as many as Grete.
I was satisfied; to each of us he had brought the exact same bonbons. And now it was mother's turn to spoil my fun; for just as I wanted to stick all the bonbons into my mouth at once, she took them away and gave me just one, promising that I could have another one the next day after lunch. Oh my!
Someday when I'm grown up, I'll eat as many bonbons as I want all at once!
But this time I had to give them up and go to bed. As mother was putting me to bed, I asked her just before we said our prayers (for afterwards I was not allowed to speak), 'Mother, what is it that wears a bush of feathers on its head, carries something strange on its shoulder, has buttons that shine in the dark, and smells so terribly bad—Mother, what is it?'
Mother gave me a surprised look and said, 'Why, darling, that's a soldier.' 'Mother,' I asked again, 'do soldiers eat people?' I wanted to know whether he really wanted to eat Sophie, or what else could he have wanted?
'No, no,' mother answered laughing, 'they take care of good people; don't be afraid, he doesn't want to eat you.'
I wanted to tell her that it was Sophie he wanted to eat, not me, but mother kissed me, covered me up and said, 'Now, just go to sleep, dear, I have to go to father.'
I lay there alone with my thoughts, and went on wondering for a long time.
I just could not understand what the soldier could have wanted from Sophie, and why Sophie let him hold her so tight that I was forced into his unpleasant presence. What did this all mean? Like everything I could not understand, the matter upset me. But finally I fell asleep. Next day the sun shone brightly, and after I had received my bonbon, we all went down to the lake to bathe and splash. On the way we met the soldier. Then I saw in daylight that he was a friendly adult who spoke cheerfully with father. Only I could not understand why he acted as if he had never seen me before in his life. He certainly must have known what happened yesterday! But I was still afraid of his gigantic moustache and did not dare ask any questions. . .
Dating from this same summer there is another memory that I have carried with me through the years, arising from an experience that made a profound impression upon me. One afternoon—father was with us and the farmers were all sitting in their good clothes in front of their houses, so I knew that it was Sunday—we heard the village bells ring. But their ringing was not at all of the usual kind. They rang as if they couldn't stop ringing. They rang and rang. Their ringing put an end to the Sunday peace and quiet for the whole village. In a few minutes everyone seemed to be running past our house, all going in the same direction. Then father and the son of the wizened old woman ran off too; everyone was carrying buckets and axes. Mother and a few other women remained behind with us children, and the woman kept repeating the same words: 'Oh, my Heavenly Father, do not desert us, Oh, my Heavenly Father, do not desert us!' Mother, too, was very serious as she said: 'We must all of us pray together that father comes back to us alive.'
I asked where he had gone and why. Mother said that a fire had broken out in the village, and father had gone to help fight it. We prayed, but I was very curious about what 'fire in the village' meant. One woman vouchsafed the information that 'the tongues of flame' could be seen from the edge of our garden. I wanted to go to look, but mother did not allow me. Grete, however, was allowed to go along with the son of the owner of the nearby grocery store, to look at the fire, something I considered bitterly unjust. Why should she be allowed, again and again, to do things I was not allowed to do, just because she was three years older? If fire is dangerous, then it's just as dangerous for her as for me, even if she is 'three years older'! Oh, these three years! How many more times will I have to hear that she is three years older, every time she is allowed to do something and I am not, and every time I refuse to recognize and tolerate her authority!
Late in the evening a few men came back past our house, then more and more, all exhausted from their efforts and talking about how father had saved several houses, how he had defied death again and again by plunging into burning houses to save children or animals, and how he had been an untiring leader whom all the rest of the men had obeyed. With a steady stream of inspired ideas and with his unshakable courage, he set an example that others followed so that everyone performed extraordinarily well and the fire was finally localized. Mother listened proudly, and when father finally came home with the son of the wrinkled, old farmer's wife, mother threw herself into father's arms. 'Oh, you dear, dear Robert, how wonderful you are! Wonderful in every way!'
Father smiled silently. He was covered with soot, and withdrew quickly to wash and get cleaned up.
To me it seemed a completely natural thing that father was such an exceptional person. The concept 'Father' was identical in my mind with that of the 'Great Master' who was above everyone and whose will everyone had to follow. His word is law, and obviously he is perfect. If it were not so, he would not be the 'Great Master'! In those days I was only very slightly interested in father. He simply meant for me an unshakable feeling of security. He was no problem for me, so I paid very little attention to him. Only when the whole family was out walking—father, mother, Grete and I—and with his powerful hand he took hold of mine to help me across a street, I noticed that his hand seemed to radiate tremendous strength and that his finger nails were always as clean as fresh snow. So for me it was obvious that father wanted to wash himself free of soot and grime immediately.
The summer passed, and we were back at home again. Once I noticed that when mother was getting me ready for a walk, she bundled me up in a heavy coat and fur cap. The air outside felt as if it were biting my skin. People told me that it was 'cold'. My nose and my feet did not like it. But there were white flakes floating down out of the sky, and everywhere in the stores there were Santa Clauses with white beards. And later there came a time when mother put a straw hat on my head and helped me slip into a light coat. The fields and gardens were alive with flowers, and we were permitted to play with our ball and our hoop in the city park.
This was a period in my life when I could have been completely happy if my mother had not made my life bitter from time to time by cutting my finger nails. I was even afraid in advance when I sensed that the day for trimming my nails was nearing. The skin under my finger nails was so sensitive that to touch anything at all after my nails were cut, even the contact with the air itself, caused me terrible suffering. After each trimming I would run around the room screaming, with my fingers spread apart, not allowing anything to touch me. I could not say that it was pain I felt. No, it was not pain, but an unbearable feeling. When mother noticed it for the first time, she did not know what was wrong with me. She thought she had perhaps cut me without noticing it and wanted to inspect my fingers. But I yelled when she merely touched me, so loud that she was frightened and called our family doctor and asked him what could be the matter with me. He explained to her that my nerves were over-sensitive to a very unusual degree. He advised my mother to bathe my hands in lukewarm water, each time she trimmed my nails, letting me splash around in the water for a while. That did help somewhat, but many years were to pass before my skin was strong enough for me to cut my nails without undergoing this unbearable sensation.
My dear, darling mother! With how much loving understanding and tenderness you tried to overcome all the difficulties caused by this over—sensitivity of mine. If you had not surrounded with your tender love my sensitive nerves, I would have died in early childhood. Only with your help was I able to grow up in health, slowly and purposefully developing resistance. The warm soft nest that you and our loving, generous father built for us children enabled me to become a useful person. You helped me learn, through consciously developed powers, to keep my sensitivity in balance. I was just a child then and had not the slightest inkling about my sensitivity. I merely observed everything and wanted to know everything, while with regard to my health I merely followed your advice. I had perfect confidence in you!