Work was a distraction that Charlotte immersed herself in. She took care of Emma as much as her work allowed, had sex with Justus, went to invitations, smiled, chatted, talked, and felt: nothingness. A huge brick of ice was building up inside her. Yet she functioned. Somehow, going on and on.
Then tenderness flooded all through her, making her innermost being wide and soft. An all encompassing feeling. And embedded in it was the voice of her mother. She was caressing and soothing her, whispering tenderly. The ice inside of her began to melt. And all the colors of life that mattered to her exploded instantly.
In the distance Charlotte perceived a shrill, penetrating sound. It was only slowly that reality came back into her thoughts. The alarm clock. She had been dreaming. Without opening her eyes, she found the switch and the noise stopped. Tears burned in her throat. One fell on her pillow. No more. That was all she could allow. Her innermost feelings were icing over again.
Her birthday. The first one without her mother. Pauline had organized a birthday dinner for her. No big deal. Just her family and Susanne with her husband and sons. Charlotte saw all the lovely people who had gone through so much trouble to celebrate her. She didn’t want to disappoint them. But it strained her to be cheerful. She would much rather have stayed by herself in her sorrow. And she could tell that her father felt the same way. Pauline, on the other hand, seemed upbeat, laughing uproariously and talking too loudly. Charlotte wished she would stop acting up. How nice it would be if they could grieve together, hug each other and share the pain.
“Aunt Charlotte, look, Mama made you your favorite dessert,” her niece Marie handed her a bowl of vanilla pudding with fresh strawberries.
Momentarily Charlotte felt ashamed of her negative thoughts. She glanced at her sister, recognizing the uncertain look as well as her affection. She smiled at her, “Thank you for everything.”
Pauline smiled back happily.
“Don’t mention it,” she said, raising her glass and continuing, “to the birthday girl.”
About two weeks later, Charlotte glanced at the book Susanne had given her for her birthday. It was a guidebook on emotional pain. She had neglected it and put it in the bookcase. She touched the cover, took it out and ran the individual pages over her thumb. Spotting the word pain scale, she paused.
“On a pain scale of one to ten, where is your pain,” she read.
“At one hundred,” Charlotte said vociferously, feeling the deep grief rising up inside her like a roaring tempest. With all her strength, she resisted and consciously pulled up her icy inner walls, which had helped her to endure everything up to this moment. Like a flash the ice inside her instantly expanded again. All of a sudden she felt strange again experiencing the total emotional void. Good that way after all.