While I was looking for something else on my computer, I came across an email exchange with him in the fall of 2001, after he had come back from the army a broken, sick man, sick in both body and soul. He was back in school at Kansas State University, and had decided to take German, hoping that the fluent German of his childhood when he attended the German Kindergarten (preschool) for two years would make it easier to learn the language.
It didn't. Although both our sons spoke fluent German after the two years we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach, we moved from there to Japan, and my silly sons absolutely refused to speak German there, insisting that "they don't speak that here" and even holding their hands over their ears when we tried valiantly (at first) to keep up the language with them.
Leif was only five years old when we moved to Japan, and without using the language, he forgot it. It would be nice to think that it would just "come back" with some memory jogging, but apparently, like most of what happens in a five-year-old's life, the memory just wasn't there. Leif was struggling with his German class and I volunteered to help him study, just as I had helped him with algebra and Spanish when he was in high school.
One evening, he apparently came over, that fall of 2001, to have dinner with us and to study, but wasn't being cooperative. I got frustrated with him and went upstairs to calm down. While I was upstairs, he left without saying goodbye. I was very hurt, and wrote him a long and very critical email about his lack of motivation to study, how he had hurt my feelings by being uncooperative and then leaving without saying goodbye. I was pretty emotional and hard on him, and I am sure it must have hurt.
His answer said that he didn't feel like being with people, was depressed, and didn't want to stay, that he had gone somewhere by himself to study, and that at least my admonitions had gotten him to do that. He was sorry he had hurt my feelings, and said he was not good at expressing gratitude.
It hurt me to read that exchange. It reminded me of the many times when I wrote him critical email or letters about his finances, his studies, his failure to live up to some agreement (like working on the 710 N. 9th Street house painting), or failure to let us know whether he was going to show up for dinner. He didn't argue with me or tell me I was being unfair. He seemed to accept what I had to say, but I'm sure it hurt to read those things. I regret them now because although they were true, I wonder if my writing them didn't make him feel worthless.
Of course, they were not the sum total of our relationship, thank goodness, and the reasons I wrote them were twofold. First, I hoped to get him to live up to his abilities and responsibilities, and I also wanted him to see that his behavior affected others . . . me, and his father. The trouble is, I didn't then, and I still don't now, know whether what I was doing and saying were the right way to go about it, whether they hurt more than they helped. I puzzle over what I could or should have done differently, and I can't see with any clarity what would have made the difference.
I know Leif loved us, and he knew he was loved. He claimed he had great self esteem, but I wonder about that. I think it would be hard to maintain it with all he went through.
This photo of Leif was taken in Japan when he was about six years old. It was a slide I just scanned about a year ago and hadn't seen in all those years. I don't know for sure where in Japan it was taken, though I think it was in Kyoto. It's a good example of how pensive he could be at times. I wish I could go back to that day, to that little boy, and tell him again how much I loved him. I wish I could go back to that day when he left our house without saying goodbye and write that email differently, or not at all. I wish I had understood that he left not just because he was inconsiderate (which he was), but because he was depressed and just wanted to be alone. I wish he had just told me that. So many missed chances for communication.