Saturday, 16 April 2011


It’s two thirty in the morning and Sigrid’s awake. There’ll be no more sleep tonight – too much adrenalin, excitement, fear and coffee.

She was always an early riser but things have become pretty skewed in the past couple of months. Now she’ll sleep, exhausted, around nine in the evening and then, a few hours later, wake up … and get up.

At the beginning she told herself – and others – that she enjoys it. Maybe she did at first. She was on sick leave anyway; some kind of strange thing involving trouble with her gut and a low erythrocyte count. She’d just collapsed one day, woken up to find herself lying in cold urine. Her doctor wasn’t sure about what was causing it; it might even be some kind of exotic parasite (she told us) and she had her own theory about where she might have picked that up. He’d put her on sick leave, iron tablets and antibiotics – if it didn’t clear up, then he’d start doing some tests.

She sits in the kitchen, a mug of fresh, strong, black coffee before her, smoking. The last time my daughter visited us, she left a copy of her school yearbook behind. Sigrid has spent many hours looking at it in the past few days and now she opens it once more. The house is silent, outside on the street, ten minutes can go by at this depth of the night before a car passes.

There is a connection I’m sure there’s a connection but nobody else can see it but it’s there. I needed long enough to see it myself but it’s all connected. The pictures you can see it in the faces that girl is telling us something but she can’t say it out loud because then THEY would find out and that could be the end of her …
She is SO brave and clever and thank God I can understand it. You can see it in her EYES she’s telling us that they are being held against their will and the hands of that dirty old man were touching her everywhere but he won’t do anything more because that would damage the goods instead he’s going to sell her to that circle of pimps but she knows because she’s seen what happens to the others that they just disappear but she’s found a way to send out a signal with that look in her eyes and I KNOW what she’s really saying …
We need potatoes, I could do fried potatoes with bacon and eggs tomorrow; I’ve got to use some of those eggs soon anyway or maybe I could bake …
Although if I’m going to bake then I should clean the oven first …

Restless, the nervous energy rocketing around inside her like a billiard ball hit hard by the cue and ricocheting again and again from the cushions, she starts to clean the oven. At three thirty she’s finished. She sits down at the kitchen table again. Another cup of coffee, another cigarette. She examines the pictures of the girls in the school yearbook again.

I am NOT mad, this is really happening, the others just can’t understand it. It’s all so CLEAR! He’s a doctor that’s the way he’s able to organise it all without anyone getting suspicious about it. But the evidence is here it’s all so clear because it’s in their names. This girl is called Collette and this one is Julie but it’s all a CODE Julie and Collette have changed their names so that they can send out a message without him realising that they’re doing it. How clever of them! How BRAVE! But now I’ve got to help them somehow because the message has reached ME and I’ve understood it …

Outside on the street, there’s a sound of a car stopping, briefly voices, the clunk of the door. The car drives on. The silence returns. She looks at the clock. A quarter to four.

Who was that? Probably just someone coming home late unless … Maybe they’re on to me no they couldn’t be I haven’t told anyone about the code the messages in the photos except Francis. No he wouldn’t be involved although he won’t take me seriously he can’t see it why can’t he see it? it’s so clear!
At least he seems to believe me about the rape. All those years ago and I forgot it completely but I remember now and I know what those poor girls are going through …
The car! Who got out? Did someone sneak in here are they watching me? There are so many of them and they’re so well organised and they could be hiding in the flat right now ogodogodogod ….Calm down, Sigrid! Check …

She gets up and turns on all the lights in the kitchen. Then she moves though the apartment, turning on all the lights in every room, standing in each room checking carefully, satisfying herself that nothing has been changed. She looks into the bedroom, watching my sleeping form for a few minutes, listening to my breathing. Going out, she leaves the door ajar. The front door is locked, she checks the chain. Feeling a little more secure, she goes back to the kitchen. Another cigarette, another cup of coffee. She sits down and examines the photos in the yearbook once more.

But I KNOW I’m right all those poor girls and I WILL do something for them all I have to do is persuade Francis and the boys as long as they don’t get to me first because we could all be in danger …

That’s where I found her when I got up in the morning. As I drank a cup of coffee she showed me the photos in the yearbook once more, once more explaining to me about the paedophile ring they were referring to, how the names and facial expressions of the girls there all had a meaning, how we needed to help them, how the father of my ex-wife (a retired doctor) was involved up to his neck in the whole thing.

I tried to explain to her that none of this was true, as I had frequently in the previous days, but gave up quickly. I wasn’t getting through to her. She had a rebuttal ready for everything I said, the explanations becoming ever more abstruse but, for her, none the less real for all that. I had to go to work. She accepted that. Would she be all right? Yes, she said. Would she think about making an appointment with a doctor? There was no need for her to see a doctor, she said, she was fine.

We’d had this conversation before as well.

On my way to work, I thought once more about my options. Sometimes knowing too much doesn’t help. As a health professional, I knew that someone suffering from mental imbalance can’t be forced to accept any kind of treatment unless they are an acute danger to themselves or others … and she hadn’t reached that stage – yet. If she accepted that she was delusional and needed help then medication would work pretty quickly, but her delusion is real for her so she can see no reason for treatment. I’d enlisted others to talk to her too, but they’d had as little success as I. She wouldn’t allow me to talk to her doctor, or allow him to talk to me. It would have to get worse before it would get better.

It did. About a week later she woke me in the middle of the night, a kitchen knife in her hand. She needed it for protection she said. She had to talk to me, explain the whole thing once more. I had to listen to her, she said. She waved the knife around and demanded that I get up. She was very distressed, sure that she was about to be attacked. By whom? The agitation and paranoia had become so great that her chains of reasoning had become completely incoherent, though they still seemed to make sense to her. I got up, knowing I had to be careful, hoping I could do something to calm her.

I couldn’t. I phoned for emergency medical help, she phoned the police, then a taxi and had left the apartment before the doctor or the cops turned up. Her sons and I tracked her down the following afternoon and we managed to get her to accompany us to the psychiatric clinic. 


Sedation. Medication. And a slow return to what we call sanity. A realisation, at least, that something had gone wrong, that she had become lost in delusion. The woman I knew and loved was there again.

And they all lived happily ever after …

* * * * *

Unfortunately it didn’t last. This is a real-life story, no fairytale. After a couple of months, sure that she was back to normal and chafing under the side-effects of the medication, she stopped taking the pills. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder whether she hadn’t just been humouring us all the time – conforming until she felt she didn’t need to any more. Once again she drifted into her own version of reality, one incomprehensible to anyone else. Once more a growth in incoherence. But the theme had changed. Instead of imaginary paedophile rings, this time I was the enemy – one who was trying, for reasons known only to her, to have her locked away. There was another evening very like the one I’ve just described, though this time she became violent. Once more, committal.

Once more, sedation. But she had learned. You can be committed in Germany for four weeks on a judge’s order if the medical professionals attest that you are an acute danger to yourself and others. You can’t be forced to accept treatment. She didn’t; instead she “behaved” herself and was released.

And so, the relationship we had had for nine years ended. The woman I had loved, with whom I was sure I would grow old together, was gone, replaced by someone I didn’t know – someone who hated me and enjoyed showing me how much. Within three weeks I had found a new flat, renovated it, furnished it and had moved out, to the accompaniment of spiteful curses.

It’s three years ago now. We have no contact. From others I have heard that her life since has been difficult, but that she’s surviving somehow.

Me, I’m doing just fine. The reconstruction of my life happened quickly, thanks to the help of my daughters, family and many friends. Today, if I was offered my old life back, before Sigrid “lost” it, I think I would decline.

Life is sometimes very strange.

Pictures retrieved from:


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