Reasons To Live - A Short Story
I was in the kitchen one morning with my family having breakfast, standing at the kitchen island, my husband was talking to me. At that moment, a woman surrounded by people, appeared to me. She wore a red scarf over her head. She told me she had a story to tell me about her and her entourage. This is that story.
Reasons To Live
We lived on a farm. It was a simple life. We mostly grew all of our own food and depended upon our neighbors to supplement the rest. Our stake in the community was strong as our interdependence counted on it. From that arose a strong mutual respect, a looking out for, and attending to the well-being of not only ourselves, but those around us. Our survival, joy, and happiness depended upon it.
I had many good years on that farm. Children were born. The elderly died. It all had a rhythmic flow to it all. It seemed that nothing about that would change. But it did. That was when the soldiers came.
They came barreling onto the dirt road that connected our domains. We were so off the beaten path that we didn't even have a name for what we thought of as our "little city". When they came through with an air of authority, the soldiers looked down at us as backwards and dirty.
Normally, they would have just passed by. They wanted nothing to do with us. But one of them, a fair, medium height army officer in a blue grey cap that fit the form of his head and he inserted himself into our world.
Their caravan included military war machines, goods folded and stored into the backs of trucks, riders on horse. The man in the blue grey cap was on one such horses. We all ran to the dirt road on that bright summer day to watch the procession. It was nothing like we had seen before. It was like a passing wave, so we thought, it would come in and out as mysteriously and inexplicably from whence it came.
I caught eyes with him. He looked down rigidly at me. From his perspective, he saw a short, widowed woman with a red wrap over her head, her nose bent, her skin darkened by farming in the sun, modest wool clothes that did not have much shape. Indeed, I was no sight for sore eyes, but I felt a heart full of love and believed that my beauty was buried within this simple shell.
His piercing blue eyes seemed to be processing a thousand thoughts as if he was calculating probabilities in his mind. He ordered the caravan to stop. He jumped off his horse. And like that, that was how he ordered us to be taken with him.
It all happened in a blur. There was five that he selected. Me, my three friends, my younger nephew. They seized our jars of pickled vegetables, green beans, beets, and carrots right off of our kitchen table. In an instant my home was emptied. The only thing to fill it were the beams of light that filtered through the windows in the kitchen.
He said that we were "enemies of the state" although we had not done anything wrong, something about us was not right to them. They made us stand on the back of a platform truck all the way to Warsaw. My ankles swelled. I urinated standing up in the back of that truck. My dignity was chipped away at with every little turn.
They dropped us off at the train station. There was another group of "unfavorables" standing on the platform. They told us to follow them and not to move. I was disoriented. My stomach swirled. My shoulders and jaw ached. I was alone. My nephew could not speak. He was a mute. I raised him from a little boy. His mother blamed herself for his condition. He stood quietly on the platform and swayed back and forth. I held his hand to comfort him, but I was really comforting myself.
After hours of standing and waiting, we were loaded onto the trains. They were cattle carts. We were shoved in. And, with every stop, we were even more and more cramped. Nobody spoke. Women and men cried. It was if they knew something I didn't know, but we all knew what it was was not good. My "Little Man" as I called my nephew was quiet. He was deathly still. While he could not communicate, it was if he heard the thoughts of everyone around him. Maybe he didn't want to be seen and felt that if he moved, someone or something would jump up to get him.
After two days, our captors deposited us to our final destination. It was dirty. The buildings were rudimentary. Who ever designed it was busy building more brick buildings to house us. There was no talking with them. They were silent and kept their eyes off of us. It felt as if had they looked us in the eyes for more than a moment, they would be taken off the task by the conscience of their being.
There were more soldiers. Not as finely dressed or coiffed as the man in the blue-grey cap. They looked disheveled as if unsettled by the past which was to become our untimely ends. I walked with the women. The men walked with the men. I was separated from my Little Man. He moaned and cried as he swayed and they the prisoners, ordered by the soldiers, dragged him away. It was if the soldiers were afraid of whatever caused his affliction and didn't want to touch him. There were more children like him in this place. We were eventually told to call the place as "The Camp". The comfort that we shared in each other was gone. He was the first glimmer of light that was blown out of my life.
We languished in The Camp. People drove themselves insane from boredom. Consumed by fear some tried to escape and they were shot. Every single one was shot. Their heads blasted by bullets. This display left us numb inside. They told us that it was as bad outside of the fences as it was inside so it wasn't even worth trying to escape. They told us every lie to get us to die more and more inside.
These lies were what would eventually get us all. People started dropping dead. They thought it was a lack of food, a lack of clothing, lack of medicine and sustenance. The paralysis of fear consumed us from the inside. It was not for a lack of anything outside of us, but for the diminishing light from within us.
What I can say, on the other side of this, is to imagine the soul of a person simply stepping aside from the body and letting the body drop like a shell to the ground. Nothing killed us except for the act of moving away from the experience. It was too horrific. The conditions too poor; needlessly poor. And yet, I survived day by day. Filled with hope that it would soon all be over.
What kept me going was imagining myself in a pool of water. A clean pool, floating in the water. I imagined myself in it. I dreamed of being in this pool, carried by the water in a sort of weightlessness, cleaned by the crystal clear waters. It comforted me. I could go there when the horrors of the labor camp became too heavy. I went there when the uncertainty of my future became too overwhelming. It was my place to escape even if my body could not climb the fence and leave. I hoped for better days, even when others around me were convinced otherwise.
As more came, more died. My Little Man was gone. I saw him in a dream, but he was without impediment. He touched me. He was covered in light and smiled as he reached from the light. He became light. I woke up just as the sun was beginning to rise, surrounded by people crammed into bunks, wreaking of filth, and sobbed into my dirty hands.
Everyone I arrived with was gone. I was astonished that I had survived. And I wondered what kept me hanging on? I wanted to be with them and eventually the aching of wanting to be with them consumed me. I wanted to depart from this life and start again with them somewhere new. Somewhere far away from our captors and their nefarious plans.
I stopped eating. Rather, I stopped looking for ways to survive. There wasn't anything to eat anyway. There were rats that people would eat, but they were filled with poison. I wondered if I should eat one of them and be done with it. The thought of writing in stomach pain didn't suit me. I began to wonder a way out.
I went largely ignored and unnoticed. I was invisible. People walked around the dirt in silence, animated only by an unconscious force. My presence of being contained me in my body, within these confines, and with all of the other "degenerates" as we were called.
I cried out to God. I asked why he would abandon me here. I asked how I could be forsaken. I was not the only one to beg this question. It was the biggest question we all asked.
There was no voice from the sky. Our captors gave us no explanation. They wanted to get rid of the Jews, but I wasn't even a Jew. My Little Man wasn't a Jew. He was an "undesirable". The answer was nowhere to be found around us.
Their world became my world. I went less and less back to the pool. I was enveloped by the environment around me until it consumed me. The grief I felt inside ate up my will to live. I grew tired and tired until, one day, I didn't wake up.
For a while, I was afraid to wake up. I didn't want to find myself back in that hell. I told myself that if I just sleep a little while longer, I could sleep through the entire experience.
And when I finally decided to wake up, everything had indeed changed around me. I was no longer in the stacked wooden bunks where people slept on the floor and crammed around me. There was no camp, no fences, or walls. I woke up somewhere different.
Little Man came to greet me. He knelt beside me and put my warm hand on his cheek. I felt his radiance once more. My friends made their way through the people of light that surrounded me to welcome me. Wherever I was, it was no "there". It was where "we are". The pestilence and the suffering was gone. The decay vanished. The dirt was swept away. The feces and mud was wiped clean.
I looked at my hands. They were clean. My body, my matted hair was soft and smooth once more. My face didn't feel wrinkled by time. I no longer felt cold and hungry. I was in a perfect state of health.
I wrapped my eyes around my Little Man. I asked him what we did wrong and why God left us to die in a prison. He wiped my tears. He said, without words, as if he was speaking directly to my mind that we went along with our captors' vision of us. We had done nothing wrong. We didn't deserve to die. There was nothing wrong with us. He kept assuring me that there was nothing inherently wrong with anything that we did or believed. He said we were a part of an experiment and not one in which we consented. Each of us had a reason for witnessing it, being a part of it, dying in it, and surviving it. That reason, he said, was entirely up to us.
He wrapped me up in his arms. He held me until I could no longer cry and finally felt relief. I felt as if everything I had went through was a horrible, horrible dream. I didn't want to go back. He assured me that I didn't have to.
I gained my grounding and stood up. The sore on left foot was gone. I felt no ache. I stood up straight for the first time in a long time. And I took a step forward into the light and I became the light.
Did you enjoy this story? Let me know how it made you feel. If this you enjoyed this one, then you'll also like The Mission - A Short Story.