| This is the 231st story of Our Life Logs |
For all we lose, we find.
For all we have, we have not.
For all we dream, we live.
I was born in East Germany in a small town called Magdeburg on October 5, 1987. On that day, I joined a brother who was two years older and my parents who tried to eek out a living with their 20-acre farm on mostly derelict, rocky soil, which housed a few chickens, one pig, and two cows. Until I was three years old, that was life.
In 1990, the Berlin Wall came down that divided East and West Germany. Being so young, I had no idea what the wall was or what it meant in it coming down, but I do remember when my parents decided a more stable and prosperous living could be made in West Germany and we packed up our meager belongings, piled inside our old beat-up truck we used on the farm that had no heat, and migrated from one side of the country to the other.
I have no idea how much thought, time, money, or effort my parents put into preparing for this move, but when we got to where we were supposed to live, another family was already there. After my parents had a round of “No, it was your fault,” my father walked out the door and kept walking. My mother never told us he had left us for good. She never mentioned why he left. We didn’t know if we were allowed to ask, so my brother and I simply sat in the freezing car with our mother while her sad face figured out what to do next.
Nowadays, brother and I often talk about how we think our mother must have known that life was going to be hard from the moment she was born, and that it was to get harder, and finally it was going to get so hard, that she forgot she was alive. Every day was just one more day to survive. Joy and wonder are wasted emotions that do not have an exact German word. They are not believed in, nor would they ever be used by my family. The most common word used for happiness is usually glucklich, which really means lucky, as Germans do believe in luck—or the lack thereof. Either way, my brother and I knew we were born on the wrong end of glucklich.
We had beds, a kitchen table, a refrigerator, and a stove. We had running water, but we had to boil buckets filled with water if we wanted to take a hot bath. We had a shower which ran cold and had a hole for a drain that flooded constantly. Our landlord refused to fix these issues, nor would he fix our rat problem, lack of heat in the winter, or even the sloping floors that made our furniture slide unless we put cardboard underneath each piece. I never invited a friend over to our apartment for fear they would see how we lived.
The TV was the most impressive and extravagant item we had and we regarded it as our window to the world. Our means of travel and culture. My brother and I practiced our English from TV shows broadcasted from Britain and some from the US. My mother even laughed a few times watching TV shows while she sewed or ironed clothes for clients, after coming home from her job at a restaurant and her job at a butcher’s shop. I am convinced I could not have done what she did for as long as she did it and not go stark, raving mad. But she had to. For all we did have, it was our mother who gave it to us.
By the time I finished hauptschule, which is a bit like high school, I knew I had to escape the drudgery of the life we lived. My brother had left two years before, leaving me with more chores and more money I had to make so my mother and I could make ends meet. I did some vocational training and became an Au Pair, and got a job in Maryland in the United States with a family who specifically wanted a German nanny. I thank God for that, every single day.
This family, the Winchesters, had a wonderful three-year-old boy named Andrew who had more energy than they had hands and feet. The mother was an attorney for an international law firm, and the dad was a diplomat who worked in Washington DC at the Pentagon. Andrew and I hit it off right away, and since my only job was to take care of Andrew, I kept looking around for other things they needed me to do. When I tried to do other housework, I’d get yelled at by the help hired to do those jobs.
While I was living with this wonderful family, something inside me broke. Like a dam that finally cracks, and once the cracks appear, the water builds up and spills over, breaking the walls and flooding the earth. Every night, I would go to bed and cry myself to sleep, homesick even for our ratty, cold home. I was only 17 years old. I missed my brother. I missed the crisp smell of fresh fallen snow, and the small creeks and rivers that sparkle blue as the winter snow melts and spring thaws and loosens the glistening ice. I grieved because my mother had to work three jobs. I cried because my heart broke for the life of my mother, never knowing the warmth and kindness I saw every day in the Winchester home. I cried because I felt “Waldeninsamkeit”—a somber feeling translated to “One can be surrounded by people, and still feel they are alone in the woods.”
After I had been there for a couple of months, Mrs. Winchester pulled me aside and gave me some pamphlets to local colleges where I could learn anything I wanted and they would pay. I remember asking her a few times to repeat what she said, just in case my English wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I knew I wasn’t interested in obtaining a college degree, but I was interested in a well-paying vocation. So, Mrs. Winchester helped me sign up for paralegal training. I had no idea what that would entail, but she assured me it paid well and that the courses aligned with my current schedule.
The next 18 months were a whirlwind of learning. My life was very busy and I learned so much in my courses. But more so, I began to understand the foreign concepts of happiness and joy. The Winchesters were a loving and giving couple, who operated a family unit that I envied. Right when I finished my certification as a paralegal, Andrew started school. I was relieved of my duties only to have Mrs. Winchester help me find my first job at an international law firm she knew from past projects together. I started at the bottom of the secretarial chain, but I didn’t care. My life had turned around. When they told me my salary would be $35,000 a year I thought I was a millionaire!
Before my paralegal job officially began, I went home to Germany to see my mother and brother. I helped my mother get a new apartment with hot water, no rats, no leaking in the bathroom, and no sloping floors.
I was shocked to find out my mother had remarried a very nice, simple man—and had been married for a couple of years—although she had never said a word to me. Her husband was a farmer and they had moved back to East Germany to the small, hardscrabble farm that had been in her family since the early 19th century. When I asked my mother why she hadn’t told me she had gotten married or moved back home, she looked at me with surprise and asked why would she do that? It didn’t involve me, didn’t impact me, and it wasn’t my life, it was hers. She didn’t say that to hurt me. She said it because that is how she thinks.
I went back to the United States with a tiny sigh of relief that while my mother and stepdad would still need my help, they also had my brother, and now, each other. After working for the firm for a year in Maryland, I was transferred to an office in Prague for a couple of years, and then to Munich for a couple of more years.
Finally, I was transferred to Houston, Texas to work for one of the Managing Partners. All my hopes and dreams I never felt I could even whisper in the dark of night, seemed to have all come true. I was unsure how to feel or respond to this life of plenty, and to this day I don’t fully understand it.
I kept sending money home to my mother and stepdad to help ease their life and still had enough to go shopping, see movies, go on wine country tours, and even learn how to jump out of a plane! I was so very grateful for what I had and was able to provide for my family, and for myself, yet, I never did enough to fill the holes or ease the loneliness of my life. I was an independent, working-class, accomplished woman who had made it, who had seen the world beyond what was on TV—who still felt like the same 17-year-old girl who missed the creaky, familiar face of home.
One day, my office had extra tickets to a concert and I wanted to go, but there were two and I was still single. Without thinking, I posted the second ticket to a website that offered free tickets for anyone out there who was interested.
About five minutes after I posted, a man named Brock answered. We met up that night and I gave him his ticket. After the concert, he insisted on taking me to eat somewhere as a repayment, and we married six months later.
My life is not perfect as no life ever is. I wouldn’t even call my life joyful all the time, as I am still not sure I believe in that concept. There are always days we struggle together, or I grieve alone missing my home and feeling sad about the life of my mother and how we had to live growing up. But I can say without hesitation, that at night before we go to sleep, I say to my husband, “Du bist mein ein und alles.” It means, you are my everything. He is the familiar face I once dreamed about.
Then, there is what I also remember and say every night before I drift off to sleep. I look out the window at the night sky and whisper words that live on my heart. I say to Germany, my mother, my brother, and family, “You are missing from me.”
This is the story of Marina Ritters
Marina now lives in Texas with her husband. Coming from a poor life in Germany, Marina dreamed of a better life and found more opportunity than she expected when she became a nanny for a little boy in the United States. Through this family, she was able to begin a career and branch out with her own life. Her story is evidence that you are more than your background. Marina loves to travel anywhere and everywhere. She believes that life is too short to not see it all and try it all at least once. She loves to play racquetball, go biking, and walking on trails up and down mountains. She rarely sits down but if she has to, she loves to do puzzles and brain challenges on her iPad. She is also an awesome baker and can whip up a mean strudel whenever you want it! Marina continues to send money home to her mom and stepdad to help ease their life. She makes enough money now to go shopping, see movies, and do all the things she loves. She took flight lessons and earned her wings about a year ago. She can now fly a small Cessna plane.
This story first touched our hearts on December 26, 2018.