Trouble at School and Sex Education from the Gutter
When English had been added to the curriculum in the fourth high school grade and French in the fifth, school was getting a lot tougher for me. The process of eliminating students and the scholarly race towards graduation in the nine-year program had begun. I still lived in the world of the immediate present, where the past and the future carried very little meaning. When I came from school, I worked on my favorite electronic projects, read science-fiction novels from the public library, went to the movies, or received friends in my room. I always put homework, now an essential part of learning, on the back-burner. Not that I deliberately ignored my responsibilities as a high school student or that I did not fear my strict teachers. On the contrary I dreaded the severe consequences, the corporal punishments, the twisting of the ears or slapping on the cheeks, or the mental anguish I suffered under the barrage of verbal abuse. “Forgotten! He has forgotten to do his homework!” I can still hear the sarcastic and mocking tone of my teacher’s voice.
On top of all this hassle about my work habits came an incident that almost resulted in my expulsion from school. I had brought a gun to school, not an ordinary gun, but a candy gun, which was sold at the local vending machines. It was quite harmless as long as one was using the ammunition that came with package, a plastic bottle filled with candy bullets. In a streak of total stupidity I replaced the innocuous bullets that you could shoot into your mouth by colorful ball headpins. When I shot one pin into a classmate’s woolen sweater, he reported the attack to his teacher, the teacher to the principal, and the principal to Mother, who had to meet the staff. They had the weapons on prominent display on the staff room table. Obviously she was not very pleased with the prospect of having me kicked out of school.
The more the anxiety grew, the more in a strange psychological twist I developed the art of selective amnesia. I truly forgot to do my assignments in the afternoon, only to remember them the next morning on the way to school. It so happened that on a particularly dreary and foggy morning I turned left instead of right at the intersection on the way to the school and headed to the River Rhine instead. Skipping school, a far more serious offense than neglecting homework assignments, became a new source of anxiety. Fortunately my absenteeism had fallen through the cracks of the school’s cumbersome system that required a letter of explanation from my mother upon my return. So in the winter when it rained a lot and the sun rarely showed its face in Wesel I spent altogether three or four mornings at the river bank watching the cargo ships as they were going north-west to the Netherlands delivering the black gold from the Ruhr coal-producing area and Dutch goods destined to places as far south as Basel, Switzerland. Since the captain and family man would be away from home for weeks at a time, his wife and preschool children were also on board. One could tell by the cotton diapers fluttering on makeshift clothes lines in the breeze.
When I was getting bored, I would climb to the main highway leading up to the Rhine bridge and observe the vessels below, as they would emerge ghost-like out of the distant mist. Looking down into the grayness of the rushing waters around the pilings, I experienced the same dizziness as on the roof of the seniors’ home in Rudersberg. I wonder what the car and truck drivers thought of the young man leaning over the bridge railing as they were passing by. I definitely felt the tug of a dark irrational force coaxing me to jump and end my troubles at school. Shocked and frightened I dashed from the sinister bridge and arrived home to greet Mother in the kitchen. It looked like I had returned from my morning classes. From this moment on my homework was done on time, although not always neatly and diligently as required, and my marks were gradually improving.
One floor down from our apartment lived Franz-Dieter, who lived with his aunt Sister Elisabeth, a devout catholic nurse. He had lost both parents in a bombing raid. He was lonely and forced his companionship on me. We had very little in common. When he came home from his apprenticeship work, he invited me in his congenial, but very assertive way down to his place. We played some checkers and other board games, while his aunt served us some tea and delicious Danish biscuits. Her warmth and kindness, perhaps the reason why I was willing to befriend Franz-Dieter, was in stark contrast to his rebellious and provocative conduct towards her and her religious views. She was extremely sensitive toward anything related to her faith, including all major personalities of the Christian Democratic Union, the governing party of Germany at the time. Her nephew, influenced by the leftist and partisan views of his working class peers, would harass her with sarcastic remarks about her ‘political friends’, such as the minister of defense, Franz-Josef Strauss. In his opinion they were all criminals and should be impeached and executed. Poor Sister Elisabeth tried in vain to soften his outrageous views in her tender tone of voice. But to no avail! In his arrogant self-righteousness he insisted, “They are all parasites of the state and should be shot!” Having not yet displayed any interest in politics and being politically ignorant, I was embarrassed and remained silent taking another cookie instead.
There was, however, another aspect to his character that I found far more disturbing. Having reached pubescence, he was driven by his urges that expressed themselves in a rather crude way in thought, word and deed. His notions of sex and love were clearly those of the gutter. Up to this point in my life I have been living in a complete vacuum as to the enlightenment about ‘the birds and the bees’. Clearly, his barnyard talk did not contribute in providing a factual and clean sex education. His views on girls as targets and the need to ‘score’ troubled me. I began to avoid seeing him by visiting my friends in the late afternoons. But I did not always succeed. One day, when his aunt was at work, he asked me, if I could do him a favor. I sensed evil. Being immediately put on red alert by this strange request, I replied that I needed to know first what that favor would be. Unwavering, I gave my response in a kind, but firm voice. It was clear to him that I would not budge on this point. Not long after this incident our family moved to the north end of town into an apartment away from the heavy traffic of downtown into the so-called green belt around Wesel. Thus, the foreboding association with Franz-Dieter had fortunately ended.