Monday, June 7, 2010
A Bedtime Story
I'm in an awful mood and I can't sleep. Figures. I'm exhausted from the weekend and I can't get the 8 hours I'll need for a long Monday tomorrow. Oh well. Someday I'll learn how to handle my crazy tendencies to hate myself to the point of staring at the ceiling and wondering why I think stupid things and why I project onto others... Regardless, this is not what the post is about. My mom told me a story about my grandfather again not too long ago and I wanted to use that plus some creative license to fill in the gaps from what I don't know. I hope it's good.
Keeping my Promise
It had been months. Months since I'd seen her face. Months since I had held her soft hands, watched the way she set her brown curly hair each morning, kissed me goodnight and shyly winked at me from across the dining room. It had been months since I was home. I'd love to say I knew what I was getting into when I set off to this war, but I don't think anything could prepare someone for this. On either side. Doesn't matter if you're German or American or any of the allies on both sides. You don't know what this is until you are knee deep in it. Since D-Day I have made and lost friends. I have questioned and reaffirmed my faith in God. I have made peace with the uncertainty of my time left on this Earth, and I have silently begged for the opportunity to see my wife again. My wife. It's still new to me. It hadn't been long that we were wed before I shipped off to Europe. War doesn't care about timing and neither does Love. But I did promise her I'd come back home.
Our company was in the midst of trudging through the hills and forests of Germany. Sometimes I felt that our hikes were aimless and futile. But I always knew there was a purpose. There was a war to win here. A great one. One for the history books. I hoped I would live long enough to read one. Barely 20 years old and I've made peace with the fact that I might not live through this. But I'd never tell my Mil that. I promised I'd come home. We have a family to start after all. Would be somewhat difficult to do if I were not present for it. The thought made me chuckle.
Today was a good day I decided. The sun was out and the wind was not so biting. We hadn't seen the German army for a few days now, and we were set at a post for a few more days on these hills. It finally felt good to exhale. It's funny that sometimes you have to remind yourself to breathe in and out. Too many other things to think about. I looked towards the heavens and calculated the time. Somewhere around noon. The company set up at the top of a familiar hill looking over three small farms. We had the high ground, so it was easier to relax and enjoy a not so hot meal. I set down my gun and pack and began to unwrap a two day old sandwich. Down the hill I spied the barn door of one of the farms swing open slightly. Instinctively I grabbed my gun and crouched. My men did the same. Out of the barn walked a young boy. He immediately saw us and raised his arms up in the air in surrender. He could be no more than 5 years old. We scanned the area around him... nothing. Not a trap. We were called at ease and set our weapons down. The little boy just stared up at us... curious... unafraid. With as much determination as he could muster, he began to slowly walk up the hill towards us. His palms faced outward in front of him and each step was carefully calculated as to not raise an alert.
When the boy came closer I was immediately taken in by him. He had a wash of light hair, marred with dirt and straw. It looked as though the barn was his long-term hideout. His clothes were dirty and the hollow of his cheeks were prominent. He was starving. Most of the men were back to eating lunch, with a few keeping a wary eye at the farmhouses below. I kept watch of the boy as he continued to slowly move up the hill towards us. He caught my eye and greeted me in German. From the very little I picked up in my months here I reiterated the greeting and offered him part of my sandwich. He gave me and my gun the once-over but the growling in his stomach won out. By the look in his eyes, I could tell that the scrap of leftover sandwich I offered was worth his short life. He sat a few feet from me and let me toss him half of the meal. "Danke" he whispered and smiled slightly. I smiled back. Millie wouldn't believe this. The boy didn't stay very long. He finished the sandwich and took a swig from my canteen. Then without another word he wandered back down to the barn and shut the door behind him.
We set up watch for four more days waiting for the rest of our company to arrive with supplies. Each day at around noon we perched up on the open hill and ate lunch. And each day the boy would emerge and trudge up the hill to me. He spoke to a few of the other soldiers who knew more German than I, but he refused to sit by anyone but me. I found out that his mother was down in the barn as well, but had fallen ill. He ventured out to us alone each day for food and eventually a medic who offered to check on his mother. Each day that he came to see me all I could do was think of my wife. I wrote to her on that first night.
What would you think of having a son, Mil? There is a little German boy here who has been sharing my awful lunches with me. He has a mother but no father to speak of. I wonder if he is on the other side of enemy lines. I wonder if we've met already. He looks like I did at his age. Mil, you would be amazed. He shows no fear to us. He is friendly and unabashed by our presence. I think he's lonely. We leave in a few days. I fear for him. I hope if his father is our enemy, that we do not meet and that he returns home for his boy. As I have to return home for you. And when I do come home, I wonder if you would entertain the idea of starting our family. I want a son, Mil. What do you think?
As big as the universe,
It had been months. Months of watching men fall. Months of wandering through this unfamiliar land. Months to think about what my life could be. I spent 5 days with this young boy. I don't even know his name or what became of him. I would like to think that he made it through this war unscathed and that he felt no ill will towards us. I'd like to think that his father returned to care for him and his ailing mother. I'd like to think nothing but the best for this little boy who shared my lunch. It had been months since the last letter made it to me, and it would be another month still before I heard from my Love. But when I did I was elated. Two letters arrived at once. One updated me on my family, and the happenings back home in Jersey. It was postmarked two months before. Millie had fallen ill for a time but was on the mend now. The more recent letter was postmarked a few weeks back. I still have this letter...
I miss you love. The days grow longer and longer. I can't believe it has been 4 months since you left. I found it funny that I started on this letter a few days before I received your last one. My faith in God has never been as steady as now. I say this because I think your little German boy was a sign. A sign that good things are to come. I have news for you. I would have told you sooner but I feared the worst when I fell ill. Al, you're going to be a father. I am four and a half months pregnant. Of course I cannot guarantee that I will be able to give you a son. But I can guarantee that you will be an amazing father. I did not write about this before because I feared that I had lost the child when I was sick. I did not want you to worry or fear. When you come home... and God willing it will be soon. You will be a daddy. Keep your promise to me and I'll keep mine to you. Come home safe. I love you Al.
Five months later my son, Albert Latwinas Jr. was born. Five months later I was a father. It would be months still. Months upon months before I would come home again. Months before I would see my new family. Months before I would hold him and kiss him goodnight. But I would. I would hold him and kiss him. I would watch her curl her hair and look shyly at me from across the room. I would tell my wife that I love her with my little boy wrapped in my arms. I would keep my promise to her.
That was a long one. I hope it was alright. <3