A random writing prompt: Write about being locked in a room with your greatest fear. I was reading The Hunchback of the Notre Dame while staying at my in-laws’ with our baby. The nightmares I had from empathizing with Paquette were like being locked in a room with my greatest fear, I suppose.
(01-10-2013, updated 07-15-2018) When B was about six months old, we were staying with my in-laws for what was supposed to be a week to ten days, because the front windows in our house were being replaced. It ended up taking more than two months. But don’t get me started on construction work in South Texas . . .
Anyway, we were not in our own environment at night, and at the same time I was trying to wean B from our bed. That was hard because I was breast-feeding him, and it was simply easier to keep him with me so we could both just fall asleep afterward. But at the time it felt important to try and wean him. (Looking back, we shouldn’t have bothered. He had no problem with his own bed once he was weaned from breastfeeding at twelve months.)
On top of all that, I was reading The Hunchback of the Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo. Anyone who thinks they know the story because they watched the Disney “classic” is sorely mistaken. It is the stuff of nightmares. One of the characters is Paquette la Chantefleurie, whose baby was stolen by gypsies and who has spent almost two decades looking for her, going crazy from grief in the process. I won’t spoil it for those who want to read it. Suffice it to say that the outcome is pretty darn horrific. If you thought that Les Miserables is sad and dramatic, you ain’t read nothing yet.
For about five nights in a row, I had nightmares about being persecuted by the Nazis during World War Two, and trying to hide with baby B, knowing it was just a matter of time before the soldiers heard him cry, at which point he would be taken from me and killed before my eyes. I would wake up in a panic, patting the mattress around me, crying, “Where’s B? Where’s B?” until T got me awake enough to realize B was just asleep in the travel crib in the next room.
That would my biggest fear: knowing a horrendous fate awaits my children and not being able to protect them from it. Not being in control as a mother. And as a Dutch woman who grew up with stories about the German Occupation and the memorials, museums, documentaries, movies, and literature about the Nazis, of course that was my nightmare: not being in control of my baby, not being able to protect him, from the nazis. So here’s a thought for all the mothers for whom this is not just the stuff of nightmares, but twenty-first-century reality.
(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “Writing Prompt 1984: Paquette and the Nazis”, 01-10-2013)
Header image: Wikia. http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Sister_Gudule