We left for Germany the day after I turned eight. My dad was sent to work at an Army hospital in Nuremburg, and where my dad went, we all went, birthday or not. When we arrived, my dad found a modest apartment building about five miles from the hospital, we moved in, and he went to work.
The rest of us were trapped.
It was summer. My brother and I had nothing to do. We didn't know anyone, and we didn't speak or read German. The only boy we met was the landlord's son, a rotund little boy named Ralph. Ralph had a mouth full of rotting teeth, which my brother thought was the coolest thing ever. They became fast friends, communicating in whatever universal language little boys used.
I did not have any round, toothless children to play with. I tried to amuse myself. I played with the two or three toys that I had been allowed to bring on the plane. I listened to the radio and sang at the top of my lungs, until my mother took the radio. I read every single book in the apartment. Twice.
And I electrocuted myself.
I was in my room. I was pretending that I had found a magical key that would open into another dimension. This magical dimension bore a striking similarity to the Emerald City from Oz, except that there was candy involved. Mountains of deliciously sweet candy. The hairpin in my hand was the key, and the 220 volt electrical outlet was the keyhole. I stuck in the key, and turned it.
Instead of a door opening into a shower of gummi bears, there was a loud pop and the smell of ozone. My bones turned to jelly, my skin became gelatin. I slowly pulled the smoking hairpin out of the outlet. I sat very still on the floor, my heart racing, my breath shallow. I had the shakes, but I wasn't cold. My hand hurt. I looked down; at the base of my thumb was an angry blister, filling with fluid. I just sat there staring, watching it swell. I don't know how long I sat like that.
My first conscious thought was to wonder why my mother hadn't come running when she heard that popping sound. My second thought was to hide what happened, because back then there was only one punishment for every infraction, and I felt that I had been punished quite enough, thank you. I looked at the outlet; there was nothing to indicate that an eight year old had foolishly stuck a hairpin into it. No evidence, no witness, and unless I told anyone; my secret was safe.
But I felt odd. Shaky. Drained. Exhausted. I managed to get to my feet long enough to stumble to the bed, and then I passed out. I woke up three hours later, just in time for dinner, feeling myself again. And nobody was the wiser.