Excerpt

Prince Charming and His Soulmate|

Mum and Daddy met each other when Granny (her mother) sent Mum to a camp for disabled children. Mum had been deprived of oxygen at birth and could not walk without help, certainly during my lifetime. She could apparently walk better when she was younger. Granny thought it would be a good idea for Mum to go to camp with other children like herself. She must have regretted her decision many times over. It was here that Mum met Daddy. Mum fell down the stairs on the bus and my father, a conscientious objector, was a Personal Assistant (P.A.). He started work that moment on the stairs. It was love at first sight, but they had to go their separate ways after camp. Daddy later explained that he didn’t want to start anything with Mum while he was working at the camp. A short time later, Daddy was suddenly standing outside my grandparents’ house in Roskilde – quite some hours away from his home in Esbjerg. Mum told me that she somehow knew it was his tread on the steps outside the house. She had found her Prince Charming. Things moved fast for the two soul mates. They moved in together, Mum became pregnant and they got married.

CHAPTER 1|1972 – 1981

I was born one spring day, the same year as we joined the EF and got a new monarch. A queen, moreover. This was an auspicious start for Daddy’s little princess. I was the child of their dreams with long, black curls and big, brown eyes. The dandelions were in full bloom. I was given all the love and attention that small children crave. Daddy took loving care of me. He was so proud of his little Princess. Daddy was an unemployed electrician and a proper hippy. It was the swinging seventies, and Daddy loved rocking to the music of John Lennon or Pink Floyd. Like Mum, Daddy was golden-skinned and dark-haired with dark eyes. They were beautiful.

At the time of my birth, my parents were living in an apartment block in a suburb of Esbjerg. I remember draughts and rushing noises from that flat and some big wall-bars. The stale smell of pot, mold and dripping wax from candles stuck in old beer bottles were all part of the furniture. Daddy would pick me up for Mum to feed me and we would rock back and forth in the rocking chair, Mum holding me tight so I did not fall down. Her stiff legs hung down and stuck out to the side, so I could easily slide off her lap if she did not hold me tight with her hands. Her long hair tickled my face. When I sneezed or sicked up milk, Daddy would come and dry me up. Mum’s job was to feed me. Daddy saw to everything else. Mum couldn’t change me, but she would make honking noises on my tummy and give my big toe a loving nibble. Daddy always fumbled with the safety pin in my muslin nappy, when he changed me.

1973|Comfortably Numb[1]

I learned to walk when I was about a year old. I can vaguely remember crying and crying. Something hurt. Daddy removed my romper suit, thinking maybe it was too tight. It still hurt. Mum put her lovely, soft, warm hands on my knee. “There, there, sweetheart, it’s alright now”. When she sat there gently holding my knee, I could feel the warmth from her hands spreading through it. “Well I can ease your pain. Get you on your feet again”[2]. She would sometimes boil a concoction in the little, bent saucepan with the orange and brown flowers on it. This was then poured into a bag and wrapped in some of my muslin nappies. I often lay with this heavy dressing on. That hurt too. The weight was too much for my hips, which also hurt. In fact, all my joints ached, but I couldn’t explain this. Mum and Daddy took me to the doctor’s in Esbjerg. There was a flight of stone stairs up to his surgery, which was difficult to walk up. Daddy had to help Mum, as she couldn’t walk by herself, so I had to haul myself up step by step. I could just reach the horizontal railings. My right knee hurt. It felt hot and stiff, but I didn’t say anything although it hurt like mad. The nurse held me tight and took a blood test with a big needle. I screamed with fright as soon as they put the rubber tourniquet around my thin arm. “Your daughter has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis”, said the doctor.  When we got home Gran (Daddy’s Mum) blamed Mum. “Well, what can you expect,” she said, as if Mum’s cerebral hemorrhage was the cause of my arthritis.

I had an operation on my knee when I was a few years old. In the years to come, I had pain in all my other joints too. At nursery school, I was always allowed to sit in the handcart. It was lovely to be able to go on trips without suffering the pain of walking. However, the humping and bumping of the cart went right through me and that hurt too. The other children were cross with me. “Why can she sit in there? I want a turn too. It’s not fair.” This made me upset and nervous. What could I do so as not to feel left out? I didn’t say how much it hurt or how sad I was. The less I said, the easier it was to be one of the others. I sat quietly with Daddy, listening to Pink Floyd’s music blasting out. “When I was a child I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons”[3]

1976|Forgive Me my Little Flower Princess[4]

We moved to the country, to Tjaereborg, when I was in infant school. Everything was new – except the smell of pot. We lived in an old shop close to that lovely man, the vicar, who later became famous for his entrepreneurial activities[5]. He should also have been famous for his big heart. When he invited all the children in the neighborhood to the Shrovetide[6] party he always took special care of me. One year, when I was the butt of teasing because of my simple costume – I was dressed all in black and was wearing a Goofy mask – the vicar gave me the prize for the most original costume. One wave of the magic wand turned shame into pride. It took no more than that.

Our home was a complete contrast to the vicarage. I remember a low, orangey/brown, chenille sofa with wooden buttons and a coarse surface that scratched my bare legs. The wooden buttons were worn from being used to open beer bottles. The worn patches on the armrests and the places where people sat most were covered with Mum’s homemade patches. Hanging from the ceiling were pottery lamps, which shed a dim light, and rolls of flypaper that were always completely covered in dead flies. Daddy’s cigarette rolling gear was always at the ready along with half-used pipe cleaners, which could always be used again. Daddy used the long spoon-shaped knife of his Swiss knife to clean his pipe and his nicotine-stained fingernails. He always had loud music on, and he would sit beating the rhythm on half-full wine cartons and lighter fuel bottles. Daddy, his long brown hair flowing, pottered around with all his different plant cuttings in plant pots or plastic pots. Sometimes he sat drawing surrealist drawings, tossing his hair back. Then he would get angry and tie his thick hair back in an elastic band, before continuing. He was completely absorbed. The drawings were so important to him that he felt compelled to try to explain their deeper meaning to us, the uninitiated. “You’re such an idiot”, he would exclaim angrily. “Smoke a joint man and chill out.”

Daddy had brown puppy eyes. As he was washing and brushing his great mane of hair, he would tell me how to look after mine. He would look at me with those soulful eyes to check that I had combed my hair properly. Daddy helped me. He would brush my hair with the wooden brush with its black bristles. It hurt when he brushed my ear. If I didn’t stand still he would turn it over and smack my bottom with it. He scrubbed and scrubbed when he washed my hair. He held me tight when rinsing the soap out. I’m still scared of getting water in my eyes. My eyes stung, making me cry.  “Don’t be silly, it doesn’t hurt at all,” said Daddy, but I could feel that it hurt?! Daddy said I must keep myself clean and tidy. It was especially important to take good care of my hair. For, as he said: “If you’re lucky, Princess, you’ll have hair like mine one day, won’t you my little sweetie-pie?!”  I would sit on the toilet, looking at him in admiration, with the washing machine spinning away beside me. It was also in the bathroom that I saw Daddy sob inconsolably for first time. I later learned that it was the day John Lennon was shot.

Mum became pregnant again. It was the year Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK with ‘Save your Kisses for Me’ and Elton John had hit with ‘Don’t go breaking my Heart’. Please remember kisses for me. This actually sums up our situation very well. It also describes my feelings about my new role. I was very proud that I was going to be a big sister. I was going to look after my little brother or sister like nobody else before me. I was eager from the word go. I wanted to be a part of it all. When I wanted to help Mum out of the car and into the house, Daddy said: “No, Princess, it’s too dangerous for the baby in Mum’s tummy”. Strange, they always said I was so good at helping. When Katrine was born in October, I was proud as a peacock. At nursery school, I told everybody about her. Moreover, that she had a white forehead (because of the amniotic fluid).

My parents’ relationship started to go downhill. They were watching the film ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ one day. I asked them if they were going to get divorced too. “No sweetheart, we just argue a bit.” Daddy had started to shout at Mum a lot more. He hit her more often. I wasn’t convinced by the explanation that they were just arguing a bit. Something was terribly wrong.

I tried to comfort myself by cuddling Katrine and to forget that Mum and Daddy were fighting. I chatted away to her and she replied by pulling my long hair. “For God’s sake stop poking your big mug into the kid’s cot”, screamed Daddy. To me it was obvious that Katrine and I had to stick together. I’d do anything for her. My big sister gene went into overdrive. We liked playing together and Mum was patient with us. Daddy, on the other hand, was not. I was smacked, beaten, pulled and pushed around. When I couldn’t light the nightlights in the big iron candlestick with his cigarette lighter he got mad. I was useless. He reached out for his lighter, which was always on the coffee table. I knew that I had to get away fast and ran out of the room. He shouted angrily at me. I had to stand still and look at him so as not to make him even angrier. At that moment, the lighter flew through the room and hit me in the face. I still have a scar on my forehead from the heavy lighter. Daddy made me feel like a useless child, who always made everybody angry and didn’t deserve people’s love.

Mum used a big serving trolley to help her walk. She dragged her feet behind her, transporting everything on the trolley from food to Katrine in her carrycot. The trolley was a big hit – with us too. As we grew older, we played with it. We ran off with the trolley and pushed each other around on it. It also made a great den. You could put a rug over the top shelf and hide on the lower one. The pincers Mum used to pick things up off the floor were great for hauling things into the den with. When Daddy was out, we had a great time.

The house in Allerup, Tjaereborg, was on two floors. Katrine and I each had a room upstairs.  Another enormous staircase to be conquered no matter how much pain I was in. There was an Israeli living there too. He and his Danish girlfriend had one end of the first floor. Mum’s and Daddy’s bedroom was downstairs. Katrine and I never went down to their room and it was, of course, always Daddy, who came upstairs to us when I had wet the bed or something. Katrine and I often crept along the landing to the Israeli’s end. He was a bit exotic, surrounded by a haze of colours and strange smells. Some of the aromas were the same as those that clung to Daddy. His girlfriend had long blonde hair and she wore long, flowing, colourful garments and Jesus sandals on her bare feet. Watching them was exciting so we often sneaked round there. One day, they arrived home unexpectedly while we were exploring their room. We crept behind the enormous loudspeakers that were standing on the floor. It was really hard for me to get up and down from the floor.  I couldn’t manage to haul myself up from the floor before they came in. We just wanted to hide before they saw us. We saw them though. They played wild grown-up games under the coffee table on the colourful, long-haired Kelim rug after sucking a long pipe that was stuck in a jam jar and gave off lots of smoke and strange smells. Daddy sometimes smoked from a jar like that. It was probably a grown-up thing they had to do before they could play their games.

Mum and Daddy were proud of living in a commune – especially with someone who was not Danish. Mum and Daddy like showing that they loved their fellow men, and the term immigrant worker was forbidden in our home. This was always full of people who were colorful in every respect: actors, writers and immigrants. Our daily life was full of batik, velour and home knits. It was decorated with shiny badges with Venus symbols on them and ‘We vote no to apartheid’ and ‘Make peace not war’ slogans. I especially remember a yellow and red ‘Make peace not war’ poster. It was hanging just above the bed I collapsed into after getting extra many beatings one day.

We went on holiday with the Israeli-Danish couple. It was very practical when we went to Legoland together. Then Daddy could push Mum in the wheelchair with either Katrine or me on her lap. The other one  sat in the pushchair, which our friends pushed, and then they took turns to go on things with us while Daddy stayed with Mum. I would stick my tongue out at anyone who gawped at us: a motley crowd of hippies with an invalid woman and an immigrant in their midst.

When the grown-ups wanted to go in for a beer Mum had to get out of her big, clumsy wheelchair. The doors were always too narrow for the wheelchair to get through. When we were out with our friends, Mum always joked: “Look at me, Tina”, and then she would make a supreme effort to stand up and Daddy would cry out: “Wow, my wife can walk. It’s a bloody miracle, man – and in broad daylight too!” Then Mum and Daddy would laugh until they cried. I laughed too. It was so nice and relaxing in Legoland.

Mum’s and Daddy’s mood went up and down. Sometimes, I could hear them having fun in the bedroom. At other times, Daddy would suddenly lose his temper over something I didn’t understand. Mum would drag herself painfully after him with her trolley. If she didn’t manage to put him in a good mood again then she would also be grumpy, but in a more silent way.  We all had to go carefully. Nobody dared make Daddy angry.

I just didn’t understand my feelings. Sudden noises made me jump, just like Mum. I could get angry like Daddy or frightened like Mum. I thought that maybe I had a twin somewhere who would be able to supply the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I always felt that something was missing. What was it that I didn’t understand? Why did Daddy suddenly get so mad when he was sitting quietly working at something? Mum was scared. When she asked Daddy what was wrong, he clouted her.

When Daddy was angry, I could put him in a good mood again. I would make some funny comment to make him laugh or I would go out drinking with him. If Daddy didn’t want to help Mum I would give her a hand. When Mum didn’t look after Daddy I would tell her to “pull herself together.” I comforted her and tried to make sure they didn’t fall out. This was my mission day and night.

I so wanted to find answers to everything. I was constantly amazed by everything around me. Everything seemed to be alive, but nobody else seemed to notice this. There were no adults that I could ask about things, so I said nothing, except on one occasion when I answered a grown-up back: “No, I don’t want to take my teddy bear with me now because he’s feeling bad”. I really believed that teddy bears had feelings. I investigated everything with gusto. I opened the bird cage to see how the bird would fare fighting the cat. I must have been around five years old at the time. Daddy was very angry indeed. I still have a grim picture etched on my memory, both of just how angry Daddy could get, he probably hit me on this occasion too, but also of the bird fighting, screaming and scratching in the cat’s mouth. I’m still terrified of birds and cats.

I can’t remember the exact details of all the fights, but once, when I was very small and was crying at night, Daddy came in and threw me against the wall in his frustration. I hit the wall with my left side and I landed on the bed with such force that I bounced up in the air again. I still can’t bend and stretch my left arm properly as result. Why did Daddy keep hitting me when I always tried to be a good girl? It wasn’t the beatings that were the worst, but the times in between. In the terrifying silence, I would wait fearfully for things to go wrong again. If only I could be good enough. Therefore, I crept around trying to make everyone happy. It was terribly hard because it took so much time and energy. The beatings were quickly over and done with. The ensuing pain lasted for a shorter time than the constant pain of not being able to make everyone happy. Daddy beat Mum and sent me to my room, where I sat quietly rocking to and fro, singing fragments of a lullaby that I had heard in my distant childhood: “Hush a bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows the cradle will rock…”[7]

Daddy was so upset when he hit me: “I’m so sorry, Princess, I didn’t want to make you cry, I just got so angry with Mum because she doesn’t understand me. Don’t be afraid.” Daddy loved me, but was frustrated with his family. I had to forgive him fast if I was to keep the love of the only person I knew with certainty loved me – in spite of everything. I had to be a good girl and keep a low profile. I wanted to make Daddy see that I was worthy of his love. …


[1] Pink Floyd

[2] ‘Comfortably Numb’Pink Floyd

[3] ‘Comfortably Numb’Pink Floyd

[4] John Lennon

[5] Eilif Krogager, Vicar of Tjaereborg, founded  a highly successful and very popular travel company in 1950

[6] In Denmark, children play games and dress up at Shrovetide

[7] Traditional lullaby

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