I don´t jump without my mother
It was a cold March evening in 2000 when Jo... came to
me and told me that A..., S... and K... had been
caught shoplifting and had been busted by the cops.
(These were all boys about 12 to 15 years of age who
used to hang in the streets for days, night after
night.) Oli, another of those boys, hadn´t been there,
he is now at the abandoned house behind the railway
embankment. Well, dark was coming soon, so I think “
Let´s go look for him“.
I walk through the railway station, no Oli to be seen.
Okay. The property behind the railway station is
surrounded by a wall, but I also know there is a
secret entrance that the boys use. I slip through the
crack in the wooden gate, and make my way past the
thorn bushes. Ouch! Prickly.
I stand in front of the old ramshackle building and
try to look through the door and windows. Nothing. I
call the boy, who has seen me before. I call his name
and also my own. I yell, “You know me, you and your
friends were at my store the day before yesterday.
Where are you? Come out!“ After some minutes a head
shows in the window upstairs. Oli! What? Come out. No!
Ok, then show me how I get in. Hmmm, Ok.
Up a wooden board, through the window, I´m thinking,
that´s a break-in, you´re too old for that, oh well,
the end justifies the means. Dirt everywhere, used
syringes, junkie apps! Not mine, says Oli, we have
nothing to do with that. A room, bulky rubbish, old
mattresses, cardboard, blankets and old curtains used
as blankets. Oli is only 12 years old, I can see that
he considers whether he should feel glad that I
dropped in or rather not trust me. Hi, I say, what are
you doing here? Homework! Homework? Here in the dark?
Well, as long as it was still light. Oli shivers, sits
down on a mattress and wraps himself in a curtain. I´m
waiting for the others, he says. They have been busted
for shoplifting, I reply. Shit! Well, they will all
beat the rap, they will be out again by tomorrow, Oli
responds. I ask him, you look tired, did you have
something to eat yet? He has been here for four days
already, and has hardly slept for three nights. In
school he ate the lunch breads that other kids had
thrown away. You are on the run, hang here, and yet
you go to school?, I ask him. He tells me he likes
going to school, and he must go in order to not raise
any suspicion. We have been talking for almost one
hour. I say to him, okay it´s dark now, dinner is on
me, let´s go. He hesitates, so I tell him if I wanted
to hurt him, I would have done it by now right here,
with nobody around to hear him. That convinces him. He
grabs his schoolbag and almost lovingly checks to see
if everything is complete and nothing is missing. We
climb out of the ramshackle building, leave the
property, and walk through the railway station towards
It is Friday evening and almost 9:30. I ask him if he
wants to go to McDonald´s. No, he would rather go to
the billiards cafe across from the railway station to
drink a cocoa. Okay, so it´s drinking cocoas and
eating chocolate. We talk for another hour, I try the
standard routine to persuade the boy to go home. No
dice, he cannot go home, especially not with me
accompanying him. Besides, he has to wait for the
Okay, he was not to be persuaded. It was cold and
uncomfortable outside, so I offered to get my camper,
which was heated, for him to spend the night in.
However, I could not leave him alone in a camper worth
almost 100,000 marks, so he would sleep in the alcove
over the driver´s cabin, and I would sleep below in
the back. Okay. We get the camper and park it behind
the railway station on an access road to the freight
yard. All of the sudden Oli has some urgent business
to do in the railway station, alone, without me! Okay,
I let him go and hope that he won´t run away on me,
but will return to the camper afterwards. Yes, he was
back again 5 minutes later. Weeks later he showed me
that the street kids had a “dead mailbox“ in the
railway station. To be on the safe side, he had
deposited a note there, writing that he was sleeping
in my camper and including the camper´s registration
number. Actually a very good idea, recommended for
Anyway, he climbed up in the alcove. I laid down below
and turned off the light. We have talked for hours
afterwards, until at last he fell asleep.
8:50 am, my mobile phone rings, time to be getting up.
I get dressed, then check on Oli. He is already awake
and peers at me with sleepy eyes. Come on, get up!
Please, 5 more minutes. Then, another 3 minutes. Now,
get down. Please, I have to tell you something, I peed
in my pants. Oh my, poor Oli was a bed-wetter, that´s
why he didn´t want to fall asleep. Now I understood
why he seldom sleeps when he is away from home. Only
yesterday he had been too tired to stay awake. I
really couldn´t be mad at him, but things needed to be
dealt with. I had to bring him to my place now so he
could take a bath and wash his pants. I gave him some
old warm-up pants of mine and we put his clothes on
the heater to dry. Then we returned to the camper with
hot water and hair shampoo and cleaned the mattress in
The others didn´t show up that day. Oli had told to me
that he lives alone with his mother, and that he has
trouble at home, which is why he couldn´t go there. I
said to him I couldn´t let him sleep here without his
parents´ consent, and we would have to go see his
mother on Sunday, at the latest, to talk.
During the day, Oli stayed with me, played in the
store, and did some more homework, too. He is in 6th
grade at a local secondary school, and gets good
Later, because of the bed-wetting we bought a small
pack of disposable briefs, just like Pampers only
bigger, at the drug store. He said that at his home he
had a plastic sheet in his bed and his mother would
wash the bed linen if he wet. He would wet the bed
about 4 times a week.
At about 11pm we went back to the camper to go to
sleep. Even though the heating had been on the whole
day, the mattress in the alcove was not yet dry. Oli
went in the bathroom of the camper to put on one of
the disposable briefs. I had to help seal it since he
had only 2 hands and no practice putting them on. Then
I gave him a sleeping-bag and he lay down next to me.
This time he could fall asleep without fear, but we
still talked a few more hours.
The next morning after waking Oli, I asked whether the
briefs were still dry. Yes and no! Yes and no? What
does that mean? Yes he peed a little in his sleep, but
the Pampers feels dry. Oh well, rise and shine, take
off the diaper in the bathroom. Put it in a plastic
bag and throw it away outside, please.
Then we have breakfast together. Afterwards we go to
see Oli´s mom. Even though we had agreed to this the
day before, Oli was very reluctant and obviously
unenthusiastic about showing me the way to his mom´s.
The home was a concrete flat in a suburb outside of
the city, a cheerless place with a high proportion of
immigrants. We went inside and up the stairs to the
3rd or 4th floor where Oli asked me to wait outside as
he wanted to bring his mother to the door. About 20
minutes later Oli was back, his mother had been
sleeping but would be coming out shortly. We waited
for almost an hour to no avail. His mother was maybe
too ill to come outside, Oli suggested. I told him I´d
like to check on his mother. Only very reluctantly Oli
let me inside.
The apartment was a real shock, true horror. The place
stunk, and both power and telephone were cut. The food
in the fridge was already rotting, empty vodka bottles
everywhere, empty red wine bottles, the cheap
two-liter bottles from the supermarket. Olis mother
sat - no, rather hung - on the sofa in front of the
turned-off television and was inaccessible. She did
not at all realize that a stranger was in her home,
and reacted to neither me nor Oliver. Oli seemed very
uncomfortable about the whole situation, and he pulled
me into his room. Which was more or less cleaned up.
Except for the bed: Because the power was out, the bed
linen hadn´t been washed at all. When Oli had wet the
bed, he or his mother had hung the sheets over the
door to dry and he would use them again the following
night. Now I could understand why the kid ran away
from home so much, and would rather sleep outside with
the street kids.
Then Oli explained to me, you know when I was little,
if my dad was drunk, he hit my mother. So my mother
moved here with me. After some time, his mother had
started to drink, too, more and more, and more and
more often. Oli was desperate over this, but in spite
of all this he loves his mother very dearly. In fact,
he loves this stinking, unkempt and boozy woman more
Oli goes to a secondary school, his grades are B´s
despite all this. In school no-one noticed anything,
or didn´t want to.
He had faked signatures. He had always done his
homework conscientiously and completely, just so he
wouldn´t raise any suspicions. The only problems he´d
had were when he needed to bring money to school for
some reason. In the end, his mother had completely
lost her grip on reality, had spent every buck on
booze and hadn´t provided for Oli. And nobody had
noticed or had wanted to notice. If his mother had
actually bought something to eat, it had almost always
been eaten up by the time he came home from school.
Of course Oli couldn´t bring home any friends in a
long time. Relatives of his mother also showed up very
rarely. Social workers, youth welfare? Nobody!
Anyway, we packed up his clothes and bed linen to wash
them at my place.
After that, I had many long conversations with Oli,
and explained to him - or at least tried to explain -
that his mother is ill and seriously in need of help.
During this time Oli lived with me in the camper for
almost five months. We bought more disposable briefs
and washed his clothes at my place. We went to the
social welfare office together to get the power turned
back on in their flat without telling on his mother.
The social welfare office then paid the bill directly
and subtracted the amount from his mother´s welfare
check. As far as I know, the social welfare office
provided for both the rent and electricity, and a
weekly welfare check to his mother over about 180
marks. To them I was Oli´s uncle.
We also went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that
included family members. I wanted Oli to see that his
mother was ill and needed help, and I had hoped to get
any information there on how to best do this. When Oli
told his story there, even the old ex-alcoholics had
tears in their eyes. Some of them had ruined the lives
of their families and children. The group members
didn´t want to let me in at first, because I wasn´t
actually a family member and didn´t admit to being an
alcoholic. Their rule is: Once an alcoholic, always an
alcoholic. “Hello my name is Bernd, and I am an
alcoholic.“ That´s how people introduce themselves
there, even if they didn´t have a drink for years.
But they couldn´t help Oli. He still mostly lived in
the camper, went to school like a good boy, and never
raised any suspicions.
Now and then he despaired such that he didn´t know how
to go on. Very often we talked until late at night. I
knew almost all his secrets, his dreams and hopes, and
he shared his sorrow with me. We went places together,
cuddled with each other.
But we didn´t manage to help his mother. We cleaned up
her apartment, and when the power was back on, we
washed her clothes. Washed out the fridge and bought
food. Tons of empty bottles went into the recycling
Once his mother got picked up for being publicly drunk
in the city and was taken to hospital. We went there
to take her home. That was one of the few days when
you could have a somewhat reasonable conversation with
her. But it didn´t accomplish anything.
In school they still didn´t notice anything strange
going on with Oli. Or were they looking away? Once
after summer break, I had arranged to meet with Oli to
do some shopping. He came from school and wouldn´t
speak. After some minutes he started to cry. I asked
him what was wrong. We were standing on a railway
bridge, with trains driving by deep below us. Oli
placed his schoolbag on the railing, and for one
moment he looked as if he wanted to drop this bag,
which up to now he had always taken so much care of.
I could see in his eyes that he thought about it.
Instead he opened the bag, took out his exercise book,
and tears were running down his face. He showed me his
latest essay. The teacher had written in red “Essay:
A“ and “Spelling: B-“. An asterisk in red to the right
of his text, and underneath it a remark “Very good
observation!“. Obviously a praise, so why were there
tears streaming down his cheeks?
The subject of the essay, or rather the assignment had
been: “An experience from your holidays: Describe one
hour in two pages“. Oliver hadn´t been on holidays
during summer break, so he had made up a trip with his
mother. The hour he described was a fictional train
ride, his mother sat opposite of him, talked to him,
played with him, looked out the window and finally
fell asleep. And here, where the red asterisk was, he
had written, “My mother smiled in her dreams, moved
her eyes under her closed eyelids, and her face lit up
as she smiled, and I was sure she dreamed about me...
“* Very good observation!“ And the tears were flowing
down his face!
I put his exercise book away, held him in my arms and
we looked down at the trains. In silence. Then he said
“I could jump“. I held him closer and looked at him
horrified. “But I don´t.“ I told him, that is good
thinking, why wouldn´t you jump? “I don´t jump WITHOUT
Yes, total despair and joyful cheers follow each
We were not able to find his father. That was a
pity. Other friends were found.
It was more comfortable in the camper than living on
the outside. Keeping up the facade that all was well
was surprisingly easy. Nobody at his school had a clue
what was going on. His mother would get plastered
every now and then and need to be taken to hospital.
Occasionally the police would bring her home.
However, nobody made any effort to check on Oli. The
Social Union of Catholic Women was supposed be
providing help, but all they did was ring the doorbell
Living in the camper like this had been going on for
weeks already. The bed-wetting was not so cool, but
the disposable briefs worked well. This led to little
secrets, like when Oli dirtied his underpants as well,
he´d occasionally wear a clean Pampers under his jeans
during the day.
Once he was cracking filthy jokes with his mates,
and I said to him “As long as your underwear has
adhesive strips on the sides you better not think
about stuff like that.“
Everybody laughed and he looked at me, ears quite
red. But it remained our secret.
Afterwards there was a big problem. His mother
suddenly disappeared. She was nowhere to be found.
The police had been in the apartment while Oli was in
school. They had left a message.
I went to the precinct as an alleged friend of his
mother, but only received incomplete information
there. Anyhow, she had been “declared incompetent”,
that´s how they called it in officiates; and she had
been taken to the county hospital. So Oli´s mom
ended up in the psychiatric hospital as an alcoholic.
The following days were very hard for Oli. The
police seemed to have been looking for him
unsuccessfully. They never expected him to be in
school. We were not permitted to talk to his mother on
the phone. Even visits to the hospital were in vain
because it was a locked ward.
On the one hand, Oli´s mother got help at last.
This Oli understood; but on the other hand, he loved
his mother very much and was worried. There was no
way Oli would turn to the police or to the youth
welfare office. This went on for five weeks.
But then one of the authorities called up his school
and was surprised to find out that Oli had been going
to school all this time. The next day, Oli was gone,
dragged out of the classroom by someone from the youth
I became concerned because the little cuddler hadn´t
shown up for dinner. The next morning he was still
missing. So I stood in front of his school at 7:55 and
spoke with two of his classmates. They told me that
Oli practically had to be forcefully removed from the
Then I had a very brief run-in with the head master,
because he had a class at 8:00. He didn´t see what he
could be blamed for, and informed me that Oli had
firmly refused to make any statements about me or
concerning his recent whereabouts. The head master
said that the woman from the youth welfare office had
threatened to file charges against me for child
abduction. I told him that this was total nonsense;
that the mother had been informed from the beginning
about where Oli had stayed; and she had no objections.
Well now, she had never really agreed or disagreed.
She had probably never really noticed when Oli had
For two months I didn´t hear anything from Oli. Then
there was a phone call. He was in a children´s home
one hundred and twenty-five miles away. He had had no
contact with his mother. What really pissed me off
was when I asked him about school and he told me it
was shit. He hated that school. Actually, Oli was a
boy who always liked to go to - and was good at -
school. Despite his difficult situation he earned
above-average secondary school grades. So what was
going on there?
Well, not only had my poor Oli been stuck in a
children´s home, he also was made to go to a special
school; grouped with the wrong people; taught below
his potential. What bullshit!
I had Oli give me the address of the place, and I
called their administration the same day. There I was
quickly brushed off. I was told that it was none of
my concern and I should keep out of it. So I submitted
my complaint in writing and politely asked to be
informed about the circumstances that led to Oli being
put in a special school.
A week later I received a registered letter from the
home´s administration with an order, which if
necessary would be legally enforced, to immediately
cease any contact with Oli. This measure was
completely baffling to me since I hadn´t sought any
contact with the boy, but instead had contacted the
home´s administration. But now I had the letterhead
of the home and the address of the state authority
that supervised the home. My ensuing research showed
that the special school was owned by the home, and
that the home received a lot of money for each pupil
on that school. So it was all about the money, and not
the well-being of the child.
I intervened aggressively with the state authority,
threatening press campaigns and legal action in case
the boy wasn´t immediately put in a secondary school.
This text was a part of this complaint and actually
served as preparation for a press campaign against the
home. Only when a TV production company made an
inquiry was there a response that the boy had now been
transferred to a local secondary school, and that his
time at the special school had been necessary for
educational requirements. I phoned the head master of
this secondary school, he confirmed that Oli was
attending his school and was a good student. Okay, I
was happy with this and took no further steps.
However, I would warn anyone who knows children in a
home/institution. Be alert, homes are not necessarily
there for the welfare of the children, but to make
money. The home is paid more than 4000 Euros a
month for each child in residence. The child’s
placement in the home brings in a lot of money, and
the placement is not always about the well-being of
the child. Look after the well-being of these
children, their school, education, etc., and do not
assume the home is doing that. Don´t let anyone shake
All this is happened almost two years ago, and I
wait for his mother to be released from the clinic,
hopefully cured. I know how much Oli loves her. I
will tell her. Then she will get to read this text.
If she is able to take care of Oli, I will help her to
get the boy back from the children´s home.
By the way, I ignored the order to cease contact.
I´m in touch with Oli via e-mail, chat, and telephone.
He is waiting for his mother. He rejected a foster
He will wait and see whether his mother will be able
to take care of him. If not, he will prepare to be
able to take care of his mother as soon as he is old
enough. The lady at the youth welfare office who is
assigned to Oli´s case doesn´t like me. She believes I
ruined the wonderful youth welfare plan she devised,
the one about the foster family. She doesn´t have a
clue how much Oli loves his stinking, boozy mum, and
how he dreams of his mum, that she loves him, that she
smiles as she dreams of him.
The lady of the youth welfare office should take a
look at Oli´s exercise book. The stains in it are from
real tears. Once I asked Oli if he wishes for a mother
he could be proud of. Yes, he wishes for a mother who
is proud of her son. I answered that his mother had a
son she could be very proud of. She will be proud when
she learns about this: because he will never jump
without his mother, because she could still need him.
Achim Müller (translated by Oliver)
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Achim Müller.
Published on e-Stories.org on 20.07.2004.