The evening after, I had a cane. When Florence came back from work, she just went to the “4 bis” before (at my parents’ and my godmother’s) and brought me back “Manou’s stick”. Benoit and I considered her as one of our grandmothers (Manou is Manet – my godmother–‘s mom).
She found me. I was upstairs. My progress made me feel so well than I had the impression I could overturn the giant, Goliath. However, in order not to spoil my joy, I didn’t go back in my room, I didn’t even look at my piano when I walked next to the open door. Anyway, I was able to compose and write music sheets thanks to the musical writing software I began to understand.
I allowed myself a big folly. I opened the French-window upstairs. It led to a small patio linked to the garden by stairs. I breathed the fresh, spring-like air with a beaming sun for a long time. Then I used the stairs, holding the solid wrought-iron handrails. I widened my area of freedom even though I didn’t go walking in the path leading to the hut.
Florence put Manou’s stick in front of me. I took it in my hands. I was happy, I weighed it, realized how long it was. But like with the maracas, I didn’t want to try it in front of my wife. I was – once again – held on by my modesty. Sometimes, I felt my sick situation was like a sin I was responsible for.
Raphael was the first to come home after school. I just had the time to hide the cane. We talked for a while and decided to play music together again in a few time. The others came home after. They kissed me and went to their bedrooms to do their homework. We were reunited for dinner at the usual table. Everybody seemed to believe my sickness was an old, bad memory. Boys talked about their usual things and didn’t forget to argue a little. They spoke about their days, politics, news. I listened to them with Florence as is nothing special had happened.
After the dinner, I felt tired. I had to go downstairs but I didn’t want to do it by myself because I was scared of falling and ruining all my efforts (would I become cautious?). I asked Nicolas and Raphael who were next to me for helping me only to prevent me from tripping. The two others came because they would have liked to be a part in the operation. They were usually so in a hurry to escape from clearing the dishes, running in their bedroom. Today, they were in front of their elder brothers in the middle of the stairs. All went well, even better than I was expected. I went down the stairs pretty easily but like a ninety-year-old grandpa, without tripping. It was one of my daily triumph but I didn’t swagger. Tonight, the atmosphere was joyful in the house, as it had not been since I had had my stroke. I understood my courage could bring me rewards and happiness to share. Nevertheless, there was a world between fifteen steps of a stairs and Haydn’s double concerto . I’d rather not think about it.
On morning, I was not well. I slept a little but when I woke up, I had to restart my totally numb body and mind. In order to sitin my bed, I devenoped a technique: I rolled on my healthy side and pushed with my left arm. I was in pain – each part of my body hurt – my head spun around. In front of me, the chest of drawers and the door performed a pas-de-deux I would have done without. Florence noticed it:
“You do not feel weel this morning?”
“I’m feeling a little dizzy. But getting on board is still very difficult. But after, it gets fine!”
I tried to stand but around me, all was spinning around quicker. I had a migraine and each move awakened a harsh pain in my head. I had the impression of being rusted. I heard a loud noise each time I tried to move my neck, my back and my healthy arm. The other was always so heavy, cast-iron but not still either.
Let’s go! I made a step leaning on the wall and hoped to reach the door. I had the idea to go upstairs in order to have breakfast with the whole family but I knew it was not reasonable. Florence wanted to bring me a tray for breakfast but I refused.
“You don’t have to jump the gun. Take your time. You already manage to do a lot of things yesterday.“ She told me softly.
Wonderful Florence. It was so fair! The stick was hidden near the bed where she put it the day before. I had a precise plan. I was going to wait for the house to be empty to put it into action. Like for the giant Atlas, I had to start again and again and told me I was gonna do it!
I made my best to minimize the great tiredness I felt. I didn’t want to prevent my close ones from doing what they usually did.
The boys left first, then Florence who kept on tidying files in her small office. Finally, she got downstairs. And came to kiss me.
“I prepared your breakfast, you’ll only have to heat it up in the microwave.”
When she was gone, I decided to go but I needed my cane first to try to make a few steps in the corridor and not leaned on anything. My first autonomous steps in a way!
The operation was more complicated than I thought. In order to do things well, to help left side, whicj=h answered to my impulsion, I needed to lean on my stick with my right hand. But tis damned hand – as hard as a piece of wood – remained stubborn and fanciful and played me tricks. Either my hand pushed on the stick at the risk of making me fall or it stayed floppy and my body moved forwards.
Anyway, I needed to say focus. It was essential. I looked in my mind for a way to repeat the order like before the strokes, when every of these moves were common. My brain seemed to have a break, to have forgotten everything once again. My hand was entirely independent from my body.
I started again for the umpteenth time – still the sad, deplorable result. The better will be to give up, even if I was not like that. To forget my failure, I decided to go upstairs, then downstairs. I thought – a long time – about the first step trying to envisage every mistake which could cause a catastrophe. Finally, I had a go but an awful pain in my kidneys stopped me from the first step. My healthy side did not recover from the day before. Here I was: a common effort fell me apart! I had to give in. A gloomy morning started for me because I had to go back to bed and lay down. I felt downhearted when suddenly, a voice told me: “Nothing allows you to think about not succeeding in!”
This support coming from deep inside me encouraged me. I was about to think I will reach at the edge of what I could learn, I will be a disabled person forever. I didn’t have yet either the force to get up or to read. During these very rare – fortunately – despondency or every time my mind was not busy, the traces of my tormented little childhood came back disorderly in mind, collided, annoyed, upset to make me suffer. In this kind of moments, the question of my origins haunted me. Why so many mysteries? Why when I was an adult, the Social Services I was entrusted to didn’t get in touch with me? I will learn later that for the civil servants of this wonderful institution I didn’t “officially” have a dad. So why was I given so many advantages as a “ward of the Nation”? I understood (and no one told me the contrary) some secrets were deeply buried.
Bad morning. I managed to get out of bed, of the bedroom and went to the bathroom. I opened the door of the shower, sat on a stool as I could. The hot water on my skin made me feel very fine. I was now sure I didn’t feel anything on the right and had to be careful not to burn. When I was barely dressed – and it was not easy, believe me! – my parents came to quickly visit me. Fortunately, I was not in bed anymore! I watched Dad walking, he was so straight, so worthy. A gentleman, it was so obvious when he was next to me, the cripple. When they were gone, I realized how lucky I was – the child of no one – to be raised by this cultivated, wealthy couple who fitted me so perfectly. Why them? Were they chosen because the people who knew my true story wished I was brought up as a privileged child, which fitted with my noble roots?
When I was three or four, I reminded of not talking French very well and I communicated with my close ones thanks to phonetic mimic but never a sentence. I jabbered, told for instance: “néné, nenette?” to ask for my glasses. I was interested in everything, insatiable, pretty mature. I often swung backwards and forwards, never stopped asking questions. I was hyperactive as it was called nowadays. At that time, my mental over-efficience syndrome I passed down to my boys was not known or detected. Then, Thanks to Hilger’s strong education, I spoke perfect French, I learnt German when I was seven, then Latin, English an Spanish. I never had Yiddish, Russian or Polish classes. I was surprised when I understood them during the meetings with Jacek Stankiewicz, Alexandre Stajic – because I have contractual missions in “Israeli Consistory in Paris” (ACIP) – and my dear friend and accomplice Roland Safrana. Did it come from my two genitors? My mother, Maria, should have spoken or sung to me in these languages? And my father, Claude Hilger, always told me when I was young, I went in front of his piano or organ and I could not stop looking for Slav or Gypsy harmonies. It bothered him because he thought it was pop music. Each morning, he rehearsed Bach, Litaize (he was his student, Messaien or Jean Langlais’ before he left to the “Crédit Foncier de France”.
Guess what? Our name was also “schemed”.In fact, “Hilger” comes from Germany, from the Palatinate to be exact, a region of craftmen where a lot of people are from Ashkenazi Jewish origins. Family names have always a very precise meaning. Hilger means nothing in German. A friend who is a specialist in genealogy and family names explains to me the name was shortened or changed in order to “make it sound more German”, to be suitable and especially not to draw Federal German leaders’ attention – Alsace and Lorraine belonged to them at that time.
I was more and more upset because I was not able to play music. The little percussion instruments were not enough to free and escape me. Since I was adopted and before I had strokes, only drawing, painting, playing and writing music calmed down my fears and my brain-waves. My paintings have always been very personal, colorful, harmonious, mystical, ebullient and tormented. I would have named my first pastel drawing I made when I was four or five, “The Hand of God”.
I happily put on the canvas the colors, shapes which surely made reference to untold memories, parts of my little childhood which came back as nightmares. The figurative style was not my only goal. Painting, playing music focused my fears. Praying, studying, trying to be the best filled my mind and helped me to sleep deeply. I was feeling protected, on the loving authority of the foster parents. It lasted – there were highs and lows – up to my military service. My insomnia started again as soon as I arrived in Auxerre’s assistant policemen training center. Being in a close, monitored military world, sleeping in metal bunk beds awaked my fears and since, they have not left me. During the night, when I was on the watch, like a drowsy watchdog, I never slept deeply.
My precocious painting ability was detected by the director of the pre-school, Miss Jacquet. She got an appointment for Mom with her friend, the famous pianist and education specialist, Ginette Martenot. What a wonderful person! This already-old woman was also shared between music and drawing. She saw in me what she has always been. She entrusted me to one of the teachers who learnt according to the Martenot method in Saint Mandé. After I got a dispensation for my young age, Mrs. Durnerin agreed I came to her workshop and her daily classes. I began my double artistic training. Afterwards, I met Marc Chagall in 1984 thanks to Ginette Martenot. I could spend a lot of wonderful, privileged, unforgettable moments with the painter at the end of his life.
I didn’t stop asking questions to these mastes about thei experiences, part, artistic approach. I understood every art could gather men beyond origins and religious belief. I wanted to imitate him. Nowadays, I am pleased to be a part of the board of directors of the awesome association “Artisans de Paix”. I would like to create an interreligious choir “Breathe and Voice” and a “Spiritual Festival Based on Arts”. Thanks to Ginette and also her husband, Didier Lazard, , a fromer Sciences-Po teacher who trained me for two years in psycho-teaching methods. Thereby, I became a drawing, painting, sculpting teacher in Thiais’ “Academy of Arts” when I was twenty-three. Simultaneously, I could continue my career of musician, poet, businessman and artistic director.
After my parents were gone, I was more than decided to go in front of my canvas again. When I looked at the scribbles I made the other days, I wondered why I didn’t take the brushwith my left hand. That was what I did this but I rapidly understood this hand was clumsier even if it perfectly obeyed my orders. I might well concentrate, focus all my attentions on the move to do, a part of my person refused to obey It was the contrary for my right hand. For my paralyzed side, the orders left the brain clear and measured but the transmission and the sensations didn’t reach the good muscles. The brain didn’t even give the good order to the left hand. I was clumsy with my two hands!
Near me, the piano keys gave me signs. A long partnership united us. I thought it could help me. This was true, my right hand didn’t work but the left one remembered how she played music. What if I learnt the concertos with my left hand?
I slowly moved to the stool and I started to plink on my healthy hand. Some simple notes, some chords, what a bliss! I could still play music even though it was amputated from the most important thing. I could still create melodies, play them with my left hand and design the arrangement. It made me feel light, happy like a floating bubble in the young afternoon. The person I used to be joined the person I was now. There was no before Michel and no after Michel. Now I found my unity and I liked to do something dangerous. I stood up from the stool and tried to go up to the door without leaning on. My right leg didn’t answer and I fell in the middle of the room. I knocked the easel and the color box down.
When Florence was back from work, I was watching television. After I picked all my jumble up, I managed – somehow – to go upstairs. I would like to stand to kiss her but an awful pain in my back made me bend my back. And my head still hurt.
“Everything is trapped!”
“That’s normal.” She answered. “You forced a lot these days. You need timeto get your forces back.”
Constantin has always had a talent to find which didn’t concern him. When he came back from school, he saw my cane I forgot in the corridor. He was stunned and came to me baffled, almost crying. I gave him a hug.
“So, you’re gonna walk with a stick like the old people?”
I got along fine with a little lie:
“No. Don’t worry. The stick is only a way to move safely when I’m alone. I won’t soon need it anymore.”
He didn’t insist but he was not convinced.