The moments of lucidity were rarer and rarer, but when they came, he regaled me with tales of swallowed teeth, basement brawls, and AIDS tests administered at midnight in ramshackle midtown health... [+]
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I am a doll.
I was born sixty years ago at Görlitz in Germany, in a hut in Stalag VIII-A.
I am the one for whom a Belgian prisoner of war, number 15825, opened his clenched fists and to whom he shouted out his pain. The pain of hunger, of cold, of illness, of imprisonment, of the dark, of separation, of the fear of whether he would still be alive the next day, of the horror of war. A pain sharpened by the barbed wire and the watchtowers.
I am the work of his trembling hands that could no longer caress. To make my body, he took a piece of his old shirt and rolled it around a little wooden stick and stuffed it with straw pulled out of his mattress. He tied one lace around the neck to make my head and another around the base of my body. To draw my face, he used ink. He diluted it in a bit of water and drew two light spots for my eyes. With a single thick vertical line, he drew me a nose and he traced a curve for my mouth.
I am the stalag doll.
I made my home in the inner pocket of his jacket with the letters KG slashed across the back. This was to be my cradle for the whole of his captivity. His heart kept me warm, though I was often startled or woken up by the too rapid beating of it. This happened every night when the camp guards came, with all their brutality, to lock the door of the hut. The same thing happened on the days when mail was given out as he'd wait desperately for his name to be called.
I am the one in whom he confided his suffering over the forced separation from his wife and his son.
I am the one to whom he dared show his tears, on the nights when he could not get to sleep.
I am only a doll. The stalag doll.
I am the one he took with him to cross the barbed wire when, in the spring of 1945, Russian soldiers came to attack Görlitz. Then the American army organized our repatriation to Belgium.
I am the one who shared with him the taste of rediscovered freedom.
I am the one who saw him get off the train in a daze, after an interminable journey, at Namur station.
I was born on April 2nd, 1946. I am Sergine.
I am the child my mother and father wanted to erase five years of separation.
I am the cement that would stick a damaged couple back together after the war.
I am a little girl adored by her Daddy.
I am a little girl who adores her Daddy.
I am a little girl who loves snuggling into his lap and listening to him tell the story of the stalag doll.
I am still a little girl who believes that the story of the stalag doll is her own.
Translated by Wendy Cross