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BLC: Story Telling

Sunday, October 06, 2013

October 4th - 6th is National Storytelling Weekend, so let’s all share and tell some stories… POST in your team’s CHAT THREAD and/or POST a BLOG, telling us a story about any part of your journey. This portion is only required ONCE for the weekend, and is worth 200 PTS.

Story--what a word! In my job we often associate the word with fiction; I love fiction but I want to tell a true story. It does not have an ending. I hope to create the ending before I die.

I just read a very helpful and perceptive article in the NY Times about the consequences of living with lies and liars.

I've noticed something strange about myself: If I have to make a decision in which somebody I dislike or disagree with is involved; I almost always side with them. If I have a person I dislike, a person I like, a close family member, and my own feelings moving in contradictory directions, I will almost always go with the person I disagree with--I want to be fair; my father told me that some people have had less privileged lives than others; I've been told to extend the benefit of the doubt; etc. And I do this even when I have strong doubts and my family says "NO!" and my friends counsel me NOT to follow my impulses! Not me, I go with the person I dislike. I want to be "fair".

This is a true story.
In August, 1985 I moved to a new town. We had a neighbor--not next door but not far away at all.
I weighed 130 and was struggling not to gain weight. I had started a graduate program and I had two young sons (elementary school age). The neighbor was almost 70 and she had a very bad back. Sha asked me if I would go to the store and pick up some things for her. Her name was Rosanna.

NO PROBLEM! I was happy to help! I could see the way she walked, bent like a paper clip, her arms clutching her lower back.

She invited me in and was drinking coffee. I thought to myself, "Hey, why not offer ME some coffee-- I was your benefactor". As she sat she liberally doused her coffee with Grand Marnier.

She told me about her life and my hair would have stood on end if it could have. She was a victim in WWII. She was in the camps; her entire family died; she managed to escape being killed only by allowing herself to be sexually abused. She weighed only 78 pounds when she finally escaped. And it was such a pity that I weighed so much!

I was hooked! I wanted to redeem the War for her and to let her know that there were some good, decent understanding people out there. I entered into service with her and just about 6 days a week ran errands. One time I asked her why she did not have a tattoo, looking at the smooth skin on her arms. She explained that she had had it removed at great cost. She also explained why her name was ultra-Germanic and evoked Naziism--forced to renounce her real identity so she could try to postpone the inevitable trip to a concentration camp. I sympathized. Identity is so precious! I am so sorry that your identity has been severed!

Fast forward a couple of years. She has been to our house for every Thanksgiving and Christmas and I've spent many nights at her house nursing her when she was recovering from multiple surgeries. I suggested that she hire a nursing service and she said noone was as capable and kind as me.

I take care of her. I am working on my Ph.D. dissertation. My family pleads with me to spend less time with her and more time with them. A couple of my friends say that they will not be friends with me any longer because I am so irrational. "But she's a survivor!" I reply. And they tell me how I have been duped. And I wonder---she does seem to be so inconsistent. The Nazi death camps are no longer the biggest trauma of her life; the biggest trauma of her life was that everyone loved Jackie Kennedy's style and Jackie Kennedy ruined things for wasp-waisted ladies.

Things collapsed in 1988. I weighed almost 230 pounds; I had completed my graduate course, and another neighbor had taken me (kicking and screaming) to a therapist. He told me that he knew this woman well and that yes, she was German, but no, she was not Jewish. She had had a very cozy war. She had depended on virtuous sympathies to feed her ego and her narcissism since the early 1950's when she had moved to town.

I gained so much weight so quickly, I believe, because a part of me was worrying and wondering why I was paying more attention to this woman than to the legitimate people who should have claimed my time. Every minute I was with her felt like a claustrophobic trap. Every word she said about the War was a lie. And finally when I was taking care of her I saw her sleeping, sitting up on the side of her bed, with a needle stuck in her arm. She was just a junkie all along.

The end came when I looked at her photo albums which were on display in her study. There she was, plump, laughing, wearing fur and drinking champagne. She was revelling. And the dates on these photos in one particular album? All from 1940-1945. I called her unethical and she said she never wanted to talk to me again! And her name was really Mathilde!

And thus I gained my freedom. I wish I could tell you that I became wise. I continue to be a dupe and I continue to "side with" those with whom I disagree. But I am learning, the hard way, to stand up for my own beliefs. It is only when I reverse that equation and make decisions based on 1) my feelings 2) the needs of my family 3) the wishes of my friends and those I like and finally 4) the wishes of those with whom I disagree==only then will I perhaps come to care about myself more and to have a sane approach to decision-making.
This is my TRUE story. 200 points earned.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Wow! That blows my mind. I know there are people out there who do things like that - I just can't wrap my brain around it. It's just crazy to me. Why is it so hard to just be honest?

    You are such a kind person wanting to help and care for her. It's a shame she was such a liar and took advantage.
    1596 days ago
    Natalie, that is quite a story. There are so many liars out there. And they vary greatly. Most tell little 'white-lies'. But what you experienced is beyond the bizarre. I am so sorry you had that experience and it had such a negative impact on your life. My heart just goes out to you. Thank you for your TRUTH!
    1596 days ago

    Comment edited on: 10/10/2013 8:10:14 AM
    ssry, I do not care for liars either.

    My biggest mistake cost me a TV, several thousand dollars, a camera, loss of dignity and a total loss of love for the opposite sex for quite a few years. I even gave up myself because of the affect this person had on me....

    Now I try to temper my words but never lie...

    1599 days ago
    I am so sorry that she took advantage of you like this.

    Unfortunately she is not the first to rewrite history to make herself the victim instead of the abuser. I am Jewish and those I know who did escape the camps do everything they can to bury memories - not to talk about them. Those who do talk, do it when there is something real to be gained - a criminal to be sentenced, a book to be written that settles a story that was previously told incorrectly or never told at all. There are many stories that were never told and may never be told because the stories were too terrible to tell. Anyone who tells so eagerly should in the future be looked at with an upraised eyebrow.

    The problem now for you may be one I also have- how do you look in the mirror and see only the kindness without seeing the doormat? How do you form a strong foundation around that soft heart without creating a barrier to it?

    These are difficult questions - ones that cannot be answered in a single evening over a cup of tea, but must be mulled over with many experiences.

    As usual, you told your story well.
    1599 days ago
  • TREV1964
    There are people out there that take wicked advantage of good hearted people. The secret is to learn from these and wise up from it - whatever you do never loose that good heart because there are so many more people that must look up to and respect you so much for the kind and compassionate person you seem to be.

    As others have said on here, her stories were inconsistent. It is a shame at the time you didn't have a go at memorising a few questions in Hebrew noting her reaction to you expecting a reply in Hebrew or Yiddish.

    A very enlightening story nonetheless.


    1599 days ago
    Living with the Jewish Community when growing up the real survivors of the Camps never talked about their time at the camps. They were ashamed of their tatooes and wore long sleeves to cover them up. One day when I was small and did not understand about the War I spotted one of those tatooes and asked about it. The person was horrified when I saw it. They said not one word about it and we changed the subject. I remember feeling bad that I had caused them pain without understanding why.

    My best friend Julie Speizer's mother who was quite small during this time escaped from Poland with the help of some people who were Jewish and lived in the States.

    Julie never told me I just ran across this story in her Father's obit. It was his family that took hers in.

    Most people will not take advantage of you. Like you said you seemed to agree with others who disagreed with you.

    I no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. What I see thru their actions and words tell the real story. I heed the red flags. I don't hold them resonsible, but I also remove myself from harms way. I am enjoying my life now. emoticon
    1599 days ago
    I have long believed that many people (myself included) gain weight to shield our authentic selves. I wouldn't use the word "dupe" to describe yourself. I think you were responding with kindness and generosity of spirit. These people weren't ready for that. I'm in awe of your resilience; that you've been able to rise above this experience and not be reduced to a hard edged misanthrope. Your story has certainly started many of us thinking. Peace to you.
    1600 days ago
    Quoting Isak Dinesen in that NY Times article, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”

    I hope that by sharing this story on your blog, it will help you to better evaluate your future decisions and help you to overcome those recurring feelings that you have to take care of someone else before you can take care of yourself.

    And I'm sure you'll find that writing this story is worth far more than those 200 points. It has certainly spurred me to consider why I've allowed myself to be duped by various lies and liars over the years of my life.

    1600 days ago
    what a moocher this lady is.

    and... you seem bent on going against yourself. always remember: YOU are YOUR best friend, always! how would you treat your best friend????
    1600 days ago
  • SHIRE33
    It sounds as though you have kept your kind heart and humanity though all of that. It'd be easy to feel jaded and cynical. That's the true crime of the sympathy suckers of the world, damaging kind hearts. But strong hearts overcome such treatment and do become wiser. Now you are stronger and wiser and yet still caring and kind. And caring and kind to yourself, as well, I hope. :)

    1600 days ago
    A very fascinating story. Gives me much to think about.

    1600 days ago
    Wow. Very interesting read!

    You have a good heart but you do have to guard it because not everyone in this world is good and kind. There are many people out there willing to take advantage of it and you.

    I think putting yourself and your family first is a good choice.

    If someone does take advantage of you I truly believe it's on them and unfortunately what's been proven many times - what goes around comes around.
    1600 days ago
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