I turned 15 years old in 1988.
In Aschaffenburg, Germany, a school bus would pick up the high school students at 6:45 a.m. to take them at the nearest high school in Hanau, which was 45 minutes away. The students were all children of those who served in the Army; military brats, we were called. Along the way, the bus ride took its passengers through little German towns. These towns had cobblestone streets and market places to pick up the daily fresh made brotchen, a bread roll baked to be eaten with eggs first thing in the morning. The bus always stopped at an intersection every morning in one of the towns. I would watch the same people cross the street to pick up their brotchen.
One of them was an older woman who may have been in her mid 50’s. She wore a head scarf and a knee length wool skirt every day. Her shoes were made of tough brown leather, its color to mask any of the dirt she may have picked up during her walk. The corners of her mouth drooped down creating a perfect symmetry of lines etched on her cheeks. Every morning I’d watch her cross the street the same time the school bus stopped at the intersection. I nicknamed her Frolein because at one point in her life someone had called her a young miss.
I wondered what she thought when she looked at me looking at her through the bus window. She must have wondered how it must be like to be 15 in 1988. Perhaps, it reminded her of a childhood filled with hardships. Then, her thoughts would have shifted to the notion that these younger generations have no idea what it must have been like to experience the struggles of life.
The German doctor who specialized in family practice was sitting across her desk from where my mother and I sat. She was finished with my examination and had confirmed my mother’s maternal instinct. I sat on the chair with my legs crossed at the ankles. In my mind, I was attempting to understand what just happened. The German doctor with her thick accent suggested the precautions that need to be taken.
“We are Catholics. We cannot allow that to happen. It would be giving her permission,” my mother said through pursed lips as if she wanted to hold them back. She held on to her purse that was placed in her lap as if she was drowning in brown leather chair.
The German doctor nodded and continued to write in on a legal pad. I peeked over and I noticed that she wrote her observation in Deutsch.
Frolein waved to me from the intersection as she did every morning that I saw her. She looked at me that day, and with her two fingers she lifted the corners of her mouth into smile. I looked at her and waved. The look on my face must have told her that even this generation had their version of hardships. Reminded of her own regret and bitterness, she turned her thoughts to the tasks she was set out to do every morning.
“There is a place in Switzerland and Sweden that have no time limits in performing this procedure,” the nurse at the military clinic was precise in her observation and was even more straightforward when it came to her advice. I looked at her white shoes and they were the kind of shoes worn by nurses in 1988: leather, thick, and looked as though it was the most comfortable pair in the world. Today, nurses wear the more durable leather creation by Dansko. Back then, however, they were white and I wondered at 15 how it would have looked should blood be splattered all over her shoes. I looked up to greet her eyes filled with impatience. I nodded my head ‘no’ and she tsk’ed away and shrugged her shoulders.
“When these things happen, you can pretty much summarize it as a rape of time. You’re only a child once, and an adult for the rest of your life. You can’t possibly know what you’re getting yourself into. Your time as a child had been raped away from you,” the nurse continued to talk to herself as she wrote in my medical file. When I peeked over I noticed that she spelled ‘advised’ as ‘adviced’—she might as well have written in Deutsch as it was obvious that she couldn’t write and talk at the same time.
“We are Catholics, after all. Right, Mom?” I responded as I turned to look at my mother, who was drowning in her chair holding tightly onto to her purse.
Before the bus continued on to the next town, it would pass a field of endless rows of yellowness. I wondered each time we passed what exactly was growing there.
“It’s mustard,” he said looking through the same window where I sat.
“How do you know?” I questioned his knowledge.
He was only 15. One month older than me and already he stood 6 feet tall. I questioned everything about him in 1988. They were questions with answers that were never fully developed at that moment. I understood years later why such answers are meant to be found in a different time.
“The Germans eat a lot of mustard. They grow mustard plants to make mustard. How else would they eat their bratwurst and schnitzel?” he answered.
I ignored him and turned my head back away from him.
As the bus slowed down in front of the mustard field, I closed my eyes and prayed that the Virgin Mary would materialize in the middle of such beauty to tell me that what was happening to my body was only a figment of my imagination. When I opened my eyes, I saw her standing still in a sea of yellow mustard flowers. She looked at me and shook her head from left to right: slowly and deliberately. She was telling me that what I had hoped for was not a figment of my imagination. She closed her eyes slowly as she lowered her head. I touched the window glass with my hand attempting to decipher if she meant that gesture as a disappointment or an assurance that all will be well. Disappointment was my conclusion.
For one full month whenever the bus drove by slowly in front of all that field of mustard flowers which came from mustard seeds, I prayed to all of that vibrant yellowness. I prayed that I was not carrying my own mustard seed in my womb, I prayed for my childhood to be preserved, I prayed that I will not be ostracized by my family and friends, and I prayed that whatever may come that I will somehow find the will to survive it.
I wanted to see the Virgin Mary again and I re-created what I did the day that I saw her. I placed my body exactly how I did that day. One hand to the glass, eyes closed, while I whispered the prayers in my mind. She never showed up again. I took that to mean that she was telling me “it can only happen once” or “all it takes is that one time.”
My prayers were never answered. I was praying for all the wrong things. They were prayers of a 15-year old willing for events to change, but there are powers that be that were far wiser than what a teenager could comprehend.