I’ve been called many names in my life. My favorite: alien. My least favorite: illegitimate.

When the kids were little and I got to tell them that their mom was an alien and had proof in the form of a government card, it made my day. Let’s hope they let me be an alien for the rest of my life.

But it’s the least favorite that left some scars. Born out of wedlock or illegitimate in a small German village left a stigma with consequences I didn’t realize at the time. Certain kids were not allowed to associate with me, perhaps they thought illegitimacy was contagious.

So when one day a classmate approached and wanted my company and advice I felt flattered. Me? Little wee me? The outcast? Yes.

Since I lived next to a kitchen and knickknack store and she was searching for a present for her mom, she enlisted me to help pick it out. I was exhilarated.

It seemed like hours we were in that store, looking at every single item. Every choice I suggested was met with a: no, not the right thing. Eventually the store closed and we had to leave empty-handed. I felt sad that I failed her.

She left for home, and within minutes the shop owner rang our doorbell. I was dumbstruck when they accused me of theft in front of my grandmother. Yes, of course I had been to the store, duh. But i certainly didn’t steal a thing. It felt so weird, I started laughing and have never forgiven myself for that response as I thought now for sure I’d made myself look guilty. Perhaps I laughed because I didn’t want to cry. Or about the absurdity of the situation.

I had nothing to hide and nowhere to hide anything. I didn’t even have my own room but had to sleep in a room with my grandmother.

I was played. And well. All out of my feelings of inferiority. And perhaps that’s where my sense of justice was born. Thanks for that.

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