SCREEN MEMORY TWO – FIRST BOMBS
By Michael Roloff
Awake in the middle of the night from the roar of air planes, I reared up in bed as two flashing lightning bolts struck, followed near instantly by peals of thunder, window glass shattered. I tossed my motheaten Steif Monkey, leapt out of bed and rushed to the window that looked out on the woods, opened its two panels, shards lying all around, and heard the German Shepherd dog Mara yowling hysterically in her enclosure, a yowling that turned into a keening, more and more high pitched and then suddenly ceased, throttled; the roar of planes disappearing in a north-westerly direction.
It took me a long time to fall back asleep, hugging my Steif Monkey that my parent had brought back from one of their travels, and when I awoke early the next morning, earlier than anyone else, I snuck down the staircase and walked out onto the veranda and notices that the glass of all the large windows had shattered, the shattered glass looking like tear drops in the flower heads in the sun. Walking out to Mara’s Zwinger [enforcer] enclosure on a section of the lawn that was not visible from the veranda - a square 100 by 100 foot shady area adjacent to the woods which bore the name “croquet” playing ground - I was shocked and frightened to see Mara hanging by her collar from the highest wire; had she committed suicide is a remembered thought of that moment. Klinner, our foreman, came by about the same time and told me that two bombs had fallen near the riding rink, leaving two craters in the ground, like graves he said, that large and deep, right next to each other. The story went, so Klinner said, that the British bombers were afraid to actually penetrate the air-space over Bremen which was defended by dirigibles with razor wire sharp enough to cut the wing of a bomber, which is why they dropped their bombs at the outskirts of town.”
This event was in my recollection, the inception of what I call my “Expulsion from Paradise,” in Spring 1941. As compared to the first screen memory - where I can’t tell whether it is also a perfect memory, re-arranged so as to create a “likely story,” a secondary revision in time, in this instance I realize that memory has edited the events, compounded them and rearranged them. I was indeed wakened by two bombs that fell near simultaneously about 100 yards off in the Fir Place woods, but lightning strikes and simultaneous thunder derive from other experience, were projections of that moment to make sense of it; and signify the shock of the totality of this experience – the shattered windows, the suicidal dog, the expulsion from Paradise which the bombs elicited, for the next day I and my governess were sent packing to an allegedly safer venue.
Moreover, the flash of two 500 pound bombs exploding on the ground, at least one hundred yards away, in the woods, is not visible through a thick fir forest; no doubt the sound of thunder elicited a hallucinated lightning flash in my mind ex post facto. Fantasy has added its components, the most serious being my assumption as a five-year-old that the German shepherd Mara had committed suicide – leaving Fir Place elicited suicidal impulses in me, I hated leaving. The next time I recall feeling suicidal was when my father spanked me for being disobedient and going with Klinner to pick up coal in the horse and wagon during impending air raids.
The terrified hysterical shepherd dog indeed strangled herself with her collar at an upper part of the fence of her enclosure [The Zwinger] but “Enforcer” also referred to my governess whose orders whose numerous “nos” that elicited my resistance and fury; say, the fury of a stubborn Billy-goat; the dog’s fury also signified my near suicidal fury at having to leave paradise in company of my enforcer, my governess. In other words, the details have been over-emphasized, compacted, over-determined in the meanwhile and that is why they most likely have been remembered all these many years, whereas other less emotionally determined recollections at the very least are not, or as accessible.
The drops of dew in the flowers, not just the shattered shards of glass, also signify my tears; however, since I can be said to have been crying inside sinceI was taken from his mother at age nine months, those tears too are over-determined. Loss loss loss. There was a time during the many years that I carried this book with me that I was going to call it “Irretrievable Losses.” This commentary in other words, appears to be necessary in telling this event which elicited hectic activity of the inhabitants of the villa with the result that within a day my father’s chauffeur and Maybach automobile took me and my governess to the St. Magnus suburban station, a five year old, sad-looking boy and a dowdy spinster - image for a film! But before I left my paradise it appears that I took one more amble through the forest.
If the clearing that you could see from my bedroom window was the first section of Fir Place to become laden with dream imagery - for the Billy goat chasing me up to the clearing in my first nightmare - the croquet area then became the second are to acquire an extra chage. Soon after the enclosure was dismantled as were the last remnants of playing croquet – the mallet, the wire goals, the colored balls – a big chopping block was placed there, and as “chopping block area” it would serve for a second huge event in my life a few years hence: the spot whence I witnessed the arrival of the first wagon load of refugees.
Forgetting momentarily about the significance of the pond and the willow lined path between the pond and the marshy meadow to the left, the third areas to be specifically laden with memories and fears were the two bomb craters near the riding rink, well on the other of the road that skirted the pond before it lead back up the chestnut alley to the house. It appears I made an expedition to the bomb site and looked at the two grave-length bomb beds is what they looked like more than funnels or craters, as though the two-some had landed as a pair, sideways. When I made my first awkward colored pencils drawings – in another year or so - it was of the most awkward bombers tossing sausage-like bombs. By then I was secreted away in the far south-eastern part of the then still expanding Reich and must have got wind of what village boys did by throwing shit at each other which is what bombers appeared to do in my drawaing, long sausages filled with brown! at the stage of anality or is it monkeydom that village boys reside in at that stage of their life. So if bombers threw shit, the two bomb craters or graves were what??? I kept thinking of them, and that they were so near to the fox holes the side of the riding rink that had been cut out of the slope.