A soldier grabs my mother by her arm as she screams for me. I run after them. Mother is shoved into the back of a truck with others. I follow her but the soldier kicks me away. As the truck drives off, she calls out to me, “Mendel, turn off the stove. Be good. Be brave.”
I watch as the truck turns a corner. I run upstairs and shut off the stove. My mother was making chicken soup, my favorite. I sit down by the window and look out at the street. I cry because I’m all alone.
I tie my shoelace. It took me a long time to learn how. I don’t know what to do. The chicken soup smells good. I don’t know what comes next. I’ll eat the soup, but after that I don’t know.
We live alone here on the second floor. I’ve no friends and I don’t play with children my age. We don’t get along. I stay in and play with my mother. She has me hold up both hands in front of my face so that she can make one large ball of wool for her knitting. She taught me to move my hands back and forth as she took the wool into hers and sang to me as she did this. I always liked that.
Mother read to me about an ugly duckling once. I never asked her what a duckling was. I just don’t ask. I don’t say much. I’m feeling sad and I’m crying again in the dark.
No one will come for me. I know that. I look through the window again. I see only one bird. All that space around him and he just sits there. I feel the space in our room. I see the old stove and the ice box. I see the sink. I smell the warm soup on the stove. I know I’m here because I can look down and see my feet and hands. Anyway my face isn’t like the other kids. Mother told me that makes me special. I don’t ever look in the mirror behind the closet door.
I know I’ll never see my mother again. I cry again for a very long time. I’m lost and I hate feeling lost. Lost is like not knowing your apartment number. I live at number 9. Mother always made sure each week that I look at the number on our outside door with her.
Mommy is on a truck going away and I miss her very much.
What do I do after I eat my chicken soup? I guess I’ll put the dish into the sink. Mother was always here to do that for me. She always smelled like sweet soap. Her body was always close to mine. I followed her all around. When I did that, she touched my arm, my head, and squeezed my cheeks. She called me her little shadow. Mother sang to me as I ran after her in the house. They were good songs.
Now the kitchen is empty. I cannot feel her in the room. I hate her not being here. I’ve never been alone before. I could always hear mother in the kitchen or the bedroom. I‘m afraid to leave the kitchen and go into the bedroom. I want to hear mother’s voice again. I miss her singing and I miss when she said nothing. We have no friends, no relatives, only mother and me. She told me we’re hiding out.
I don’t know how to make supper, chicken soup was lunch. I know how to open a can and unwrap a package. Mother showed me how to peel hard boiled eggs, but I never learned how to make food for myself. I will sit here for days and get very hungry and die. I’m afraid. Mother once said to me, “Mendel, if you have no ideas, that is all right. You have wonderful feelings.” And then she hugged me close. I don’t know why.
. . .
Mendel, please, shut off the stove. I fear for you. I worry about fire. Mendel, my Mendel, who will care for you? Who will help me with my knitting? Mendel, Mendel, how long will you have? Oh, my son, do the best you can with what you have. I tried, but you could only learn so much. If, god forbid, you die, my son, I will see you in heaven – except there is no heaven and no god. Mendel, my Mendel, there was only you and I and now we are apart forever. What can I say to you while the truck takes me to my death? There are no words for that. Only one thing keeps in mind and that is I will go to my death with your memory in mind and the terrible pain of how lost and empty you must feel. I am with you in heart, for everything has been taken away from us, my Mendel. So my Dear Heart if you only think of me once this day – or tomorrow, know that I think of you each moment as well. I only have your memory now. They’ll never steal that.
In the dark I remember mother. Sometimes I forget to think of her. I like staring through the window at the street below. I can do that for a long time. I’ll sit here until she comes back. That’s what I’ll do. The soup is cold now. And it’s raining. I see puddles in the street. They remind me of mother because rain feels close.
I run down the steps and go out. I can’t stay alone inside because it’s dark. No one is on the streets. I walk toward the street they took my mother away. I am at the end of our little town. I walk the big road and stay on its grassy edge. I don’t hear the truck stop behind me, the same one that came for mother today. A soldier picks me up as I struggle, covers my mouth with his hand, takes me to the back of the truck and throws me in. I’m with other children, some crying. I’m feeling much better now. Someone has returned for me. I’ll be with mommy at the end of my trip.
(Note: The photo is from – of all places – the FBI’s website: http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2001/november2001/page10.jpg)