Not only were communications with Czechoslovakia shut down, I was shut down. I have never before, or since, experienced anything like it. I simply could not function. From the moment I heard the news, I stopped eating and went into a kind of fugue state. It was a beautiful sunny day but to me the world was shrouded in darkness. How could people be happy when this terrible thing had happened? From then on all I did was addictively follow the news, whether on TV or radio. Every hour on the hour, switching back and forth between devices. I have no memory of what I did in-between. My brain was shut down; I could not relate to immediate sensory information; my throat closed to food and somehow I knew better than to drink alcohol.
It must have been very difficult for people around me – like dealing with a catatonic. Every morning I awoke with a sinking feeling in my heart and the sense that someone had died. It took me back to when my parents had put me in a kinderheim in Switzerland years before, when I was a small child and had no way of knowing when I’d see my mother again, or when I’d get out of there. The horror of being caught in the middle of an unstoppable nightmare with no control, no power, no way out. I would never be able to communicate with Werner again. Our dreams had turned to dust. All that remained was a pointless bleakness, a world without light. This went on for a week. Then one morning I woke up with the faintest shred of hope in my heart. There was no reason for it, but as the day progressed, the shred evolved into a glimmering sense of excitement. I thought, Oh boy, this is like the eye at the center of the storm: Now I’m really going crazy. Despite this odd fizz of anticipation, I continued to fixate on the news. When Celia tried to coax me into eating an egg or some toast, I refused. Hunger was a part of me that simply didn’t exist.
But a little before eleven that same evening, hunger mysteriously returned. I was ravenous. The news was about to come on, but curiously I no longer cared. I left the flat and ran to the nearest pub where I bought up all the remaining pre-made sandwiches, not caring how thin or soggy they were. Pubs closed at eleven, so I was very clear on the timing of this. When I returned to the flat, I didn’t station myself in front of the TV as usual. Instead I began to pace up and down the hall, waiting for something to happen. I had no idea why I was doing this. It was just necessary.
And then, finally, at one AM the phone rang.
**An episode from this memoir is published every Tuesday & Thursday for those following!
**Need to start at the beginning? Find Part 1 here!