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Excerpts from The Secondhand Man, by Karin Jaeckel, Ph. D.

Book information


Socially uprooted: TORE, OLLI, MASCHA [p. 45]

TORE: I'm from a good family

15 years.  Orphan of divorce for ten years.  Lives presently in a home for homeless youth.  Mother repeatedly divorced and re-married and presently cohabits with a boyfriend.

Father: Lives in Turkey

Grounds for divorce: Extra-marital affair of the mother and separation by wish of father.

No joint custody  

I'm from a good family.  Father, mother, six children.  Everything clean and well-kept.  A small rowhouse, car.  A good, civil life.  Until my mother got the notion to go catting and my father caught her at it.  Then divorce, house gone, car gone, everything gone.

    My father tried to get us children.  We all wanted to go with him, because somehow we couldn't put up with what mother had done.  Because she had brought that guy to us and slept with him in the living room, and father sat in the children's room and wept, because he couldn't do anything anymore and all was going down the sewer, what he had built for himself.

    However, my father never had a chance to get us.  And at that time nobody had listened to us.  They held us to be incapable.  They had to let others decide for us what was good for us.  The judge only said that children belong to the mother and that my father wouldn't have any time anyway, to care for us, because he had to bring home the bacon.  Aside from that, that my mother had always done a pretty god job with us.  That that was obvious to anyone who cared to look.  That there would therefore be no reason that she couldn't continue to manage that well with us.  That broke my father's heart somehow, I believe.  At any rate, he quit his job and took off to Turkey or somewhere else, where he doesn't have to pay alimony.

    And my mother had all of us around her neck
[like a millstone], no kidding.  To her that stank to heaven, because she had figured that it would all be different.  She had thought that the old goat would pay, and that she would be on easy-street with her new-one.  And now it was all nothing.

    We then got an apartment in socially-assisted housing.  There the hallway stank from people having pissed against the walls, and from Schnapps and from cooked sourkraut.  In the other apartments there too were families with too many children and not enough money.  For us that was all strange at first.  But we quickly got used to it.  Primarily because mother eventually started to invite lovers and to throw us out while they were there.  Regardless of what kind of weather there was.  She didn't want us to see that, she said.  But that we knew about it was just as bad.

    Because we now live in another burrough, we had to go to a different school too, and my smaller siblings into a different creche.  Our friends from before were gone too.  I think that we were so really torn from everything.  And then somehow, too, we couldn't get solid ground under our feet anymore.  Because my father was already gone then.  And my mother, though present, wasn't there for us.

    During that time I started to rove around and to filch things.  First only in department stores, and I filched only small things: sometimes candies and sweets, cigarettes.  Nothing special.  They caught me a few times and squealed on me to my mother and set Social Services on her.  And then one of her guys, who actually was at that time continuously at our place, really beat me up.  That was something totally new.  Sure; I had caught one now and then from my father.  Like with the open hand on the cheek or maybe once on the back-side.  But that now, that went right down to it.

    That type, he took the leather belt, that had a metal buckle, and then he went at it.  That's when I got the first bruises.  However, that didn't improve me.  The opposite.  Now I'll go for it in spite of it, I thought, I won't be told anything by a pig like you.  And then I got involved with a youth-gang, and became the look-out for them, broke into cars, pulled wallets, emptied vending machines — whatever it is that one does there.  After they caught me a few times they told my mother that I have to go to a
[correctional] home, because she can't manage me anymore.  My mother, I believe, was quite happy about that, because there was one mouth less to feed.

    However, I didn't wait for them to pick me up, but instead went with my friend to Amsterdam.  That was more or less the start of everything.  And I think until today that it would all have run quite differently if my parents would have stayed together.

    That's not to say that they wrecked my life.  I'm not saying that at all.  I won't hold anyone guilty for what I have done.  However, I have my own thoughts about it all.  I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.  And then I always ask myself whether that little bit of sex that my mother had was worth it all.

    That doesn't mean that sex is shitty.  Not at all.  It can be strong.  But, to throw away everything for it?  However, apparently it had a higher priority for my mother.  She didn't conceive six children by being pollinated through the wind, I feel.  However, that's not my thing.

    If I can get my life in order, and manage the school and then an apprenticeship, and then get away from the street and find a bride that I find to be truly good, then there must be more than just sex.  And I mean a hundred-plus.  And if that comes about, then I want, too, that it holds together with her, that we grow old together and maybe have one, two children and be a real family.  That's like a dream with me.  I haven't given up on it yet.

OLLI: Actually, I have no-one at all

13 years.  Orphan of divorce for four years.  Lives with his mother

Father: Co-habits with his girlfriend and her children

Grounds for divorce: repeated mutual violence of the parents, and her wish to separate.

No joint custody  

I actually got the impression pretty early that my parents wanted to divorce.  They fought continually.  They even beat each other up.  One time my mother wanted to use a beer bottle to bash-in the head of my father.  She didn't, at any rate.  In spite of that, I still see it often in front of my eyes.

    At that time they constantly asked with whom I would want to live, when they separate.  That was a heavy load on me.  I never could make that decision.  Then too, at that time I cried a lot.

    Somehow, I actually was in constant fear.  I don't know of what: actually, of everything.  That made me really crazy.  No, not like with a clinic and a room with rubber walls.  But, inside, so within me.  That was all somehow …yeah, I don't actually don't know that either.  Odd, in any case, different.

    And then, too, I couldn't sleep properly.  I eavesdropped constantly, whether my parents were fighting again.  And when I then heard the nagging and the swearing, and how my mother threw utensils and my father yelled that he would hit her in the mouth right away, then that was really bad.  Then I didn't know anything anymore.  That's when I thought that I would like it best if I were dead.  And that they would be able to get along with one another if I were gone.

    In spite of that, it was almost worse when they got along for a while.  That's when I always had such a crazy hope.  That's when I promised to them that I would be always totally good and such.  Only that they wouldn't get divorced.

    And then, two days later, it would blow up again.  And then I always got the feeling that it was on account of me.  Because I acted up again and got to be a bother to them.  Then, too, that's what they told me without end.  That on account of me my mother couldn't  go to work anymore and that they couldn't go on vacation any longer and such.

    And that's why I filched sleeping tablets from my grandma and took them all.  I could hardly get them down, that's how bitter and revolting they were. And then I lay down in my bed and waited to die.

    But then I didn't die anyway.  You can see that!  All I got was a stomach ache and had to spit for hours.  And when my parents noticed that, that's when the mess really hit the fan.  After that I hardly did homework anymore, hung around outside and got into trouble with everyone.

    Then they sent me to the school psychologist.  And he did such a therapy with me.  We constantly used figures to set up family situations and such stuff.  Well anyway, that was okay.  But when we then spoke about my father or about my mother and what they do to one another, that's when I often got a bad conscience.  Because at times I told things that actually shouldn't be of concern to anyone.

    At the divorce, too, I was  asked whom I wanted to be with.  That's when I said, with my father and with my mother, because I want to keep them both.  That's when the judge
[a woman] said, that that wouldn't work out, because a child must have a real home and that I have to go with my mother.  They said, too, that I can go to visit my father during vacations or on weekends and that he would always be there for me.

    Because the city is quite far away, my father couldn't visit me very often.  And if he then wanted to come, then my mother said that on that weekend she wanted to do something with me and that he shouldn't come.  To me she said then that he had forgotten about me, that he didn't care about me anyway and that she wants that he should stay away all-together.  Then my father didn't come at all anymore.

    But my mother didnt have any time for me, because she was constantly on the go with her new boyfriend.  Well, they did take me along at times.  But mostly they drove by themselves and brought me to an aunt of the new boyfriend or to his old grandpa.  That was idiotic.

    I'm still living with my mother.  I believe that she's doing fairly well.  She works again, gets around a lot.  She already has a new boyfriend again.

    My father too has another one.  He even has children again: those from his girlfriend.  Sometimes he telephones me or writes to me.  But that is totally nuts somehow.

    Actually, I have no-one at all.

MASCHA: Somewhere along the way my father was suddenly gone

16 years.  Orphan of divorce for five years.  Lives with her mother

Father: Where-abouts unknown

Grounds for divorce: Extra-marital affair of the mother and her wish to separate.

No joint custody  

My parents got divorced two years ago, but had separated two years before that.  In the beginning, my mother had a boyfriend who after my parents' separation immediately moved in with us.  When the divorce came through and my mother wanted to marry him, my mother's boyfriend left her.  He said that he had no desire to raise the kids of strangers.

    The separation of my parents was absolutely terrible for me.  Because my mother was working full-days as a sales-representative, and my father, being a teacher, had far more time for me than she had, he was the most important person to whom I could relate.

    It had totally passed me by that my parents had wanted to separate.  Somehere along the way my father was suddenly gone.  My mother told me that he wouldn't come back to us.  And on the same day my mother's boyfriend moved in with us.  I understood nothing of it.  I was still fairly small at the time.  My father sent me a letter and explained to me that it would  be better for us if we weren't to see one another anymore, because he wouldn't be able to bear anything else.  He would otherwise miss me too much.

    My mother's boyfriend and I couldn't get along very well.  He always pretended that he had the right to tell me something or to educate me, and he acted as if he were the greatest.  At first I tried to discuss that with my mother.  But she wanted to know nothing about it.  I didn't mean much to her.

    I ran away a few times and started to steal in department stores.  My performance in school became fairly bad.  The only explanation I have for that today is that I wanted thereby to force my father to come back.  But he didn't.

    Then came the divorce, and mother's boyfriend moved out.  Shortly thereafter my mother began to drink.  Today she is dependent on alcohol and behaves as if she were the child and I the mother.  She literally clings to me and weeps and begs that I shouldn't leave her.  I truly pity her.  But I also feel enormous anger against her, because she over-taxes me with her demands and because everything that went wrong with us is basically her fault.  I never heard again from my father.

    My mother told me quite a while ago that in the years before the divorce he had asked time and again whether he could be allowed to write to me or come to visit me or have me visit him.  She never gave him permission.  She told him that she wanted to construct a new family with her boyfriend and that my father had to do without me, or else he would make me unhappy.

    I intend that as soon as I'm of age that I'll visit my father.  My mother won't be able then to forbid it any longer.  I don't know whether I want to live with my father then.  But I want to ask him why he never fought over me, why I wasn't worth that much to him.

_____________
Posted 1999 06 07
Updates:
2001 02 08 (format changes)
2007 12 16 (reformated)