Florence should have spent a lot of time yesterday night to completely clean the wooden floor. It was Sunday. We had to go Saint Martin Church, this beautiful building with its bell tower from the Brie region, classified 12th century Historical Monument. It was here Florence came to me, where we had received the sacrament of marriage from the hands of the Franciscan AG Hamman, a great specialist of the “Fathers of Church” and a friend of my dad. It was here my boys had been baptized. We were –nowadays– so lucky to live a few miles away from there. We had almost the impression the bell tower was at the end of pour garden, behind our hut.
Since I was back, I had never stopped thinking about going there.
“I’m gonna take the car” Florence offered. “I’ll stop in front of the entrance and boys will help you to find a place on the first floor of the nave.”
“Is it a good thing? I don’t want people to see me like that.” I had the reserve of the seriously-ill people who preferred to hide their situation in order to minimize their pains as much as they could.
Florence –who was used to taking decision in her work and at home– kept talking:
“The car is next to the portal. Go and get dressed!”
For one week, I had been home wearing pajamas. So wearing clothes was an event. Florence looked for clothes: a pretty shirt, a pair of trousers and a jacket.
“I’m gonna help you.”
“No I can do all alone!”
It was not easy to move. I was like a big baby, not easy to swaddle. I asked her to close the door in order either her or the boys not to see me in so a degrading situation which made them feel sad. I didn’t manage to lift my dead leg to put the trousers. I was barely in balance before my sickness– even more now– I had to hold a piece of furniture or a wall. It was – apparently – neuro-vegetative excesses and malfunctions of the hereditary cerebral sur-efficiency syndrome, the syndrome of Asperger. I remained seated on the bed. I sat up straight with difficulty but I did catch my just ironed, smelling clean laundry-like shirt. Buttoning it was very complicated so I called Florence.
“What about the tie?”
“Oh, yes, the tie!”
I tried to knot it by myself, but after many attempts, Florence gave another already knotted. I just had to go to the bathroom in order to shave and do my hair. I did it with my left hand – much more clever I thought. And Florence called the boys:
“Are you ready? Here we go.”
They stopped at the bottom of the stairs, stunned and marveled to see me like this: in healthy clothes. Nicolas – always pushy– told his mother:
“You should have asked me, I would have come and helped.”
It was a way to express his satisfaction.
I didn’t know how to say no – otherwise they didn’t say it. Raphael and Nicolas already took place on either of my sides and helped me to get up. They brought me to the car easily. Folding my big body was not simple. Constantin and Alexandre were behind because the big brother had to look after the small one. Florence drove and parked in the little space in front of the church. Curious believers looked at us. They all knew me.
My bodyguards helped me to get out of the car in front of people who greeted and congratulated me for already being on my feet. I forced to smile even though the rather patronizing comments of these “well-padded people” got on my nerves.
I sat on a chair at the bottom of the church, on the left, next to the big, beautiful, trimmed Bible. I was fine here. I almost forgot my pairs. A soft warm spread through my back and my neck. The boys and Florence went to the rostrum near the organ plyed by Jean-Luc Navarre, Dad’s successor, because the knew – so well – I liked to stay alone in front of God, in total connection with him.
On Sunday, we often went to dinner at my parents’. For once, they came home with my godchild, Paul, who was Nicolas’ “twin-first-cousin” (they have a time diffence of 5 ays). We were happy all together. The boys joked, Raphael went and got his cello, Nicolas, his tuba. Constantin absolutely wanted to be the first to sing. Complete oddity: shy Alexandre agreed to play with the saxophone a piece of my dear friend and old music history teacher, Jean Sichler.
The “Hilgers from Ormesson” (as they were called because they lived here), Stephanie, Benoit, Clemence and Diane joined us for dessert and enjoyed the concert. What a reward for Florence who stopped from working for more than ten years to raise our kids! It was the first time we took time to talk about everything, laugh all together after the big fear from the last days. Someone who came unexpectedly would never know I was a seriously-ill person. As a precaution, I didn’t use my right hand because it still didn’t obey.
Around six P.M., my brother left us. He had to go on the other side of the world for his job. He is a police captain, which makes my parents very proud of and admirative. We aren’t the same, either physically or mentally. But in his way to do things, in his voice intonations, his strong taste for history, politics, the old furniture, we can do the Hilgers’ strict education and mold had brought us very close. The two orphan boys we are really feel like brothers.
I didn’t take the same precautions with him than with my parents. I told him, alone, before he left:
“I’m back through the living. But the way to go and find a total autonomy and my old activities remains very long. My headache is worrying me! I’m feeling everything is not back to normal in there. My blood pressure is still high and the doctors have not found a way to low it yet.”
“You shouldn’t take it lightly and ask for complementary exams!” Benoit answered.
“I don’t want to worry anyone with my little problems. You understand, I was born with this headache. I often see blurry too. Objects become distorted and vanished in a very unpleasant fog.”
“Listen, I can talk to the doctor and ask him…”
“No way. I know everything’s gonna be alright. I’m sure of that.”
We split. But I did understand my brother didn’t get my point and he worried. Benoit is very pragmatic, realistic, a little rough and ready, very serious in his job and excessively cautious about spending money. You can see he was raised by bankers!
Benoit often clowns around when we are with family (he looks like Louis de Funes) or friends. But it is a way to hide his deep sensibility, a good heart and all the scars he nurses with sport – in particular, the tragic death of his little Aude (Florence’s godchild) born between Paul and Clemence.
When the Hilgers from Ormesson were gone, Florence offered a troll to the boys who agreed. I was very surprised. On Sunday, everyone usually lived on his own, in his room, went to a friend’s. The family strolling didn’t fit them because they needed thei independence at their age.
“Do you like coming with us, enjoying early summer?” Florence asked.
I pictured myself, held by my sons in the street where everybody knew me. I acted vainly.
“No, it’s not the moment yet. Next Sunday, I’ll be stronger. Go without me!”
What I wanted – especially –was to be alone. I won’t have the time to do something but it will be a moment of breathe, an hour spent with myself in order to analyze my moves and to think about all gestures I needed to learn again.
When the key turned in the lock, I got up from the white coach in the living room – which I was pretty good at by now. I went to the corridor holding the doors and the stairs which led upstairs, in the boys’ territory. I decided to get downstairs alone in the first floor. Like an unexperienced mountain climber, at the top of a cliff, I had to slide on my healthy foot on the steps. Then the other – the one which never followed its twin – succeeded! Little by little, I arrived downstairs. I was so proud of me!
I overcame my fear. I remembered I felt the same way when I played in Paris “Grande Synagogue, rue des Victoires” for the twinning with the Tel Aviv Synagogue. Several personalities were there and the ceremony was broadcast live and internationally. I was asked to play with my violinist friend, Franck Natan, an unfinished duet written in Auschwitz- Birkenau. I met Marek Halter who liked – like me – organizing charitable and interprofessional events. I found so symbolic the Providence brought me here to live so an important moment. Would She like I tie up with my Jewish roots?
At nineteen, I was a new recruit of the “Israeli Consistory of Paris”. I felt there like home. All was so obvious! Moreover, the “Chief Rabbi of France” told me a few times later – when he learnt I was a practising Catholic – he had been very stunned. He thought I was an Ashkenazi Jew because of my build and the self-confidence I had when I played their so difficult to earn traditional styles.
I remembered when I was selected with my friends of the “French Quintet” to participate to the “Musical Cruises Paquet” or when I was congratulated by the jury when I received a magnificent cup as a laureate of the prestigious “First Prize of French Literatur” of Avignon (a French town) for my poetry collection called “Louanges”. Or when my paintings were sold to Drouot – I was only 24! – making me a popular, legitimate painter.
These memories made me feel good but I quickly became aware of my present: all my ongoing concerts I won’t be able to go this year at the “French-American Music Festival”, at the “Nuits Romanes” and so many others.
I would like to take care of the French-Polish Quintet, my two choirs, be there and active to my interreligious associations “Artisans de Paix” with Paula Kasparian, Pastor Alain Joly, François de Palmeart and Professor Jean-Paul Durant, Father Dominican aka the painter Jean-Jacques Boildieu.
The family came back from his small stroll. The boys quickly went back to their bedroom. Florence locked in her tiny office to finalize some files for the morning after because we decided – together – she’ll go back to work. I remained alone in the first floor, faced with myself, which fitted me perfectly. Nobody could witness my pointless, yet so important at this moment, concern of my rehabilitation. Indeed, for a few days now, I was working a series of common moves which required a dexterity I was slowly rediscovered. I tried to unbutton my shirt. I began with the down – the easiest to reach – buttons. The thumb of my left hand placed the button at the edge of the fabric. But the fingers of the right hand didn’t succeed in sliding the button out of the buttonhole. My clumsiness annoyed me. I might well frown my eyebrows, focus all my attention on it, there was nothing to do! The right forefinger and thumb closed too up and missed the button or they seized and pulled it. After several attempts, I gave up… totally discouraged.
I was not ready yet to hold a brush and make it glide over the canvas with a precise pressure. I had to think about this simple, ultra-simple gesture, the one of a little chold who learnt to know his body and then order more and more complicated series of variations. I might have an idea.
In the evening, around 7:30 P.M., I asked Florence:
“Tell me, where is the musical rattle my parents offered to Nicolas and Constantin?”
She glanced at me, stunned and curious.
“Now you get interested in old toys of the boys! We gave everything, I think !”
I kept on:
“It was a little plastic stick and a ball at the bottom and you have to move it for it to ring?”
She asked the question but I could see in her eyes she understood.
“If we didn’t give it with the rest, I think I know where it could be.”
She vanished. I heard her open the door of the garage which was behind our house, in the garden. Calypso followed her like her own shadow. In the bottom of the garden, there was a hut, or rather a cabin partly built in rocks, which was very dilapidated. And I planned to repair it in order to turn it into my painter workshop since we bought the house. For the moment, as it didn’t rain inside since Patrick Peudevin, a friend-student from Rosny sous Bois, had helped me to fix the roof, we turned the space into a storeroom and a lot of boxes filled with my collection of minerals, toys and useless things pulled up. My wife came back a few minutes later. She was overjoyed. She joled about everything, even the hardest subjects. It was her way to release tension and anxiety and to take good decisions.
“Here is a little foamed ball and your briefcase with maracas, a little tambourine, a triangle, a xylophone which date from the creation of our society “Hilger-Art au Pluriel” I’va just found! Have fun!”
I took the plastic handle of one of the percussion instruments which were used so much when I gave lessons of Introduction to music. I thought to hold it firstly in my left hand in order to determine the rehabilitation possibilities I suspected. The handle was made of hard plastic I will never be able to crush and when I shook it, the instrument sounded like a rattle – which was interested me the most. I put this kind of child rattle in a corner because I wanted to be alone when I tried it. In front of me, Florence was surprised:
“Well, it was all you wanted to do with it?”
“I’ll see tomorrow.”
She didn’t insist and went upstairs where I heard her talk with Constantin. I could not wait for tomorrow. When Florence and the boys will be gone, I will have a full day to give to my experiences and work my gestures.
When the house was empty, the disabled person was free of his clumsy moves, his unfinished attempts, his falls too.
Last night, when my hours of insomnia, I thought about my progress and the need to never jump the gun. My impatience could turn against myself, I had to let my body the time to assimilate each exercice I placed in a precise order of progression.