|by No Way Out|
Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 22 Feb 2018
This is a translation of my German story
Familienbande Teil 1″. I’m really grateful for
the help of David M. Katz, who straightened out my clumsy English. Thank you very much, Dave! Of course,
any errors that remain are my own.
The story takes place in 1985 in Germany and in the United States. It’s part of the series
Boys. An overview of the protagonists:
Jesse S. Pierce, 40 years old, emigrated from the US to Germany, paramedic, African American, married Katharina 2 years ago, stepfather of Timo and Florian.
Katharina Borchert, 43 years old, high school teacher, mother of two boys from a previous marriage.
Timo Borchert, 15 years old, slim, brown wavy hair, green eyes, has a wide range of interests and a sharp mind, needs time to warm to some people and things, is often at odds with himself and with his feelings
Florian Borchert, 12 years old, lean and athletic, always active, blonde hair, blue eyes, straightforward and spontaneous.
* * * * *
What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think just because you are fifteen now you can
do whatever you want?
Jesse takes a big step towards me, and I feel hot and cold at the same time. My step father is losing his patience. In the half-dark room his big shape looks like a monster from my super-hero comic books. For a second I even imagine that I see his eyes flash up, maybe because next to his dark skin the white in his eyes stand out so clearly.
How can I answer that kind of question? In fact my behavior has something to do with my fifteenth birthday. When Mama and Jesse asked me about my weekend with Papa on Sunday night, I told them about all the things we did together, and about the cool bike he gave me as a present. What else could I have said? I had begged them to postpone our vacation in America for a week, so I could celebrate my birthday with Papa in Munich. For weeks I had been raving about how awesome it was going to be. That’s why I can’t admit how disappointed I am, not for the life of me!
I was so excited to be able to spend some time with Papa again! I really expected things to be like they were before the divorce. Perhaps I had tricked my mind in to thinking things had been better than they actually had been.
I was twelve years old and Florian was just ten when Mama and Papa separated. At first we called Papa every night because we missed him so much, but that changed when he got a new job and moved away. Our contact with him became less and less. Papa did take Florian and me on a vacation to France but the year after that our contact was just a weekend visit.
So I wanted to make up for lost time, and I thought, Papa and me would be best buddies, since I was almost grown up by now. But it wasn’t like that. When I told him about my friends he didn’t know most of them, and when I talked about the school orchestra, I realized Papa has never heard me play the clarinet, because I started taking lessons only two years ago. He doesn’t have a clue what is going on in my life any more. Of course I could have figured that out before, but somehow it still bothered me. And that was the smallest problem.
At the time Florian and I visited him, Papa lived in a small apartment with secondhand furniture. This time he proudly showed me his new house and the beautiful landscape surrounding Munich that we explored by bike on Saturday. He also explained to me in detail what he was doing as an engineer at Siemens and told me how great his job was. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was much better for him since he stopped living with us.
He looked really happy when he introduced me to his girlfriend; she was very nice. Later we were all in a restaurant and Papa was more interested in his girlfriend than he was in me, even though he gets to see her all of the time but he only had me for three short days.
On the train ride home I tried to be sensible. It’s normal that his life goes on after the separation, right? Mama has married Jesse after all. But as much as I tried to justify his actions, in the end I was furious at my father. Why has it been so easy for him to leave us while my whole world fell apart after the divorce? If he can build up a fantastic life without his kids, then he can’t give a shit about Florian and me. He’s possibly even glad to be rid of us.
In the end I was so enraged that I just couldn’t let it go. For days I’ve been taking it out on my family. I have snapped and shouted abuse at everybody. Now wonder they have had enough of me. Mama had to grade a huge pile of papers right before the summer holidays and is over-worked, just like Jesse who has taken extra shifts to make four weeks of leave possible. In spite of all that both of them sat down with Florian and me in the evenings to show us photos from the US and to plan our itinerary with us. I also wanted to improve my English, so I talked Jesse into practicing with me.
The four of us are really looking forward to the vacation. Why do I have to be such a douche bag and drag everyone down? Now I’m not only mad at Papa but even more at myself. I’d love to apologize to Jesse who is breathing heavily while he tries to keep his own anger in check. I could explain what is going on, try to calm the waves. But the cold fury that poisons my insides nearly suffocates me. It just doesn’t allow any words to pass my lips.
My silence seems to rile Jesse up even more.
You behave like a four year old! What will your relatives
think of you if you act like that?
Without thinking I spit:
I’m not related to them! It’s your family, not mine, and I don’t even
want to come with you to America. I’d rather stay here and live at Andy’s during the holidays. That’s
nonsense, of course, but the words just burst out.
Now Jesse boils over. He grabs my arm, sits down on my bed and drags me towards him. My upper body lands on the mattress, but my hips lie over his thigh. I’m taken by surprise as a volley of quick hard slaps lands on the seat of my pants. The only thought that crosses my mind is that I wish I was wearing a pair of jeans instead of just my running shorts.
After that short attack I try to lift myself up, but Jesse hooks his fingers into the waistband of my shorts, pulls them with my underpants down to my knees, and presses my upper body back onto the bed.
The next smacks hit my bare butt with loud slaps and make my skin burn after just a few moments. Inside of me many different emotions perform a wild dance that makes me dizzy. I hate Papa for abandoning me, and I hate myself because maybe that has been my fault. On top of that I feel miserable because I’ve treated my family like dirt for days. Jesse should beat me for that until I’m black and blue.
He seems to think so, too, because the spanks continue without pause, and they hurt more and more. I want to take my hiding like a man, but the pain brings tears to my eyes. I can restrain myself from screaming out loud, but through my clenched teeth a whimper escapes.
What if he just doesn’t stop? As this thought flashes through my mind I’m getting scared. It’s not the first time Jesse has been mad at me, and it’s not the first time I’ve gotten a spanking either, but I’ve never seen him lose his temper like this. In panic I thrash about with my legs trying to squirm free from his grip, but all of a sudden I feel a heavy weight pressing down on my calves, so I can barely move any more.
The smacks come more slowly now, but as hard and well-aimed as before. Jesse takes great pains to set ablaze every centimeter of my backside. I crumple up a piece of the duvet and press my face into it, but it doesn’t help. I can’t keep my tears from flowing any longer. As soon as I relent, a wave of everything that has been boiling inside me for days breaks through and crashes over me. I’m sobbing so hard my whole body is shaking; I can barely breathe.
Eventually it’s over, but I’m so caught up in my pain I barely notice my body being hauled up onto the bed. I can hear Jesse storming out of my room and slamming the door so hard the pictures on the wall are shaking.
I bury my head between my arms and cry into the duvet until I don’t have any tears left. I feel completely worn out, my buttocks are still aflame and a dull pain has settled into my head.
I can’t bring myself to go into the bathroom, so I take off my sweaty t-shirt, wipe off the tears and snot with it and chuck it into a corner. After that I carefully pull up my briefs and shorts. All my energy is spent, so I lie down on the bed again and try not to think of anything.
When Mama comes in some time later, I wish I could vanish into thin air. I don’t want to know how angry and disappointed she is with me. I don’t want to hear how much I hurt her with the words I hurled at her during the last few days. I close my eyes and hope that she leaves.
I feel the mattress sagging and Mama stroking my head. For a long time she doesn’t say a word. Why does she always know exactly how to deal with me? At some point I summon the courage to apologize to her. Without her having to ask I tell her everything. I try to explain that I know perfectly well how stupid it is to get worked up so much over the issue.
It’s okay to be mad at Papa, or disappointed. Feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. You just
have to learn how to handle those emotions better, Timo. To terrorize everybody around you is not an answer.
She sighs and brushes a strand of hair out of my face.
You could have talked to me about it, honey.
It’s not that easy, how can I make her understand that? It was different when I was a small child.
Back then I just told my parents everything that bothered me. But somehow everything is much more complicated
when one gets older.
Sorry I mumble, probably for the hundredth time.
How about if you go and talk to Florian and The Captain? she proposes, as if that was the
most normal thing in the world. She even uses Jesse’s nickname as if the whole affair wasn’t really serious.
How can I ever face them again? Jesse has been hopping mad, and Flori nearly cried this afternoon because
I’ve been so mean to him.
Come on, Mama says eventually,
we are a family. We have to patch things up after a quarrel.
With a desperate groan I heave to my feet and go into battle. Of course Mama is right. Flori forgives me when I apologize to him, if hesitantly. I promise him to be the best big brother he can ever imagine during our vacation. He doesn’t believe a word of it but he’s grinning when I claim that I would carry him across all of America on foot.
Then I slink to the living room. Nervously I look at Jesse and try to read in his face if he is willing to listen to me. I assume that Mama already told him what’s going on with me. At least he lets me finish when I stutter through my apology.
Jesse answers calmly but with a stony expression,
I’m sorry your weekend didn’t go the way you
expected it to, really, kiddo. I can understand why you were so angry. But that’s no reason to behave
like a bull in a china shop.
I know. Won’t happen again.
It better not. If you dare to embarrass me in front of our relatives with such a behavior, I’ll
pull down your pants and turn you over my knee in front of everyone, you can be sure of that.
I must look sufficiently contrite, because after a moment Jesse’s features relax and he lets up on
Okay, then let’s put the matter behind us and look forward to the vacation.
* * * * *
The Drive from Charleston International Airport to Columbia where Jesse’s parents live takes nearly two hours. I wasn’t able to sleep much on the flight, just some dozing from time to time, so I’m drowsy. When Jesse exits the highway and drives in to a residential area announcing that we’ll be there soon I perk up. I look around at the surroundings with curiosity. It looks just like what I have seen in American movies: broad streets without much traffic, lots of single-family homes – many of them are wooden bungalows with a small yard. There is some activity as I see some kids skating on a side street, a few dogs being walked, and a guy washing his car in his driveway. Other than that it seems to be pretty quiet at this time of day.
The moment we step out of our rental the midday heat hits us, and I realize how groggy I feel from
the long journey. Jesse, on the other hand, is unable to contain his excitement. He jumps over the gate
to the back yard, leads us to a door at the back of the house and pushes it open. He calls out in English,
I look over Florian’s shoulder to see a short woman, as black as Jesse, who wears a dress with a
floral pattern and has wrapped a colorful scarf around her hair. She beams at her son and is swept off
her feet when he tumultuously hugs her, lifts her off her feet and spins around with her. In Jesse’s arms
she seems small and frail, but she orders him to knock it off so energetically that he immediately answers
Yes, Ma’am and puts her back on her feet. When he bends down to kiss her cheek she doesn’t let
go of him. This is no wonder to any of us as the two of them haven’t seen each other in over a year.
Jesse’s father then walks in to the kitchen. I immediately notice that Jesse looks a lot like him. Jesse’s dad is not as broad shouldered as his son but, at 1.9 meters, is just as gigantic. The older man stands very straight and has grey hair and a grave expression. Even though he smiles at us he still seems very strict to me. The men’s hug is short and stiff, almost strained – one pat on the back and that’s it. I keep standing in the doorway but Mama hugs her in-laws like it is the most natural thing in the world.
Being shy isn’t Florian’s style, he is right in the middle of it all. Promptly he is enfolded in his grandma’s arms and gets cuddled. I still stand in the back and don’t know what to do. I’ve briefly met Jesse’s parents at the wedding, but since they don’t speak any German and I wasn’t too thrilled by the marriage at that time, I’d pretty much avoided them. From what Jesse told us I know that the two of them are even more old-fashioned than he is. During the drive we got instructed to behave and be polite once again.
I realize I can’t hide forever. Grandma is still talking to Flori, so I’ve got no choice but to greet
Jesse’s father. Usually I can say a lot of things in English by now, but at this moment, I just manage
Hello and put out my hand. While he gives me a firm handshake, he pats my cheek with his
left and says a few words. His southern accent isn’t easy to understand but I think that he welcomes me
and tells me to feel at home.
I’m glad I got through this. Then Jesse’s mother comes over, squeezes me tightly and gives me a kiss on each cheek. I must have looked completely baffled, because Mama is grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. I blush, and I’m glad that Grandma offers a diversion. She declares that we need refreshments after the long trip. She thrusts a stack of plates and some desert forks in my hands and a tray with glasses in Florian’s. We set the table and the grown ups bring a cake, cookies and a big pitcher of ice tea with lemon slices and lots of ice cubes.
Over a slice of cake and a handful of cookies I listen to the conversation and after a while I realize that I like Jesse’s parents. Grandma has an open-hearted and spirited manner and a dry humor to go with it. It’s hard to measure up Grandpa, but I like how intently he listens as Florian tells him about his soccer team, half in English and half in German, and with vivid gestures. He doesn’t treat him like a small child and that earns him some credit in my book.
I’m lost in thought as I hear my name. I’m startled and knock over my glass, and a loud
slips out. All of a sudden it gets dead quiet, and all eyes are turned towards me.
Language! Jesse and Grandpa bark with one voice and exactly the same tone, so I have a hard
time suppressing a grin. When I see them scowling at me I hurry to apologize for the lapse and get a rag
from the kitchen to mop up the spill.
As often happens it is Mama who restores peace by changing the subject and talking about our school’s project week. Soon she has involved me in the conversation and helps me to find the English words when I explain that we did experiments with radioactivity and built the model of a nuclear power plant.
I’m relieved as other topics are discussed and I can dig into my second slice of cake. But soon enough I’m the center of attention again because suddenly a gift box with a big bow is put in front of me. I had been so quick to banish my crappy birthday from my mind that I didn’t expect a present from my grandparents. I open it and find a pair of American basketball shorts, black with red stripes at the sides and around the pant legs. The emblem of a hawk is sewn on. Even though I’m not that much into team sports, I find the shorts awesome and I know how much my friends at home will envy me for them.
Jesse spots a basketball on a shelf in the hall and we’ve seen a basketball hoop over the garage.
What do you think? The two of you against me?
My brother shoots from his chair immediately but I play coy.
It’s too hot.
What’s up, Tiger, are you scared to lose?
I can’t let that slide. The two of us put up a good fight against our old man. It’s just that Flori as a soccer player hasn’t grasped that basketball is a limited-contact sport and after Jesse got hit once too often by an elbow the game degenerates into a wild wrestling match. I come to my little brother’s rescue but even with combined forces we won’t stand a chance so we are quick to accept Jesse’s offer for a tie.
Grandma, who chats to a neighbor over the fence, is asking if Flori and I are allowed to use their swimming pool. Five minutes later we are splashing around with their ten year old daughter in the wonderfully cool water. I’m starting to warm to our trip to America.
* * * * *
The next morning I wake up in a dark basement where my brother and I sleep on a pull-out couch. I’m still tired and want to go back to sleep but all of the thoughts buzzing in my head make that impossible so I get up. Florian is still fast asleep so I slip into my new basketball shorts, grab a t-shirt from my suitcase and tiptoe upstairs in my bare feet.
After I’ve splashed some cold water on my face in the bathroom and have brushed my teeth I feel a
little bit more awake even though it’s not even seven yet. I can hear voices from the kitchen. Jesse and
his father are also up. They seem to be absorbed in their conversation so I don’t want to barge in but
Grandpa spots me through the half-open door and calls me in. I say good morning and follow Grandpa’s invitation
to take a seat. He takes a small package out of a drawer and offers it to me.
Here is another birthday
present for you.
I rip off the paper and barely remember to say thanks before opening the small box. I find a jack knife but very different from the red Swiss pocket knife I have at home. This one looks like it would belong to a honest-to-goodness trapper. It has a curved handle made out of beautiful dark wood. The blade is almost ten centimeters long, looks really sharp and clicks into place as I open it completely.
Wow, that’s so cool. Thank you very much, Grandpa!
I look up and notice Jesse’s reaction. His eyes are glued on the knife and he seems to be deep in
thought. He sees my questioning look and clears his throat.
This is a very special gift. He talks
to me in English, but slowly and distinctly, so I can understand him well.
This knife used to belong
to my grandfather. He gave it to my dad when he was your age and I got it from him on my fourteenth birthday.
When I held it in my hands I knew that he didn’t consider me to be a child any longer, but a young man.
He exchanges a glance with his dad before he explains:
And I think your grandpa also wants to
show you that your brother and you belong to his family even if you are not related by blood.
Of course they belong to our family, Grandpa mumbles as if Jesse had declared that the sky
is blue and the grass is green.
I feel a lump in my throat and don’t know what to say so I just smile at Grandpa before I examine the knife once more and run my fingertips over the handle almost reverently.
Then something occurs to me and, without thinking, I ask Jesse,
But if this is your knife how
come... I interrupt myself as I see how he clenches his teeth and looks away. I must have hit a nerve
and I wish I would have kept my big trap shut.
Sheepishly he scratches his chin and starts with an
um... twice before he finally says,
know, there was a time when Grandpa and I didn’t get along so well. That’s why I gave the knife back to
It amuses Jesse’s father to correct him,
He did more than just give it back to me, he outright
disowned it and told me to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. After that, he stormed out and disappeared
for several years.
I can’t suppress a grin as I picture the scene in my mind.
How did it come to that?
After my graduation from high school my father wanted me to go to college and become a doctor
or to pursue some other respectable career. I was supposed to get a well-paid job, marry, buy a house
and raise children. At that time it felt as if my whole life was predetermined but I didn’t want to give
up my freedom. I endured college for only half a year then I wanted to set off with my backpack and see
the world. When my parents heard of it, we had a huge fight.
I didn’t know that about my step father and he looks a bit worried that I’m so interested in his
youthful misdeeds. With a grave look he tells me,
I’m not proud that I’ve turned my back on my family
and I still regret that I didn’t talk it over with them earlier.
But you did come back eventually. Now I want to hear the rest of the story.
That took quite some time. After I’ve been travelling in Europe for a while I wanted to make something
of my life. But I didn’t have enough money for college, and my grades weren’t good enough for a full scholarship.
To ask my parents for financial support was out of the question. In the end I decided to become a paramedic.
He gives me a wry smile.
Maybe not as impressive as doctor, but still, it’s not that bad.
During the whole time he didn’t drop by once, Grandpa chimes in,
but one day he was suddenly
standing on our doorstep.
Jesse answers my unasked question with a shrug but then continues.
At that time there was war
in Vietnam and shortly after I completed my training I got my draft notice. I just couldn’t fly off without
making peace with my parents.
His voice breaks and he gets quiet. Grandpa isn’t taking the whole conversation in stride as much as he wants us to believe he is. For a moment I can see a tear forming in the corner of his eye.
Jesse straightens in his chair and points to the knife.
I’m the one who should have thought of
giving you the knife for your birthday. Do you forgive me for messing that up?
In fact I’m pretty glad to know that Jesse really screwed up once when he was young and I can live
with him making a mistake from time to time now too.
Grandpa stands up and mumbles.
Well, you’ve never been the sharpest tool in the box, Sonny.
He smiles as he says it and gives Jesse a pat on the shoulder before he takes a pack of cigarettes and
leaves to smoke on the porch.
All of a sudden there is something I have to ask Jesse. I’m glad we are alone so I can talk in German.
You think your parents find it strange that Florian calls you dad and I call you by your first name?
No idea but that’s what we agreed upon, remember? The two of you were supposed to choose the address
you feel most comfortable with.
Yeah, but back then I was only thirteen, and you were just the guy that Mama was desperate to
marry. Nervously I scratch at some scab on my knee.
Now I wouldn’t mind calling you dad, you know,
I just hope Jesse doesn’t make a scene. Sometimes he is such a softie, it’s totally embarrassing.
I wouldn’t mind so much either, he answers with a wink. I’m so glad he kept his cool I don’t
even protest as he tousles my hair.
Family Ties Part One, © No Way Out, 2016/ 2018
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