D. was born in Jerusalem, nearly 24 years ago.
He was an extremely sweet baby that developed normally.
From the age of three months he slept through the night.
I breastfed him for five months (tensions at home probably contributed to the fact that my body then stopped producing milk).
He loved drinking water, so I never needed to bribe him into drinking with sweetened liquids.
Hearing two spoken languages from the beginning, my German and his dad’s Hebrew, may have slightly delayed the development of his first spoken words. But once he started speaking, he didn’t stop. 🙂
Then there was the First Gulf War. Israel was under persistent missile attack from Iraq and everyday life was upside down. It was a stressful time and in the beginning I was in a constant state of panic, making it hard for me to relate to my child in a calm and comforting manner. I don’t think I actually neglected him, but he certainly must have felt my fear. Eventually, we made it through those crazy months unharmed. Unharmed, but not unaffected, at least as far as I was concerned. For the next two or three years, any siren, like the one sounded on the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day or in home-front exercises, made me jump and my insides tighten in a mini panic reaction. My son however, didn’t display any post-war symptoms and altogether life was back to normal quite fast.
Shortly after the end of the Gulf War, early 1991, my husband – D.’s father – and I decided to separate. It was not a surprising thing, just the logical development of what had begun five (or six) years earlier as an infatuation, a flame and continued with a great deal of spikes, sparks and spits, only to culminate in the finale of a relationship between two people who actually never had a real bond going on between them.
The day I moved out with my not-even-two-year-old son I had hired a young man to help me move our few belongings to the new place two streets further down. He had a big car and occasionally did such transportation jobs to earn a little extra money. I remember when I sat in the back of his car; there was a bunch of flowers wrapped in colored cellophane lying on the back seat. He saw me staring at the flowers and explained: “These are for my wife; it’s our wedding anniversary today.” Ouch, that was like a sharp blade straight into my hurting heart! I struggled not to burst out in tears, but eventually I couldn’t hold them back. I was soaked in sadness and filled-up with alcohol most of that day. I know that my environment did not perceive me as being drunk, and I actually don’t remember myself feeling hammered either. Life was just a little more bearable with a boozed brain. I did have a surprisingly high tolerance for alcohol in those tumultuous days, a phenomenon I was to experience in numerous extreme situations that life had in store for me in the next few years.
D. was in kindergarten that morning and when I picked him up I took him to the new place instead of to our home where we had lived together as a family, with his dad. I don’t recall how D. reacted to the new situation and in the days that followed our move. It really seems like parts of my memory are simply erased.
As it goes with life, we adapted and the new place turned into home. During the day I was at work and D. in kindergarten. We made new friends in the building and D.’s dad took him regularly to spend time with him. This killed me at first, but after a few months I started enjoying my hours and weekends “off”.
D.’s first signs of a mental problem appeared when he was about three or four. A coin fell from his hand to the ground and he didn’t want to pick it up. When I asked him to get it he said: “No, it’s dirty.” Now this might have been a normal response from a child who, like in most families, is told not to eat something picked up from the dirty floor before washing it. But there was more to his reaction.
Again, I really don’t remember the actual day-by-day development of D.’s OCD or schizophrenia and the behaviors he displayed then. I just recall bits and pieces, parts of the incomplete puzzle of the first decade of D.’s life.
I recently found a letter from a child psychiatrist when sorting out some old papers. There are less pieces missing in my recollection of D.’s second decade of life, and the time leading up to and surrounding his hospitalization is clear as a crystal in my mind, with all details painfully present and sharp.